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I was pleased to see that the valuable work of the Silk commission is being taken forward in this Session, but I hope that the long overdue boundary changes and reduction in the number of MPs will also be taken forward. The Labour Government reduced the number of Scottish MPs when the Parliament received primary law-making powers, and that should have happened also for Wales when the National Assembly received its law-making changes. We are keen to rebalance the economy between north and south and east and west, but we also need to rebalance the representation in this House. An English MP’s work remit is arguably considerably different from that of the MPs for Scotland and Wales, who have Assembly Members and Members of the Scottish Parliament to carry out a proportion of the work that we do as English MPs. I very much hope that the changes to Standing Orders will deal with the perennial problem of the West Lothian question, which has still not been answered.

I could not speak in the debate without mentioning my pet project, of which I am a great fan—HS2—as high-speed rail is mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. In the previous Parliament the final compensation scheme was announced, but after five years the current scheme is still falling short of the fair and generous settlement that the Prime Minister promised. Constituents are having their lives and finances dissected and investigated in the sort of detail that could be said to be normally associated with bankruptcy or criminal proceedings. Even decisions on whether the Government should purchase their properties sometimes seem to be subject to lifestyle judgments being made by officials. In addition, the residents commissioner who was appointed last January has yet to agree to a meeting with me and has not published her quarterly report that was promised.

However, hope springs eternal. I was delighted that in our manifesto the Government will be maintaining the national protections for areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and sites of special scientific interest. As only 45% of the Chilterns AONB is currently fully tunnelled, leaving 11.4 km of the widest area of the AONB destroyed by shallow cuttings and so-called green tunnels, I feel sure that the fully bored tunnel which will protect the entire AONB must now be firmly on the Government’s agenda. In my view, this is the only way of mitigating damage to our rare habitat and fulfilling this vital commitment in the Conservative manifesto.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Gillan: Forgive me—I have only a short time.

If there is to be more legislation on high-speed rail, I hope this Government will learn from their mistakes, many of which have been made in our constituencies in Buckinghamshire.

I, like many real Conservatives, am delighted with this Gracious Speech, so I am proud to give it a warm welcome. It is just the entrée for what is coming. We will have the Budget, and I know that many of our votes in this House will be close and hard fought, so our attention will always be demanded in this House. Lord Prescott may not have understood the meaning of aspiration, but perhaps I can help him. I feel that this is a Queen’s Speech of high hopes—high hopes for individuals, families, businesses and this United Kingdom. It gives me great pleasure to give it a warm welcome.

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4.48 pm

Mr Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I add my warmest congratulations to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on their excellent speeches as proposer and seconder of the Queen’s Speech. Their speeches were by turn witty, warm hearted and, certainly in the case of the right hon. Gentleman, quite surprising in places.

I add my tribute and that of my party to the tributes paid by all those who have spoken about the courage and professionalism of the men and women who serve in our armed services. We as a country owe them an eternal debt of gratitude.

Given that I used to encounter a disobliging wall of noise when I spoke from the Government Benches, and as this is the last occasion on which I will speak as leader of the Liberal Democrats from the Opposition Benches, it is an unaccustomed surprise to be able to hear myself think in the Chamber for once.

The Liberal Democrats worked hard to ensure that the coalition Government’s agenda had a clear thread of liberalism running through it, from the priority we gave to mental health to the green agenda, the introduction of the pupil premium and the protection of our civil liberties. It is therefore dispiriting for us, if pretty unsurprising, to see how quickly the new Conservative Government, instead of building on those achievements, are turning their back on that liberal stance. The human rights we hold dear, our right to privacy in an online age and our future as an open-minded, outward-looking country are all hanging in the balance once again because of the measures announced today.

It is also clear that the coalition Government’s commitment to fairness is weakened. There was little in today’s Speech to help the poorest and most vulnerable; not enough to support social care properly, and no plan to build the garden cities or the 300,000 new homes a year that our young people need for their future. We will see in a few short weeks, when the Chancellor unveils his emergency Budget, whether he intends to follow through with the £12 billion of hitherto unspecified welfare cuts that he has promised, which will hit the poorest and weakest in our society. I argue that it is that Budget, rather that this Queen’s Speech, that will be the moment when we can judge whether the Conservative belief in “one nation” is for real.

My party’s parliamentary presence may be much reduced in size, but our mission is clearer than ever. As we did in the coalition Government, we will fight any attempt to weaken the fundamental rights of our citizens, whether those enshrined in the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act, or those threatened by what sounds, from what I have heard today, to be a turbo-charged snoopers’ charter.

Rehman Chishti: The right hon. Gentleman talks about fundamental rights, but does he not agree with the proposals put forward in the Queen’s Speech for tackling radicalisation and extremism, for example with hate speech—this was a problem for the previous Government—when individuals do not cross the line, as happened with Anjem Choudary? Their vile views have to be addressed, and the Bill will go a long way in doing that.

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Mr Clegg: Where free speech is exploited to incite hatred and violence, of course the law must be applied and people must be prosecuted, and prosecuted hard. The problem with starting on this slippery slope always arises when we start defining what kind of speech we do and do not like, or what we do and do not find offensive. The very definition—the heart—of a free, liberal society is that we should be free to offend each other, and that is what is at stake in this new debate.

Mr David Davis: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Clegg: I will make some progress, because I have only 12 minutes.

We will stand up for the poorest and most vulnerable, and we will always defend a Britain that is at its best when it is open-hearted, open-minded and outward-looking. Of course, it would be churlish of me not to welcome those measures that build on the work that the coalition Government did. The expansion of childcare was of course a good thing, although the Government will have to do a lot more to help parents facing crippling childcare costs after their parental leave ends but before the Government’s help for three-year-olds starts. Of course I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to raising the personal allowance, which was started by the Liberal Democrats in the previous Government, although I am not sure what kind of a comment it is on this Government’s confidence in themselves that they seem now to want to pass a law on tax policy when they could introduce it of their own accord.

Let me turn to the issue that will devour the Government’s energy and time in the coming months: Europe. With so much at stake, the United Kingdom needs a Prime Minister who is absolutely clear about what he wants and why he wants it. Instead, this must be the first time in living memory that a country’s citizens are being asked to support the outcome of a renegotiation on a matter of such fundamental importance to its place in the world without the Government of the day setting out exactly what they want to achieve. Because we do not know what the Government consider to be a successful renegotiation, we do not even know for sure which side the Prime Minister will be on when the referendum is finally held. That is a precarious position—to put it mildly—from which to persuade millions of people who are indifferent or sceptical about the European Union. Just imagine the circumstances in which the referendum is likely to be held: years of denigration of everything the EU does, followed by months of mind-numbing, interminable wrangling over the renegotiation, with a divided Cabinet and a Prime Minister who still appears ambivalent about our role in Europe.

In recent days, I have sensed a slight swagger in the Government’s confidence that they will secure a good deal in the European Union and then go on to win the referendum. But having witnessed two referendums spin off in entirely unpredicted directions in recent years, I would strongly counsel against any complacency. My advice to the Government, if they wish to hear it, is simply this: they should pursue their renegotiation with the European Union but spell out exactly what they hope to achieve so that people understand the choice in front of them. They should be careful not to string out the renegotiation for so long that there is not enough time to make the wider case to the British public. Above

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all, they should remember that the referendum will be won through conviction, not ambivalence. Ambivalence will not succeed in this negotiation and it will absolutely not win a referendum.

One thing that we already know is that whatever deal the Prime Minister agrees and brings back from Europe, it will not satisfy significant parts of his own party. That is why he must not overstate what he can deliver. When that moment of truth comes and the Prime Minister presents his deal to this House and the country, I hope that he will advocate it with real conviction and make a clear and unambiguous argument in favour of our membership of the European Union, warts and all. In the end, there is no surrogate for a full-throated and sustained advocacy of Britain’s continued membership of a European club that, although undoubtedly imperfect, allows us to tackle crime, address climate change and provide jobs and economic security in a globalised world in a way we never can or will be able to on our own.

The European question is not the only pressing constitutional issue that the Government face. It is clear that the Government have been elected, above all else, because English voters did not believe that a combination of Labour and the SNP would be good for our country or our economy. It was a divisive campaign—a victory of fear over hope. The greatest risk now is that the rise of nationalism and the politics of grievance may cause the fractures in our United Kingdom to grow until we splinter entirely. The warning lights of a full-blown constitutional crisis are flashing. Yet it is telling that this Queen’s Speech contains a plan to weaken our human rights, but not to strengthen our constitution.

The Conservatives are understandably cock-a-hoop at their victory, yet they achieved a parliamentary majority with just 37% of the vote. The SNP has very nearly turned Scotland into a one-party state on 50% of the vote—a position of disproportionate power that it will no doubt use to further the case for the break-up of our Union. Four million people cast a vote for UKIP and more than a million voted for the Greens, yet those parties return to Parliament with just one MP each. My party has just eight MPs, when under a proportional system we would have 51.

I learned the hard way about the difficulties of reforming our creaking political system, but surely no one needs any more evidence that our British constitution is well past its sell-by date. The general election may have delivered the Conservatives a majority in Parliament, but it has left them in charge at a time of great political fragility. The Prime Minister is rightly proud that five years ago, after an uncertain election result in 2010, he was able to swallow his pride, act boldly and put the national interest first. He has an opportunity to do that again now. If the Government want to keep our country united and to act truly in the interests of one nation, now is the time for him to act in a big and bold way to reform our constitution and institutions and to address the rising tide of nationalism. Yet all we have heard today is a self-absorbed plan to replace one Bill of Rights with another weaker one, some fiddling with parliamentary Standing Orders and a welcome but insufficient commitment to devolution to the north. This sort of piecemeal tinkering does not go nearly far enough.

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In my view, the time has come for a major, cross-party constitutional convention to find a new federal settlement in which power is devolved to our nations, our regions, our cities and our people. This Parliament could be the one that creates a new settlement for our country. This Parliament could be the one that saves our Union and renews our democracy. That should be the legacy enshrined in this Queen’s Speech.

4.59 pm

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). I much enjoyed serving with him in Cabinet and on the National Security Council. I feel that history is likely to treat his time as our Deputy Prime Minister rather more kindly than the electorate did on what he must regard, but we do not, as a very dark night for his party and for him—but that is the awesome power of democracy.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on brilliantly proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. Some 23 years ago, I had the privilege of seconding the Address, and I know what a terrifying ordeal it is. They both did it with great grace, good sense and humour.

I am obviously delighted to have been returned by the citizens of the royal town of Sutton Coldfield with an increased vote—and, indeed, an increased percentage of the vote. They are, after all, the jury that I trust and respect, and I am delighted with their verdict. Throughout the election on the doorstep—thank goodness the doorstep was right and the polls were wrong—I heard about many important issues, some of which are in the Queen’s Speech and some of which are not, that I intend to champion during the course of this Parliament. I will mention just two. The first is mental health, which was referred to briefly by Her Majesty. The second is individual and collective liberty, which this House has sometimes neglected in the past and to which, during this Parliament, we will undoubtedly return.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) rose

Mr Mitchell: Those liberties must be defended—often, I suspect, with a cross-party approach, and I therefore give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Tom Brake: I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned civil liberties. Does he agree that the snoopers’ charter is a disproportionate response that puts at risk our civil liberties; a cripplingly expensive response, at £1.8 billion; and a rushed response, because David Anderson handed in his review of RIPA—the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—only on 6 May, and therefore the Prime Minister cannot possibly have taken it into account?

Mr Mitchell: We shall return to these issues during the course of this Parliament.

I want to say at the outset that this is an excellent Queen’s Speech. It is a Queen’s Speech, and as secretary of the One Nation Group, on and off, since 1992, I am obviously delighted to see its content.

