Simon Hughes: No; many people’s living standards are not better than they were three years ago, but we have been dealing with what my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary calls the greatest economic heart attack we have had in his lifetime and mine. My constituents have seen, over several months, unemployment come down—not consistently, but there have been months when it has come down and youth unemployment has

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come down. They have seen an economy that is picking up. The construction industry in my patch is powering ahead; although I appreciate that it is not the same around the country.

But what my constituents have not yet seen, and what the Government are trying to deal with, is the inequitable opportunity and an inequitable distribution of the available wealth. One thing that the Liberal Democrats need to continue to argue for in the coalition, and which I hope the coalition will buy, is that we need to deal with the inequity in Britain whereby there are still people a mile and half from this building, in the City, and in Canary Wharf a bit further away, who have bonuses that are completely without justification, while there are many people on the minimum wage and struggling to get work. We need a redistribution of wealth—I am not ashamed to call for that—and a redistribution of the profits, and we need the banking industry to understand that it has to pay itself reasonable wages. The European Union has the right idea, in my view—not a view shared by the Chancellor—in seeking to make sure that we limit the bonuses given to people across the financial sector so that they do not, in effect, take far more than they deserve.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman talks about his passion for redistribution. It is one that I share, but can he explain why, in that case, he voted to abolish the 50p rate of tax for those who are paid £1 million and more? At the same time he voted for welfare reform and changes that are taking money from those on the very lowest incomes and from communities such as those that I represent, which are being utterly hammered, with millions of pounds being taken out of our local economy as a result. Does he consider that to be fair redistribution?

Simon Hughes: I voted for the income tax changes as a package that took many people on low and medium incomes out of tax altogether as a result of the raising of the tax threshold, and only when I was satisfied that people on very high earnings would pay more net. Yes, they had a reduction last month in their top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p in the pound, but with all the other changes that affect them they will make a bigger total contribution to the economy in tax. The hon. Lady knows what I am going to say next. I was here for all the time of the Labour Government, when for every single month apart from the last few weeks the top rate of tax was 40%—not 50%, not 45%, but 40%. The great socialist regime of Tony Blair and the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did not deliver the great socialist nirvana, and that was the time when people in the banks were earning obscene amounts, the likes of which had never been earned before, and they were not dealt with.

On the welfare cuts, the Liberal Democrats argued strongly in the coalition that benefits should not be cut, but that with some inflation-lined exceptions there should be a limited increase this year of 1%. That is what the Government have tried to do. There are exemptions. Changes to housing benefit should not apply to any pensioner householder in the country. Some rates of increase of benefit for people with disabilities are higher than 1% to try to achieve equity. These are all attempts to deal with a welfare bill that is extremely high. It is not pleasant and I do not pretend that it is easy. We would

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all like to be able to give much more to people who are struggling, and I am very concerned that the bottom 20% should be the priority of this Government in their remaining two years. From the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench colleagues I have heard no answers as to how we pay our bills, deal with the fact that we are paying 120 million quid a day in interest on our debts, sustain the welfare state and encourage people back into work.

Bill Esterson rose

Simon Hughes: I will take one more intervention.

Bill Esterson: The Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear that the lowest 20% of income groups are being hammered by the Government’s various changes. How can the right hon. Gentleman justify disabled people being hit, as they have been, by a combination of the bedroom tax, the council tax localisation scheme, work capability assessments followed by their appeal, and having their benefit cut during that lengthy process?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are now on 17 minutes. I was working on speeches lasting no longer than 16 minutes per Member.

Simon Hughes: I was conscious that I was giving way too much so I will answer that intervention very quickly and move on. Many people with disabilities have had their benefits protected. For everybody there is now a scheme that will make sure they are reassessed—fairly, we hope. The so-called bedroom tax does not apply to people who need a live-in carer and other categories have now been exempted, not least because of internal discussions in the coalition which delivered that outcome. But I am very conscious that we need to do better for the people in the bottom 20% of income. I have argued that within my own party and in the coalition and will go on arguing it. We need to end up with a much fairer society than the Conservative Government or the Labour Government left us. We are trying to make that fairer society, which for us is a priority.

The priority is to make sure that we have a strong economy and a fairer society and that everybody has the opportunity to get on as they wish. To do that, the priorities are very much the ones that the Government have enunciated. Further priorities are social and affordable housing. For many the cost of getting their own home is prohibitive and homes to rent are unavailable. We need to carry on dealing with tax avoidance and the inequalities of wealth at home, but we should not think that the solution to all our problems is to become little Englanders or little Britishers and not to see our future as being within the continent of which we are a part, where we can trade, work, gain and make progress, and within the world of which we are also part.

It is good that the Queen’s Speech makes it clear not only that we will defend people who have been loyal to us, such as Gibraltarians and Falklanders, but that at the G8 next month we will argue for a fairer world, transparency and accountability, conflict prevention and bigger efforts to bring peace to those parts of the world such as the middle east, which have suffered for too long. Abraham Lincoln said:

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”.

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The coalition is resolved to help Britain succeed and become a strong economy again, and Liberal Democrats will play their part in making sure we do that as well as possible.

7.26 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). We share many platforms as we have neighbouring constituencies and neighbouring boroughs. I agree with him very much about Bangladesh. We too have a Bangladeshi community in our area working in Waterloo and across the borough to his constituency. We send them our best wishes after the terrible things that have happened in Bangladesh and are pleased that so many people in the local community are giving them support at this difficult time. There are issues on which the right hon. Gentleman and I disagree strongly—rarely local ones, but we differ in our views of the European Union. I am not a little Englander; I just do not believe that we should be little Europeans.

It is great to have this opportunity to speak about almost anything. Practically all the measures listed in the Gracious Speech have been covered in the debate. Those of us who have been Members for a very long time almost take for granted the wonderful ceremonial of the opening of Parliament. I have tried over the years to see it from different angles. As a country we should be so proud that we can produce such a wonderful spectacle, which brings people to this country and is a symbol of democracy. I am so pleased that we are continuing that tradition in all its glory.

A number of Members have mentioned Bills that are not in the Queen’s Speech. It was pointed out earlier that the communications data Bill has been left out. I campaigned strongly on that issue, which I believe was a civil liberties issue, like identity cards, and the proposals would have meant that all e-mails were retained and investigated. It would have been a snoopers’ charter and there is no reason why the presumption should be to intrude on innocent normal people who are going about their everyday business. I am delighted that that has been dropped, and I pay tribute to Liberty, which has done such a wonderful job in ensuring that the Bill has been dropped. I hope we never see it again in the next two Sessions.

In the Gracious Speech Her Majesty said:

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

One aspect of the water industry that I had hoped would be in the Gracious Speech is the granting of statutory responsibility for flooding to the fire service. Flooding has been a major issue. I am lucky that that is not a particular problem in my constituency, but we must give the fire service that statutory responsibility, as happens in other parts of the United Kingdom. I had hoped that that might have been included in the Bill, and perhaps we can still get it in.

Clearly the immigration proposals will be controversial and will need detailed scrutiny. Until we see the details, I do not think that we can say a great deal, other than to agree that—this is my personal view—no one should come to this country simply to abuse its rules and regulations, and I mentioned earlier the issue of health

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tourism. I am concerned about one proposal in particular. I am not sure that the Government should be handing over their responsibility for dealing with immigration control to landlords. I really do not think that landlords letting out homes should have to bear the responsibility for deciding whether someone is an illegal immigrant.

I am delighted that we have got rid of the UK Border Agency. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said, those of us who deal with thousands of immigration cases know that that organisation was just waiting to be abolished. What we put in its place must be robust and more efficient. We cannot continue to have people going around the system—and it really is a system—for years and years. That is simply not how to run any kind of civilized immigration system. I hope that the changes will make a difference.

I look forward to the whole debate on immigration. One thing I think all Members across the Chamber can agree on is that we can now discuss immigration without worrying that people will be accused of being racist, because it is not racist to discuss how we control our borders. Certainly, my constituents, large numbers of whom are second, third or fourth generation Afro-Caribbean, are equally concerned about houses and homes being taken by people who they feel have perhaps not been in the country very long. At least when the Bill comes forward we will be able to debate it in a way that allows us to express our views and to have strong opinions, rather than feeling that if we raise the issue we might be condemned as racists.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) is no longer in the Chamber, because I agree with her so much on HS2. As a London MP, I know that people will say that London will benefit enormously, but I believe that it is one of those projects that started off as the idea of some civil servant and became the idea of many engineers and transport experts. Everyone then gathered round and it became an establishment project, and no one wants to say, “Maybe we’ve got it wrong.” I hope that, as she said, during the detailed consideration we will be able to see that the economics of HS2 really do not stand up to scrutiny and that some of the experts who have been offering their knowledge on it are perhaps looking at it from a slightly different view from those who live in the areas that will be affected. In particular, I have grave doubts about the idea that it will boost our economy. I think that the billions that will be spent on that need to be re-examined.

As a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I was pleased to hear about the Northern Ireland Bill. It is good that Northern Ireland will be discussed and debated on the Floor of the House. All too often now people dismiss Northern Ireland and we cannot get a great deal of discussion about it on the Floor. That is for very good reasons, of course, because in many ways things there are now so much better, but in many other ways they are not. The Bill will provide an opportunity to have that discussion.

The Bill that I would have liked to see—the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee would also agree on this—is one that would allow us a vote on the European Union much earlier than the Government envisage. I am not saying that because of what happened with the UK Independence party last week; I have been saying it for some time. I am pleased to have been joined by so many

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more colleagues, even on the Labour Benches, and particularly those who in the past have been seen as very pro-Europe. They are now beginning to realise that everything that has been said in the past about ever-closer union has to be criticised and objectively put to the people, because things have changed so much in our relationship with Europe that we cannot ignore the fact that people need a say. If we were to have a vote over the next year on whether to give the people a referendum, I cannot see any party in this Chamber saying that it did not trust people enough to give them a referendum on the future of our relationship with the European Union.

I am disappointed that such a Bill was not included in the Gracious Speech, but I am hopeful that, because the last part of it referred to matters that can be laid before the House, after another month or two the Government, even if they cannot get coalition agreement, will have the confidence and courage to put it to the House so that we can have that debate and discussion and let the people see how their Members of Parliament actually feel about giving them a say in one of the most important issues facing this country.

7.35 pm

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Every Queen’s Speech reflects work in progress, and we continue to make progress in seeking to bring down the cost of living, in welfare and in immigration—net immigration has been cut by a third, the deficit has been cut by a third and £1.25 million new private sector jobs have been created. This Queen’s Speech, in particular, reflects a work in progress because we are starting a parliamentary Session with no fewer than five significant Bills subject to carry-over motions from the previous Session.

In the past few months the Government have sought to act on welfare reform by putting a cap on welfare benefits of £500 a week per family, replacing disability living allowance with the more targeted personal independence payment and introducing universal credit, with the intention of removing any financial disincentive to work. If significant steps have been taken on welfare reform, much more work still needs to be done. I would like to highlight support for a number of measures in the Queen’s Speech.

On immigration, we need to have a responsible debate. It is always a difficult subject to raise. After 30 years in this House, my constituents know where I come from on the issue. During the county council election campaign in north Oxfordshire, I found many people who are concerned about immigration. Many complained that under the previous Government there had been 13 years of open borders. I think that the Government have been absolutely right to implement a number of policy reforms to the immigration system to make it more robust. Those reforms have already seen net immigration cut by a third since the general election.

One can compellingly argue that immigration control is necessary to help preserve the very Britain that immigrants want to move to. We must all recognise that since 2004 nearly half a million non-British people have arrived in Britain—I stress—each year, which means that more people have arrived on these shores as immigrants in a single year since 2004 than in the entire period from the battle of Hastings to the year of my birth, 1950. That was a deliberate policy of the previous Labour Government, not something that happened by accident or was the

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primary result of obligations to the European Union. The failure to manage immigration properly has threatened the liberal Britain and the very traditions and culture that have made Britain special. Those who are truly tolerant and believe in tolerance are those who believe, as they should do, in controlling immigration.

