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Mr Kennedy: Indeed. The hon. Lady has echoed my “Dutch auction” point. I think that many of us in all parties, including the Conservative party, have developed a sense of considerable unease—not least during the past few weeks of British politics, and perhaps during the past week in particular—about some of the siren voices that we are beginning to hear in this context. That is not healthy, it is not right, and it is misleading to people in this country, in historical terms as well as in terms of our contemporary position.

A second issue in respect of which I think the Liberal Democrats have a vital and valuable role to play—perhaps somewhat by default, but nevertheless this is where we find ourselves—is, of course, Europe. I am not going to become involved in the ins and outs of the ongoing Conservative party obsession, absolute unbelievable obsession, with Europe. However, I recall the days of the Maastricht treaty debates in the House and the so-called night watchmen of the time, including the present Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who was one of their leading lights. They kept the place going night after night, week after week, month after month, and almost brought the Government to their knees over the issue of Europe. Here we are, more than 20 years later, and little, if anything, has changed. This is an important opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to exploit.

David T. C. Davies: The right hon. Gentleman has accused us of having an obsession. Does he not agree that it is far better for us to discuss something that people out there are discussing than to ignore the voice of at least one in four people—perhaps as much as half the population—who think that it is high time we pulled out of the European Union?

Mr Kennedy: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that is a judgment he must make. I do not want to trawl through a history lesson going back to the days of Maastricht, but the person I blame most on all of this is Tony Blair. He is the one Prime Minister who came into office with the wind behind him, and could have lanced the boil of the European issue for an entire political generation had he seized the opportunity. Sadly, he chose not to do so, which is why not only has it festered, but what began as a rather eccentric minority position is, as the hon. Gentleman says, now commanding 25% of the recent votes cast and, even more alarmingly, I suspect much more than 25% of the current parliamentary Conservative party.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I hoped the right hon. Gentleman would rejoice a little at the divisions within the Conservative party, because let us think about what has happened in the past when it has split along protectionist lines. First, it did that between Disraeli and Peel, which led to Gladstone leaving the Tory party and forming a Liberal Administration. When Joseph Chamberlain tried to do it in the early 20th century, it led to another Liberal Administration and a mass victory in 1906. Then when Baldwin tried it, he lost the general election and Labour formed its first Administration. So this is good news, isn’t it?

Mr Kennedy: I feel the spectre of Roy Jenkins with his hand on my shoulder as we speak. I say to the hon. Gentleman that in perhaps a more superficial, short-term,

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opportunistic political way, of which he is such an emblematic representative, one might well rejoice in the difficulties and internecine warfare that is reigniting within the ranks of British Conservatism on the European issue, but the truth is that what I was saying about Scotland applies equally to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the rest of Europe: it is extremely damaging for British interests that the British Conservative party is not anchored more in the mainstream. We have been seeing that since its crazy decision to take itself off into a rather loopy set-up within the European Parliament. That may provide some of us with a good opportunity to poke fun at the Conservatives, but it also means that the British voice and presence has been lost on more significant Committees and in more significant positions within the workings of the European Parliament, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister knows far better than I do from his direct experience during his days as an MEP. I therefore think a slightly more, perhaps not high-minded, but at least practical analysis of the current difficulties in that regard is pertinent, because I really do think that it is damaging our long-term national interests.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member and has been involved in the European issue for many years. He has been a Member of this House going back to the time of Maastricht, as many of us have. Does he now regret that he pushed so hard for us to join the euro, and is he pleased that his party was wrong on that?

Mr Kennedy: I have said before that I was wrong about that, although I would have put the issue of the single currency to a referendum. I criticised Tony Blair because he missed an opportunity early in his premiership, but as for decisions later on, I think that history has proved him more correct than those of us who were urging a different course of action—although the ultimate back-stop would have been the public through a referendum.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP) rose

Mr Kennedy: I would like to move on from Europe, but not, of course, before the auld alliance has had its opportunity.

Stewart Hosie: I am enjoying the right hon. Gentleman’s speech greatly, but the problem, of course, is that the Gracious Speech is the coalition Government’s programme for government. While he is absolutely right to warn against the awful dog-whistle politics on immigration and Europe, this is a coalition Government set of policies. Is he telling the House today that it is his intention to oppose these particularly nasty measures?

Mr Kennedy: Well, on the immigration matters, let us see the detail first. We have got some initial inklings and there will probably be quite a lot of detailed and, I suspect, sticky debates to be had on some aspects of how this is going to be done. On Europe, the Prime Minister has made it clear in his letter to his parliamentary colleagues in just the last 24 hours that he cannot go in the direction many of them are urging precisely because it is a coalition Government. We can point to our presence having some constructive restraining interest, although I will enter one caveat, which is a challenge for the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition.

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The snoopers’ charter is a controversial and high-profile issue, which has been fiercely argued in public, in this House and elsewhere only a matter of months ago—it is not in the Queen’s Speech. That is a significant example of the difference between having an unfettered majority Conservative Government and having a Conservative party in government that is having to take account of another set of views. Although Liberal Democrats are right to argue—my colleagues and I do so regularly—that we can temper this, prevent that, or perhaps improve on how something might otherwise have been done, the bigger challenge for us over the next couple of years, starting with this Queen’s Speech, comes from the fact that simply saying, “Vote for us. If you didn’t, it would be worse” is not the most persuasive of electioneering clarion calls. We have to turn that into a more persuasive pitch—we have two years in which to do so, and I am sure that we can.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Kennedy: I give way to another occasional renegade.

Mr Davis: Very occasional.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the appeal of the Liberal party would be greater if it was sometimes more robust on some liberal causes? For example, in the previous Session the Liberal party let through the provision on secret courts, despite it being completely against its traditions of more than a century.

Mr Kennedy: I am not party to the internal machinations of coalition relationships, but the little that my antennae allow me to pick up—the right hon. Gentlemen must know this from his right hon. and hon. Friends—is that more than a few Conservatives, both within government and further afield in the parliamentary party, feel that these damn Liberals are enough of a fly in the ointment as it is, thank you very much, without the likes of him, of all people, encouraging us to become even more obstreperous. I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench have noted his constructive contribution, and I wish him well.

I have a final point to make on coalition politics. The Queen’s Speech, which I welcome—who among us could disagree with it—says that the Government remain committed to

“a fairer society where aspiration and responsibility are rewarded”.

D’accord, no problems there whatever. Earlier in the year, a number of Liberal Democrats could not give our support to the capping of welfare benefits and went a little further than the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) in our rebellion; we not only abstained, but took a few steps further in the direction of the alternative Lobby. Others among us have expressed our opposition to or voted against the so-called “bedroom tax”, certainly as it is constructed now. Governments have to nudge people in certain directions and influence behaviour, but the difficulty is that that is different from being drawn into the potential political quagmire of social engineering. The Lib Dem voice needs to be heard loudly on that, within the echelons of the coalition and among the public: in supporting reward for aspiration

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and responsibility we are not losing sight of the fact that those aspirations can sometimes be given adequate opportunity only if the Government of the day recognise their responsibility towards the social composition they have inherited; and we cannot necessarily achieve mission impossible with all our desired social reforms, given the country’s difficult demographic backdrop.

Therefore, the principles of social justice, which I hope will continue to underpin not only the Liberal Democrat contribution, but the conduct of the coalition as a whole, need to be heard, loud and clear, on the telling domestic issues, such as immigration, and on the absolutely critical international issues, such as Europe. On those issues and others, I believe that our Conservative colleagues, for reasons best known to themselves, are allowing a gap to open, rhetorically and in reality, in British politics, which, in terms of our responsibility in government, we must develop.

I notice that Labour is achieving up to a glass ceiling but seems to have difficulty getting much beyond that, so our voice needs to be heard all the more on such issues, unambiguously, without any sense of retreat, nipping and tucking, or dodging and weaving. On many of these vital matters, we are going to get too much of that from the Labour leadership over the next period. We should be clear, consistent and unafraid, because what we are saying needs to be heard, in much the same way as what we said about Iraq—even though many in this place thought there was not much of a vehicle for that—needed to be heard out there. Sometimes people will respect you even if they do not necessarily agree with you on the issue of the day. Let us not be afraid, let us give the Queen’s Speech our support, but let us use it as the launch pad for the next two vital years in British politics.

5.1 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am pleased to follow the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. Members will be aware that ordinarily, the responsibility for making this speech would fall to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will join me in saying that we look forward to him resuming his place in this House next week after a very short illness.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party, I wish to welcome many of the priorities laid out in the Gracious Speech. While I accept that many of those priorities are laudable and worthy of support, I have a feeling that they have been written in every Gracious Speech over the years, but how to achieve and implement them seems to have escaped the imagination of successive Governments. Aspiring to achieve must never be undermined, but we are in challenging times and the nation looks to this Government and this House to provide a legislative programme that will build a strong and vibrant economy, and that rewards hard work while maintaining a caring environment for our disabled, elderly and disadvantaged. I have no doubt, as the debate continues, that we will have many eloquent contributions from across the House, expressing the views of our constituents. We must remember, however, that we are here not to make memorable speeches, but to endeavour to work together to build a fair and equitable society for all. No one can deny that

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our nation faces serious issues that demand courage and determined leadership, which we have a responsibility to provide.

As I have alluded to, many of the individual priorities outlined in the Gracious Speech are worthy of support, but, as always, the devil is in the detail. Our responsibility is, therefore, to scrutinise carefully the detail, and to ensure that the implementation matches the sentiment. I trust the Government will not have a closed mind on how to solve many of the pressing issues. If Opposition parties have wise counsel to give and amendments to present, I trust that the Government will be courageous and willing enough to listen and to act accordingly.

I suppose that this Gracious Speech was one of the shortest in recent times, but it was delivered by Her Majesty in her usual gracious manner. On behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, I wish to thank Her Majesty for her lifelong devotion to service and pray that she will be long spared to continue to address both Houses of Parliament.

The DUP welcomes the commitment contained within the Gracious Speech to strengthen the rules around immigration to this country. The recent and prolonged controversy surrounding the failure to deport the hatemonger Abu Qatada demonstrates the necessity for such reforms. It cannot be right that individuals who hate our freedom, laws and way of life can not only take up residence in this country but abuse the freedoms that they are afforded to encourage violence and fan the flames of hatred.

Over many years, successive Governments have talked tough on immigration but acted differently. Many people across the United Kingdom believe that their patience has been pushed over the limit, and they demand that their Government take resolute and determined action. For too long, we have been tinkering around the edges, while promising that immigration would be properly controlled. The Government can rely on DUP support if they seek to secure our borders and protect our citizens.

The Government are clearly aware of the problem of businesses using illegal foreign labour. It is wrong that any company should seek to avoid its responsibilities on issues such as national insurance contributions in that way. It is also wrong that people who are here illegally should deny employment opportunities to those who abide by the rules and live by the law. Private landlords should also note the immigration status of tenants, so that our system is not abused by criminals.

We are a tolerant and fair society. Where people are suffering persecution or threat, or being exploited, they can always rely on the United Kingdom as a safe haven and a welcoming place, but we must ensure that those who seek to abuse our generosity are deterred from coming here.

The Government will recognise, as the recent local government election results confirm, that public cynicism and anger about the political process are at an all-time high. People have come to believe that so-called cast-iron guarantees are much less solid when they are put to the test. Nowhere is that more amply demonstrated than in the case of a proposed referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of, and relationship with, the European Union. It is not in the interests of politics as a whole that people should be offered such a referendum—but only if they cast a ballot for a particular party.