Thanks to the referendum pledge that the Prime Minister has championed, the Government are in a very good place on an extremely difficult and contentious

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issue. I got all this grey hair in whipping the party during the Maastricht debates between 1992 and 1994, much of that time spent with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who is not in his place. There is a clear road map: renegotiation followed by a referendum when everyone will be able to decide. It will not be politicians in what used to be called smoke-filled rooms making those decisions; it will be up to everyone to decide. The United Kingdom can clearly survive inside or outside the European Union—not because of the whims of politicians but because we are a great trading nation—but I am absolutely certain that the always edgy relationship that we have had with the EU since we joined in the early 1970s can now be rectified by this renegotiation, and I very much hope that it will be. My advice to those on the Government Front Bench is not to fetter Ministers with regard to the referendum but to let this momentous decision be guided by individual conviction and allow all Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, to vote as they see fit.

I want to express strong support for the Government’s proposals to tackle the deficit. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said that the deficit and the debt in Britain were unsustainable, and in the long term he is absolutely right. Our generation of politicians has been too willing to throw money at problems and has forgotten that it is not Government money—the Government do not have any money—but the money of our constituents and those hard-working people who pay all their taxes. It is the money of the people, whose servants we are as politicians, that we are spending.

If we do not repay this enormous debt and attack all the deficit very thoroughly now, it will be the next generation—our children and grandchildren—who will have to pay it off. It will be an intergenerational transfer of debt and deficit, and a blight on young people, who face many challenges which my generation certainly did not face. For example, those leaving university now pay fees—correctly in my view, although my generation received a grant. They have no idea when they will be able to retire or whether they will receive a pension, whereas my generation expected to retire at the age of 65, quite often on a pension linked to earnings. There are many difficulties to be faced in tackling the deficit, but the Government are right to do that now and to do so urgently to stop it becoming an endemic intergenerational transfer of debt.

But the hard truth is that it is incredibly difficult, as I learned as a Social Security Minister in 1995, to tackle and to cut welfare spending. People argue that cutting £1 billion off the huge welfare budget—less than 1%—is easy, but it is not: £1 billion is £100 from 10 million people, or more than 15,000 people per constituency. The lesson is: do not remove cash, but cut future increased expenditure. That is the sensible, one nation way to do it, and it will make it much easier for the Government to take these extremely difficult and complex decisions.

I want to say that the Government are absolutely right to proceed with caution on human rights legislation, as outlined today. I must say that I never thought a British Government, let alone a Conservative one, would ever consider withdrawing from the European convention on human rights, for which our party was responsible.

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Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): May I tell my right hon. Friend that I am rather surprised to hear a former Government deputy Chief Whip speaking up for human rights? Is he telling the House that he has suffered a damascene conversion?

Mr Mitchell: My right hon. Friend forgets that it was he who was a Government deputy Chief Whip and that I, albeit briefly, was the Government Chief Whip!

Human rights are not British; nor are they just for nice middle-class people. They are universal. In the past, Britain has been a beacon of light on human rights in some very dark places indeed. However, the Government have rightly decided to delay and to think this legislation through. I cannot think of anyone better than my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to negotiate the Government’s passage on it, and I look forward to his doing so during the coming months.

Mr Graham Allen: I suggest that as well as the good offices of the Lord Chancellor, there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny. Given that we have five years of a Parliament and that reform may well take place, does it not make sense to do this carefully, listening to all parties and all views, rather than to take the advice of the Lord Chancellor solely? We should consult Parliament.

Mr Mitchell: It is not the Lord Chancellor’s advice that I am looking for, but his skills in engaging everyone, including Parliament, in the extremely important debate that we must have before the Government come forward with legislation.

I was talking about tackling dark places. I should say that four newly re-elected Members of this House spent last week in Washington seeking the release of the United Kingdom’s last detainee in Guantanamo. It has to be said that a more unlikely group of political bedfellows would be extremely hard to find—me, the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). Although it was clear from the beginning of the visit that we agreed on nothing else at all, the one thing we absolutely agreed on was that Shaker Aamer should be released for transfer to the United Kingdom. I am confident that we made some progress on our visit, but it is the most extraordinary injustice. On his visit to the United States earlier this year, the Prime Minister asked that Shaker Aamer be released for transfer to the United Kingdom, and the President promised to prioritise the matter, but since then virtually nothing has happened.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his company on that important visit. Will he use this opportunity to put as much pressure as possible on the Government to speak up for what was the decision of the last House of Commons and what I am confident will be the decision of this House of Commons? We want Shaker Aamer released. He has twice been cleared for release and held illegally—in my view—for 13 years. He deserves his freedom and his family deserve to see him back.

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he is right, too, that this is a thorn in the side of the US-UK relationship. There is a huge online petition, and this has all the appearances of a slap in the face for

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the United States’ closest ally. I cannot think of any time since the second world war when a UK Prime Minister could have been treated so badly in his request to a President and the reaction to it. The House resolved unanimously on 17 March that Shaker Aamer should be transferred back to the United Kingdom. The message from Britain to the United States is to send Shaker Aamer back to Britain now.

Finally, in the five years since the last opening Queen’s Speech of a new Parliament, the world has become a much less safe and more challenged place, with serious difficulties facing us and our neighbours. One thinks of the threats spelt out by the Prime Minister on Ukraine, the Baltic states and the actions of President Putin, ISIL and the enormous humanitarian disaster that has engulfed Syria and Iraq, where a generation of children will be unlikely to get an education and, in many cases, do not even have a roof over their heads. At this time, however, Europe is facing largely inwards, dealing, quite rightly, with the problems of migrants coming across the sea from north Africa—some of the bravest people in the world—Ukraine, Greece and the euro.

There is precious little leadership from America either. We face this appalling catastrophe in the middle east and this grave threat from ISIL, which might soon have a port on the Mediterranean, but what strategy are the United Nations, America and Europe putting together to tackle this serious threat? There seems to be very little international leadership. Anyone who believes that the solution is to drop weapons worth £30,000 on cars worth less than £500 is living in cloud cuckoo land. It will require long-term, smart policies, political leadership and a political solution, but, in my view, we are nowhere near achieving that.

Tackling the alienation and deep poverty in our world—how right the Government are to stand by their commitment on international development and the 0.7% promise to the poorest people in the world—and making sure that better governance takes hold are the long-term policies that will start to make a difference, but for the moment the House must accept that there is precious little international leadership on tackling this grave problem facing all our constituents and many neighbouring countries.

5.13 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). None of us knows what the next five years has in store for us as Members of Parliament. He had a difficult time—on occasions unfairly—in the last Parliament, and I wish him the very best for this one.

I, too, recall being the seconder of the Humble Address, although I cannot believe it was 14 years ago, when I looked like a young Denzel Washington—of course, today I look far more like Forest Whitaker. Fourteen years have passed, I am a little older, my hair is growing white and, interestingly, I am now described as a senior Member of the House of Commons.

I am very grateful to the people of Tottenham for returning me. I was unusual in this general election in saying to my electorate that I wanted to be the MP for Tottenham, but only for a year, because I hope to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) as the Mayor of London. He went into the

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election seeking to be the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, while also wanting to continue as Mayor. I wish him the very best over the coming years as he endeavours, I suspect, to secure another job. I was returned with the biggest majority of any MP that has stood for Tottenham, and I am very grateful for that.

Let me speak to all Members about an issue I know my hon. Friends will recognise. On the Sunday after the election, I took my eight-year-old to his Sunday football league, and I was approached by parents living in Edmonton in north London. Many such parents are on the minimum wage. They might be cleaners, dinner ladies, minicab drivers, hospital porters and so forth. They remind me of my family and me in 1992 when we fully expected Neil Kinnock to become Prime Minister. Those people were pleased that I had won my constituency, but they were bewildered at the scale of the defeat for the Labour party, and they were genuinely worried about what was in store for them. When the issue of the £12 billion-worth of cuts to come is raised, I hope that the Government will remain true to their pledge to be one nation, but I expect that it will be down to all of us in the official Opposition to make sure that we hold them to that over the coming months.

Let me deal first with the issue of devolution. As a member of an ethnic minority, I have always feared the prospect of nationalism. I understand the motives of SNP Members, but I believe powerfully in the Union and in the ability of all of us to take our place in that Union as British citizens. It is quite right to move towards the further devolution of powers to Scotland, but it is important to recognise the balance across our nation as a whole.

Let me remind Members of the important contribution of London to our economy, as it is providing a bigger share of our economy than at any time since 1911. The powers of a London Mayor in partnership with the local authorities in the 33 boroughs of London are, frankly, quite pathetic in comparison with the situation in other major cities across our planet. As we devolve greater powers to other cities and mayors and look to devolve further powers to Scotland, it is a matter of great concern that we are not seeing commensurate powers passed on to the Mayor of London or to those who lead the London boroughs. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) urges me to declare my interest. Of course I have an interest, but I believe that it is in the interests of London as a whole that the Mayor should have a greater say in the health and education of Londoners. We compete not only with other parts of the country, but with young people in Shanghai and Bangalore, so the Mayor should have more powers to convene and co-ordinate in order to drive up standards in this city.

Above all, we need to see implementation of the Travers review so that further fiscal responsibility can be passed to the Mayor. We need a much deeper relationship with respect, for example, to stamp duty, business tax and the ability to drive the infrastructure investment that London needs. There will be much debate about HS2, but, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Crossrail 2, I hope to see that gather pace during this Parliament, and I hope to see devolution to London.

Boris Johnson: I wish the right hon. Gentleman every good fortune in his efforts to replace me. I commend what he is saying about devolution, but may I advise

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him to couch it less in terms of more powers for the mayoralty than in terms of more powers for Londoners to set their own priorities, and to ensure that they have the necessary funds to invest in Crossrail 2, as well as in the housing that they need?

Mr Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is right: the powers must sit somewhere. As he knows, however, I also referred to the 33 London boroughs. It is of huge concern that local government was stripped of so much during the last Parliament, and that the ability to deliver local services properly, with power where it should be—closest to the people—does not exist to the extent that most borough leaders would wish. Both the Mayor and those who lead our local authorities need to have that power and ability in the future.

Let me also remind the hon. Gentleman that he was involved in a report by Gerard Lyons which concluded that it would be a huge mistake for this country to exit Europe, and that London alone would lose £210 billion in revenue. The hon. Gentleman is known for his wit, but I hope that he is also known for his detail. The report concluded that it would be a disaster for us to go down that road. There is real concern about the fact that, as we head towards the referendum, big decisions in the City are effectively on hold because of the risk to our national economy. I hope that we reach a decisive conclusion as soon as possible, and that we opt to stay in Europe, because it seems to me that that must be in the interests of all of us.

Mr Graham Allen: Before my right hon. Friend moves on to all things mayoral, will he return to the core of the principles involved in devolution? Is it not contradictory that a Government that wish to devolve power should insist, from the centre, on the form of leadership that is to apply in the localities in question? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should offer devolution options to the cities, regions, counties and other localities of the Union? If they wish to choose the mayoral model, by all means let them go ahead, but they may prefer another leadership model, or perhaps a committee model. Surely the decision should be made by those to whom powers are being devolved, rather than from the centre.

Mr Lammy: That is a very good point. Some people are using the phrase “hyper-devolution”, which means devolution to communities as they negotiate the power that must rightly lie with them.