One thing on which I hope every Member of Parliament would agree is that those who have been found to have no right to be within the jurisdiction should be removed from it as speedily as possible. I was therefore pleased to hear the Home Secretary announce to the House on 26 March that she intended to bring forward an immigration Bill in this Session. She said:

“The final problem I raised is the policy and legal framework within which UKBA has operated. The agency is often caught up in a vicious cycle of complex law and poor enforcement of its own policies, which makes it harder to remove people who are here illegally. That is why I intend to bring forward an immigration Bill in the next Session of Parliament that will address some of these problems.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1501.]

When meeting people in my constituency surgeries, I never cease to be amazed by the number who were, for example, considered not to have refugee status many years ago and who then appealed to the independent immigration appeal tribunal, only then again to be found by an independent judge not to have refugee status. They were found not to be entitled to be in the country, but absolutely nothing has happened and they are still here, and they will doubtless remain here in the hope that if they stay long enough they will be able to assert some claim to family life under European human rights legislation.

Last July the Government introduced tough new rules seeking to protect the public from foreign criminals and immigration offenders who try to hide behind family life as a reason to stay in the UK. The new rules set proportionate requirements that reflect Parliament’s view of the balance between the public interest in deporting a foreign national offender and their rights under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. It appears, however, that some immigration judges are not paying sufficient heed to the new rules, and it is thus right that new primary legislation is introduced to put beyond doubt the correct overall approach to article 8 in immigration cases.

I think that almost all my constituents find it particularly offensive that foreign nationals who commit serious crimes are not pretty much automatically deported. Indeed, pressure in prisons such as Bullingdon in north Oxfordshire is made worse by the fact that the prison system is having to accommodate foreign nationals who have completed their terms of imprisonment and who it seems difficult, if not impossible, to deport. Shockingly, at the recent rate of removals it would take some 200 years to remove all those who are illegally present in the United Kingdom, and unless we take serious and sustained action their numbers will probably grow at a faster rate. We can all have debates about the size, scale and purposes of legal migration to the country, but I do not believe that a single Member of this House can justify illegal immigration. Estimates vary, but there are credible estimates that the number of illegal immigrants is as high as 1 million.

I am sure that many of my constituents will also welcome the measure announced in the Queen’s Speech intended to limit the benefits of foreign nationals to stop people from overseas abusing the NHS and the

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welfare system. The basic point is that migrants should not have access to public services to which they are not entitled. I therefore welcome the proposed legislation on deportation and immigration.

I support the draft care and support Bill, which not surprisingly prompted a considerable number of detailed recommendations in the pre-legislative scrutiny published in mid-March. Most attention has been focused on the costs of nursing home care, but that is only part of what needs to be addressed. I have no doubt that in the debates on Second Reading and in Committee we will need to consider how we secure sustainable funding for the care system as a whole. We must ensure that those involved get appropriate information and advice, and appropriate access to advocacy.

As co-chair of the all-party group on carers, I am glad that the Government are giving recognition to carers, particularly given the increasing number who are having to manage work, their own family’s lives, and caring for frail parents. It is good news that they will receive more help, including, I hope, more access to respite care and training in care techniques. We should never forget that some 1.25 million people, most of them women, spend more than 50 hours each week caring for family members who cannot look after themselves, and the number will rise sharply as our population grows older. We need to ensure that carers do not feel isolated. On the contrary, carers should feel valued and appreciated by us all. They should feel able to have their needs assessed by their local authority and to get help, depending on their means. All carers should feel that they can get information about local groups that can support them and offer guidance on how they can help in caring for loved ones. Somewhere, either in the care and support Bill or the Children and Families Bill, Parliament needs to give consideration to the rights of young carers. Nevertheless, it is important that Parliament will at last be seeking to resolve the challenges of nursing home and residential care home costs, which are of concern to so many.

I have a hospice in my constituency, and I hope that the care and support Bill will ensure that patients at the end of life and their families are able to access the care they need to exercise choice. We must in no way underestimate this Bill, which will be a historic step forward. It will dramatically simplify the current legal framework for care and support, replacing provisions in well over a dozen Acts of Parliament with a single modern statute. It will modernise care and support law so that the whole system is built around people’s needs and what they want to achieve with their lives. It will clarify entitlements to care and support to give people a better understanding of what is on offer, help them to plan for the future, and ensure that they know where to go for help when they need it. Importantly, it will simplify the care and support system to provide the freedom and flexibility needed by care professionals and local authorities to innovate and to achieve better results for those who need the support of social care.

I spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Children and Families Bill, which seeks to improve provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs. I very much hope that during this Session that important Bill will complete its passage through Parliament.

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It was clear from this Queen’s Speech that economic recovery is very much at the heart of the Government’s programme. The Queen’s Speech announces no fewer than five separate Bills intended to cut red tape and to reduce the national insurance burden on small businesses, together with other measures. This is very much a pro-business and pro-growth agenda that seeks to give practical help and support to job creators and millions of people working throughout the economy to promote growth. One of the biggest inhibitors to growth is the cost of recruiting new employees, particularly for small businesses. It is very good news that the Government intend to reduce national insurance bills each year by entitling every business and charity to a £2,000 employment allowance from April next year. That will be of particular help to smaller businesses in recruiting more people.

During this Parliament I have spoken about HS2 on numerous occasions, and I do not intend to detain the House by repeating everything I have said. If anyone is interested, they can find it all on my website at I note, however, that the Government intend to introduce a paving Bill to secure the authority for departmental expenditure on HS2 phase 2. Those of us who are not convinced that HS2 is necessarily best value for money in transport infrastructure investment will need to be very careful about reading the small print of the paving Bill—the high-speed rail preparation Bill—as I strongly suspect that it will include a parliamentary mechanism that enables compensation to be paid to those affected by HS2, and I think that the Government may well have constructed the legislation so that without the paving Bill it will be difficult for constituents to access compensation. I suspect that many will actually welcome the High Speed 2 hybrid Bill, as it will give those affected by the proposed line the opportunity to petition Parliament and to have their arguments heard in detail by the Select Committee.

Every Queen’s Speech has a number of measures that have not been trailed. One such is the defence reform Bill, which is, as I understand it, intended to enable the Ministry of Defence to change the way it procures and supports defence equipment by reforming Defence Equipment and Support and strengthening procurement arrangements. The Bill will also increase the size and role of our reserve forces. The Bill is of interest to me because in Bicester we have one of the largest defence distribution depots in the country. I would say to Ministers that the quicker they decide to concentrate defence storage and distribution on Bicester, the better it will be for the MOD and for taxpayers. We cannot continue to drift. Deciding whether to focus defence storage on Bicester or on Donnington is not rocket science.

Some may say that this is not a particularly heavy draft legislative programme, but, as I said at the outset, it is important to bear in mind the fact that a number of hefty Bills have been carried over from the previous Parliament: the Children and Families Bill, the Energy Bill, the Finance (No. 2) Bill—that is, last year’s Budget legislation—and the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.

The House will know that I voted against Second Reading of the other carry-over Bill, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Like every other Member, I have only one vote, and I have to recognise that on a free vote of the House the Bill secured a majority, but I hope that it may still be possible to secure some further

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amendments, here or in the other place, in respect of certain conscience clauses so that people can continue to express themselves freely in support of traditional marriage and so that appropriate guidance is given to schools, particularly faith schools, on what they may teach in respect of marriage in a balanced way.

Over the next few days of debate on the Queen’s Speech, I have no doubt that, as has already happened today, some will draw attention to Bills that they consider should have been in the Queen’s Speech. I suspect that there will be a fair amount of comment about our relations with Europe. It is important to put any such comments into context. The Prime Minister has committed to negotiate a new settlement for Britain in the European Union. People questioned whether the Prime Minister would veto an EU treaty; well, the Prime Minister has vetoed an EU treaty. People questioned the Prime Minister’s ability to get the EU budget cut; well, the Prime Minister has succeeded in getting the EU budget cut. Given that previously it had not even been possible to freeze the EU budget, it was a significant achievement for the Prime Minister to secure a cut. People have questioned the Prime Minister’s ability to get powers back from the European Union, but the fact is that he got us out of the EU bail-out mechanism and saved the country millions of pounds. The Prime Minister has said that he is committed to negotiating a new settlement for Britain within the EU, and I have every confidence that that is what he will achieve. It will then be for the British people to judge that settlement in a referendum. There will be a referendum on our membership of the EU—that commitment is absolute.

This is a Government who have in the first few years of this Parliament introduced massive reforms to the NHS, public services and the welfare system. It is right that Ministers and the Government are able to spend time in focusing on ensuring that those reforms are fully and properly implemented. We should continue to support the Chancellor in his determination to continue to tackle the deficit, to sort out the nation’s public finances and to promote enterprise and growth in the economy.

7.50 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I concur with the spirit of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) about carers. The House needs to get to grips with that hugely important subject. A number of aspects of the Queen’s Speech spill over into that complicated debate, and I hope that we can progress in such a way that carers, especially lifelong carers, can feel comfortable that there will be a long-term practical economic solution to their needs. That is a hugely important part of the challenge we face.

The third sentence of the Gracious Speech states:

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

That is clearly the case and I want to address it by considering three aspects of the Gracious Speech. First, in his eloquent, witty and far-ranging speech the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) referred to one serious issue in particular, namely his passion and commitment to engineering and engineering skills in this country. I welcome the fact that the Gracious Speech refers to apprenticeships. We need to ensure that

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apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships are developed in conjunction with the engineering professions so that the industries for which we are creating the next generation of necessary skills have a long-term feedstock of them.

During the previous Session I was privileged to attend an awards ceremony in the House arranged by Cogent, the skills sector council for the chemicals sector. One of the most impressive speeches was by a young woman who was an advanced apprentice working for Novartis. She was articulate and knew her industry inside out. She started as an apprentice and is now undertaking an advanced apprenticeship, and she got a degree through the company. She added proudly that, as a result of that process, she does not have a student debt. That programme, which was worked out in partnership between training agencies, universities and employers, provides an important way forward. If we are serious about apprenticeships, we need to develop such programmes in a meaningful way.

A number of important companies are working in that field. The Science and Technology Committee heard a very good presentation from an advanced apprentice from the National Grid. Most people of her age would have struggled to describe her business in the same way as she did, but she grew up with it and has developed skills at an extremely high level. Both of the cases I have mentioned deal with graduates. Interested colleagues will be able to participate in a Westminster Hall debate next Thursday on a Science and Technology Committee report to which the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire has referred.

This is a hugely important area and commitments have been made to it by those on both Front Benches. The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister commended the comments of the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire and I want this House to unite and create the momentum needed to create the required skill sets.

The Queen’s Speech also referred to the curriculum. We are missing a serious trick, partly because of this House and partly because of the guidance given to Ofsted. I want to comment on two aspects of the curriculum that are relevant to the development of the skills that we need. First, on science practicals, I was privileged to address a conference alongside Sir Mark Walport, the then head of the Wellcome Trust who is now the Government’s chief scientist. Sir Mark and I sang off exactly the same hymn sheet. We need to get young people to learn about scientific experimentation and the value of how to analyse scientific results, rather than teach them simply how to get the process right in a mechanical way. That is not teaching them how to explore, which is what we need to do.