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The Government will be aware of the increasing tide of public opinion in favour of an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU. From these Benches, I make an offer to the Government: here, there are eight votes in favour of holding such a referendum in this parliamentary term. I know that there are Members in all parties, including even the overwhelming majority of Members in the coalition, who support such a referendum. The Government have it within their power to allow the great national issue to be settled in the short term. I urge the Government to reflect upon that, and to act without delay to allow such a referendum. It seems that the Prime Minister believes that he is powerless to introduce legislation that would guarantee a referendum on the European Union after the next election, but anything less will not do.

I agree with others who have described the EU as a bureaucratic monstrosity that robs the coffers of our nation and squanders our finances needlessly. Even if the Prime Minister feels shackled by his coalition partners, this House is not. This House needs to take the issue into its own hands, having listened to the voice of the people. Let us seize the moment and tell the coalition partners that this is the will of Parliament and that they will not be permitted to thwart that will. However, we will see exactly what happens and how an expression of the will of this House is received.

While the Government use the Gracious Speech to outline their priorities for the forthcoming parliamentary term, this House is considering an issue that was absent not only from last year’s Gracious Speech but from any major party manifesto. The Prime Minister should reflect on whether parliamentary time should be devoted to pushing through the redefinition of marriage. No party has a mandate for that change, and many Conservative activists who have deserted to UKIP have cited the Government’s pushing that legislation through this Parliament as showing that they are out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of ordinary voters.

As a representative from Northern Ireland, I welcome the fact that the Government propose to aid those who have been affected through exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Many people in Northern Ireland have been affected by that health risk. The unfortunate reality is that many people who worked in heavy industry have acquired serious health problems as a consequence of asbestos exposure. Thousands have already lost their lives, and it is right that Government should help those who are suffering in that regard.

The DUP welcomes the fact that the Gracious Speech was used to deliver the determination that the future of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands will be a matter to be determined by the people who live in those places. Those people are loyal to our country. We have a moral obligation to respect their right to remain British.

The Government have indicated in the Gracious Speech that they wish to work closely with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The publication of the Northern Ireland Bill, which will allow for a reduction in number of Assembly Members and consequently a reduction in the cost of government, is something that the DUP welcomes. We will watch very carefully the details of the Bill, however, and scrutinise the same.

I welcome the commitment to work with the devolved regions. We urge the Government, as part of their programme of co-operation with the devolved regions,

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to act decisively on the issue of corporation tax for Northern Ireland. Many believe that such a measure would provide an enormous boost to the Northern Ireland economy, which would enable the expansion of the private sector and the rebalancing of the Ulster economy away from our over-reliance upon the public sector.

The Government have indicated in the Gracious Speech that there will be continued reform of the welfare system. The DUP supports welfare reform where it is designed to ensure fairness and equality. The benefit regime is a devolved matter and, as part of the Government’s ongoing co-operation with the devolved regions, we urge Ministers to continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are afforded the protection and assistance they deserve. I also welcome the proposal that older people will not be forced to sell their homes to pay for care. That is a very welcome development, provided it is implemented in a fair way.

I cannot conclude my remarks without paying tribute to our brave servicemen and women in theatres of conflict across the world. By their service they protect us all in their fight against terrorism. I call upon the Government to ensure that they have all the weaponry that they need, and that when they return they are not forgotten. Those disabled members of our troops needing care for the rest of their life must have that care guaranteed to them.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Government used Her Majesty’s speech to reaffirm their commitment to Scotland’s remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom. These are difficult and trying times for every part of the country, and we believe that the challenges we face are better faced together.

5.12 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), who has been in and out of this place several times since 1983, so has heard many Queen’s Speeches. I associate myself particularly with his remarks about the Union, and about our troops. I also associate myself with his remarks about a tolerant and fair society, because I believe that in the main this year’s Queen’s Speech is working towards that commendable aim.

I congratulate the proposer and seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, not least because my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and I entered the House on the same day back in 1992. He has, sadly, announced his retirement, but he has also announced that he suddenly became a rebel by doing something for the first time in 21 years—abstaining. I feel I should declare an interest, because I too became a rebel on the same day as my hon. Friend, by abstaining on the very same amendment, in the interests of my constituents.

May I also mention in dispatches the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), who spoke excellently? Knowing the valleys he came from, I think he must be very proud to be a Member of the House and to be able to speak so freely about his life.

I welcome some of the provisions in the Gracious Speech. I was delighted to see the Government reaffirm their solidarity with residents of the Falkland Islands

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and Gibraltar in that they should be able to determine their future. I was also pleased to see how seriously the Government are taking their forthcoming chairmanship of the G8, which will be important not just for UK politics, but for world politics. There are many measures in the Queen’s Speech that we can all support. The antisocial behaviour, crime and policing Bill will ensure that victims get a quicker and co-ordinated outcome. I particularly welcome the provisions that will strengthen protection of victims of forced marriage. That is really important. In addition to the rehabilitation of offenders, we should see a criminal justice system that is fit for purpose.

The care Bill will modernise the law in this area and help people to plan their later life with more certainty by capping care costs and recognising the important role that carers play in all our communities. Not yet mentioned by earlier speakers, measures to promote resilience to natural hazards such as drought and floods, and competition in the water business so that business customers can choose from whom they buy their water and sewerage services, are particularly welcome. I hope the Government have found a solution to the problems with the Welsh Assembly Government over Welsh Water, and I look forward to seeing the shape of the proposals for that Bill and also the Welsh Assembly election proposals. I hope that that Bill will rule out double jobbing, which I have always disapproved of, and will allow candidates for the Assembly to stand on both the list system and first past the post.

The immigration provisions will further strengthen the reductions in immigration that this Government have been achieving. Landlords’ checks and migrants contributing to NHS costs are sensible and long overdue measures. If the Home Secretary can also deliver a system that allows us to deport foreign national offenders more efficiently, she will have all our support right across the House.

However, that is where my approval stops. The deep concern that has been expressed by my constituents and, I understand, by your constituents, Mr Speaker, about HS2 has finally resulted in not one but two Bills that were announced today in the Gracious Speech. People will ask why there are two Bills. For the past four years, both the Labour Government and the coalition Government have spent hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a project that has never been discussed or voted on in this House, so instead of relying on a real vetting process through the hybrid Bill that will naturally take a great deal of time and in all likelihood will not now be passed before the next general election, the Government are going to rush through a quick little paving Bill so that they can claim parliamentary approval while covering their financial difficulties, not least because the expenditure has escalated without any legislative authority or proper scrutiny.

Much of this project’s development has been conducted behind closed doors. The Government must be far more open before slipping through such a preparation Bill. We all know that there is a Major Projects Authority report on HS2, but most of us have not seen that report. I understand it is a red/amber report, a classification which indicates that this is a high-risk project. As far as I am aware, the Government have resisted all attempts and freedom of information requests to have the report published. They must now do so, before the first HS2 Bill is introduced.

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Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I may have got this wrong, but it is my understanding that the Government are introducing two Bills—a paving Bill and a traditional hybrid Bill. Is that my right hon. Friend’s understanding? We will all have to look very closely at the small print of the paving Bill because within it, I think, will be the statutory authority to provide compensation for our constituents who may be affected. So without the paving Bill, our constituents, who may be affected by HS2 for a number of years, will not be able to receive compensation.

Mrs Gillan: The devil will be in the detail. The truth of the matter is that until recently there was no talk of a paving Bill, yet the project has been on the stocks for four years. It is a little late to discover that we need a paving Bill. Also, some commentators have already been referring to it as a blank cheque, which is not something anybody on the Conservative Benches wants to see.

I, like you, Mr Speaker, and like colleagues and neighbours both inside and outside the Government, and particularly in Buckinghamshire, have serious misgivings about HS2. The project was produced like a rabbit from a hat by the previous Labour Government. It has already blighted the lives of my constituents and will cause irreparable environmental damage to the Chilterns. It does not represent good value for money and will not bring the exaggerated benefits claimed by its promoters. Increasingly, informed commentators and experts have started to cast doubts on the claim that it will heal the so-called north-south divide, and those doubts are growing.

For me, HS2 fails on many fronts. It fails on the business case, which is fundamentally flawed, with a cost-benefit ratio that is eroding so rapidly that it is getting to a level at which it would not be regarded as worth while by any normal criteria. The calculations are based on false assumptions, with the forecasting assuming that all time spent on trains is unproductive. It also fails to take into account modern communications and working practices.

HS2 fails to observe environmental protections. The current plans and route design for phase 1, and the business case, are so conditional on speed that they sweep everything else aside. The route does not even try to stick to existing transport corridors but drives a steel arrow into the heart of the Chiltern hills, which were deemed so precious before now as to have been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that phase 1 ends in my constituency and phase 2 begins there. The irony is that although the route to Leeds attempts to use existing transport corridors, because the Government have at least accepted that, the route up to Manchester cannot do so because it ends in Lichfield and we inherited the phase 1 design. The original proposal that the Conservatives supported in opposition would have used existing transport corridors.

Mrs Gillan: My hon. Friend makes a long but valuable intervention, and I know how badly his constituency will be affected. I do not think that anybody in the House, on either side, would expect either him or me to take a different position. It is indeed true that these provisions have been railroaded through—excuse the pun—without looking at the detail or the alternatives.

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Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Is my right hon. Friend aware of evidence from the continent showing that high-speed rail systems pull economic activity towards capitals, not away from them?

Mrs Gillan: Yes, I am. Perhaps we will be able to explore that when we discuss the preparation Bill in more detail.

HS2 also fails the integrated transport test. As it currently stands, it does not connect effectively to HS1 or Heathrow, or indeed to any airport in the south-east. The idea that it should be fixed before we have the results of the Davies report on airport capacity in the south-east, which will be in 2015, is quite illogical.

HS2 fails the value-for-money test. The cost, with rolling stock, conservatively stands at £40 billion, and there is no guarantee that phase 2 will ever be built. It will be the largest peacetime spend on an infrastructure project, and let us not kid ourselves: it will run over budget. Each and every MP in this place should imagine just what that money could be spent on to improve their constituents’ lives: hospitals, medical research, schools, broadband, improving existing roads and railways—the list is simply endless.

HS2 fails the fair compensation test. Thousands of people, homes and businesses have already fallen victim to the proposals. In the recent High Court judgment the Government’s compensation consultation was deemed so unfair as to be unlawful. That is pretty shaming. If, despite all efforts, HS2 goes ahead, compensation must adequately—indeed, more than adequately—recompense people whose businesses and homes will be bulldozed along with their lives. I hope, at least, that the property bond will be taken up by the Government. The Department has grossly underestimated the blight that this project has caused and will cause, in order, I think, to reduce the final bill for the Treasury. The Government certainly should not be scrimping on the compensation aspects.

Michael Fabricant: As a brief intervention, I remind my right hon. Friend that the Prime Minister said specifically that compensation would be generous for HS2, and we must hold him to that.

Mrs Gillan: I agree entirely that we should hold him to that, and I hope that he will look even more closely at the proposals that are coming from his Department for Transport.

The seriously misconceived proposals for HS2 are a rail enthusiast’s charter that is attractive to officials in the Department and HS2 Ltd, who, let us face it, see it as guaranteeing their jobs at a time when the civil service is being reduced, and to the industries that expect to benefit from substantial Government funding over the next 25 to 30 years. Advisers are not going to identify other projects that will assist economic renewal because it is just too easy to run with this Labour project. Yet it proposes the highest pace in the smallest place, regardless of damage to the environment and without integration into other modes of transport. By the time it is completed, the business world will have changed dramatically, and this Government will have saddled the country’s taxpayers with another enormous debt and a white elephant. Having just inherited the results of a spendthrift Government, surely we must have learned something.

