However, net migration is a difficult issue, not least because when we have a Conservative Government, fewer people want to leave the country. That is one of the realities of having that target. The other thing is that when we have one of the fastest-growing economies and most of our neighbours have tanked, it is inevitable that some people are going to come in and take jobs. The key thing we have to rely on is that if we are getting the majority of Brits into jobs, we should not be too worried

28 May 2015 : Column 247

about others coming in as well. It is only when foreign workers are displacing local workers or the welfare system is disincentivising local workers that we ought to be concerned.

I am particularly pleased with the energy security Bill. I must admit that this is one of the things I worry about. I worry about the lights going out, because with changes to coal-fired plants and the Magnox nuclear plants going offline at some point, one can easily see that plants are closing. What one cannot necessarily see is sufficient investment to ensure that the lights stay on in the future. I hope the Government give high priority to ensuring that we build a new nuclear plant in Somerset, and perhaps one or two others. I am a little frustrated that we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Although renewables have their place in a balanced energy policy, I hope we do not rely too much on the unreliable renewables as we shut down coal and nuclear plants, both of which are reliable. Energy security will be a key issue, I think.

I hope that this Government will continue the good work of the coalition Government. I am pleased with the Prime Minister’s commitment to leading a one nation Government. It is clear that we won a majority only because many people who in the past had not voted Conservative were persuaded by our period in office that we were a competent and confident party to continue with the job, so we have to make sure that we maintain a broad approach and broad appeal. I believe the country is immeasurably stronger than it was in 2010. I hope that until 2020, we can continue the work, continue the long-term economic plan, continue to ensure that we have energy security, continue our reforms to create more apprenticeships and ensure rigour in education, and continue to ensure that the people of our country have real choice in their lives and in their public services. I fully support the Gracious Speech and I am pleased, after 18 years in this House, that we finally have a Conservative Government.

1.51 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to participate in a debate in which a number of hon. Members are making their maiden speech. I pay particular tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who made the first maiden speech today. She is my parents’ Member of Parliament and represents the community in which I grew up and which, indeed, I visited only last week. I look forward to comparing notes with her on an area that we both know and love very well.

I listened with great care to the Queen’s Speech and the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday, and I was pleased to hear the talk of unity and his vision of one nation, but when we look at the detail of the Government’s programme, it is clear that the risks of division, not unity, are great—the risk of division of our country from the rest of Europe, which businesses and families in my constituency greatly fear; the risk of division between rich and poor, which is set to be exacerbated by welfare cuts of £12 billion; and divisions between the generations, as young people continue to bear the brunt of spending cuts.

28 May 2015 : Column 248

Whatever constitutional settlements are developed over the course of this Parliament—I look forward to debating the Scotland Bill and seeing effect given to the cross-party agreement reached through the negotiations under the auspices of the Smith commission—we must take care not to exacerbate divisions between our four nations. I am particularly concerned about the way in which the nationalist card was played in England by the Prime Minister during the general election campaign. As a Scot who has lived in England for more than 30 years, this is my home and I love it, but I still take great pride in my Scottish history and identity; I still define myself as Scottish. What I want to say is therefore not about the experience of nationalism in Scotland—that is for those who live in Scotland today, not for ex-pat Scots such as myself—but about our experience of nationalism here in England, because our experience here matters too.

Like many of my constituents and constituents of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, I have family members on both sides of the border. We worry about growing division and hostility towards each other, and I beg those who try to stoke the flames of an ugly nationalism to take great care in what they say and do. For our safety and security—the safety and security of all our constituents—we need not more division in our countries, but less. I also know, from speaking to many of my constituents, that divisions between cultures within our communities are also being exacerbated.

The Home Secretary was right to speak in her opening remarks this afternoon of the shocking rise in anti-Semitism. Muslim constituents have told me of rising hostility and scepticism towards them. Migrants and asylum seekers constantly hear hostile rhetoric. I am proud of the highly diverse communities in my constituency, and proud of the welcome we give—that we have given over many years—to those who arrive to live among us. We draw strength and success from that diversity, but of course there is a risk of tension, too. I recognise that it is the Government’s responsibility to keep us safe and to take action against dangerous extremism, but the price of that action must not be the alienation of members of minority communities, especially not alienation of the young people in those communities—an alienation that I know from my constituency too many feel already.

As the law on terrorism and extremism is to be strengthened by the Government, so too, I hope, will Ministers pay close attention to measures to foster strong community relations. I welcomed what the Home Secretary said about measures to tackle isolation; those measures must be consulted on and planned jointly with our minority communities, and implemented with their full engagement. If an impact of police cuts is less community policing, that will lead to less trust between police and our minority communities, and as a result, less useful intelligence. If we are to have fair and effective counter-terrorism and anti-extremist legislation, we must take care that such legislation is not seen as loaded against particular sections of our community. Careful discussion, exploration and reassurance on the new legislative measures the Government introduce will be extremely important to all communities in our country. I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary refer to the Tell MAMA programme today, but I hope the Government will confirm continued funding for that vital service.

28 May 2015 : Column 249

I also hope—I was disappointed to hear very little about this in the Queen’s Speech—that the Government will continue to pursue an active agenda to counter the rise in reports of disability hate crime. The increase may, to a degree, be attributable to greater confidence in reporting, which would be greatly to be welcomed, but it is quite clear from reports published only in the past few weeks that extremely serious incidences of disability hate crime and abuse remain and are going untackled. I hope that the Government will, in their criminal justice Bill, consider what further measures might be needed not only to strengthen the law, if that is necessary, but, perhaps even more important, to highlight the need for very high-quality practice by all criminal justice agencies, whether in policing, prosecution or our courts system.

I welcome the Government’s proposed measures on tackling and outlawing the use of so-called legal highs. That issue was drawn specifically to my attention during the general election campaign by young people in Manchester who are involved in the Rathbone charity. I assure Ministers that if their proposals help to tackle this scourge on many of our communities, they will be welcomed by many young people in my constituency.

I want to ask about the resources that will be available to tackle crimes of violence. In the last Parliament, prosecutions for sexual and domestic violence decreased, and violent and gang-related crime remains a worry. As I said earlier today, in the past 10 days, there have been two shootings in my constituency, one tragically fatal. It is vital that the police have the resources they need to tackle and stamp out gun and gang-related crime, which is an understandable and immediate concern to my constituents.

I add my voice to those who will speak up for the Human Rights Act. I was proud that the Labour Government in 1997 brought rights home and I am not prepared to stand by and allow our commitment to human rights in this country and around the world be degraded in any way. I am pleased to see the Justice Secretary in his new place—I congratulate him on his new position. Perhaps in passing, while talking about the rights of unpopular people, I can ask him what the Government’s intentions are in relation to votes for prisoners. He may recall that I was one of 22 Members in the previous Parliament who voted in favour of following the Court ruling, which insists that the UK Government should not simply apply the blanket ban that currently pertains.

In conclusion, my constituents—my neighbours—want to live peacefully and safely with their neighbours. The duty of the Government is to secure that for everyone, and I will be scrutinising the legislation and the programme that they bring forward to ensure that that is delivered.

2.1 pm

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): Tapadh leibh agus feasgar math—thank you and good afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). I know that many on our Benches would agree with much of what she says and I thank her for her gracious comments.

It is an honour and a privilege to be elected as the Member for the most beautiful constituency in the country, Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and to be called to

28 May 2015 : Column 250

speak in this debate. Ross, Skye and Lochaber is by far the largest constituency in the UK, with a land mass of 12,000 sq km. It also contains a number of islands, including my home island, the Isle of Skye. I am the first resident of Skye to be a Member of this House since 1833, when Charles Grant, the first baron of Glenelg, was the Member. He was the owner of the Waternish estate, as opposed to myself—the owner of a humble croft.

In making my maiden speech, I am reminded of the remarks made by the late right hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Donald Stewart, a man who was an inspiration to many of us on the SNP Benches. In 1970, Donald became the first SNP candidate to win a seat at a general election. I am sure that he will be looking down on all of us today. He would be proud that the SNP returned 56 Members of Parliament and achieved 50% of the vote in Scotland—a strong voice that will speak up for all in Scotland. We will demand in this Parliament that we get what we were promised by all our opponents in Better Together. When Gordon Brown spoke for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberals, he said that we would get as close to federalism as we could, and that we would get home rule in the spirit of Keir Hardie. That is what the people of Scotland voted for and that is what we will demand in this Parliament.

Donald Stewart said in his maiden speech:

“If I stray into controversial matters, they will, in a sense, be impartial controversies, since as a Nationalist Member I shall be in controversy with both sides of the House from time to time. For that reason, if I stray I hope that it will be less objectionable to the traditions of the House.”—[Official Report, 2 December 1970; Vol. 807, c. 1345.]

This House is blessed to have been served by a remarkable number of SNP Members, including my good friend Winifred Ewing, who represented both Hamilton and Moray. Winnie was instrumental in establishing the SNP as a parliamentary force. Much of the campaigning that she engaged in bore fruit. Her maiden speech on 20 November 1967 was on the issue of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, a move that was ultimately delivered.

In the recent referendum in Scotland, one of the greatest achievements was to see 16 and 17-year-olds participating in the vote—not just participating, but fully engaging in the debate on Scotland’s future. It is a matter of much regret that so many of those young people, who fully participated in the democratic process, were denied the opportunity to vote in the general election. That was wrong and it must be righted—16 and 17-year-olds must be allowed to participate and vote in any European referendum. It is their future; they must be permitted to have a say.

It is not just young people who risk being disfranchised in any European vote. It is also those EU citizens who live and work here. I was contacted yesterday by a constituent of mine of Dutch origin, who has lived in and contributed to Scotland for 25 years. It is not right that such individuals may be denied a say about our future in Europe. As he said in his letter to me:

“Not being able to vote in the UK election was bad enough, but now being treated like some kind of unwanted foreigner is a real blow.”

In raising the issue of Europe and the interests of young people, it is perhaps pertinent to pay tribute to my predecessor for Ross, Skye and Lochaber who represented

28 May 2015 : Column 251

the voters here for 32 years. Charles Kennedy spoke passionately on both those topics and is renowned as a Member who worked hard on representing the voters over a long period. I want to wish Charles well in whatever he chooses to do, and I am sure the House will want to join me in that.

I want to reflect a little more on the constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. It is, as I mentioned, by far and away the largest constituency in the whole of the UK. It stretches from the east to the west coast of Scotland, from the northern reaches of Wester Ross as far south as Glencoe. Logistically, it is a challenge. From my own home in the north of Skye I have to drive 166 miles before I reach the southern boundary. For me and for my predecessor, adequately getting around to serve the interests of the 54,000 electors is a challenge.

We know that the issue of boundary changes will come up over the next few years. There has been a suggestion that the three vast highland constituencies of the Highland Council area may be reduced to two in order to satisfy demands for an increase in the number of electors per seat. I should point out that when one of my predecessors for the then named Ross and Cromarty seat, Hamish Gray, was elected in 1970, there were 27,000 electors in that seat, reflecting a recognition at that time that there had to be a relationship not just in the numbers, but in the geography of the area that Members represented. That must apply today as well. Voters in the highlands and islands must have effective representation. Creating even larger constituencies in the highlands and islands will break that link between a hard-working local MP and the people. Democracy demands that all the people of the highlands and islands should be effectively represented.

If you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or any other hon. Members have not yet had the opportunity to visit the most beautiful part of the world, I encourage you to do so. However, in saying so, I recognise the degree of difficulty involved in getting there. I know that in this House there is much debate on a third runway at Heathrow. I would like just one airport in my constituency. It can be argued that the constituency is one of the jewels in the crown of the tourist industry, and it is a disgrace that visitors cannot get there by air. FlySkye, a local campaign group that I have been pleased to be part of, is campaigning to get the closed airfield on Skye reopened. Let us get Skye and the western highlands connected to the outside world.

Connectivity, whether it be transport or digital connectivity, is hugely important to the future prosperity of the highlands and islands. Anybody who has visited the region will be aware of the limited broadband and mobile capabilities. Although the current investment in broadband is welcome, it does not go far enough. When we consider such initiatives as the connected cities programme that will create speeds of up to 1 gigabyte, it is simply not good enough that rural areas, if they are lucky, can look forward to speeds of up to 5 megabytes. We are being left behind and the lack of capabilities holds back business opportunity, limits investment opportunity and continues the drain of young people away from this region, as it has done for decades.