We also need to break the naive assumption that still exists in some parts of the academic world that there is a brick wall between vocational and academic skills. They are part of a continuum, as shown by my good examples of advanced apprenticeships. We need to look at schools such as the JCB academy in Derbyshire, which has done inspirational work on developing young people aged 14 to 19 in order to prepare them for higher level skills in industry and the university sector. Beyond schooling, we need to think about how to build stronger bridges between universities and industry, and consider the examples of the advanced manufacturing centre in Sheffield, the Warwick manufacturing group and the current work being undertaken at the university of

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Chester—I am proud to be a part of this—where, having acquired the Shell research centre at Thornton, we have created a partnership. By working with companies in the chemical and chemical engineering sectors, we hope to develop the skills they need in the future. Those are important ways forward. The continuum covers all aspects of the skill sets we need. I presume that the issues of apprenticeships and the curriculum will result in Bills, and I hope that the House will be able to unite around them.

As an aside from my general theme, I join the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and others in welcoming the important reference to asbestos in the Gracious Speech. It is a hugely welcome step, but the devil is in the detail. We need to look at how bereaved families fit into the equation. The issue is not as simple as it seems and I hope that the Government will enter into urgent and open consultation on it.

My third theme, having covered apprenticeships and the curriculum, is immigration, which links back to competitiveness. It was also touched on by the hon. Member for Banbury. It is a hugely important area and one understands the Government’s desire to address the public’s concerns. I want to make two points.

First, as the Leader of the Opposition said—joined, curiously, by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood)—we need to consider some workplace issues. Last week, I listened to some vox pops from Lincolnshire on Radio 4. Sadly, the BBC did not challenge the farmer who said that he was happy to hire labour through a gangmaster. Dealing with such issues and considering the agency workers legislation that I sought to drive forward in the last Parliament will be central to finding a solution. If we do not have properly regulated working practices at the heart of those parts of the economy that need transient labour, we will obviously be a magnet for the populations that have been referred to.

My second point brings me back to education. There is an urgent need for the Government to decouple overseas students from the broader immigration debate. I strongly urge the Government to work with Universities UK to find a better way to deal with this massive industry. Something like £7 billion is at stake in the British economy. We have already seen losses from the Indian subcontinent. Given that about one in eight Chinese hopes to have their child educated abroad and that by 2020 that figure is predicted to be one in three, this is a massive potential market. I would like there to be a dialogue between the Government and Universities UK on creating a regulatory framework. That would put significant responsibilities on universities that some have perhaps not maintained in the recent past. We should separate the process of determining whether somebody is coming here to study from the broader immigration debate. It is important that the figures are separated because this is an enormously important industry, and I use the word “industry” deliberately. We must develop university structures that have tight mechanisms for dealing with applicants for such courses.

That takes me back to my opening point. The Government say that economic competitiveness is their first priority. We need to get the framework of the economy

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working properly. That will involve the development of skills at all levels. There are challenges with the broader student population and, in particular, with overseas students. My challenge to the Government is to ensure that in the weeks and months ahead, as we develop the legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech, the issues of skills and training are at the heart of the thinking in this House.

8.4 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Humble Address. One does not often have the opportunity to address the full House, so it is a big occasion. Both of our colleagues acquitted themselves extremely well.

I enjoyed the speech by the Leader of the Opposition. I did not agree with any of its content, but now that there are no Liberals in the Chamber, I can say that he certainly made the best joke of the day when he made his remarks about the Liberal party.

Moving on to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I support all the measures in the Gracious Speech. This Government have cut the deficit by a third, created more than 1 million private sector jobs and kept inflation under control, all while taking the 2 million lowest-paid people out of tax altogether and cutting corporation tax to 23%.

The one measure in the Gracious Speech that troubles me, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), is the high-speed rail link. Many of us were here when we considered the Bill on the channel tunnel rail link. Many Conservative colleagues were genuinely upset about the effect on their constituencies. Sir Keith Speed in particular had a tricky job to balance the needs of the nation with those of his constituents. However, that was an entirely different project from the current high-speed rail link. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we will spend so much money and upset so many people in order to get to the end of the line 20 minutes sooner than would otherwise be the case. That is absolutely ridiculous and I hope that the Government will think again.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), I had no local elections in my area last week because it is a unitary authority. However, we certainly did have elections in Essex, and Essex gave its view on a number of issues that had nothing at all to do with the local elections.

I had no idea when I asked my question at the last Prime Minister’s questions that my own mother would have such an influence on the outcome of those elections. Prompted by her, I asked the Prime Minister whether he would bring the referendum forward to accommodate my mother. There does not appear to be anything on the matter in the Gracious Speech, but it does say:

“Other measures will be laid before you.”

I have a hunch that the referendum will be brought forward.

I said to my constituents that we could not have a referendum sooner than the Prime Minister had proposed because we did not have the votes to legislate on it.

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However, I am now keen to put it to the test. If I am drawn in the top four or half dozen in the ballot for private Members’ Bills next week, there will be no point in anyone lobbying me, because I will be proud to promote a Bill on a referendum. I hope that like-minded colleagues would do the same. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) seemed to dismiss anyone who voted a certain way last week, which I thought was rather arrogant. We cannot dismiss thousands of people who voted a particular way.

Neil Parish: Given that it is nearly 40 years since the British people were asked their view about what was the common market and is now the European Union—very much a political union that is driving towards integration all the time—is it not high time that we had a referendum? I would support any Bill that my hon. Friend might like to bring in.

Mr Amess: I flinched last week when someone described me as a veteran Member of the House. My hon. Friend now reminds me that the referendum was 40 years ago. I voted in that referendum and I voted no. I absolutely agree with what he says. I would welcome the opportunity to put the matter to the test before all the parties. Let us stand up and be counted, and let the people speak. It is quite wrong to marginalise last week’s local elections. We all know that people no longer have the Liberal party to vote for as a protest vote, because for various reasons it joined the coalition. Personally, I always felt that it was much closer to the Labour party than to the Conservative party, but there we are. We should reflect seriously on how people voted last week.

There has been criticism of the content of the Gracious Speech, but what is the point of our legislating and legislating when the legislation that we already have is not enforced? I have been the proud promoter of two Acts. One was the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988. I often ask questions to find out how many people have been convicted under it, and I do not get a satisfactory answer. I also spent 18 months of my life, when I came fourth in the ballot, promoting the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which promised to eliminate fuel poverty. However, 13 years of the Labour Government did not do so, and that important legislation does not appear to have been enforced.

It is no good Members saying that the Queen’s Speech was thin and that we should have a lot of legislation. Frankly, I would like less legislation, but when we do legislate I would like it to be enforced. For instance, the House spent a lot of time talking about making it unlawful for people to talk on their mobile phones when they are driving, but from what I can see everyone seems to do it, not just in traffic jams but when they are going around roundabouts. The law is not consistently enforced. The idea that we should have more and more legislation is absolutely ridiculous.

I am delighted that a national insurance contributions Bill will be brought forward, easing the pressure on businesses and charities with a £2,000 employment allowance. I hope that the move will boost employment and growth across our nation. Similarly, I welcome the deregulation Bill. I remember that when Neil Hamilton was a Minister, he made a marvellous speech at the Conservative party conference, with miles and miles of bits of paper, saying that there would be less regulation.

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Yet again, we are told that there will be less, and all the businesses in our constituencies would certainly welcome that.

We are going to have a draft consumer rights Bill, which is an excellent idea for which I believe there will probably be all-party support. There will be easier access to compensation, which is much overdue. We should all welcome the Bill, although I have not heard too much of that today.

It is widely accepted that if someone has worked hard all their life, they should be rewarded in retirement. That is why I am delighted to see that care costs are going to be capped, ensuring that no one will have to sell their home in old age to pay for residential care. I know that many of my constituents will celebrate the Bill on the matter, which reaffirms the fact that the only party that will protect the rights of the elderly is the Conservative party, not least as many of our members are of somewhat mature age.

The pensions Bill and the care Bill are particularly welcome in my constituency, as we have the most centenarians in the country. They will ensure that more women can get a full state pension in their own right, which will stop the problem faced by mothers who take time out of their career to look after their children. The state pension system certainly should not punish that, and I am glad that our Government will examine the flaw in the system and put it right.

While I am on that subject, a constituent of mine whose wife is dying of cancer is not currently eligible for bereavement payments as he is 38. Loss is just as hard at 38 as at 68, and perhaps the pensions and care Bills will provide a good opportunity for that to be changed.

I was delighted that the hon. Member for Vauxhall said what she did about immigration. Members who talk about immigration should not be branded racists. If any Member of Parliament is not lobbied by constituents on the subject, I cannot imagine what their constituents are talking about. It has nothing to do with colour or race. It is all to do with numbers on our little island.

It is beyond comprehension that foreign nationals who commit serious crimes somehow manage to avoid deportation. It is absolutely ridiculous. They often abuse the Human Rights Act, although I will not delay the House by talking about that. It is quite wrong that such people are being housed, fed and watered by the British taxpayer. I am sure many hon. Members will have heard that remark from their constituents as they have knocked on doors, so I am glad that steps have been outlined to address that ludicrous situation. The border agencies’ resolve and power will be strengthened—we have heard that the UK Border Agency will be abolished—and the Government will ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent in a more suitable manner.

Measures to deal with antisocial behaviour are hardly original—we have them every year—but it is deeply depressing that there were 2.4 million incidents of antisocial behaviour across England and Wales in the past year. That is a staggering figure. Those incidents range from drug dealing to noisy neighbours and from littering to property damage—the sort of crimes that can push individuals into more serious crimes and drag communities into a downward spiral. I hope that the legislation will fix that problem, which our constituents feel strongly about.

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I was expecting a measure on dangerous dogs. That was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but I understand that it will be covered in the antisocial behaviour Bill. Those of us who were here when Lord Baker of Dorking introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 know that it was in response to a terrible incident in which someone was killed. The media take an interest when a dog savages someone, but the measure on dangerous dogs is important. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) did a lot of good work on the proposed legislation on wild animals in circuses, and I hope that we will also find an opportunity to include measures on that.

I was delighted that the Gracious Speech said that we would protect the Falkland Islanders’ and Gibraltarians’ right to determine their political future. I think most Members will welcome that. When a small delegation of Members visits Pope Francis, we may have a private word with him on that matter.

I certainly welcome the Gracious Speech, which builds on the good work that has been done thus far. My only real disappointment is that there was not one measure to enable Southend already to be declared the city of culture for 2017. I hope that that is another measure that will be laid before the House shortly.

8.18 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I very much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), but he will probably appreciate that I do not necessarily agree with many of his comments. On High Speed 2, I actually think that the Government are not ambitious enough. My personal view is that the line should continue straight up to Glasgow, and that we should start constructing it from both ends, as has happened with almost every other major construction of high-speed rail in the world. Then we would all be better together. Of course, there was a helpful “better together” paragraph in the Gracious Speech.

May I counsel the hon. Gentleman and a number of other Members who have spoken about referendums? Government by referendum will always end up with pausing and halting, as we find at the moment in my own country, where we have to wait a horrendous 500 days more before we can make a decision on a proposal that, of course, I will not support. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would take the same position, although unfortunately he will not have a vote. However, the way it halts all other debate when we need to make progress is something I deeply regret, and I counsel against those who are so keen to rush to referendums.

There is a pattern to the proposals in the Queen’s Speech, and the Government’s pre-announcements were as much about what was not included as the actual content. The failure to legislate for the plain packaging of cigarettes is possibly the most stunning example in the Queen’s Speech of a failure to govern in the national interest. This should not be a party-political issue. The evidence of harm is known, we accept that that harm is likely to be greater if someone takes up the habit in their early years, and we recognise the attractiveness of advertising as more likely to influence the young and impressionable. Other western countries have already taken a lead so it is not a step in the dark, and there is compelling

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evidence to suggest that such a measure will lead to significant savings in public health costs, as well as preventing many people from suffering avoidable illnesses and premature death.