Let me now deal with what I consider to be a major issue in the Queen’s Speech. Our country faces a huge structural economic problem in its housing market. We are failing badly the people beyond the House who are young and want to get on to the housing ladder, but who are also the working poor, unable to secure social housing or to buy affordable housing. It is of huge concern that the average age of a buyer in London was 39 this year, and that if we continue on the same trajectory, it will be 52 in a generation. It is also embarrassing and shocking that we built only 40 council houses in London last year. There is much talk about affordable housing, but all hon. Members will understand that rents at 80% of market value are not affordable for most Londoners, who on average earn £32,000 a year. It beggars belief that the Government should propose to

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extend the right to buy to the 1.3 million people in housing associations. We can look at the matter from a Thatcherite point of view. There is no other area of public policy where someone can get as much as £100,000 from the taxpayer for buying their council home. We are to extend that to people in housing associations. What will that do to supply? How will that contribute to the huge problem of affordable housing? What is our vision for social housing? It appears that there is no vision for social housing and that we are effectively saying we no longer believe in council homes and we no longer believe in social housing in housing associations.

Mr David Davis: Because it is low-cost, high-security accommodation, people never move out of it, so how is it the answer to the problem that someone in a housing association flat or house monopolises it for life and it never becomes available to other people who properly want social housing?

Mr Lammy: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point in relation to the escalator that should be fundamental to the welfare system, but with respect that is not the point I am making. We are reducing the supply of social housing, and many people on a decent wage simply do not have the assets to reduce the demand for social housing. That seems wrong-headed. In the previous Parliament, we heard much about a council house being built for every one that came off the market. That has not happened and it will not happen with housing association properties either.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, if the properties are not coming on to the market because tenants have security and stay in them all their lives, that if a mechanism could be found whereby the capital receipts had to be put into new housing, that would increase the supply of housing available for social tenants?

Mr Lammy: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. That is related to the ability of local authorities to borrow in order to build. However, even if they were given powers to borrow in order to build, they would want the security that the house they had built would not come off the market three years later. We have therefore created a terrible vicious circle that will lead to tremendous hardship, I suspect, in the next five years.

There are real concerns about asking the Metropolitan police to find another £700 million-worth of cuts. It took 2,500 officers to restore order to many of the streets of this country during the 2011 riots. That is exactly the number of officers we have lost over this last period. It is true that response times are good, but neighbourhood policing is disappearing and the crime that bedevils deprived areas is rampant. We should think again.

5.28 pm

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I thank local residents in Southend West for re-electing me as their Member of Parliament. I have always regarded it as a great privilege to be an MP, not a right, and I am absolutely delighted to be returned again.

I congratulate the mover and the seconder of the motion on the Gracious Speech. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) is a well known

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wag. On this occasion he did not disappoint the House. The one issue on which I disagreed with him—and will always disagree with him—is the Democratic party in the United States of America and Mrs Clinton. I am afraid that I put the Clintons in exactly the same bracket as the Blairs—but, never mind, my right hon. Friend made a splendid speech.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). She was a contributor to my pamphlet on working-class Conservatives, “The Party of Opportunity”, and she made a magnificent speech today. As we all know, she suffered a terrible tragedy shortly after her election to this place and her family and friends can be very proud of her.

Before getting into the bones of the Gracious Speech, I want to make a few remarks about the general election campaign. I say this in a friendly way to all Members: we only had the general election this month and I do think it is slightly arrogant if we dismiss the verdict of the electorate. I think it is a little early to start rubbishing the decisions the electorate made.

I thought the coverage of the general election campaign was an absolute disgrace for all sorts of reasons. Day in and day out, no big issues were covered by the radio or television media. I do not want to fall out with the SNP and its Members at this stage because I hope they will become my friends—I might even need their support in various matters in months and years to come—but I would say that when canvassing on the doorstep I found that the residents of Southend West were irritated by the fact that every time they went into the lounge and turned on their TV there was the leader of the SNP constantly talking about locking the Prime Minister out of No. 10 Downing Street. I would have thought the only person entitled to lock the Prime Minister out of No. 10 was the Prime Minister’s wife if he had been misbehaving. I do think that the tone was very unfortunate. The only other thing the media covered was their endless obsession with the idea that no party would get overall control. So I think the six weeks of the campaign—I was totally against fixed-term Parliaments, by the way—were very disappointing indeed.

I was elected to this place in June 1983. I am not an old boy yet, but I see from looking at the list that I am No. 5 in length of service on the Conservative Benches and No. 15 in the House. I have not lost my marbles yet, however, and I can remember what it was like to be elected as a new Member of Parliament. I wish to congratulate all colleagues—those who were re-elected and particularly those of all parties elected here for the first time.

I was going to address some remarks to Members on my own side of the Chamber, but for one moment I thought there were no newly elected Members on the Conservative Benches—they all seem to have got bored pretty quickly—then my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) decided to join us. There are, however, many newly elected Members sitting on the Opposition Benches. This place has changed beyond all recognition from when you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I joined it in June 1983, but I think that everyone will welcome colleagues and be as helpful as possible to ensure that everyone feels at home here.

The result that gave me the greatest pleasure was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). She epitomises everything that is good

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about Essex woman. She was not just in a two-way fight, she was in a three-way marginal and, thinking about my own circumstances in 1992, I know that the pressure she was under was absolutely extraordinary. Those dreadful opinion polls—every day, every week, every month, every year—telling her she was going to come third must have dispirited her greatly, yet she triumphed.

Mr David Davis: I agree with my hon. Friend about our hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price)—she is a magnificent lady. Does he agree that there is an argument for doing away with opinion polls for the duration of a general election?

Sir David Amess: My right hon. Friend has stolen part of my speech. The Gracious Speech says:

“Other measures will be laid before you.”

I absolutely think that we should now ban opinion polls during the three weeks of an election. We must never have a six-week campaign again. We had those ridiculous opinion polls day in and day out, and there has been no humility from the media; they are just carrying on as though they got it right. And let us never forget what the BBC told us about the exit polls. At 10 o’clock, it told us that the Conservatives would be the largest party with, I think, 316 seats.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The problem is that we cannot ban private opinion polls; there would simply be rumour and speculation. It is far better to let the press and the pollsters get on with it, in the hope that they will accept the criticism and that that will help them to get it right more often.

Sir David Amess: I was my hon. Friend’s Parliamentary Private Secretary for a little while. I am not going to fall out with him over this matter, but I do not agree with him.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be better to reform the BBC—

Mr Winnick: Privatise it?

Ian Paisley: I did not say we should privatise it; that is your suggestion. The BBC’s coverage of the election was biased and unfair to a number of the parties in this House, and that is where the Government should put their efforts in the years ahead.

Sir David Amess: The hon. Gentleman’s father—from heaven—would agree with him; I was also going to make that point in my speech.

Returning to the opinion polls, it is absolutely ridiculous that the exit poll from the BBC said that the Conservatives would be the largest party, with, I think, 289 seats. It even got that wrong, yet all the people who commentated on the general election are carrying on as though nothing has happened. That is absolutely ridiculous, and elected parliamentarians need to do something about that.

I agree with the point that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has just made. We have a new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). When he was chairing the Select Committee, he seemed to have an awful lot to say about

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the British Broadcasting Corporation, and in each Parliament we talk about doing something about it. Now is the time for us to take action.

Sir William Cash: On the last day of the last Parliament, the European Scrutiny Committee submitted a unanimous all-party report on the manner in which the BBC has treated the European issue over the years. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea, in the present circumstances, for everyone to have a good read of it?

Sir David Amess: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Incidentally, I do not seem to be getting any injury time for the interventions that I have been taking.

There is no secret about why the Conservatives were returned to government. The Gracious Speech stated that the Government

“will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country.”

The British people believe that. The speech went on to state that the Government would

“provide economic stability and security at every stage of life.”

The British people believe that. The speech also says that we should help to

“achieve full employment and provide more people with the security of a job.”

The British people believe that that is what the Conservative party is going to do. We have also stated:

“Legislation will be introduced to support home ownership”,

which is something that the British people very much want, as I recall from my days in Basildon.

I have to say that if any Member did not find that immigration was an issue on the doorstep, I do not know what they were doing. Of course, enormous benefits are brought to this country by immigration, but it is an issue and it needs dealing with. In particular, I look forward to the Government’s proposals on benefit allocation. The British people are also attracted by our proposal to

“secure the future of the National Health Service by implementing the National Health Service’s own five-year plan”,

which we will watch very carefully. They are also impressed by our commitment to

“secure the real value of the basic State Pension”.

Constituents in Southend West are getting increasingly angered by another issue. I am not going to get involved in the Scottish measure, but when we are dealing with England-only issues, there must be a way of ensuring that only English Members of Parliament vote on them.

I am delighted that we are going to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the European Union—if Opposition parties had not stopped it in the previous Parliament, we would have had the referendum before 2017. I am old enough to have had the opportunity to vote in the ‘70s, and I voted no. Good luck to the Prime Minister if he thinks he can renegotiate things successfully—I will make my judgment at the time. I can tell hon. Members that the comments made to me on the doorstep give me the impression that in the referendum, regardless of how things are renegotiated, young people will vote to stay in the European Union.

I very much support the proposal for a British Bill of Rights, and I was also glad not to see anything in the Gracious Speech on foxhunting. I have always voted

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against foxhunting, not because of class issues—people may want to dress up in their red uniforms and it all looks marvellous—but because being torn apart by a couple of dogs cannot be a lot of fun for the fox. Human beings would not want that to happen to them, so I am glad there is nothing about foxhunting in the Gracious Speech.

On foreign affairs, I am glad that I was one of the 30 Conservative Members of Parliament who voted against this country getting involved in the conflict in Syria and that we are going to try to get a political settlement there. I am glad that we are going to put pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and that we are going to try to defeat terrorism in the middle east. I would have liked the Gracious Speech to have contained some sort of commitment that public inquiries will actually report. It is crazy that we still have not got the Chilcot report—the sooner that is published, the better, because I want to see whether or not I was misled over the Iraq war.

I say again that I am grateful to my constituents for re-electing me. I congratulate all the new Ministers, but I put them on this warning: I want them to read carefully the letters they send to me and not just sign off what the civil servant has plonked in front of them. I want Southend to have city status. Following our magnificent victory in the football contest at the weekend and our promotion to league one, we are entitled to become a city.

I want fair funding for grammar schools. I very much want something to be done about cliff slippage in Southend. I want the senior management of Southend’s hospital and the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust—SEPT—sorted out. I very much intend to ensure that the voice of Southend is heard loudly and firmly in this Parliament. My final thought, which I wrote down as I was listening earlier, is that I hope we will all show humility in victory and in defeat.

5.43 pm

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and to hear him speak so passionately on behalf of his constituents. Many comparisons have been made with 1992 when a Tory majority Government were elected despite the odds and the predictions. Of course, the hon. Gentleman was the 1992 election personified—on that night, his election was the indication that the Conservatives would be returned.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on proposing and seconding the Gracious Speech so appropriately and well.

Alex Salmond: I am trying to recall Basildon man and the 1992 election. What on earth happened to that 1992 Tory Government? How did they get on?

Mr Dodds: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I join others in congratulating and welcoming him on his return to the House. I remember him here before he went back to Scotland to serve as First Minister. I will leave it to others to judge the record of the 1992 Government. In this Queen’s Speech debate, we will look to the future.

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Sir William Cash: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we campaigned for a Maastricht referendum. Now we have a referendum, so there you are.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman has spoken many words of wisdom over the years with which I agree. He is certainly proof that if we work at and fight for an issue that we believe in, we will get there in the end, especially if the cause is right. As he knows, I have been a long-term advocate of giving the people of the United Kingdom their say, in a referendum, on whether we should be in or out of the European Union. I was delighted to see that in the Gracious Speech.

Before I go into further detail on the speech, may I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, join others in commending our armed forces on the work they continue to do across so many theatres, and in so many other ways, to protect and defend the people of this country? Some 20% of United Kingdom reservists are Northern Ireland people, even though we make up only 3% of the population. That is testament to how committed the people of Northern Ireland are to the armed forces, which we feel strongly about.