A comparative lack of young people and an over-abundance of those above retirement age restricts our growth opportunities and puts pressure on our social

28 May 2015 : Column 252

services. More than 20% of the population of Ross, Skye and Lochaber are over 65, compared with a national average of 17%. We need to make it easier for people to stay in the highlands and for young families to relocate to that part of the world. To do that, we must turn a number of competitive disadvantages into advantages. There are many things that can be done. Time limits me from going into too many of these today, but let me mention a couple.

It is a disgrace that those who live in the highlands, the wettest and windiest part of the UK, which results in high energy use, pay the highest electricity prices in the whole of the UK. We are discriminated against by the existence of 14 regional markets, and that must end. Fairness demands that we have one national market for distribution. Highlanders and islanders must no longer pay a premium that pushes so many of my constituents into fuel poverty.

Then there is support for our crofters and farmers, a subject dear to my heart and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil)—we talk about the SNP Benches, but we want to call this the crofting Bench. The European Community granted convergence uplift money in recognition of the poor deal that our crofters and hill farmers face, but that money has not been gifted to the people it should have been gifted to. We will be demanding that our farmers and crofters get a fair deal from this Parliament over the next five years. Working with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, we need to ensure that crofting gets the support it needs so that we can continue to support a way of life for generations to come.

My own home is in the scattered townships of Glendale. Perhaps I should note the historic role that Glendale played in making sure that crofters’ rights were protected through the Crofting Act of 1886, after the work done by the Napier commission. It was the Glendale rising of 1883 that led Parliament to establish the Napier commission, which was notified to the House by the then Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, on 19 March 1883. Glendale Estate was the subject of the first community buy-out in 1908. I am pleased that as we sit here the Scottish Parliament is discussing additional land reform measures that will create opportunities for all our communities throughout Scotland.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak today and look forward to being a constructive voice in this House, working with all Members, but in my case with a particular emphasis on speaking up for the highlands and islands. I want to finish with some words from my old friend Winifred Ewing: “We have come here not to settle down, but to settle up for the people of Scotland.”

2.12 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Let me begin by commending the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) for his excellent maiden speech, which was both passionate and confident. I might disagree with him on a number of issues, but I certainly agree on the need to prioritise the availability of broadband for rural communities and to consider the wider needs of our farming communities. I look forward to supporting the Government, which I am certain will deliver on many of those agendas.

28 May 2015 : Column 253

I thank the people of Salisbury for re-electing me as their Member of Parliament, and with a considerably larger share of the vote than I managed in 2010. I look forward to serving all the communities of Salisbury and south Wiltshire over the next five years.

I would also like to welcome new Members. I am particularly pleased that Wiltshire returned five Conservative MPs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), who worked so tirelessly to win back that seat.

Yesterday we heard in the Gracious Speech how the Government will

“legislate in the interests of everyone…giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged”.

I want to focus my observations on the Gracious Speech on three areas, because I think that it is critical that the Government stand up for hard-working people and address their everyday concerns. First, the announcement that there will be legislation to support greater homeownership and give housing association tenants the chance to own their own home is hugely welcome. I passionately believe that owning one’s own home is an aspiration that working people throughout the country have, and it is one that too often has not been prioritised by successive Governments. The security and dignity that comes with owning one’s own home is an excellent method of relieving poverty and encouraging individuals to be free from state handouts. The proposed legislation will help 1 million more people own their own home.

It is absolutely right, however, that the housing stock that is sold needs to be replaced. That is a key concern of many of the people I met in recent weeks while campaigning in Salisbury and south Wiltshire. I am happy to acknowledge that the previous Government built twice as many council houses over the past five years as the Labour Administration did over 13 years. Housing starts in 2014 were at their highest annual level since 2007, with over 217,000 more affordable homes delivered between April 2010 and September 2014.

It is really important that we maintain that record by continuing to build more homes for our constituents, and our manifesto sets out clearly how that will be done. In particular, I welcome the creation of a £l billion brownfield regeneration fund to unlock 400,000 new homes on brownfield land. That is particularly welcome in my constituency, where so many opportunities have been missed in recent years.

Acquiring an asset such as a home of one’s own gives people security and confidence for the future, but the Government are also right to focus on bringing forward legislation to ensure that people working 30 hours a week on the national minimum wage do not pay tax. I welcome the fact that later this year, for the first time in seven years, the national minimum wage will increase above inflation. By removing the burden of tax from the working poor, we are helping them gain greater independence from the state and enabling them to support themselves and their families.

It is right, and completely unsurprising to me, that it is the Conservative party that will introduce that measure to support the poorest in our communities and get them back to work. The truth of the matter is that the best way out of poverty is permanent employment. It is the Conservative party that will continue to get more and more people back into work. We are the party of working

28 May 2015 : Column 254

people. Compared with 2010 there are now over 2 million more people in employment, and I am pleased to note that in my constituency just one in 125 working-age people are now without work.

I would like to turn my attention to the troubled families programme, which over the past five years took over 100,000 families out of difficulty. It was started under the excellent leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles), who was an excellent Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I am delighted that his work will be expanded and will continue to turn around the lives of thousands of the hardest-to-help families.

Cross-departmental initiatives can be challenging for Ministers and for Whitehall to manage, but the truth is that for many families the benefits derived from a range of interventions from different sources can add enormous, life-changing value. I believe that the Government must continue to adopt a one nation approach that looks long and hard at the deepest causes of entrenched poverty in our communities and take bold and innovative action to deal with the realities that exist.

I very much welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who explains why the Conservative party is the party of working people and those with aspiration. While I will leave the rebranding to him, I passionately believe that this Government must remain focused on securing offers of employment to those who are in poverty, and on offering tax cuts to those in employment and those who want to own their own home—we must be the party that allows people to do that.

I represent Salisbury, which is the home of the headquarters of the Trussell Trust. In the previous Parliament, I worked with Members across the House—particularly the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field)—in examining carefully the issues behind the use of food banks. It always deeply depresses me when this issue is used in a nakedly party political way. For me, what is really important is that we have an honest examination of the range of issues for those who use food banks rather than focusing on the headline numbers, which do not do justice to the complexities involved. As a Government Member, I will do my best over the coming five years to examine the initiatives proposed by the Government and seek to apply them to the poorest in our communities, offering a reasoned analysis and critique that I think will help as we move forward in tackling these very difficult issues.

I am proud that the Gracious Speech indicates that this will be a Government who offer true compassion and genuine social justice. Success in the dimensions that I have laid out will determine just how successful this Government will be and what will happen in front of the electorate in five years’ time.

2.21 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): May I begin by paying tribute to all those who have made such eloquent maiden speeches today? For my part, having spent many years having my legal arguments torn apart in court, and more recently my evidence questioned in various Select Committees, the opportunity of making an uninterrupted speech in this Chamber is too good to be true.

28 May 2015 : Column 255

Since it is customary to root a maiden speech in one’s constituency, I have decided to start in the British Library, which lies in the heart of my constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. As the Camden New Journal reported early in February this year, four surviving Magna Carta manuscripts arrived at the British Library just in time for the 800th anniversary in June of the historic settlement in 1215. Great claims are made of Magna Carta. They include that Magna Carta was the foundation of the notion of equality before the law and individual freedom; that it enshrined due process, habeas corpus and access to justice; and that it was the origin of trial by jury. If all those claims were actually true, no doubt the remaining provisions of Magna Carta would be earmarked, alongside the Human Rights Act, for repeal, not celebration.

As the former Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Bingham, rightly pointed out:

“Establishment of a charter of human rights in the sense understood today was not among”

the barons’

“objectives. Chapters 39 and 40 were important not as conferring rights on the subject but as imposing a restraint on the King.”

It was their own interests and privileges that the barons were seeking to protect, not the rights of their fellow citizens. Yet from its beginnings as a local feudal settlement offering partial, not universal, protection, Magna Carta has achieved an iconic status here and around the world. Despite steps taken soon after 1215 to water down and even cancel the provisions—a habit, I observe, that we have not yet kicked in relation to fundamental human rights instruments—the core ideas of Magna Carta, reinterpreted, even misinterpreted, have inspired the legal and political development of human rights across the world. It may have taken hundreds of years, but the proclamation in clause 40 of Magna Carta, intended at the time only for the barons, that

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”,

when extended to all of us, really took hold in our collective consciousness.

It is thus ironic that in the year when we celebrate Magna Carta, proposals were announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday to

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

That is code, of course, for repealing the Human Rights Act, which, like Magna Carta, is a human rights instrument setting out fundamental values and rights. It too has its origins in a historic settlement between the individual and the state. In the aftermath of the second world war, nations came together to say, “Never again.” They established the United Nations and agreed a simple set of universal standards of decency for mankind to cling to going forward, which were then set out in the universal declaration of human rights. These standards were intended to protect the individual from the state, to uphold the rights of minorities, and to provide support for the vulnerable. The idea was simple: these standards would first be enshrined in regional treaties such as the European convention on human rights and then be given legal effect in every country. In the UK this was achieved when Labour enacted the Human Rights Act in 1998.

28 May 2015 : Column 256

The link between those post-war universal rights and Magna Carta was made by no lesser a figure than Eleanor Roosevelt, who expressed her hope that the universal declaration of human rights would become

“the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”

If speaking today, Eleanor Roosevelt would, of course, have expressly included women, but the sentiment is important. The whole point of human rights is that they apply universally to all people everywhere.

Lord Bingham said that Magna Carta was

“as influential for what it was widely believed to have said as for what it actually did.”

The Human Rights Act, by contrast, is singled out for attack because of what it is believed to say rather than what it actually does. Nothing in the Human Rights Act makes the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights binding in our courts. The obligation on the UK as a whole to abide by the decisions of the European Court is found in the European convention, signed nearly 60 years ago. Repealing the Human Rights Act will make no difference unless the UK also withdraws from the convention itself.

Nor has there been a fundamental shift in defendants’ rights under the Human Rights Act. By stark contrast, the Human Rights Act has heralded a new approach to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including those in care homes, child victims of abuse and of trafficking, women subjected to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities, and victims of crime.

That is important in my constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. There we celebrate great vibrancy and diversity, but you do not have to go very far to find great inequality, whether measured in wealth, health, housing or child poverty. It is those on low pay, those in poor housing, those with physical and mental health needs, the vulnerable, the put-upon and the bullied in St Pancras and Somers Town, in Regent’s Park, in Gospel Oak, in Haverstock and across my constituency who will be the losers if we abandon the guarantee of equal rights for all. The Human Rights Act matters to the people of Holborn and St Pancras precisely because its provisions apply to everyone, faithfully reflecting the world’s solemn promise in 1945 that human rights are universal.

My predecessor, the right hon. Frank Dobson, to whom I pay tribute, was a powerful advocate of the rights of everyone in Holborn and St Pancras throughout his highly distinguished parliamentary career. In his maiden speech on 16 May 1979, he spoke with a passion that never deserted him about housing, health and education. An Opposition spokesperson for most of Labour’s period out of office in the 1980s and 1990s, he was promoted to the high-profile role of Secretary of State for Health after the 1997 election. He was particularly trenchant in his opposition to the Iraq war, to invasions of civil liberties and to the privatisation of the NHS. Widely respected and widely regarded, he served the people of Holborn and St Pancras for 36 years. Although I doubt I will clock up 36 years, I intend to follow in Frank Dobson’s footsteps—albeit my jokes are likely to seem tame when compared with his, and I might give the beard a miss.

It took us nearly 750 years to journey from the partial application of human rights in Magna Carta to the universal application of human rights in the universal

28 May 2015 : Column 257

declaration of human rights. As we now celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, let us affirm the principle that human rights apply to everyone equally. Any proposed British Bill of Rights inconsistent with that principle will not be worth the paper it is written on and will face widespread opposition, not least from me on behalf of my constituents in Holborn and St Pancras.

2.31 pm

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con): May I first congratulate the new hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on his very interesting dissertation on Magna Carta, some 800 years old?