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My constituency lies in metroland, as you well know, Mr Speaker, because it neighbours yours. After reading the history of the railways, one can see that many of the early proposals in the 1800s for constructing new railways suffered from an excess of enthusiasm that led to failure when the commercial realities became apparent. This proposal is no different.

While there is much to be welcomed in the programme announced today, I have to say, regretfully, that unless the preparation and hybrid Bills on HS2 are dropped, for the first time on a Queen’s Speech, I cannot support, with regard to these provisions a Conservative or, in this case, a Conservative-led Government.

The mover of the Loyal Address, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire, reminded us that even Brunel’s projects were late and over budget. However, he also said: “If it is important, and the Government are not listening, just keep trying.” You and I, Mr Speaker, our colleagues in Buckinghamshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and many other MPs will just keep trying, and I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friends will rethink this project before it is too late.

5.27 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a huge pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who spoke eloquently about a major issue in her constituency that also affects yours, Mr Speaker, so I shall be very careful about what I say knowing that Buckinghamshire is in the Chair and has such a powerful advocate. Her speech was not an express train but more a gentle meander through the Buckinghamshire countryside, yet it was made with determination and with huge pride in her local area. In January she wrote in The Guardian about living through a nightmare with these proposals, and I wish her well in her endeavours.

I am rather surprised, however, that Conservative MPs think that abstaining is regarded as a rebellion. That must put my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I in a very difficult position. I am thinking of the number of times in the past 26 years I have voted against my party—not that I am going to do so very often in future, I should quickly add.

Mrs Gillan: I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Keith Vaz: Having seen the right hon. Lady with her little dog, I know that I would not want to take them on in any respect, so I look forward to further deliberations on these matters.

I also join the right hon. Lady in commending the speeches of the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). I have known the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire since my time at university with him. Indeed, he was speaker of the debating chamber—president of the union—and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and I used to approach him regularly to request opportunities to make speeches. I can well remember the speeches made then by the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire, and they have certainly matured

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with age. He did very well today in again highlighting not only the importance of his past work as Chairman of a Select Committee, but the way in which, as a parliamentarian for the past 20 years, he has been able to use this Chamber to further the interests of his constituents.

I did not know that the hon. Member for Bristol West was, like me, an Abba fan. He said that his favourite song is “Dancing Queen”, but mine is “Take a Chance on Me”, which were also the words on my first election logo. We all hope that we will not meet our “Waterloo” at the next election. Anyway, enough Abba.

Chris Bryant: You can’t get enough Abba!

Keith Vaz: I can see that my hon. Friend and I will be on our way to Stockholm.

Chris Bryant: I was there yesterday.

Keith Vaz: We could have our picture taken with the band.

Let us move on to the serious issues of the Gracious Speech. It is right that, as well as commenting on the proposals that were in the speech, we should refer to those that were not. I join the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) in commending the work of our troops abroad, especially in Afghanistan. I was disappointed, however, that the Prime Minister did not make a definitive statement about the position of Afghan interpreters. Many of them have served with our troops loyally and with dedication, but as yet they do not know whether they will be given sanctuary in this country. They will face enormous difficulties if they remain in Afghanistan.

I was also disappointed not to hear more about the summit on Somalia that the Prime Minister chaired yesterday. Bearing in mind that Somalia and Yemen are both countries of interest for the United Kingdom, the support given to Somalia by the Prime Minister and others at yesterday’s summit was similar to that given to Yemen four years ago. Sadly, half the money pledged to the Yemeni Government has still not materialised, even though we all say that we support that country. I hope that when we debate other aspects of the Gracious Speech—perhaps in the foreign affairs debate—we will have a chance to explore those points.

I want to concentrate on three aspects, the first being the immigration proposals. I understand that there is no Bill as yet and that immigration policy will be consulted on for several months. It will be some time, therefore, before we know where the Government stand on a number of the issues they have raised.

I welcome decisions taken in the past few weeks, such as that to abolish the UK Border Agency, which the Home Secretary described as “closed, secretive and defensive”, and the new leadership she has put in place at the immigration and nationality directorate, starting with the permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, and the new head of immigration and visas, Sarah Rapson, whom I met a couple of weeks ago in Croydon. Now that the UKBA has been abolished and returned to the mother ship of the Home Office, there is a big opportunity at last to get an organisation that is fit for purpose, so that Members who write to it about immigration cases actually receive replies from Ministers or officials, and

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not the standard letter saying, “This case is part of a backlog,” which, of course, currently stands at 325,000—about the size of the population of Iceland.

It would be great if the administrative changes result in real change to immigration administration before the new Bill is introduced. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said, there is a tendency to legislate in the hope that it will solve the problem, but if we do not have the right people implementing the policies, that is never the correct thing to do.

I hope that the immigration legislation will deal with illegal migration. In particular, I hope that the allegations database will be put on a statutory footing. After all, the Prime Minister said on 10 October 2011:

“I want everyone in the country to help…by reporting suspected illegal immigrants”.

People took him at his word. The latest figures show that between July and September of last year, 28,243 people made allegations of illegal migration to this country. However, there have been only 561 arrests because of those 28,243 allegations and the Home Office does not have the figures on how many people have been removed. It is all very well asking people to report illegal migrants and having the political will to remove them, but if people are not told what is happening to those whom they have made allegations about, the system will not work. I therefore hope that the Bill will include something about the need to tackle illegal migration.

Let us move on to Romanian and Bulgarian migration. I am glad that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the former Minister for Immigration, is here because he gave a speech on 21 October 2008 in which he said that one of the greatest failures of the last Government was the failure to predict the consequences of enlargement in 2004. That is exactly the problem. The failure to predict is the real issue with Romanian and Bulgarian migration.

Frankly, since we have signed the treaties, it is not possible to do anything about the number of Romanian and Bulgarian people who will come here. What the Government can do is to ensure that we have sufficient research and analysis to know approximately what the number will be. That is possible to predict, even though Ministers have said before the Home Affairs Committee that they do not regard the estimates thus far as being accurate. Migration Watch has estimated that 70,000 people will come every year for the next few years. The Romanian and Bulgarian ambassadors have put the figure at between 10,000 and 25,000. Estimates will continue to be made unless there is proper research and analysis of what will happen. I urge the Government to take action and commission that research. If we know approximately what the numbers will be, the changes that need to be made to domestic policy can be made rather quicker.

Kate Hoey: My right hon. Friend is giving his usual professional view of this matter and I am glad that he takes such a huge interest in it. Does he agree that it does not matter what the numbers are? Whether it is 500 or 50,000 people who come, the crucial issue is whether they should automatically get access without making any contribution whatsoever to our country. Does he agree that that is what needs to be addressed?

Keith Vaz: I agree with my hon. Friend. That comment was made to me and the shadow Minister for Immigration when he came to my constituency recently by the settled

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British Asian community and others who feel that people should make a contribution. However, the figures show that of the 500,000 Poles who came to this country after 2004, only 7,000 claimed benefits. The other almost 500,000 made a huge contribution to our country. However, she is right that nobody should assume that on arrival they can automatically claim for benefits to which they have not contributed. If we stick to those principles and put aside the arms race that seems to be developing on immigration, we will do much better.

I think that the only way to settle this issue is to have a referendum on whether we should stay in or come out of the European Union. I have said that many times before, and I know I am in a minority on the Opposition Benches. I did not favour that when I was Minister for Europe, but it is important that the British people have the say over whether we should stay in or come out. I actually think that it should happen before the general election. I do not see why we should wait until after the negotiations have occurred. Frankly, I am not as optimistic as the Prime Minister that he will get many concessions from the 26 other countries of the European Union, and I think he will be bitterly disappointed. Why pretend to the British electorate? They understand the issues, and it is quite right that we should put our views to them now. That should be part of a wide public education campaign that would allow people to understand the issues involved and not just rely on a few tabloid newspapers.

I am glad that there is a policing Bill in the Queen’s Speech, because we have some unfinished business as far as policing is concerned. I support the Government’s ambitious programme for a new policing landscape, but the problem is that the jigsaw is not complete. Many bits are still missing, and we are running out of time.

Mr David Davis: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the focus of police reform should be not simply on efficiency and effectiveness but on integrity? There have been concerns about police integrity in a number of cases in recent years, and they need to be resolved in the interests of the police as well as the public.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and as a former shadow Home Secretary and someone who still speaks with great authority on home affairs, he will know that that is at the heart of how we can get an efficient and accountable police force. At the moment there are a number of investigations, from Yewtree to Alice and a whole lot of others—I think I last totalled them at 10—which are costing the taxpayer millions. One of the problems with such investigations is that they go on endlessly with no timetable. There needs to be an end for those who make complaints, otherwise the process is never-ending. It is not the job of the Home Affairs Committee to hold the police to account, although we will do our part, otherwise we would constantly be having evidence sessions on the matter and writing letters. As far as the Metropolitan police are concerned, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of London have a responsibility to act, as police and crime commissioners now act outside the capital.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that integrity is important, which is why it is right that the Government have included in the Gracious Speech more flesh on the bones of the College of Policing. We need to know who will be responsible for integrity and who will keep the

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register of interests for chief constables. We still do not know that, and there is no register of interests for police and crime commissioners, so the whole agenda, which might be seen as esoteric, is actually central to the nature of policing in this country.

There are other matters to consider. For instance, where will counter-terrorism responsibility sit? Will it be in the National Crime Agency, or will it be kept with the Met? The public demand that we examine such issues and complete the jigsaw.

I have three final points. First, I am very disappointed that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech about a minimum unit price for alcohol. The Home Secretary said on 23 March 2012:

“We will therefore introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol”.—[Official Report, 23 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 1071.]

That was quite a definitive statement. Alcohol-related crime now accounts for 50% of crime in this country, and billions are spent on dealing with it. The Government are clearly committed to introducing a minimum unit price—at least, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister were committed to it when they made their statements earlier this year. The whole consultation came after the event. The Government were consulting on the level of the unit price, not on whether there should be one, because the Home Secretary had made it clear that that was what she wanted.

Jim Shannon: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the press coverage today, which seems to indicate that the Prime Minister and the Government may have been influenced by their advisers to prevent the proposal from going ahead? If so, does he feel that it is an abysmal use of advisers?

Keith Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I noted his intervention on the Prime Minister and what the Prime Minister said. In the end, however, although it would be convenient to blame advisers, it is the Prime Minister and Ministers who make the decisions, so the buck must stop with them. I think we need a more detailed explanation of why we are not proceeding with that proposal. Similarly, many of my constituents have made representations against plain packaging for cigarettes, and there are small shopkeepers in my constituency who think such a measure is wrong. We need a proper argument and debate on the issue, and when we come to a conclusion we must legislate.

My worry is that while looking at the new landscape of policing we seem to have forgotten that of the criminal justice system. When I was Justice Minister we set up the community legal service, which seems to have disappeared. Many law centres are closing. Sadly, the one I used to work for in Leicester, now called the community legal advice centre, had to close due to cuts of £700,000. It was used by 10,000 people every year. Right hon. and hon. Members across the House expect constituents to come to their surgeries and complain about different aspects of policy, but I am sure that now even more people are arriving with benefit and housing problems because of cuts to those services. Michael Turner, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, anticipates that of 1,600 legal aid firms currently in existence, only 400 will remain once the cuts have gone

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through. There is nothing in the speech about that although there should have been because it is an issue of profound importance.

