Inflation has been one of the issues eating away at the cost of living for many of our constituents, but again this Government’s record is very clear. The statistics do not lie: consumer prices index inflation now stands at 1.8% as against the 3.4% we inherited from the previous Government. The British Retail Consortium figures out just this week show that because of supermarket

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competition there has been a decline in non-food prices of 2.8% over the year. That is critically important, and annual food inflation stands at 0.7%, the lowest rate since 2006.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I just want to dig under some of the things the hon. Gentleman has been saying about debt. How, for example, would he make sense of the fact that, according to a recent report, the Bridgend county borough area, which covers two constituencies and contains a big manufacturing belt and areas of prosperity, has seen a tenfold increase in the number of people taking out payday loans at the end of the week to ease themselves over into the following week? In spite of all the good news that the hon. Gentleman is giving us, something worrying is happening.

Mr Raab: I am trying to look at the big picture, and the fact is that household debt has fallen from its 2009 peak of about 109% of GDP to around 10 percentage points lower. I am not suggesting that there are no issues relating to other subsets of household debt, such as credit and payday loans, but if the hon. Gentleman looks at the big picture and examines the raw data, he will see that the present situation represents a significant improvement on the one that his Government left behind. He is right to look at other micro-issues, and we must continue to do that, but let us not lose sight of the big picture.

When it comes to the big picture, we have to talk about housing. We could talk about stamp duty, as I am tempted to do, and about planning regulations and the relevant taxation, but the key issue is the supply of new homes. We need to do more on that front. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government does not feel that he is on the back foot in this regard; I am simply urging everyone to look at the raw data. Hon. Members will be delighted to hear that, according to DCLG figures, the average annual number of affordable homes built under this coalition was 48,000, compared with 31,000 during the 13 years of the previous Government. That represents a 50% increase, and we should recognise the progress that we have made as well as talking about what else needs to be done.

We are talking about fairness in this debate on the cost of living, and we should also talk about inequality. The Leader of the Opposition is a wonkish sort—I mean that in the best possible way—and I am sure that he will be delighted to learn that the Gini coefficient shows that inequality is lower under this Government than it was under Labour. People talk about tax cuts for millionaires, but he will also be delighted to know that people earning between £10,000 and £15,000 are paying 54% less tax under this Government than they were in the last tax year under the previous Government, and that millionaires are paying 14% more. The idea that this Government are the enemy of the low-paid and the friend of the millionaire is therefore news to us.

Ms Gisela Stuart: I shall try not to be too wonkish. The recent Institute of Economic Affairs pamphlet on poverty argued that the best way to help the poor and to reduce inequality was to reduce the cost of those things that most disproportionately affected the spending of the poor—energy, food and housing. Given the hon. Gentleman’s argument, should he not therefore welcome Labour’s proposals?

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Mr Raab: The hon. Lady’s interventions are always thoughtful, but I am not quite sure to which bits of Labour’s proposals she is referring. We can talk about the minimum wage and rent controls, but I fear that they would not have the impact that she desires, despite her best intentions. Some people on my side of the House think that raising the minimum wage would be a good thing, but I do not think that it would be the best thing to do for the most socially and economically disfranchised; nor do I think that rent controls are the right answer.

Ms Stuart: Rather unusually for a Labour MP, I am praying in aid the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has stated that it would be better to reduce energy and food costs than to increase benefits. I would have thought that that would be absolutely in line with the hon. Gentleman’s thinking.

Mr Raab: The hon. Lady is absolutely right; we share the same aspirations. Unfortunately, however, this is all about the means to achieving those ends. If we had wanted to do something about energy prices, we should not have closed down nuclear power stations, as happened under the last Government. We should be taking advantage of shale gas, as we propose in the Queen’s Speech. One area in which we can make common cause on the means as well as the ends is the need to reform the common agricultural policy, which puts £400 on the average family’s bills. The hon. Lady will recall, however, that Tony Blair rather meekly gave up on CAP reform as well as sacrificing the British rebate.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) mentioned regional impacts. The recovery is often described as London-centred, but this week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that gross disposable income per person has risen 4% in the north-east, which is higher than the UK average and considerably higher than the figure for London. The shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), is also a wonkish type—again, I mean that in the best possible spirit—and if he and other hon. Members on both sides of the House look at the raw data, they will see that we have done a good job in relation not only to economic stewardship but to social fairness. I might even manage to get the shadow Secretary of State to agree that Thomas Piketty would have to accept that Britain is not just economically better off but fairer under the Tories. Let us see whether the right hon. Gentleman can bring himself to do that when he winds up the debate later.

We cannot rest on our laurels, however. There are important measures in the Queen’s Speech to strengthen the economy further and to curb the practice of public sector employees claiming redundancy and subsequently taking another job in the same sector. It is important that we get the public sector pay bill down, and that should be done in a way that targets the bureaucracy, the highly paid managers and the waste while protecting front-line services.

We are going to simplify the national insurance paid by the self-employed. I would like us to go further and cut employers’ national insurance contributions, because they can deter companies from hiring people as well as from paying better wages. I was delighted to read in The Times today—I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary

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to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) will confirm this—that the No. 10 policy unit is considering raising the threshold for employees’ national insurance contributions. I have argued for that for a long time. If we really want to do something about low pay, as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston does, raising the threshold for employees’ contributions is by far the clearest way of doing it. The Resolution Foundation, the Institute for Public Policy Research and all the left-wing think-tanks agree with me on that, and I am glad that the Government are looking seriously at that proposal.

I am delighted by the proposed reforms to speed up infrastructure projects and to allow fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines. I should like to comment on a couple of the points that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston made about shale gas. Ofgem has made it clear that our back-up energy stocks will fall to 2% by 2015. The chances of blackouts will increase from one in 47 years to one in 12 years. The previous Government allowed this stark energy crisis to creep up on us, and we must address it now. The renaissance in nuclear power will play an important role in achieving that; it will be good for meeting our energy demands and for decarbonisation.

We must also bear in mind our unique national comparative advantage in relation to shale gas. In 2013, the British Geological Survey—hardly a Thatcherite body by disposition—estimated that there were 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the Bowland-Hodder basin alone. The reserves equate to 47 years of total UK gas consumption or 90 years of the UK’s North sea gas production. Of course, not all of it will be extracted, and it will take time to develop the right regulatory regime. That is important, but the opportunities over the medium term are immense. The Institute of Directors has estimated that shale gas could meet one third of UK gas demand and support 74,000 jobs, not to mention boosting manufacturing and helping us sustainably to rejuvenate the economy of the northern region.

I understand the concerns about fracking, but the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society—again, not Thatcherite bodies by any stretch of the imagination—have looked at the risks to aquifers and the risk of earthquakes and concluded that the risks are very, very low. They have concluded that, with a decent set of regulations, the process could be properly managed and monitored. Frankly, the spectres of polluted drinking water and of earthquakes have been massively exaggerated by ideologically driven activists. We ought to get cracking with fracking, and I am delighted that this Queen’s Speech will bring that about. It will also help us to wean ourselves off energy dependence on places such as the middle east and Russia; we need to consider that given the stability in those regions.

In this Queen’s Speech we also want to reward the great economic virtues of saving and grafting, both in the short term and over the long term. That is what our reforms to annuities are about. People will not in future be required to buy an annuity with their pension savings and they will be able to draw their retirement income in one go, if they so choose. If people save hard and do the right thing, we trust them. Our tax break for child care, worth up to £2,000 a year per child, is crucial to dealing with the cost of living. Many couples in our changing

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society are between them—both men and women—grappling with the balance of bread-winning and child caring. I have to declare an interest in the tax break for child care at this point, because No.2 in the Raab household will be on its way by the end of the year, and we will be delighted to take advantage of this new piece of legislation.

Finally, the European elections showed the level of the corrosion of public trust in the political class, and I welcome the introduction of a right of recall in the Queen’s Speech. I am very conscious of the debate that is being had in government and with parliamentarians such as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) about getting the right balance. We do not want something that is abusive, but we should not set up a right of recall and then torpedo it by allowing a committee of politicians to veto or vet it. I am sure we can strike the right balance to give the public greater trust in our political class, and I hope that as that Bill comes forward we can do so.

I am conscious of the time and know that others wish to speak, but I want to make one final point about immigration. It relates both to the economic pressures in this country and specifically to housing, which is the subject of today’s debate. The Government have already cut net immigration by a third; we have cracked down on bogus colleges, which sprouted up left, right and centre under the previous Government; and we have cracked down on the sham marriages and the abuse of the family route. A Bill will be going through this Parliament to strengthen immigration controls. I have argued passionately for us to strengthen some areas of that Bill, but I recognise the important steps that have already been taken. It is a bit rich if all the Labour Front-Bench team and the shadow Home Secretary can do is criticise the target of reducing net immigration to tens of thousands, given that her Government made it so difficult to accomplish that. It is a bit rich coming from the party of open-door immigration, which boasted in office that there is “no obvious” upper limit on immigration—that was said by a past Labour Home Secretary, whom I shall not name for fear of embarrassing him. It is a bit rich coming from the party that failed to impose transitional controls on immigration from the eight countries from central and eastern Europe in 2004.

I am no clearer today as to what positive agenda the Labour party is offering this country to take it forward. As Winston Churchill once said of the Soviet Union, Labour policy is a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma; it has no clear vision, no serious policies and no credible leadership. The Government have a clear agenda, of fresh reforms cast against a Conservative vision of a more prosperous and fairer Britain grounded in sustainable public finances, and in the virtues of rewarding enterprise, hard graft and saving. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

2.53 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate, and I seek to clarify some of Labour’s policies if we were to get into government next year. Some have actually been borrowed by the coalition Government, who have thought, “Yes, there is something

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in that. The public are interested in that.” However, they have produced a pale imitation of these things in their Queen’s Speech. Let me give some examples. Labour wants to tackle how people on low and middle incomes cope with rising costs. This year, for the first time, we have seen a reasonable rise in the national minimum wage, but that comes after three years of starving it and of costs going up by a far higher amount. We certainly welcome the measures to be tougher on employers who try to dodge paying the minimum wage, who try to make people work more hours than they were intending to or who try to make deductions from people’s pay. We would like more of such measures, but we have not seen many prosecutions. Time and again during questions Labour Members have asked what is happening about prosecuting people who are dodging the national minimum wage regulations. So, yes, let us get that legislation, but let us also get enforcement of it.

Andy McDonald: Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the delays we are experiencing in securing prosecutions are totally unacceptable? A case in my constituency has been rumbling on now for nearly a year and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tells us that it will be a further two months before it is even looked at.

Nia Griffith: That is precisely the point: there is not much point having the legislation if it is not properly enforced and if people get the idea that they can get away with things.

There is no suggestion from those on the Government Benches of anything as strong as our idea that, to be effective, the national minimum wage needs to be linked to median earnings. We would like it to be gradually raised to 60% of median earnings. We are also keen to see people incentivised to pay the living wage. One of our proposals is to give employers a tax break if they bring all their employees’ pay up to the living wage. That proposal is affordable because of the savings we would make on tax credits and housing benefit. We should make it possible for people in full-time work to pay their way without an enormous number of top-ups from the state.