How very appropriate it is, Mr Deputy Speaker, to have in the Chair this afternoon a fellow Member from an adjacent constituency. I find it quite fitting that I am apparently the first of the new Conservative intake to make their maiden speech. As the House will be aware, my seat of South Thanet was far from a normal seat to have fought. Historically, it was a Conservative seat and, save for the peculiarities, shall I say, of the 1997 to 2010 period, it has always been such. I did know Dr Stephen Ladyman who held the seat during those years fairly well, and I hope that he is doing rather well in life.

The seat was won back for the Conservatives by my predecessor, Laura Sandys, in 2010. She was a Member who was well loved in this House for her compassion, her honesty and her integrity. Her appeal was even more strongly felt and evident across South Thanet. She leaves me a strong legacy of community service that I can only endeavour to live up to. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we wish her well in her new endeavours, and in her new interests and campaigns, which are close to her heart. There is one particular story from the excessive canvassing that went on in South Thanet, in which a couple extolled their appreciation of the work of Laura Sandys in support of the Salvation Army in Ramsgate and looked forward to my similar attendance in serving the homeless a well-deserved Christmas lunch this Christmas day. I will certainly endeavour to be there for them.

Before this election, South Thanet was something of a well-kept secret in this country, but because of the importance of the result, it became a seat of some national and international interest. I know that local businesses certainly enjoyed and benefited from that focus. My campaign was followed on a virtual daily basis by news channels from Japan, China, Canada, the US and virtually every European TV, radio, online and traditional media. I must say that, despite being sent the link to the online version of the Japanese story that appeared, I remain to this day quite unaware of what it actually says.

From all the more traditional UK news agencies, who literally camped out in Ramsgate and Broadstairs, it was most gratifying regularly to hear a very similar report: “We’ve never been here before. Isn’t it beautiful? We can’t wait to come back again.” Such is the beauty of the constituent towns of South Thanet. We have more blue flag beaches than virtually anywhere else in the UK. We have the house and chapel that Pugin designed in Ramsgate for himself; it is of course a smaller version of this grand place, and I certainly look forward to enjoying a drink with many hon. Members over the years to come in the room named in his honour.

28 May 2015 : Column 258

We have Sandwich, the best preserved medieval town in Britain, which—to follow on from what the hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras said—recently found its own 800-year-old version of Magna Carta. We have Broadstairs, which regularly appears in the top 10 best places in Britain in which to live. We have villages that are truly the epitome of rural England. We have Ramsgate royal harbour, the only royal harbour in the UK. It is the port from which Operation Dynamo departed, that very British of endeavours that saved over 300,000 soldiers stranded at Dunkirk. The 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo was celebrated and remembered just last weekend. We have a far more distant history of note in the constituency: the first landing of the Romans at Richborough and of St Augustine 1,400 years ago, who brought Christianity to these shores; and it was the site of very many Viking invasions. I feel that we can claim with complete honesty that South Thanet has much to do with the history and perhaps now the ultimate destiny of our nation.

South Thanet is a constituency of very many parts. It has pockets of poverty and pockets of plenty. Cliftonville in the north was once called by many the Brighton of Kent, with Northdown Road often called its Bond Street. My family hail from Kent despite my name—you are not having me over on the SNP Benches—for as many generations as any of us dares look back to. As a child in the late 1940s, my mother used to holiday in Margate because, in her words, “We couldn’t afford to go to Cliftonville.” It is my aim to make Cliftonville once more one of the most desirable areas in which to live and work.

It is a rather strange irony that the jet engine has led to the demise of many of our once thriving coastal towns that derived their income from tourism, as we have all gone further afield. We are all guilty of that. I certainly hope that it may be the jet engine in the form of a reopened and thriving Manston airport—recognised as a key part of the regional airport strategy and national aviation safety, perhaps with cargo at its heart, as well as aircraft recycling and high-tech engineering—that could be the salvation of a revised business base in Thanet in general.

On to Ramsgate—with its harbour, port and marina—which ranks alongside Dover as having the closest proximity to France, Belgium and Holland. It is described by many as the “Monaco of the south-east”. Those are not my words, but I share the sentiment. I intend to deliver that sentiment—to make Ramsgate marina, port and harbour a rival of any on the south coast and to be very much at the heart of a regeneration project.

For too long South Thanet has lagged behind very many normal figures for the south-east, with unemployment marginally higher and with relative measures of poverty always distinctly higher than the south-east norm, so I am here not just to fight for a fair share for South Thanet, but to deliver what South Thanet needs and fundamentally deserves.

I would like to put something on the radar of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who I hear has a nose for such things. I served as a councillor for River ward on Medway unitary authority for some eight years before coming here. It was a split ward and, following my election to that authority in 2007, it was represented by me and a Labour councillor. The then Labour councillor was elected to this House as the hon. Member for Sefton

28 May 2015 : Column 259

Central (Bill Esterson) in 2010, and was returned once more this month. I stand to be corrected—my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset will probably tell me that something similar happened in 1872—but to my knowledge it is the first time that two Members of Parliament have been returned from the same council ward ever. However, I stand to be corrected.

In my previous—dare I say normal?—life, I was in practice as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser for some 27 years. I certainly hope to play a very full and active role in the Budget and wider Treasury debates in future, as we continue to address the deficit, present fairer taxes and continue the measures for growth, but I am particularly pleased to make my maiden speech today in the home affairs debate on Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. I have served as a magistrate in Kent for the past 10 years, and I was pleased to hear the Leader of the House’s warm appreciation this morning for the work of the thousands of volunteer lay magistrates across this country.

There is much within the Queen’s Speech that I would want to comment upon, hence why I thought I would get my maiden speech out of the way, but following the Home Secretary’s speech, I warmly welcome the proposals for a blanket ban on psychoactive substances—the so-called legal highs. It has been done successfully elsewhere, and I want it done here. Too often as a lay magistrate, I see drugs misuse at the heart of recidivist crime. It brings hopelessness to many young lives. I would welcome a broader and sensible debate on drugs policy.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposals to bear down on immigration, adding to the measures already taken during the previous Parliament. A fast turnaround of failed claims is key to that. I hope we deliver. It is finally accepted by Labour that it left our country with an open door immigration policy. In Government alone, we Conservatives need to do far more, as the numbers remain too high, as they have been for far too long. I certainly intend to contribute to that debate.

I want to see changes to human rights legislation over this Parliament, with a domestic court guaranteeing our rights, and not a foreign court where we have little more than hope of common sense prevailing.

That leads me on to my final point. Most will know that the issue of our membership of the European Union brought me into politics some 24 years ago. It is for that reason that I am very proud to be part of this Parliament, where we will deliver on our commitment to an in/out referendum.

The EU has changed beyond compare from what we first assented to all those years ago. It is an issue that has been a running sore in British politics for decades. I am thankful that it will come to rest within this Parliament with, I hope, our finding a renegotiated settlement that is in tune with the majority of the British people. The chanceries across Europe need to take careful note of what we regard as acceptable as part of that renegotiation. For me, it need be little more than the free trade and friendship that we thought we had agreed to in 1975.

2.42 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I commend the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig MacKinlay), who made an excellent maiden speech. He has had a

28 May 2015 : Column 260

bumpy but successful journey here. Like him, I welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech to ban psychoactive drugs. Mephedrone is a bane in south Wales. I have campaigned on the issue for three years, and it is good that the Home Office wants to address that scourge. I also welcome the expansion of the troubled families initiative, which has been discussed in the Public Accounts Committee in recent years. It is a good thing, and I am pleased that it is being rolled out.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to full employment, but the emphasis on full employment must not be a false promise. That commitment is the focus of my speech.

Let me say how proud I am to represent once again the people of Blaenau Gwent. It is where I grew up and the place I call home. Its historical importance in the Chamber cannot be underplayed. I stand on the shoulders of political giants, and it is humbling, but it cannot be enough to come to the House as Blaenau Gwent’s MP and celebrate history. Standing up and looking only at history does Blaenau Gwent a disservice—a disservice to those I follow, from Nye Bevan to Michael Foot; and a disservice to the constituents who look to me to build on their legacy. Instead, all hon. Members are here to serve our constituents, and to help to deliver a better future.

The Government of the past five years were happy to see parts of the country get back on their feet and surge ahead, but that vision of Britain is short-sighted. It is a vision in which parts of the country thrive while large swathes of communities that still need support are left to wither on the vine. Struggling communities cannot be left behind. They need a fair deal to pull themselves up. We should not be content with a two-lane economy, with one heading to the future and one leading to a dead end.

Comparing the economy to a highway is more than just a turn of phrase. We all know that infrastructure, our roads and our transport links are at the heart of any thriving constituency. In that respect, Blaenau Gwent has started a new chapter in the past five years. The Welsh Labour Government have borne the brunt of cuts from Westminster, yet they have driven ahead with improvements to the heads of the valleys road, which will make such a difference to my community. I have campaigned with others for improvements to our valleys rail network, and now electrification is to be delivered as we welcome Ebbw Vale’s new town station.

For Blaenau Gwent, those economic lanes could be literal ones if the Circuit of Wales racetrack proceeds. The jobs and finance in tourism and engineering that it could bring would be game changing in the south Wales valleys.

We can rightly be proud of all those developments, but the Government cannot now say that they have done all they can. When speaking to the people of Blaenau Gwent on the doorstep over the past two months, the refrain was the same: Blaenau Gwent needs jobs—I can see from the hon. Members with doorstep tans around me that many have done the same in their constituencies. The improvements to road and rail that are being delivered are the start. They attract businesses to our areas. They help youngsters and they help skilled workers to get to jobs elsewhere. But that is only the start. The future is not in reach just yet.

28 May 2015 : Column 261

We are a proud borough, despite the difficulties of recent decades. We do not lack in culture, in countryside or in community. Our brass bands and our choirs are the envy of the country—I would say that they are a little bit better than those of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). Our valleys are breathtaking, and we are on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons. Even when cuts have threatened to eat at Blaenau Gwent’s community, it finds a way to fight back. Our Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr has gone from being a casualty of Tory funding squeezes to an award-winning social enterprise.

Those are just a few examples of the beautiful, harmonious, loud and proud Blaenau Gwent. They do not deserve to be abandoned in the pursuit of growth for a few. The Government need to take action to make a difference in Blaenau Gwent. We need an effective Work programme that gets our youngsters and those being retrained back on the career ladder; much better education and training to ensure that we have a skilled workforce for our businesses; and strong economic growth in south-east Wales, not just in south-east England.

I do not want to stand here in five years’ time talking about the past, however noble it may be. It is up to me and to all hon. Members to fight for our communities, not just for what they are, but for what they could be. I want to fight for a better future for my constituency of Blaenau Gwent.

2.48 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who showed why we are all here, with our passion for our constituencies and all believing that we represent the best constituency in the country. That was also rightly the theme of the excellent maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig MacKinlay). I made my maiden speech 10 years ago and he has already beaten me on two points. First, I was the second of our intake to make my maiden speech, not the first, and secondly, I noted the panoply of TV and media that followed him around during his election campaign. I am delighted to say that I was followed by the Wimbledon Guardian, the rain of south-west London and Finnish TV, which pulled out of an interview halfway through, I think for all sorts of reasons.

Ten years on, I still regard being a Member of Parliament, chosen by our electorate to represent them here, as a great honour not only in the context of our constituencies but in the context of what we do here for our country. The Human Rights Act has been discussed already, but we embody the protection under the law for all our citizens and it is an honour and privilege to be given their confidence to do so.

After 10 years, I am delighted that we had yesterday a Conservative Gracious Speech. It set out a clear vision for the country of security, aspiration and opportunity for everyone. The Queen’s Speech followed faithfully the manifesto on which my hon. Friends and I fought and based our election campaigns. It was a manifesto and a campaign to be proud of. Despite the cheap parody that some have made of what was said, it was an election campaign in which my side talked about hope and aspiration for the future. Others talked about being anti-business and the politics of envy and, unsurprisingly, the country yet again rejected that approach.

28 May 2015 : Column 262

The Queen’s Speech builds on the achievements of the last five years, including the monumental achievement of cutting the deficit, on which there is still more to do, but huge progress has been made; a cut in income tax for 26 million people; and the creation of more jobs and apprenticeships than ever before, so that unemployment in my constituency is now under 1% and we have created more than 1,000 apprenticeships in the last two years. There were many other achievements, but I have mentioned the ones on which the Queen’s Speech needed to build—and I think it does.