In conclusion, I am sorry that the Queen’s Speech contained nothing more about the health service. As the House knows, I have type 2 diabetes. Practically every day the newspapers carry information about the fact that diabetes is becoming an epidemic in this country, and I know that a number of Members of this House also suffer from it. We need legislation to deal with soft drinks companies that have not adhered to the principles of the responsibility deal. It is still the case that every can of Coke contains eight teaspoons of sugar, and we should be beginning—and pursuing—a war on salt. Unless we do that, diabetes will get much worse in this country. There is no legislation on that issue, but I take heart from the final words of the Queen’s Speech, which state that “other measures” will be placed before the House. That is the get-out clause for the Government, and I hope those other measures will include some of the issues discussed today that were not able to be included in the Gracious Speech.

5.48 pm

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He joined the House on the same day as me back in 1987, although he has been in the House continuously whereas I had an enforced sabbatical between 1997 and 2001. I do not always agree with everything he says, but who can doubt that he speaks with great wisdom and authority on matters of law and order, and indeed on the other issues for which he was responsible during his successful career as a Minister?

There is, however, one point on which I beg to differ from the right hon. Gentleman. He said that abstention is not rebellion—indeed, he was supported in that suggestion by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). As a former Chief Whip, albeit of somewhat short duration, I assure him that abstention is indeed rebellion, and that would certainly be the view of his Whip’s Office as well as of the Government Office.

It is 21 years since I had the pleasure and privilege of last speaking from the Government Back Benches in support of the Queen’s Speech—an occasion on which I had the privilege and great honour to second the motion. It was on that occasion that I unaccountably referred to myself as an oily young man on the make. More importantly, I referred to the noble Lord Kenneth Baker as a genial old codger on the way out. Clearly, I owe him a considerable apology because, in the 21 years since I made that disgraceful comment, he has continued to contribute enormously in the House of Lords and more widely, particularly on education matters. I today offer him a resounding apology for those remarks I made 21 years ago. I should also like to offer my congratulations to the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address today—they both gave extraordinarily well judged and good performances. As I know, it is a harrowing event.

The Gracious Speech has apparently been well received on both sides of the House. It is an extremely well judged contribution, coming as it does in the mid term of this Parliament. It drives forward a number of key reforms and addresses a number of the electorate’s key concerns. If my right hon. and hon. Friends read the Queen’s Speech in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s

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speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham last October, they will see the central driving themes of the Conservative-led coalition Government, and what it is essential for us to achieve between now and the next election if we are to secure a victory.

There were no local elections in my constituency of Sutton Coldfield this year, but I can assure hon. Members that, without question, the top of the list of my constituents’ concerns remains the state of the economy. They are concerned on two key counts. First, they believe that we should continue to tackle both the deficit and the debt that our country has incurred. Secondly, they are concerned that we should promote growth in our economy in every practical way possible. Every business knows that they succeed not only by cutting costs; they must also concentrate on the top line.

In my view, that is precisely what motivates the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He should not be deflected from that strategy. He is absolutely right and, fortunately, shows no signs of being deflected. If the IMF rides into town this week and gives different advice, I would urge him to ignore it. Many of us remember very well the errors of judgment made by the IMF in the 1980s. Any different judgment from the one the Government have made on the central themes of the economy would be extraordinarily misplaced.

Should the Chancellor need to be comforted, he will be by the story of the 364 economists who wrote to The Times during Lord Howe’s time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The economists urged Lord Howe to change course. He did not, and, as a result of the wise economic measures he took, the British economy was revived and reinvigorated. As the then Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, said, if the 364 economists had all been right, one would have been enough. The Chancellor should stick to his guns on the advice that he has taken and given. He should also note that a generation of politicians in large parts of the developing world who racked up enormous amounts of debt have been found out. Not everyone has woken up to that, but we must ensure that politicians do not make the mistake again of racking up such debt, which will be hung around the necks of future generations unless our generation can pay it off.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Is debt rising or falling?

MrMitchell: The Government are successfully tackling the deficit, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is an essential precursor to tackling the debt. I revert to my point that if this generation fails to tackle that, future generations must address it. The point is made clearly by Edmund Burke, who said that not being responsible to future generations is a grave error for politicians—that includes today’s politicians. Anyone who doubts that should read the excellent biography of Edmund Burke by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), which makes that point extremely well.

We must ensure that we focus on growth as well as on cutting the deficit. In my view, there is nothing more important than pursuing the EU-US free trade agreement. As has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, boosting free trade is enormously important. Successfully concluding an EU-US free trade agreement

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will have a huge effect not only on our trade, and on trade in Europe and elsewhere, but on the lives and living standards of some of the poorest people in the world. No one should be in any doubt that the crisis in the eurozone has a negative effect on Britain as well as on the eurozone countries. If I may use a cricketing metaphor, the Chancellor finds himself at the crease at an unprecedentedly difficult time for our economy. He is making the right judgment calls and deserves the full support of the House.

One other duty of our generation that directly affects my constituents is the duty to preserve the green belt. Once again, Sutton Coldfield languishes under a Labour council, which, once again, is unnecessarily supporting an ill-thought-through suggestion that we build 10,000 houses on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt. It is completely unnecessary—other solutions to the housing problems in our area must be pursued before the green belt is attacked in that way. I hope that I can pursue the matter further in the House in due course if the ludicrous proposal from the Labour council in Birmingham stands.

Having made those points on the economy and the responsibility of our generation to future generations, I should like to address foreign affairs, which have been raised in the debate and which were alluded to in the Gracious Speech. The context is the British hosting of the G8 in Northern Ireland. I hope that, in the course of the programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the crisis in the middle east will be addressed more trenchantly. I am speaking particularly of Syria. More than 1 million people are now refugees and countless more have been displaced. When I visited a camp last year on the Syrian-Jordanian border, I met women and children who had been shot at by the Syrian armed forces as they fled across the border to sanctuary in Jordan. The camp is hot and dusty in summer and freezing cold in winter. Despite the outstanding work of UNICEF and the Save the Children fund, which is supported by Britain, those people live in great discomfort and great peril, and wish only to return peacefully to their country.

In recent months, the Foreign Office has issued some 43 ringing press releases. I suggest that the inaction that inevitably imperils such complex and difficult situations must be addressed in three ways. First, we must address the humanitarian effects of that appalling crisis—Britain has shown great leadership in doing so. We must ensure that we continue to help those who, in ever greater numbers, are fleeing from the violence to which they are subjected in Syria.

Secondly, we must do everything we can wherever we can to document abuses of human rights. The advent of mobile telephony and other mechanisms enables us to catch and document those who commit human rights abuses, and to provide testimony and evidence against those who launch such awful, egregious attacks on innocent individuals. We must do everything we can to document such atrocities now so that, whatever length of time it takes, we can hold to account those who are committing them.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman was of course an outstanding Secretary of State for International Development, and his policies in Yemen ensured that we saved lives there. One of the concerns that we have with Yemen, Syria and other cases is that there can be a gap between what countries pledge at donor conferences

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and what they deliver. What can be done, in terms of the G8 presidency, to ensure that those who promise actually deliver on those promises?

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is relevant to those who try to fill the pot when a humanitarian crisis occurs and support from Governments and taxpayers is essential. The answer is that we do it best by publishing whether people have stood by their promises. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant, and we need to be transparent and open so that we can show people whether their Governments stand by the commitments they have made.

Thirdly, we need much greater leadership by the United States. Nothing will happen to address this issue without a far greater commitment from the US. There are signs that the new Secretary of State is addressing this point, but the US’s allies need to accept that progress will be made only if we are able to persuade the US to provide the leadership that only it can. That is not just about the US, but the United Nations. The fact that the permanent five do not agree on Syria is not a barrier to the UN continuing to strive in every way and stretching every sinew to try to make progress in this desperate situation, which will pollute a far wider area than just Syria if it continues to develop as it is.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): On my right hon. Friend’s point about evidence against potential war criminals, I have been involved in the chasing of war criminals and given evidence in five trials. One of the ways in which we can help is to educate journalists in how they can make their films and reports so that the evidence can be used later by the International Criminal Court. That is a positive move that the Government could make to help the future of justice.

Mr Mitchell: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. He has direct experience of this issue, and we need to tackle the culture of impunity that grows up in such situations. It is important to use every possible mechanism —he eloquently described one such mechanism—and I hope that he will ensure that Foreign Office Ministers can gather from his experience the extent of what can be done to tackle that culture.

Kate Hoey: Does he also agree, however, that it is worrying that journalists and photographers are being deliberately targeted because they can bring back the news and the photographs that will make a difference? Does he welcome the setting up of A Day without News, which is being supported by human rights organisations across the world, to support journalists and photographers in the valuable work that they do in exposing these terrible crimes?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Lady is right to flag up the importance of that work, supported as she says by many of the organisations that stand up for human rights in difficult situations around the world.

I have mentioned US leadership. On Israel and Palestine, which continues to pollute the well of international opinion and good will, such leadership is essential. No time is easier for an American president to exercise that

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leadership on Israel and Palestine than the start of a second term. I profoundly hope that with the support of its allies we will see the US exercising that influence to try to do something about the deeply unjust situation in the middle east. Like the Syrian situation, although much more longstanding, it continues to pollute good will and international opinion.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East mentioned Somalia, which was also mentioned indirectly in the Queen’s Speech as part of the Government’s approach to securing stability and addressing insecurity. Somalia is important for Britain—we have a huge, successful and diverse Somali population throughout the UK—but it is one of the most ungoverned spaces in the world. Until recently, there were more British passport holders training as terrorists in Somalia than in any other country. Britain was heavily engaged in trying to save lives through humanitarian relief in the dreadful famine that struck the Horn of Africa over a year ago, imperilling the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in particular. Britain gave great leadership on that occasion and was able to bring international resources to bear to tackle that situation.

It was following that crisis that the Prime Minister made the brave decision that last year we would have in London a conference that would bring together all the different Somalian parties, the regional powers and the leading nations in the UN to see whether we could do something about a country that has been in chaos for the last 20 years and where nine separate initiatives have failed to achieve anything to bring about change or improvement. It looks as though considerable progress is now being made in dealing with that intractable problem, and the conference yesterday confirmed that. I mention that because it is right to acknowledge that British efforts and support seem to be leading to fundamental change in that country. That is hugely important to Britain, as well as to those who live in Somalia, whose lives have been so blighted in recent years.

Finally, I want to give strong praise and support to the Government’s G8 initiative to combat violence against women. I know that this is a particular interest and concern of the Foreign Secretary. It is great news that he has said that it will be put at the heart of the G8 agenda. The lives of millions and millions of women and girls are destroyed by insecurity and instability. Putting high on the G8’s agenda the importance of tackling violence against women will lead to the chance to transform the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, who always suffer first and foremost from instability and deep poverty.

I wish the Government well on their programme for the G8 and every success with the Queen’s Speech, which is—as I say—well judged and has the capacity to make a huge difference to the lives of our fellow citizens and our constituents during a very difficult economic time for our country.

6.8 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a great delight to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), not least because it was Noah Ablett, a member of the Rhondda Labour party in the early 20th century, who founded the Plebs’ League. I note that the right hon. Gentleman referred to himself as an oik, although I am not sure of the difference. In any event, it was a great speech, and I commend him.