What exactly are the Government afraid of? It is time for their special advisers to stop whispering in their ears about harming relations with large tobacco companies, and for them to recognise their wider duty to this nation’s children and their life chances. I hope they will reconsider their decision and bring forward legislation later in the Session. As many Members have pointed out, there is plenty of space in the timetable to ensure we get the legislation through by next year.

On the various issues concerning business and enterprise, the consolidation of consumer protection legislation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is welcome and in part foresees the implementation of a recent EU directive. I welcome the fact that it will include updating the law on things such as online shopping. The Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, of which I am a member, will take a closer look at those proposals in the coming weeks, but I regret that the legislation has not been used as an opportunity to tackle issues that our constituents talk to us about all the time: rising energy prices when global prices are falling and the profits of energy companies are rocketing; transport costs that often increase at three times the rate of inflation; and the growing number of payday loan shops, which are spreading like a bad rash up and down the high streets of our country.

I appreciate that there is an ongoing Office of Fair Trading inquiry into payday lending and a possible Competition Commission referral, but the pace of the Government’s response has been worryingly slow. The Committee’s report on the subject was issued more than a year ago, and the OFT subsequently identified problems with companies representing 90% of current market share in the UK. More and more people with severe debt problems have multiple payday loans, but there is still no sign of badly needed stricter regulation to bring some of the worst aspects of that business under proper control.

The OFT report earlier this year was utterly damning in its review of the industry. It stated that almost a third of loans taken out in 2011-12 had been rolled over at least once, and that those loans accounted for almost half of lenders’ revenues. Nearly 20% of revenue came from 5% of loans that had been rolled over four times or more. The obvious conclusion was that too many people were being granted loans they could not afford to repay, and it appeared that lenders’ revenues were heavily reliant on customers failing to repay their original loan in full and on time.

Our Committee’s recommendation last year to limit the rolling over of such loans was brushed aside on the basis that the Government were

“focused…on ensuring rigorous affordability checks are carried out before each and every roll-over”.

However, the OFT report clearly showed that this industry earned the greater part of its profit from doing precisely the opposite. The OFT found that only six of the 50 firms it visited could provide documentary evidence that they had assessed consumers’ disposable income as part of their affordability checks—and let us not forget that the OFT inquiry started after the industry stated

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that it would toughen up its codes of practice. As Ministers are well aware, more than one trade group represents that sector, and they do not represent all practitioners. Therefore, a voluntary approach was never going to provide the protection needed by some of the most vulnerable in our communities. This problem is not one of a few rogue traders, but of a malfunctioning sector that is causing real harm to thousands and trapping many in high levels of debt. It is not about more regulation, but about better regulation that actually tackles the problem.

The Government’s recent response of introducing advertising restrictions and allowing the Financial Conduct Authority to impose fines from next year will make a moderate difference but nowhere near enough to end the misery we are now witnessing across the length and breadth of our country. We need urgent legislation to place a strict cap on the number of roll-overs, and as suggested by our Committee, we should re-examine evidence from other parts of the world such as Florida, which successfully placed a cap on the amount that could be borrowed at any one time. Its high repayment levels should be our aim too.

Last year we had the benefit of a statutory-backed consumer’s voice in the shape of Consumer Focus, which put pressure on the Government on this issue. It was vocal in calling for speedy action but is now silenced as a result of the Government’s legislation. Voluntary bodies such as Citizens Advice, Which? and StepChange carry out a great deal of valuable work, but their services have been considerably stretched by the rapid increase in demand over the past few years from those experiencing high levels of debt. The need for a strong consumer champion with the same rights of access to the Government as powerful trade lobby groups has never been greater. I am sure we will return to the effectiveness of enforcement as we look in greater detail at the draft consumers rights Bill over the coming weeks.

During the Budget the Government published their response to the Heseltine report on growth, “No stone unturned”, which was favourable to many of its recommendations. The BIS Committee had the benefit of two evidence sessions with Lord Heseltine earlier this year, and I believe that much in the report could carry cross-party support and consensus. Despite the desperate need to grow our economy, however, there was precious little sense of urgency in the Queen’s Speech.

Most recommendations in the Heseltine review, including the creation of a single pot of finance to be spent locally and a call for further devolution, have—not surprisingly—been postponed until after the 2015 election, and putting the report out to grass shows how out of touch the Government are with the real needs of our country. One area of the report was completely ignored, but I believe it is crucial if we are serious about changing the way we support businesses large and small to deliver growth. In his report, Heseltine points out that there are few formal structures in our society in which we have a genuine dialogue between Government at all levels—national and local—and the business sector. The UK’s current business bodies represent only a small percentage of the total number of businesses—about 650,000 out of a total of 4.8 million—whereas the German Chambers of Commerce represents more than 3.5 million businesses. The UK arrangements have caused fragmentation and weakness in the business sector’s voice in government and in decision making. Businesses have a planned and

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comprehensive structure not only in Germany, but throughout the continent, in Japan and in north America. Lord Heseltine recommended a radical improvement in how businesses are engaged and supported at local and sectoral levels to ensure a co-ordinated business support structure.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) mentioned the lack of skills and the challenge we face in the coming years, particularly in apprenticeships. That reminds us that, if we are serious about improving our skills base, and if we want to bring ourselves up to the standards we witness in countries such as Germany, which offer sustained, high-quality, in-depth training to hundreds of thousands of young people every year, we need a business structure that can properly support such a change.

I note that it was reported earlier this week that several of our country’s largest employers are hoping to form a national framework to help school leavers and the unemployed into the labour market, including by delivering a comprehensive careers advice service. Such a move implies that the business community does not have much confidence that the Government’s approach to careers will provide the right advice or tackle the skills shortfall, which employers are rightly increasingly worried about. The move is welcome, but unfortunately it does not include the jobs and opportunities in the supply chains through the small and medium-sized enterprise sector, which are the heart of our economy. Unless and until we as a country can engage at a similar level with the vast majority of our businesses, we will simply miss out.

Finally, I should like to make some observations about the mortgage indemnity scheme proposal in the Budget. I have asked a number of questions of both the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government, which operate the help-to-purchase schemes, about whether non-UK citizens will benefit from them. After a wait of more than five weeks, the Government have been unable or unwilling to answer my questions on that point.

There are serious difficulties with the mortgage indemnity scheme, which the Treasury Committee branded as a work in progress, adding that it might have a number of unintended consequences. This week, Andrew Brigden, a senior economist at Fathom Consulting, which is run by a former Bank of England economist, stated:

“Had we been asked to design a policy that would guarantee maximum damage to the UK’s long-term growth prospects and its fragile credit rating, this would be it”.

I spent 18 years in the property business before I came into the House, and I believe the policy is an act of complete and utter folly. It will place the taxpayer at considerable risk of fuelling rocketing property prices in the parts of the country that do not require it. At the same time, it fails to address the shortage of houses, which is at the root of the problem in our housing market. It does not change our housing market so that we have greater control in the long term over the private rented market and more stability, and it will not mean that people can buy houses when they can afford to do so. Many people, particularly younger people, no longer have types of employment that offer the security that gives them the confidence to buy.

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Instead of the Government’s high-risk, casino-type methodology, I suggest that a better way is for the Government to invest in social landlords and councils to encourage them to build more houses. Such investment could mean that local authorities can borrow money perfectly reasonably and repay it at perfectly healthy ratios. That will allow us properly to tackle the housing crisis, which is at the root of many of the problems we encountered before the bank crash. Unless we are serious about them, they will occur again.

8.32 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin). I understand her point on skills, but I hope she recognises the work the Government have done to introduce so many apprenticeships in the past two years. I might be the only chartered engineer in the House of Commons. I built radio and television stations when I did a real job—I was tempted to say that, but it is perhaps unfair, because MPs work harder than I ever worked when I set up radio and TV stations—so I recognise the importance of skills and the need for engineers.

I applaud many items in the Queen’s Speech. The immigration Bill will provide a lot of satisfaction to many people who fear that this country is a soft touch, to quote the Foreign Secretary when he was leader of the Conservative party: this country should be a safe haven, and not a soft touch. Over the years, we have become a soft touch. Yes, we should be a safe haven for those who seek asylum, and those who are being persecuted. Yes, we lack the skills that we often need, and therefore need to encourage people to come to this country who can give us skills when we do not have them. However, others who come here are perhaps a net drain on our resources. Particularly at this time, we must think twice about that. I therefore welcome the immigration Bill.

As someone who ran a business, I believe that the national insurance contributions Bill will be a real boon. Around a third of all small businesses will find that they do not pay any national insurance, and I hope that will encourage firms to take on new employees.

I hope that the deregulation Bill will work. How many times have I heard Labour and Conservative Governments say that they will cut red tape? That is the point of the deregulation Bill—to reduce the burden of unnecessary legislation on firms by reducing or removing burdens. All I can say is, “Cheers to that”. I hope we succeed in doing just that.

The care Bill is an immensely important measure that will affect around 6 million carers in this country—old people looking after their spouses or youngsters looking after parents or grandparents, who might be disabled for whatever reason. I hope that the care Bill will make a major impact on those who care for others in the UK.

We will also have the antisocial behaviour, crime and policing Bill, and one of the issues that has concerned me and many other hon. Members is that of people who own dangerous dogs. We have had some terrible cases of late in which young children have been savaged by dogs that have not been properly trained, or have even been trained to be aggressive. The Bill is meant to tackle that problem.

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I may not totally agree with some of my coalition colleagues, who have wisely escaped the Chamber at the moment, on the communication data Bill. There is no doubt that the use of BlackBerry messaging and other forms of cyber-communication has assisted terrorism and crime. Provided that the Government—as they intend—put in place safeguards to ensure that innocent people do not have all their e-mail traffic hacked, that has to be good news as it will protect the vulnerable and people who are honourable and honest.

I particularly welcome the mesothelioma Bill. So many people suffer from asbestos poisoning but are unable to claim from companies because it is unclear where they had the exposure to asbestos. The Bill will see that, at long last, justice will be done and the Government are to be applauded for that.

The Queen’s Speech also included the High Speed 2 Bill—in fact, there will be two Bills. I generally support the paving Bill, because it will make funds available to compensate people who are now suffering from blight. But the main Bill will be a hybrid Bill and I suspect it will reach Third Reading only after the next general election. That Bill will determine how and where HS2 will be constructed.

HS2, as formulated, is causing an unnatural disaster in Staffordshire, and terrible problems in other counties—such as yours, Mr Speaker. It almost seems that the route of HS2 has been deliberately designed to be as damaging as possible to rural England. That cannot be right. I am not one of those who oppose HS2 in principle, for the simple reason that the west coast main line—as anybody who uses it will know—is the most congested line in Europe. Anyone who has waited at Euston railway station knows that the slightest problem—whether it be signal failure, a fault on the line or a broken down train—will cause delays of three to five hours. At least at Euston station one is under cover. At Lichfield Trent Valley station we do not have cover, so unless one is under the railway bridge one is exposed to rain and everything else while waiting for a train. The west coast main line is working at 100% capacity. I therefore accept that we need two extra railway lines to connect north and south.

I have to say that the Government did themselves no favours in 2010 when they argued that the reason for HS2 was to shave five minutes off the journey from Birmingham to London. That is not the reason for HS2. They did themselves no favours when they argued that time on a train is dead time and valueless. A very senior person in the Department for Transport—I dare not mention his name—said to me two or three weeks ago, “Michael, I see people on trains working on computers. Myself, I just stare out of the window and look at the cows.” The point is that even that activity is valuable time. No, the reason for HS2 is the north-south capacity problem on the west coast main line. I therefore accept the principle that we need HS2, but boy could it have been done in a worse way than how it is now being done? No, it could not.