The first task for any one nation Government is to make sure that all people have the opportunity of a job, because that is crucial to people’s lives, hopes and aspirations, and that is set out in the Gracious Speech. The second task is to make sure the first is done with fairness and to champion social justice. That must come from education. I see that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is in his place—I congratulate him on his new role. Many Conservative Members will wish to praise what he did in the previous Parliament in reforming education, so that more and more children have the opportunity to attend good schools, and the support he gave to many schools through extra money that recognised the primary places crisis that we had in London. I first spoke about that crisis in 2007, and his achievements in that regard do not go unrecognised.

The Gracious Speech builds on those achievements more concretely. The enterprise Bill will sweep away regulation. The Conservative party has always been the party of business and small business, and the enterprise Bill will embody that in law. The children Bill will be attractive to large swathes of the country in introducing 30 hours of childcare, and I suspect that the EU referendum Bill will be one of the more hotly debated Bills.

Today is of course home affairs day. We had a long debate in January on the Serious Crime Act 2015, and I am greatly concerned about the issue of cybercrime and its economic consequences, including organised crime syndicates and the potential for foreign state activity. Our networks—electricity, telecoms, power, banking, fuel and food distribution—rely on logistics systems backed by complex cyber-systems. If those networks came under criminal control, even for a relatively short time, the scale of theft about which the Home Secretary spoke—some £24 billion—would be dwarfed.

Cybercrime is an issue to which the Government rightly paid great attention over the last five years, and I hope that we will continue that in the next five years. I welcome therefore the investigatory powers Bill, which will provide the opportunity to address some of those issues. The economic consequences of cybercrime could be devastating to this country. We therefore need to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers and capabilities they need to keep Britain safe. I think a lot of people see this in the context of extremism and international terrorism, but I also see us using those powers of “who”, “where”, “when” and “how”—not necessarily of content—to combat cybercrime in a hugely effective way. I very much welcome that. Modernising the law on data communications so that the police and the agencies have that information will be one of the most widely supported, if not highest profile, measures in the Gracious Speech.

The shadow Home Secretary rightly talked about the need to distinguish between asylum and immigration, but then she muddle-headedly expressed a number thoughts

28 May 2015 : Column 263

in which she completely brought them back together again. Those who fought the election campaign will have heard many things on the doorstep, but for a number of people immigration was one of the key factors in deciding how to vote. I found that not only in south-west London, where I do a lot of campaigning, but in other parts of the country while helping various colleagues. The new immigration Bill, particularly the provision on preventing illegal immigrants from accessing services that allow them to remain in the country and the “deport first, appeal later” principle in respect of people with no status to remain in the country, will be a powerful tool that could help to reset the whole immigration agenda. As many new MPs will quickly find out, this place deals with a huge panoply of issues. Many MPs might say, “You represent Wimbledon, a leafy suburb”, but immigration is among those issues I deal with. Only yesterday, I dealt with someone who had been in this country illegally for nine years and was still trying to stay here. The powers and provisions in the new immigration Bill will enable us to act with fairness and justice.

Although this is home affairs day, I would like to stray into an area that is not explicitly home affairs but which clearly affects many people in this country. I am talking about infrastructure and the approach the Government are setting out in two Bills. In one area, there is continuation. The benefits of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, which is passing through Committee, will be unparalleled. The Chancellor has rightly spoken about the need to bring economic prosperity to all parts of the country, and I have long been a proponent of high-speed rail as a means of extending capacity to bring economic growth to widespread areas of the country, so I strongly welcome the Bill.

I also welcome the housing Bill. For many of us, housing was a key issue on the doorstep during the general election campaign. Much has been said about right to buy—I will not rehearse the arguments colleagues have already made—but the provisions to build more starter homes, increase the right to build, create a register of brownfield land and establish a London land commission are all innovative ideas that we need to bring forward, so I am delighted that they will be in the Bill. The Chancellor’s record on supporting infrastructure in the previous Parliament—of taking difficult decisions while keeping capital expenditure high—was pretty much unparalleled, and I know that he rejects the British disease of doing a piece of infrastructure, sighing and then doing nothing for the next five years.

I impress on the Front-Bench team my support for the housing and high-speed rail Bills and urge them to think about how we could bring infrastructure projects more closely together. I hope that either within or outside the existing ministerial structure, a ministry for infrastructure could be brought forward in this Parliament. The benefits, in terms of linkages between energy, housing, broadband and transport, could be huge, as too could the cost and delivery benefits. We need to create a cluster of expertise and a conglomeration of skills within government. From my brief experience as a Minister, I got the impression that those skills were unfortunately lacking inside what is a well-intentioned civil service. Those skills are not there, and they could be brought together. From this country’s point of view,

28 May 2015 : Column 264

it is hugely encouraging to see the continuing commitment to infrastructure, but I press the Front-Bench team to think about a potentially better way to deliver it.

It is an honour, 10 years on, to contribute to the debate on the Gracious Speech. I congratulate all new Members elected at this general election. I wish them the camaraderie, the skill and the opportunities that this House brings, and I hope they have a successful future representing their constituents.

3 pm

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. This is the first time I have been called a maiden, and it seems a little unusual as my children watch me from the Strangers Gallery. I assure everybody here that it is good that they are behind the glass—I can see them talking up there!

I am exceptionally proud to be one of the new women MPs elected to this Parliament, and to be one of the working parents elected—we have a lot to offer when deciding what is best for our country, which has not always happened. Like those of my predecessor, John Hemming, my roots in Birmingham, Yardley run deep. I know from reading his maiden speech that this was a source of great pride for him—and I feel the same.

A Brummie accent is a rare thing in this Chamber, and I look forward to changing that. Like so many Brummies, my nan and grandad from both my mother’s and father’s sides moved from Birmingham’s Peaky Blinders-famed inner city industrial areas in Small Heath, Ladywood and Winson Green to the estates of Yardley and Sheldon that were newly built in the ’30s and ’40s. They were proud of their new homes and raised all their children there.

My family benefited from decent council houses and good communities, and during my campaign I was proud to knock on the doors of three different houses where my parents had lived—on Garretts Green Lane, Frodesley Road and Gleneagles Road.

During the campaign, I visited Yardley Great Trust, a charity whose history in the area is even longer than mine. Originating in the 14th century, the Yardley Great Trust has helped to alleviate poverty and support residents in their sickness and old age, and it continues to do so today. In 1966, the Yardley Great Trust gave my mom a grant to help poor local kids stay in education, so that she did not have to leave school to help her single mother with the housekeeping before doing her A-levels. She went on to achieve a great many things and gave me and my brothers a good life and lots of opportunities. Birmingham, Yardley was good to my family, and I plan to repay this debt.

I requested to make my maiden speech in this section of the Queen’s Speech debates because, along with all things Birmingham, Yardley, I am deeply committed to improving our country’s response to victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse in all its forms. Having worked for years in a service that operated refuges, rape crisis, child sexual exploitation services and human trafficking services, I know that we need to do more. We need look no further than at the poor rape conviction rates to know that for very vulnerable victims our justice system is too often just another establishment that has failed to protect them.

28 May 2015 : Column 265

For years before I sat on these Green Benches—and, I am sure, for many more after—there will have been calls for Government Departments to work better together to understand the multiple and layered effects that our decisions have on people’s lives. I can think of no better example than the interaction between the Department for Work and Pensions and our Justice and Home Affairs Departments. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary is committed to ending child sexual exploitation, and it is true to say that her Department has invested in improving services for victims of sexual violence. However, as a Government, it is no good to give with one hand and take away with another. This Government’s rumoured plans to remove housing benefit from people aged under 21 will be disastrous for these vulnerable victims. While I do not agree with this measure at all, I want to compel the Government to remove from this new legislation vulnerable people in supported accommodation. To make my point, I shall tell the story of Helen.

Helen was an 18-year-old girl I met in my first week in my old job, and she has stayed with me for the last six years. She had been abused by her father as a child, and had been in and out of local authority care throughout her—so-called—childhood. Between the ages of 15 and 18, she had been exploited by one “boyfriend” or another, all of them much older than her and none with her best interests at heart.

Helen had come to ask for support from our services following her abuse. She was being supported by an independent sexual violence adviser so that she could be helped to give statements to the police, and seek convictions and justice for her childhood abuse. However, following the breakdown of her relationship with her mother and, subsequently, her grandmother, she became homeless, and her life was difficult and chaotic. In the absence of a stable living environment, she again fell victim to those who abused her, and fell out of the justice system.

Eventually—after cycles of absconding and returning —we were able to secure supported living for Helen. I remember driving her to what is now my constituency to take her to St Basil’s, a brilliant youth homelessness charity. With the aid of housing benefit and the home she was given, she was able to learn to look after herself and, with support, seek justice in order to move on with her life and make a future.

Where will Helen go now, in a future that will not give her housing benefit? How many A and E visits will she make during this Parliament? How many custody suites will she block up? How many police reports will be filed for her by a stretched force? Worse still, how many other people will be abused by those who abused Helen while justice is not done? If that is not enough to alarm the justice and home affairs teams who are sitting opposite me, perhaps I should put it differently: how much will this cost their Departments?

In the last Parliament, the domestic violence lobby was able to ensure that victims living in refuges were exempt from universal credit and the benefits cap. Although the Government’s decision was an afterthought, it was the right decision to keep women and children safe. I urge this Government not to make the same mistake of making the most vulnerable young people an afterthought. I urge them to exempt young people who are at risk of homelessness, and those who are in supported accommodation, from their welfare reform. Last year,

28 May 2015 : Column 266

25% of the victims who lived in Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid refuges alone were aged between 18 and 21. We must protect these victims.

Justice and security do not end in their defined Government Departments. In my constituency, there are lots of Helens, and it is my job to amplify their stories so that we stop finding it easy to look away. I will never look away. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the chance to tell that story, and I look forward to telling many more.

3.8 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who made an excellent speech. I entirely concur with her observations about domestic violence and sexual abuse. Those are appalling crimes and are utterly indefensible, and action must be taken to put them under a spotlight. We need to be surer in future that we can prevent such things from happening—as urgently as possible—and that, when they do happen, we can pounce properly, accurately and firmly. The hon. Lady made some very powerful points that should land in a safe place, and I would certainly support her in promoting such a development.

Birmingham is a great city, and that is one of the reasons why I am determined to reopen a station in Stroud, enabling people to travel to Birmingham without having to change trains too often. If I have my way, people from Stroud will be going to Birmingham all the more often, and I hope that people from Birmingham will reciprocate by coming to Stroud. This is an important mission of mine, and I look forward to ensuring that commuters, business and tourists benefit from the initiative I am taking.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). Many Conservatives, at least, were particularly pleased by his election victory, which, as we know, had seminal consequences. I congratulate him on making a fabulous speech.

My constituency is very beautiful; I do not need to expand on that as I did so in my maiden speech five years ago. My constituency covers not just Stroud; all the other parts of it matter, too—the valleys and vales. It is not just beautiful; it is a place of economic vibrancy and good community spirit. It has a strong interest in manufacturing and the creative sector and all the rural characteristics we would expect of a constituency in Gloucestershire. I salute my constituency, and I thank the electors for returning me to this House.

The most impressive sentence in Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech was the second one, in which she talked about one nation. I have been a fully signed up supporter of one nation ever since I got involved in politics. It is a particularly strong theme that underpins all parts of the Government’s agenda—building a nation where everybody feels they have opportunity, fair liberty and the capacity to fulfil their lives, and where nobody from any part of the country feels excluded, and where anybody can express themselves properly, within reason. That is the kind of country I want to live in, and we keep on needing to make it because we come across challenges all the time. One nation Britain and a one nation Government is precisely what we want to see.

28 May 2015 : Column 267

Ian Blackford: We are told as we come into this Parliament that there are four nations: Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reflect on that, rather than talking about one nation.

Neil Carmichael: That is a good point and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and of course one nation does mean a collection of the four nations in a United Kingdom.

One nation is really an expression of how we feel about the people in our nation—how we want to give opportunity, how we want to make sure they can propel themselves forward, how we want to make sure nobody is left behind, how we want to make sure our standards of justice are right for all and fair to everybody. That is the kind of one nation I talk about, and that is the kind of one nation the Government want to build—and the one nation is, of course, the whole of the United Kingdom, and I pay tribute to that. On devolution, which doubtless is to the fore of the hon. Gentleman’s mind, we want to see, and we will deliver, proper devolution to Scotland.