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I have heard some dire speeches in my time, and indeed I have made some dire speeches—[[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I knew I would be able to unite the Chamber eventually. But this Queen’s Speech is anaemic, vacuous, paltry and so utterly lacking in fibre that it takes not only the biscuit but the whole of the McVitie’s biscuit barrel—the custard creams, the garibaldis, the rich teas, the digestives and the bourbons are all gobbled up in this Bill. I have watched more exciting episodes of “Little House on the Prairie”. At one point, I thought that the BBC test card would be more interesting and more riveting than what we were being presented with.

Some of the most expensively educated brains in the country sweated over this. Civil servants scurried hither and thither, lawyers were briefed, special advisers scratched their heads and think-tanks were consulted. Of course, Lynton Crosby held forth. Buckingham palace flunkies looked at an early draft and frowned a little, so Lynton Crosby was consulted again. A goat was slain, its innards dragged out and its skin bleached, and the very best vellum prepared. The Deputy Prime Minister then threw a bit of a hissy fit and Lynton Crosby had to give him the hairdryer treatment.

After all those hours of rowing, so many hours in preparation and so many thousands of pounds, this is all they could come up with—so much sententious guff. Just listen to the stuff that the Government made Her poor old Majesty say:

“It will…work to promote a fairer society that rewards people who work hard.”

Sententious guff! What about those who want to work hard, but do not get an opportunity because of the Government’s economic policies? Let us take another bit:

“My Government is committed to building an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded.”

What about those who are improperly rewarded in the City of London for taking ludicrous risks with everybody else’s economic opportunities?

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

Why do we not just have a piece of legislation that introduces motherhood and apple pie for everybody, or have they decided that motherhood and apple pie do not match what Lynton Crosby wants to see in a Queen’s Speech?

It is the tenor of the pre-briefing of the speech that upsets me. It is an attempt at dog-whistle politics, with its hints, suggestions and little insinuations. Show a bit of leg, Lynton Crosby told them, and so they did—just a tiny little bit of ankle. The trouble with dog-whistle politics is that its cynicism eventually repels those it tries to attract. It is like the boy who cried wolf once too often: eventually the dogs realise that it is just a dog-whistle that does not mean anything, and there is no reward or substance at the end. In fact, it is a wolf-whistle, a sort of smutty insinuation that masquerades as a compliment. It is not even a proposition. It is not a declaration of love, but a leery suggestion of better things to come. The classic example is the centrepiece on immigration that the Government have been proclaiming for the past three days, which is already falling apart as we speak—apparently, it is now only a consultation.

Even more important is that this is a Queen’s Speech of stunning vacuity. I remember Queen’s Speeches designed for parliamentary Sessions lasting half a year, because

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there had to be a general election within six months. They contained more of interest than this speech. Where are the measures to tackle the geographical inequity of Britain that leaves London and the south-east of England as the sweated powerhouse of the whole of the rest of the economy, with people commuting ever further because houses are becoming ever more unaffordable?

Where are the measures to tackle teenage pregnancy rates, which are still the highest in Europe by a considerable way, by making sex and relationship education statutory and ensuring that every teacher who leads sex and relationship education wants to teach it and is specially qualified to do so? Where are the measures to reconfigure the economy, so that the areas of high unemployment and high economic inactivity do not drag on the rest of the country? Where is the Bill to introduce a register of commercial landlords, so that people cannot be exploited and put in accommodation that we would not expect people in Somalia to live in? Where is the legislation for a register of lobbyists? The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said just now that transparency is the best form of antiseptic. Where is it? The Prime Minister said that the next great scandal to hit British politics would be lobbying. Why do we not have legislation to deal with it in the Queen’s Speech?

Where is legislation to improve the health of the nation by tackling smoking and the excessive consumption of alcohol? I thank God that Lynton Crosby was not providing advice to the Prime Minister when we were talking about a smoking ban in public places, because that would never have become law.

When will there be legislation to ensure that there is finance not just for businesses in London and the south-east, but a regional system of banking across the whole country so that we can re-quantify the whole of the country? Where is the legislation to tackle child poverty? I know that legislation is being introduced that will make child poverty worse, but where is the legislation to tackle it? Where is the legislation to tackle the concentration of the media that means we do not have free press, but owners’ press? Why, for the first time in several years, is there no mention at all of human rights in the international relations section of the speech?

Why is there no measure to suggest that this House, rather than the Government, should determine the business of this House? That would ensure that we sit regularly and do a proper job of holding the Government to account, rather than being adjourned week in, week out, having constant recesses and always stopping on a Tuesday so that the Prime Minister does not have to do Prime Minister’s questions. Where is a measure for how we deal with private Members’ Bills? The present system we have, to use the words of Disraeli—he was talking about a Conservative Government, but they apply here—is an organised hypocrisy. It surely is.

I am glad that the provisions to opt out of the justice and home affairs measures in the European Union are not in the Queen’s Speech. As the Lords Committee on the European Union said only a couple of weeks ago, such provisions would damage the security of this country. I hope and pray that they will not be in the Government’s list of additional measures, and that they will not opt out of the European arrest warrant, Eurojust and Europol, as they help to protect the safety of the people of this country.

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Some of the measures in the Queen’s Speech are just downright potty—absolutely bonkers. Why on earth are the Government allowing people to stand on both the constituency and regional list for the Welsh Assembly? It brings democracy into disrepute when somebody can stand and lose, and yet win.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) rose

Chris Bryant: I think my hon. Friend, to whom I will give way in a moment, is about to mention Clwyd West in 2003, when the Labour candidate, Alun Pugh, won. The other candidates were: Brynle Williams, Conservative; Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru; and Eleanor Burnham, Liberal Democrat. They all lost in the constituency section, but all became Assembly Members because they stood on the list system.

Mark Tami: My hon. Friend is entirely right. What sort of message does it give to the voters of Clwyd West when all the candidates were elected? What is the point of voting in such a ludicrous situation?

Chris Bryant: It is absolutely preposterous, and I hope that we manage to defeat the Government on this. My hon. Friend is slightly wrong in that there was one other candidate: the UK Independence party candidate. Bizarrely, he was the only one of the five candidates who did not manage to get a seat—absolutely shocking.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) rose—

Chris Bryant: Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I hope he will commit to not voting for such preposterous legislation.

Neil Parish: I stood as a candidate in European elections that used the list system, and I dislike the whole process. The hon. Gentleman is complaining about the Welsh system, but was that surely not brought in under the previous Labour Government, or is my memory not right?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is completely and utterly wrong, and I look forward to the letter of apology that he will doubtless send to me later this afternoon. We introduced good legislation, and then even improved it. It is the current Government who are trying to dismantle it.

To be honest, this Queen’s Speech is not fit for a monarch. It is not fit for a princeling or a hireling; it is fit only for a changeling Government—a Government who are pretending to do politics and are not really interested in what voters in my constituency are interested in. We have an empty speech, a vacuum surrounding a lacuna enveloping a void consisting of nothing but dark matter—that is all this Queen’s Speech is. Why? Because we have a coalition. I am not intrinsically opposed to coalitions. If the voters do not deliver a clear outcome, we sometimes have to have a coalition Government. The truth of the matter, however, is that this coalition has run its course, and Ministers know that it has run its course. They know that the Government are running into the buffers. It is not that one party or the other has run out of ideas; I am sure that they are both crammed

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full of ideas. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, looks as if he is absolutely packed full of ideas—ideas about Northern Ireland, maybe, but none the less he is clearly packed full of them.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning) rose—

Chris Bryant: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he is the Minister. I am sure that he is packed full of ideas, but the point is that they are not in the Queen’s Speech.

The truth is that what will happen in the coming year is what has happened throughout the last year. The House will not be sitting regularly. We shall have long recesses and long adjournments. The Government will make sure that there is not much legislation on the books, so that they can course their way through.

One Bill that I really wish had been included in the Queen’s Speech is a new fixed-term Parliaments Bill setting a term of four rather than five years. I think that the Government will rue the day on which they introduced a five-year fixed-term Parliament. People in this country will start to say “We are absolutely sick and tired of legislation that does not make sense, and of the Government’s not addressing the issues that we really care about.” There is a verse in the Book of Revelation that I think sums up the Queen’s Speech perfectly: “Would that you were hot or cold, but you are tepid, lukewarm, and I spit you out of my mouth.”

6.21 pm

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Until the last line, I was rather enjoying that speech. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). As always, he entertained me.

We last debated a Queen’s Speech rather more than a year ago. On that occasion, the House gained some amusement from my ability to summarise the matters in it with which I agreed in less than 60 seconds, but today I shall take a different approach.

The element of the speech of which I approved most was the one that was not in it. I refer to the fact that the Government have dumped the idea of a snoopers’ charter. We were told that the proposal had been vetoed by the Deputy Prime Minister, which amused me, as there were more Conservatives against it than there are Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, we must give credit where it is due.

I am pleased that the proposed legislation has been dumped, because it was offensive and intrusive and would have shamed, I should have thought, either a Liberal or a Conservative Government, let alone a Government consisting of both parties. I am also pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister is on our side on the matter. I only wish that he had been equally robust last year in respect of the secret courts Bill. I hope that the Government do not try to bring back the snoopers’ charter in one of the “other measures” to which the speech refers.

The purpose of a Queen’s Speech is to set out the Government’s strategy for the country, and to specify how the Government will deal with the great threats and maximise the benefits that the country can obtain in the coming year. It normally consists of three parts,

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dealing with foreign policy, economic policy and domestic, or home, policy. I shall comment briefly on each of those in order to give the House an idea of where I think the Government are going and, perhaps, an idea of where I think they ought to go.

In the context of current politics, the most obvious element of foreign policy—apart from the issue of Syria, which was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell)—is the matter of the European Union. Lord Lawson of Blaby’s comments in the last couple of days have added a whole new tenor to the Prime Minister’s proposed strategy relating to what we do in the EU. As everyone knows, what Lord Lawson said, in a nutshell, was that he would vote to withdraw. However, the keystone of his argument, with which I do not agree, was his statement that the negotiations that the Prime Minister could undertake would be inconsequential, and that we would achieve very little in terms of reform of our relationship with the European Union.

I do not think that that is necessarily so, although of course it has been true historically. Very few nations have been able to win their own way, as it were, in the European Union, and very few British Governments have been able to do so. If we look back on our history since we joined the EU, we may conclude that Margaret Thatcher’s recovery of the rebate constituted one dramatic victory for a nation state over the European elite, and that, interestingly, John Major’s exclusion of us from the euro constituted another. Those were both massive issues in their day and in their effect, but they were the exceptions, and, what is more, since those days the balance of power between the European Union and its member states has moved towards the EU rather than the nations.

In principle, therefore, one would assume that Lord Lawson was right, and that it would be impossible to achieve anything of any serious consequence. However, there are some exceptions. It is a pity that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—is no longer in the Chamber, because he would appreciate some of the points that I am making. The exceptions, essentially, are Denmark, Ireland and, together, Holland and France, all of which have changed the course of a negotiation materially: Denmark in respect of domestic issues, Ireland in respect of domestic and constitutional issues such as abortion rights as well as financial issues, and Holland and France by, famously, stopping the constitutional treaty in its tracks.

The common denominator in the effectiveness of those countries was their holding of prior referendums. They all held referendums before the negotiation was over, which produced a formidable increase in their Governments’ negotiating power. The European Union officials—with some reason, given their ideology—take the view that Governments are temporary, whereas Europe, or the European project, is permanent, but they cannot say that in response to the statement of a people, because peoples are permanent; and they are afraid of referendums.

