8 May 2013 : Column 1

House of Commons

Wednesday 8 May 2013

The House met at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Message to attend Her Majesty

Message to attend Her Majesty delivered by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

The Speaker, with the House, went up to attend Her Majesty; on their return, the Speaker suspended the sitting.

New Member

2.30 pm

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Emma Lewell-Buck, for South Shields.

Speaker’s Statement

2.32 pm

Mr Speaker: The House has directed the Speaker to make a statement at the beginning of each Session about the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members. May I begin by reminding hon. Members of the House’s code of conduct? All Members are under a duty to observe it in letter and in spirit. Members are answerable for their conduct in this place, not just to the House but to the public.

Our ancient privileges allow us to conduct our debate without fear of outside interference. Parliamentary privilege underpins proper democratic debate and scrutiny. A Joint Committee has been appointed to consider the Government’s Green Paper on this subject. Freedom of speech in debate and in Committee proceedings is at the very heart of what we do here for our constituents, and it allows us to conduct our business without fear of outside interference, but it is a freedom that we need to exercise responsibly, in the public interest. We must take into account the reasonable interests of others outside this House. It is also important that our constituents feel free to come to us, no matter what the circumstances, and that they suffer no disadvantage as a result.

Each hon. Member is here to represent the views of his or her constituents and to participate in the process of parliamentary democracy. We should ensure that every Member is heard courteously, regardless of the views which he or she is expressing. My Deputies and I seek to ensure that as many Members as possible can participate in our proceedings. That ambition will be greatly aided by brevity in questions, speeches and interventions by all hon. Members.

Every member of the public has a right to expect that his or her Member of Parliament will behave with civility, in the best traditions of fairness, with the highest level of probity and with integrity. We are also under an obligation to try to explain to our constituents how Parliament works. In this mission, we are ably assisted by the staff of the House. House staff, who are vital in supporting the work of this House and who do so with dedication and courtesy, are likewise entitled to be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect.

Finally, I should like also to remind all hon. Members that the security of this building and those who work and visit here depends upon all of us. Please be vigilant and tell the Serjeant at Arms about any concerns you have on the subject.

Before moving to the first business of the new Session, I would like to express my very best wishes to all hon. Members and staff for the 2013-14 Session of Parliament.

outlawries Bill

A Bill for the more effectual preventing Clandestine Outlawries was read the First time, and ordered to be read a Second time.

8 May 2013 : Column 3

Queen’s Speech

Mr Speaker: I have to acquaint the House that this House has this day attended her Majesty in the House of Peers, and that Her Majesty was pleased to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament, of which I have, for greater accuracy, obtained a copy.

I shall direct that the terms of the Gracious Speech be printed in the Votes and Proceedings. Copies are already available in the Vote Office.

The Gracious Speech was as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world. It will also work to promote a fairer society that rewards people who work hard.

My Government’s first priority is to strengthen Britain’s economic competitiveness. To this end, it will support the growth of the private sector and the creation of more jobs and opportunities.

My Ministers will continue to prioritise measures that reduce the deficit—ensuring interest rates are kept low for homeowners and businesses.

My Government is committed to building an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded. It will therefore continue to reform the benefits system, helping people move from welfare to work.

Measures will be brought forward to introduce a new Employment Allowance to support jobs and help small businesses.

A Bill will be introduced to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses. A further Bill will make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property.

A draft Bill will be published establishing a simple set of consumer rights to promote competitive markets and growth.

My Government will introduce a Bill that closes the Audit Commission.

My Government will continue to invest in infrastructure to deliver jobs and growth for the economy.

Legislation will be introduced to enable the building of the High Speed 2 railway line, providing further opportunities for economic growth in many of Britain’s cities.

My Government will continue with legislation to update energy infrastructure and to improve the water industry.

My Government is committed to a fairer society where aspiration and responsibility are rewarded.

To make sure that every child has the best start in life, regardless of background, further measures will be taken to improve the quality of education for young people.

Plans will be developed to help working parents with child care, increasing its availability and helping with its cost.

My Government will also take forward plans for a new National Curriculum, a world-class exam system and greater flexibility in pay for teachers.

My Government will also take steps to ensure that it becomes typical for those leaving school to start a traineeship or an apprenticeship, or to go to university.

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New arrangements will be put in place to help more people own their own home, with Government support provided for mortgages and deposits.

My Government is committed to supporting people who have saved for their retirement.

Legislation will be introduced to reform the way long-term care is paid for, to ensure the elderly do not have to sell their homes to meet their care bills.

My Government will bring forward legislation to create a simpler state pension system that encourages saving and provides more help to those who have spent years caring for children.

Legislation will be introduced to ensure sufferers of a certain asbestos-related cancer receive payments where no liable employer or insurer can be traced.

My Government will bring forward a Bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system. The Bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.

My Government will continue to reduce crime and protect national security.

Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales.

Legislation will be brought forward to introduce new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, cut crime and further reform the police.

In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my Government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.

Measures will be brought forward to improve the way this country procures defence equipment, as well as strengthening the Reserve Forces.

My Ministers will continue to work in co-operation with the devolved Administrations.

A Bill will be introduced to give effect to a number of institutional improvements in Northern Ireland.

Draft legislation will be published concerning the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.

My Government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government will work to prevent conflict and reduce terrorism. It will support countries in transition in the middle east and north Africa, and the opening of a peace process in Afghanistan.

My Government will work to prevent sexual violence in conflict worldwide.

My Government will ensure the security, good governance and development of the Overseas Territories, including by protecting the Falkland Islanders’ and Gibraltarians’ right to determine their political futures.

In assuming the presidency of the G8, my Government will promote economic growth, support free trade, tackle tax evasion, encourage greater transparency and accountability while continuing to make progress in tackling climate change.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

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Debate on the Address

[Ist Day]

Mr Speaker: Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address: Thursday 9 May—home affairs; Friday 10 May—jobs and business; Monday 13 May—health and social care; Tuesday 14 May —cost of living; Wednesday 15 May—economic growth.

2.36 pm

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Speaker, it is a great honour to propose the Loyal Address, but the invitation from the Chief Whip to do so means I must accept an uncomfortable truth: that, with 21 years of service, I fit all too easily into the traditional role of old buffer.

Way back in 1996, as I approached my first re-election, my son heard his 41-year-old father described in a BBC documentary as a “middle-aged politician”. That phrase resonated in his eight-year-old mind. For years after, his birthday cards came not to “Dad”, but to the three-letter acronym “MAP”. Children certainly keep you grounded. At the time, I thought it was a premature description; now, I have moved beyond it. So, with inevitable regrets, I have decided to leave this place at the next election. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] As this is a re-announcement, I suspect the news of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement will attract rather more interest in the outside world.

Having just conducted my first rebellion in 21 years—an abstention—[Interruption.]As a former Whip, that is quite enough. Having done so, being invited by the Chief Whip to propose the Loyal Address was not really something I had anticipated. But it was good for a Windsor grammar school boy to get the invitation from such a distinguished old Etonian.

The opportunity to propose this motion is a great privilege for my constituency. It is only the second time in a century or more that a Member of Parliament for Worcestershire has done so. The last occasion was in 1991, when the late Lord Walker—Peter Walker—did so. He was my predecessor, my mentor and a strong influence on my own approach to politics, to which I will return later. Peter was fiercely proud to represent a Worcestershire constituency, as are all of us who do so now, and in particular, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), Lord Walker’s son.

Worcestershire is one of those places that most foreigners cannot pronounce and that most British people probably know only as a sauce. The county is in fact just like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce: vibrant, somewhat addictive, and with hidden spice. It is one of Britain’s best-kept secrets, with many picturesque villages, but as regular listeners to “The Archers” know, rural waters run

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deep. Britain’s longest running radio soap is set in Worcestershire—




Well, Borchester, technically, but it is actually set in Worcestershire.

We are not exclusively rural, though—far from it. Mid Worcestershire encompasses most of south-east Worcestershire, from the celebrated Cotswold village of Broadway and the Vale of Evesham to Droitwich and the border with Kidderminster; from farming and growing to logistics and advanced engineering—literally, from asparagus to rocket science.

This is an area steeped in history but also deeply engaged in modern Britain. As you will know, Mr Speaker, in January 1265 Simon de Montfort called the knights of the shires to Westminster for the first representative English Parliament. In August 1265, the future King Edward I cornered the rebellious de Montfort and his army in the bend of the River Avon at Evesham. In victory, Edward exacted a heavy price. De Montfort’s body was dismembered and his head, with his most intimate organs stuffed into his mouth, delivered as a gift to the wife of Lord Mortimer, one of the architects of Edward’s victory. I do hope she liked it. His head severed, his intimate organs in his mouth—this is how Simon de Montfort really earned the title of the first parliamentarian, and Edward earned the title of the first Chief Whip.

Today is my 31st wedding anniversary. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Tempted as I was to offer Julia a gift inspired by the battle of Evesham, in the end I opted for the more traditional ring.

A local poem lists some of the delightful places you pass on the way to Droitwich from Evesham:

“Upton Snodsbury, Tibberton and Crowle,

Wyre Piddle, North Piddle, Piddle in the Hole.”

Piddle in the Hole, sad to say, is no longer on the map, but there is still a beer of that name. Try as you may, you cannot take the Piddle out of Mid Worcestershire.

In Evesham a reopened art deco cinema, the Regal, has shown the power of art and culture to regenerate and to inspire an area—a point my daughter would never have forgiven me for not making. In Droitwich Spa, a town literally built on salt, heritage has shown its transformative power. In both projects the combination of dedicated volunteers, enlightened councils and the Heritage Lottery Fund has been the key. The reopened Droitwich canals—the Barge and Junction canals—have given a new sense of optimism, new heart, to a fine community. And Worcestershire is the heart of England.

In representing the people of Worcestershire, I have always sought to give voice to that heart, but as one’s time in Parliament comes to an end, inevitably one begins to think about what one has achieved for one’s constituents and for the wider United Kingdom, and what one has stood for in all those years. The parliamentary fates, and we all know who they are, have been kind to me and I have held nearly all the roles I coveted.

The first debate I attended in this Chamber in 1992 was on the election of a new Speaker. One phrase struck me in particular. In the debate, the then right hon. Member for Chesterfield, Tony Benn, described the usual channels, the Whips, as

“the most polluted waterways in the world.”—[Official Report, 6 April 1992; Vol. 207, c. 6.]

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Well, as I was able to say to that great parliamentarian at your lunchtime reception, Mr Speaker, I believe he was wrong. My five years of comradeship in the Opposition Whips Office certainly showed me the utility of those waterways.

I have had the pleasure of chairing two Select Committees—the Agriculture Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. I learned not to allow Committee reports just to gather dust on the shelf. If it is important and the Government do not listen, keep on trying. That is what we did with the BIS Committee’s work on trade with India, one of the UK’s most important strategic partners, and it led to the creation of a new body, the UK India Business Council, whose task is to increase the ludicrously low level of trade between our two countries. That is what the Committee, to its great credit, has just done again on pubcos.