Sammy Wilson: As so many of the armed forces reservists come from Northern Ireland and serve gallantly across the world, does my right hon. Friend accept that one of this Government’s priorities ought to be to ensure that the terms of the military covenant are fully available to soldiers from Northern Ireland who need such services after they leave the forces?

Mr Dodds: My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is one of those that arise out of the Belfast agreement. As he knows, equality provisions under section 75 work against giving our armed forces veterans the same status as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That issue needs to be addressed, and it was covered in our manifesto and our Northern Ireland plan. No doubt we will have negotiations and discussions with the Government about the issue. I am sure that the Defence Secretary will take it on board and that the Government will want to see progress on it.

Before I get into any more detail on the Gracious Speech, may I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members and members of the staff of the House who have very kindly passed on their best wishes to our party leader, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, who has suffered problems with his health this week and has been hospitalised as a result? I know that Peter, Iris and his family are deeply encouraged and comforted by the expressions of good wishes from both sides of the House. I am glad to report that Peter is doing well. He has worked extremely hard, probably to the detriment of his health, to try to make progress in Northern Ireland. His record of deal making, negotiation and fighting and standing up for Northern Ireland is one of which we should all be proud and that should continue. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope that he will soon be back to his position as First Minister in Northern Ireland, where he is much needed.

I congratulate the Government on the victory they have achieved—it would be churlish not to—as well as all those who have been elected to this House. At the election of the Speaker, I made the point that everybody elected to this House—as regards the constituents they

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represent and the parties that are here—is equal. We must consider very carefully any suggestion that Members should not be treated equally in this House.

Coming as I do from a small party from Northern Ireland, I think that it is important that all parties should be respected, that their voices should be heard and that there should be equality. This is the Parliament of the United Kingdom and a House of Commons to which everybody has been elected on an equal franchise. Having said that, I recognise that there is an issue for many people with English voters and that must be addressed in the context of the devolution of greater powers to countries. I do not say that there is an easy answer; everybody recognises that the issue has been debated for many decades. The questions have been posed, but the answers have not so readily come forth. On this issue, on greater devolution and on the devolution of powers to the cities and regions of the United Kingdom more generally, we need to take time, to take things carefully and to move forward in a consensual way. That is why I have advocated in the past the idea of a constitutional convention. We should not tamper with our constitutional arrangements ad hoc or quickly or for party political advantage, with possible unintended consequences; we must look at these things very carefully indeed, and I think we will want to consider a constitutional convention in due course as these matters come before the House.

We give a warm welcome to those new Members from Northern Ireland who have been elected to this House. I want to give a welcome to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Tom Elliott). He is not a member of my party; he is a member of the Ulster Unionist party, but he was elected because there was a pact between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists, so that for the first time since 2001, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the most westerly constituency of the United Kingdom, a constituency where I was brought up and went to school, is once again represented in the House of Commons; and so that the people of that great constituency have again a voice in this Parliament, and will have someone to represent them, instead of a Sinn Féin Member who refused to take their seat in this House of Commons. It is a good day for all the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, because they will have a representative who will represent them all—and I know he will. I wish him well, and I hope that he will be long spared to continue to represent that constituency.

I also welcome, of course, the new hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan). Again, he is not a member of our party, and I am very sorry at the loss of our previous Member, William McCrea, but I do wish the hon. Gentleman well and I hope we can work together in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

Most of all, of course, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), a member of our party who has retaken that seat once again for Unionism. We warmly look forward to his continuing to represent that seat for many years to come.

This has been a good election in Northern Ireland for the Unionist cause. We may look at other parts of the United Kingdom and other countries. We did not put up any candidates in Scotland. [Hon. Members: “This time.”] We might do a better job! But I am glad to say that in Northern Ireland, Unionist representation in this House has gone up from 10 to 12 seats out of 18.

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That is a good advance in terms of Northern Ireland, and we look forward to ensuring that the voice of Unionists in Northern Ireland is heard loudly and clearly in the coming years in Parliament.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): One issue that was mentioned in the most Gracious Speech was that of psychoactive drugs—legal highs—on which the people of my constituency, my party and, I believe, many parties in this Chamber wish to see legislation introduced. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister, in his address to the House, did not give us a time scale for that. On behalf of my constituents in Newtonards, especially the family of young Adam Owens, who died six weeks ago as a result of taking legal highs, I say that we need to see this legislation coming through quickly. Do my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) think that should happen right away?

Mr Dodds: I agree with what my hon. Friend has said and he knows that that was in our manifesto and that we are pursuing it very strongly in the Northern Ireland Assembly as well.

A few weeks ago, the idea of a majority Government of any hue was regarded as ludicrous and out of the question. Pollsters and the political class have been rightly criticised. Speculation about the role of some of the smaller parties was rife at that time; people were predicting that they would have enormous influence. Now the same pundits who got it so wrong are predicting that some of the smaller parties will have absolutely no power at all. I read newspaper headlines just after the election saying, “That’s it—no role, no influence.”

Just as the pundits were wrong previously, they are wrong now, because in a Parliament where the Government have a majority of only 12, it will be increasingly important that the views of other parties are taken into account. Certainly we will adopt a constructive approach to legislation and measures that come before the House. We set out before the election some of the principles that would guide us in the House. We are Northern Ireland MPs, so we will always stand up for the best interests of Northern Ireland. We have proved that in running the Executive alongside others. We have proved it in the House in terms of delivering for Northern Ireland, and we will continue to do that strongly, and be a robust voice for all the people of Northern Ireland in this Parliament.

We are also Unionists, so we will always stand up for the Union, strengthening the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, ensuring that the symbols of British identity are strengthened, not weakened, in Northern Ireland. But we are also committed to making the United Kingdom stronger and better, not just in narrow Northern Ireland terms, but across the piece—throughout the United Kingdom. That is why we have emphasised the need to ensure that we have strong defences—the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) about the armed forces covenant was very important—in terms of our commitment to NATO, our commitment to ensuring that 2% of GDP is spent on defence. That is an important way of ensuring that

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the United Kingdom is able to play its full and proper role on the world stage. We look forward to the outworking of the full strategic defence and security review.

We of course welcome very strongly the commitment to the EU referendum. I remember that one of the first things I did in a previous Parliament was to bring in a private Member’s Bill to seek a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. At that time, the Prime Minister had previously given a cast-iron guarantee that there would be such a referendum, which he did not pursue. I remember the vote on the night when 81 Conservatives rebelled in relation to an EU referendum, and we were castigated—we joined with those Conservative rebels—and were told that it would not happen.

I am glad that now everybody in this House—apart from the SNP, of course—agrees that there needs to be a referendum on our relationship with the European Union. We will certainly support that legislation. We need to deal with the main issues that concern voters: the amount of money that goes to Europe, and the fact that the EU has an adverse effect in terms of immigration and border controls and in terms of the sovereignty of this House—our ability, as peoples of the United Kingdom, to make laws governing ourselves.

In terms of building a stronger United Kingdom, a stronger Union, we note the plans to devolve more powers to the towns and counties, the elected mayors, the English votes for English laws, and the plans to introduce the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill and the Northern Ireland Bill. We will look at all of those in great detail.

I want to finish by pointing to the crisis that now envelops the Northern Ireland Assembly because of the failure to agree the welfare reform legislation. We have engineered a situation in which we have the best possible welfare reform compared with any other part of the United Kingdom—we have got rid of the bedroom tax—and yet it has been vetoed by Sinn Féin because they will not contemplate any change at all to welfare. As a result, there is a £600 million deficit in the Northern Ireland budget. That will lead to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly by 31 July unless the Government step in and enact welfare reform. It is clear that Sinn Féin are not up to doing the job. If they will not act, then this sovereign Parliament must act.

5.57 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I believe that this is a watershed Parliament for a watershed election. The question that will predominate throughout this Parliament will be the question of who governs us and how. That applies not only to the European issue, to which I will return in a moment, but to the Scottish question and the human rights issue, because each contains seminal questions—constitutional issues of a kind that have not been addressed properly for far, far too long. Now we have a Conservative Government who will address them.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his victory, and I pay tribute to the small C conservatives of this country, from every home and every part of the regions of this land, who not only decided that they wanted the security and the stability with which the Conservative party with a big C was able to provide them, but whose common sense led to the pulverisation of the Liberal Democrats and at the same time the rejection of the

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potential alliance of the SNP and the Labour party, which, certainly from what I saw on the doorstep, scared people witless.

The bottom line is this: we now face very big challenges. I look at the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond); he will present us with a challenge, I have no doubt, and so will Members around him. He would be under a misapprehension, however, if he thought, as I did, in the light of a potential coalition, that it would be like the days of Parnell, because the House of Commons has changed very substantially since then. We have a solid phalanx of a majority of 12—[Interruption.] Yes, we do, and it will prevail in relation to the matters that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

On the Scottish question, we also have the issue of the Standing Orders. As I said earlier in an intervention, the legislation that devolved the functions has already been passed, so it is a matter not for legislation but for the Standing Orders of the House. I believe strongly that we will get that through. I know that we will have points of order and all sorts of shenanigans from the SNP, but this is an internal matter reflecting the legislative change that was made in 1997—

Alex Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir William Cash: I will certainly give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but he may not remember that in the debate in 1997—when the Labour party held the majority of the seats in Scotland—I actually proposed the idea of solving the West Lothian question by making changes to the Standing Orders.

Alex Salmond: If in that 1997 Parliament some nefarious members of the Labour Government had decided to restrict the hon. Gentleman’s voting rights by means of amending the Standing Orders, would that have been legitimate?

Sir William Cash: The question has been dealt with by legislation and the functions have been devolved. I was intrigued by the nuanced approach taken by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), but it must be conceded that because the Scottish Parliament has control over health and education it is unfair for Scottish Members of Parliament—it cannot be denied that they won a great victory in Scotland—to interfere in matters that belong properly and exclusively to English Members of Parliament.

Mr Graham Allen: I caution the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for many years, against basing his case on legislation that was passed in 1997 in entirely different circumstances. If major democratic reforms are to be made, that should be done openly and honestly and with the full and knowing consent of the House. No device should be used. These are important matters and, if necessary, they should be achieved through winning a majority in the House, not by using a technical device from 1997.

Sir William Cash: I have made my point and I stand by what I have said. We will debate that question later, but I believe strongly that we need to do it by way of amending the Standing Orders.

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David Tredinnick: The Queen’s Speech states:

“My Government will bring forward changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.”

It would not be done on a whim: that is what the Queen’s Speech says.

Sir William Cash: Well said. I entirely concur with my hon. Friend.

On the repeal of the Human Rights Act, when I was shadow Attorney General, I pushed that policy with the help of colleagues in the shadow Cabinet. It remained as a commitment in our manifesto until the coalition of 2010. It was abandoned because of the Liberal Democrats, and now it is to be revived. I offer a word of caution, however, because it is a very important issue. In many respects, it is part of the “who governs?” issue and I strongly suggest adhering to the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. We need a proper discussion. I am clear in my mind, as is Lord Judge and many other distinguished judges, that there are serious problems with the manner of interpretation in the Strasbourg Court and with the use of right to family life as a principle, and how certain people manage to exploit the system, well funded by the human rights lobby, to carry on when they should have packed up a long time ago.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that we need to reacquaint our friends at the other end of the Palace with the concept of the Salisbury convention? They are seeking to undermine the legitimacy and sovereignty of this House, which has a fresh mandate on issues such as the Human Rights Act.

Sir William Cash: I agree with my hon. Friend’s point about the Salisbury convention, but we need to respect the fact that some very powerful views are held by some very distinguished people who disagree with us. We do not want to drive change through with a sledgehammer: we need some pre-legislative scrutiny so that the analysis can be properly conducted. I believe that we will win the argument, but it needs to be done openly, transparently and with a proper degree of scrutiny.