We have chosen a route that carves a devastating line through some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside. The biggest irony of all is that in opposition we opposed the Labour route, and the Labour route is the one we have adopted. In opposition we said that we should adopt the route that the consulting engineers Arup proposed, which would use an existing transport corridor as they do in Europe. It would go up either the M1 or

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the M40 and then follow the line of the M6 and go into central Birmingham that way and northwards. But no, we adopted the Adonis plan. By the most wonderful trick of irony that we sometimes see in politics in this place, I believe that it is now official Labour party policy to use that route we supported in opposition. The Opposition policy, whether Labour or Conservative, is the route that I support. Why? It is not because I am being a nimby, but simply because it will do far less damage to the environment. Thousands of homes are blighted by the route that HS2 is currently taking.

The Prime Minister has said—I mentioned it earlier when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan)—that the Government will be generous in their compensation. They have to be and they should be, and we must hold the Prime Minister to account.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Michael Fabricant: I am very happy to give way to my hon. Friend, my next-door neighbour from Tamworth.

Christopher Pincher: I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who is my next-door neighbour in Lichfield. He is right to say that the Prime Minister has said that the compensation scheme must be generous. Does he agree that it must also be swift? We both have constituents—as do you, Mr Speaker—whose homes and lives are blighted now. As much as the scheme needs to be generous, it needs to be swift to deliver fairness for them.

Michael Fabricant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Their homes are not just blighted now—they have been blighted for three years, even since this God-forsaken route was published. I know elderly people who want to downsize, but cannot sell their homes. They are now, one might say, asset rich, but very cash poor. They cannot afford the homes they live in as they are retired, and they cannot sell them because they are blighted. It is essential that the Government are generous and swift in their compensation. I welcome the paving Bill, because it will, I hope, enable swift compensation. The Government are currently conducting a compensation consultation on phase 2. I do not know whether you responded to the phase 1 consultation, Mr Speaker, but I did. It was very tightly worded to such a degree that in the end I began to ignore the questions being asked, because I thought they were completely wrong. The phase 2 consultation has been formulated much more openly and satisfactorily.

I have been trying to find out from the Department for Transport whether, when it finally reaches a conclusion on the phase 1 and phase 2 compensation consultations, the compensation packages will be the same. I certainly hope that they will be, because it would be grossly unfair if people living south of Lichfield were treated differently. Incidentally, I am in a unique position because phase 1 ends in the Lichfield constituency and phase 2 begins there. A former chairman of the Conservative party, now chairman of the BBC, might have described that as a double whammy.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) pointed out, this route is blighting homes, it is blighting lives, and it is blighting the

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environment. The HS2 policy, as it stands, is not a Conservative policy in the pure, theoretical sense of what conservatism is all about. We need to think carefully not about whether we need HS2, but about how we should execute the project. Otherwise, many people will think that in adopting Labour’s route, proposed by Lord Adonis, the Government have betrayed the vote that they cast in 2010.

8.46 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). I can only imagine what it would be like if he really disagreed with the Government: the vehemence of his attack would be something to behold. He made some good points about the impact of the HS2 project and the need to speed it up, as did his neighbour the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher). Speeding up the construction would help the economy, and the blight point was also well made. I live very near to the route of HS1, and that will drag on and on. One of the lessons of HS1 that should be applied to HS2 is the need to deal with blight as speedily as possible.

This feels a bit like speaking in an Adjournment debate. Indeed, I have seen more Members present in the Chamber during Adjournment debates. That may be an indication of the thinness of the fare before us, which may be more worthy of an Adjournment debate. Perhaps that says it all.

I want to discuss the way in which the Queen’s Speech will affect my constituents, and mention some of the proposals that it might have contained which would have affected them far more. Before I do so, however, let me say that I heard the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) come out with the usual Government line about politicians racking up debt around the world. He mentioned his business background and referred to the need for not just cost-cutting but top-line investment. However, he conveniently neglected to mention the role of the banks around the world in contributing to the financial crisis, and the fact that they lent money to people who could not repay it.

The business analogy illustrates the importance of investment. Without investment, business cannot succeed. Similarly, it is the Government’s role to invest in economies, because that is what Governments are there for. When things are tough and there is no one else to invest to stimulate the economy, Governments should step in. The Queen’s Speech did refer to the creation of jobs and growth, but there was precious little to back that up and explain how it would happen.

Let me say something about the Government-backed mortgage scheme, which, it is said, is designed to help people to own their own homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) accurately described the current state of the housing market and the problems that exist not just in her constituency, but all over the country. She spoke of the lack of affordable housing, social housing to rent, and low-cost housing to part-rent-part-buy or to buy outright. Developers want to build the most expensive housing they can, because, of course, they want to make as much money as possible. It is no coincidence that over the years about 2 million houses have been sold under the right to buy and we

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have a shortage of about 2 million affordable homes. We unquestionably have a housing shortage, and according to the Homes and Communities Agency, affordable housing starts collapsed by 68% in the financial year 2011-12. We have seen an increase in homelessness and rough-sleeping, which is particularly affecting families and children.

A proposal that is designed to underwrite mortgages will help the wealthy because it is for new-builds and more expensive housing, but will it help the housing shortage? If it is designed to help the poorest and tackle the shortage of social housing by moving the market further up, is not that use of Government-backed mortgages one of the reasons why we ended up in a financial crisis in the first place? We all remember Northern Rock and 125% mortgages in this country. It is not just me who says this. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North quoted a number of sources, including the Treasury Committee, commenting on the danger of inflating the housing bubble again and the danger of leaving people, at all levels in the housing market, sooner or later unable to pay, with all the consequences of that, which are still going through the financial system now.

Rising prices are another consequence of having a limited supply of housing, which can put housing out of reach for many, or put people into a false, unaffordable state of ownership. On 20 March, The Daily Telegraph said:

“Given the over-dependence of the British economy on the housing market, it is hardly surprising that Mr Osborne has looked in this direction for salvation. But we question whether it is sensible for the state to enter into the mortgage market in this way. It will do nothing to rebalance the economy, and risks stoking another housing bubble. In addition, even though interest rates will probably remain low, it is dangerous to encourage people to buy who might be vulnerable to an increase in lending costs and negative equity.”

As my hon. Friends have said, there is a housing problem and we need to build affordable homes. We must consider the impact building homes would have on the construction sector, the economy and jobs. There is also a lack of investment in the existing stock of empty homes, which the construction industry is keen to see addressed, hence the calls for a cut in VAT on renovation of property to 5%.

The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) mentioned the International Monetary Fund visit, and IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said:

“We said that if things look bad at the beginning of 2013—which they do—then there should be a reassessment of fiscal policy. We still believe that. You have a budget coming in March and we think that would be a good time to take stock and make some adjustments.”

The Budget did not do that. We did not see the kind of moves on housing that I have just described, and we have not seen that in today’s announced measures either.

Sadly, the Chancellor chose to ignore the advice and plough on regardless, and no doubt he will stick to that when he meets the IMF this week. I heard calls for him to ignore any advice from the IMF and to carry on regardless, but for my constituents that would mean more austerity. It would mean more pain for hard-working

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families, for disabled people and for those desperately trying to find work where only zero-hour or part-time, low-paid jobs are on offer.

There was no vision in today’s announcements for the long-term either. There was no suggestion of how the economy might grow so that public borrowing could finally be reduced, and there was no answer to the question of why the Chancellor said the credit rating was the most important factor on which he should be judged. Many Government Members want deeper spending cuts, but just a few weeks ago thousands of people earning more than £150,000 a year, including many millionaires, were given what their friends in government had promised them, which amounted to £100,000 each year to anyone earning £1 million a year.

At the same time, our constituents paid for that through the bedroom tax and in cuts in support for those in work and those looking for work. While the wealthiest in our society have enjoyed the benefits of a handout from the Chancellor, millions of people are wondering how to pay the bills, put food on the table and heat their homes. It is no surprise that 350,000 people are using food banks, according to the latest figures from the Trussell Trust—and that is before the bedroom tax, the council tax localisation scheme and other attacks on the poorest have really started to bite. At least 30% of those in social housing will be affected by the bedroom tax, and offering discretionary payments is simply not good enough. The housing associations and local authorities in my area have already found that that money does not go anywhere near far enough. People are facing real hardship, and the measure has only just been introduced.

Two of my constituents have told me of their circumstances. A man who has been disabled for 12 years was recently declared fit for work in his work capability assessment, despite having a degenerative disease. He is appealing, but while he does so he loses £25 a week; at the same time, the bedroom tax on his spare room is £14.71 a week and he has to pay £34 in council tax that he has not had to find before, because the council tax benefit is not at the same level it was before last month’s reforms. It all adds up to more than £200 a month for a disabled man who is unable to work and his family. We have heard from other Members about the difficulty disabled people have in finding work—they genuinely want to work, but there are not the jobs for them, and when they go to interview people will not take them on.

The other constituent is a lady who has spina bifida. She passed her work capability assessment, but one question a medically trained member of the Atos staff asked was, “How long have you had this condition?” The idea that someone who is medically trained did not understand what spina bifida was, or its consequences, is deeply troubling for everyone. That sums up some of the problems that people face. My constituent also now has to pay council tax for the first time. She used to work, but when she goes for an interview now people take one look at her and say, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t employ you”, because they assume that it will be difficult for someone with spina bifida to do the work that she has applied for, although she is extremely well qualified. She has no choice but to pay the extra money in council tax, if she can find the money from somewhere. I keep meeting people who have been disadvantaged by the benefit changes. At the same time, we see people at the top doing very nicely out of some of the changes

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the Government have introduced. Nothing in today’s announcements was encouraging for people looking for work and people who are disabled—people who desperately want to work.

We have heard about the attacks on the people in most need, but a number of colleagues have also mentioned the necessity of support for business. Where is the support for manufacturing to help our flatlining economy and our businesses and to create the full-time, well-paid jobs that people need? Why was there not an announcement about a national investment bank and the regional banks to go alongside it—the kind of support that is needed, which we could have done with desperately many years ago?

Some measures have helped the economy in my constituency. When the Government took office in 2010, however, they scrapped Building Schools for the Future, and that had a profound effect up and down the country. With school building programmes not going ahead, the construction industry and the economy as a whole were hugely affected. One school in my constituency, Aintree Davenhill, was in the primary capital programme. The children at that school used to have lessons in disused aircraft hangars made of corrugated iron. As one can imagine, it was boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, and it certainly was not an ideal teaching and learning environment. The previous Government had approved funding, but whereas phase 1—the infants part of the school—had been completed, phase 2 had not been. When the current Government came into office, they stopped the funding for phase 2. Fortunately, Sefton council, which had sufficient capital in reserve for a primary school, stepped in to fund the rest of the project. I was lucky enough to go to the opening two weeks ago of the brand new school, which is a fantastic tribute to everybody who has worked on the project.

Investment in a primary school, however, makes only a very small contribution to the economy. Much more investment was needed, because the construction industry has wound down, hundreds of thousands of construction workers have been laid off, and businesses have closed. It will take time for any announcements now about construction to build the industry back up.

Another project that I am pleased to see in my constituency is the building of the Thornton relief road. It is a £30 million project. It was first proposed in 1934, and I have mentioned it many times in this Chamber since being elected. The building of the road was finally achieved by a combination of Government and local government funding, but it should have been approved three years ago. The previous Government had given the green light to the scheme, but it was also cancelled, and three years of lack of investment and economic stimulus resulted, as with the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

We need urgency from the Government, and we did not see that today. The hon. Member for Lichfield mentioned the High Speed 2 project, and he is right that it will make a huge contribution to the economy, but if it is delayed for many years, we will not see the economic benefits now when they are most needed.

Michael Fabricant: I forgot to mention that the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group has said that one good thing that can come out of HS2 is the construction of lines and carriages, providing that that

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work goes to British companies. I will be asking the Department for Transport to ensure that it does.

Bill Esterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the importance of using British manufacturing companies for projects in this country. I will mention Bombardier, and the cancellation of the project at the Derby works—a project that went to Siemens—as an example of where our policy was wrong. We must get that sort of thing right—

Michael Fabricant indicated assent.