Select Committees are at their most effective when they do not just condemn. My time as Minister with responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology reminded me that real success in politics depends on the contributions of many. In this case, it is not just the officials, who wrestle with budgets, write contracts and advise on policy priorities, and not just the people developing, manufacturing and supporting the equipment that our armed forces rely on—equipment that represents the very best of British ingenuity and engineering. No, in defence, our security relies above all else on the selfless commitment and professionalism of the men and women of our armed forces. It is they who crew the ships, fly the planes, drive the vehicles, and walk the dangerous roads. In that context we recall the sacrifices made only last week in Afghanistan.

As a Minister, it was always stimulating to work with my right hon. Friends the Members for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond). The skills, insights and energy they both brought to the Ministry of Defence have been crucial to the Department’s transformation. The process is not yet complete—far from it—so I am delighted to see a defence reform Bill take a prominent place in the Gracious Speech.

One of my heroes is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was courageous of the Prime Minister to make such an admirer of Brunel the defence equipment Minister. All Brunel’s projects came in late and way over budget, and he treated his suppliers appallingly too. But he changed the world, and that is what engineers do. As Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and again at the MOD, I saw the nation’s desperate shortage of engineers. That shortage is one of the greatest avoidable threats to our prosperity and security.

The global race, of which the Prime Minister speaks so compellingly, will be won by nations with strong engineering skills. Not enough young people in the UK understand the range of opportunities in modern engineering or want to be engineers. As a non-executive director of a small advanced manufacturing business, I am more convinced than ever that Britain can and must regain its ambition to be a truly great engineering nation, raising the status of engineering careers and tackling the scandalous under-representation of women in engineering.

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Perhaps the main political lesson I have learnt is this: success has many fathers, and only rarely can we say, “I did that”, so I say very gently to the Deputy Prime Minister that the coalition’s achievements, of which there are many, are coalition achievements. For example, we Conservatives too believe passionately in removing the least well-paid from income tax. There are always deep tensions in a coalition, even a wartime coalition, but, as Churchill said to Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke:

“There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them.”

We are living through a time of massive political change, of profound challenge to politicians, but I believe that the heart of this great nation, this one nation, this United Kingdom, beats in its centre. We are a radical people: yes, we want to improve things; we think big; we want to conserve the best and to do better. But we are not extremists, so we are not seduced by political extremes such as communism, fascism, or any other faddish “ism” for that matter. We understand the complexities of modern life. That is why I believe that this coalition will be seen historically as a sensible, mainstream response to the deep-seated problems the nation faces.

That is why I am so pleased that the programme for this Session contains commitments to strengthen Britain’s economy and small businesses, to build a society in which people who work hard are properly rewarded, to improve the quality of education for young people, to support those who have saved for their retirement and to reform our immigration system in order to attract people who will contribute and deter those who will not—in a word, to encourage aspiration.

I am sure that one of Worcestershire’s most celebrated politicians, Stanley Baldwin, would have approved. Three times Prime Minister, and a popular one, he built a moderate and inclusive conservatism for his age, part of a long one nation tradition. That one nation tradition inspired Peter Walker, as it has inspired me. It runs though the Conservative party like the lettering in seaside rock, and it is by holding fast to that tradition that my party will be trusted to serve the nation. Our response to other parties, particularly those with beguilingly simplistic agendas, must not be to appease or to trim, but to listen and understand and then to challenge and confront from the strength of that unique one nation perspective.

When Stanley Baldwin was leaving Downing street after his last premiership, it is said that he was stopped by a journalist who asked, “Will you be available to give your successor the benefit of your opinions?” Baldwin replied, “No, when I leave, I leave. I am not going to speak to the captain on the bridge and I have no intention of spitting on the deck.” With that, he walked off. That is sound advice for all of us who choose to move on, Mr Speaker—sound advice.

2.48 pm

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): It is an honour to second the motion on the Humble Address and a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). I guess that that might be the first of several valedictory speeches we will hear from him over the next two years. When he does reach retirement after the next general election, the

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third age of life, I invite him to visit my constituency, where he will see the greatest concentration of Brunel heritage assets anywhere, including the Clifton suspension bridge, Bristol Temple Meads station and SS Great Britain. He will be most welcome.

I am sure that most of us, whether we saw it in person or watched it on television, will have enjoyed the pageantry of the state opening of Parliament. My first experience of royal London was as a school boy, when I stayed with my grandmother’s sisters in north London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My Aunty Eve and Aunty Edith lived in Finchley. I was somewhat surprised, when walking down the high street, to see framed photographs of the local Member of Parliament at the time, Mrs Thatcher. It was something of a culture shock for a valleys boy from the mining village of Abercynon in south Wales. I do not know, Mr Speaker, whether there are such framed photographs of you or, indeed, whether there are framed photographs of the current Prime Minister in his constituency, but I remember at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Sheffield a couple of years ago being somewhat startled to be confronted by enormous billboards paid for by Unite—an organisation which, if I may say so, funds quite a lot of mischief around the country—that were adorned with a curious image of a creature called Cleggzilla who was trampling public services before him. [Interruption.] Mischief, as I said.

Mrs Thatcher—this will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, or anyone else—is certainly not my political hero. My political hero is one of the other contenders for the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century: Lloyd George. I first saw a statue of Lloyd George by Caernarfon castle and I visited the library and museum about him at Llanystumdwy—another boyhood holiday destination, Butlins in Pwllheli in north Wales, which is perhaps not quite so familiar to most members of the Cabinet. Lloyd George and Asquith laid the foundations of the welfare state, including the old age pension. I am therefore delighted that one of the key announcements in today’s Queen’s Speech is a further radical reform of the state pension that will correct an injustice that has been within the system for many decades for those who stay at home to look after their children. I am also delighted that the single-tier state pension is to be taken through Parliament by my Greater Bristol parliamentary colleague, the pensions Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb).

Lloyd George headed a Liberal-Conservative coalition that broke up 81 years ago. I understand that our current coalition colleagues recently celebrated the anniversary of their 1922 committee, but I am sure that rumours of a new 2015 committee are unfounded. I have heard the Prime Minister say that he has a better relationship with the 1922 committee than some of his predecessors. The Prime Minister and I were born within 48 hours of each other. For the avoidance of doubt, he is the older of the two, but I can see from this vantage point that genetics have been kinder to him than they have to me, particularly in the tonsorial department, both in colour and cover. While our family and school circumstances were quite different, we must have had similar cultural reference points and experiences during the 1970s and ’80s. I believe that he was a fan of The Smiths—though I understand that the feeling is not entirely mutual—while I preferred Duran Duran and

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ABBA, with my favourite song being “Dancing Queen”, which will not come as much of a surprise to many of my colleagues.

That leads me, almost neatly, into one of the great social reforms of this Parliament, and that is of course gay marriage. The right of same-sex couples to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other before their family and friends will be a lasting social reform of this Parliament. The legislation is brought forward by this coalition Government but supported by Members from all parties around the House. Bristol West has three Quaker meeting houses, a Unitarian chapel and a reform synagogue, so the country’s first same-sex marriage may well be in my own constituency—but, personally, I am still waiting for my own Prince Charming so that I may be able to take advantage of this new legal right.

Whatever the background of my constituents, my Lib Dem colleagues and I want to build for them a stronger economy and a fairer society where everyone is able to get on in life. We already know that by the end of this tax year the amount of pay that people can take home free of income tax will have been raised to £10,000. It was announced today in the Queen’s Speech that there will be a national insurance contributions Bill giving employers a £2,000 national insurance credit, enabling them to take on take on new employees. That means that a business could take on four adults on the national minimum wage and pay no national insurance. Moreover, 450,000 small businesses will have their national insurance bills eliminated completely. We have cut taxes for people in work and we are also cutting national insurance and reforming child care to enable people to enter or stay in employment.

In Bristol, the new enterprise zone around Bristol Temple Meads station will become a hub for media businesses. Bristol already has a worldwide reputation for film making, with Aardman Animations perhaps the most famous, especially for its cartoon characters, Wallace and Gromit. This summer, Bristol will be adorned with 80 statues of its most famous animated dog, and they will be sold at a “Gromit Unleashed” auction in order to raise money for the Bristol children’s hospital. Before that auction takes place, I would like to invite the Leader of the Opposition to come to Bristol to pose next to a statue of Gromit—I am sure the cartoonists would be delighted.

I came into politics to tackle the social inequality—particularly in education and health—that I found in the village where I grew up and in the city where I have lived all my adult life. Bristol has some schools where almost everyone achieves high grades and proceeds to university, but there are also some schools in the city where expectations historically have been the opposite. I am delighted that the Lib Dem policy of the pupil premium, brought into life by this coalition Government, is already giving extra resources for each child on free school meals and will make a huge difference to their life chances.

Health inequalities are also stark in Bristol. The biggest cause of early death is, of course, smoking. If I am allowed on this occasion to express one disappointment with the Queen’s Speech, it is with the lack of new measures to reduce the number of children taking up smoking. The regulation of lobbyists was also absent

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from the Queen’s Speech. I am sure that some will conclude that tobacco lobbyists will celebrate that as a double victory.

Many of us will be pondering the lessons and meanings of last week’s local election results. Perhaps, as Disraeli said,

“England does not love coalitions.”—[Official Report, 16 December 1852; Vol. 123, c. 1,666.]

I do not think so. All three main parties should be concerned about why people are turning to what might be thought of as marginal parties. Robert Kennedy, when trying to understand the appeal of Governor Wallace of Alabama, said:

“About one-fifth of the people are against everything all of the time.”

We need to think about how to counter this new, curious alliance of Nigels, who both advocate withdrawal from Europe and deny the human contribution to climate change.

On the European Union, Europhiles, such as me and many of my colleagues, and Euro-pragmatists in the Government need to make the case for Britain’s participation in Europe, and we need to do so with some urgency. On the EU, immigration and climate change, I believe that leadership, not followership, is required.

Finally, my most illustrious predecessor as MP for the historic city of Bristol was Edmund Burke. He had much to say on that matter and wrote to his constituents:

“it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents.”

He concluded his address to the electors of Bristol:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

That is all very well, but I am afraid that in 1780 the electors of Bristol showed Mr Burke the door. In 2013 we have to listen as well as lead. I am not sure what Edmund Burke would have made of 38 Degrees.

I would like to thank all of my constituents in Bristol West for the hundreds of letters and e-mails they send me every month, and I am sure there will be plenty on this Queen’s Speech. It is with them uppermost in my mind and on behalf of my 92,000 electors in Bristol West that I say that it has been a pleasure and a privilege to second this Humble Address to Her Majesty, thanking her for her Gracious Speech today.

2.59 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to those who have died in Afghanistan since we last met: Corporal William Thomas Savage and Fusilier Samuel Flint, both from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and Private Robert Murray Hetherington from 51st Highland, 7th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. They died on patrol serving our country and remind us all of the dangers that our troops face, day in, day out, across Afghanistan. They showed the utmost courage, and our thoughts are with their families and friends.