As I said in reply to the intervention from the right hon. Member for Gordon, the Maastricht referendum campaign—on which we got hundreds of thousands of signatures—should have resulted in a referendum back then. As the right hon. Member for Belfast North said, there has been no referendum since 1975, and some 40 million people have never had a chance to look at the question and have their say. That is despite the fact that since 1975 we have moved from a common market, which I have always preferred, to a new arrangement with vast accumulations of power concentrated in the European Union. The point is not made clearly enough, in my opinion, that whatever the circumstances may be of the eurozone—and the desire of the French and the Germans to get together—it is not an entity in itself. It is part of the European Union and it affects us directly. Therefore, if we do not make the kind of changes to which the Prime Minister referred in his last European Council statement on 23 March, we could end up nibbling at the treaties in minimalist negotiations and failing to deal with the political, economic and constitutional structures that need to be tackled. This is a question of fundamental change, and I believe strongly that if we

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do not make those changes the British people will end up in the second tier of a two-tier Europe that is increasingly dominated by Germany. That is not something that the British people should countenance.

I hear it said that we can ask only for that which is not impossible, but we should put that the other way round and say that it is impossible for us to contemplate the idea of a two-tier Europe. That is unacceptable. I call in aid the Prime Minister, who said—in his statement and not in response to a question that he might have misinterpreted—on 23 March:

“In the coming two years, we have the opportunity to reform the EU”—


“and fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with it.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 1122.]

He separated the idea of reform from fundamental change because he knows—as do the Foreign Office, the establishment and the European Union—that this is not just a question of reform of policy or individual laws, such as on immigration, however important they may be. This is a fundamental constitutional issue in which we have been locked by the treaties and under the European Communities Act 1972, raising such questions as the nature of the manner in which are governed.

In addition to that, there is the charter of fundamental rights, which I mentioned. Despite the fact that Tony Blair himself did not want us to be affected by the charter—he wanted to exclude us and Peter Goldsmith was sent over to do a protocol, but it was a botched job—the net result is that we are now subject to the ECJ in relation to the charter of fundamental rights, quite apart from any matter relating to human rights. In that respect, I recommend that hon. Members read the report of the European Scrutiny Committee, which I organised and commissioned. We examined the question for more than a year, and we concluded that the only way we could get out of that situation was by using the notwithstanding formula to bypass the European Communities Act.

The Prime Minister has rightly used the expression “one nation”. Where did that phrase come from? Disraeli. What did Disraeli also say? He said that the Tory party is a national party, or it is nothing. He did not say nationalistic; he said national. That is why this question of fundamental change is so important. I too am a believer in one nation. I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionists for their firm affirmation in this important Queen’s Speech on that very matter. I understand of course that the SNP takes a different view, but one nation has served this country proud, not merely for decades or generations but for centuries, and we must adhere to it at all costs.

The phrase “one nation” came from Disraeli’s book “Sybil, or The Two Nations”, which was about his awareness of the necessity of helping the working people of the 19th century. That was his great mission and he achieved it. Let us go forward with one nation, as one nation, and at the same time make certain that we are not governed by other nations through the majority voting system in such a way as to prevent the people who voted in this general election from having what they want and what they deserve.

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6.12 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I am sure that his interesting insights will lead to much discussion in the coming Session.

I thank the people of Liverpool, Riverside for returning me to this House with an increased majority and on a much-increased turnout. I value both of those achievements.

Today’s Gracious Speech has focused on jobs and opportunities, and the important task of rebalancing the economy. I want to draw attention to some aspects of that, particularly transport. I am pleased that transport featured in the Gracious Speech, but a little disappointed that it did not take a higher profile. It is essential that we remember that transport is integral to having a successful economy, and to the mobility and movement across the whole of the United Kingdom that is required to achieve that.

Transport must be affordable. People have to be able to afford to get to the jobs if they are to be able to take up job opportunities. It is important that transport is accessible, including by disabled people. That has been ignored too much in the past. There has to be sufficient capacity for both passengers and freight, so that businesses can develop and goods can get to their destinations efficiently and effectively.

The Gracious Speech contained some proposals for devolution, and I note in particular the proposal on devolution to cities. I welcome the proposal in the cities Bill to give local authorities in devolved city areas more control over bus services. Buses are the form of transport used by most people, although they are too often ignored in discussions about transport. I hope that my city of Liverpool will, in due course, benefit from that devolution Bill.

The financial provisions in that Bill must be adequate. Cities receiving important devolved powers must have a proper financial settlement, so that those powers are meaningful and able to bring greater prosperity to people in their area. Certainly in the case of Liverpool, I hope that the strong, incessant and unacceptable cuts in funding for local services will cease. Although devolution is very much to be welcomed, the constant cutting of funding for essential local services such as social care is doing deep damage and is unacceptable. I hope that that will end.

I note too the mention in the Gracious Speech of the important proposal for the northern powerhouse—an interesting concept that draws attention to the north. It is an interesting combination of proposals for transport and business development.

Sammy Wilson: Before the hon. Lady moves away from the subject of transport, may I ask whether she agrees that, especially for regions such as Northern Ireland and for connectivity with the rest of the world, the development of Heathrow airport, or at least the expansion of a hub airport, is very important?

Mrs Ellman: I agree that connectivity with the rest of the world is extremely important. I note that that was omitted from the Gracious Speech—perhaps it is the question that dare not be asked, even in this Chamber. However, when the day comes that the Davies commission reports, that will be decision time, and it will be a decision that cannot be shirked any longer. Essentially, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

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The proposals for the northern powerhouse are very important, but it is essential that the northern powerhouse is indeed about the north. In the last Parliament, Ministers talking about the northern powerhouse constantly spoke about Manchester and Leeds. It is equally important that places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull benefit from the northern powerhouse. When I raised that point, I was told that the reference to Manchester and Leeds was shorthand for the northern powerhouse, which I found rather disconcerting. I hope that that will be corrected in this Parliament. The northern powerhouse is an important concept, but it must be backed up by resources and it must apply to “the north”, not just to some cities of the north.

Although devolution is important, it should not be confined to cities. The whole of the United Kingdom is not concentrated solely on cities. There are towns that are on the fringes of cities; there are county areas. If we want economic prosperity for all and to rebalance the economy, all those areas have to be considered. Let us consider one example of disparity between regions. Rail investment per head in London is £294; I am sure it is greatly needed and the case is constantly being made for more investment, but let us look at the amount of rail investment per head in other regions. The figure for the east of England is £58; for south-west England, £41; for the east midlands, £37; for the west midlands, £50; for the north-west, £89; for Yorkshire and Humberside, £101; and for the south-east, £69. Surely that cannot reflect needs and opportunities. If the Government are seriously interested in rebalancing the economy, they have to look at where investment goes and where investment in transport goes, so that opportunities are opened up in all part of the United Kingdom.

I was pleased to see reference in the Gracious Speech to High Speed 2 and confirmation that proposals for High Speed 2 will continue. I welcome that. The extra capacity that will come with High Speed 2 is essential and is much needed, particularly in relation to the economy. It is needed for freight as well as for passenger services. The high-speed line will not be designed for freight, but it is essential that as the high-speed lines develop, the capacity left on the existing line is used for additional passenger services and also for freight services. That means that this development must be planned as part of an integrated approach to rail.

There must be more connectivity with High Speed 2, and High Speed 2 investment must be seen as part of regeneration, with support for business and enterprise alongside those lines so that the regions served by High Speed 2 benefit, and also to ensure that as many other parts of the country as possible benefit. During the previous Parliament I was pleased to see how the High Speed 2 proposals changed from proposals simply for a new line to proposals for a new line backed by regeneration and as part of improved connectivity with the entire country.

It is important, too, that the development is seen as an opportunity for people to acquire new skills and additional jobs. That must be part of the concept of taking the line further. Development in high speed must not be at the expense of investing in the existing classic line. I am pleased that we made some progress on this in the previous Parliament and it is essential that this is taken forward. It is about capacity, regeneration and opportunities.

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I listened carefully to the comments of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on compensation. When such a scheme goes forward, there will inevitably be people who lose out. Compensation should be given fairly. I agree with the right hon. Lady’s comments in that respect.

I make these remarks today to draw the attention of the House to the importance of transport in the context of the key objectives of supporting jobs and opening up opportunity, as set out in the Gracious Speech. Transport is rarely a high-profile issue, but it is essential to making our society work, so I hope that as this Parliament proceeds, the measures set out in relation to further transport investment proceed and other important measures are considered too. Transport must be accessible, it must have sufficient investment, and it must be closely linked to business, enterprise, skills and opportunities. It must be approached in that light.

6.22 pm

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), and also to follow the introduction to this debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).

I approach this debate with some slight misgivings—I realised that the last time I participated in a debate on the Gracious Speech from the Back Benches was my maiden speech in 1997, and worse still, the themes of that maiden speech were devolution for Scotland, the future of the Union of the United Kingdom, and human rights. Despite my best endeavours, I seem to be unable to escape any of them this evening. However, some issues which arise were not present then. The economic crisis that has beset the western world and this country particularly in the past few years was not present when I made that maiden speech in 1997. The state of the world as it existed then was nothing like as fragile and dangerous as the world seems to be today. We face dramatic challenges, to which I shall return briefly at the end of my remarks.

I greatly welcome the continuation of the Government’s economic policy, as laid out in the Gracious Speech. I have no doubt that the reason why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was returned and the Conservative party was elected to office was the public’s appreciation of the difficult decisions that had been made in putting the economic recovery of this country on a reasonable footing. In saying that, I am mindful of the fact that there will be some pretty dramatic challenges ahead. Having served in government and having watched the difficulties, for example, of reducing the budget of the small Department over which I presided for four years and the Crown Prosecution Service being reduced by one third, I recognise that there will be some complex issues of prioritisation as we take matters forward.

In that context, I welcome the remarks of the Lord Chancellor who, I understand, when he first went to address the staff at the Ministry of Justice, pointed out his awareness of the importance of access to justice and of maintaining an adequate justice system as one of the key priorities of Government. I entirely endorse that.

I welcome the fact that we are to have a referendum on European Union membership. In my view, this is an area where there is a substantial democratic deficit that

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has beset our politics for far too long. It is fairly well known that nobody has yet succeeded in persuading me of good arguments why we should leave the European Union, but I recognise from my time as Attorney General that there are many aspects of the EU which are seriously dysfunctional. If my right hon. Friend can, in the conduct of his negotiations, succeed in improving the way in which the EU functions not just for ourselves, but for the other member states, he will have performed a signal public service, and I believe he will then be in a position to come to the electorate of this country and ask them to endorse it.

Sir William Cash: Does my right hon. and learned Friend therefore agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement of 23 March that apart from reform, we need a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU?

Mr Grieve: It seems to me that the key will be providing the necessary reassurance that the United Kingdom, which will remain outside the eurozone, has the necessary guarantees that that will not be to its disadvantage. That is the key issue and the one on which we should concentrate, although there are other aspects which will need to be looked at.

Geraint Davies: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Grieve: I shall make progress, if I may.

On matters concerning the Union of the United Kingdom, I am a Unionist to my fingertips. I could not be otherwise, with my family’s Scottish heritage. It has always seemed to me that the key to the Union of the United Kingdom is that the interests of an elector, be it in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow or indeed where my family comes from, in Hawick, must be of equal importance to me as that of my own electorate in Beaconsfield, but the forms which the Union can take may be diverse. To that extent, I entirely welcome the fact that further devolution to Scotland and to Wales will take place, and I look forward to participating actively in the debates on that.