Again, the issue of zero-hours contracts is one that the coalition has picked up. We urgently need to deal with it and we need legislation on it. I am pleased that the Government are introducing a provision on exclusivity, which will deal with people who have to be available to work for only one employer. They do not know whether that employer will give them even an hour or two of work, but they cannot take up any other offer of work. However, a lot more could be done and we would like people to be offered proper contracts if they are working regularly over six months. Let us look at what the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has done in some of the big supermarkets. The need for flexibility has been recognised, but things such as annualised contracts and averaging out hours are looked at so that people at least know that they will have a reasonable income over a number of weeks, rather than not knowing the situation from one minute to the next. Such contracts work both for the employee and the employer, as they give a sense of flexibility and of security. The real problem with zero-hours contracts is that not only are they unpredictable in terms of what someone gets from

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week to week, but they do not allow people any employment rights. I am sure that is one reason why some employers try to avoid issuing proper contracts. We would like people who are working regularly to be put on proper contracts.

Let me now turn my attention to the energy companies. Our suggestion of a price freeze has been well documented and we are seeing some ruffled feathers in the energy companies, but why can this coalition Government not help people by introducing that idea of a freeze much sooner? As we have clearly said, it is not just about having the freeze; it is about then breaking up the market so that it works properly for people, and there is proper competition and a proper opportunity to beat down prices. People are very angry about the profits. Yet again, we see high salaries and very high profits, but people’s energy bills are going up. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) mentioned, the only reason people managed to cope this winter was because it was so mild. If we have the sort of winters that we saw in the previous two years, people would find their bills astronomically higher, even given the coalition Government’s promise to take £50 off—although that amount has proved slightly elusive, in that it does not actually apply to everybody; the figure is up to £50. The more annoying thing is that we are paying for it through other means; in other words, other schemes that would have been financed by the Government have been scrapped, particularly the one to help with hard-to-heat homes. That is a double tragedy, because fuel bills will remain high and it is difficult to lower them in homes that are difficult to adapt. Ending that scheme, which means that more than 400,000 properties will not benefit from it, is a disaster both environmentally and, for the families concerned, economically.

With regard to the energy companies, we would like to have seen stiffer action much sooner. We have also said clearly that we would like much stronger powers for the regulator. We would also like to see powers extended to people suffering from off-grid issues, which are particularly acute in semi-rural areas, such as parts of Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) mentioned. People there are reliant on the vagaries of oil deliveries or liquefied petroleum gas. They also have difficulty bargaining over price. Although some good work is being done, for example by oil clubs in my area, it is still very difficult to get the best possible deal. We would also like to have seen pensioners given the opportunity to receive their winter fuel allowance earlier in order to pay in advance and benefit from lower summer prices, rather than finding out halfway through the winter that they have bought only half of what they need and then having difficulties, both with price and delivery.

On fracking, there seems to be a bit of stampede, as if it is the be-all and end-all and the answer to all our energy needs. I am worried that there has been an overestimation of how easy fracking might be and how great the profits might be. I think that fracking will prove considerably more difficult in our country than it has been in the United States. When the Welsh Affairs Committee visited Lancashire to see what is happening there, I was struck by just how little we get from one well. It is like squeezing a tiny drop of something out of

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a stone. The hundreds of thousands of wells that would have to be sunk seem absolutely disproportionate to the amounts we would get.

The real question is this: why are we making such a huge effort to try to get something that we know is difficult to get—otherwise, we would have got it years ago—when really we should be trying to wean ourselves off fossil fuels altogether? We should be moving towards much greater investment in renewables. I am greatly disappointed that the Queen’s Speech included no mention of climate change or meeting our renewables targets. The renewables industry seems to have been left in limbo, whether it is wind energy being attacked or the Solar Trade Association, which is very worried about the current consultation. Will subsidies be reduced in the same way that feed-in tariffs have been? What is the situation with solar panels on rooftops? There is a lack of certainty, understanding and commitment to getting it right to ensure that we have the best possible uptake in the right places for solar energy.

Marine renewables also seem to have been pushed to one side and sadly neglected. Again, much more could be done to look at how subsidies work and to consider the opportunities to promote technologies that are more expensive and more difficult to develop, such as marine technologies, but that have such huge potential for our island.

As for the latest confusion about who can go on to whose land to undertake exploration for fracking sites, we need urgent clarification, because there seem to be conflicting stories. The Prime Minister has said, “No, nobody will be able to do that”, but that follows a letter to MPs from the Minister concerned stating that that is precisely what they are proposing. The situation is not clear and people have major concerns as a result.

Lastly, I want to deal with the major issue of housing. We all know how difficult it is, particularly for young people, to purchase a house or to afford rents. It is a struggle even in the less expensive parts of the country, where the ratios between what people earn and what houses cost are not good, but in London the disparity is enormous. London has very significant problems, and we need to look at them in a much wider context. Over the past few years, and particularly the past couple of months, we have seen the housing market in London grow away from the housing market in the rest of the UK, and at an even faster pace than it did before. That is leading to immense disparities in the cost of property, but it is also making London almost impossible to live in. If we add to that the fact that, because a huge amount of foreign direct investment—some 40%—tends to centre on London, we see that London seems to be growing in a way that is completely unsustainable. That is leading to huge problems with transport and housing, and people having to live further away and commute for even longer.

The question we must ask ourselves in the long run is this: do we need some far-reaching policies to redress the balance across the United Kingdom with regard to growth? I do not want to stop any regeneration programmes in London, which I think are vital for less well-off and more run-down areas, and I do not want to stop the people who are furthest from the work opportunities being given as much help as possible to access them, but we need to ask whether too many jobs are being created in London and not enough are being created elsewhere.

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When people think of the UK as a place to invest, they almost invariably think of London. Whereas if they think of Italy, they might think of Milan as much as Rome; if they think of Spain, they might think of Barcelona as much as Madrid; and if they think of Germany, they might think of Munich as much as Berlin. We have a huge concentration on London, and it is becoming absolutely unsustainable.

We need a strategy not only because it would help other areas of the United Kingdom, such as Wales, the north-west and the north-east, but because it would also help London and the south-east. We did that with public sector jobs a few years ago, when the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was moved to Swansea and the passport office was moved to Newport, but we need to go further. I am sure that there are still some public sector jobs that could be moved out of London. But then we would have to consider whether we might create an imbalance between the public and private sectors, as we have seen in Northern Ireland.

We should also think about what motivates the private sector companies to base themselves in London so much of the time. We need proper studies of that and a real understanding of how we can ensure that in future London can be lived in. This is about not just helping other parts of the country but making London a place in which ordinary people can live and, at the moment, that is becoming more and more difficult. We must look at the pattern around the whole country, because we cannot make changes in a piecemeal way. Currently, we are seeing the development of a city region approach, especially in Manchester.

Like London, some places are experiencing a slight overheating compared with their surrounding areas. We need to find ways of linking in those towns that feel they have been left behind, because, as we saw in the recent elections, they are the areas that are the most disaffected and the most likely to turn away from the main political parties. We need to look at the way in which they are linked in to their regional capitals, or to the wealth-generating parts of their areas.

Our plan for the UK should be about creating the right transport links that take people from the places in which they live to the places in which there is work, and putting the work in the places in which people live. We need to think globally. We should think not just about what we will do this year and next, but about what we will do in the next 30 to 40 years. If we do not do that, we will be playing catch-up all the time.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) talked about needing 800,000 houses in the capital. That is a huge quantity. The Government are putting forward proposals for one new town, when in fact we need several new towns. We need to think about not only using every opportunity to improve the situation for people now and to build more affordable homes, but what we are going to do in the long term. How do we want the UK to look? We need to create a balance between where the work is, where the wealth is and where the transport is so that we get a much better balance across the country.

We should help those areas that have seen a decline in the more traditional industries and are struggling to attract some of the new industries as well as those areas

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that are over-heating, especially those in which young people and people on low incomes are struggling to live. Everyone would benefit from a much more strategic overview, and we should not be afraid of combining that with localism. That does not mean that we are against devolving funds to regions—we have announced that we would do that—or against promoting a municipal force, as was outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) when talking about Joseph Chamberlain. It is not about decrying that; that is extremely important. It is about linking a local strategy into an overall vision for the UK. In that way, we can begin to tackle as one the issues of housing, work and transport, and making that a strategy that we want to follow for the future. I will not suggest exactly what that strategy should be, because that needs to come from all the regions and the countries of the UK working together. They should look at how the strategy works as a whole, and not just at how it works for their region, country or part of the UK.

3.12 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the considered speech of the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and the insightful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). I congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address, my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) and for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), on their excellent speeches yesterday.

The Queen’s Speech states that the aim of the Government is to strengthen the economy and to provide stability and security. Today we are debating, among other things, the cost of living, which is a matter of huge concern to all our constituents. That is why tackling the deficit is so important. In 2010, the deficit was at an unsustainable 11.8% of GDP. That should be compared with a maximum of 3% which, even in the eurozone, is seen as essential for long-term stability. The necessary measures that this Government have taken will, according to The Economist, reduce the deficit this year to 4.8% of GDP, which is still considerably higher than that 3% but a huge improvement none the less.

Unusually, I pay tribute to the Treasury for the efforts it has made in recovering tax from tax avoidance schemes. The amount of money coming in now has greatly increased on previous years, and that is a tribute to the work that the Chancellor and his team have done in bearing down on some of the ridiculous tax avoidance schemes that they inherited.

What would the consequences have been of not making such a reduction in the deficit? The Government would have had great difficulty in raising money on the markets and in financing borrowing. For the taxpayer, there would have been higher taxes to pay the increased borrowing charges. Let us not forget that we pay about as much interest at the moment as we spend on our entire school system, and soon it will be more. For home owners and businesses, it would have meant increased borrowing charges through higher interest rates. Tackling the deficit is therefore key and the first step in keeping the cost of living down. Any party serious about being in government has to state how it will do that and continue to bear down on the cost of living, because 4.8% is still far too high.

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As earlier speakers have said, the Government have done much more to tackle the cost of living. First and most importantly, they have increased the number of jobs—or helped to increase them, because the Government themselves do not create many jobs; in fact, there are fewer people working in the public sector now than at the beginning of the Parliament. Nevertheless, the Government have created the conditions in which 1.7 million new jobs have been created, which goes to the core of addressing the cost of living crisis. They have increased the personal allowance to £10,000—it is to go up again next year—which helps to increase take-home pay and is important in tackling the crisis. They have also frozen fuel duty and supported councils to freeze council tax.

At this point, I add a note of warning about the Opposition policy of freezing energy prices. One consequence of such a freeze, as we have discovered with fuel duty and council tax, is that when we have done it once, people expect us to continue and continue with it. What happens after 20 months of frozen energy prices? What happens to that policy? Will people expect it to continue? Will they say, “You have done it for 20 months, and we need it to continue”? Council tax and fuel duty, however, are to some extent in the hands of Government—they are taxes—but energy prices are not wholly in our hands.

Julie Hilling: Perhaps I can answer the question for the hon. Gentleman. We will have reformed the energy market by that point, so we will have stopped the excess profit earned—or taken—by the energy companies. That is the plan; it is not only about the 20-month freeze, but about reforming the energy market.

Jeremy Lefroy: I understand that, and I think the energy markets need reform, but to expect that that will keep energy prices frozen, or at least at a stable level, when we are subject to world energy prices is to some extent pie in the sky. But we will see.

Julie Hilling: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he agree that when world prices go down, energy suppliers should reduce our bills, rather than putting them up? Fair enough, when the prices go up, we expect our bills to go up—but should we not expect them to go down as well?

Jeremy Lefroy: We would. In some cases, our bills have gone down, and in other cases energy companies are freezing them. Furthermore, through the ability to switch, which many people take advantage of, they can also cut their energy costs. All I am saying is that once we introduce a freeze, it is less easy than we might think to take the freeze away, because people will expect prices to remain the same, and we have been finding that with council tax and the fuel duty. It is essential that the Government look at every sustainable way to keep downward pressure on the cost of living for households.