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As the House meets for the first time this Session, I pay tribute to all our troops who are bravely serving our country. They are the best of British. Let me also repeat that the Opposition support the mission in Afghanistan and the timetable for the withdrawal of our troops, who have given such extraordinary service to our country.

As is customary, I pay tribute to those Members of the House who have died since the last Queen’s Speech. Sir Stuart Bell was the son of a miner. He became a lawyer and then represented Middlesbrough for nearly 30 years. He was a kind, decent man who was passionate about Europe, and he served with distinction as a Church Commissioner. For Members who want to read about his years in the House, he wrote an autobiography. With tongue in cheek, it was called “Tony Really Loves Me”. At times, I know exactly what he meant.

We have also lost Malcolm Wicks. Malcolm was one of the deepest thinkers in the House, a brilliant Minister and one of the nicest people one could meet. He faced his illness with the utmost bravery. Right to the end, he was passionate about his constituency, his politics and his country. Both Stuart and Malcolm are sorely missed by us all, as well as by their families and friends.

Let me turn to the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) proposed the Address with great skill and wit, and drew on his 20 years’ experience in the House. As he said, he has decided to stand down from Parliament. He will be remembered, certainly by me and, I think, by others, for showing the utmost courteousness and decency to all Members from across this House of Commons. He is to be congratulated on the campaign that he has just launched to inspire more young people to take up careers in engineering and technology, which, as he said in his speech, has long been an interest of his. The campaign has cross-party support and deserves to have that support.

As the hon. Gentleman demonstrated, he has always been on the moderate, and now somewhat unfashionable, wing of the Conservative party. He worked for Lord Walker and Sir Edward Heath before entering the House. It was that voice of moderation that on Friday sought to find what might be called a third way in the Conservatives’ response to the UK Independence party. He tweeted, and this is certainly original:

“I hold clowns in high regard and respect their role”.

The hon. Gentleman shares his name with another prominent figure in public life. The other Peter Luff was the long-time chairman of the European Movement. So exasperated did the hon. Gentleman become by the attacks on him from angry Eurosceptics that he signed one letter:

“Peter Luff, MP for Mid Worcestershire and NOT the Peter Luff who used to run the European Movement—he’s somebody else about two years older than me!”

Unfortunately, the gist of the reply was: “Dear Peter, we are well aware of the existence of two Peter Luffs. And we don’t like either of you.” Today, there could be no confusion as to his identity. He performed his role uniquely well.

Let me turn now to the seconder, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). Despite being elected to this House eight years ago, he will be pleased to hear that today, by tradition of the Gracious Speech, he

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occupies the role of young rising star. That is certainly his pedigree. He was a councillor at 26 and the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Bristol aged 28.

The hon. Gentleman made reference to the fact that he was the first openly gay Liberal Democrat MP. I say to all right hon. and hon. Members that anybody who wants instruction on the reason for the Government’s Bill on same-sex marriage should read the hon. Gentleman’s incredibly moving speech on Second Reading, in which he talked about his teenage years growing up as somebody who was gay in his part of the world. He was surely right when he said:

“Equality is not something that can be delivered partially—equality is absolute.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 176.]

On this side of the House, we second that view.

The hon. Gentleman has also, according to his website, chosen to use the power of Parliament to campaign on other important issues, including the use of consultants by multinational firms to avoid tax. It turns out that he is very well qualified to do this—what was his job before entering this House? He was a tax consultant to multinational firms.

To be fair, the hon. Gentleman has never been afraid to take on his opponents. He was once confronted by angry protesting students outside his office before the top-up fees vote, but he did not hide away. He took up the megaphone, got on a soap box, looked the crowd directly in the face and, in true Liberal Democrat style, told them that he had not yet decided how he was going to vote. Today he spoke very well, and I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that after listening to his speech, I am happy to add my endorsement to his prospects for ministerial office.

While I am paying compliments, I will not let the day pass without paying tribute to the most successful football manager the world has ever seen, a great supporter of the reds, we might call him: Sir Alex Ferguson, phenomenally talented at his job, winner of 13 championships, and who can teach us all about hard work and dedication.

That takes me to the question that must be asked about this Gracious Speech: whether it is equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces and whether it matches the scale of disillusionment about the direction of the country that we all heard during the county council elections. The real lesson of UKIP’s vote and of the two thirds of people who did not vote in those elections is a deep sense that the country is not working for them. They see a country where things are getting worse, not better: 1 million young people without work, low growth, falling wages and squeezed living standards.

The question about this Gracious Speech is, do the Government understand the difficulties that the people of Britain face? I have to say, the signs are not good. At the weekend, the Government sent out the Foreign Secretary. He told us that the elections had sent a clear message to the Government, but his answer was to “shout louder” about their achievements. In other words, it is a version of the old tune: the Government have a communications problem. No, the Government have a reality problem. All the twists and turns with UKIP—insulting it, ignoring it, imitating it—will not work while that remains the case.

This Gracious Speech was the Government’s chance to answer. It should have contained action to get our young people working again, action for real banking

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reform, action to get growth moving and action genuinely to confront the cost-of-living crisis, but it failed on all those counts.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I will make a bit more progress.

The country has big problems, but this Queen’s Speech has no answers. The Government may have legislated for five years in office, but they are out of ideas after just three.

Let us think of the young people we all met during the election campaign and imagine what they feel, looking for a job in Britain 2013, and how their families feel when they cannot find one. Britain cannot afford to waste their talents. The Prime Minister promised change, but things have got worse, not better. There are now four times more young people claiming benefits for more than a year than when the Work programme was introduced. What does this Gracious Speech offer to those young people? Absolutely nothing—no change. Where is the job guarantee for Britain’s young people? It is not there. Where are the rules tying Government contracts to providing apprenticeships? We support High Speed 2, but when the Government are handing out the contracts to get the line built, why do they not require companies to take on apprentices? That would be good for young people, good for business and good for our country.

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to apologise to the House and the nation for his personal contribution to the economic mess that the coalition Government inherited?

Edward Miliband: It is all very well having a Whips’ question, but the Government are borrowing £245 billion more. Three years, no growth, a flatlining economy—that is the record of this Chancellor.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said we have borrowed more, but will he answer in the House the question he would not answer on Radio 4—how much more will he borrow?

Edward Miliband: This Government are borrowing more. Of course a temporary cut in VAT has a cost and would lead to a temporary rise in borrowing—[Interruption.] Let me say this: that would get growth moving in this country and would be much more likely to get the deficit down. That is the difference. The International Monetary Fund is in town, and what is it telling the Chancellor? It is saying, “Change course. Your plan is not working.” That is the reality.

I am glad that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) intervened because I will come to his point later in my speech. He advocates not just a pact with UKIP but a coalition—Deputy Prime Minister Farage in place of the Liberal Democrat leader.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con) rose—

Edward Miliband: I will make a bit more progress.

Let us consider small businesses in this country. We all hear the same story as we go around the country—that banks make life harder for them, not easier. The Prime

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Minister promised change but things have got worse, not better. Small businesses do not need to be told that lending to business is falling month on month—they know it. It fell again by £4.8 billion in the three months to February, and no one listening today will be given hope that anything will be different now.

The cross-party Banking Commission called for a clear ultimatum to Britain’s banking system. It said, “Change the culture”—[Interruption.] The Chancellor is intervening from a sedentary position; just be patient. The Commission said, “Change the culture: deliver for business, or we will break high street from casino banking across the board.” It called for a clear answer, but what have we got? Another fudge from the Chancellor. The Government said that the all-party Banking Commission was the answer, but they have not even introduced its recommendations.

What did the Conservative chair of the Banking Commission say on 11 March? He said:

“the Government rejected a number of important recommendations. The commission has examined these again, alongside the Government’s explanations for rejecting them…We have concluded that the Government’s arguments are insubstantial.”

That is the Chancellor all over, and he is wrong on the banks. The Banking Bill also fails to deliver a regional banking system that will deliver for British businesses, not rip them off.

On living standards, we all met many people in this campaign who are struggling to get by. At least the Government now acknowledge that there is a living standards crisis in the country, but there is no real action to tackle that in the speech today. The Prime Minister promised change, but things have got worse, not better. The Government spent the local election campaign, and before, trying to tell people that they are better off. However, people are not better off; they are worse off and they know the reality—wages are down £1,700 since the election. One group, of course, is better off—the people sitting opposite on the Government Front Bench, owing to the millionaires’ tax cut. No wonder the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) says that this Government—not my words, but his—look

“privileged and out of touch”.

He also says:

“Please, please no more old Etonian advisers.”

I think he is right; it is time for some diversity. Let us have someone from Harrow in the Cabinet as well.

When it comes to living standards, the Work and Pensions Secretary said that wealthy pensioners are meant to be handing back their winter fuel payments. I have a suggestion for the Prime Minister: why does he not set an example and hand back the tax cut he has given himself? It would be the big society in action. For everyone else, however, the speech has no answers—no action on train fares, no action on payday loans, and no action on private pension charges. People are worse off under the Tories.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about living standards, yet this Government have taken

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3,000 lower earners from my constituency out of tax altogether, and cut taxes for 40,000 lower earners. Why did he vote against that?

Edward Miliband: I respect the hon. Gentleman because he is serious about those issues, but I am afraid that his intervention shows the problem. There is no point in telling people that they are better off when his constituents in Harlow know the reality. They are worse off, and they voted Labour at the local elections—he would have lost his seat in a general election, which is bad news for him.

All hon. Members know the housing difficulties that families face. For all the press notices from the Government, homes just are not being built. Again, the Prime Minister promised change, but things have got worse, not better.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I will not give way for the moment.

Housing completions are at their lowest level since the 1920s. Since this Government came to power, 89,000 construction workers have lost their jobs. There are no answers to Britain’s housing crisis in the Queen’s Speech.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I will not give way for the moment.

Clearly, many people raised the issue of immigration during the campaign. The Government’s proposals are limited measures that they have announced before, but the Opposition will look at them. However, I want to mention one very important measure missing from the immigration Bill. The Bill fails to tackle the issues of jobs and pay, which are at the heart of people’s concerns. The problem is the employers who use cheap labour, through both illegal and legal migration, to exploit and undercut workers who are already here. Let us be frank. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will know of many examples brought to them by constituents. There has been only one prosecution since 2010 for failure to pay the minimum wage, but that does not reflect the reality across the country. We will therefore seek to amend the immigration Bill to take action on the problems of employers not paying the minimum wage; recruitment agencies that use only overseas labour; and slum landlords using overcrowded housing for—again—both legal and illegal migrants. There is nothing on that last problem in the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I will give way in a moment.

There are no measures in the immigration Bill on those problems, but why not? There are no measures because they would conflict with the Government’s economic approach. They believe in a race to the bottom when it comes to wages and conditions. The truth is that the Bill will not solve the growth crisis or concerns about immigration.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman mentions immigration. Does he accept that the net migration of 2.2 million people under the Labour Government plus the large numbers of migrants

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who were disguised by the end of embarkation controls represent a population movement unprecedented in the modern era?