I listened carefully to what was said from the Scottish National party Benches about SNP Members’ concerns that constitutional change might take place by changing the Standing Orders of the House. This is a somewhat esoteric constitutional law point, but there are arguments that that is probably the only adequate way in which it can be done. If I can provide some reassurance, it seems to me to be central to any such change—the point was well made—that the interests of Scotland, both directly and indirectly, have to be respected, and it can apply only to those matters which pertain strictly to England, England and Wales or other parts of the United Kingdom. I look forward to having that debate, listening carefully to hon. Members’ participation and trying to make sure that we can put together a structure which is durable and, above all, fair—fair to them, but also fair to my constituents, for whom this is an issue which matters quite a lot as well.

I note the Government’s enthusiasm for continuing with high-speed rail. I am mindful that the House has expressed a determined view on this point. It is not one

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which commends itself much to my constituents, and the cost-benefit analysis of it has always eluded me. Nevertheless, I shall try to ensure, on their behalf, that the mitigation that they seek is provided, and in particular that there is a rigorous analysis of the costs of tunnelling under the River Colne, as opposed to the viaduct—a difference in value which seems to be narrowing by the day. I hope I may be able to interest the House in that.

Before moving on to my main topic, I want to touch briefly on the communications data Bill. In my view it is absolutely required. During my time as Attorney General I had a great deal to do with the agencies, and I am satisfied that they try to operate to high ethical standards. I am also satisfied that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is inadequate to meet the needs of the modern age. However, I am also mindful of the fact that the public require reassurance in relation to civil liberties. I believe that it will be possible to do those two things during the Bill’s passage.

Mr David Davis: How does my right hon. and learned Friend reconcile that with the fact that our primary ally, the United States, with its National Security Agency, which entirely mirrors GCHQ, is as we speak moving away from the block collection of data and treating that as wholly unconstitutional?

Mr Grieve: I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I do not believe that GCHQ has been engaging in the block collection and retention of data for the purpose of subjecting it to examination at a level that intrudes upon privacy. If he reads the comments made by Sir Iain Lobban when he gave evidence, he will see that it is clear what they were about. That said, my right hon. Friend makes an important point, and one that we will have to address. If there are other ways in which it can be better addressed, I for one would be only too happy to see those being looked at. However, I am also mindful, from my own experience in government, that some of the comments made in that regard seem rather far-fetched.

Let me turn to one of the key issues in the Gracious Speech: the suggestion that we will replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. At this stage I will simply make two or three points. First, I welcome the fact that the proposal has not been set in stone, fortunately, and that it appears we will be having a consultation. The proposal will be very difficult to implement in practice, and the reputational damage for this country could be disastrous. Let us start with the first and most obvious point, which is the fact that the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are underpinned by the Human Rights Act—it might be an inconvenient truth for some, but it is still a truth—and, in the case of Northern Ireland, by an international treaty with the Irish republic. I do not see how we can effect a change without first achieving a consensus that involves those parts of the United Kingdom, even if we have the power to do so, because it seems to me that to proceed without it would threaten the Union, which I was sent to this House to uphold.

Secondly, if we are to proceed down this route, the EU dimension needs to be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has waxed eloquently against the charter of fundamental rights. I cannot think of anything more calculated to see the intervention of the European Court of Justice—not the

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European Court of Human Rights—than if we end up being non-compatible with the convention and EU citizens end up bringing claims against the United Kingdom Government that cannot be adjudicated under the convention in our own courts or in Strasbourg.

Thirdly, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the development of human rights on our planet; it is one of the things of which we can be most proud. If we are going to dilute those rights and present the British public with something that is, in fact, the convention shorn of some of the protections it affords citizens, the consequences for the convention will be catastrophic. But other countries that have previously been willing to improve their human rights records, as a result of our leverage, will cease to do so, and one of the most powerful tools for improving human rights on our planet will have been irrevocably damaged. I find it impossible to see how that can be in our national interest.

Having said those things, I also recognise that there are flaws in the way in which the Court in Strasbourg has operated. I have many criticisms of some of its jurisprudence, and there was a period in recent years when it was quite seriously off the rails. However, one point that needs to be borne in mind is that we have recently carried out a major reform of the way the Court operates, thanks to the efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Our judiciary has changed its stance and approach to the Court, so there is now a much more robust dialogue. Consequently, the Court has substantially changed many areas of its approach. The ultimate irony is that we might be in danger of fighting yesterday’s battle, or indeed of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I therefore very much hope that there can be a full consultation so that all these matters can be aired.

Mr Graham Allen: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with all his history in this field, tell us what he believes is the best way that Parliament can engage in that consultation? We have been told that we are not going to have a political and constitutional reform Select Committee, which would have looked at this, so would he suggest a special Committee created by the House to look at this at some length so that we avoid some of the pitfalls he has outlined?

Mr Grieve: The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion sounds like a very good one, and I certainly intend to engage in the debate as and when proposals are brought before the House.

I mentioned at the start of my remarks that we are living in a much more dangerous and difficult world than we were in 1997. Of course, one of the challenges facing the Government is prioritising what really matters. I have made the point that human rights matter because their promotion is so important, particularly in view of Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine and Crimea, so that ought to be a top priority. In the same way, I think that defence will have to be looked at again, and I am pleased that we are going to have a strategic defence review. Ultimately, some hard choices might have to be made, because at the moment I am left with the sensation not that the previous Government did things wrong over defence, but that it might need to be given a greater priority than it has at the moment.

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Finally, the one thing that I picked up on the doorstep during the election was the sense that the electorate are fed up with presentational politics—the politics of the gimmick and the soundbite. They want debate, and they want debate here. One of my experiences is that if a Member is prepared to sit through a debate in this place, they will understand a lot more at the end than they did at the beginning. As I am now free of the constraints of office, I commit myself to doing just that. I look forward to debating with other Members of this honourable House, in so far as I can, on what I think are some of the major issues and challenges that face us all.

6.37 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to respond to the Gracious Speech on behalf of Plaid Cymru. It is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), whose speech I will refer to later in my contribution, especially his very valid points on the Human Rights Act. I would like to begin by congratulating the Conservative party on its victory—it is probably the only positive thing I am going to say about the Government over the next five years, so I thought I had better get it out of the way now.

It is fair to say that not many political commentators were expecting a Conservative majority Government, and therefore the legislative landscape announced today is significantly different from what had been anticipated. Before commentating on the content of the Gracious Speech, I would like to say that this Government seem to me, despite being a single-party majority Government, to be far weaker than the previous coalition Government. A majority of 12 can disappear very quickly, especially knowing the independent inclinations of many Tories.

The Gracious Speech includes many potential pitfalls for the new Government, not least the Achilles heel of the Conservative party—Europe. I often felt during the previous Parliament that the Liberal Democrats served a very useful function for the Prime Minister, not only in terms of voting fodder, but primarily by allowing him to tame the Eurosceptic, right-wing element on his Back Benches by saying that he was being held back by his junior coalition partner. That buffer has now gone, and the new Administration could well find themselves at the mercy of restless and troublesome Back Benchers very soon.

Turning to the Gracious Speech, I would like to concentrate on a few of the most important aspects as far as Wales is concerned. On becoming parliamentary leader of the Plaid Cymru group, I highlighted three key immediate aims for my party, based on the new Government’s likely legislative programme. The first is to ensure that Wales gets more than crumbs from the Westminster table. Faced with an electoral revolution in Scotland, there is little doubt that Westminster will have to concede significant powers to the Scottish Parliament. The recommendations of the Smith commission are not likely to prove enough, as we will discover when the proposed Scotland Bill progresses. In Northern Ireland, even Unionists are demanding further powers from Westminster. Most recently, the UK Government conceded full corporation tax powers. With that in mind, I remind them of the findings of their own commission on further

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powers for Wales: it recommended that if corporation tax powers were given to Northern Ireland, they should also be given to Wales.

In England, it is reported that the cities and local government devolution Bill will fully devolve powers over transport, planning, housing and—critically—policing. That means that some cities in England will have more powers than the sovereign national Parliament of Wales. What is more, those powers are being handed out across the UK without any requirement for referendums, while both the Labour and Conservative parties conspire to put as many stumbling blocks as possible in the way of further progress for Wales.

My country will not be left behind. I warn the UK Government that the most powerful message in Welsh politics is about equality with Scotland. There will be a heavy price to pay at the ballot box at next year’s National Assembly elections if the Westminster parties continue to treat Wales like a second-class nation.

Unionists have one chance left to save the Union. The situation is crying out for a statesman with a vision to create a sustainable framework for the future. It is clear to me that the asymmetric nature of constitutional developments within the UK is unstable. Far be it from me to offer advice; as a Welsh nationalist, I am committed to campaigning for the political independence of my country. However, if the UK is to survive it is clear to me that only a genuine partnership of equals, based on confederal principles, will work. As I said in my acceptance speech earlier this month, the old Union is now dead and during this Parliament a new one will have to be forged if the British state is to survive. My colleagues and I will be fighting for the best possible deal for our country.

Geraint Davies: The Tories have said that they will legislate to stop income tax going up in England. Would the hon. Gentleman support the devolution of income tax to Wales? Does he think that that is a clever Conservative trick that says to Wales, “Instead of getting your fair share, raise your own tax on the back of your own people”?

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman is conflating two separate issues. There is the issue of fair funding for Wales, and we have a proud record of fighting for a better deal for Wales; we get a bad deal from the Barnett formula as it is currently constructed. Given that the Unionist parties have conceded that the Barnett formula will remain in stone, we believe that Wales will have the same amount of money as Scotland, which is around £1.4 billion extra for our devolved services.

Direct Westminster control has clearly completely failed the Welsh economy; the latest Eurostat figures put the communities that the hon. Gentleman and I represent at the bottom of the European Union pack, while inner London is by far the most prosperous. The only solution is for us to have control of the levers for job creation so that we can intervene in our economy.

Our second major aim as a parliamentary group will be to ensure that the Westminster Government do not steamroller legislation through this place against the wishes of the National Assembly for Wales. Although it has been reported that the Government are rowing back from their intention to scrap the Human Rights Act, it is difficult to see how they might introduce a so-called

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British Bill of Rights without repealing the Act first. Any attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act will therefore be of significant concern. The issue will be pressing in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where justice responsibilities are, of course, devolved; the Human Rights Act is a vital part of the Good Friday agreement. In Wales, the Human Rights Act is written into the Government of Wales Act.

I have called on the National Assembly to hold an urgent vote on a motion indicating its support for the Human Rights Act. If the Westminster Government were to ignore the sovereign will of the National Assembly for Wales, the matter would more than likely end up in the Supreme Court. That would have significant constitutional implications. I urge the new Secretary of State for Justice to listen to the advice of the former Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who said that the Human Rights Act underpins devolved powers to Wales and that it is embedded in the constitutional settlement of devolution. The Westminster Government would find it extremely hard to scrap the Act without the express consent of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments.

Our other major concern is the proposed legislation to enact a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I often think that the Prime Minister is tactically very clever but strategically not as astute. His posturing on Europe is a case in point. Tactically, committing to a referendum brilliantly protected his party from the UKIP insurgency and has managed to placate his restless Back Benchers—and, indeed, some of his Front Benchers. Strategically, that posturing was deficient, as it now blatantly endangers the UK’s economic future with an out vote, while also exposing his party’s major Achilles heel.

The Welsh national interest is best served by being a part of the European Union. The EU’s redistributive mechanisms have led to billions of pounds of investment in regional aid and support for the agricultural sector in Wales, in addition to access to the single market—vital for an exporting nation such as mine. Needless to say, the two main policy fields that the Westminster parties have wanted to renegotiate are the two that benefit my country the most: regional policy and agricultural support. We will seek to amend the proposed referendum Bill to ensure that the national interest of Wales is protected. If the UK is a genuine partnership of equals, Wales must not be forced out of the European Union against its will. We will seek to ensure that the constituent parts of the UK have a veto that protects their national interests when it comes to any proposed referendum. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale): Order. Interventions have taken their toll on injury time. To accommodate all hon. Members who wish to speak, I find it necessary to reduce the time limit to 10 minutes, as of now.