I want to concentrate my remaining remarks on three areas, housing, health, and international affairs, which sadly have not been included as a subject for the Queen’s speech debate, although they were mentioned in the Gracious Speech itself. The Queen’s Speech talks about increasing the supply of housing, and we all agree that that is vital: we need to build more houses. The question is not simply one of numbers; it is also about the type of houses, where they are built and infrastructure.

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With changing demographics, we need more housing suitable for older citizens, including extra care housing, of which I am glad to say that more is being built in my constituency. It also includes building small, energy-efficient, single-storey homes, which many of my constituents say that they would wish to move into, if possible, but there are simply not enough of those homes. I saw an excellent example of such a development, which must have been built 20 to 30 years ago, when for some reason I happened to be passing through Newark recently. Unfortunately, we do not see that sort of development now. Why? Because developers tell us that such homes are not profitable, because they take up too much land. That shows a lack of ambition and imagination. Such developments would encounter much less opposition, because they can be seen as fulfilling a real need and keeping communities together by enabling older people to stay in the communities in which they have lived for so long.

Where houses are built is, of course, a matter of great controversy, but it is exacerbated by the irresponsible submission by developers of planning applications that are quite clearly outside democratically agreed local development plans. That is certainly the case in my area. I urge the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whom I am glad to see in his place, strongly to resist such speculative developments, which fly in the face of properly agreed local plans.

Infrastructure is also a great concern. I worry that sometimes we look only at the narrow implications of development and perhaps suggest that problems can be addressed by, for instance, a controlled junction onto a new housing estate, rather than considering the wider knock-on effects of traffic across the whole area. In particular, once traffic lights are introduced, they are rarely removed or even modified to take account of subsequent development. We need to consider that. We tend to focus much too narrowly on the requirements of a specific development rather than those of the community as a whole.

I want briefly to speak about health. I have spoken on many occasions about the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and will continue to do so, both in order to speak up for my constituents and because I believe that what has been happening there is of national importance and has national implications. Medium-sized district general hospitals provide services that are prized by local communities. They often provide out-patient services and elective surgery, but they also provide general accident and emergency provision—not the most complex, but everyday provision—and consultant-led maternity services and paediatrics. For that to be provided and, of course, for safety reasons, there is a need for them to come together with the larger hospitals through networking, buddying or mergers, but such provision should be possible. That is why I fully support NHS England’s review of the possibility of continuing consultant-led maternity services at Stafford. I have also urged consideration of the possibility that urgent care could be available at night to supplement the 8 am to 10 pm A and E service that should be provided, although I believe that eventually a return to a 24/7 A and E will be necessary, especially given the housing developments taking place.

We are told that specialisation means that centralisation is inevitable. I disagree and I was very glad, after a conversation last week with Simon Stevens, the new

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head of NHS England, to find that he views district general hospitals and community hospitals as important in providing not just community services but acute services. I hope that he will succeed. Those of us who live and work in large towns and rural areas need a decent, truly national health service and not one that is increasingly sucked into the major cities.

Of course, there is the unpalatable issue of cost, and I shall not be afraid to address it in this place, as I have before. We will have to spend more on health, probably at least 2% of GDP. I have already suggested both in this place and in writing how we can do that, possibly by converting national insurance into a progressive national health insurance paid according to income and preserving an NHS free at the point of need. In my opinion, we must remove health from an increasingly sterile debate about taxation.

Finally, I want to touch on foreign affairs. I am proud to be a supporter of a coalition Government who have, with cross-party support, achieved spending of 0.7% on overseas development assistance. I am also proud to be a supporter of a Government who have introduced the Modern Slavery Bill, again with cross-party agreement.

Those things are vital, but I see four global challenges that we must confront. The first is to eradicate absolute poverty. The World Bank has set a target to get rid of it by 2030, and we as a country and a people need to do everything we can to support that. The second is to reduce income inequality. We have already spoken today about income inequality is in this country, and the World Bank has that we must concentrate on the 40% with the lowest incomes globally to reduce income inequality. I share that aspiration, as income inequality eventually leads to political instability and many other things.

Thirdly, there is climate change, which we cannot run away from and which any responsible Government must take fully into account in their policies. Fourthly, there is the whole matter of combating—not allowing—extremism. This relates to income and equality, but it is not just about income and equality as some of the most extreme people come from some of the most privileged backgrounds. We have to combat extremism everywhere and promote freedom of speech, thought and religion and the freedom to have no religion. That is the responsibility of this Government and this country. There is no magic solution to any of this, just constant, hard negotiation, peace making and engagement. We cannot do it on our own. We need to work with others to exercise our influence through the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and particularly the European Union.

3.25 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I was fascinated yesterday when the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), began his remarks in response to the Gracious Speech. He sought to widen the debate from the usual Punch and Judy knockabout that goes on in this Chamber and the party political points. What was remarkable to me was the way in which, on the Government Benches, that was met initially with shock. That is the best way to describe it. There was silence and clear attention. After a few minutes my right hon. Friend’s speech achieved a

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response of baying, and things went downhill from there, but what he was trying to get across was fundamentally important.

Many of the speeches today have picked up on that theme and have handled sensitively the issues facing us as politicians in this Chamber about how people outside view politics, mistrust politicians and are concerned about how they feel that we in the Chamber have the capacity to influence events that are important in their lives.

I want to try to continue that theme today. I begin by isolating three elements. It is no longer the case, thank goodness, that the Gracious Speech is delivered in Norman French, as it used to be, but it struck me that there are three principles that France can still bring to our debates to elevate them. Those are liberté, égalité, fraternité. On the first—here I want to sound a note of welcome—Members in all parts of the House are delighted to see the modern slavery Bill being brought forward. I am sure it will be well supported by Members across the Chamber. That speaks to liberty, which is fundamental in any democracy. It is absolutely right that the Government are seeking to introduce that Bill and I hope that Opposition Members will give it fair wind before the next election—I am sure we will.

The next principle is égalité —equality. Here there are things that concern me and my constituents in Brent, who experience the second highest rate of low pay in London. Newham is the borough with the highest rate of low pay at 34%. In Brent 30% of people in employment earn below the living wage. That is of real concern to me because it means that 30% of my constituents look at the rest of society from a position of disadvantage and see the widening of the gap between where they are and where they perceive other people can legitimately aspire to reach. That is not good for society. Of course, it is not good for my constituents either. It means that they are struggling to put food on the table and to do right by their children and their wider family.

People are facing additional pressures because the local government settlement and the settlement put in place for clinical commissioning groups appear to be differentially disadvantaging communities like my own that are already more disadvantaged. Let us look at the funding for CCGs across the country. In Brent in north-west London, we have the highest incidence of tuberculosis and of diabetes in the United Kingdom, and yet £54.98 million is being taken from our CCG, NHS Brent, in this settlement. I looked down the list of all the other local CCGs to try to find a comparable figure, and thought I had—it was for NHS Coastal West Sussex CCG. The figure was £56.51 million, but when I looked again I noticed that there was no minus sign. I do not know what the particular health problems of people in coastal West Sussex are, but I am absolutely clear that their receiving a £56 million increase at a time when my constituents, in some of the most deprived wards in the capital, who have the highest levels of key diseases not just in the capital but in the country, are suffering a £54.98 million reduction does not speak to the principle of equality. I charge the Queen’s Speech with failing my constituents on that count.

I mentioned the local government settlement. The budget in my local authority is about £330 million—or was, I should say, because £104 million is being taken out of it. That is a cut of about 30%. My constituents,

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who rank second highest in London for lowest pay, are not just suffering in their wage packets. They are suffering because the services they would usually hope could pick up their families when they disintegrate, provide additional care for their elderly parents, and provide additional support from social services will not be there because local government is no longer able to provide them.

In the London borough of Brent we have just had the local elections. I am delighted to say that of the 63 council seats in Brent, of which my party used to have 41, we now have 56—a fantastic result. How quickly that will become bitter when those 56 enthusiastic, dynamic, determined people find that they are having to implement a 30% cut in services to the people they have aspired to represent and protect. That is what has happened to equality in this country. It is not just about low pay, although that is absolutely cancerous, or zero-hours contracts; it is also about the wider support that one used to be able to look to and expect to receive from one’s community but is no longer there.

Let us turn to fraternity. Another key missing ingredient from the Queen’s Speech was the issue of immigration. As my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee has said, there are key issues related to immigration that are about not race and ethnicity, but fairness. Nowhere is that more clear than in housing.

A mother in my borough who has been on the housing waiting list for 19 years came to me and said, “Mr Gardiner, when I first went on the housing list, I was told that, as a single young woman without any children I was not considered to be vulnerable and therefore I was not a priority. My daughter is now 18 and last month I was told that because she is now 18, I have no children and am not a priority. What’s going on?”

The point is that many boroughs allocate housing simply in accordance with need. Of course, medical and other needs such as overcrowding are important, but we do not understand that there are forms of entitlement other than need. The fact that someone who has been waiting for 19 years in their community—paying their dues, working hard, paying tax and being a good citizen—still does not have an entitlement to the security of a home is deeply corrosive of the principle of fraternity. It undermines social solidarity. That is the unfairness. It is similar to the unfairness in wages that immigration can bring in, because people come in and undercut wages. The principle is not one of race or ethnicity at all, but one whereby people say, “You are being unfair,” because the Government have a responsibility to ensure that people are being paid the minimum wage.

This Government have started doing that, but they need to do more, because the three principles of liberty, equality and fraternity must underpin our democracy. In this Queen’s Speech, they do not.

3.38 pm

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I thought for a moment he was going to take us through the entire Napoleonic code, so we can be grateful that he did not do that. One part of the French example that I am sure Government Members would not want to follow is their exorbitantly high tax rate, which I understand has resulted in so many people

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leaving France that the Mayor of London is now Mayor of, in effect, the fourth largest French city. No doubt we can have regard to other aspects of French history.

I rise in support of the Queen’s Speech. Some on the left, and in the Labour party in particular, have mentioned the small number of legislative proposals, but I think that less, not more government is a good thing. State legislatures in some parts of the United States sit for only three or four months a year, and they manage to function in their societies perfectly adequately, with an executive, a judiciary and legislature, and get through their affairs without too many problems. Statist functionaries on the Labour Benches may well find it attractive just to produce Bill after Bill, but I do not find overweening Government attractive. There is the concept that less is sometimes more. Labour may of course find that difficult to understand, bearing in mind that we have seen more from Labour in all these areas—more debt, more of a deficit, more tax and more unemployment.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Less also means more time to get things right.

Michael Ellis: Yes, indeed, and careful consideration of measures is crucial. I practised law in the criminal justice system in Northampton for years before I entered the House, and I witnessed the criminal justice legislation repeatedly passed under the Blair Government and the subsequent Labour Government. Frankly, much of that legislation only served to grind to a halt the court process in England and Wales. It did not work, and in many cases it created further problems. It is important to get legislation right.

We want a Britain that pays its way in the world and a Britain that is more competitive. I wholeheartedly disagree with Labour Members who criticise concepts of profit and commercial endeavour. We want hard-working people and to give them peace of mind for the future, and this Queen’s Speech continues that series of policies. This Government have carried through such measures during the past four years, and will continue to do so for the next year.

For example, the deficit is down by a third. We still hear criticisms about how fast we are able to get down the deficit. As I have previously pointed out to the House, the reality is that for Labour to make such criticisms is rather like an arsonist criticising a firefighter for the time taken to put out a fire. The deficit is down by a third, and income tax has been cut for 25 million people by an average of more than £700.

Julie Hilling: The hon. Gentleman is praising the Government for reducing the deficit by a third—we are, of course, always pleased when the deficit reduces—but will he explain why they have not met their target of getting rid of the deficit over the term of this Parliament? I appreciate that the Parliament has a few more months to run, but it does not seem to me that they will hit the target of a 100% reduction.

