4 Jun 2014 : Column 1

House of Commons

Wednesday 4 June 2014

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


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Message to attend Her Majesty

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

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

Speaker’s Statement

2.30 pm

Mr Speaker: The House has agreed that the Speaker should make a statement at the beginning of each Session about the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members.

I begin by reminding Members of their duty to observe the code of conduct agreed by the House and uphold the seven principles of public life that underpin it: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. That duty is owed both to the House and to those who elect us to our places here. Every member of the public has a right to expect that his or her Member of Parliament will exhibit the highest level of probity and integrity.

The privilege of freedom of speech that we enjoy in our proceedings here is there to ensure that our constituents are free to come to us and seek our assistance, no matter what the circumstances, and can be represented by us without fear or favour. It is a privilege that belongs to Members of Parliament only in their roles as representatives —as private individuals they are equal under the law with all those they represent. Freedom of speech is at the heart of what we do here for our constituents and allows us to conduct our business without fear of outside interference. It is an obligation on all Members to exercise that privilege responsibly.

In our debates and other proceedings, we should seek to ensure that every Member is heard courteously, regardless of the views that he or she is expressing. Every member of the public, including the staff of this House upon whom we rely, has a right to expect that Members of Parliament will behave with civility and in the best traditions of fairness.

Parliament should be an institution open to those it represents. We should seek to explain its work to those who elect us and to make them welcome here. But we must also bear in mind that the security of this building and those who work and visit here depends upon all of us. We all have a duty to be vigilant and to respect the rules that regulate access to this place for ourselves and for our visitors.

Before moving to the first business of the new Session, I would like to express my very best wishes for the 2014-15 Session of Parliament to all hon. Members and all those who work here.

I must inform the House that Mr Stephen Dorrell has written to me, giving notice of his wish to resign from the Chair of the Health Committee. I therefore declare the Chair vacant. In thanking the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) for the skill and diligence with which he has discharged his obligations to the House as Chair of the Committee, I can inform Members that the following will be the arrangements for electing a new Chair of the Health Committee. Nominations should be submitted in the Lower Table Office by 5 pm on Tuesday 17 June. Only Members of the Conservative party may be candidates in this election. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 18 June from 10 am to 1 pm in a Committee Room to be announced.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 3

I must also announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for the new Session. Nominations for that post should be submitted in the Lower Table Office between 10 am and 5 pm on Tuesday 10 June. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will be held in a Committee Room from 10 am to 1 pm on Wednesday 11 June. Only Members who do not belong to a party represented in Her Majesty’s Government may be candidates in this election. Briefing notes with more details about both of these elections will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.

Outlawries Bill

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

4 Jun 2014 : Column 4

Queen’s Speech

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

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

The Gracious Speech was as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My government’s legislative programme will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

To strengthen the economy and provide stability and security, my ministers will continue to reduce the country’s deficit, helping to ensure that mortgage and interest rates remain low.

An updated Charter for Budget Responsibility will be brought forward to ensure that future governments spend taxpayers’ money responsibly.

My government will also continue to cut taxes in order to increase people’s financial security.

My ministers will implement measures to increase further the personal allowance and to freeze fuel duty.

Measures will be brought forward for a married couple’s allowance, which will recognise marriage in the tax system.

Legislation will be introduced to help make the United Kingdom the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business. The Bill will support small businesses by cutting bureaucracy and enabling them to access finance.

New legislation will require ministers to set and report on a deregulation target for each Parliament. The legislation will also reduce delays in employment tribunals, improve the fairness of contracts for low paid workers and establish a public register of company beneficial ownership. Legislation will be introduced to provide for a new statutory code and an adjudicator to increase fairness for public house tenants.

Legislation will impose higher penalties on employers who fail to pay their staff the minimum wage. Measures will be brought forward to limit excessive redundancy payments across the public sector.

In respect of National Insurance contributions, legislation will be brought forward to tackle avoidance and to simplify their collection from the self-employed.