6.45 pm

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I will try to be disciplined in my taking of interventions. It is a pleasure to follow

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the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I shall not follow him down the route of devolution for Wales, despite the fact that my name is Davis.

The House will be unsurprised that I find a great deal to approve of in this Queen’s Speech; it is, after all, the first to be delivered by a solely Conservative Government for nearly 20 years. I particularly welcome the European Union referendum Bill. Contrary to what has been said, it is asking the people’s permission to do something—stay in or leave. It is not anything else beyond that and it is long overdue.

I also welcome the education and adoption Bill, which involves two sets of moves in the right direction. I would do more myself, but the moves are, at least, beneficial. I welcome the enterprise Bill, which will build on the economic success of the past few years. It will create jobs so it will probably do more to reduce poverty in this country than any other social measure. I welcome the childcare Bill, which doubles free childcare to 30 hours a week—indeed, I would again go further and reduce some of the restrictions on that childcare provision. That would help underpin the lives of ordinary people in a beneficial way.

I also welcome the right-to-buy Bill. It is controversial, but done properly—that point matters—it will improve ordinary working people’s ability to get on to the property ladder. The failure to do that has been decried on both sides of the House. At the same time, it will release money to allow new social housing, which every Government in the past 20 years have failed to provide on a sufficient scale. Indeed, the last Labour Government failed in 13 years to provide as much social housing as was built in one year under Margaret Thatcher. We all have to face that fact.

I want to talk about three areas of concern, many of which have been mentioned, especially by my right hon. and learned Friend the erstwhile Attorney General. The first is the Scotland Bill. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is not here, because he would have some views on this. Despite my being a firm Unionist, I have long been an advocate—since 1998, in fact—of more fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament. When I was the Public Accounts Committee Chairman in 1998-99, I went to see Gordon Brown to tell him that the mechanism that he had chosen, of having Holyrood dependent on an opaque, virtually incomprehensible subvention formula, was a grievance machine: it would create grievances in Scotland and England. As such it was a destabilising measure, not a stabilising one.

We need to grip this issue. We need to enable the Scottish Parliament to pay its own way from funding that it raises and controls, both in policy and Executive terms, and to ensure that subventions provided from the rest of the United Kingdom, in the form of pensions and other welfare costs, are properly costed, as are all the other taxes raised in Scotland that do not go to the Scottish Parliament. We should make our judgments in future on the basis of knowledge, not of assertion and counter-assertion from the two sides of Hadrian’s Wall. That is one issue, and we will come back to it in detail no doubt during the debate on the various measures relating to both Scotland and England.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the aspect of this Queen’s Speech that worries me most is the whole

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question of Human Rights Act repeal, and, with that, the introduction of the counter-terrorism Bill and the communications data Bill—the so-called snoopers charter. I am very pleased that the Government have decided to step back from an immediate rush into repealing the Human Rights Act. That seems very sensible. With only 19 days to go until the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it at least shows some sensitivity to the history of our country and what we stand for—something to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. We should remember that the biggest lesson of Magna Carta is that the acquisition of liberty and loss of liberty in our history has often happened by accident as much as by plan. We must think about the unintended consequences of what we do when we set about changing these major constitutional issues.

Before this debate I spent a little time looking through the list of adverse judgments against the United Kingdom by the European Court of Human Rights since we joined, but mainly since 2001, when the HRA came into effect. Bearing in mind that I was the person, along with Jack Straw, who brought to this House the motion that stopped the imposition of prisoner votes on this country, I have a very sceptical view of the ECHR, yet I found that I agreed with some 90% of the judgments, on such diverse things as taking away from the Government the right to keep the DNA of innocent people for years, through to preserving the right of British citizens to wear a crucifix while at work. That is the level of diversity that we are talking about. The number of things I did not like was quite small, and that came about largely as a result of the nature of the Court as a body without any feeling for the history and tradition of Britain, with a lot of people from different countries who have no reason to know about our history.

Ideally, therefore, I would like us to keep the main thrust of the HRA but bring the Court judgments back to our own Supreme Court. Unfortunately this produces for us a serious conundrum to which I have not yet heard any Government Minister give an answer. As it stands, the European convention on human rights, in the hands of Strasbourg, is entrenched; no British Government could change it. If we bring its provisions back to the United Kingdom, then it is no longer entrenched. Looking at the history of the past 20 years, I ask myself how Governments would have responded when, let us say, 90 days’ detention without charge went across this set of tramlines, or control orders, or DNA, or anything else. What the Government would do, of course, is change the constitutional measure that was put in place to uphold the Court.

Mr Rees-Mogg: On the point about entrenchment, my right hon. Friend referred to Magna Carta. Three clauses of Magna Carta still remain the law today, 800 years later. Entrenchment is not needed for the law to survive if it is good law.

Mr Davis: That was my view 20 years ago. Since then, I have lived through three sets of Governments, none of whom I would trust with the protection of liberty in this country. Three clauses are left out of how many? I have forgotten; a very large number have disappeared. The harsh truth is that in the modern world Governments are very quick to modify things that are inconvenient to them. When the Blair Government were in power, they

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were very happy to do things that were just procedural issues that the public did not pay any attention to, even though their effects were enormous.

The only way to deal with this is to undertake a written constitution for the United Kingdom. That could not be done on a partisan basis—it would have to be bipartisan— and it would take years, more than a single Parliament. I am afraid that at the moment, as it stands, I am unwilling to support Human Rights Act abolition unless I hear an answer to that conundrum, as well as the others put to the House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield.

I have concerns about the counter-terrorism Bill, which intends to move us from stopping people making speeches that incite violence to stopping ones that incite hatred. I suspect that many people in this House have made speeches that incite hatred, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. How on earth we are going to make the judgment as to what crosses this line and what does not without massively impeding our freedom of speech, I do not know. Let us remember that Voltaire’s comment, accurately, was this: “I despise what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” I repeat: “despise what you say”. We must remember that freedom of speech is the right of people to say things we do not like and are not comfortable with.

On the communications data Bill, I differ dramatically from the previous Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. I have watched over many years the operation of our agencies and the foreign agencies. Most of them, pretty much all the time, behave honourably in collecting data, but they take the view that collecting data is not wrong; only looking at it is wrong. I am afraid that is semantic nonsense. If one holds the data, one has the power of the Stasi even if one does not behave like the Stasi—the power of a totalitarian state even if one does not behave like a totalitarian state. All those of us who have been here for many years have seen Governments, from time to time, misuse the data they have in front of them. I would be very unwilling for us to move further down that route, particularly because the Americans, as we speak, have passed the USA Freedom Bill—Act, as it will be—by some 330 votes to 88 votes in Congress. That will reverse exactly the sort of mass collection of data that is being proposed here. It is implausible to argue that the Americans do not need it but somehow we do.

I welcome the main parts of the Queen’s Speech, but some are incredibly difficult in terms of liberty and justice in this country. We are in a small-majority Parliament. I do not want a return to the trials and tribulations of the ’92-’97 Parliament, but I do want a Government who do not just try to solve everything in Whitehall or in a specially selected Committee with specially selected Members. I want these problems to be solved on the Floor of this House, and I hope that they give us the time to do it.

6.56 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I congratulate the Conservative party on its victory at the general election and the Scottish National party on its victory in the election in Scotland. Two main rules have

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always been in my head about democracy and the outcome of an election: first, the majority shall prevail; and secondly, the rights of the minorities must always be respected. Winning an election outright, wonderful achievement though it is for the Conservative party, is not a licence to ride roughshod over those who disagree with it—or with us, were we to be in power.

I fear that having gone from a situation of great political volatility, we may now try to assume that it is back to business as usual and that, because there is a majority, this place is a sausage machine that is here just to ram through legislation. That would be a disaster for the nation at any time, but particularly when fundamental issues impacting on our democracy are going to come before us over the next five years. “Back to normal working” is a bad philosophy. We need to respect those who have different views and, through our processes and procedures in this House, to accommodate these debates. If we fail to do that, we will be putting a lid on things that will explode off our democracy in the not too distant future.

We have a very long Parliament ahead. I can understand the new Members, in particular, being very enthusiastic about coming to this place—the pomp and the finery and the rest of it, and what an experience it is—but there is going to be five years’ worth, and the edge will go off that feeling. There will be a lot of drudgery and a lot of routine, and there will be a full five-year Parliament. On the previous occasion, we did not pass the Bill that became the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 until about a year into the Parliament, so it did not feel like a full five years, but that is what we are now facing.

I am a Fixed-term Parliaments Act person, and one of the good things about the Act is that it allows a Government to plan their legislative programme: not to ride roughshod over people with whom they disagree, but to have proper process. From the Floor, we have heard repeated calls—from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the former Attorney General the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), as well as from Opposition Members—for the need to understand the issues, to listen and to work stuff through. I agree with the leader of the Plaid Cymru Members, the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), that when we are recreating a democracy, there is a moment when those of us who believe in the Union will need to work very hard to work out how to save it. That is not a problem that my friends in the Scottish National party need worry about too much, but those of us who do care about it need to work at it very carefully. Pushing stuff through is not the answer, and using—or abusing—this Parliament is not the way to do it. That is a long-term matter.

Mr David Davis: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we in this Parliament should return to the old tradition of having multi-day debates on matters of constitutional importance, such as human rights?

Mr Allen: There are many ways to skin a cat, and given that we have five years and are not thinking that maybe there will be a general election next year or maybe the Government will fall—maybe, maybe—we can use all such devices. I referred earlier to the possibility, under Standing Orders, of having a special Committee.

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I would argue very strongly—as I was Chair of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, I would, wouldn’t I?—that there should be a serious pre-legislative stage and a post-legislative stage in our Select Committees. That is the role of Parliament, and my worry is that the Government may seek to ride roughshod over us. That is not a partisan point.

If I make any point today, I want to make the simple one—I make it to GCSE students, let alone Members of Parliament—that Government and Parliament are two separate and distinct entities. We tend to conflate them, which makes life a lot easier; when we do not know what the business of the day is and the bell rings, it is easier to be told what to do. They are two distinct institutions, and the legislature and Executive have a different view of life—not always.

If I may be so bold, one thing that new Members will learn is that there is a permanent conflict in this place, particularly if they support a party or a Government view, because they will be torn on a daily basis. If they have two brain cells, it is a difficult role to fulfil: working for their constituents and for democracy while following their party line, particularly when it is laid down by the Prime Minister or their party leader. That permanent conflict—the eternal battle, as it were, between the Government and the legislature—is one with which we need to engage.

The Government currently control Parliament and our daily agenda. Many years ago when I was a new Member, before the House had even met I sought out the doyen of Parliament at that time, a guy called Chris Price, the Member of Parliament for Lewisham West, who has sadly passed away. I asked, “Where do I go and who do I talk to to understand this place?” He said, “You go to see a guy called Murdo Maclean.” No one had heard of him.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Oh, yes we had.

Mr Allen: They have now. The current Murdo Maclean is a guy called Roy Stone—I am sure he is very happy at my naming him on the Floor of the House—who is the private secretary to the Chief Whip. He has a buddy on the other side called Mike Winter, who is the head of the Leader of the House’s office. They are the two most powerful people in Parliament. New Members do not know who they are or where they live, but I suggest that they go round, seek them out, knock on their door and ask their advice. I am sure that they would be absolutely delighted if 40, 50 or 100 new Members came round to understanding how Parliament and Government really work.