Michael Ellis: I am pleased to hear noises from Labour Members about their wanting us to go faster in reducing the deficit. We are doing what we reasonably can, while adopting policies that will be fair across the board and across society, to make good the damage to the British economy that we inherited from the previous Labour Government. That is why we have created

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1.5 million more jobs, which is an unprecedentedly large number of new jobs. They are quality jobs: in many cases, they are full-time jobs. I have heard Labour Members castigate such an achievement or try somehow to negate it by reference to the type of jobs created and the like, but these are new jobs that in many cases are giving people security and peace of mind. The huge volume of new jobs certainly beats the record of the previous Government and every Labour Government whom I can think of, going back generations. At the end of their term, unemployment was higher than the level they inherited.

Mr Pickles: Always.

Michael Ellis: I am told that that has always been the case under every Labour Government.

Julie Hilling: I really cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with the outrageous statement that the previous Labour Government caused a global economic crash that started in America. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) may have been very powerful, but I do not believe that he caused the economic crash that started in America. Is the hon. Gentleman really trying to tell the House that the global economic crash was caused by my right hon. Friend?

Michael Ellis: The economy that this Government inherited was 20th out of the G20 leading industrialised nations. It was at the bottom of the heap. That was the responsibility of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), Tony Blair and the Labour party. That is the appalling legacy that we are seeking to improve.

Under this Government, there are 1.7 million more apprentices. We are looking to give people opportunities. Large numbers of apprenticeships have been created to do that. There are better standards and better schools for young people. Those are significant achievements of the past four years and the Queen’s Speech will follow through on them. Only by sticking to our plan will we secure a better and brighter future for Britain.

I accept, as the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) has pointed out, that there is more to do. That is why we seek another term. In my constituency of Northampton North, the rate of unemployment is 33% lower than it was in April 2010—the month before the general election. Youth unemployment is 41% lower than it was. However, there is more to do and the rate of unemployment is still too high. Like many colleagues on the Government Benches, I organise jobs fairs on an annual basis. During the last jobs fair that I organised, more than 2,000 people came through the doors and more than 40 companies were represented, including medium, small and large companies and charities. I accept that there is more to do, but we must stick to the long-term economic plan and get it right. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and all those on the Treasury Bench have been getting it right and we are seeing the results.

Her Majesty referred to the infrastructure Bill. Investing in infrastructure is a key part of the country’s long-term economic plan, because we have to think to the future,

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like the Victorians and many of our predecessors did. They thought of future generations. Stable long-term funding for the strategic road network is very important and is anticipated in the coming Session.

I have lobbied persistently—some might say nagged—on the issue of potholes. That might seem to many to be a micro-economic issue, but it is significant. In my constituency, and no doubt in other parts of the country, the issue of potholes is of serious and significant concern. I got together a petition to seek more assistance in that regard. I am happy to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that he would allocate a further £200 million towards—

Bob Stewart: Northampton.

Michael Ellis: Not quite towards Northampton, sadly. We will find out in due course how much Northampton will get. However, I am very pleased that the Government have taken that move.

Motoring groups have welcomed that fund to fix roads, although, as ever, they wanted more. I, too, would like to see more money invested in our roads because the amount of road traffic only ever increases. There is an increasing number of incidents that are caused by poor quality road surfaces. Frankly, there are very human reasons why we need to fix the roads. They are dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users. The poor quality of our roads is a danger to life, as well as to livelihoods. The cost of compensation, insurance and the like is going up. That affects local taxpayers as well as national taxpayers. There are therefore raw economic reasons why we need to do something about potholes.

That is why I am very pleased that, thanks to the careful measures that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken over the past four years and to the fact that he has stuck to the path, sometimes in the face of a tsunami of criticism from the Labour Benches, he has improved the state of the economy to such an extent that he has been able to allocate £200 million to fixing potholes. Northamptonshire has bid for some of that, and I hope to hear relatively soon—as, no doubt, do other areas—how much my area will receive.

I think it right that local authorities bid for funding. As the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will know, some local authority areas perform much better than others and have a better track record of getting it right. It is only right that they show why they can operate more efficiently and successfully, or perhaps more expeditiously than others, and why they should therefore be rewarded for their endeavours and competence.

One measure not in the Gracious Speech is the Medical Innovation Bill, which Lord Maurice Saatchi introduced today as a private Member’s Bill in another place. It is to be hoped that in due course it might find its way to this honourable House. It is a completely non-partisan and highly important measure that is designed to make it easier for doctors to treat those who are suffering from cancer and other life-threatening conditions more successfully.

If passed by Parliament, the Bill will allow doctors to take a step away from the well-worn path currently followed in the treatment of cancer. For some cancers, the treatment has not changed literally for decades, and

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doctors—oncologists in particular—know that they will follow that path with their patient, and that there will be the same result at the end of that path. They can even particularise to quite a fine degree how long a patient may have left to live. With proper safeguards—I emphasise that—and with the fully informed consent of the patient and the extra safeguard of a multidisciplinary panel that can oversee the patient’s authority and what the doctor wishes to do, it is right that doctors ought to be able to diverge slightly from that path to see whether something slightly different can work. Only through those methods will we allow doctors to continue their good work and eventually find a cure for cancer.

Nia Griffith: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who are suffering from multiple sclerosis and some cancers who have found that low-dose naltrexone can be effective will also benefit if that Bill is passed? At the moment, some GPs who are very much in favour of prescribing it are afraid to do so because of consequences under the present system if something were to go wrong.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) replies, may I point out that some Members have been sitting in the Chamber all afternoon? Five Members are waiting to speak and others have already spoken. The wind-ups will start at half past 4. We are running out of time and I hope we will be able to include everybody in the debate this afternoon.

Michael Ellis: I am coming to a conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with what the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, and many people will benefit from the Medical Innovation Bill. That is why I hope it will have cross-party support as and when it finds itself in this Chamber.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I regret that we are running out of time, as I mentioned, and it is my judgment that Members who have sat in the Chamber all afternoon would rather speak for a short amount of time than not at all. I therefore impose a time limit of seven minutes and I ask Members to work that out for themselves. Seven minutes for five speakers will comfortably get us to the wind-ups at 4.30 pm, but not if there are lots of interventions. It would be a shame not to hear all Members.

3.55 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I am pleased to take part in this important debate. I am familiar with the refrain that you just issued to the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will definitely stick within that time limit and hopefully my speech will be even shorter.

Let me return to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in opening this debate on the Queen’s Speech yesterday, because he said something vital to this House, this Parliament, this Government and the country: that we in this House face a real challenge of relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public. All Members from all parts of the House will have been out in their constituencies across the country, campaigning, knocking on doors and speaking to people in marketplaces, and so on, and that point will have come across crystal clear. The question is: how

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do we respond to that in the Queen’s Speech, the autumn statement and elsewhere in a way that makes sense to our constituents?

I want to focus on only one element—one that, sadly and tragically, is missing from this Queen’s Speech. For all the welcome news in the hard data in the claimant count analysis—including in my constituency, where the claimant count is down overall, although there is still a massive and enduring issue with long-term youth unemployment—for many people that is unfortunately not reflected in their satisfaction with being in work. The reasons behind that have not been referred to or engaged with by Government Members today, but that is the reality for many of my constituents.

The sad fact is that now, for the first time in the recorded history of this country, the majority of people defined as living in poverty are in work. Something is critically wrong with what we are doing. The fundamental question is whether or not we accept taxpayer-funded poverty pay where the Government—that is, the taxpayer—are asked to step in to prop up poverty wages. It is not all do with part-time work, zero-hours contracts, increased casualisation or agency workers; it is people in full-time work who cannot afford to feed their household, pay the rent, and so on.

I say simply to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber that, with all the talk of rising employment, falling unemployment counts, and so on, if we do not deal with this fundamental issue, it will be a derogation of our duty as parliamentarians and also fly in the face of what we heard on the doorsteps, because it does not only affect our debates about welfare reform and how we create more jobs and good jobs; it also ties into those fundamental fears—fears of what people perceive and what the reality is—about immigration as well.

I have knocked on people’s doors, and the other day a woman in one household told me that she and her two children were both working full-time, yet their income was way below what they needed to live, not in opulence—not even taking two holidays a year, but one—but to do the basics of feeding their family and looking after each other. This also applies next door—these people are neighbours—where immigrant workers are living in multi-occupancy houses. They are on agency workers contracts and, because the national minimum wage, albeit pitiful as it currently is, is not adequately enforced, they are now being targeted by many who say, understandably in some ways, that it is their fault. Well, it is not their fault, and it is for us in this Parliament to do something about it: to protect the rights and conditions, the pay and earnings of everybody who works in this country.

I watched for six or seven minutes yesterday while the House was held rapt by the truth of what the leader of my party said in his opening remarks. It is worth putting them on the record once again:

“Fundamentally, too many people in our country feel that Britain does not work for them and has not done so for a long time—in the jobs they do and whether hard work is rewarded; in the prospects for their children and whether they will lead a better life than their parents, including whether they will be able to afford a home of their own; in the pressures that communities face; and above all whether the work and effort that people put in are reflected in their sharing fairly in the wealth of the country.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2014; Vol. 582, c. 15.]

This far into the 21st century I would say, not only to my own colleagues but to those on the Government

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Benches, that there is a point at which we have to make it clear that if we genuinely believe in dignity at work, that dignity has to be reflected in the way people are remunerated. We cannot do that overnight and we cannot do that if we are insensitive to small businesses, but we can do it with tax breaks to promote the living wage and by being serious about how we push up—over time, but more rapidly than we are—the national minimum wage. We can do it by dealing with the scourge of the abuse of agency workers. Too many agency workers are now in conditions where not only are they being recruited abroad, but they are being brought here and laid off after the 12-week period so that they do not receive the same protections as other people. We can do it not by completely ending zero-hours contracts, but by dealing with the abuse of them, where people who work regularly over a long time for an employer are not given the dignity and respect of being told, “You are doing a good job, we are going to keep you on. Here’s the contract.”

That is the sort of fundamental challenge we heard on the doorstep to the legitimacy and the reputational standing of this place. I ask Ministers to respond to that, because this Queen’s Speech simply did not.

4.2 pm

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): It is an absolute pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who spoke yesterday in proposing the Loyal Address. She gave a glittering speech on the Navy, on Portsmouth, and on the role of women in Parliament and in the armed forces. It was touching, witty and profound. It was a speech that my great aunt, the first British Conservative woman in Parliament, would have been very proud to hear. It was a speech that should make us all redouble our work to smash the glass ceiling that still holds back so many women and girls in this country and around the world.

In the week of the D-day commemorations, I want to join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who rightly paid tribute to the D-day generation who gave their tomorrows for our today and our democratic freedoms. It is a salutary reminder, at a time when public disillusionment with politics is so high, making it fashionable for people such as Russell Brand and others to attack and dismiss mainstream politics, of the great privilege and prize of democratic politics: free and fair elections that those in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and other places in the world have fought and died for.

As the Leader of the Opposition said in the thoughtful first few minutes of his speech yesterday, highlighting the growing public disillusionment with narrow, shrill, unduly dogmatic and self-interested politics before disappointingly reverting to type and failing his own high test, recent elections have shown us the strong public groundswell of anger at a politics and a model of big government people increasingly feel is not working for them. The Queen’s Speech is about specific Bills, but it is also a moment to reflect on the causes and implications of that. With the Scottish and the EU referendums looming, there is a real risk of disillusionment fuelling

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support for secessionist, pessimistic, backward-looking politics and leading potentially to the break-up of this great United Kingdom and the loss of the irreplaceable richness and strength in the union of our historic nations, so brilliantly described recently by Simon Schama, to be replaced by a smaller, shriller, narrower politics of self-interest within the disempowering bureaucracy of a centralising European Union. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s strong support for the United Kingdom and his insistence on governing for the nation not in narrow party interest but from the progressive centre, ambitious for a globally competitive and influential Britain. But to do that we need to understand—indeed harness—the causes of the disillusionment that we are seeing.