Edward Miliband: Yes, I would accept that, as I have said on many occasions.

Let me move on. The reality is that none of the measures in the Gracious Speech will solve the—[Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I will give way, but let me carry on for a minute.

None of the measures in the Gracious Speech will solve the growth crisis that the country faces. Even the Chancellor must recognise that having forecast 6% growth over the past two and a half years, 1% growth is not good enough. Let us look at what is happening to our young people and our businesses, and the squeeze on living standards. His failure on growth is the explanation for what is happening to people in this country. I say this to him: instead of fighting to stop the IMF telling him to change course, he should follow its advice and do so.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman’s alternative Queen’s Speech would cost more than £28 billion. How would he pay for that? Would he borrow more?

Edward Miliband: I dealt with that question earlier, which the hon. Lady would know if she had been listening. There is no point in me dealing with the Whips’ question.

Steve Brine: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps this will be third time lucky. As usual, he makes a lot of spending commitments. I realise Martha does not understand him, but I do not think I do, either. If he were Prime Minister, would he borrow more or less?

Edward Miliband: I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands. This Government are borrowing more— £245 billion more.

The problem with this Government is that they always stand up for the wrong people. From the people who brought us the millionaire’s tax cut, we have the latest measure here today.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman is right that the Government have been an absolute disaster for the country, and that living standards are going down, but why are people not flocking to the Labour party, which would win less than 30% on the latest projected share of the vote? Surely people should be going to the Labour party, not to UKIP.

Edward Miliband: I do not think the SNP should be boasting about the opinion polls at the moment.

Who does the Gracious Speech stand up for? From the people who brought us the millionaires’ tax cut, today we have the latest instalment. This is what they used to say—and the hon. Member for Bristol West made reference to this—about cigarette packaging:

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“It’s wrong that children are being attracted to smoke by glitzy designs on packets...children should be protected from the start.”

That was the previous Health Secretary, now Leader of the House. Of course, that was before they hired their new strategist, Mr Lynton Crosby—the one whose company worked for big tobacco. Now what has happened? They have dropped the Bill.

The Prime Minister used to say that lobbying was

“the next big scandal waiting to happen”.

That was before the scandal happened to him—dinners for donors in Downing street. Now what has happened? They have dropped the Bill.

On the communications Bill, the Prime Minister had a chance to tackle powerful media monopolies, the ones that brought him Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. Now what has happened? What a surprise, they have dropped the Bill. With such a short programme, he can hardly say that there was no room. It is hardly a timetabling issue; it is a problem of whose side he is on.

The reality is that the Prime Minister cannot provide the direction the country needs because he stands up for the wrong people. If his excuse is that he has dropped those Bills because of the people behind him, we will help him. If he wants a Bill on cigarette packaging, we will help him get it through. We could easily do that. I know that he is worried about rebellion by his side, but if he wants a Bill on cigarette packaging, and there is scope to have one, let us do so. It is the right thing to do for public health and for the country. The Prime Minister believes that, but he has a problem on his side: we will vote with him and get it through. If he wants a communications Bill, again we will help him get it through. Even the Deputy Prime Minister might help him get it through, because he wants a communications Bill. If the Prime Minister wants a Bill on lobbying, but Lynton Crosby has said he should not annoy his own side, we will help him.

The reality is that the Prime Minister cannot provide the answers the country needs, because he has lost control of his party. As someone once said, he is in office but not in power. What does his party spend its time talking about? Not youth unemployment, not the NHS, not the living standards crisis. The one subject it is obsessing about, day in, day out, is Europe and UKIP. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who does not seem to be in his place, has characteristically led the charge. He says that it is time to stop insulting UKIP. Instead, he wants an electoral pact with them. The hon. Member for North East Somerset has gone further—he is nodding. He wants a coalition right now with UKIP. They used to call them clowns: now they want to join the circus.

Conservative MPs forget something. The whole point of the Prime Minister’s Europe speech in January was to “head off UKIP”. Tory MPs were crowing that the UKIP fox had been shot. It was job done, mission accomplished. Only it was not. The lesson for the Prime Minister is that you cannot out-Farage Farage. Banging on about Europe will not convince the public, and the people behind him will keep coming back for more—a Europe referendum tomorrow, drop same-sex marriage, the demands go on. They will never be satisfied.

Every day the Prime Minister spends dealing with the problem behind him, he is not dealing with the problems of the country. No wonder this Queen’s Speech contains

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no answers. Three wasted years, and today is another wasted chance. This was a no-answers Queen’s Speech from a tired and failing Government—out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs.

3.23 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): Let me start—as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) did—by paying tribute to those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan since the House last met. Corporal William Thomas Savage and Fusilier Samuel Flint were both from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Private Robert Murray Hetherington was from 51st Highland, 7th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. These men have made the ultimate sacrifice, their heroism should be an inspiration to all of us and we must honour their memory for ever. Let me also add that what the right hon. Gentleman said—praising our troops and all those who serve our country more broadly—is absolutely right: they should always be at the top of our thoughts.

As a result of the work in the last Session, the Government have now cut the deficit by a third, cut immigration by a third, cut crime by more than 10%, cut taxes for more than 24 million people, capped benefits, capped the increase in rail fares, frozen fuel duty, helped to freeze council tax, cut billions from the bloated cost of government, and, yes, secured a real-terms cut in the European budget as well. In spite of what we just heard from the Opposition, there are over 1.2 million more people now working in the private sector, more than 1 million new apprenticeships and a quarter of a million fewer people on out-of-work benefits than when this Government came to office. In direct contrast to what the right hon. Gentleman said, instead of presiding over a banking bust as he did, we are, for the first time, regulating our banks properly and separating high street banking from investment banking. That is just the start of clearing up the mess we were left. There is only so much we can do in three years to clear up the mess of the past 13 years. The Queen’s Speech sets out the next vital steps forward. This Government have a solid record of being on the side of those who work hard and want to get on.

As the Leader of the Opposition did, let me briefly pay tribute to those from this House who passed away in the last parliamentary Session. The House lost two of its most respected and popular Members. Malcolm Wicks was a real gentleman, a man of enormous integrity and compassion. He served the House with great distinction for 20 years. His expertise on energy earned him great respect on all sides of this House. He was well known for his willingness to work across the political divide, although I gather that even he wondered whether things had gone a bit too far when his grandson was named Cameron. As the Leader of the Opposition said, he showed extraordinary courage in fighting a long illness at a relatively young age. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

Sir Stuart Bell was another of Parliament’s great characters. He was rightly honoured for his services to this House, and was dedicated to the House of Commons

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and everything that happens here. He served for a record 13 years as Second Church Estates Commissioner. As the Leader of the Opposition said, his book was called “Tony Really Loves Me”. We do not know whether that was true, but the House really did love him, and he is sorely missed on all sides.

Let me turn to the proposer of the Gracious Speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). He made a great speech and, rightly, spoke with huge power about the importance of engineering. I have looked long and hard to try to find something about my hon. Friend. He is a clean living man with a relatively spotless record, but I have turned up one dirty secret. As he said, he started his career as an adviser to Peter Walker. My hon. Friend was so keen to succeed him in his Worcestershire constituency that he did everything and anything for his political master: he wrote his speeches, collected his shopping, cooked his dinner and organised his social life—he even babysat for his children. I can now reveal his secret: he even changed the nappies of his predecessor’s son, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who is now sitting next to him. We will not ask for a demonstration, but that does prove that all great political careers start at the bottom. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire showed today that he is a worthy successor.

My hon. Friend spoke movingly about the support of his wife and family during his parliamentary career, and I am sure that all of us would want to echo that sentiment about the incredible love and support we receive from our own families. There is another lesser known fact about my hon. Friend: he simply will not leave a telephone unanswered. On the campaign trail in the 2005 election, he walked past a call box and found that the phone was ringing, and so picked it up. However, when the double glazing salesman on the other end of the line realised that he was talking to a politician, he promptly hung up.

My hon. Friend has a strong record of achievement: improving defence procurement, chairing the Trade and Industry Committee, helping to create the UK India Business Council and campaigning against the early sexualisation of children. When he leaves at the end of this Parliament, he will be missed by many across the Chamber, and his speech was in the best traditions of this House.

Let me turn to the seconder of the Gracious Speech, who, I did not know until today, is virtually my twin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) said, he was born in the valleys in the heart of south Wales. He is the first Liberal Democrat to be elected as a Member of Parliament in Bristol in three-quarters of a century, but needless to say, in true Liberal Democrat style, he billed himself as the local candidate. In his time in the House he has already done admirable work in fighting homophobia, and I thought that what the Leader of the Opposition said about that was absolutely right. He has won an award from Cancer Research UK, and he is an assiduous Member of the House. However, he does not always pick the winner. I have done a little research. He was Chris Huhne’s agent during his leadership campaign against the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), but he did then switch to the Deputy Prime Minister during his leadership campaign against Chris Huhne—although I note that he now calls him “Cleggzilla”, which I thought was an interesting career move.

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My hon. Friend said that he was looking for a soulmate. I can reveal that he did not find one when he went to the United States on a parliamentary exchange with a member of Congress. He had wanted to shadow someone from the liberal wing of the Democratic party, but ended up with a Tea party Republican from Alabama, which is home, Members will be pleased to know, of the Crimson Tide. So he spent a few days with someone who opposes all regulation of greenhouse gases, opposes all recognition of same-sex marriage, and is backed by the National Rifle Association. I have looked into this deeply. The Congressman in question also wants to establish a human colony on the moon, although history does not relate whether he came to that conclusion before or after meeting my hon. Friend.

I thought that my hon. Friend’s speech today was excellent and courageous, and that both speeches were in the finest traditions of the House.

Let me also take this opportunity to welcome to the House the new hon. Member for South Shields (Emma Lewell-Buck), who is in her place for the first time today. I know that some in the House will be sad that her predecessor has left us. It could be said that he walked out on the organisation that he loved after disagreeing with its choice of a new leader—but today is not the day to talk about Sunderland football club and Paolo Di Canio. It is the day, perhaps, to sing the praises of Sir Alex Ferguson, a remarkable man in British football who has had an extraordinary, successful career. I am sure that all Members, even those on the blue team, will want to pay tribute to this member of the red team. Perhaps he could now provide some consultancy services for Aston Villa.

I began by paying tribute to the British soldiers who had tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan, but let us be clear that this is not a mission without an end. We have promised to draw-down our troops, and I can tell the House that we are on track. The number of UK bases in Helmand is down from a peak of 137 to just 14, and by the end of this month we will have reduced our troop numbers from 9,500 to 7,900. By the end of this year they will be down to just above 5,000, and by the end of next year our troops will no longer be there in a combat role. Almost all of them will have come home.