Bill Esterson: I am glad that that the hon. Gentleman is nodding. German contracts are let to German companies—there are ways of writing contracts that favour them, and this country must get better at that in relation to our companies.

I mentioned the construction sector and two projects in my constituency. This country should ensure that the supply chain supports local subcontractors and local labour, and that should be written into contracts far more often.

Minister Without Portfolio (Mr John Hayes) indicated assent.

Bill Esterson: I am glad to see the Minister nod in agreement to that point. This is about supporting the local economy, which can happen only if we prioritise using local subcontractors and their staff. There are always ways of doing that.

I have made the point about the importance of investment in the economy. There was not enough in the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech—frankly, there was precious little—to support the economy and to get the growth we need. Ultimately, to get the deficit down, we must have growth. We must have the investment now; it will not wait. We have had three years of delay. We need immediate investment in construction, in housing and in the kind of projects that we have been discussing in the past hour or so. It is also important that we consider the measures that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), are proposing on VAT and support for small business.

I will make a final plug for small business. I ran a small business for 15 years and many small businesses in my constituency—not only in construction, but throughout the economy—need growth and the support of Government investment to succeed. Small businesses will create the jobs; they will be the key drivers of the economic recovery that we desperately need. It is no good lending going just to the medium-sized and large companies that are already financially successful and have lots of money in reserve. There must be proper support for the smallest of businesses, and I urge the Government to take that point on board as well as the other points that I have made about investing in the economy.

9.5 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael

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Fabricant). I agree with my hon. Friend’s reservations about High Speed 2, and if just a fraction—even the tiniest fraction—of the investment in HS2 were invested in cycling infrastructure, it could transform the lives of millions of people across the UK. I am a south-west MP and in that region we feel that we could have benefited from a small percentage of that investment in HS2 being invested in electrification of the line down to the south-west, preventing it from being completely cut off every time that it rains heavily.

Michael Fabricant: Which is most days.

Dr Wollaston: Yes, indeed. They say in the south-west that if one can see across the valley, it is about to rain, and if one cannot see across the valley, it is raining already.

Having expressed those reservations about HS2, I welcome almost everything else within the Gracious Speech. My principal point is about the draft care and support Bill. To see that Bill finally being introduced in this Session of Parliament is very welcome. I remember well the shock and horror of many of my former patients when they realised that if they had assets above the threshold of £23,250, they would receive absolutely no support with their care needs. We know that one in 10 families face losing more than £100,000 of their income just to care for a relative, and that very many people end up having to sell their homes to pay for their care needs. So, such a massive increase in the asset threshold and a cap on lifetime costs is very welcome, particularly because those measures will encourage people to come forward at an earlier stage to seek the help that they need. In turn, that will help to reduce unnecessary admissions as well as helping people to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible.

Of course, the Bill will introduce support and proper assessments for carers, not only for adult and elderly carers but for child carers, who suffer and are robbed of so much of their youth as a result of their caring responsibilities. I am looking forward to seeing the detail in the Bill, and I very much enjoyed being part of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill that made recommendations to the Government; I hope that many of those recommendations will be included in the Bill when it is placed before Parliament.

I also particularly welcome the fact that there will be compensation for the victims of mesothelioma who cannot trace an employer and for those whose employer has gone out of business, or who do not have any insurance. It is particularly cruel that they receive no access to any compensation, despite mesothelioma being almost entirely attributable to asbestos exposure. But, and this is a big but, how ironic that while providing fairness and support for one type of lung cancer we are failing in this Queen’s Speech to address preventing a far more common type of lung cancer—failing to address how we are going to stop the next generation of smokers coming on stream. We should bear in mind that every year 200,000 children take up smoking. Those children will be at risk of going on to face a lifetime of problems. We know that 100,000 people a year at least are dying as a result of smoking-related problems. The failure to take forward plain packaging is a huge missed opportunity.

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I want to clarify one thing: there is nothing plain about so-called plain packaging. I would encourage everyone to google what plain packaging looks like. Plain packaging sets out very clearly what is involved. It sets out the disease and suffering that people will face if they do not address their smoking. My experience as a doctor was not so much that people feared the thought of death, but that they most feared the process of dying. The process of dying from many smoking-related illnesses is hideous. We are not just talking about lung cancer. We are talking about, for many people, the years spent in a kind of living death, tied to an oxygen cylinder, suffering from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many other conditions; or the suffering that comes from needlessly losing a leg from arterial disease. Smoking is a leading cause of blindness. There are many effects of smoking—all entirely preventable. So-called plain packs spell that out graphically, and to anyone who hands around such a pack, it is quite beyond a simple public health message. It is a very graphic message.

Bill Esterson: I welcome what the hon. Lady says about plain packaging. In the Committee stage of the Children and Families Bill, I and a number of Members tabled an amendment about banning smoking in cars with children present. I wonder whether she would agree that we hope that the Government will bring back their own version of that amendment in good time.

Dr Wollaston: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Indeed, this is about protecting children, and that is what we should focus on. It is not about introducing a nanny state. The so-called plain packs would not necessarily change the habits of a committed lifetime smoker, but they are aimed predominantly at deterring the next generation. I feel this is a missed opportunity, and I very much hope that as further evidence emerges from Australia, the Government will reconsider their position and send a very sensible public health message.

Many Members have commented that the Gracious Speech is not just about setting out what legislation will be introduced; it is about sending a message on the direction of travel. My very clear view is that Government’s core business does include public health. Members know that I feel strongly about minimum pricing for alcohol. I am not trying to be the nation’s supernanny here— I enjoy a drink myself. This is about trying to get rid of ultra-cheap alcohol.

In my part of the country, we have shops that sell white cider with a maximum price. They are not allowed to sell it for over 23p a unit. I am afraid that is causing carnage. We have recently seen deaths of rough sleepers in my community, and rough sleeping is very closely associated with dependency. We know that as people start to lose control of their drinking, they start to target cheaper and cheaper alcohol. We know that the heaviest drinkers spend 40% less per unit on their alcohol. Just as with the smoking issue, this is not necessarily about saying that it is always possible to save everyone who has become a dependent drinker. We know that 40% of dependent drinkers will, whatever happens, be unable to control their drinking and will lose their life as a result of their dependency. It is about trying to help those who are starting to lose control of their drinking.

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It is about helping those who are right at the beginning of the journey, who may have developed a harmful pattern of binge-drinking.

The argument goes beyond the public health message and towards what alcohol dependency is doing to our communities. We know, for example, that there are 705,000 children in this country living with a dependent drinker—not just a hazardous drinker or a harmful drinker, but somebody who is dependent on alcohol. We also know that in 40% of child protection cases, alcohol is a key part of the problem. We know that nearly half of all violent crime is partly attributable to alcohol, as I know from my experience of seeing victims of crime and domestic violence. We know that a huge number of those who are victims of domestic violence report that alcohol directly caused or significantly worsened that violence.

We know that about a third of people feel that their town centres have become no-go areas to them at the weekend, and we know that all of us are paying for that. It costs us a staggering amount—about £21 billion a year just within our health service. I welcome the suggestion from the Secretary of State for Health that members of the Front-Bench team should spend time on work experience, and I suggest that suitable work experience for all members of the Front-Bench team would be a Friday night in casualty. If they really want to see what is causing delays in casualty departments at the weekend, they need look no further. Perhaps they would like to go out with the special constables in my area, who tell me that all their time at the weekend is spent dealing with alcohol-related crime and violence.

The final point that I would like to make about the subject is that it is an important cause of health inequality. To all those who say that minimum pricing penalises the poor, I would say that it is the poor who are suffering the most as a result of ultra-cheap alcohol. There are many reasons why we need to address the problem. If alcohol harmed only the individual who was drinking, that would be purely a matter of personal choice, but the wider harm is caused by the ripples that spread out from the individual who is losing control of their drinking, affecting those closest to them, their wider family and their community. So there are good reasons for saying that this is fundamental and core Government business.

I feel very disappointed that such a well-evidenced measure has been dropped from the agenda. It is not good enough to say, “We have not made a decision.” Continually kicking a ball down the road can, in effect, be the same thing as dropping it altogether. I hope that alcohol-related measures come back as “any other business” within the legislative programme.

I call on the Government particularly to look at the emerging evidence from Canada. Apart from the myth from the alcohol industry that such measures would make alcohol unaffordable, which is not the case, other myths are perpetuated. We need to challenge those. What we have seen clearly from states in Canada that have introduced a floor price is that following a 10% rise in the floor price there is a 32% reduction in deaths directly caused by alcohol. That is important evidence. There has also been a decrease in alcohol-related hospital admissions. Let us look at the evidence and have evidence-based policy, rather than listening to the power of lobbyists. It is vital that we look at the power of the alcohol lobby and the way that that operates at the

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heart of Government. I would like to see a register of lobbyists. I would like to see transparency about who is calling the shots when it comes to forming policy.

I sometimes get a little flack for using social media—surely not, Members might think—but if we look at the Chamber now, which of course is where Members of Parliament should be, we might consider that Twitter can reach parts that other tools cannot. In particular, if we look at the tools that others use, and at the power of the lobbying industry, we will see that MPs need to use every tool at their disposal to fight for the causes they believe in. Public health is fundamental to why I applied to be in this place in the first place, and it is fundamentally Government business. We should look at the evidence.

9.20 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Gracious Speech was hardly an earth-shattering event. It was a short speech that, compared with previous ones, had few proposals for legislation and even fewer ideas about the direction the country should take. Before I refer to some of its contents, I want to make the point that it was more notable for what was not in it than for what was.

To date, the Government have introduced a number of measures seeking to bring about constitutional change, such as the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which introduces individual electoral registration, and the House of Lords Reform Bill. The first two Acts reached the statute book with our support. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act, however, was substantially amended, effectively negating the Government’s attempt to reduce the number of MPs and introduce new parliamentary constituencies. The House of Lords Reform Bill, of course—well, we all know what happened to it. There were other measures as well, such as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and the legislation allowing the referendum on the alternative vote, and we have seen a commission established on the West Lothian question, which has reported, and a commission established on a Bill of Rights.

It is fair to say that the Government, with varying degrees of success, have at least attempted significant constitutional reform over the past three years, but it is now clear that they have run out of steam. It appears, from the absence of constitutional change in the Queen’s Speech, that they have got cold feet and are playing it safe, to the extent that—believe it or not—only one constitutional Bill was announced, and a draft one at that. I refer to the promised draft Bill on electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.

Some Members might recall that last year the Wales Office published a Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly. Its main suggestion was that the Assembly might change to an Assembly of 30 constituency Assembly Members and 30 regional list Assembly Members. The Government’s intention was straightforward: having gerrymandered the Westminster boundaries in Wales and reduced the number of Welsh MPs by 25%, they hoped also to gerrymander the composition of the Welsh Assembly. Their objective was clearly to prevent the future election of a Labour Government for the National Assembly. However, as we all know, the ERA Bill was amended so that the Conservatives’ attempt to change the constituency boundaries and the number of MPs was

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thwarted. With the demise of the Westminster boundary changes, the Welsh Assembly boundary changes also bit the dust.

The promised Wales Bill is therefore likely to be extremely modest. In all probability, it will seek to fix the Assembly’s electoral term at five years, rather than four, as it is currently, and it will allow individuals to stand as candidates for both a constituency and a regional list. The fixing of the term at five years is probably relatively uncontentious, but I think that it is wrong that individuals might be able to stand for both a constituency and a regional list, because that will mean losers can be turned into winners. In other words, someone can be rejected in a constituency election and yet be elected through the back door on a regional list.