I do not claim any special insight on this, but it is a subject that has long been of interest to me. In 2003 I founded an independent movement called Mind the Gap! to look at the causes of disillusionment and, in 2005, a campaign called Positive Politics. I have written and spoken on it widely elsewhere. I want to make three quick observations.

The first is that this problem has been incubating for a long time, over the last 20 years. The inconvenient truth that we need to face is that it has done so under both main parties; from some of the sleaze in the early ’90s, through the spin of new Labour and the culture of anything-goes irresponsibility. That was enhanced by the former Labour Business Secretary, who said that he was profoundly relaxed about people getting filthy rich. He should not have been; he should have been profoundly exercised in building a culture of enterprise, philanthropy and respect for wealth creation. There was also the abuse of the democratic process in connection with the Iraq decision, some of the scandalous excesses of the expenses scandal and the public disillusionment with the way in which the bank bail-out was conducted and the way in which bank bonuses continue to be paid without so much as any criminal sanction. In America, people would be behind bars. That has fuelled the sense among the public of “one rule for us and another for them.”

My second observation is that this is not apathy; the people of Britain are not uninterested in their politics. It is anger, fuelled by an increasingly depressed and devastating combination of powerlessness and a sense of an unaccountable governing class, particularly in Europe but also in London. There is a sense that the citizens of this country are less and less able to take power and influence over their own lives at a time when, in their domestic lives as consumers, technology is empowering them evermore.

The third observation is that the United Kingdom Independence party, while successfully riding this wave of anger, has no answers or solutions, no serious policy programme and is in fact a toxic and divisive influence in British politics. The British people are not lurching to the right. They do not necessarily want to leave the EU today and they certainly are not racist and xenophobic. But they do yearn for a politics and a Parliament in which those in positions of power and responsibility take and exercise their responsibilities for those who are without them. We must set the highest standards of conduct not just in public office but in senior positions across our society: football, the media and in business. We work always in the interests of the

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people whose Parliament this is, who pay our bills and whose ancestors gave their lives 70 years ago to secure the freedoms we cherish.

It is in that context that I welcome the important steps taken in this Parliament to begin to put this country back on its feet: restoring the public finances; tackling the deficit; rewarding work and responsibility; our reforms to welfare, to pensions and to tax breaks for the lowest paid; empowering citizens; our long-term economic plan for a resilient economy; the localist reforms to give power back to communities; the reforms in the Home Office, in defence, health and education; our historic commitment to begin to tackle the problem of public disillusionment with the EU with the Prime Minister’s pledge to reform and to give the British people a referendum on the EU.

In the Queen’s Speech, I welcome in particular the measures on the economy, society and politics; the recall Bill, the slavery Bill, the social action responsibility Bill and the small business and pensions Bills. The truth is that the extent of the economic, social and political hollowing-out that we inherited will take more than four or five years to fix. It will require a better politics, economy and society, which has at its heart, as this Queen’s Speech does, an insistence on the notion of the reciprocal responsibilities that bind us. It requires a culture of political discourse that values what the decent majority of British people do—a culture of fairness and decency with universal values and standards that apply equally to all citizens. I believe that this Parliament and this Government have started to put this country back on its feet through key reforms to promote work and responsibility, citizen empowerment, more responsive public services and a sustainable model of growth and public finance.

I welcome this Queen’s Speech as a first step on a long hard road. The Leader of the Opposition began yesterday to point the way down that road, but I do not believe that the public think he has a serious programme of reform to deliver what we need. I believe that the people of Newark today, and the country next spring, will reward the only party that does.

4.9 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak in the debate. I wish that I could talk about the Gracious Speech, but in truth I do not believe there is very much to talk about, although I must say that I welcome the announcement of action on plastic bags.

My constituents cannot afford another year of complacency. They cannot afford another year of a Government who do not understand their situation and simply tinker at the edges. They cannot afford a year in which the Education Secretary proceeds with his plans to take our schools back to the 1950s, and in which the Government ignore the cost of living crisis faced by the people of Bolton West and do nothing to ensure that having a job means that people can afford to live, nothing to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts, nothing to address the widespread concerns about immigration, nothing to stop care workers being exploited, nothing to stop the privatisation of the national health service, the scandal of people being unable to see their GPs or the scandal of missed cancer and waiting-time targets, and nothing to freeze energy prices.

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The Gracious Speech did not even include Bills that the Government have already produced in draft, such as the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill and the Bill to prevent smoking in cars. And what has happened to the legislation to regulate the taxi industry following the inquiry that the Government asked the Law Commission to undertake? Commentators have described this as a zombie Government, and I think that perhaps they have a good point. Government Members who spoke yesterday welcomed the next 11 months of lots and lots of general debates, but, much as I welcome the opportunity to discuss issues that are really important to the people of Bolton West, such debates are pointless if no action is taken to deal with those issues.

Members on the other side of the House talk proudly of the actions taken by their Government. They seem to think it is okay for there to be food banks in the fifth richest country in the world, and that it is okay to talk about jobs that are being created without any acknowledgement or understanding of the fact that they include unpaid jobs provided through Government schemes, jobs involving zero-hours contracts, jobs that have been transferred from the public sector, jobs that were created and then failed, and jobs in which people are self-employed. The fact that 30% of people who use the Atherton food bank in my constituency are in work provides evidence of the quality of some of those jobs. It shows that the quality of a job is important, rather than merely having a job.

Government Members make claims that they cannot back up with reliable evidence. Five million workers—one if five of us who are lucky enough to have a job—are paid less than the living wage. That is an increase of 400,000 in the last year alone. The situation is not just bad for those people, but bad for the rest of us. It costs the Exchequer £3.23 billion a year in in-work benefits and tax losses to support employers who do not pay their employees a living wage. Low pay is bad for the economy, and it is bad for the taxpayer as well. However, the Government have no plans to improve the national minimum wage.

One group of workers who are caught by both zero-hours contracts and abuses of the minimum wage are care workers. People who are doing one of the most precious jobs in our country, and whom we entrust to look after our elderly and disabled loved ones, are treated appallingly. Studies show that between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are unlawfully paid less than the minimum wage.

Nia Griffith: When we talk about raising the minimum wage, we often hear scaremongering stories about jobs being offshored. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as care workers’ jobs cannot be offshored and will continue to be done here, there is no danger in raising their wages?

Julie Hilling: A great deal of nonsense is talked about raising the minimum wage. When we consider the cost to the people who are employed and the cost to the Exchequer, it is clear that we cannot continue to subsidise employers who could pay their employees a living wage.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right to express concern about carers, many of whom are women. Would not many of

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them benefit the most from Labour’s commitment to provide extra child care assistance so that their children can be looked after, as opposed to the Government’s promise of jam tomorrow in autumn 2015?

Julie Hilling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Most carers are women, and most of them are now older women because of that very problem that people cannot afford to pay for care.

An investigation of 80 care providers established that nearly half of them were not complying with minimum wage regulations. A fifth of the adult social care work force are on zero-hours contracts. Many are not paid for travel time, and, unsurprisingly, there is a 30% turnover of care workers who work in people’s homes. This is not just bad for them; it is also bad for the people they care for. Imagine a situation in which someone does not know who will come into their home four times a day to get them up, to feed them and to put them to bed, and who does not know who will be washing their most private parts. Imagine the strain of their having to tell different people every day how to care for them, the strain on carers when their cared-for person is unable to speak up for themselves, or the worry for people of not knowing when carers will turn up and the panic when they think they might have been forgotten.

Then there are the mistakes that occur. Members will know that I speak from experience. My mum was given both her morning and evening tablets at the same time the other day because the carer accidentally gave her her evening tablets and then thought it would be a good idea to give her her morning ones as well. Another carer just gave her her evening ones instead of her morning ones, and, even worse, a new carer took my mother for her shower, wrapped her in a towel and left her to walk alone from the bathroom to the bedroom with the towel wrapped around her, Of course, my mother fell and has a head injury, and an arm injury that is still troubling her now several weeks later. I speak from experience and I know that this is exactly what is happening to hundreds of thousands of people every day when they cannot rely on the care service. Imagine the distress, too, of a cared-for person, day in, day out, having a parade of different carers.

Low pay, insecure work and zero-hours contracts are not just bad for the employee; they are bad for all of us. I fear that yet again my words are falling on the deaf ears of those who simply want to tell us that everything in the world is fine. Well, it may be fine in their world, but it is not fine in the world of the majority of my constituents in Bolton West.

Simply telling my constituents that things are getting better does not solve the problem. This Gracious Speech does not solve the problem that a third of private rented homes are non-decent homes. It will not build the affordable homes or the social homes for people and their children. It will not provide secure tenancies or affordable child care or raise the national minimum wage. It will not guarantee a job for the long-term unemployed. It will not freeze energy prices. It will not stop workers being undercut by the unscrupulous use of migrant workers. It will not make it easier for people to see their GP. It will not stop the privatisation of the

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health service, and it will not tackle the issues of dog welfare and dog control that put my constituents at risk; and, worst of all, it is not going to make work pay.

I hope that in 12 months’ time I will be welcoming all the things that I said this Gracious Speech will not do, and that I will be sitting on the Government Benches welcoming the next Queen’s Speech. Truly Britain deserves better than this.

4.17 pm

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I greatly welcome the Queen’s Speech and the provisions set out in it. Having served on the Modern Slavery Joint Committee with Members of the House of Lords, I particularly welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. There is a long list of things I could welcome, but I want to focus on energy and housing as they are the topics for today. However, in passing I think I need to reply a little to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who spoke of the particular pressures that women, and perhaps women care workers, were under, by pointing out to her that 3 million people have been taken out of income tax by the raising of the tax threshold and that a large majority of them are women in low-paid jobs. I hope she will give us some credit for some of the good things we are doing.

Energy and housing are closely linked, because 27% of the carbon dioxide that is emitted in this country is produced from our housing stock. The link between energy, climate change and housing is very close indeed, therefore. I have long posed this question to those who give advice to Government and others: “If you’ve got £100 million to spend, what is the cheapest way of reducing carbon by the greatest amount?” The answer every time is to tackle housing. That is cheaper than paying for new generating equipment and cheaper than policies to cut carbon for transport, and it is certainly a longer-term solution than any gimcrack price fixing of energy policy.

I am delighted that we have doubled the amount of renewable energy which is contributing to electrical generation since 2010. I welcome our approach to generating energy, and I particularly welcome what we are doing to control energy and improve efficiency in housing. That has been a long-term interest of mine, and I steered on to the statute book the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004. I was very pleased that this coalition Government adopted the green deal, too. As a Minister I had the opportunity to sign through the first step forward in energy-efficiency for housing in October 2010, and I am pleased to see that there is going to be delivery on zero-carbon homes by 2016. The announcement is somewhat overdue. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is in his place and knows my views about that. It nearly happened in 2012 and again in 2013, but it has happened in 2014: we have a clear announcement about the commissioning of allowable solutions, and we can now get the industry making the preparations it needs, building the confidence to invest that it needs and making sure that it can really deliver for us in 2016.