Mr MacNeil: I am amazed at what the hon. Gentleman says about the progress of four nations becoming one nation. Might he argue one day that one Europe should become one nation? Is that the path of progress he is following?

Neil Carmichael: Our values as one nation are, of course, ones we would want everybody else to follow. We are talking about the United Kingdom, and the current position is that this Government have capacity and dominance over this country, but I also want to emphasise that what matters is that sense of fairness, of equality and of inclusion.

The dominant home affairs topic in the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary was immigration. It is a critical issue and the Government rightly want to tighten things further in due course, but there is another side to the coin: the way in which we operate ourselves, which is partly to do with the other key issue in the Gracious Speech—productivity. We as a nation need to address our economic productivity. We need to be sure that we can compete well with our competitors in Europe and beyond. We need to address the significant productivity gap between ourselves and, for example, Germany or the United States of America. That is one aspect of this debate on which we should focus in this Parliament.

The skills agenda aims to equip young people with the ability to get the jobs and careers they need and that businesses need them to have. It is about making sure that our factories can produce goods competitively, giving us a trade advantage and delivering higher standards of living for people in those industries.

The key challenge of delivering a strong skills agenda is underpinned by what we do in our schools, so I am really pleased that the speech referred to a Bill to tackle coasting schools. There is a debate about the definition of a coasting school. A coasting school is one in which a child is not able to progress as he or she should or, even worse, is regressing; and we have measurements for that and can see where schools are failing. Too many children leave school without sufficient qualifications and learning capacity. That is captured by the long-tail-of-underachievement argument, and we have to stamp it out. If young people do not get a fair start in life early

28 May 2015 : Column 268

enough, we let them down—and we let everybody else down, too, because we are all in this together when it comes to the kind of society we build and the kind of economy we want. Skills are absolutely critical.

Another aspect of this debate is the way in which we structure our businesses and think about investment so that we have a clear pathway to develop the new technologies that will lead us to solve the problems of climate change and tackle the productivity gap. I want firms to think more about their long-term prospects and long-term investment needs, so let us alter the tax system to encourage such investment.

The speech refers to tax in another way: enabling hard-working people to keep more of what they earn. I am pleased that once we have passed the necessary legislation anyone on the minimum wage will be exempt from income tax. That is a fabulous encouragement to people to get jobs; it is a fabulous motivation for families to move into the world of work, if they have not done so in the past; it is also a great reward in terms of the idea that people should contribute to our economy, because the real issue is making sure that we as a country can deliver the lifestyle and opportunities that young and older people need to fulfil their lives. That is a really important part of the speech.

There are other elements that we need to celebrate and promote. I want more apprenticeships, which are a key part of equipping people to develop themselves, their interests and issues. The Government are absolutely right to aim to create even more apprenticeships than we managed to create in the past five years. That is what business wants to see and what we all need to see in our constituencies. In my constituency, nearly one in four people is involved in manufacturing and engineering, so they are an important part of the local economy. It is imperative that we have university technical colleges and the promotion of the skills we should have, and I will back the Government as they continue to make sure we have that range of educational provision. I salute the idea of more academies, but I also want to be clear that they are properly accountable, because accountability is crucial in any walk of life, and certainly when we are dealing with the teaching and wellbeing of our children. I want to enhance that further.

In summary, this Queen’s Speech is, as we have been discussing, about creating one nation—a nation that is proud of its people.

Craig MacKinlay: My hon. Friend mentioned the interesting topic of UTCs, which are springing up across the whole country. Does he have any experience of them locally, because they are certainly of interest to me?

Neil Carmichael: I certainly do, because we are going to have a UTC in my constituency very shortly. It will provide skills for people between the ages of 14 and 18 in the areas of advanced manufacturing, cyber-studies and so on. We have secured the commitment, the site and the sense of purpose, as well as all the necessary commitments from partners. It will be located at Berkeley Green, on the site of a former nuclear power station. It has facilities for precisely the sort of thing that my hon. Friend asks about and it will contribute massively to the pipeline of skills that an economy such as my local one, and the surrounding area, needs desperately. I urge you to pursue UTCs wherever you can, as necessary.

28 May 2015 : Column 269

In summary, we want a country where people have opportunity and the capacity to thrive and lead fulfilled lives. We want people to be able to deliver for themselves and their families the sort of life that we all aspire to and can have within our reach. That is what this whole debate will be about. That is the general foundation of this Government’s plan for the next five years and it is well worth supporting and promoting in our constituencies.

3.22 pm

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me my first opportunity to speak in this magnificent Chamber. I have the privilege and the honour to represent Edinburgh East—as with some others, the title of the constituency is something of a misnomer; as well as including the eastern parts of our great city, it embraces most of the city centre of Edinburgh. Therefore, the area is replete with architectural and historical landmarks with which I am sure you will be extremely familiar. From the castle on Castlehill, which dominates the city centre and whose provenance makes this place look positively contemporary, one goes down the Royal Mile, past the ancient city chambers and the cathedral of St Giles, to the bottom and the Palace of Holyrood and, of course, our own Scottish Parliament.

The constituency is also the seat of our ancient university, and the area thrives because of the many tens of thousands of students and academics within its borders. At this point, with relevance to the immigration debate, I would just like to make a point about one of the proverbial babies that has been thrown out with the bathwater in recent immigration reforms: the post-study work visa, which used to be afforded to people who came here to study in higher education. It provided students in higher education with the opportunity to stay in their community for a short time after finishing their studies to work and, in particular, to give back to that community some of the skills and experience they had developed in our institutions of higher learning. I would like to think that as this debate unfolds and we get down to the detail, we will be able to examine the possibility of getting some replacement mechanism for that.

I should also say that the area I represent is a great artistic and creative one. It is the home of the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh festival fringe; most of the venues are within my constituency, and I am very proud to have played such a role in developing that festival over the past 10 years. From the city centre one goes north, just west of the old port of Leith, and then along the coast to the thriving communities of Portobello and Joppa. It is an area that is rich, diverse and charming and one that I am privileged to represent.

I want to spend a minute or so mentioning other parts of my constituency. I am talking about the communities that are a million miles away from the vibrant and colourful images that adorn our tourist brochures. There has been much talk, both during the election campaign and in this debate, about aspiration. There are parts of my constituency where, despite public sector investment in infrastructure, aspiration has all but been extinguished, families are living on the margins, and despair and desperation hang over the place in a way that is almost palpable. The reason for that can be summed up in one simple word: poverty. There is not enough money to go round. Before anyone says it, we

28 May 2015 : Column 270

are not talking here about the workshy or the feckless. We are talking about the working people to whom the Prime Minister referred. They are people who work harder than any of us have ever done; who go out and work long hours in insecure jobs for poor pay and who, at the end of the week, bring home enough just to feed their families and just to get by, but not enough to live a fulfilled and enjoyable life and to have happiness for themselves and their families.

I implore this Chamber to recognise that the challenge in front of us, in the second decade of the 21st century and in such a wealthy country, is to try to eradicate that poverty. Some 21% of children in my constituency—in some areas it is as high as 50%—live in poverty, which is a scandal. Over the coming days, when we talk about that and the welfare reforms, I will plead with this Chamber not to do anything to make matters even worse. When we hear about the £12 billion of cuts that are proposed in the welfare budget, we wait with bated breath to see where they might fall. I presume that the Government will not cut people’s pensions, which means that they will look at the very big areas of disability benefits and of tax credits. If they take money out of either of those areas, they will make a bad situation much worse in some areas of my constituency. They will push people to the margins and, at times, over the edge and they will complete their alienation from the society in which they live. I implore them not to do it.

I wish to say a few words about my predecessor, Sheila Gilmore. Sheila was elected in 2010 in what was then a safe Labour seat. She served the area well and to the best of her ability and I wish her well in whatever she does next. The reason why Sheila is not here has nothing to do with her capabilities and everything to do with the predicament of her party. Five years ago, Labour won Edinburgh East with a majority of more than 11,000 votes. Three weeks ago, I won the same seat with a majority of more than 9,000 votes. That result was replicated the length and breadth of Scotland. These results are remarkable, are they not? What has happened has been not a political swing in the normal psephological sense of the word but a structural shift in political alignment across the communities—most notably the urban working-class communities—of Scotland.

To understand what is happening in Scotland, you must first understand what is not happening in Scotland. I take offence when people suggest that the rise of my party is in some way part of a continuum, which has seen the rise of racist and xenophobic organisations throughout this great continent of Europe; it is nothing of the kind. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said earlier, our nationalism is an inclusive civic nationalism. It is about people having pride in their communities and in their country. It is about empowerment and about trying to give people some sense of control over their own lives in a world where global forces constantly make them feel impotent. That is why it resonates with people, many of whom are alienated from the process of government in this country. But there is something else at work as well and that is this: our party now exists to put forward not just that civic nationalism but a credo that is fused also with social democracy—a prospectus that was once the terrain of the Labour party but that it has now abandoned. This powerful idea of people coming together to take control of their own their lives

28 May 2015 : Column 271

and to change the society around them so that it benefits everyone is a potent force and it commands the support of the majority of people in Scotland.

I urge Members not to mistake our intentions. I say that because we have already received a few jibes. We do, of course, want self-government for Scotland. There is no secret about that. But we had a referendum last year, and we know the result of that referendum. We lost it. We accept that we lost the referendum. We may not agree with it, but we did. We did not in this election seek a mandate for independence, and we did not get one. We have not come to this Chamber to argue the case for independence. That debate, and the debate about the next chapter in Scotland’s history will take place in a different Chamber in a different Parliament 400 miles to the north of this one. We have come here to give Scotland a strong voice in this Parliament. We have come here to represent the people who elected us, and you will find us constructively engaged in order to deliver that.

We come here not to disrupt but to be constructive. We come here to be good parliamentarians and to use the often arcane and antiquated processes that exist in this Parliament for the benefit of the people who elected us. Sometimes we will perceive a Scottish national interest, and we will argue the case for that, but on many other occasions, the interests of our constituents will completely align with the interests of yours, and we hope very much to find common cause and create a united Opposition across the Chamber in order to prevent some of the worst excesses that may fall upon us from the Conservative Government—a Government by the way that is not one that we wanted. The Conservative party has not had a mandate in Scotland for some time; it does not have one now. This is not the result that we wanted for the UK, but we accept that the Conservatives won, and good luck to them.

I would point out, however, that the reason why we have a majority Conservative Government is not that the Labour party lost to the SNP in Scotland but that the Labour party lost to the Conservative party in England. Even if Labour had won every Scottish seat, there would still be a majority Conservative Government. So I appeal to the people on these Benches to get over it; let us work together constructively to advance as much as we can and defend the people who elected us.

Mr Speaker, you gave us a gentle rebuke yesterday for the applause that we gave in this Chamber, and we take that with good grace. We know of course that it is not traditional practice in the Chamber, but we did not know just how unacceptable it might be found. We will try to refrain from doing it again. It will take us time to learn the processes at work here; it will take us time to get our feet under the table. And it will take you time to get used to us, but I hope that we will be able to do that in the weeks and months ahead, and we look forward to working constructively with you on behalf of the people who elected us.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. It is a great pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman, and I know that I will be joined by a great many colleagues in admiring the spirit of solidarity that motivates large numbers of members of one party to turn up at the same time. I say that in a spirit of genuine respect. Thank you for what you have said.

28 May 2015 : Column 272

I am in the happy position now of being able to announce the removal of the time limit because we have a bit more time than we thought. That does not mean that the available time should be abused, but it is there.

3.33 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try and bear it in mind that it is not Friday today and take your instructions in the spirit in which they are intended.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) on a marvellous maiden speech. He said that it would take him a while to get his feet under the table, but based on the speech that I have just heard, I do not think that it will take any time at all. That was a most accomplished performance. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) spoke earlier in the debate. Both maiden speeches were excellent, and although I may not agree with much of what the SNP says, there is clearly no doubt about the ability of the SNP people who were elected or about the passion with which they argue their cause. I welcome them to the House of Commons in that spirit.