What is problematic about the Government’s present strategy is that they are using referendums in the same way as Harold Wilson—as a solution to a domestic problem, rather than as a mechanism to solve the European problem. That is why some of us argue in favour of the holding of a mandate referendum—a referendum on

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the negotiating tactics that we are taking to the European Union—before we do so. That, we believe, would enable us to get probably 70% of the country to support the new model of relationship that we want, and the Prime Minister would then have a chance of achieving some sort of victory.

What will happen otherwise, if Lawson is right, is that there will indeed be an inconsequential outcome, and the Prime Minister will find himself in the position of arguing in favour of staying in the European Union, because Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries never admit to error or failure in negotiations. I will give way to any Member who can tell me of an occasion when any of them has done so. The Prime Minister will have to come back and say, “This”—this limp rag of an outcome—“is a terrific success, and I want you to stay in the Union.” Of course, he will be defeated, and the consequences for Britain in terms of subsequent negotiations will not be clever.

I ask the House to think very carefully about that. It seems to me that if we are to go down this route, a referendum is an inevitability, but if we are to go down this route, we ought to give the British people the right to choose between two good outcomes, rather than one good outcome and one bad outcome. The way in which to do that is to hold two referendums, one—soon—on the negotiating strategy that we are seeking to present, and the other, a decision referendum, at the end of the day.

The second strand with which I wish to deal is the economic strategy. I have some sympathy with those who argue that the Government’s current strategy is necessary but not sufficient. Of course we must gain control of the deficit and the debt levels—that is a given—but, beyond that, we must ensure that we have a growth strategy. I do not believe that the answer is to adopt the Keynesian approach that Labour Front Benchers want to pursue, but we nevertheless need a growth strategy. A good many Government Members would argue that to get that we need less regulation and lower taxes, what could be described as a supply-side growth strategy.

In that context, an aspect of the Queen’s Speech of which I disapprove is the Government’s approach to energy costs. Their current approach is leading to an increase in the cost of living for ordinary families, and to the loss of jobs as industries move from here not just to China, Brazil and India but to Germany and France, because the current carbon pricing arrangements mean that we are disadvantaged in relation to our European competitors. Whatever view we hold on green policy, it cannot be an advantage to export jobs and export the emissions that go with them. I am concerned about that.

I want to focus on one element of the economic arm of the Queen’s Speech: the welfare reforms. Broadly speaking, the welfare reforms are the unsung success of this Government. This is the most difficult part of their policy to carry through. It is the most contentious and the hardest part to get right, but it is the step that is leading to employment increasing rather than reducing. It is getting more people to go out and look for a job now than have historically. It is not easy. All of us have in our constituencies people who have got on the wrong side of the assessment process, but it is a necessary process.

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Mark Tami: What about those people who come to see us in our surgeries who have been told they are fit to work, but who, in the real world and the very difficult economic climate in which we find ourselves, are not going to get work? Just saying they are fit for work, under whatever system, does not mean they are going to go out and get a job. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that an acknowledgement of that is what is lacking?

Mr Davis: There is an element of that, and that is what I was alluding to just now. There is no doubt that the system makes some mistakes, but I have the advantage of having been an MP for a long time, and I can remember when we changed the disability rules the other way, and we had a 400% increase in people claiming disability benefits of one sort or another. It was the right direction to go in, but it went vastly too far. The problem is that we now have a situation in which people are basically taken completely off the job market. To be frank, it suited past Governments of both political persuasions to have those people out of the job market, because the figures looked better, but that does not mean we do not now have to put this right.

My argument here—it is the argument I will make throughout what I have to say in the next five or so minutes—is that the difficult decisions we face now have to be faced up to, but we must always, time and again, come back and apply a fairness test. The hon. Gentleman would probably agree with me about that, although maybe not about where that test would fall.

I particularly approve of the proposed changes to pensions. Last week I was worried that the Government effectively were proposing to ignore the benefit that arises from stay-at-home mothers, but, in fact, the reverse is true. The Queen’s Speech states that the Government will

“create a simpler state pension system that encourages saving and provides more help to those who have spent years caring for children.”

If there is one thing in the Government’s economic strategy that I disapprove of it is the presumption that the only useful mother is one that goes out to work. Raising children—particularly raising three or four children—is a difficult task in its own right and a very important social task, and I am surprised that a Conservative Government, of all Governments, do not recognise that more and do more about it. This at least appears to be a move in the right direction, and if it lives up to the advertising in the Queen’s Speech, I will support it enthusiastically.

Indeed, I would go further and say that the Conservative party had a manifesto commitment to have transferable tax allowances for married couples as well, and I see no reason why we should not hold to our manifesto commitment. I understand that is budgeted for in the Treasury anyway, so why do we not do it?

The one element of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech that I sort of half-agreed with was that we have not been fast or robust enough in our approach to banking reform. There has been a lot of talk recently about populist measures—about “Thatcherite giveaways” of the nationally held shares in the banks. That is neither here nor there to me. What matters is the structure of the banks. We should be breaking up our banks. At the level at which economies of scale run out in commercial

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banking, we could have 30 high street banks in the UK. Some 30 or 40 years ago, that is exactly what we did have, and I have to say levels of service in banking have gone down since then, not up.

We have ignored competition law. We have ignored the virtues of competition and the impact on stability of having banks that are too big. We need measures on that. They are not in today’s Queen’s Speech because the Banking Commission is yet to report. As soon as it does report, we must have urgent action. This is not something we can put off for five years. We should do it now.

Neil Parish: I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying about our banking system. I am finding that many businesses in my constituency are still being denied credit, and especially credit at affordable rates. Is he finding the same thing happening in his constituency? If we had greater competition between more banks, we could get the rates for lending to businesses down.

Mr Davis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A large part of the reason for that is the state of the UK banks’ balance sheets. They are getting money effectively for free, but they have got such bad, or untrustworthy, loans on their balance sheets that they dare not lend money, and the Government are putting constraints on them to limit their lending, too. The outcome is that our small businesses in particular are having a terrible time. Patches are being put over this problem, such as the Chancellor’s mortgage support scheme in the Budget, but we need to sort out the problem at source.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that banking reform is necessary not just because of its economic benefits or the element of fairness, but because this is the ideal time to do it in terms of popular legitimacy? Breaking up the banks could not be done at a better time.

Mr Davis: My hon. Friend is entirely right. He is a better historian than I am, and he could probably refer back to the United States of America in about 1900 or just before, when politicians used the same popular view of big business to create a model of capitalism in the United States that for the next century beat the world. We could do the same, and we should do the same, but I am afraid that at the moment I see no enthusiasm for that. I will certainly pursue that in the next year, however.

Finally, on home affairs, immigration has come to the fore, particularly because of the UK Independence party’s activities in the past few weeks. I dealt with the issue for a long time when I was shadow Home Secretary. The difficulty is to come up with a set of measures that is both firm and will deal with the issue without being uncivilised—without being barbarous, or perceived as barbarous, in approach. That applies to both the immigration problems the Government are attempting to solve in the Queen’s Speech: the ability to deport immigrants who come here and become criminals or terrorists—such as Abu Qatada—and mass migration.

On the issue of criminals, I am the last person to give way to anybody on human rights in this House of Commons. I suspect most people would accept that, yet I take the view that the misuse of human rights legislation by the likes of Abu Qatada brings the whole question of rights under the law into disrepute.

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It is important to resolve this issue in a way that is both fair and effective. The European Court of Human Rights and the British courts are acting against their own long-term interests by being pig-headed in their approach. Qatada serves as a good example. If Qatada faced torture or death abroad, I would lie down in the street in front of the black Maria taking him away, but the truth is that we are talking here about making judgments about other countries’ justice systems, and we simply cannot do that. If we do that, we will start to challenge the whole question of whether we should send someone back to America. Let us consider the treatment of Christopher Tappin. He was extradited under the extradition rules. That was not justice; it was a parody of justice. Then there is the treatment of some of the people who have been dealt with in Greece, let alone Romania and Bulgaria, which, frankly, do not have working justice systems.

We therefore have to think very hard about where we will draw the line, and I draw the line on the treatment of the individual we are sending, not on the justice system of the country we are sending them to. I do so within reason, of course; if there were a dictatorial fiat, that would be another matter, but we are not talking about that here, because this argument is about what sort of evidence might be used.

We have had lots of talk from the Government, including the Home Secretary, and lots of posturing, but the issue could have been dealt with already. I say that because about two months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) tabled an amendment to primary legislation to say, “We will take into account articles 2 and 3, but not article 8 and the others, when making these decisions.” Why would this work? It would work because the Human Rights Act, of which I am no great fan, can be trumped, not by regulation or ministerial decision but by primary legislation passed by this House. We could have fixed this problem, but the Government talked the measure out—it was the day of the Leveson debate—and did not attempt to create time for it. They should have passed it. I do not know what we will get now, but it will be different. Importantly, the legislation must great clarity, because the courts will interpret any vagueness to the advantage of the person who might be deported. That is inevitable; it is what has happened over the past few years. We can fix this problem, but we need to face up to the need for clarity and for a decision on what we are really saying about the European convention on human rights.

The other element of the immigration debate is mass migration. I agree with the Government that we must limit the ability of people who have made no contribution, perhaps having come here temporarily, to claim welfare benefits and social housing in the UK. I am not at all sure, however, that I agree with the Government’s idea of withholding health care from people coming to this country, and I return to my point about acting firmly without being uncivilised—without being barbarous. I find it difficult to imagine doctors in an accident and emergency department in a London hospital finding someone with a foreign accent on a trolley in front of them and asking, “Where are you from? If you are Hungarian, you can be treated; if you are Bulgarian, you can’t.” I do not see how that is going to work. Most of us get reciprocal health care if we go to European countries on holiday, to retire or to live, so I do not see

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how we are going to amend our provision. I am not sure, in my heart of hearts, that I want to say to someone who has been run over in the street, “You can’t have health care, because you’re a foreigner.”

Kate Hoey rose

Chris Bryant rose

Mr Davis: I will give way to the hon. Lady first.

Kate Hoey: I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says about people falling over in the street, but people come from Heathrow airport to the A and E department at my local hospital, St Thomas’s, with something that they knew perfectly well they had before they came. It is not as simple as saying, “We must look after the sick”; clearly there are limits. This is a form of health service tourism.

Mr Davis: I shall come back to the hon. Lady’s point, after giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Bryant: I always presumed that life-threatening conditions were not to be included in this—otherwise, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, we would be entering into a barbarous situation. The other issue is notifiable diseases, because it is in all of our interests for people in this country—of whatever nationality— who have tuberculosis or another notifiable disease to be treated. I hope he agrees on that; we do not want to cut off our nose to spite our face.

Mr Davis: Let me deal with those very good points in order. First, health tourism is not new; people may now be coming from Romania, but we have had people coming from the middle eastern states for a long time. I used to live near King’s College hospital, which has a great liver treatment centre, and a significant proportion of its patients at one time were from Arab countries. [Interruption.] They were not paying, that is the point. Of course we have to do something about health tourism, but we also have to be wary of unintended consequences. I mentioned A and E because in London, as the hon. Lady knows, and in some other parts of the country it is acting as a secondary GP service. In a huge, three-hour queue of people coming to A and E to get secondary GP services, I do not know how we distinguish between those born in Britain and those born in Hungary or Romania. There is a great risk of getting this wrong, and the medical profession would not go along with it and be the arbiters. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, communicable diseases are a problem, irrespective of whether someone is a British citizen or born abroad. They have to be treated differently and separately, but that is not a question of payment or of health tourism; it is a question of getting it right.