At a time when the people of Wales are likely to see unemployment rise again, when people’s standards of living are going down, and when the Welsh people are crying out for a vision of the future, what do we have? We have a Conservative-led Government promising to introduce only one piece of constitutional legislation, and only one piece of Welsh legislation, and it is specifically designed to promote the interests of Conservative party candidates.

If the Gracious Speech was bereft of constitutional proposals, there are other noticeable omissions. For example, there is no reference to legislation on the recall of MPs, despite the promises that we have had from the Government. As the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, there is no proposal to create a statutory register of lobbyists, despite an explicit commitment in the coalition agreement and despite the fact that the Prime Minister himself has said that

“the next big scandal waiting to happen”

concerns lobbyists. Why this omission? Is it because the Prime Minister was leaned on by the vested interests who fund the Conservative party?

The hon. Lady has had a number of her tweets, to which she referred, retweeted. I was grateful to the Financial Times this afternoon for quoting one of those tweets, which says:

“Are alcohol & tobacco lobbyists the real ‘barnacles’ that need to be scraped off the Ship of State?”

That is a very good question. I cannot for the life of me understand what valid and legitimate reason there can be for not having a statutory register of lobbyists in this House. It is a great omission that does not reflect well on the Government.

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The hon. Lady made a very important and, rightly, emotive statement about the effects of tobacco on people, which is a real concern. As well as strong lobbying on behalf of alcohol interests, there is strong lobbying on behalf of tobacco interests. I deeply regret the fact that the Queen’s Speech made no reference to legislation that would introduce plain cigarette packets. Again, that is very remiss of the Government.

What, then, do we have in the Queen’s Speech? One of the more significant elements is the promise to introduce further legislation on immigration. I feel that Labour Members will probably support a number of the measures that the Government introduce. However, it is likely that the impact of many of those measures will, by definition, be very limited. I am concerned that by placing such an emphasis on immigration, the Government may convey a wrong impression about the difficulties that this country faces, possibly in the context of the fact that from 1 January there will be free movement of labour from Romania and Bulgaria. It is right that people’s understandable concerns are addressed and that safeguards are put in place, but in some quarters of our political life and the media we are coming very close to whipping up unnecessary fears among people in a rather irrational way.

I am also worried that the Government are apparently determined to do nothing to stop the exploitation of migrant workers and the undercutting of wage levels of indigenous British workers. It is very important for the minimum wage to be strictly enforced, and I deeply regret the fact that there are very few prosecutions for its non-enforcement. I also want the gangmasters licensing legislation to be tightened up substantially. If that was done, I think we could correctly say that the exploitation of all workers was being addressed.

The Government have to match their rhetoric on illegal immigration with practical measures to ensure that the UK Border Agency can do its job more effectively. For example, UKBA should be given the ability to deal with bogus student cases and the shortcomings in student visas. I have highlighted that issue in particular because the Government themselves have emphasised its importance.

In conclusion, this year’s Queen’s Speech is strong on broad intentions, but weak on specific proposals. It identifies issues of concern, but fails to propose measures to address them properly. It is laudable for its succinctness, but lamentable for its lack of vision and coherence. I am confident that in two years’ time the Gracious Speech will be of far greater quality and of much more substance.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.— (Mr Syms.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Burma (Human Rights)

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

9.31 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a privilege to have secured the first end-of-day debate of the new Session of Parliament.

I would suggest to those hon. Members present for this important debate that the most memorable occasion during the previous Parliament—it will live long in my memory for many Parliaments to come—was when Aung San Suu Kyi addressed both Houses of Parliament. Her brave and long fight for freedom and democracy represents our strong and vibrant hope for the future of Burma. Today’s state opening has shown that Parliament does pageantry well, but Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of how Parliament is also a beacon for freedom and democracy. It is, therefore, appropriate that this first end-of-day debate will shine a light on the human rights situation in Burma.

Ministers have been diligent in pressing the Burmese Government to improve their human rights record. We must recognise the importance of the United Kingdom’s approach to a country that is far from these shores: the light that we shine has an influence in Burma. The Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group said recently that the UK’s role in Burma’s progress is crucial. We are one of the most influential countries in Burma, so this debate is important.

The Government can act in four areas. First, they must urge the Burmese Government to pursue full rights and recognition for the Rohingya people and other religious and ethnic minorities. That has to include reforming citizenship laws, allowing the United Nations and aid organisations to work freely in the neediest nations, inviting the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and signing and ratifying the international covenant on civil and political rights.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Last week I visited Burma, including Rakhine state, where 140,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced, along with Kaman Muslims, and I also saw Rakhines in camps. I saw first-hand what is happening and I concur with the hon. Gentleman that one of the fundamental issues for humanitarian access, or the lack of it, is the question of citizenship. The way things are practised and the reality of people’s everyday lives is like apartheid. As well as the need to address the catastrophic humanitarian situation, especially ahead of the rainy season, the Government need to apply much greater pressure on the Burmese Government to resolve the question of citizenship as soon as possible.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful to the hon. Lady and to the other hon. Members present who have raised this issue and spoken about the Rohingya people in particular. Arakan state, which she visited, with its predominantly Rohingya population, has been one of the most persecuted areas. It is striking that Médecins sans Frontières describes the Rohingya as one of the 10 people groups in the world most at risk of extinction. When one considers

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that there are approximately 1 million Rohingya in Burma, that is a chilling statistic. We must all take heed of that warning.

As the hon. Lady said, aid is an important responsibility of the UK Government. We must pay tribute to their record on aid. We are the major donor country for internally displaced people and are very much at the top of the tree in that regard. However, we must ensure that the aid gets to the right places. I therefore call on the UK Government to work alongside the Burmese Government and non-governmental organisations to continue to provide that aid and to ensure that there is an increase in the emergency aid for the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced in the Arakan and Kachin states.

Thirdly, I urge the Government to encourage the Burmese Government to establish initiatives to promote the important inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation. Fourthly, Burma should be included in the Foreign Secretary’s pioneering preventing sexual violence initiative. We all commend that important initiative, but we have not yet heard that Burma will be included.

I sought to have this debate two weeks ago when the European Union lifted sanctions on Burma in recognition of its recent progress. We must recognise the work that has been done by the Burmese Government to overcome the deep divisions in parts of Burmese society, but we must also be honest and recognise the great obstacles that are yet to be overcome. We must look at the benchmarks that were set before the decision was made to suspend economic sanctions.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for securing the first Adjournment debate of the new Session on this important subject. Some of us in this House are very interested in Burma and have deep concerns about it. He is right that Burma has made progress, but I think we all recognise that it has to make further progress. Does he agree that the Burmese Government should allow the UN special rapporteur to conduct an independent investigation into the abuses in Rakhine state? Burma is setting up its own inquiry, but there needs to be a separate independent inquiry led by the UN.

Mr Burrowes: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He secured an important Adjournment debate on the Rohingya people. It is important that we raise the concerns of Burma in every way we can.

As I said earlier, we should encourage Burma to offer an invitation to the UN special rapporteur. There should be witnesses to what is happening there. Many of us have raised the importance of witnesses and independent investigations in relation to conflicts in other parts of the world, not least in Sri Lanka. However, those points need to be balanced with the need to encourage Burma along the way of democracy and recognising the rule of law. It must increasingly have its own robust, independent investigations. We must work alongside and in partnership with Burma. There should be an invitation for the UN special rapporteur, but we must also encourage Burma to step up. The early steps along the road to democracy must include the bringing to account of the perpetrators of the horrendous acts that I will go into in some detail.

When the decision was taken on economic sanctions, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union set out several benchmarks.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Burrowes: I will get to the benchmarks shortly, but first I will give way again.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being generous in giving way, as always. He has brought an important issue to the Floor of the House.

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that there has to be an embargo on the military equipment that the Burmese army is using against ethnic groups, and in particular against Christian groups? Does he agree that that would be one way of trying to address the cruel and violent activities of the Burmese army? My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) has been involved in some talks with the Burmese Government and with groups out there, and I believe he has some knowledge of ways to address the issue.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We will hear from the Minister about the sanctions that still apply to military equipment. That embargo continues, whereas economic sanctions have been lifted. We still need to be rigorous about military hardware, particularly given the responsibility shared by the military for acts of omission, not always of commission.

The benchmarks for the lifting of sanctions included

“the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released”,

an end to conflict in the country,

“substantially improved access for humanitarian assistance”


“addressing the status and improving the welfare of the Rohingyas.”

It is therefore important that the Minister informs us whether, to the best of his knowledge—I recognise that it is not his primary responsibility in the Department—those criteria have been properly met. Does he also know why there was no reference in the EU Council conclusions to the situation in Kachin state? That is an interesting question.

Over the past year, Burmese minorities have suffered extraordinary attacks and human rights violations. Some of the most disturbing came when the Burmese army launched air strikes against Kachin Independence Army troops in Kachin state in December. The strikes lasted nearly a month. More than 100,000 Kachin civilians were internally displaced, and human rights organisations report cases of rape, torture, forced labour and killing of civilians.

The attacks followed an 18-month offensive by the Burma army, which broke a 17-year ceasefire with the KIA. In that offensive, human rights violations increased significantly, and 100,000 people fled their homes and remain displaced. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which I commend along with other organisations for highlighting the extent of the abuse, discovered horrific incidents of human rights being breached. One man told of how his wife was raped by Burmese soldiers and is assumed dead, but the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw dismissed all charges against the Burmese military, reinforcing the sense of many that the Burmese military have effective impunity. Other stories tell of children shot, a grandmother gang-raped and homes and churches destroyed and looted.

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The marginalisation of Muslims takes its fullest and most monstrous form in a majority Rohingya area such as Arakan, but it is not limited to those areas. That is why we need to challenge the Burmese Government, and Burma in general, about how systemic the discrimination and abuse of human rights are. Even in the more progressive cities, Muslims are no strangers to discrimination. The 969 campaign, for example, attempts to ban Muslims from any non-Muslim shops. The fact that that is occurring in the cities is a symptom of the divisions that sadly run deep through Burmese society. The feelings that are manifested in segregated shops in Yangon are manifested in banning the sale of food to Rohingyas in Arakan state. There, many Arakanese block the Rohingya’s food supply. One Rohingya man was reportedly told, “We will stop all food for you, and do you know why? We’ll do it so you’ll leave here quickly and permanently.”

Rushanara Ali: I thank the hon. Gentleman for generously giving way again. The Rakhine commission reported last week and was not even willing to accept the term “Rohingya” as an ethnic group. The Rohingya Muslim population were referred to as “Bengalis” to deny them their Burmese and ethnic citizenship rights, which go back hundreds and hundreds of years—they would say to the seventh century, not to 1826 and the British period. Some may mistakenly think that this is about recent migration. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the British Government ought to produce a response to the Rakhine commission setting out our concerns about what seems like a whitewash, and requiring international attention and independent scrutiny of what is happening?

Mr Burrowes: I am sure the Minister will respond to that point, but in addition, in July the monks’ association in Mrauk U released a statement saying that the Rohingya

“want to destroy the land of Arakan...and plan to exterminate Arakanese people and use their money to buy weapons to kill Arakanese people...from today, no Arakanese should sell any goods to Bengalis, hire Bengalis as workers, provide any food to Bengalis and have any dealings with them, as they are cruel by nature.”

Such incitement infects people’s view of the Rohingya. Many Arakan believe that the Rohingya are determined to destroy Burma and that mosques double as weapons stores, and sadly such beliefs permeate supposedly decent society. Indeed, such terms were mentioned in the recent report by Human Rights Watch, published—ironically—in the week sanctions were lifted. A statement released by the monks of one sangha proclaimed:

“The ‘Arakan Ethnic Cleansing Program’ of bad pagans...taking advantage of our kindness to them, is revealed today.”