The maiden speeches from the two Edinburgh Members were of exceptional quality, and so were the other maiden speeches that I have heard today. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) made a wonderful maiden speech from the Labour Benches, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). She said that her children were in the Public Gallery watching, and I am sure that they did so with an amazing amount of pride because she made a passionate and accomplished maiden speech.

I do not want the moment to pass without mentioning my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), because he, too, made a brilliant maiden speech, which certainly bodes well for his future in the House. I think it is well known that one of the things that the Prime Minister and I agree about is that I should never be promoted. On the basis of the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, I do not think it will be long before he finds favour with the powers that be, in a way that I never will.

I am told by Professor Philip Cowley that it is a matter of record that I was the second most rebellious MP in the last Parliament. Now that we have a Conservative majority, I hope that I do not need to continue in that vein. I was a rebel against the coalition Government, much of which I did not support. With a Conservative majority, I hope that I will not need to rebel so often. As I always say to the Whips, if the Government pursue Conservative policies, they will not have to worry about me rebelling. It is when they veer from that track that I shall be there to rebel.

I can tell the Government now that the majority may well be small, but if the need arises, I will always do what I believe is the right thing for my constituents and the right thing for the country. My duty as an MP is to hold the Government of the day to account. I could not care what colour the Government is; whichever Government are in power, I will hold them vigorously to account. I should make it clear right at the outset that those usual rules will apply in this Parliament, too. I just live in hope that the need will not arise quite as often as it did during the last Parliament.

28 May 2015 : Column 273

I want to touch on just a few subjects in my brief remarks. The first is the Human Rights Act. The Secretary of State for Justice, whom I very much welcome to his position, will probably find me something of a nemesis in this Parliament. About 9%, I think it was, of all the parliamentary questions tabled in the last Parliament to the Ministry of Justice were from me personally, and I intend to continue with that, holding the Government to account on these issues in this Parliament, too. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position and I have high hopes for him. I hope he will be able to reassure me and many of my colleagues who were enthusiastic supporters of repealing the Human Rights Act during the general election campaign—I found a great deal of support for that from my constituents—that the Government are not going soft on this issue and are not organising a retreat of any kind. I will be doing what I can, in my own modest way, to make sure they stick to their guns and do what they promised the electorate in the manifesto commitment on which we were elected.

This idea, which I heard earlier, particularly from the shadow Home Secretary, that doing that would turn us into a country like Belarus or take us back to being some medieval country is just for the birds. It really is absolute nonsense, to be perfectly frank. The idea that in this country we had no rights at all until 1998 is completely absurd. That is the argument that the Opposition parties try to portray. Our rights in this country go back centuries. They do not go back to 1998; our rights stem from things such as Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, through common law and case law. That is where our rights and our freedoms come from in this country. They do not come from the Human Rights Act. This idea that we had no human rights and then, all of a sudden, in 1998 they all appeared out of nowhere is just complete nonsense, and the people who argue that case must know in their heart of hearts that it is nonsense.

The Human Rights Act has become a charter for illegal immigrants to avoid deportation, for criminals to avoid what was the will of this House when laws were set, and to allow prisoners to pursue vexatious complaints completely needlessly and at taxpayers’ expense. That is really what the Human Rights Act has delivered. I am not aware of any of my genuine, law-abiding constituents who have ever needed to use the Human Rights Act to defend their freedoms. The Human Rights Act has been abused by people whom it was never intended to support in the first place. We cannot just sit idly by and allow that to continue. When we have seen that happen, it is quite right that this Parliament should act to make sure that the laws are in place as we intended and that we do not have those unintended consequences and unintended abuses going unchecked.

As it happens, there has been a lot of talk about how that relates to the European convention on human rights. Personally, I would like to see us withdraw from that too, to be perfectly honest, because the European Court of Human Rights is no more than a joke. It is full of judges, many of whom are not even legally qualified—they are not actually real judges; they are pseudo-judges—who are political appointees from the member states who have been sent to make political decisions, not legal decisions. They have overstepped their authority on many occasions, a prime example being a ruling that prisoners should have the right to vote, when clearly the right to universal suffrage was not one of the rights in

28 May 2015 : Column 274

the European convention that we signed up to; we in this country have never allowed prisoners to vote. That is just one example of where they have exceeded their remit and overstepped the mark. We should not be a part of something we did not sign up to.

People say that the European convention was a British invention. It may well be, but how it is being interpreted today is not what Britain intended when the convention first came into being. We cannot sit back and just allow our own courts to be overruled, willy-nilly, by pseudo-judges who are political appointees making political decisions based on what they think the law should be, rather than what the law actually is. In this country we believe in the rule of law, which means that the law should be applied as it is, not as political appointees in those Courts think it should be. The Government need to do something about that and not just allow it continue—hopefully, by seeing through the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

I warmly welcome the EU referendum. It will not come as a great surprise to anyone here to hear that I will campaign enthusiastically for us to leave the European Union when the referendum takes place. Nine years ago, I launched the Better Off Out group in Parliament with a very small number of colleagues and, it is fair to say, long before it was fashionable to argue that we should leave the EU. I am delighted with the progress made since then. We are on the cusp of being able to make the historic decision to leave the European Union, which I would warmly support.

The idea that we need to be in the EU to trade with the EU is complete nonsense. People say that 3 million jobs depend on our trading with the EU. Of course they do—I do not deny that for one minute. But about 5 million jobs in Europe depend on trade with the UK, so there is no way they are going to stop. Does anyone seriously think that BMW, Mercedes, Citroën, Renault and Audi, and all the winemakers of France are going to say, “Well, it’s the principle of the thing. We don’t want to trade with the UK. We don’t want to access its market anymore.” Of course they want access to our market; we are too big a market for them to ignore. We were trading with Europe long before the European Union came into existence, and we will be trading with Europe long after the European Union has gone out of existence. If we sell good product at the right price, people will want to buy it, wherever they are in the world. I have not noticed China having great problems trading with the EU, and China is clearly not a member. The idea that one has to be in the EU to trade with the EU is palpable nonsense.

Those who argue most vociferously that it would be a disaster if we were to leave the EU are all the same people who argued that it would be a disaster if we did not join the euro. Why on earth anyone would listen to those people anymore, the Lord only knows. Tony Blair’s is one name that springs to mind. Hopefully no one will listen to them or be fooled by that nonsense. Those people have been proved wrong before and they will be proved wrong again. I look forward to taking on those arguments during the EU referendum debate and campaign.

I believe that those of us who want to leave the EU can win that campaign, not least because—I come to home affairs, which we are debating today—of the thorny issue of immigration. In the last Parliament, I was highly critical of the Government’s efforts—if one

28 May 2015 : Column 275

could call them that—to control immigration. The Prime Minister promised that we would reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. I do not doubt the Prime Minister’s sincerity when he made that promise, and I am perfectly happy to accept that he could not have foreseen our creating so many jobs in this country—more than in the rest of the EU put together—which led more and more people to want to come here. In that sense, we were a victim of our own success, but the fact remains that the Prime Minister made a promise that he was not entitled to make, because we cannot control the number of people coming into this country while we remain a member of the EU. That is a fact and we may as well be honest about it. People want the Government to control immigration, yes, but they also want the Government to be honest about immigration. While we are in the EU we cannot control the numbers coming in. The EU will never give up on the free movement of people. We know that, so let us be honest.

We cannot keep going with the numbers of people coming into this country each year. It is unsustainable. We do not have the land available to build all the houses needed to accommodate all those people. Even if we had, we do not have the wherewithal to build all the houses that would need building for the number of people coming into this country each year. It is just not feasible and we should be honest about that. If people want to stay in the EU and have unlimited immigration, that is fine. It is a perfectly respectable position to hold; it just happens to be one with which I disagree. If that is what people want, let them be honest with the public that that is the consequence of voting to stay in the EU. I do not mind what people’s argument about the EU is, as long as they are honest about their opinion.

I shall make some final brief points, if I may. The first is about the police. I am a big supporter of the police and I voted against cuts to the police budget throughout the previous Parliament. I will continue to do that, if the need arises, during this Parliament. The police do a superb job. They face an awful lot of problems, not least the Government taking lots of people off the DNA database, which made the job of the police even harder unnecessarily. I hope the Government will give the police the resources they need to do what they are dedicated to doing—catching criminals and bringing them to justice. The first duty of the Government is to keep the public safe. That means providing the police with adequate resources to make sure that dangerous criminals are where they belong, which is behind bars. I hope that the Secretary of State for Justice will take to heart the fact that we want to see more criminals in prison. A doubling of the prison population would suit me fine, if the Secretary of State is looking for a rough estimate of how many people should be there.

The final issues are metro Mayors and HS2. All this stuff is basically about lots of people down south pretending that they know and care about the north and bringing forward proposals that nobody in the north is interested in, thereby highlighting how out of touch they are with people in the north. I rarely find anybody in the north who is interested in HS2. I have never yet come across a businessman who says, “Unless you get me to London 20 minutes earlier, I’m out of

28 May 2015 : Column 276

here.” What we need is better infrastructure in the north and across the north. HS3 is a far better idea than HS2, which is just a grotesque waste of money. I will continue voting against HS2, as I did in the previous Parliament.

As for metro Mayors, I have no idea where that idea comes from. The idea that we want to give more and more power to councillors like the people who run Bradford council, for example, and that they should get more powers over affairs affecting Shipley—how anyone could think that is a good idea, Lord only knows. My constituents want Bradford council to have fewer powers, not more powers. In fact, we want to get out of Bradford council altogether and set up our own council separate from Bradford’s. Why on earth do the Government think it is a good idea to put more and more powers on these people, who were elected on such a low turnout? Why do we think they have a great democratic mandate to make decisions when they are elected on something like a 30% turnout, whereas MPs are elected on something like a 70% turnout? If the Government want to bring more localism into effect, they should give more powers to the people who got the mandate from their constituents, not to people who were elected by hardly anybody turning out to vote, as we saw with police and crime commissioners, which was another waste of time.

I broadly welcome the Queen’s Speech. That would be a fair summary of where I am. I am open to anybody reinterpreting my remarks, but I have got it down as broad support for the Gracious Speech. I hope the Government will see through the promises that they have made on the EU referendum—I have every confidence that they will—and on the Human Rights Act. I want them to be aware that on matters such as metro Mayors, HS2 and other nonsense that they may come up with from time to time, I will be prepared, however reluctantly, to vote against them to keep them honest and true to true Conservative principles.

3.49 pm

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): Mr Speaker, thank you for calling me to make my maiden speech, and congratulations on your re-election.

At the outset I want to thank four of my predecessors, because I knew them all. The first is Simon Mahon, who often visited my house—particularly during election time, when he came with leaflets—given that he was a first cousin of my late mother. I even remember, albeit a little vaguely, leafleting in the 1964 general election; a punishment inflicted on my children in many subsequent elections—I am pleased to say that they have forgiven me.

The second is Allan Roberts, who was well liked and respected by the people of Bootle constituency, even though he was from Manchester, and who died far too young, but to this day he is remembered with fondness. The third is Mike Carr, who, having taken up the cudgel from Allan, also died prematurely just months after his election in 1990, but in that short time he made a lasting and deep impression. Finally, Joe Benton, who many in this House will have known, unerringly served the people of Bootle for a quarter of a century as its MP and for many years before as a councillor.

Another of my predecessors, but one I did not know, was Andrew Bonar Law, the shortest serving Tory Prime Minister of the 20th century; he resided in Downing Street for just 211 days, I understand. Alas, the same

28 May 2015 : Column 277

cannot be said of subsequent Tory Prime Ministers, but in Bootle constituency we have played our part in trying to keep their tenure to a minimum. I would be happy next time around, if this is permissible, to lend to other Labour candidates some of the 28,700 majority I received in the election, if that would be of help. I am sure that many of the people in my home town would approve of that generous and unselfish offer.

I was born in Bootle constituency, and all my primary, secondary and further education was undertaken there. Regrettably, we did not have a university, so I had to make my way to Liverpool and other universities instead—none of them was a bogus college, I add. I have worked in the constituency, lived there for most of my life and represented a council ward there. That has been not life limiting, but life affirming. It is therefore the greatest of privileges to have been elected to Parliament by the people of Bootle constituency. Colleagues, neighbours, possibly family and friends and perhaps even a few enemies have voted for me. Labour has a huge mandate from the people of Bootle constituency, and it is one that I intend to use to further the needs of my constituents.