This morning, the Health Secretary talked on the radio about the pull factor, characterising medical care as such. That is the case for a health tourist, and we can do something about it, but we could not do something about the half a million Polish immigrants that there were at one point. The pull factor for most of the Romanians and Bulgarians will not be health care, welfare or housing; it will be simple economics, because the average income in Romania and Bulgaria is approximately one third of our minimum wage. Most

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Romanians and Bulgarian could treble their standard of living simply by coming to the UK and doing almost any job.

We have to face up to that fact, which also faces Germany and all the European countries closer by. One would have thought that if we really did have a working European Union, we would by now have been able to say to each other, “When we devised the rules about the freedom of movement of people, they were not devised for an organisation of states that had a tenfold difference in average incomes.” Let me say that I am a free marketeer, so I think those things are terrific and I am a believer in the free movement of people, but we have to think of a better way of dealing with this matter, because these people will not be the last ones who come along—and they are coming in January next year.

Chris Bryant: I just want to correct the right hon. Gentleman on one other thing about the reciprocal rights between different countries. About 1 million British people live in Spain and another million live in France, but if they have not reached the retirement age, they are not entitled to the full use of the Spanish or French national health services and many of them end up getting trapped. So the law of unintended consequences might also apply to a lot of British people who are no longer living here.

Mr Davis: The hon. Gentleman is almost exactly right, but there are sets of different regimes, with some applying to retired people, some to working people and some to people who are neither working nor retired—I checked these things this morning, just to be sure. There are three different regimes and they alter by country, too—surprisingly so, in the European Union. The whole European economic area, including Switzerland and Norway, has a regime under which people in almost every category get some form of health care.

Chris Bryant: For two months.

Mr Davis: For two months. Health tourists coming to this country to get a single operation or a single course may be wanting only the two months, so this is another area where we have carefully to think through the obverse effect of these actions. I know the pressures on politicians are high following the UKIP flurry in the past week or two, but we have to think carefully.

Jim Shannon rose

Mr Davis: I am trying to sum up, but I will give way.

Jim Shannon: I understand that the statistics show that those coming from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and other eastern European countries bypass Italy and Germany to come to Great Britain because of the better NHS treatment and the better benefits system, so does the right hon. Gentleman feel that that has to be addressed?

Mr Davis: I am afraid that that is not true. I do not want to end up giving a lecture on this, but let me say that the previous Government made a simple mistake in allowing access before the transitional periods were up

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for those from the entire A8 group of accession countries—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and so on. Therefore a large number of people who could not get into Germany and France at that time came to this country, because they were allowed legitimately to do so; ours was the only big country to do that. As a result, we end up with a Polish community—with Polish shops, Polish newspapers and so on—and so where do Poles go when everything is opened up? They come to where there is an indigenous Polish community, and that is perfectly reasonable. All of this is rational behaviour on the part of people who want to work, make a living and get on in life, and I cannot disapprove of them doing that. So one mistake was made then and that is what it led to. We are not going to be in the same position in respect of Romania and Bulgaria, so it is difficult to predict the numbers. I was the shadow Home Secretary who challenged the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) when, as Home Secretary, he said that 13,000 eastern Europeans would be the total number coming to this country. He eventually got so nervous about this that he started saying, “I am the Home Secretary, but the Home Office is saying this.” He realised that his numbers were wrong and the real number turned out to be millions.

Mark Tami: By their very nature, these people, be they from Poland or wherever, tend to be young and healthy, and the health service is probably one of the last things they think about—it is the job they are looking for.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. There are 11 speakers to come, and there are no time limits, but to ensure that everybody gets in, may I ask Members to exercise some self-restraint?

Mr Davis: That was the last intervention I was going to take, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The simple truth is that we must be wary of doing something we do not intend to do, under political pressure. More generally, in our approach to difficult economic decisions in the next year or two, I hope that this Government, of all Governments, will work hard to balance the fairness against the difficult decisions. We are going to make hard decisions, which will lead to huge opprobrium from Labour Members for all sorts of reasons. That does not bother me, but what does bother me is that we get the balance of fairness right.

6.50 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) who, as ever, made a thoughtful and considered contribution. Speaking of thoughtful and considered contributions, let me pay tribute to the proposer and to the seconder of the motion.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) mentioned engineering, and I agree with his point that Britain should regain its ambition to be a truly great engineering nation. I commend his efforts to bring more women into engineering and into the study of STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. It is shameful that, in relation to encouraging women into engineering, this country is bottom of the league, so his efforts should have cross-party support.

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It is disappointing that the word “engineering” was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, but I hope that a long-term view will be taken on the importance of engineering to the competitive position of this country.

The hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) made a thoughtful, considered and moving contribution. I was shocked and disgusted to hear that he prefers Duran Duran to the Smiths. While he was speaking I thought about the fact that Duran Duran’s first hit was “Planet Earth”, and it would be nice if Ministers sometimes came back to planet Earth and saw the effects of their policies in the real world and in constituencies such as mine.

Her Majesty stated that her Government would bring forward legislation

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

The details of the proposed piece of legislation will need to be examined closely, but I warmly welcome the inclusion of the issue in the Queen’s Speech. My constituency of Hartlepool is the 16th worst affected constituency in the country for asbestos-related diseases. Incidence of mesothelioma, a legacy of our heavy industry past—especially in shipbuilding—is particularly high. Victims and their families have been denied compensation and suitable justice for far too long, often because the industry in the area has closed down, or successive firms either no longer exist or are impossible to trace. I have had tragic cases in my constituency of families not having the money to bury their husbands or fathers, because the insurance industry refused to pay out. During the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Government did themselves no credit by requiring victims of asbestos-related diseases to surrender a quarter of the damages awarded for their pain, suffering and life-shortening illnesses to pay for legal costs. I hope that the announcement made today will help to make amends.

Mark Tami: Many of the people to whom my hon. Friend refers worked for sub-contractors, who have gone bust over the years. The process has been a very cruel one, and all previous Governments have something to stand up and defend, because we have let these people down. Let us hope that the legislation is of a proper nature and that we can end the misery.

Mr Wright: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The devil will be in the detail, but I hope that we can make amends. It is only 10 days or so since we commemorated workers memorial day, when we resolved to remember the dead and fight for the living. The proposed legislation is an important part of that, and I hope that compensation, fairness and justice will be provided.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend that the issue is of great importance, and it is good to see the Government bringing forward such legislation. Not long ago, I received a letter from AXA trumpeting the work that it and the Association of British Insurers have done. Will my hon. Friend join me in impressing on the Government that the approach of the ABI will be incredibly important, and that the Government must not listen just to the insurers when dealing with this very important issue?

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Mr Wright: I agree with my hon. Friend that, over the past few years, the stance of the insurance industry in general has not helped sufferers of asbestos-related diseases. We have to be sure that the proposed legislation, welcome though it is, provides justice and fairness for asbestos sufferers.

The areas of legislation and priorities that the Government did not include in the Queen’s Speech were deeply revealing. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, who is, I think, about to leave the Chamber, mentioned the purpose of a Queen’s Speech, which is to provide not only the legislative programme for the next Session but a strategic direction, outlining the priorities of the Government. As I said, there was no mention of engineering, there was no mention of manufacturing and there was not a word about an industrial strategy. There was no mention of the world-beating sectors that this country has and needs to enhance, such as aerospace, automotives, pharmaceuticals or the creative industries.

Tellingly, there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of the national health service. Listening to it, I was reminded of the comments made by the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, in his contribution to the debate on the Address on 18 November 2009. He said:

“What about the three letters that should be in any Queen's Speech: NHS? Not a mention. It is clear that the national health service is not this Government's priority.”—[Official Report, 18 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 15.]

If he was saying that in 2009, why is he not saying it in 2013? In his 2009 remarks, I think he was pre-empting his own lamentable record on the NHS. There was an opportunity in this Queen’s Speech for the Government to right the wrongs of the appalling Health and Social Care Act 2012 and announce its repeal, but they have failed to do that.

Her Majesty also stated in the Gracious Speech that her

“Government's first priority is to strengthen Britain’s economic competitiveness.”

I would welcome measures that would do that, but on the basis of the Government’s record and of the announcements made today, I remain unconvinced. If we are to address Britain’s competitiveness with the rest of the world, the Government will have to tackle the country’s growing lack of productivity relative to our economic rivals, but there was not a single mention in the Queen’s Speech of our declining productivity. In the decade from 1997 to 2007, this country was second only to the US in the list of rich nations in terms of the growth of GDP per hour. Now, we are second bottom, behind only Japan. UK productivity is now 16 percentage points lower than the G7 average—the widest productivity gap between ourselves and other leading nations for 20 years.

Output and economic growth have flatlined for the past two and a half years, while manufacturing output, for all the talk of a Government reportedly determined to rebalance the economy, has declined by a tenth from its 2008 peak and has today fallen by 1.4% from 12 months ago. Productivity across the UK economy has fallen by 2.3% in the past year, and measures of output per hour in manufacturing fell by 5.2% between quarter four in 2011 and quarter four in 2012, the largest fall since records began. We will not address our competitiveness as a nation, and be able to compete with developed, fast-growing and ambitious rising nations in the globalised

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economy, if we do not address our productivity problem, yet the Queen’s Speech does not even see fit to mention it.

The single biggest social and economic issue facing Hartlepool is unemployment. The notion that some growth in private sector employment is cutting the jobless queue is ludicrous, bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground in my constituency and is deeply insulting for those proud men and women in Hartlepool who are struggling to find a job. Hartlepool wants to work, but Government policies are making it harder, not easier, for decent aspirational people to find a job.

The Gracious Speech talks of

“helping people move from welfare to work.”

The Government are cutting welfare but they are also cutting work. They are moving people in Hartlepool from welfare to poverty and destitution, and moving the prospect of work ever further away from my constituents.

Let me illustrate that with some statistics. The number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Hartlepool has increased by 25% since this Government came to power, and it now stands at about 4,700. For long-term unemployment, the situation is even bleaker. The number of people in Hartlepool who have claimed JSA for more than a year is up by 155% since the Government came to office. The number who have claimed JSA for more than two years has increased in the same period by a staggering 560%. One in four young men in my constituency is without a job or a training place, and the House will appreciate that the longer a person is out of work the more difficult it is for them to find any sort of work, let alone well-paid, meaningful employment.

Skills, experience, talent and potential are being lost in Hartlepool and elsewhere, possibly forever, as a result of this Government’s misguided and short-term views on skills and employment. It is economic ignorance at best, and indifference to the economic plight of people in constituencies such as mine at worst, to suggest that the Government agenda is helping communities such as the one in Hartlepool. The worst-hit region anywhere in the country for reductions in public expenditure per head is mine—the north-east—with an average loss of £566 per capita. Hartlepool has lost an average of £724 a head, making it the most badly affected town in a region that in turn is the most badly affected anywhere in the country.

In that context, it is just common sense that enterprise and the private sector will be hit hard. As Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses told the Financial Times in March:

“Taking more money out of already struggling local economies may well exacerbate the problem”.

I agree. That money is spent in local businesses. Take it away and the private sector in Hartlepool suffers enormously. It suffers disproportionately, with negative consequences for private sector employment and competitiveness, but the measures in the Queen’s Speech seem only to promise more of the same. That means that areas such as Hartlepool and other parts of the north-east will see still-higher unemployment, further contraction in economic activity and falling living standards and opportunities for my constituents.