It is important to hear from those who are suffering—sadly—at the hands of Buddhist monks who are forcing the Arakanese population to isolate Rohingya communities, teaching them that the Rohingya plan to exterminate them. One man was killed for selling rice to Rohingya, and sadly, public statements and pamphlets urging ethnic cleansing are common. The Arakanese are provoked to attack Muslim communities and mosques, believing that all Rohingya are terrorists. The police rarely step in, often watching the carnage unfold. One Muslim in Arakan told how his neighbour’s house was burned down one early evening, although 15 police were watching outside.

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In its compelling report last month, Human Rights Watch found that following the violence and abuses last June, some security forces in Arakan state were destroying mosques and Muslim homes. A Rohingya woman from Sittwe said:

“Many houses were left standing but they were destroyed by the Government, not the Arakanese. There was nothing wrong with our house. It was still there”

after the violence. In Sittwe, the local government is reported to have destroyed five structurally sound mosques, saying they were

“not good to look at.”

It is little wonder that one Rohingya said:

“The police are Arakanese, too. They hate us.”

Following hostilities, the police and army arrested many Rohingya, some as young as eight, and transferred them to unknown locations. One UN official reported

“torture, humiliating torture. They are kept without food, water, clothes...beatings can start immediately, even in the street...people die from beatings.”

Even United Nations and non-governmental organisation staff have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges and denied their basic rights.

Perhaps the most haunting stories are those from the days following the atrocities as mass graves are dug and filled. One man spoke of seeing

“trucks full of dead bodies...The smell was terrible.”

As mentioned previously in the House, one Arakanese attack in October resulted in the deaths of 70 or more Rohingya in one village. Two days later, villagers began digging individual graves for Rohingya killed in the massacre, but police and army officials made them dig mass graves so that the bodies would be buried quicker. A Rohingya man said that they buried 30 children who had been stabbed to death.

Such stories evoke uncomfortable memories of other areas of cleansing and indeed genocide, and that is before we consider the persecution of Christians in Chin state, which has been previously raised in the House, or the recent violence in Shan state, Oakkan, Meikhtila and Rakhine state. The horrors of people squeezing into small boats and trying to flee across the bay of Bengal is another tragedy that could take up a debate of its own.

As I said, this debate was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, yet even since then, severe crimes have been perpetrated. Last Tuesday at 10 am in Oakkan township, a Muslim lady had an accident with a young novice monk and broke his monk’s begging bowl. She apologised and offered compensation, but what did the police do? They charged her with blasphemy. A mob of hundreds of people surrounded the police station, demanding she be handed over to them. At 1 pm, mobs looted 200 Muslim properties, destroyed two mosques and burned down an Islamic school in the township. At 4 pm, three other villages were arson attacked—three mosques and hundreds of Muslim houses were burned down. When the mobs heard that the army was coming, they left and burned down six other Muslim villages for good measure on their way. That was all in one day, last week.

I therefore urge the Government to do everything possible in their power to continue to seek the protection and recognition of Burmese minorities such as the Rohingya. The British Government took the lead in

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pushing for EU sanctions to be imposed. Now that the sanctions have been lifted, they should take the lead to ensure they have not been lifted in vain, and that there is no further relaxation of pressure until those issues are addressed. We recognise that with freedom comes responsibility. The encouragement of greater economic freedom must be matched by the greater responsibility of taking human rights abuses seriously.

The House must recognise that the solution to the divisions in Burma will be found not only by the actions of the Burmese Government. Nevertheless, they must take a lead on helping to reconcile communities. They cannot encourage respect and reconciliation while failing to recognise the citizenship rights of the Rohingya and other minorities. I therefore welcome the recent condemnation of the attacks on the Rohingya people by President Thein Sein, but now is the time for actions rather than just words.

The Burmese Government can give minorities back their rights by reforming the 1982 citizenship law. Then we can point to real progress in both treatment and attitude. The test of the new democracy in Burma will be how it treats its minorities, as it is in any democracy—that is the test that we seek to apply in this country and in all nations. If the Burmese minorities continue to be classified as less than citizens, Burma will have failed what we can call the Rohingya human rights test, by which we can judge how Burma’s democracy is functioning.

Let me ask the Minister to respond on the four actions that we can expect at the very least. We should urge full rights for all minorities, and continued and focused aid. We must support Government initiatives to promote inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue, and Burma must be included in the preventing sexual violence initiative.

I conclude not with my words, but with the recent words of Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, who has warned that

“our fragile freedom…that…is just beginning to emerge could be snatched from our hands and Myanmar could descend into a vicious cycle of hatred, violence and turmoil”.

He has urged people to

“promote inter-religious dialogue, peace and harmony, and work together to rebuild not only the physical structures of our country, but the hearts and minds of our people.”

As you well know, Mr Speaker, Burma is in a new dawn of democratic government, but the light is yet to reach far too many people. I urge the Minister and all in the House not to let the Rohingya and other Burmese minorities be left forgotten in the shadows.

9.53 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on introducing the debate. I rise to echo many of the sentiments he has expressed in such an eloquent and heartfelt manner.

It is right to welcome the positive changes that are taking place in Burma, including the increased space for civil society, media and democratic political actors; improvements in freedom of expression; the release of some political prisoners; and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy in the parliamentary process. It is also right to recognise and encourage the efforts of reformers. However, as my

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hon. Friend has so graphically expressed, grave human rights violations continue and, as has been mentioned, none of the EU’s benchmarks has been fully met. Given the EU’s decision to lift sanctions, I urge the Minister to press the EU to spell out new ways in which it will prioritise, protect and promote human rights in Burma, and to send a strong message to the Government of Burma that, although sanctions have been lifted, the EU will not turn a blind eye to the continuing widespread violations of human rights there.

We can be encouraged by the Burmese Government’s intentions, such as those expressed by the Deputy Minister for Education and his emphasis on reform in the education system, including proposals to establish school councils consisting of outstanding students, designed, he said,

“to enable students to be involved in school administration and to build up leadership skills”.

He emphasised human rights and peace education, citizenship responsibilities and ethnic harmony as part of the curriculum. On the subject of ethnic diversity, he said:

“It is very important that there is peace, friendship and harmony. We do not want to live separately, we want to live side by side with the ethnic nationalities.”

He also emphasised English language teaching and encouraged the idea of bringing in native English speakers to improve English language standards. I hope that is something that this country will actively encourage.

I hope too that we will actively encourage reform of the public sector. A conversation I had only the week before last with a leading representative of an NGO highlighted how almost two generations of the civil service, the police and the public sector need proper training and education in how to act professionally in those organisations.

In light of the recent grave disturbances, it is critical that the Government of Burma, all political leaders, religious leaders from all communities, civil society, the international community and NGOs work together to promote religious harmony and peace, national reconciliation, law and order, freedom of religion and belief, and wider human rights for all the people of Burma, and to take clear and immediate action to bring the perpetrators of violence and hatred to justice and to counter hate speech and extremist propaganda of all kinds.

If concrete action is taken, the expression of good intent is converted into such action and political reforms develop from the current fragile change in atmosphere into a more substantive change of system, Burma has a real opportunity to achieve peace, freedom and democracy. I hope that this country will play its part. The international community must invest in urging the Government of Burma to address those grave violations of human rights that we have heard about this evening; in promoting inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation; in establishing a genuine peace process involving political dialogue—

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not see an amnesty for those who perpetrate sexual violence as a weapon of war and ethnic cleansing?

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Fiona Bruce: I agree with my hon. Friend. If justice is to mean anything, it means bringing the perpetrators to rights.

The international community must avoid premature euphoria and remain vigilant in promoting human rights for all the people of Burma. As Aung San Suu Kyi has said, some countries

“are going overboard with optimism, making the Government think that it is getting everything right”.

International policy towards Burma should be recalibrated to ensure that, while the reforms implemented so far are acknowledged, welcomed and encouraged, a strategy is adopted that combines pressure and critical constructive engagement, focusing on ending the grave violations of human rights, responding to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people, and countering religious and racial hatred and violence.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and others to ask the Minister what he will propose to the EU in terms of additional pressure for improvements in human rights in Burma. I ask him to urge that the Government of Burma consider the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners; action to end the use of torture and other violations of human rights in prisons and other detention facilities; the review and amending of the constitution in consultation with all political parties and ethnic nationalities; immediate and urgent action to tackle religious hatred and violence, to ensure adequate protection for all religious and ethnic communities and bring the perpetrators of religiously motivated violence and those who are complicit in such violence to justice, and to promote inter-religious dialogue, reconciliation and harmony; reform of the curriculum for religious education in schools to ensure that children are taught a basic understanding of all major religions and promote understanding and respect for all religions in Burma—

10 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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

Fiona Bruce: I ask the Minister to ensure that the EU urges the Government of Burma to announce a nationwide ceasefire and establish a nationwide peace process with all ethnic armed resistance organisations, involving a genuine political dialogue in search of a political solution to decades of civil war; to end immediately all military offensives in Kachin state and northern Shan state, and establish a genuine peace process with the Kachin Independence Organisation, involving a political dialogue; and to end immediately all violations of the ceasefire in Shan state. The EU should also urge the Government of Burma to allow unhindered and regular access for international and national humanitarian organisations to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance to internally displaced peoples in Kachin state and Arakan state; to end violations of freedom of religion or belief and ensure protection of freedom of religion or belief, as defined in article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights, in all parts of the country; to invite the UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief to visit Burma at the earliest opportunity—as has already been proposed by the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)—with unrestricted access to all

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parts of the country, particularly to Muslim communities affected by recent violence; to sign and ratify the international covenant on civil and political rights without reservation; and lastly, again joining with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, urgently to review and amend or repeal the 1982 citizenship law, in accordance with international norms. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

10.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this timely and important debate on the issues facing Burma. I thank him for his usual courtesy in giving us sight of his speech so that I am able to refer to a number of the issues he raised. I also thank Members for attending the debate, a larger number than is usual for a late-night Adjournment debate, and for their obvious interest. There is no doubt that their interest in Burma, expressed over a lengthy period by their visits and interest in human rights issues—not least by yourself, Mr Speaker—has been supported by a number of their constituents. Allow me to set out the background to some changes before dealing with some of the issues raised by colleagues in their remarks.

The decision a year ago to suspend economic sanctions against Burma was a key step in encouraging the regime to continue down the road of democratic reform. The decision on 22 April by EU Foreign Ministers to lift those sanctions, except the arms embargo, recognises the significant progress that has been made. By-elections a year ago gave Aung San Suu Kyi and her party 42 seats in Burma’s Parliament. Ceasefire agreements have been signed with 10 out of the 11 ethnic armed groups. We have seen many hundreds of political prisoners released. Daily newspapers are now sold on the streets of Rangoon, free from censorship. Those are real benefits to ordinary Burmese people who want to live, work and raise their families free from fear. As Aung San Suu Kyi herself said,

“It is time we let these sanctions go...we can't go on relying on sanctions for ever to aid the democracy movement.”

While it is right that we acknowledge the strides Burma has made towards reform since President Thein Sein took office in 2010, it is also right that we continue to express our concerns and take action. That same balance has been echoed by those who have spoken in the debate. Human rights remain at the heart of UK policy and our discussions with the Burmese Government. By lifting EU sanctions, we have paved the way for deeper engagement on issues of concern. Our engagement has, to date, yielded progress in a number of areas. The United Kingdom is supporting peace negotiations and reconciliation to turn ceasefires with ethnic armed groups into political dialogue. In Kachin state, we are cautiously optimistic about early engagement between the Burmese Government and the Kachin Independence Organisation. We recognise that a ceasefire agreement will require time and effort.

The language of the EU Council conclusions—referred to by a number of Members—which accompanied the lifting of sanctions highlights the need for action to address the conflict in Kachin state. The EU will not be short of determination to exert pressure in that regard, and we will not be short of determination to press our EU partners. We have said to both sides that we stand ready to support the process in any way we can.