Bootle constituency is not just the town of Bootle; it comprises other communities and towns—Crosby, Ford, Litherland, Old Roan, Orrell, Seaforth and Waterloo. Waterloo is a very topical place to talk about this year, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. I am pleased to say that, unlike the original Waterloo, it is an area of peace and harmony.

My constituency, of which I am very proud, is a place of contrasts. It has huge docklands and hinterland within it. The entrance sign to the dock estate says, “The Port of Liverpool”, but I am pleased to clarify for the benefit of my Liverpool parliamentary colleagues that the port is actually in Seaforth, which is part of the Bootle constituency—but I will not split hairs. The port is expanding, and with that will come many challenges for our local communities. I hope that I will be able to play a constructive part in the economic regeneration and renewal that we all hope the expansion will bring. I am sure that good faith on all sides during the period of expansion can be of mutual benefit to both community and business. Ultimately, however, if need be, I will not shirk from being a protagonist for the needs of my constituents and the communities in which they live.

I said earlier that Bootle constituency is an area of contrasts. Yes, there are the industrial areas and the retail parks, but we also have a beautiful coastline, which earlier this week witnessed the magnificent sight of the three queens—Victoria, Mary and Elizabeth—sailing by, and they, too, were gracious. It has fantastic schools, great leisure facilities, marvellous health services and things to envy. However, it is the resilience, generosity and fortitude of our people that others should most envy.

As a coastal town, the sea has beguiled, entranced and been cruel in equal measures to our people. Nowhere in Bootle constituency is more than a few minutes away from the fantastic and iconic river and estuary that is the Mersey. The estuary and river have been the lifeblood not just of our local communities but, particularly in the dark days of world war two, of our country. As we commemorate and, yes, celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I want people to know that Bootle constituency and its people played their part—a significant part—in the longest battle of the war, the

28 May 2015 : Column 278

battle of the Atlantic. Our port and town were some of the most badly bombed of the last war. Over three quarters of dwellings were destroyed or damaged in some way by bombing. Hundreds of civilians—men, women and children—lost their lives at home, while their fathers, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters lost their lives across the globe. They lost their lives in defence of freedom from tyranny and prejudice and in defence of that noble cause, the rule of law.

The rule of law is the very structure that underpins the human rights of all, regardless of their race, creed, sexuality, political colour or country of origin, however inconvenient that might be for some. You cannot pick and mix with human rights laws. Over the centuries, this House has been a living, breathing monument to the rule of law and the cause of human rights. In that regard, it must stay its hand or for ever regret a retreat into a moral lacuna that gives succour to the very regimes we seek to influence for the better, as we did after the last war.

With this history behind me, I was elected to this House to ensure that the needs and rights of all those who live in Bootle, Crosby, Ford, Litherland, Orrell, Old Roan, Seaforth and Waterloo are my first and only priority. I intend to fulfil that responsibility to the best of my ability. I trust and hope, Mr Speaker, that you will, on occasion, grace me with the opportunity and, at times, indulgence and forbearance in this Chamber to do just that. Thank you.

3.56 pm

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for asking me to complete this debate. I shall endeavour to do so—that is, up until the very important closing speeches.

I apologise for being unable to be here for the opening speeches or for all the maiden speeches, though all those I heard were of an extraordinarily high quality, not least the one we just heard from the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) and the one that preceded it from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who made a speech that was absolutely in the traditions of this House. He is very welcome as a Member of this House if the contributions that he is to make, and his colleagues are to make, are of that calibre and quality. He should know that many people in this House claim Scots ancestry. My second name is Bruce, and I have always been proud to believe that somewhere in my bloodstream there is Scottish blood. There is great sympathy and fellow feeling with the people of Scotland. That is one reason why those of us who are Unionists want to retain Scotland as part of the greater unity of the United Kingdom. However, that is an issue that we can discuss, and if it is done in the manner that it has been today, it will raise the level of debate very considerably.

I want to address the repeal and replacement of the Human Rights Act. I am a passionate defender of our civil liberties. In Cabinet, I defended, sometimes almost single-handedly, the right to trial by jury against attempts to limit and restrict it. Likewise, I fought against compulsory ID cards, often in alliance with my now dear departed friends in the Liberal Democrat party. I supported a free press against the Leveson attempt to introduce state control of our free media. I have advocated legalising cannabis.

28 May 2015 : Column 279

However, belief in human rights and civil liberties is not the same as belief in the Human Rights Act or the European declaration of human rights. They are not identical, although of course there was a deliberate political attempt to claim ownership of human rights by enshrining the European declaration of human rights in law in our Human Rights Act.

We all in this House support human rights. We did so before the Human Rights Act, we do so now that we have a Human Rights Act and we will continue to support human rights if the Human Rights Act is repealed. There is no controversy in practice about the core of each right. There is no controversy about the fact that Governments should not be entitled, willy-nilly and at whim, to deprive us of our liberty. There is no conflict or debate about whether Governments have the right to deprive us of our life if we are innocent and are not committing any acts or doing anything that requires self-defence.

The issue at dispute is: where rights conflict, who or what institution should decide the balance between those rights, and who should set the outer boundaries or the lower limits of triviality where rights apply? No right is absolute and unlimited. There is a right to freedom of speech, but there is no right to libel or slander, to spread hatred or stir up breaches of the peace, or to invade another person’s privacy. We have the right to life, but we do not prosecute soldiers who, legitimately and under orders, take lives in war. We do not allow the courts to decide whether the woman should make the decision over the right to life of an unborn child, or to decide that such a right to life should be deemed absolute, as is likewise the case with suicide and euthanasia. There are boundaries to every right, and the balances between rights have to be resolved.

Balancing conflicting rights, as well as setting boundaries and limits to their triviality, is intrinsically a policy or political matter. In the last resort, that is why such issues have been decided by the political process in Parliament, not by the legal process in the courts. Where the boundaries of conflicting rights have not been drawn by statute, the courts do their best to interpret the law to create law, in the way they have learned to do in the common law process in this country, to fill in the gaps left by Parliament. Ultimately, however, Parliament has always been able to redraw the boundaries if it so wished to establish a statutory right or a limit to a right.

That is the process, with Parliament supreme over the courts, under which human rights have developed in this country from Magna Carta onwards. That charter was laid down not by judges but by barons. It is paradoxical that so many advocates of human rights—or self-declared owners of belief in human rights—now assert that the parliamentary supremacy under which those human rights evolved is a threat to human rights, and therefore argue that Parliament must be subordinated to the courts. But if judges are given the intrinsically political role of deciding on the balance between conflicting rights and the outer boundaries of rights, we will inevitably and ineluctably politicise the judiciary.

Such a politicisation has happened in the United States, where the Supreme Court is the supreme court—the supreme arbiter of the rights laid down in the constitution.

28 May 2015 : Column 280

As a consequence, the appointment of judges is highly political—it is one of the most highly political decisions any President takes—and the political, cultural and social views of candidates, not their legal abilities, are paramount in the choice of candidates for the Supreme Court in America and their ratification through the political process. Indeed, Presidents try to embed their views for long after they and their elected term of office come to an end by appointing to the Supreme Court the youngest, fittest and most intransigent fellow believers, in the hope that they will continue to enforce their views when the President is long gone. Of course, even local judges can be elected in the States. Do we seriously want to go down that route in this country—the route of politicising the appointment of our judiciary?

The second consequence of giving judge-made law supremacy over Parliament-made law is that we take away the most important right of all of the British people: the right to hold their lawmakers accountable. The voters can turf out MPs if they do not like the way we interpret their rights, or if they believe we have infringed them in any way. We are accountable to the electorate, but judges are not accountable. In my view, they should not be politically accountable—they should not be removed or appointed as a result of the political process—but if they are given a political role and remain unaccountable, that lack of accountability will undermine respect for the law, as it is already doing.

I very much hope that we will repeal the Human Rights Act and restore a proper balance between Parliament and the courts, but we should not just replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights that gives judges supremacy over Parliament—that would merely recreate in the domestic forum the problems we have created internationally. However, there is the issue of the European declaration and the European Court of Human Rights. When I was in the Cabinet, the renewal of our membership of that declaration, or our adherence to it, came up. I proposed that we resile from it at that point. It so happened that the Foreign Office had just made Croatia’s adherence to the convention a condition of our recognition of it. It was felt that it would look odd if, having made that a condition, we resiled from the convention. I was quite happy to overcome that little problem, but that was why my advice was not taken.

Many appeal to the origins of the European convention on human rights and to chauvinistic sentiment. They say that the convention is ultimately British and that it was written by a British Attorney General and other British lawyers; that it simply codified British human rights that had evolved over centuries, including the right to jury trial and so on; and that there was therefore absolutely nothing to worry about. Of course, those who codified and enshrined the convention did not realise that they were changing the process by which law was made. Instead of being made ultimately by Parliament, it was ultimately made by courts, often of a political composition but unaccountable to any electorate. Although it was inevitable and foreseeable, they did not anticipate that the courts, once they had been given the right to interpret a rather abstract document, would do so in an extensive and continually elaborated way.

The result is that judges have reached the sorts of decisions that would never have been reached had we not signed up to the European Court of Human Rights

28 May 2015 : Column 281

and the European declaration of rights, and had we not enshrined it in our law. There have been judgments on relatively trivial issues, such as on whether prisoners should have the vote. I can see quite a good case for giving prisoners the vote—it would force hon. Members to go and campaign in prisons to win those votes, and we would learn more about prisons than most of us have done. I have only ever learned about prison when my friends have been put in it and I have had to go and visit—no names, no pack drill.

Whether or not prisoners are given the vote is essentially a political decision. It is not something that judges automatically know best. Underlying the belief in making judges supreme over Parliament is a belief that judges have an innate ability that others do not have to discern what is right and true, or the belief that the document that judges interpret is a revealed document, a bit like the Koran being interpreted by an ayatollah. It is not, of course. It is a rough summary of what had evolved in this part of the world, and leaving people to interpret it as they will gives them great and unaccountable power that they should not have.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a most thoughtful speech. It is worth articulating the exact legal and constitutional position. We signed the convention in the early 1950s, and the Human Rights Act was not passed until the late 1990s. If this Parliament were to repeal the Human Rights Act, it would be entirely our choice as to whether we stayed in the Council of Europe and remained wedded to the convention. We would not be expelled.

Mr Lilley: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, although I am not sure that it would matter terribly if we were expelled from the Council of Europe. We might just as well belong to it, and I am sure that we could continue to belong to it even if we did repeal the Human Rights Act and no longer accepted the supremacy of the European Court of Human Rights.

The essential issue is whether political decisions should be taken by politicians and judicial decisions by judges. Those who believe that the Human Rights Act should remain on our statute book ultimately want judges to take political decisions, leaving us deprived of that right and the electorate deprived of any ability to hold those who make those laws accountable—or to throw them out if they make decisions the electorate do not like. It is very important that we recognise that that is the issue, not whether we believe in human rights. We all believe in human rights, but we need to decide how the balance between rights is to be determined and how the full extent of any right is to be limited. If that is the question, I am sure that the whole House will agree with the measures that the Secretary of State will develop after consultation and, in due course, bring before the House. I welcome every measure in the Queen’s Speech, but above all the prospect of the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

4.12 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): We are a little ahead of time, but I will break the habit of a lifetime and not abuse my position by taking too much of the remaining time. I welcome the Lord Chancellor to his new job. He has already been warmly welcomed by the

28 May 2015 : Column 282

legal establishment, and that has no doubt put him on his guard. He follows another non-lawyer in the job, and I can only pray for a better meeting of legal and non-legal minds than was the case with his predecessor. Given the almost instant rapport he had with the education profession, I am sure that will be the case. He has certainly made an excellent start by not putting any justice Bills before the House. Given the sorry history of the last Parliament, from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015, no news is good news.

This debate has set a high bar for the quality of contributions from Members on both sides of the House, old and new, for the Queen’s Speech and this Parliament. I shall briefly mention those who have spoken, and I hope that some of the old hands will excuse me if I skate over their contributions, given that we had 34 contributions from Back Benchers. We started—it seems some time ago now—with the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) who, as we would expect, gave a tour d’horizon on matters of security and international affairs.