In Syria, the atrocities continue to mount. In respect of chemical weapons, it is important that we learn the lessons of how information has been presented in the past. I have tasked the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee to give the National Security Council constantly updated assessments of the information that we and our allies have. I can tell the House today that there is a growing body of limited but persuasive information showing that the regime has used, and continues to use, chemical weapons including sarin. The room for doubt about that continues to diminish.

We will continue to take action on every front, working with our allies, backing the opposition, and pushing for a political solution. This morning I spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry on his return from Russia. There is an urgent need to start a proper negotiation, to force a political transition and to bring this conflict to an end. I will be flying to Sochi on Friday to meet President Putin and discuss the issue further.

Just as there are great challenges in our world today, there are also great opportunities. We must link Britain to the fastest-growing parts of the world—from India

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to Indonesia, from Brazil to China. We must forge new trade deals that will bring new jobs and greater prosperity. We must use our commitment to open economies, open Governments and open societies to support enterprise and growth right across the world. That is exactly the agenda that Britain will be driving at the G8 in Northern Ireland, and I shall be discussing these issues in the coming days when I travel to meet my counterparts in France, America and Russia.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): My right hon. Friend has rightly emphasised the importance of the United Kingdom’s relationship with China, but he will be as aware as all the rest of us that, from time to time, it has been a difficult relationship, particularly given the very difficult problem of Tibet. Is he able to be positive today about what he expects to be the relationship between the United Kingdom and China over the year ahead?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for what he says. Let us be absolutely clear: this Government have not changed the long-standing British policy towards China, and China and Tibet, and we do want to have a strong and positive relationship with China, which I believe is to our mutual benefit. The Chinese Government are aware of our policy on Tibet. We recognise Tibet as part of China. We do not support Tibetan independence, and we respect China’s sovereignty, and when I spoke to Premier Li recently, we both looked forward to our countries working very closely together in the months and years ahead.

The point about this Queen’s Speech is that Britain will not seize these opportunities unless we are able to take the tough decisions needed here at home. That is what this Queen’s Speech is all about: rising to the challenge of preparing this country for the future. We are in a global race and the way we will win is by backing families who want to work hard and do the right thing. To do that, we must get the deficit down, not build up ever more debts for our children. We must restore our competitiveness so that British businesses can take on the world. We must reform welfare and pensions so it pays to work and pays to save, and we must reform our immigration system so we attract people who will benefit this country, and we clear up the mess we were left by the Labour party.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I would like to thank the Prime Minister very much for coming to Derbyshire twice during the recent elections and invite him to come back in 2015 to see whether he can repeat the magic. He will be aware that there are now 43 Labour councillors. Does he think Labour did so well in those elections in Derbyshire because of the poor record of Derbyshire county council, or was it thanks to the record of his Government?

The Prime Minister: The choice for people in Derbyshire at the next election will be whether they want to keep on the path of getting the deficit down, reforming welfare and controlling immigration, or whether they want to put it all at risk with the Labour party. People in Derbyshire understand that.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I was listening out in the Gracious Speech for the words “climate change,” and I almost thought I was listening in vain until I heard that the very last two words of the

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whole speech were “climate change.” Does the Prime Minister accept that if we are to make serious progress on that issue, it needs to be at the top of the agenda, not at the bottom and, if it were, we could also create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country?

The Prime Minister: I thought the hon. Lady was slightly uncharitable: she was looking for the words “climate change” in the Queen’s Speech and the words “climate change” are in the Queen’s Speech—and it is this Government who have set up a green investment bank that has got £3 billion to spend, and it is this Government who have set a carbon floor, so we are taking action to deal with climate change, and are successfully doing so.

The point is that every one of these issues—immigration, welfare, competitiveness, the deficit—is addressed head-on in the Queen’s Speech, and on every one of these issues the Opposition would take us in the wrong direction: on the deficit, they would increase it; on competitiveness, they would put up taxes, not cut them; and on welfare reform, they have opposed every step we have taken to make our system fair and affordable. These are the arguments that will dominate this Queen’s Speech debate, this Session and the general election. On every one of these issues we are on the right side of the argument and they are on the wrong one.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Perhaps the Prime Minister could explain how the proposals in the Queen’s Speech will help my constituent who is wanting to work but found that 57 of 76 shop assistant jobs advertised throughout the whole of the east of Scotland from Fife to Falkirk were for distributing Kleeneze catalogues. How does that help constituents like mine?

The Prime Minister: First of all, there are 1.25 million extra private sector jobs in our economy, and many of those are in Scotland, but the point in the Queen’s Speech that the hon. Lady should particularly welcome is the move on national insurance contributions, which will take one third of all British businesses out of national insurance altogether. We look forward to the Opposition’s support on that.

Let me take for a moment the central economic argument about borrowing and the deficit. The Leader of the Opposition recently attempted to make his case on “The World at One” and I think it is fair to say that the world was at one in concluding that he made a complete mess of it. He told us that Labour’s much-heralded VAT cut would last for “about a year.” That is what we were told. He was asked 10 times to admit he would put up borrowing, and he refused. He was asked again today. He cannot give a straight answer to this question. Yet the very next day on ITV’s “Daybreak” he admitted borrowing would go up. In this case his policy lasted about 18 hours.

So we have an Opposition who say that borrowing is too high but they are going to put it up. That is their official policy. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Speaker, unless, of course, you are the shadow Business Secretary. He has been famously comparing himself to Barack Obama. As he would put it, “Can we change our Wikipedia entry? Yes we can.”

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Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): If it is all going so well, why are more people on the dole in Ashfield than when the Prime Minister took office? Why are more people out of work in my constituency now?

The Prime Minister: Across the country, more people—1.25 million more—are in work, and 270,000 fewer are on out-of-work benefits. That is what is happening under this Government, and that is what we will continue to make progress on. There is a very serious point here. If we borrow more, spend more, and fail to get a grip on the deficit, we will say goodbye to the low interest rates that this Government have earned. Let us be clear about what that would mean: mortgage rates going up; business failures going up; repossessions going up. That is the price that every family in Britain would pay for Labour’s irresponsibility. Those are the consequences of having a Leader of the Opposition who is too weak to stand up to his shadow Chancellor. He has a long history of such weakness: too weak to stand up to his party on welfare; too weak to stand up to the unions on strikes; too weak ever to stand up to Gordon Brown when in government; too weak to apologise for the mess Gordon Brown made in government. He is the living embodiment of a new dictum: the weak are a long time in politics.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Prime Minister knows, and I know, that this parliamentary Session is all about the rise of UKIP. He called them loonies and closet racists. Does he have to be more loony to see them off?

The Prime Minister: The simple truth, at the next election, is if you want an in/out referendum on Europe, the only way to get it will be by supporting the Conservative party. That is clear. There are two major parties in the House that oppose a referendum, and there is one that will stand for a referendum. We will put that to the people at the next election.

The Queen’s Speech does not duck the tough challenges. We need to get the deficit down, so we will complete a spending review by the end of June. We will legislate to abolish needless bureaucracy such as the Audit Commission. We will pass laws to raise revenue by stopping tax abuse. We need to restore our competitiveness, so the Queen’s Speech includes a deregulation Bill to cut business costs, and a national insurance Bill to cut taxes for small businesses. We will press ahead with our high-speed rail Bill so that we get the infrastructure we need. Our intellectual property Bill will give us an up-to-date system of patents, including a key part of the European patent court right here in London.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Prime Minister has given an extensive shopping list of the things he will introduce this Session, but he has not spoken about plain packaging for tobacco and the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing. In the light of the health issues in relation to alcohol abuse and for those dying from cancer, will he even now give us a commitment to introduce both plain packaging for tobacco and a minimum price for alcohol?

The Prime Minister: On the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes, the consultation is still under way, and we are looking at the issue carefully. On minimum pricing for alcohol, it is important that we take action to deal

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with deeply discounted alcohol, with cans of lager sometimes selling for as little as 25p in supermarkets. We will be bringing forward a package of measures, and it is important that we get this right.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): The Prime Minister spoke about how all of us in the House cherish and love our children and families, so where is the protection for children when it comes to plain packaging for cigarettes? For the record, the consultation is closed.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady’s party had 13 years in office to take such measures and did precisely nothing.

At the heart of the Queen’s Speech is a commitment to get behind the aspiration of people who work hard, save hard and do the right thing. The pensions Bill, which, by the way, is the biggest reform of the state pension for 50 years, did not merit a single mention from the Leader of the Opposition. The Bill marks a major shift towards encouraging saving in our country. Under the current system, many people are discouraged from saving during their working life. Why? It is because the more they save, the less pension credit they will get. A single-tier pension, at about £144 a week, changes that. It will take hundreds of thousands of people in our country out of the means test, and it will give people the certainty of knowing that the savings they make when they work will benefit them when they retire.

Another problem that can discourage saving is the fact that in so many cases people’s homes are taken away to pay their care bills. The family that has saved is asked to pay for care; the family that has not saved gets all this for free. I do not believe that is fair. This Queen’s Speech makes an historic move to put a cap on individual contributions to pay for social care. Combined with changes in the insurance market, that should mean that no one has to sell their home to pay for care—a major breakthrough in this vital market.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Care and Support Bill and although it has some good points, it needs a lot of improvement. However, the Prime Minister’s Government are taking £2.6 billion out of adult social care, and setting a cap at £72,000 will not help the majority of my constituents in Salford. He has now abandoned public health.

The Prime Minister: First of all, as the hon. Lady says that the draft Care and Support Bill has some good points, perhaps she could have a word with the leader of her party as he did not even mention it in his entire speech. We are tackling an issue that Labour promised to do something about for 13 years—but it never did anything. Under this Government, people will not have to sell their home to pay for care.

Backing aspiration means sorting out our immigration system. Under the previous Government, it was out of control. Net migration was more than 200,000 a year; that means that more than 2 million extra people came here across a decade. The tiered system that the previous Government established has now been revealed as a complete sham. Tier 1 of the system, they told us, welcomed the best of the best; it now transpires that as many as a third of those people found only low-skilled roles, working in takeaways or as security guards. In the

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student tier, that Government allowed people who did not speak a word of English to come here and attend colleges that turned out to be entirely bogus. There was even a tier in their system specifically created for those with no skills at all.

We are fixing this mess. We have completely shut down the route that allowed low-skilled people to come here with their dependants, without even a job offer waiting for them; we have capped the number of economic migrants from outside the European economic area; we have stopped almost 600 colleges bringing in thousands of bogus foreign students; and we have revoked the licences of more than 300 of those colleges in the process. There is much more to do, but there has been good progress in clearing up the mess that the previous Government made.

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Given that Labour has now apologised for its immigration policies in government, does the Prime Minister agree that if Labour Members are serious about curbing immigration they should pledge to support our policies when they are debated on the Floor of this House?

The Prime Minister: I hope the test will come when we vote on those measures. In the past, of course, we have heard that the Opposition will support welfare measures, then they do not; we have heard that they will support deficit reduction measures, then they do not. Every time the Opposition are tested, they fail.