In parallel with yesterday’s Queen Speech, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), made a written statement today on zero-carbon

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homes. I want to comment briefly on one aspect of that: what is described as a “small site exemption”. Perhaps the Secretary of State can give us a little more information on that. I remind him that there is no need to exclude small sites from the application of allowable solutions. We already have a system, very often played out through section 106, whereby if recreational facilities cannot be provided on site, a developer will contribute to a fund for those facilities to be provided elsewhere. That mostly applies to small sites, because they are the ones where a playground cannot be fitted in easily and so money is paid to enhance playgrounds nearby. He is going to be consulting on the small site exemption and I urge him to accept that my consultation number for the size of small sites should be zero homes and no bigger.

I wish to focus on one other aspect of energy policy as it affects housing efficiency, and it relates to clause 29 of the Deregulation Bill. Again, there is some history here. In 2003, the London borough of Merton won a High Court case allowing it to set energy standards for housing in its borough. That was strongly challenged by the then Labour Government and came at the same time as the Bill that became my 2004 Act was going through Parliament. I wrote into my Bill a clause that “legitimised” the Merton ruling, but the Labour Government and the local government Minister at the time took stock and decided that the embarrassment of challenging this sensible provision outweighed anything else. The Labour Government announced that they were not going to challenge the ruling, and the clause came out of my draft Bill, as it then was, and did not need to find its form in that legislation. I say to the Secretary of State that it was a good localism measure, predating the very good work he has put in place since 2010. I urge him to talk to his colleagues across government and persuade them that we do not need clause 29 of this new Bill, or that if we do, it should not come into force until zero-carbon homes are in place in 2016. Otherwise, we shall have a gap in the provision of energy performance for housing, which nobody wants and nobody needs. Let us be the greenest Government ever.

4.24 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I draw the House’s attention to my indirect interest, as previously recorded in Hansard. We have had a wide-ranging debate that was opened by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who made the Liberal Democrat case for the coalition. Were he here, I would gently point out to him that there has not been a council tax freeze for about 2.2 million people on the very lowest incomes who have been hit by the changes in council tax benefit. The most passionate part of his speech was when he talked about energy bills, but I would remind him that energy bills went down when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was Energy Secretary, whereas they have gone up during his tenure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) then made what I think was a forensic speech, making the case for what could have been done in the Gracious Speech to do something about markets that do not work in the interests of consumers, which has dominated this afternoon’s debate. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) gave what I would describe as an hon. and learned master-class—one with which I was not familiar before—on

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heroic negligence.




The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government assures me across the Dispatch Box that he will further enlighten us on the subject when he replies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who chairs the Communities and Local Government Committee, in a typically thoughtful and well-informed speech, made important points about brownfield land, viability, the impact of migration and the importance of devolving power to answer the English question—a point reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart).

Several Members—led by the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and supported by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell)—spoke passionately in support of the Bill to tackle modern-day slavery. There is not a single Member of the House who does not look forward to the day when that Bill reaches the statute book.

We also heard contributions from the hon. Members for Angus (Mr Weir), for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), for Fareham (Mr Hoban), for North Dorset (Mr Walter), for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Northampton North (Michael Ellis),

A number of Members, including the Chair of the Select Committee and my hon. Friends the Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), raised the problem of the insecurity and expense faced by the 9 million people who now rent from private landlords, including a growing number of families. We know that many of them would like to buy their own homes but cannot afford to do so and that private renting is the most expensive form of tenure. On average, people renting privately spend 41% of their income on housing. For those in the social rented sector the figure is 30%, and for owner-occupiers it is 19%.

We also know that renting privately can mean insecurity—the point made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. How can parents of children starting school this September, for example, feel confident about a stable future family life when, with 12-month tenancies being the norm—that is a fact—they do not know for sure whether they will still be in their family home a year from now? Landlords can tell their tenants, “Of course I will renew your tenancy, but I want to increase the rent by 10%.” How can a family plan their future finances, and have a sense of future stability, when there is that degree of uncertainty about both their tenancy and their rent?

We also know that very frequent turnover in properties is not very good for landlords, because properties lie empty and they lose out on rent during that period. It is not very good for tenants, as I have just explained. The one group of people it is good for, of course, is the letting agents, who can charge fees every time there is turnover, both to landlords and tenants. I think that the House will agree that the industry has been poorly regulated. Parts of it have developed some very bad habits, including charging hidden fees for having pets and dealing with inventories and references, all of which are on top of the large amounts of money that people

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have to find for rent in advance and for a deposit. Many people have to borrow to meet that bill in order to get a home, which is why we would stop lettings agents from charging fees to tenants—as is now the case in Scotland. After all, when we buy a house, it is the seller who pays the estate agent, and not the buyer; that is the parallel. I welcome what the Government propose to do in relation to transparency, but it does not tackle the root of the problem.

To be fair to Ministers for a moment—[Interruption.] I shall be fair; I am always fair. They claim to get the problem of insecurity and uncertainty in the private rented sector judging by the “Better tenancies for families in rental homes” document. It talks about longer tenancies to enable greater stability and rent review clauses that are index- linked to inflation, and yet when we recently announced that we would give greater security by offering three-year tenancies as the norm and peace of mind that any subsequent rent increases would not be excessive, what happened? The former Housing Minister, and now the Chairman of the Conservative party, instantly denounced them as Venezuelan-style rent control.

Then somebody in No. 10 Downing street suddenly thought, “Hang on a minute, didn’t we say something vaguely positive about this in that CLG document?” Lo and behold, the Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box and said that he was in favour of longer-term tenancies. So, Venezuela, having hoved into view, then disappeared off the scene, but the Prime Minister denounced the idea of rent control.

Then something very curious happened. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, went on the “Daily Politics” show, and said

“on the rents issue, we put forward that policy at our conference last year.”

We have three different Members of the Government and three different positions, at least two of which fully support our policy. I say to the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), if he is still in his place, what is really a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma is tenants wondering what the Government really think on this question of greater security for tenants. The only possible explanation, in the absence of any legislation in the Queen’s Speech to give people that security and greater certainty about rent increases in years two or three of what we have proposed in the three-year tenancies, is that the Government are willing to concede the point, but are unwilling to lift a single legislative finger to give tenants that greater security and peace of mind.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the Government are ideologically averse to the state using its power on behalf of those for whom markets do not work, and it is exactly the same issue in relation to the energy market. I simply say that it is not much use to all those tenants who find themselves in that position. It is the difference between us and the Government. We will give tenants greater security as of right, and the Government will not.

On building the homes that we need, I welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech for an urban development corporation to support the building of the Ebbsfleet garden city. However, I say to the Secretary of State

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that the statement from his Planning Minister, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), that he would not require a particular level of affordable housing in Ebbsfleet—he said that in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) in the House recently—is frankly astonishing. Are Ministers saying that in all the garden cities that all of us from all parts of the House want to see built, there will be no requirement for affordable housing? What will that do to the housing benefit bill given that there has been a staggering 60% increase in the number of working people claiming housing benefit since the coalition took office? As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, we are talking about 400,000 more people. If that does not reinforce the point that was made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that for many people in this country work does not seem to pay or reward them, then what does?

My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Brent North all spoke eloquently in their own way about the effects of insecurity and low pay on people’s sense that they lack liberty and equality, and on how as a result they do not feel a sense of fraternity in our society.

We want to see the details of the housing and planning measures announced in the Gracious Speech, but after four years of announcements and headlines, the truth is that the Government’s record is not much to shout about. Four years in, the number of homes completed has been lower in every single year that the Secretary of State has occupied his post than it was in any of the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. We built more homes than the coalition. The number of social homes completed last year was the lowest for at least 20 years—the Government’s own figures. That is not surprising. Why? The first act of the Secretary of State on housing was to say, “I have a good idea. Let’s cut the capital budget for affordable housing by 60%”—surprise, surprise, the lowest figure for at least 20 years.

Far from having the “self-build revolution” promised by the then Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)—he said that the Government would double the size of the sector—the number of self-built homes is at its lowest level for 30 years. For people who want to get a foot on the housing ladder, it now takes a lot longer to save for a deposit, but even when they get to that point, they find that house prices are now rising nationally at 8% a year and in London at 17% a year. No wonder that the Governor of the Bank of England recently said that Britain’s housing market has deep structural problems and that the failure to build enough homes and rising house prices are the biggest risks to financial stability.

As I have said before from the Dispatch Box to the Secretary of State, we support help for people to realise their dream of home ownership, especially first-time buyers. But, if the Government simply increase housing demand without increasing housing supply, which they have not, all that happens—and indeed it is happening—is that prices continue to rise out of the reach of people who want to get their foot on the ladder. That is what is missing from the Queen’s Speech—a recognition of the structural problems in the land market and the house building market.

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Much of the focus has been on planning, and there is more to come, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) pointed out, there is planning permission for 20,000 homes in her borough, but I think she said that fewer than 1,000 of them—

Margaret Hodge: Five hundred.

Hilary Benn: Only 500 of those homes have been built. The problem is not the planning permission, because more than 19,000 houses with planning permission are waiting to be built; they are simply not being built. What is the structural problem? In part, it is because 30 or 40 years ago two thirds of houses in this country were built by small and medium-sized builders, but by 2012 that figure had fallen to a third. That is a profound change in the structure of the house building market. As the number of small builders has declined and as the big firms have grown even bigger, it has become easier for the dominant firms to buy up land. As Kate Barker found in her report 10 years ago—many Members know that this is true—it is not always in the interests of those big builders to build out the sites on which they have got planning permission as quickly as possible or as quickly as the nation needs.

The truth is that to get the number of houses we require to be built, there has to be a change in how the housing market works—something that Ministers have simply failed to acknowledge. We have to get more firms into house building to build homes and to provide competition, because the high cost of housing is driven by the high cost of land. That is why, compared with the rest of Europe, we have really expensive homes with really small rooms in this country. Not enough land has been released for housing development and, by the time land is given planning permission, it is often prohibitively expensive. That creates an incentive to bank land rather than to build on it.

Those who argue that land banking is not a problem forget what the Office of Fair Trading found in 2008. It said that strategic land banks bought with options, which accounted for 83% of land banks, were worth 14.3 years of production, and that that would be enough to build 1.4 million homes, which would be a welcome addition. What is more, under the current system there is very little that local authorities can do about land banking. Compulsory purchase order powers are little used because they are complex, legalistic, difficult and so on, so authorities, on behalf of the communities that they represent, have no effective way of bringing land forward to the market. That is why we would create greater transparency by ensuring that developers register the land they own and have options on—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is chuntering, but he is in favour of transparency, so will he support that measure?

We want to give councils and communities the power to charge developers escalating fees for sitting on land with planning permission to incentivise them to build and, if they do not, to release the land. The Secretary of State has denounced the idea, but of course it was supported by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford before he was given the job of Planning Minister. As a last resort, we would give local authorities the power compulsorily to purchase land and to assemble land so that we could make progress. The purpose of all those measures is to address the imbalance of power

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between local communities and developers. I say to Ministers that the land market and the housing market are not working and that is why there is this fundamental problem. There is not enough competition and I do not understand why a Government that includes a party that prides itself on being an apostle for competition is doing nothing about that.

My final point is about how we can get consent and get the houses built in the right place. I congratulate the local authority of the hon. Member for Fareham on the leadership it has shown—he outlined that for the House this afternoon—in recognising that there is a need for more housing and saying where it would like it to go. That is the essence of the deal. We have a much better chance of getting communities to come forward and take responsibility for meeting housing need in their area if they think that the sites they identify are where the housing will go. As we have heard in debates in this House on many occasions over the past two or three years—this is the reason the Planning Minister sometimes gets a tough time—it does not work like that. Developers say that the land is brownfield and too expensive, that they cannot build a lot there and that they want to go for a greenfield site. That has to change.