The right hon. Gentleman was followed swiftly by the first of the maiden speeches, from the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who generously said that her predecessor, Alistair Darling, was a difficult and hard act to follow. But with her robust defence of the Human Rights Act and the principles of the rule of law, she has already proved she might be a worthy successor. I was with her in almost everything she said, except perhaps when she said we were in danger of withdrawing from the ECHR after only 60 years but saw no problem with withdrawing from the Union after 300 years.

We then heard a thoughtful contribution from the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), particularly on extremism and investigatory powers, as we would expect given his background. He reiterated his welcome support for the European convention.

I always learn something from the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who has been an excellent Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee for many years. He is almost an institution and I hope to see him continue for many years to come—without giving away my voting intentions in any way.

The next maiden speech was from my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). When I made my maiden speech, not only had I written it out in full—I have given that up now—but my hands were shaking as I gave it. For him to give a speech without notes, fluently and eloquently, set a great example. He also paid a generous tribute to someone I think we all greatly respect—his predecessor, Paul Murphy.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) on many issues, but he made the point, as he has done many times, about the dangers of extended detention for immigration and has earned our respect for championing that cause.

I think we are all disappointed—perhaps some on the Government Benches not so much—that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) is not continuing as the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. She showed, however, that not continuing in that post will allow her to talk about many other

28 May 2015 : Column 283

subjects. From her own constituency and wider experience, she gave an extremely mature view of what was wrong with the Government’s immigration policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) gave a very good deconstruction of what was wrong with the Gracious Speech as drafted by the Government. Obviously his time as a shadow Justice Minister stood him in good stead.

Even though I did not agree with much of the contribution from the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms), it was delivered in such a enthusiastic and reassuring manner that I found myself almost agreeing with it by default—but there it is.

I agreed with what my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) said in her excellent and thoughtful speech on the dangers of nationalism, which is a subject to which I suspect we will return on many occasions.

The maiden speech from the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) included a comment one often hears: “My constituency is the most beautiful in the country”. We are all guilty of that—I often wax lyrical about the beauty of Shepherd’s Bush Green—but those of us who have visited his part of the country will think he might actually have a point. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place. He might wonder why, therefore, that, as he told us, he is the first Member to live there since 1833. Others have not taken advantage of the opportunity.

There swiftly followed the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), whom I think we are going to hear a great deal more from on the subject about which he spoke with forensic skill, as one would expect. In a short period, he gave a rebuttal of the Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, exploring some of the myths and dangers of their approach.

We heard another excellent, and good-humoured, maiden speech from the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). He explained why he felt less in the public eye in the Chamber than he did on the doorsteps of South Thanet, given the media frenzy that accompanied his election process. Let us hope he has a quieter time now.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) will excuse me if I say that his speech, despite his being an old hand, sounded a bit like a maiden speech—so great is his love affair with his constituency and given the way he described it and its heritage.

My new hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) gave, as I think all Members would agree, not just a good maiden speech, but a good speech that showed a real depth of knowledge and empathy on a subject that we all take very seriously—the issue of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

I have mentioned speaking without notes, and this applies equally to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard). Given what he told us about his constituency, there is a danger that he might become known as “the MP for the fringe”. Because I know him from previous incarnations, I realise that when he spoke so passionately about the deprivation in his constituency, it was very sincere. We shall hear a lot more from him along similar lines.

28 May 2015 : Column 284

I cannot avoid mentioning the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who now sees himself as the lodestar of the Conservative party. We will know when the Conservative party is going wrong when it is not voting with him in the Lobbies.

The last maiden speech we heard today—by no means the least—was from my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who paid a generous tribute to his distinguished predecessors, including, of course, Joe Benton. My hon. Friend talked about the distinguished Labour history of the constituency and of his extremely large majority.

We will have more time to assess these affairs on other occasions, but let me do so briefly. Home affairs and justice often get the lion’s share of legislation in the Queen’s Speech under any Government—and there is no change here, at least for home affairs, with five Bills to the Home Secretary’s name. I shall not comment on them in detail or go beyond the excellent analysis of the shadow Home Secretary, save to say that some of the proposed measures seem unhelpfully vague at this point. Both investigatory powers and extremism are important subjects that require sensitivity and balance between the rights of the citizen and the duties of the state. Until we see the detail in the presentation of those Bills, I will remain anxious about whether this Government will get that balance right.

By contrast, the policing and criminal justice Bill already contains a number of welcome specific provisions, not least the treatment of 17-year-olds as children for all the purposes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and the better regulation of detention under the Mental Health Act 1983. I note the catch-all phrase that the Bill will

“allow us to deliver a range of criminal justice reforms that will aim to better protect the public, build confidence and improve efficiency.”

I fear that we are about to see yet another Christmas tree Bill on which a mishmash of unconnected new offences and pet projects are hung. One thing we would like to see in the Bill, however, are the provisions for the victims code. I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor will be able to confirm that it will be included in the Bill. Both my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Holborn and St Pancras have made the case for that. I would welcome a change of heart from the Government on building the victims code into legislation.

Given the coalition Government’s lamentable record on justice policy, I said that no news may be good news, but some things would have provided welcome additions to the Gracious Speech. There is nothing to deal with the crisis in our prisons; nothing to deal with the crisis in our courts; nothing to improve access to justice; nothing to improve advice services or to mitigate the attacks on civil and criminal legal aid overseen by the previous Lord Chancellor.

Let me spend my final few minutes addressing the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act—a proposal that was perhaps the most touted of all the Queen’s Speech measures in the run-up to its delivery yesterday, yet the Government have had the least to say about it in comparison with any other measures. Others have had plenty to say on the subject. I include, of course, jurists and practitioners such as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras, but I am thinking rather

28 May 2015 : Column 285

more of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke).

When the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield describes the previous proposals as “puerile” and says

“This UK bill of rights is a recipe for disaster”,

when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield says

“I have to say that I never thought a British government, let alone a Conservative one, would ever have thought of withdrawing from the convention for which, of course, we were responsible”,

or when an admittedly unnamed senior Tory says

“These plans will only pass if the PM wins the support of David Davis and Clarke”—

which I think he is some distance from doing—the Lord Chancellor may be in a little trouble. Not only is the weight of argument on his own Benches, as well as on ours, against him, but he does not appear to have the numbers, not only in the other place but in this House, to get such a proposal through, and he would be right to be nervous about his chances of doing so.

The Government have already got themselves into a bind from which even someone as clever as the Lord Chancellor may struggle to free them. There are constitutional difficulties in relation to the devolved Governments, and the negotiations about the EU referendum are in danger of contamination. If the Lord Chancellor has not already done so, I advise him to read the excellent article by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield in today’s Times.

Beyond that, there is confusion about the Government’s real intention The hon. Member for Shipley and others have said today that this is not just about scrapping the Human Rights Act, but about withdrawal from the convention. Some Members would welcome that, but if, as the Government say, that is not their intention and they simply wish to withdraw from the Act, they will not achieve their purpose. They seem to “elide over” the fact that we still have parliamentary sovereignty in this country, and the fact that decisions of the European Court are not binding on domestic courts. According to the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, they are

“in danger…of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”—[Official Report, 27 May 2015; Vol. 596, c. 97.]

Given that the anomalies and difficulties involving the European Court, whose existence we admitted at the time—the backlog, the insecurity of some of its judgments and, indeed, the fact that the UK courts were perhaps following them too closely—are all in the process of being resolved, one might ask what problem the Government are now seeking to solve.

No doubt the Lord Chancellor will say that this is an important constitutional measure, and that we should pause and consult. We cannot disagree with that theory, save for the fact that the Government—or the Conservative party—have had five years in which to consider the matter. There has been a commission, there have been six or seven drafts of the Bill, and we heard a clear statement last October from the previous Lord Chancellor about what he believed was required, and we heard another clear statement from the Prime Minister that he wanted to see action in the first 100 days. I do not know what has changed, other than the fact that the Lord

28 May 2015 : Column 286

Chancellor is having trouble delivering the legislation. We shall, however, have an opportunity to examine the matter in more detail. We welcome the fact that there is to be a pause, and that legislation will not be presented during the current Session—not least because there must be less chance of its getting through during later Sessions.

Finally, let me make clear that if there is any attempt to undermine our human rights, and to undermine what my party and I regard as one of the finest pieces of legislation introduced by the Labour Government, we will resist it. We will join supporters from any other parties, on the Opposition or the Government Benches, to ensure that it is resisted. Our human rights are too precious and too important, and have been fought for too long, to be thrown away at the whim of a Lord Chancellor or a political party.

4.28 pm

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove): Let me begin by congratulating you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election in the constituency of Buckingham with an increased majority, and on your re-election as Speaker. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on his increased majority. Over the last 12 months, I have made many —sadly unsuccessful—visits to his constituency, but not for the purpose of canvassing for the Conservative party; I was visiting Loftus Road to watch Queen’s Park Rangers play. The relegation of Queen’s Park Rangers last month was one piece of bad news, but it was, of course, mitigated by the good news of the election of a majority Conservative Government for the first time since 1992. Let me add that while I have occasionally enjoyed 90 minutes of pain at Loftus Road, I think we would all agree that the last five hours of debate have been of a conspicuously high standard. If debate in this House for the remainder of the five years of this fixed-term Parliament matches the standard of the debate we have heard today, this will go down as one of the best Parliaments in the history of the House of Commons.

May I particularly emphasise how impressed I was, and I know many colleagues were too, by the speeches of new Members, and I want to turn to some of those maiden speeches in a moment. However, as well as celebrating the excellent speeches by newly elected Members, may I acknowledge our gratitude to those Members who have departed this House? When we are considering home affairs issues, it is only fair to acknowledge that distinguished Home Secretaries like David Blunkett and Jack Straw are no longer in this House. Their contribution to our national debate on home affairs and justice matters has always been of the highest standard. Others who have stood down, including my former colleague Sir George Young and Sir Menzies Campbell QC, also augmented our debates in this place. I also want to say on a personal level that there were three Members who sought re-election but failed whom I have enjoyed debating with in this House and whose absence from it diminishes it as a place of debate. They are, of course, Ed Balls, former Member for Morley and Outwood, David Laws, former Member for Yeovil, and Charles Kennedy, former Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. All three of them were distinguished parliamentarians and public servants of great ability. I hope they can continue to contribute to the life of this country. They still have a great deal to offer.

28 May 2015 : Column 287

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) on his maiden speech. His affection for his constituency was transparent in his every word, and I know he will be a diligent and effective constituency Member. He spoke from the heart and effectively on behalf of his constituents. I look forward to hearing him again in our future debates.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) on his maiden speech, delivered without notes and with great fluency. He is a highly accomplished barrister and the biographer of Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan, a combination of skills and talents that will add significantly to our future debates.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) enjoyed 12 minutes of uninterrupted speech in this place. I hope there will be many other opportunities for us to hear him, when we may perhaps have occasion to interrupt him to tease out the wisdom behind his remarks. I very much enjoyed his speech, both the analysis of the strengths and deficiencies of Magna Carta and the passion he showed in defence of human rights as a way of safeguarding the interests of his constituents, many of whom are among the poorest in our capital and our country. They will have an effective advocate in him.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and say, as a fellow working parent, that it is good to have the hon. Lady in the House. Her speech was an effective, passionate and powerful plea on behalf of many of those who are sometimes forgotten in this place and by those of us who exercise Executive and administrative power. One of the good things my predecessor as Lord Chancellor did was widen the evidence criteria to ensure that more women in domestic violence cases were able to enjoy access to legal aid. He also ensured that specialist rape centres were funded more generously than before. It is only fair that we acknowledge that he, working with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, made significant strides forward, ensuring that violence against women and girls was treated with the seriousness it deserves.

I also congratulate with a particular sense of enjoyment my new hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). There were moments when all of us may have felt saddened on the evening of 7 May and the morning of 8 May. There were also moments when many of us felt a sense of jubilation. I say with malice towards none that I felt particular joy to see his smile as he was elected the Member of Parliament for South Thanet. I had the privilege of campaigning alongside him during the general election campaign. I know he lost more than a stone and a half during that campaign. His exertions on behalf of his constituents were rewarded with a healthy majority and I know that during the next five years he will be a highly effective advocate for the people of that beautiful part of Kent.