The immigration Bill is a centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech. Let me be clear: this is not just—

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab) rose—

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab) rose—

The Prime Minister: I will give way to both right hon. Gentlemen in a minute. Let me just make one point. The Bill goes across government, because for the first time we will look to ensure that everyone’s immigration status is checked before they get access to a private rented home; for the first time, we will make sure that anyone not eligible for free health care foots the bill, either themselves or through their Government; and for the first time, foreign nationals who commit serious crimes will be deported, wherever possible, and will then have to appeal from their home country. That will be the effect of the Bill.

Mr Blunkett: Perhaps it would be easier for Labour to vote for the Bill if there was a verifiable way of ensuring that it could be implemented. Will the Prime Minister take a suggestion from an old hand that might square the circle between the Home Secretary and the Business Secretary on the immigration proposals and the deregulation Bill? We could go back to the idea of a verifiable identity register, and a little card, such as the one I am holding, to ensure that doctors, landlords and employers can easily and sensibly know whether someone is entitled to be in the country and draw down services.

The Prime Minister: At last we have had a concrete policy from the Labour party, but I am afraid to say that it is one with which I completely disagree. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but is it not extraordinary that the previous Government spent so

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much time and effort on a compulsory identity card that no one wanted while overseeing a massive uncontrolled rise in immigration? What we have done is to cut migration by a third and we have not introduced ID cards. That is a far better approach.

Keith Vaz: I welcome the abolition of the UK Border Agency. The Prime Minister mentioned foreign national ex-offenders. He will know that the latest figures reveal that 4,000 are living in the community, and 65% have been there for two years. Will he examine whether it is possible to begin deportation proceedings at the time of sentence, rather than waiting halfway through the sentence when it will be too late?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right, and that is something that we discussed at the National Security Council as recently as last week. The situation with foreign national offenders is still completely unacceptable. There are very large numbers still here, from countries such as Nigeria and Jamaica that we have very good relations with, and we are going to ensure that we deal with the problem a lot faster. We have also looked at the idea that the right hon. Gentleman has come up with. Put simply, our immigration Bill will back aspiration and end the legacy of the previous Government that meant that people could come here and expect something for nothing.

Our determination to end the previous Government’s something-for-nothing culture is also the reason why we continue to pursue our welfare reforms. Every one of them is about making sure that work pays, but that is not the only thing that our welfare reforms have in common. The truth is that whatever welfare reform we have suggested, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour party have opposed each and every single one. We said families should not be able to receive up to £100,000 in housing benefit. He said they should, and voted accordingly. We said no—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady says “rubbish”, but the Opposition voted against the limits on housing benefit. We said that no out-of-work household should be able to claim more than the average working family earns. The Leader of the Opposition said that they should be able to do that, and they voted against the welfare cap. We said benefits should not go up by more than 1% while workers’ wages are being cut. He said they should—and he wants our children shackled with more debt in order to pay for it.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after the tax and benefit changes introduced in 2010, by 2020 one in four children will face child poverty, missing the Child Poverty Act goal of one in 10. Why does the Queen’s Speech not contain anything to address that major problem in our country?

The Prime Minister: The IFS also shows that it was this Government who increased child tax credits to help the poorest families, but above all, the IFS shows that we have had to take difficult steps to clear up the complete mess that we were left by the Labour party. Labour has opposed each and every welfare change. The party of labour has become the party of welfare and the whole country can see it. On this side of the

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House, we are standing up for hard-working people. This is a Queen’s Speech that will back aspiration and those who want to get on. This is a Queen’s Speech that will make our country competitive once again. This is a Queen’s Speech that will cut our deficit, grow our economy, deliver a better future for our children and help us to win the global race, and I commend it to the House.

3.51 pm

Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we should judge the Gracious Speech by the extent to which it is fit for the job that this country and the people of this country so desperately need it to do. We must therefore begin by addressing the important fact, which is very uncomfortable for us as politicians serving in this House, that there has not been a time in the 40 years that I remember of active politics when the level of public engagement with the relevance of politics has been so low. We saw that to a very great extent in the local election campaign.

I am enormously proud of my party’s achievements in the local election campaign, but I know that all of us, including myself, who campaigned in different parts of the country regularly, met people who were angry—people who felt that politicians were deaf to their concerns and that politics offered them no solutions. When we judge this Queen’s Speech by whether it is fit to meet the challenges of modern Britain today, that is a very important test.

Perhaps what has created the anger and unease— I think this underpinned so much of what the Prime Minister said in his response today—is the fact that our political narrative has been characterised by a view of the worst of our national human nature rather than the best. Let us turn that around. What follows if we believe that we live in a country where the majority of the million young people who are out of work desperately want the chance to work, to realise their potential and to fulfil their ambition? Mothers, fathers, young and older men and women come to all our surgeries with a sense of growing desperation that they are running out of solutions to the circumstances in which they now feel themselves to be.

So these are the challenges, and many of the remedies are very simple. When we were in government, we demonstrated that people did not have to languish on jobseeker’s allowance for weeks into months. If we apply what we know—that for every week people are out of work, it gets harder for them to get back into work—and if we provide people with support and retraining, and maintain their confidence that they will get a job, the chances are that they will get off benefits more quickly. But if we hollow out the services that are designed to achieve that change and galvanise that human ambition, people are on their own.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): On that subject, will the right hon. Lady at least acknowledge that in only two years this Government have created 1.25 million jobs in the private sector and have helped to create 250,000 new small businesses and 500,000 apprentices in the past year alone, and that the strategy proposed from the Opposition Front Bench would jeopardise this by borrowing more in a debt crisis?

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Dame Tessa Jowell: On behalf of the whole House, I wish the hon. Gentleman a very happy birthday, and I thank him for his intervention. By scrutinising the figures on mothers who no longer feel it is worth staying in work, he will see that very many of those jobs, welcome as they are, are not full-time jobs that enable an adequate income to come into the family home.

Mr Newmark rose

Dame Tessa Jowell: I will not give way again as many other hon. Members want to speak.

There is much in the Queen’s Speech about welfare and the future of the welfare state. It is not a welfare policy to pop up on television every other Sunday with another bit of tinkering with the welfare state. We have a welfare state which is founded on three principles— the contributory principle, the universal principle and the discretionary principle. Richard Titmuss famously observed—and this is the warning to those who seek to dismantle a universal welfare state that has at different times of our lives relevance for all of us—that services only for the poor are poor services. I challenge Government Members to think of a single service which is used only by the poor that they would be prepared to use at a time of difficulty or trouble.

Remembering the simplicity with which many of the terrible human conditions in which people now find themselves can be resolved, two principles should be upheld: do not hollow out those services that are the practical, direct contact with those individuals, and steer away from a principle for our public services or our welfare state which reduces its scope, making it one that is only for the poor. Stigma follows.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady agree that a fundamental principle of the welfare system should also be that work pays more than welfare? That is the system underpinning universal credit. Does she welcome that?

Dame Tessa Jowell: Yes. I sat around the Cabinet table when we discussed precisely putting in place the policies that would ensure that people earned more in work than they would on benefit. That is another change. That is why, incidentally, we introduced the national minimum wage and why our alternative Queen’s Speech lays such emphasis on enforcement of the national minimum wage. That is why there is now an important opportunity to reduce, progressively and systematically, the very large cost of in-work tax credit by linking incentives for employers seeking public contracts to pay a living wage to people right across the country, which is something the best employers are already adopting.

Let me touch briefly on what I think will be one of the most publicly important, and in many respects welcome, announcements in the Queen’s Speech, and that is in relation to social care—but I think we should go further. In Committee we will press hard on the paradox that £800 million is being taken away from local authorities’ ability to fund social care at a time when the responsibilities and burden on families are increasing. It is very hard to find those families who would not prefer their elderly relatives to be loved and looked after in their own homes. Therefore, that should not just be the rhetorical aim of the policy; it should be

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the organisational and administrative means by which that hope is realised. Again, that is not difficult, but we must start with the individual and their needs and build the structure and organisation of the service around them, rather than, as so many elderly people find is their lot, making their needs conform to predetermined rules that have little to do with their circumstances.

Therefore, it is through the welfare state, and by increasing the responsibility of employers in relation to the living wage and by recognising that good care for people at home means building relationships and relevant support around the individual, that the source of help might begin to match the circumstances of individual families and their needs. That is the only way in which confidence can be rebuilt. I am intensely proud of the efforts of so many Labour councils, in particular, across the country that are pioneering approaches to that. A Queen’s Speech designed for the whole country would learn a lot from some of those beacons of light at an individual and local level. I commend those proposals to the House.

4.3 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s speech and the contents of the Gracious Speech.

I urge my right hon. Friend to telephone the President of the United States and say that it is high time Guantanamo Bay was closed down, which we read the President is minded to do. It is a moral blot on the west that people are still there without facing trial or being released for their liberty. If there are people for whom there is not enough evidence for a proper trial but about whom there are still legitimate worries, could they not be let out under surveillance? Surely it is high time we no longer tolerated that prison.

I strongly support what the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister said about our armed forces. They have shown enormous strength, great professional service and huge bravery, especially in Afghanistan. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will move to get our troops away from risk and danger in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Some might have to stay there for longer, to provide training and support, but surely the Afghans are by now sufficiently trained to do the patrolling and take on the more dangerous tasks. They have the local languages and contacts. I want our troops out of risk and out of danger. So many have died. They have created the conditions in which the Afghans can now have a more secure future, so please now trust the Afghans and take our troops away from those risks.

I hope that the Prime Minister will be extremely careful about being dragged into any intervention in Syria. None of us likes what the regime is doing—the terror, the bombing and the huge loss of life is unacceptable —but we also know that the forces of opposition range from the friendly and those in favour of democracy and liberty to very different types of people whom we would not normally choose to be our allies. While I welcome the Prime Minister’s wish to use what diplomatic weight the United Kingdom has to try to find a solution, I hope that he will resist any hot-headed moves to commit our troops to Syria, whether directly on the ground or indirectly, and be very careful about the idea that killing some more Syrians might be a helpful contribution to an extremely dangerous situation.

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I welcome the fact that the Gracious Speech has relatively few Bills in it. That is very good news. We legislate too much in this House, and we often legislate in haste and repent at our leisure. I think everybody would agree that this Government are trying to reform a very large number of things already. A lot of very complex legislation has been put through affecting many of our public services. Surely now is the time for Ministers to supervise those reforms and ensure that they are well thought through, properly administered and embedded, while the rest of us must subject them, and every penny of public spending that Ministers propose, to increasingly extensive scrutiny.

This Government face a mighty task. They inherited an extremely broken and damaged economy. All Ministers now need to lend their weight and their talent to dealing with that one central issue and not get too distracted by other things of interest abroad, and we in this House need to make sure that every penny they propose to spend is well spent, because the origins of our debt and borrowing crisis lie in an enormous surge in public spending. Unfortunately, some of that spending was not well judged and did not lead to the better schools and hospitals that all parties and people of good will want but, instead, added to the complexity, the unnecessary cost and sometimes the waste throughout the public services.