The fundamental problem with the Gracious Speech is that it does not get why so many people voted the way they did or did not vote at all on 22 May. It does not get the costs and insecurity that many people have to live with, whether they are caused by zero-hours contracts, the bedroom tax, high energy bills, insecure tenancies, unaffordable house prices or having to go to a complete stranger and say, “Can you help me because I can’t feed my family this weekend?” That is the truth. The Government are unwilling to use the power of this House to help people in those circumstances. In the end, the public will judge, but if we want to restore faith in democracy we must use our democracy to help people who find themselves in that position.

4.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): It would be churlish of me not to thank the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for allowing me a few moments to reply to the debate. I always enjoy following him and thought that he was particularly on form today. I always look forward to his unique combination of Lady Bracknell and Joseph Stalin.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers—and, of course, sisters—are here to debate the Queen’s Speech, while our comrades in arms are 100 or so miles to the north marching the streets of Newark. I want to make it absolutely clear that if anybody in Newark is watching this debate on the parliamentary channel and has not been to vote yet, I would not be offended if they left immediately to do so.

Many people have spoken in the debate and, although I think it is quite unusual to do so the following day, I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on an excellent speech. We all enjoyed it and never did I believe for a moment when we were putting through the Localism Act 2011 that it would eventually lead to a namesake of mine snuffling through the undergrowth of my hon. Friend’s constituency. I wish that mammal every success.

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As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, apart from the wonderful speeches from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), the speeches started with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) talking about heroic negligence. He is a distinguished lawyer, which I know to be a fact, because when my permanent secretary was the chief executive of a local authority, he tried to sue me for defamation and my hon. and learned Friend managed to save my house and my skin. I realise that he was teasing me terribly. I have looked and I can find no reference to heroic negligence. I am taking my courage in my hands to contradict a distinguished QC. As far as I can see, this is just a defence to a charge of negligence, where one can say one has done something in the common interest and shown unnecessary valour. That does not involve, as far as I can see, disappearing into a phone box and changing into an outfit where one wears one’s knickers over one’s shirt. I think we may be able to satisfy my hon. and learned Friend.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) and other right hon. and hon. Members referred to the modern slavery Bill, as did my hon. and learned Friend. We are pleased with the support for the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip mentioned that he had been to the 105th birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton, who is widely known in the House. It is appropriate that on this day, when we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe, we remember that Sir Nicholas was responsible for the liberation of many young people in the Kindertransport, and we wish him many more birthdays to come.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) welcomed the help for small businesses and spoke cogently about the problems of small businesses getting finance from the banks. He spoke also about a problem in his constituency, which I have shared. It is right that we are addressing that problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) said that it was massively important that we were bringing down the deficit and ensuring that personal and banking debt were reduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) spoke about the Government’s many achievements and the excellent quality of housing in her constituency, which I had an opportunity to see recently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) talked about the way we are dealing with the housing market, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) spoke about solar power and was a strong advocate of local power. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) talked about recovering tax from tax avoidance schemes and what we were doing to deal with the deficit. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) managed to elicit from Labour that they wanted to out-Thatcher Thatcherites by going faster and deeper with the cuts, which I thought was amazingly interesting. He also spoke about the new jobs and better standards in schools, and talked interestingly about potholes.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) gave strong support to the Union and made a persuasive case for turning the anger of the electorate into empowering the electorate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) talked about improving energy in building. I cannot look at a copy of the building regulations without thinking of him. The measures on small sites are not there to help the larger developers; they are to help small builders. As Opposition Members tried their best to bankrupt the housing sector, we are trying to get some builders back in.

We have heard a lot in this debate, but one thing is clear: an economy under the Opposition would mean an economy in reverse, a stifled rental market, a choked-off energy market, and an overtaxed labour market. In fact, it would be a miracle if any market was going in the right direction.

This Government have spent four years laying the foundation for a sure recovery by cutting Labour’s budget deficit, sticking to our long-term economic plan, and keeping taxes down for hard-working people. The Opposition may say that some grand Whitehall housing targets would make the difference, but we have heard that before from the previous Prime Minister. As soon as they were announced, with the curse of Jonah, the house-building programme plummeted under Labour. We have reversed Labour’s shameful housing market trend, which dragged us down to 1920s start levels. We have begun work on more than 445,000 houses since 2010. Planning permissions for 213,000 homes were put in place only last year. The Help to Buy equity loan scheme has helped more than 30,000 people to buy or reserve a new home—something I understand the Opposition now support. Home ownership is no longer a pipe dream but a reality for thousands of first-time buyers.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): A contribution in my constituency will be the local plan that my two local authorities are working on. One of the difficulties is the green belt, which is very precious to them. The current Planning Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and his immediate predecessor have emphasised that these sites could be removed from the green belt only in exceptional circumstances and that doing so in order to make up the housing site numbers was not exceptional. Unfortunately, some councils—I will not name them—are not heeding that advice, and apparently neither are some planning inspectors. Assuming that my right hon. Friend agrees with the Minister, would he be able to circulate this important message to local authorities as they develop their plans?

Mr Pickles: Yes, indeed. We did that, I think, as recently as a couple of months ago. An exceptional case has to be made for housing on green belt. We know from the Solihull case that an exceptional case has to be made not only in terms of taking things off the green belt but putting things on to it.

The Opposition claim that there are half a million unbuilt houses with planning permission due to land banking; indeed, we have just heard that. I have to say that that is not entirely correct. Some 90% of those houses are currently in the process of being built or are about to be started. Our reforms on planning conditions

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in the infrastructure Bill will help to speed up the process. We have taken a series of steps to kick-start stalled sites, such as scaling back unreasonable section 106 agreements—all measures that the Opposition have opposed.

This Government have turned Britain around. We are safeguarding the public finances, there are 1.5 million more people in work, income tax has been reduced for 24 million people, and the deficit is down by a third. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) wants to intervene, he should stand up and ask. [Interruption.] I will not give way at the moment.

This is the sort of decisive action that the Opposition can only dream of. Labour Members talk about the cost of living crisis and claim to understand it, but they failed to protect hard-working people when they had a chance. Instead, they doubled council tax, escalated fuel duty, and watched as building sites downed tools and shops were boarded up. In contrast, this Government are protecting people who want to get on and do the right thing by putting taxpayers at the heart of decision making.

Huw Irranca-Davies rose

Mr Pickles: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his advice on standing up. In standing up for my constituents, may I ask him to address the nub of my speech? The fall in the claimant count in my constituency, despite continuing long-term problems and long-term unemployment, is welcome news, but underneath that is the issue of poverty pay. Does he accept the situation under this Government whereby more people are in poverty and in work than in poverty and out of work? Is that acceptable?

Mr Pickles: We have been very clear that we want an increase in the minimum wage and want to do things to prosecute employers who do not pay it. We want to see people on the ladder. We do not take the Labour view: “You know your place and you’ll never get any better.” We believe that once people get on the employment ladder they will get a better job, move on and get promoted, and then reach a point when they want to put something back into society. There is nothing wrong with the dignity of labour.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Going back to planning regulation, will he reconsider the question of the lack of planning requirement for the transfer of office accommodation into housing? When a transfer takes place there is no social housing obligation. Does he not realise that it is quite an important issue in areas such as mine?

Mr Pickles: It is exactly the same as it is for housing in the rest of the country. We found that placing those numbers created an unnecessary burden nationally. We are happy for local people to come to an agreement on the mix and some minor adjustments have certainly helped, but building 50% of nothing is still nothing.

I can announce today that we will introduce new measures to allow London home owners to rent out their homes on a short-term basis to visitors. Londoners currently have to apply for planning permission from

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their council, with extra red tape, confusion and cost. Ending that outdated rule from the 1970s will allow Londoners the same freedom that home owners across the rest of the country enjoy. It will not mean that homes will be turned into hotels or hostels, but it will allow hard-working families to earn extra cash when they themselves go away. In our fifth parliamentary year, this Queen’s Speech builds on the foundations we have laid.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who is not in his place, expressed concern about new homes in Wales. I understand why, because the number of new homes in Labour-run Wales has fallen. House builders have shifted their business across the border to England, because the Welsh Government are so anti-business. The devolved Administration in Wales have hit the housing market with a mountain of red tape and have failed to support home ownership. Some builders have estimated that it costs up to £13,000 more to build a house in Wales than in England. It is a matter of public policy and the regulations hurt business and jobs.

Members do not need to take my word for that, because the Federation of Master Builders has stated that the Welsh Government’s waste plan is “counter-productive” and is

“going to drive the industry further into the doldrums”.

The Home Builders Federation has warned that the cost and regulation of building seem to be increasing:

“For example, proposed change to Part L of building regulations on energy and carbon efficiency could potentially add nearly £20,000 to the build cost of each new home in Wales.”

That is not satisfactory.

Labour Front Benchers will forgive me for saying that two Labour Back Benchers made immensely interesting speeches. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke powerfully about Birmingham and Joseph Chamberlain. I cannot help believing that he would have laughed his socks off at her contribution and the idea that he would stand around and wait for the Government to grant some powers. He took the powers and I think that frightened this Chamber enormously and led to a lot of the regulations that pushed down on local government. I think that the general power of competence and the city deals are the future, and local government should grab that opportunity.

In the remaining minutes, I just want to say that the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) really reflected the massive importance of housing in any social change. The changes we are attempting to make to get more private money into the private rented sector are about trying to build more resilience. Whether the hon. Gentleman sits on the Opposition or Government Benches, the truth is that there will be no public money for a massive house-building programme. We can only do that by making it attractive for private money to come into the private rented sector. That was our concern about the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman a few weeks ago. My point is that they gave uncertainty in suggesting that they might be a harbinger of Venezuelan rent controls.

I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.

5 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Monday 9 June.

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Kidnapped Nigerian school girls

5 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): The petition was organised by the pupils of Sugar Hill primary school in Newton Aycliffe in Sedgefield in my constituency, where they managed to collect 212 signatures.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Sedgefield,

Declares that 200 Nigerian school girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram and further that the Petitioners believe that more could be done internationally to ensure their safe release.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the UK government to do all in its power to ensure that the 200 kidnapped school girls are released and returned to their families.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Planning (Shipley)

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

5.1 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am very grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this debate, and for rescheduling it so promptly after it was postponed because of Prorogation. I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will pass on my thanks to him.

I am grateful to the Minister for being here to respond, although I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), is disappointed not to be in his place today.

I am in favour of localism, but I want the Minister to be aware that, for my constituents in Shipley, localism is only a pipedream and a concept that they do not experience. For them, localism is not working, and I hope that he will reflect on their experience and look at what can be done to ensure that it works for everyone.

The Shipley constituency is served, if that is the right word, by City of Bradford metropolitan district council. The Bradford district has a rising population, so the council wishes to build more homes. The rising population is actually in the centre of Bradford, but to boost its house building numbers, the council is seeking to build as many houses as possible in the outskirts of the district. The planning permission granted by Bradford council for more than 300 houses in Menston—I want to focus on that—will not do anything at all to alleviate the housing demand in the centre of Bradford. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people who come to live in Menston are from outside the district.

Bradford council also wishes to regenerate the city centre, which is much needed. However, people who live in places such as Menston in my constituency go to Leeds rather than to Bradford to do their shopping. This housing numbers game will therefore do nothing to alleviate the housing needs of the district or to regenerate the city centre; yet it will ruin the nature of the villages in my constituency. What is the sense of this approach, and what will the Government do to ensure that councils have plans that meet their strategic objectives and do not just treat the whole district as a large numbers game?