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If the Government were serious about aspiration and tackling welfare dependency, they would have included in the Queen’s Speech a jobs and training Bill, committing the Administration to helping people into work and providing a boost to families’ living standards and quality of life by providing meaningful and decently paid employment, as well as improving the competitiveness and size of our economy by increasing demand in all areas of the country, not just within the M25. If they were serious, they would also have announced a house building and modernisation of housing stock Bill, designed to provide the homes that we need in the 21st century. Yes, more homes would be built, but cold, leaky and inefficient existing homes could also be refurbished, which would provide a much-needed short-term boost and a long-term boost to the construction sector and employment for tens of thousands of people.

That brings me on to infrastructure. The Gracious Speech stated that the Government

“will continue to invest in infrastructure to deliver jobs and growth for the economy.”

However, businesses do not believe that the Government are making a difference. In a report by the CBI and KPMG last September, just 35% of businesses surveyed believed that coalition policies will have a positive impact on infrastructure investment, which was eight percentage points lower than in the previous year’s survey. Today’s announcement of more of the same—of no change when it comes to infrastructure—will not fill business with confidence.

In the past few days, the Public Accounts Committee has rightly criticised the Government’s policy on infrastructure, declaring that the national infrastructure plan is

“simply a long list of projects requiring huge amounts of money, not a real plan with a strategic vision and clear priorities.”

It is the lack of such a clear “strategic vision”—instead, the emphasis is on the short term and policies often change sharply and without consultation with industry—that means that businesses are not provided with the confidence they need to invest for the long term to improve our infrastructure and enhance our productivity and competitiveness for the long term. Short-termism is undermining our competitiveness and innovation, which is the true driver of competitiveness in the modern world. It is also compromising the modernisation of our energy and transport systems.

Again, the Queen’s Speech could have announced firm plans to tackle that issue. It could have announced a British investment bank Bill, which would create the real conditions for patient capital and for lending to new and to small and medium-sized businesses that have the ideas and the innovation to grow our economy. It could also have provided an infrastructure commission Bill, to give a long-term, independent and clear set of priorities for the infrastructure that is needed in this country to allow the economy to function better. It did not do so.

I started my speech by welcoming a measure in the Queen’s Speech and I will end in the same way. One of this country’s competitive advantages, which sets us apart from some of our rivals, is our rule of law, and within that is the long-established and stable framework for intellectual property. Investors and creators come to this country, providing jobs and new, innovative business

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models, in the knowledge that their ideas—their designs and other creations—will be protected in law. There is a link between design, innovation and competitiveness in manufacturing that is much-needed in the 21st century.

The Government have had a tendency to consider intellectual property as somewhat about red tape or bureaucracy, rather than what it is—legal protection. In the previous Session, we saw the incoherent and ill-thought-through changes to copyright in the Bill that became the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 on which—thankfully—the Government had to back down. The intellectual property Bill announced today, with its proposals to reform design law, can be cautiously welcomed as a means of protecting design rights. I hope that no amendments will be made to it at a late stage without their being discussed with industry or being thought through properly by Ministers, which happened with copyright during the passage of the 2013 Act. However, the general direction of the intellectual property Bill announced today seems to be sensible.

For all that, for all my talk of welcoming certain measures and for all its rhetoric about improving competitiveness, the Queen’s Speech seems to do very little to encourage enterprise, innovation or entrepreneurialism. Given the fact that our competitors are doing more in that field, not less, the Queen’s Speech is a huge lost opportunity, which in the fierce global economic race we can ill afford to miss.

7.6 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I am grateful to be able to contribute to the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). He is always good and robust in arguing the corner for his well-respected constituency. He always makes a passionate case for the north-east, which deserves to be made. However, some of the things that he has said are unfair critiques of a Government who are trying very hard to ensure that we do not just concentrate development in the south-east, where I am an MP, and that we take out the resurrection of manufacturing to all the regions of England and to all parts of the UK.

It is absolutely right that we should ensure that places such as the north-east, which have been heavily and principally dependent on the public sector, continue to see private sector growth and development as well. There have been very good examples in the motor manufacturing industry, and in the chemicals industry in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales).

The hon. Member for Hartlepool made a plea for engineering, and I join him in making that plea, as well as echoing the comments of the proposer of the Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). I have the Brunel museum in my constituency and I have always argued in this place—in your part of the world, Mr Deputy Speaker, people understand this argument very well—that unless we continue to get people in this country to make things of the highest quality, both for our own infrastructure and to sell abroad, we will not pay our way in the world. Engineering has a hugely important part to play in that process.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Hartlepool also highlighted a short but important Bill, which is the mesothelioma Bill. I have been on Committees and

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I have participated in debates in this House in which we have argued that people who have suffered from that particularly dangerous form of cancer, which is caused by asbestos in the workplace, should be assisted. I hope that there can be consensus across the House that we should legislate in the right way to deal with those who so far have not received the appropriate compensation. Some of them are not with us anymore, which is a tragedy, but a small group of people deserve our support and respect.

Today is the eve of VE day, and I will join others tomorrow at ceremonies in my constituency at the war memorial just beside the Imperial War museum for the annual commemoration of that important event. So it is right that, across the House today, there have also been tributes at the beginning of people’s speeches to our armed services and our armed forces. Since we met last, more people have died on active service.

I have a constituent whose company, F.A. Albin and Sons, has the contract with the Ministry of Defence to do the important but sad and difficult work of bringing home those who have lost their lives on military service around the world. I was with the head of that firm, Barry Albin-Dyer, when the message came through that three more people had lost their lives last week in Afghanistan. On behalf of my party, I want to join in the tribute that has been paid across the House to those who have continued to risk their lives in the name of our country, thank them for their service and send our commiserations, consolations and condolences to their families, comrades and friends.

There is one other group of people to whom I hope we will send our support and condolences, but also our promise of support. I have a significant Bangladeshi community in my constituency. Since we last met, there has been a terrible event in Bangladesh that has seen hundreds of people killed, thousands injured, many still missing and thousands of families affected. I hope that our country’s strong ties with Bangladesh will mean that we continue to give them all the support they need in Dhaka and beyond. I also hope that we will learn the lessons of what appear to be exploitative practices, not only by the builders in that country, but by companies who make their money out of exploiting workers in that country to sell clothes to us and other countries worldwide. I hope that we shall put the tragedy in Dhaka in the last couple of weeks to good use.

Three years ago today, on the second Wednesday of May, the coalition Government was formed. On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Parliament, I am clear that we made the right decision to enter a coalition Government on that day and in those circumstances. We are determined, in this third Session of this fixed-term Parliament, to make the right decisions over the next year, as we have tried to make the right decisions over the first two Sessions.

It is a tribute to my colleagues, and to our coalition partners, that two parties that contest elections against each other regularly and have never regarded themselves as close mates decided, in the national interest, to work together; and with only one exception over the three years, we have both honoured the coalition agreement that we entered into and held to the terms of the agreement. I believe that is good for politics and has been good for the country. Despite all the economic and political difficulties, the coalition has held firm.

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I was reminded why it was the right decision last Friday night, when I went across the river to a production in the National Theatre of “Our House”, which, for those who have not yet been—I gather some colleagues are there tonight—is a play about the Governments of the 1970s, and specifically the working of the Labour and Conservative Whips Offices during those times, with the character of my predecessor Bob Mellish, then Labour Chief Whip, playing a starring role. Anybody who has forgotten the history of how difficult it is to run a Government with a small majority or no majority should see the play before it finishes its run.

The alternative, in 2010, was either a coalition with Labour, had they been willing to make one, which would not have had a majority; a coalition with Labour and others, which still probably would not have had a majority; or a minority Conservative Government, which by definition would not have had a majority. Given the dire economic circumstances that Britain faced—the worst since the second world war—I am clear that we needed a Government with a clear majority, in order to see out a full term to seek to implement a set of policies to try to give us growth and rescue us from the dire economic situation we were in.

The 1970s were dire economically and “Our House” reminded me, and everyone else in the audience, of them. They were equally difficult in 2010, and very slowly and gradually, but surely and in the right direction, we are moving ahead. I absolutely understand and share, as a south-east London MP, the views of people such as the hon. Member for Hartlepool that the test of the Government’s success, fundamentally, is the economy and whether we get jobs and growth going in a sustained and committed way. I and my colleagues are committed to delivering that, and to delivering it over five years.

Over the past year, many of the things that matter to people like me, in an old working docks constituency, and my colleagues, have been delivered. Jobs are up. I looked at the Library’s figures as the hon. Member for Hartlepool was speaking. There are 29.7 million people aged 16 or over in employment in the last quarter for which we have figures—about the same as in the previous quarter, and up 488,000 on the previous year. That is nearly half a million. The employment rate for people aged 16 to 64 is now 71.4%—not far off the pre-recession level of 73% in March to May 2008.

Although public sector employment fell by 20,000 in the three months to December last year, to 5.72 million, or 19.2% of total employment, the number of people working in the private sector was 24 million, up 151,000 on the previous quarter—81% of total employment. We knew that there would be a contraction in public sector employment, but from the beginning the Government said we were determined to have net growth in jobs and the economy. There has been such growth; the jobs are predominantly in the private sector. That will lead the way out of the recession, and we must continue to do things such as reducing national insurance on small businesses—a measure in the Queen’s Speech to ensure that business grows and takes more people into work.

Mark Tami: If we accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the growth in jobs, why does he think that overall economic growth has just flatlined?

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Simon Hughes: There are all sorts of reasons. The hon. Gentleman must know that the last quarter has just been on the right side of zero. Growth has been small but positive. We avoided the triple-dip recession that people were saying was likely, given the terrible winter and the dreadful weather we had. The answer is that there has been a combination of failure.

The banks failed the economy at the end of the last Labour Administration. They were not sufficiently dealt with or regulated by that Administration, and they still have not got into a position where they are lending our constituents and small businesses in the right places the money to enable them to invest. Every single colleague around the House tells tales, rightly, of how difficult it is; people come to see us and tell us that they do not get the investment.

We have not been selling enough around the world, which is one of the avenues by which we must earn our way. That is why the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Business Secretary and others have been out and about, going not just to our traditional trading partners but to the large, developing partners—Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, India, China—to develop our trade. That is why we are working very hard to get an EU-USA free trade agreement, to deliver growth.

The answer to the question is that the economy has been faulty as a result of a combination of historic and more recent factors, but the Government are seeking to do as many things as they can. Last year, the green investment bank was another initiative to get growth going in an economy in which the Energy Bill this year is likely to assist in the creation of up to 250,000 new jobs in green energy. That is really valuable and important. The hon. Member for Hartlepool called for a Bill to set up another form of investment bank. The Government have, as he knows, a plan for further investment lending to companies as well as the green investment bank, and that is welcome.

So jobs are up; apprenticeships are hugely up. The state pension is significantly up—higher than at any stage since Lloyd George introduced it. The income tax threshold is significantly up, from £6,500 more or less when we started, to nearly £9,500 this year, and next year to £10,000 before anyone pays any tax. Inflation is still low. Interest rates are very low, and that is hugely important for people with mortgages and businesses borrowing. Crime is at its lowest level for many years. Those are significant achievements, and I think we should be proud of that. It shows that many of the things that the Government have done over three years are working.

Mr Iain Wright: Given what the right hon. Gentleman has said about those “significant achievements”, do people in his constituency think they are better off now than three years ago? Does he think that living standards are rising?