In order to promote this economic recovery, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will inject a new sense of urgency through his new energy Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. One of the most oppressive things about our current economic situation is the very high energy prices that have been imposed on individuals, families and businesses, and we now need to regard cheaper energy as fundamental to getting better economic growth. Our American friends and competitors have energy prices 50% below our own for running industry, which these days is often more energy-intensive than labour-intensive. That is too big a gap, and it is a matter of great urgency. I hope the Government will look very carefully at ways to get energy prices down and to go for cheaper energy in the United Kingdom.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the pursuit of misconceived green energy policies has contributed to the problem that he is identifying—namely, that we are now one of the most expensive places to generate energy in Europe and as a result our industries are suffering as regards competitiveness?

Mr Redwood: I think that the Government need to re-examine the whole carbon tax regime, which is not imposed by our Asian or American competitors, and the balance of power generation for electricity, because we seem to choose to generate a rather high proportion by extremely expensive means. I would impose this simple test: is it going to work and is it going to be cheaper?

The Government would be wise to understand that we may not be too far away from an unfortunate conjunction of events on a cold winter’s day when there is no wind blowing and we are very short of energy.

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I am worried that a number of our important old power stations are being pensioned off or forcibly converted before we have put the alternatives in place. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, that should have been done by the previous Government, who spent 13 years arguing over whether to have new nuclear or new gas and did not put in place the replacement and back-up power that we clearly need with a strategy that relies heavily on wind and other intermittent renewables and where an EU set of rules requires us to close down prematurely a series of older power stations that we might still need.

Indeed, I would hope that one of the new energy Minister’s urgent decisions will be to ask for permission or derogation to keep open some of the older power stations for another two or three years while the Government put in place the necessary permits, licences and investment framework for the replacement power stations—which will, I think, have to be gas powered—in order to ensure back-up and security of supply. One of the important tasks of government in the overall task of keeping the country secure is to keep the lights on, and we need to do more to make sure that that is happening.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will encourage the Chancellor to go further and faster in sorting out the banks. Some of us are extremely impatient about the way in which the Royal Bank of Scotland, the recipient of so much public subsidy and shareholding, is still not able to help finance a proper recovery. It is extremely difficult to have a strong economic recovery in this country at a time when our major bank is still undertaking such a massive slimming programme and trying to reduce its loans and exposure to risk because it got itself into difficulties under the previous regulators and remains in difficulties under the new regulators. There are regulatory fixes; I do not wish to go into the technical details, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will move quickly and more purposefully to split up RBS and create working banks to finance the faster recovery that all parties in this House clearly want.

That would also help with private infrastructure. Those on the Government and, I think, Labour Front Benches are keen to promote more large infrastructure projects, and it would be very good if they could be financed privately. We are many years beyond the initiation of that idea under Labour, and then under the coalition, but we are yet to see the commitment of large financing to the power, transport and wider broadband and other communications projects needed for economic development and to trigger more economic growth through the construction industry. I hope that more attention will be directed to tackling those issues.

I am very pleased that at the core of the Gracious Speech, as the Prime Minister said, is his wish to do more to control our borders sensibly. I am a free-enterprise free trader—I am all in favour of talent coming in and of diversity in our country. However, I think that most of us believe that far too many people came in far too quickly, creating difficulties for housing, health and other service provision. When new people arrive in our country, we want them, as well as the people already settled here, to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle and for that to be achieved at a pace with which the existing community is happy.

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I think the big mood of anger that we saw in Thursday’s elections stems from the feeling that many people have that some of those who arrive in our country get free and easy access to public services and benefits before they become British citizens and valued members of our community. People ask, “Is this fair at a time of cuts, pressure and difficulty? Can we really afford to have hundreds of thousands of new people coming in who are immediately eligible for high-quality public services and welfare provision?” When we see the details of what the Prime Minister is suggesting, I hope that a fair and sensible system will be introduced.

In meeting the European Union obligations on the freedom and movement of workers, it would be a very good idea to say that while of course people can come in to take a job, that would not make them eligible to receive a welfare or top-up benefit of any kind, and that it would not give them automatic entitlement to a lot of fringe benefits for their wider family. It should be the free movement of workers, not the free movement of benefit-seekers. I believe that the contributory principle is enforced in other parts of the EU, so why do we not have a rule that says that people can get access to welfare benefits and services only if they have paid national insurance for five years, or—to cover those who are already settled here but who, through no fault of their own, have not been fortunate enough to have a decent work record—if they have been in full-time education in Britain for five years? We need to look at whether we can use that contributory principle to provide some discipline.

Something that is of great interest to the trade union movement and the Labour party, as well as to the rest of us, is the impact that high volumes of migration have had on wages. Because Britain has been such a welcoming home to so many people, it has seen a large number of migrants from the rest of Europe. That has undoubtedly acted as a damper on wage levels at the lower end of the market. Often, people of great talent and skill come in and do jobs well beneath their skill level for very low wages because they are better than the wages where they come from. Some of that is a good thing, but too much of it creates enormous difficulties because it means that people who have been here for many years or were born here cannot get a job, the overall level of wages is rather low and living standards are not as high as we would like. That causes anger and tension in local communities.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would help if the minimum wage in this country was enforced vigorously?

Mr Redwood: I do not think that the minimum wage is high enough for a family. Our ambitions should be rather higher. It is a Labour cop-out to say that all the problems can be solved by enforcing the minimum wage. We all know that, on the whole, people do not live on the minimum wage, but get benefit top-ups. If people have family commitments, they of course need benefit top-ups.

I am talking about the justice of a system in which there are people in Britain who cannot get a job at all and lots of other people coming in from outside who are taking jobs on very low wages and expecting welfare top-ups, making it difficult to get the welfare bill down. That does not make any sense. There is a double bill

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for Britain: we have to pay the full welfare costs of the British person who cannot get the job and the top-up costs for the person who comes in from outside. Labour should take that point seriously and worry about it.

British people expect the Government, in trying to keep the country secure, to have the power to get rid of terrorist suspects and other unpleasant individuals who have, perhaps foolishly, been let in. I want the Government to appear strong and to be able to act strongly when necessary. There is huge public will for this House to gain powers that enable us to extradite people who are guilty of crimes or who are suspected of crimes and need to go elsewhere to be tried properly.

My final point is about Europe. I know that the Prime Minister is not keen to have a long debate on Europe. The trouble is that Europe is no longer a single subject; it is about the life that we lead. If we want to be sure that we can control eligibility to our welfare system, we have to sort out European welfare issues. If we want to extradite people from Britain, we need to sort out the European Court of Human Rights and will soon have to sort out the European Court of Justice as well, because there is an important European constraint on the power of Governments to act in that area. If we want to have cheap energy, we may well need to change European energy policy as well as our own. We can make immediate progress through derogations and permissions, but it would be far better to change the overall energy policy, because the whole of Europe is being damaged by its dear energy strategy, which allows America, Asia and others to take the jobs and markets that we need. We need to control our borders, keep the lights on and extradite people who deserve to be tried somewhere else. To do that, we need to sort out the European issue, as well as all the individual issues in their own right. I wish the Prime Minister every success in that.

I do not want to belong to a powerless Parliament. I do not want to belong to an impotent Parliament. I want to belong to a Parliament that can give redress to angry people outside if we think that they are right. I want to belong to a Parliament that controls our borders. I want to belong to a Parliament that settles our energy crisis. I want to belong to a Parliament that can legislate to finalise who has welfare entitlement and who does not. We are not in that happy position today. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that we need a new relationship with the European Union. Bring it on as soon as possible and put it to this House of Commons, because without it this House of Commons is, indeed, impotent.

4.19 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I am glad to be given the opportunity to speak in this debate.

There have been a few comments, particularly from Opposition Members, suggesting it is a rather thin Queen’s Speech, containing not many Bills, but one of its meatier measures is the pensions Bill, which will set up a single-tier state pension. I hope you do not mind, Mr Speaker, if I spend all my time talking about that Bill, partly because my Select Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee, was asked to carry out the pre-legislative scrutiny. It is the one Bill in the Queen’s Speech that is greatly relevant to my Committee’s work,

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and I understand it will be published tomorrow, so today is my last chance to record some of the Committee’s observations. I understand that the Government’s response to our report will be published as a Command Paper at the end of the week. I suspect that both the Bill and the Command Paper have already gone to the printer, so what I say this afternoon will probably not change the Government’s intention, but it is worth rehearsing some of the arguments that my Committee found important enough for the Government to take into account during the deliberations on the Bill in both Houses.

Why is the Bill so important? Anybody who is under state pension age as of April 2016 will be affected by it. The only people who will not be affected by the introduction of the single-tier state pension are those who will have already reached their pensionable age. The fact that 2016 is the year in question is a bit of a bone of contention, because when my Committee undertook its scrutiny and asked for evidence from a range of people, including the industry, individuals and anybody who wanted to have a say, we thought that the starting date would be April 2017. When we took oral evidence, including from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), at the end of our inquiry, we still thought that the implementation date would be April 2017. It came as a bit of a shock, and was a wee bit to our annoyance, that the Chancellor announced in the Budget that the implementation date was to come forward a year to April 2016.

We interrogated the Minister thoroughly about whether even April 2017 was an achievable time scale or would slip, because we thought it was a pretty tight time scale in which to implement the changes. It therefore came as a bit of a shock to discover that the Government hoped to do it a year sooner. We had not been in a position to ask the industry and employers, in particular, whether they would be ready to implement the changes in 2016.

Notwithstanding the fact that we generally welcome the introduction of a single-tier state pension, it is inevitable and obvious that the Government have continued to roll out auto-enrolment, for which they should be commended. Given that more and more people will have their own second-tier occupational pension, some kind of reform of the first-tier basic state pension has become almost imperative. However, it will not be easy to get from the extremely complicated and convoluted pensions landscape of today, which has a second tier through the state earnings-related pension scheme or the state second pension as well as occupational pensions, to something straightforward and simple. That is what the Government are attempting to do in the pensions Bill.

As the Government have brought forward the implementation date by a year, the Committee thinks it is even more important—we thought it was important anyway—that a proper impact assessment of the changes is done sooner rather than later. We hope that when the Government publish their response to our report at the end of this week, there will be a promise to that effect.

Different sectors will be affected differently, and some groups will inevitably lose out. In any major change there are bound to be winners and losers, but it is not yet clear who they will be under these changes. I hope

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that a further impact assessment will be performed because we need to know how the changes will impact on individuals, the pensions industry, and particularly employers.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): May I record my appreciation of the work done by the Work and Pensions Committee in scrutinising our Bill on a compressed timetable? We will publish a new impact assessment on Friday alongside the Bill, and a response to the Committee. I assure the hon. Lady that the Bill will be amended in the light of her Committee’s recommendations.