There is clearly far more demand for housing than supply. That is why all political parties are anxious to outbid each other on how many new houses they will build. However, in a situation of supply and demand, there should be just as much focus on demand as on supply. The reason why there is so much demand for housing is largely immigration, particularly the unlimited immigration from the EU caused by our open borders, which means that we cannot control the numbers who come into this country.

The public would much prefer the supply and demand of housing to be solved by controlling demand—by controlling immigration—than by simply concentrating on supply, which will eventually lead to every green field being built on? The only sustainable position is to control demand, and I hope that the Government will reflect on that rather than indulge in an unsustainable house building arms race.

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There are many examples in my constituency of Labour-run Bradford council, which only seems to care about its Bradford political heartlands, riding roughshod over the wishes of local residents. For example, the planning application for Sty lane in Micklethwaite has been valiantly opposed by local residents through the Greenhill action group and local Bingley councillors. It is a wholly unsuitable site for development and, eventually, the council’s planning committee rejected the planning application—a decision that has been upheld by the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State. However, the developers keep coming back with new planning applications. According to the developers, that is with the encouragement of council planning officers. I would like to place on record the thanks of my constituents to the Secretary of State for twice rejecting the planning application. I hope he will continue to do so should it ever come back to him.

Planning permission has also been granted by Bradford council for Buck lane in Baildon and Crack lane in Wilsden—both wholly unsuitable sites—in the teeth of opposition from local residents and local councillors. However, there is no better example of how Bradford council has failed local communities in my constituency than the planning permission that has been granted for more than 300 houses on Bingley road and Derry hill in Menston. I want the Minister to be aware that that raises matters not just of local concern, but of serious national concern that the Government need to address urgently.

In discussing the planning matters in Menston, I want to begin by paying tribute to the whole community, who have come together to fight the planning applications and have done all they can to protect their village. There are too many people to mention by name, but Menston action group, the Menston community association, the parish council and the district councillors for the ward have all worked their socks off to prevent these wholly inappropriate developments from taking place. There was even a referendum in Menston, which saw 98.4% of people vote against the development on a turnout of more than 50%. Surely the fact that Bradford council granted permission for the development, despite the opposition from all those community groups and leaders, and the referendum, shows perfectly that localism is not working as it should. The matter has been time-consuming and has brought a considerable financial cost for local residents, who have raised more than £140,000 to take on the council, which has dipped into public funds to, in the words of locals, “legally stifle resident representation”.

The planning applications for Menston have been treated in the most cack-handed way it is possible to imagine by Bradford council. The process has been littered with errors in process. The regulatory committee of the council did not even bother to get off the bus when it visited the site before making its decision. That is no way to deal with planning applications that will have such a huge impact on the local community. I have been left with the impression that, for the council, these planning applications have simply become a battle of wills. It is determined that housing will be built on the sites, irrespective of what evidence comes to light.

That leads me to the main point that I want the Minister to address and take away with him. It relates to the issue of flooding and the lack of experience—certainly at local authority level, but also at other agencies,

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including the Environment Agency and even Yorkshire Water—in assessing the flood risk in planning applications. Everyone will remember the communities that were flooded earlier this year, especially in Somerset, and the devastation that was caused. One of the most prominent cases outside Somerset was at Bridge, which is near Canterbury in Kent. The footage of the floods clearly demonstrated the power of water bubbling incessantly up through the ground—something that I have discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). When people think of houses being flooded, they think of heavy rain causing rivers to rise and overflow, thereby flooding the land, but I want the Minister to focus on the flooding that arises when water comes up through the ground, as at Bridge, after heavy rainfall, because that is a huge issue and the one on which the lack of expertise is most acute in the assessment of planning applications.

Although I said that there are too many local residents in Menston to whom I would like to pay tribute to name, I must mention Professor Rhodes. He is a distinguished scientist and business man, who has spent a great deal of time and money on commissioning experts to look at the flood risk at the sites. His most recent project used a supercomputer and the best software available to provide simulations of the area to check the viability of the land for development. From that, he has absolute proof that building on the proposed sites is not viable. He fed that information back to Bradford council just before Easter, but has received, in his words, “zero feedback to date”. It is deeply regrettable—indeed, it is a total and utter disgrace—that Bradford council has not taken that independent expert opinion into account. Indeed, it has not shown any interest in it at all, and I urge the Minister to do what he can, even at this late stage, to make the council reflect on that evidence because otherwise a flawed decision will have been made. Even without such evidence, I have photos of the land that is to be developed which show that it is flooded after heavy rainfall, yet that real-life proof of the problem seems unable to move the stubborn planners on Bradford council.

The groundwater in Menston is due to water-carrying bedrock sandstone layers falling away from Ilkley moor towards Menston, and that type of emergence of groundwater was a major issue in Kent and parts of Somerset. A British Geological Survey map clearly shows that parts of the Shipley constituency have a high susceptibility to groundwater flooding. Indeed, it shows that at Bingley road and Derry hill in Menston, possibly 50% of the site is classified as being at very high risk of flooding. I draw that to the Minister’s attention, and press him to hold a public inquiry into those groundwater emergent issues and the lack of technical ability to interpret those conditions which now affect such a large proportion of the country.

I am not an expert in planning or in groundwater emergence, but I am a firm believer that such issues should be left to experts. Unfortunately, it seems that Bradford council does not hold the same view. A report by JBA Consulting, which is

“a leading environmental and engineering consultancy undertaking work to enhance the built and natural environment”,

stated that the flood risk assessment done by developers on the sites failed to take into account the following points. The first is the evidence of unusually high local

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run-off rates. The run-off rates used in the flood risk assessment were predicted by standard flood estimations, but volume 1 of the Environment Agency’s “Flood Estimation Handbook” clearly states that evidence of high local run-off rates and past flooding should be taken into account when establishing flood flow. Residents have provided evidence of that in the form of video clips and pictures, yet it was not taken into consideration when deciding the application.

The second point concerns diversions of exiting watercourses and flow paths. Diverting the water could lead to flooding downstream, and developing that site creates the possibility that we could endanger someone else’s home. To me that is irresponsible decision making with potentially devastating consequences for other local residents. The developers also did not take into account catchment areas by proposed new swales. Again, the proposed swales would lead to flooding downstream, but it is clear that nobody except local residents is interested in that.

The final point that was not taken into account is that parts of the development site are on a floodplain. Photographic evidence shows that the high run-off from the hill would cross the lower part of the proposed development site, and in the words of JBA

“this part of the development site should be considered to be floodplain and therefore not suitable for development”.

The report suggested that that development site would widen the catchment of the watercourse by 27%, meaning that properties already built downstream would be affected by any significant flooding. If that were not enough, an appraisal report commissioned by Sirius Geoenvironmental stated:

“This site is...located within an area in which groundwater flooding may be a significant issue.”

It went on to say that after inspection it had located a number of seasonal springs that discharged across the site. That was seconded in separate guidelines by the British Geological Survey, which suggested that when high groundwater flooding is indicated, groundwater flooding hazards should be considered

“'in all land-use planning decisions.”

Unfortunately, neither of those expert bodies are allowed to comment on any proposed development, which in my opinion makes no sense. Such bodies are specifically established to research those areas in depth, so why would we not take into account their professional, expert opinion? The Environment Agency recommended that the major flooding event captured in the flood risk assessment of September 2012 be simulated to determine how proposed developments would have coped. If that had been done, the modelling would not have shown the formation of the lake, thus proving that the modelling is fundamentally flawed and that 10 times more water passes across the site. Neither that recommendation nor the flooding reports with the information I have presented today was provided by Bradford council to the Regulatory and Appeals Committee in April 2013. Residents were denied the opportunity to present their expert evidence to the independent inspector, and the public inquiry that followed was closed before it even opened.

Rules stipulate that there is only a small window of opportunity for residents to oppose a planning application. This clearly leads to an imbalance in representations

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between developers and objectors. There is frequent input by developers throughout the process, but no further challenge is allowed by local residents. I hope the Minister agrees that the process should be evened out, so that each side in a planning application is given equal time to present their cases.

Let me conclude by reiterating that flooding due to groundwater emergence is now of national importance and needs to be addressed—not just for my constituents in Shipley, but for the thousands who lost their homes in the floods earlier this year and the thousands who believe that homes should be safe and secure from flooding and should certainly not be built on a site in danger of flooding or groundwater emergence. I find it ludicrous that a number of specialist organisations cannot offer an opinion in the planning decision, especially when the issue is as important as flooding in the home. Will the Minister agree to a full, independent inquiry into the flooding issues that I have raised?

Finally, planning departments have a duty of care when making their decisions, and it is clear that Bradford council is not acting in the best interests of the public it is supposed to be serving. In the words of Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, in their book “Crap Towns Returns”:

“A once fine and confident Victorian City has been brought to its knees by years of incompetent planning and failed developer-driven attempts at ‘regeneration’”.

I hope the Minister takes seriously the points that I have raised. I am interested to know what he can do to help my local residents in Menston, who have fought so valiantly against this completely unjustifiable development and found that the expert evidence they obtained has taken them absolutely nowhere. What will the Government do to ensure that decisions are taken on all the available evidence, so that we do not have such flawed decisions and we prevent these flooding problems from happening in other communities around the country?

5.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing—or, from what he said, re-securing—this debate. I am sure his constituents have been paying attention to the powerful case he made on their behalf. I am not sure what they would have made of his reference to “Crap Towns”. I have picked up that book several times on visits to Waterstones or Foyles in my constituency, but have never been tempted to buy it. You will be relieved, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I was, that Bristol has never featured in a book with such a title.

This debate underlines the importance of getting up-to-date plans in place as the best way of determining what development is appropriate and where it takes place, and of addressing flooding appropriately through planning. I hope my hon. Friend appreciates that, because Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government have a quasi-judicial role in the planning system, I cannot comment on the particular proposals he mentioned, in Menston, Micklethwaite and Baildon, or on proposals in Bradford’s emerging local plan. None the less, he raised many important issues that I hope I can address by outlining the Government’s general approach and the reforms that we have made.

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In all our reforms, this Government have put plans and communities at the heart of the planning system. The national planning policy framework states at paragraph 150:

“Local Plans are the key to delivering sustainable development that reflects the vision and aspirations of local communities. Planning decisions must be taken in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

An up-to-date local plan, prepared through extensive public engagement, sets the framework in which decisions are taken, whether locally by the planning authority or on appeal. All areas should have some form of development plan, but where these plans are old, the policies they contain may become less relevant with the passage of time. I note, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that Bradford metropolitan district council’s existing development plan dates from 2005, but I welcome its publication of a version of the new local plan for public comment earlier this year. I am sure he is feeding through his concerns on behalf of his constituents to that emerging local plan.

On 6 March, the Department published significantly streamlined planning guidance that reiterated the importance of local and neighbourhood plans. It made it clear that plans must be kept up to date regularly in the light of changing circumstances in a clear and transparent way. Our policy is clear that emerging local and neighbourhood plans may carry some weight in planning decisions before they are formally adopted. The weight accorded to emerging plans will be determined in respect of the specific circumstances of the case, the plan’s stage of preparation, the extent to which there are unresolved objections and the degree of consistency of that plan with national policy.

National policy is clear that it is the purpose of planning to enable sustainable development, not any development. Localism, to which my hon. Friend referred several times, means choosing how best to meet development needs, not whether to meet them. That is why the NPPF also states:

“local planning authorities should use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework.”

I should make it clear that most of the need for new housing, according to information that the Government recognise, arises from all our constituents living longer and from decreasing household size—the number of people who live on their own—rather than migration, which my hon. Friend made out was the case, a case I have heard him make several times. It is the longevity of the whole of the population that is largely driving the need for ever more housing units to be built.