It is essential to make sure that we are equipped for the task of scrutiny, but we are still to set up a House business Committee. Before the last election, the Wright Committee reported to the House on a whole series of reforms, including things we now take for granted, such as that our Select Committee Chairs should be elected by secret ballot, not gifted to us by the Whips, and that members of Select Committees should be elected by party in a secret ballot, rather than appointed by the Whips. Many other reforms went through at that point. One of the key things that we missed and was sidestepped, but to which the previous Government and no doubt the Labour Opposition agreed, was a House business Committee. It would have meant that when we have an

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issue such as how to deal with the Human Rights Act or whether it is right that some order from 1997 determines whether or not we can elect the people who decide on everything in this House—of course that was never intended to be the case—we had a mechanism to debate those issues. If they are not debated, we may be trying to be fair, but people outside Parliament will not understand it, and some people may even exaggerate the importance of such matters for their own political gain. I am sure that that would not happen, but it could do so.

We need to have such mechanisms so that our democracy can function effectively. My worry is that now a majority Government have been returned, the instincts of various officials around the place is to ask not what we should now do to renew our democracy, but how to push their laws through the House of Commons. That contradiction could be very divisive and explode in our faces if we do not do our job properly.

Many of these things were covered in the reports of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which might have covered them again. Briefly, the reports have talked about the crisis in the Union, our relations with Europe, devolution in Scotland and England, the role of this Parliament, improving the legislative process, the role of the second Chamber—a quiet moment in the Queen’s Speech, I noticed—and the need, as many colleagues have said, for a proper constitutional convention that goes beyond the bubble to bring people from outside Parliament alongside on how we can recreate a new democracy within the Union. Our boundaries are a matter of great concern to people in this place. Where will that issue be decided, and where will the pre-legislative scrutiny of it take place, asking whether there should be 600 or 650 Members and so on?

We have a crisis of legitimacy in our democracy. Either the House steps up and devises means by which we can debate that crisis effectively and make our institutions more legitimate—with parliamentarians deciding to support Parliament, rather than just the Government or an alternative Government—or, just as the people of Scotland faced a very different morning after the general election, we could wake up on a morning in 2020 to find our Union not only in jeopardy, but destroyed. That is something that some people would approve of, but if we do not want it, we need to act on that now.

7.8 pm

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my east midlands colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). Not for the first time, he has made a very thoughtful and interesting speech. I hope that those who did not have the opportunity to listen to it will read it in Hansard tomorrow. I dare say that the good people of Nottinghamshire will set it to music.

I agree with the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s point that to be a Member of Parliament on the Government Benches does not absolve us from holding the Government to account. It is important for all of us, from whichever part of the country and party we come, to remember that our job as a Member of Parliament is, first, to represent our constituents, but secondly, to hold the Government to account. During discussions on the Queen’s Speech, it is important to remember that

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constitutional point. Even though we have a largely unwritten constitution—it is written down in several different documents, not in one compendious constitutional document—the Executive sit in Parliament, but should not be allowed to sit on Parliament. That distinction tends to be forgotten by those of us who get more or less enthusiastic about ambition, promotion or whatever it may be. The hon. Gentleman’s speech was a timely reminder, at the start of this Parliament, that individual Members have a special role to perform.

I want briefly to complain about the yet further delay to the development of St Luke’s hospital in Market Harborough—I weave this in because the Queen’s Speech referred to the NHS—which means that this farce has continued into another year. The delay has now lasted for more or less the entire 23 years of my membership of the House. The waste of taxpayers’ money has been compounded year on year, under the coalition Government, under the Labour Governments prior to 2010 and under the Conservative Governments in the 1990s. It is a disgrace, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Health and his Ministers will get a grip of the throats of the management of the scheme and make sure that something is done.

On another quick point, unlike the hon. Member for Nottingham North, I regret the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and had rather hoped we would see measures to repeal it. I have not yet given up hope, but who knows? I simply put that down for later consideration.

I want to talk most about the provision in the Queen’s Speech where the Queen said:

“My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”.

It seems to me that too many politicians have not read the law and do not understand the human rights regime in this jurisdiction, but it is equally fair to say that far too many lawyers do not understand the politics—I plead guilty as a lawyer. There is therefore a tension between the desire of a Government full of politicians to do something that is politically attractive and the desire among stuffy old lawyers to inhibit the political will of the Government, either because they are legally illiterate or just inconvenient.

If I am delighted about anything relating to human rights legislation that the Queen’s Speech deals with, it is that there appears to be a delay, or some proposal to allow the matter to be thought about. I refer hon. Members to pages 60 and 73 of the Conservative party manifesto, which I confess I only read the other day, some days after the general election. Page 73 states:

“We will scrap the Human Rights Act”,

and page 60 states:

“We will reform human rights law and our legal system”.

I will not amuse the House with the paragraphs underneath those two headlines. The proposals in the manifesto are confused, and because they are confused they are confusing, thereby fuelling the tension between the politicians in a hurry and the lawyers who do not like politics.

I have identified seven points that need to be thought about carefully as we consider what to do about the human rights story. There are seven political and legal difficulties to overcome if we are to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. First, as

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discussed, there is the impact on Scottish devolution, and secondly there is the impact on the Good Friday agreement—in addition, there is the effect on the Welsh devolution settlement. Thirdly, there is the need to deal with Conservative supporters of the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights. That is a straightforward piece of political management that the Government will have to sort out. Fourthly, again on a matter of political management, they will have to think about what to do when an amendment to, or repeal of, the human rights regime gets to the other place. They do not have a majority there, so some acute minds—political, legal, intellectual and otherwise—will have to be deployed to get the matter through the House of Lords. Fifthly, we will have to work out which rights are to be protected, and sixthly, we will have to work out how those rights will be enforced and the legal form the Bill of Rights will take. Seventhly, and perhaps most importantly, somebody has to explain why any of this exercise is necessary in the first place.

It is a hugely complicated subject and not something that will be dealt with between now and Thursday week, when the final votes on the Queen’s Speech are taken, but there is the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) frequently brings up and which formed the subject of his European Scrutiny Committee’s 43rd report, during the 2013-14 Session. I refer to the charter of fundamental rights—an EU instrument that broadly replicates the convention—which article 6 of the treaty on European Union appears to bring within British domestic law. If we repeal the Human Rights Act, we will not disengage ourselves from the convention. We can do what the hell we like with the Act—repeal it, turn it upside down, put it through a mincer—but it will not affect our international treaty obligations under the convention, of which we have been a member since the 1950s. Ministers and others who are keen to see the Act repealed need to think very carefully about what they are doing.

There are complaints that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has become too political and been staffed by unqualified or inadequate judicial minds. That is for others to say. However, the lack of self-confidence that we have in our own institutions is not borne out by the evidence. Section 2 of the Human Rights Act does not state that the British courts have to kowtow to Strasbourg; it simply states that they have to take account of its judgments. Frequently our courts take account of its judgments and come to a different conclusion, and there is nothing wrong with that. I therefore urge the Government and Members of a different persuasion from me to read the documents and think carefully about the consequences of what they are doing, and not to tilt at the wrong windmill, because it will end in tears.

That said, in the last few seconds available to me, I want to assure my hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench that the rest of the Queen’s Speech is utterly wonderful.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale): Order. I remind the House that maiden speeches are by convention heard with appreciation, if appropriate, but without intervention. It is a pleasure to call the first maiden speaker of the 2015 Parliament, Mr Brendan O’Hara.

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7.18 pm

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and I am grateful to have caught your eye so early in the new Parliament. It is an honour to be the first of the new intake of 182 MPs to make my maiden speech in this Parliament.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I begin by extending my thanks to you and your staff for the welcome and help you have given to all of us new Members since our arrival in this place a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, it has not just been you and your staff; it has been everyone, from the Doorkeepers, Tea Room staff and Library staff to the police and security personnel, as well as other hon. Members, who have made us feel extremely welcome. I am sure I speak for all 50 of my new colleagues behind me when I say how enormously grateful we are.

I believe that that is extremely important because, despite the great political differences that exist between us—differences that will be fiercely debated over the next five years—it is essential to recognise from the outset that we come to this place in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation. Each of us comes with that most important qualification—public support. I sincerely hope that that will be the hallmark of our time in this place.

I would like to thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the right hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) for their wise words. I am reminded that in 1886, the great R.B. Cunninghame Graham, the MP for North West Lanarkshire said in this Chamber that there was no better time to lose one’s parliamentary virginity than during the Queen’s Speech. I remain, however, to be convinced.

R.B. Cunninghame Graham was a man ahead of his time. Elected as a Liberal in 1888 he, along with Keir Hardie, founded the Scottish Labour party—one of two venerable Scottish institutions founded in 1888. I am delighted to report that at least one of them remains in robust health to this day. As I say, Cunninghame Graham was a man ahead of his time: a Liberal who founded the Labour party and ended his political career as president of the Scottish National party. His was a political journey with which we in Scotland have become very familiar in recent years—and never more so than in May’s general election when 56 of the 59 Scottish constituencies returned SNP Members to this place.

For the first time ever, the four constituent parts of this United Kingdom delivered four very different verdicts on how this country should progress. This may seem like a circle that cannot be squared, but our constituents expect us to find a way of working together constructively—and that we must do. We were therefore disappointed at the content of the Queen’s Speech. Despite having very different visions of the future of these islands, I can guarantee that we will continue to work constructively with other hon. Members, and we will never lose sight of why we were elected in the first place, which is to win substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament, to bring an end to the failed and divisive policy of austerity, and to oppose the plan to renew the Trident missile system at a cost of £100,000,000,000 to the public purse. These are missiles, incidentally, that will be situated in my constituency of Argyll and Bute.

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Before continuing, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Alan Reid, who represented the constituency for 14 years. Mr Reid was a hard-working, affable and popular Member of Parliament whose defeat in May was no reflection on him as an individual, but was rather a verdict by the Scottish people on the Liberal Democrats’ decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, coupled with a burning desire on the part of the people of Scotland for radical change. I take this opportunity to wish Mr Reid all the best for his future.

I am certain that during his 14 years as MP, Mr Reid would have worn through many a set of tyres and consumed many a box of sea-sickness tablets—and I look forward to doing the same. At 7,000 sq km, Argyll and Bute represents no less than one tenth of the landmass of Scotland. With 26 inhabited islands, our aggregated coastline is, I believe, longer than that of France. So while travel across this vast and beautiful constituency may be challenging, it is more than compensated for by the staggering beauty on offer. Having spoken to many hon. Members, I know that many of them have enjoyed many a visit and holiday to Argyll and Bute in the past, and I urge them to return soon. To those who have not yet visited my constituency, I say please come to Argyll and Bute, because I can guarantee that the scenery, the mountains, the beaches, the rivers, our islands and our people will be among the most welcoming that they will experience anywhere in the world.

Argyll and Bute is famous for many things, perhaps none more than for the quality of our water—particularly when it has been distilled with malt and a little peat. To let Members into a secret, we have even taken to bottling this concoction. If hon. Members have yet to sample it, I suggest that they do so at the earliest opportunity. Not only will they find it refreshing and invigorating, but with 56 of us now occupying these Benches, it may well assist in their understanding of what we are actually saying.

Despite everything Argyll and Bute has to offer, we face real challenges. We have an ageing and a declining population, as too many of our young people leave and do not return, while too few people from other parts of these islands are moving into the constituency to set up businesses and raise families. One reason for that is the lack of reliable, high-speed broadband and 4G communications across much of the constituency. It is unacceptable that in 2015 the economic development of such a large part of Scotland is inhibited by slow internet connections and poor mobile phone coverage. How can we expect to attract ambitious, young entrepreneurs to Argyll and Bute without the basic infrastructure that can be enjoyed in nearly every other part of the United Kingdom? We cannot wait any longer for this, and I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s £400 million investment in rolling out high-speed broadband across rural Scotland. For us, it cannot come quickly enough. Before I was elected, I promised the people of Argyll and Bute that this would be one of my main priorities. I am happy to repeat that promise in this place today.