Dame Anne Begg: I am delighted to hear that and perhaps we will come back to the Bill if it is not amended enough.

We welcome the single-tier pension because it will generally mean more state pension for those who have the least. Groups that have lost out in the past with regard to the state pension will benefit—they will generally be women, carers, people with broken work records, and those such as the self-employed who have been unable to build up any kind of second state pension. They will see the immediate benefits of the introduction of this system.

There will, however, be those who lose out, and one main change will affect those who have already made decisions about their retirement. At the moment, someone can qualify for a full state pension after 30 years of national insurance contributions. The Bill increases that to 35 years, but there is already a group of people who have decided to retire although they have not reached pensionable age. They will not necessarily be in a position to build up 35 years of national insurance contributions before they reach the new single-tier pension. The Committee makes recommendations about buying back national insurance years and contributions, but a huge communications job will be necessary to ensure that people are aware that the number of qualifying years has now changed. I will say more about communications in a minute.

It was interesting that the Minister went on the airwaves earlier this week with regard to one group of people who will definitely lose out—women who get only a pension derived from their husband’s contributions. I am not sure why the Minister spoke about that in terms of the wives of expats, but it was possibly because a large number of those who will be affected by this measure live abroad. The measure will, of course, also affect women in this country. That seems to have come as a complete surprise to many and perhaps explains why a lot of people think they will be better off under the new system when in fact they will not because their spouse will not qualify for any of the new derived rights. Basically, what used to be known as the married woman’s allowance is going for everyone.

The Committee has a recommendation for the Government:

“We welcome the Government’s sensible transitional solution to the potential adverse impact on employed women who chose to pay reduced NI contributions under the Reduced Rate Election—”.

That was often called the small stamp or the married woman’s stamp. It was a long-running sore that had never been cured, so good on the Government because it has now been solved. They have come up with a

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transitional arrangement that will allow women who paid the small stamp to get full credits and qualify for the single-tier extension.

That does not apply, however, to those who will get nothing as a result of the abolition of their derived rights. The Committee report states:

“We believe that it should also be possible to find a solution for another small group of women: those who did not build up their own NI record because they had a legitimate expectation that they would be able to rely on their husband’s contributions to give them entitlement to a Basic State Pension. One option might be that women in this position who are within 15 years of State Pension Age should be able to retain this right. We recommend that the Government assesses and publishes the cost of providing this option for the relatively small number of women affected. We believe that, for those further from retirement, there is sufficient time for them to plan on the basis of the new rules.”

One reason we chose the period of 15 years from retirement was that it had to be more than 10 years. The Bill says seven or 10 years, but the Committee recommends that it should state anything up to 10 years, because people will probably need to have 10 years’ worth of contributions before they get any state pension—they will get nothing for less than 10 years’ worth of contributions. The Committee believes that people within 15 years of retirement with no national insurance contribution, who would have expected to get their pension through their spouse, should be protected, and that there should be transitional arrangements for them. Anyone further away can make up some of the shortfall—not all of it—in the intervening time.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and for the reasonable way in which she makes her points. Without trying to jump ahead, what does she make of suggestions that the Government will prevent spouses who have never set foot in the UK from receiving a state pension? I suspect most Government Members fully support those proposals, but does she support them?

Dame Anne Begg: The Committee did not say that we were against the abolition of derived rights in principle for future pensioners. We accept the Government’s argument that people should have a state pension in their own right, and that they should accrue their own credits to get it. The consequence is that there will be no married woman’s allowance in future. The problem I have addressed is how we get from the current position to that one without being unfair on the group of women who are within 15 years of reaching their pensionable age. As the Bill stands—we hope it might change by tomorrow—that group of women will get nothing from April 2016. The Committee believes that that is a particularly harsh cliff edge. We have no problems with what happens in future. Because women work or because of changes made by the previous Government in how national insurance can be credited for caring—not only for children, but for disabled adults or elderly relatives—women are more likely to have credits towards their own pension, which previous generations did not have. We accept that the world and society have changed and that, as a result, women who have not been in this country and who have not been in a position to build up credits will not get a pension in the long run.

The Government face a problem in getting over to people exactly what the pensions Bill means. They have concentrated on saying that the new arrangements

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are much simpler and easier to understand, which is understandable. They have said, “The new single-tier pension will be £144, and that’s it. That’s all you need to know.” However, as a result of that simplification of the message, people have got the wrong end of the stick with regard to what it means in their individual cases. That is why it is crucial that the Government think again on a clear communication strategy. That should start as soon as possible, and not wait until the Bill has become an Act of Parliament. In anything to do with pensions, planning is so long term that people have to be sure about what they may expect. If things are going to change, people have to know they are going to change. That is especially true of the group of women born in 1952 and 1953, as they have suffered a double whammy with the increase in the state pension age. Many of them are worried that they will lose out, but they may not. The point is that they do not know, and the Government have not been able to give them enough information or explain what will happen.

This week I got a letter from a lady who was convinced that she will get only £144 a week because she will reach pension age after April 2016. She has paid SERPS all her life and she is convinced that the Government will steal her SERPS from her. She does not know that she will get whichever is higher—SERPS or the single-tier pension. One gentleman thinks that it is really unfair that he has paid SERPS all his life, but will get only £144, whereas his next-door neighbour, who was contracted out and gets an occupational pension—and has been paying less national insurance—will also get £144, but of course that is not true. The person who has been contracted out will lose out, depending how the calculation goes. The calculation is a complicated one and the headline message has continued to be that everyone will get £144 for their state pension, so many people think that the introduction of the new scheme is unfair.

I have to say that initially some people who had already reached pension age were keen to get on to the new system until they realised that they would not necessarily be much better off. They are not quite so keen now to get on to the single-tier pension. It is worth pointing out that the Govt are doing this only because it is cost-neutral. The Treasury does not have huge extra wads of money sitting around somewhere to pay to people who reach pension age after April 2016. The worry of many women born in 1952 and 1953 is that they would have qualified for pension credit anyway.

The Committee was concerned that the single-tier pension was being set only £1 above pension credit levels. We thought that the Bill should include a provision that would always ensure that the single-tier pension would be above the level of pension credit. We were disappointed that the gap between pension credit and the single-tier pension was so narrow. It would help to allay some of the fears if there was a guarantee that the single-tier pension would always be above the basic level.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend has always been a great champion of ordinary working people. Will she join me in urging Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to investigate why Tesco proposes to reduce the terms and conditions of staff by a third, in transferring them from distribution centres that are closing in Harlow and Weybridge and moving them to new sites in Barking

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and Dagenham at wages lower by £7,000 to £12,000? Surely Ministers should use their considerable influence to urge Tesco to think again.

Dame Anne Begg: I am sure the Minister heard my hon. Friend’s plea with regard to Tesco. There is still a concern that some employers might take the introduction of auto-enrolment as an opportunity to top-slice what they would be paying into a pension fund, as part of auto-enrolment, off the salary they are already paying. There does not seem to be any evidence of that, but perhaps some of what my hon. Friend talked about is the restructuring by some big companies with high employee turnover that are maybe looking to find a way of cutting what they pay. There is no doubt that, with the introduction of auto-enrolment and the pension, the single-tier pension was inevitable. It is the right thing to do, but, as with anything this complex that affects so many people, the Government have to ensure that they get it right. If they get it wrong, there will be an awful lot of angry people out there. I am sure the Minister is listening.

4.40 pm

Mr Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker, for this early opportunity to make what will be a brief contribution to the debate. The debate coincides with ongoing family difficulties at home, so being able to get back to the highlands this evening rather than later is of very great assistance, and I am grateful for that. On that basis, I apologise to those on both Front Benches that, uncharacteristically, I will not be here for the wind-ups. I hope that they will understand.

As has been pointed out, this is the penultimate Queen’s Speech of this Parliament: there are now two years to go. I think that one political prediction on which we can all agree is that the next two years will go an awful lot more quickly than the last three years did. Whatever proposals are contained in the legislation outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the truth is that much of the politics in the next two years, and therefore at the next general election, will be conditioned not by what is in today’s speech, but by the wider economic scenario. We have welcomed the Queen to the Palace of Westminster today. Perhaps of more significance is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is welcoming the International Monetary Fund to the United Kingdom for its annual health audit. The implications for the economy will play as big a role in the next 18 months to two years as the proposals in front of us, important though they may be.

I welcome the reference in the Queen’s Speech to the second issue that will influence United Kingdom politics: the referendum in Scotland in 15 months’ time. The outcome will have a profound impact on not just Scottish politics, but UK politics in the run-up to the next Westminster general election. I was reassured to read that the Government

“will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.”

Hear, hear. I give my unqualified support to the Deputy Prime Minister and the coalition on that. That case needs to be made, and is particularly significant coming from the coalition at Westminster. Even in the few

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months that have elapsed since January, when we debated the various orders that enabled the transference of powers to Edinburgh to hold the referendum and so on, it has been interesting to see the debate develop. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I will not comment one way or the other, but I will say that we need to hear, both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole, more constructive Conservative voices in the debate.

When I came to the House in 1983, there was still a very viable Scottish Tory presence here, but I saw it erode and erode and eventually fall off the edge of the cliff. I have always felt that that was extremely dislocating and unhealthy, not just for Scottish politics but, by implication, for United Kingdom politics as a whole. Although I am not in the business of trying to resurrect conservatism—my loyalty to the coalition does not extend quite as far as that—I think that, on any rational basis, it is clear that there will be a very skewed constitutional dialogue and debate if the traditional, historic and continuing authentic voice of conservatism is not heard, and does not have a degree of resonance. I think that that should be borne in mind during our discussions about Scotland’s role within the UK, which I hope will remain a vibrant and vital one.

Talk of Scotland remaining part of the UK prompts a further question, which, I believe, goes to much of the heart of the Queen’s Speech: what kind of United Kingdom do those of us who want Scotland to remain part of it wish to see? In that regard, I think that the Liberal Democrat voice—and I shall be directing my few remarks almost exclusively to my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat wing of the coalition—is essential at this particular juncture.

First we have, up in lights, the issue of immigration. There is a sensible, constructive, rational argument to be had about that issue, but it should be preceded by a statement of principle, which, I am delighted to say, my right hon. Friend the leader of my party and Deputy Prime Minister has made many times. There are those of us in the House, and on the spectrum of British politics, who are unapologetic and unashamed in saying that, historically as well as in contemporary terms, the immigrant contribution to our economy and the values of our society has been immensely positive. It is something to be encouraged and celebrated, and it is not something in respect of which a Dutch auction on the back of UKIP and various other kenspeckle figures should be indulged in when it comes to how best to pursue the issue. That is an important aspect of the Liberal Democrat voice that needs to be heard—

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) rose—

Mr Kennedy: As, indeed, does the voice of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in regard to this very issue.

Ms Abbott: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, while we clearly want an efficient, fair immigration system which commands support, there is a danger of a downward spiral of anti-immigrant rhetoric which will not help anyone, and is in denial of the huge contribution that immigrants have made to this country over the years?