My government will introduce a Bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness. The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources. Legislation will allow for the creation of an allowable solutions scheme to enable all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard and will guarantee long-term investment in the road network.

My government will continue to implement major reforms to the electricity market and reduce the use of plastic carrier bags to help protect the environment.

A key priority for my ministers will be to continue to build an economy that rewards those who work hard.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 5

Legislation will be brought forward to give those who have saved discretion over the use of their retirement funds. My government’s pension reforms will also allow for innovation in the private pensions market to give greater control to employees, extend the ISA and Premium Bond schemes and abolish the savers’ ten pence tax rate.

The overall benefits bill will continue to be capped so that public expenditure continues to be controlled and policies will be pursued so people are helped from welfare to work.

My government will increase housing supply and home ownership by reforming the planning system, enabling new locally-led garden cities and supporting small house building firms.

Legislation will be brought forward to sell high value government land, encouraging development and increasing housing.

My ministers will continue to promote the Help to Buy and Right to Buy schemes to support home ownership.

My government will continue to deliver the best schools and skills for young people. In England, my ministers will help more schools to become academies and support more Free Schools to open, whilst continuing investment to deliver more school places. Further reforms to GCSEs and A Levels will be taken forward to raise standards in schools and prepare school pupils for employment. My government will increase the total number of apprenticeship places to two million by the end of the Parliament.

My government will continue to work to build a fairer society.

To improve education attainment and child health, my government will ensure all infants will receive a free school meal. Free childcare will be extended to more of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds and a Bill will be introduced to help working families with childcare costs.

A Bill will be introduced to strengthen the powers to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking whilst improving support for victims of such crimes.

A Bill will be brought forward to provide that where a person acts heroically, responsibly or for the benefit of others, this will be taken into account by the courts.

Legislation will be introduced to improve the complaints system in the Armed Forces through the creation of an ombudsman.

A serious crime Bill will be brought forward to tackle child neglect, disrupt serious organised crime and strengthen powers to seize the proceeds of crime.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 6

My government will continue its programme of political reform.

My ministers will introduce legislation on the recall of Members of Parliament.

My government will continue to implement new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament and make the case for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

My ministers will continue with legislation giving the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Ministers more power over taxation and investment.

My government will continue to work with the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to rebalance the economy, promote reconciliation and create a shared future.

Draft legislation will be published providing for direct elections to National Park authorities in England.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

The United Kingdom will work for peace and security on Europe’s borders, and for stable relations between Russia and Ukraine based on respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.

My government will host the NATO summit in Wales as a sign of the United Kingdom’s commitment to the alliance.

My ministers will strive to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria, to reduce violence and promote a political settlement. It will work for a successful transition in Afghanistan, and will work towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.

The United Kingdom will lead efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict worldwide.

My government will work to promote reform in the European Union, including a stronger role for member states and national parliaments. My ministers will also champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change.

Prince Philip and I will pay a State Visit to France and will attend events to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

We look forward to welcoming His Excellency the President of the Republic of Singapore on his forthcoming State Visit.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

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

4 Jun 2014 : Column 7

Debate on the Address

[1st day]

Mr Speaker: Before I call the mover and seconder, I shall inform the House of the proposed subjects for the remaining days of debate on the Loyal Address: Thursday 5 June—cost of living, and energy and housing; Monday 9 June—health; Tuesday 10 June—home affairs; Wednesday 11 June—jobs and work; Thursday 12 June—economy and living standards. I call Annette Brooke.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Well, the coalition parties have changed the order of speakers. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I shall happily allow them that privilege, but it is quite useful to know in advance when these things are being done. We look forward with interest and anticipation to hearing Penny Mordaunt.

2.36 pm

Penny Mordaunt: I beg to move,

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

Most Gracious Sovereign,

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

This might be a Queen’s Speech, but I am only the second woman to propose the Loyal Address in Her Majesty’s long reign. Fifty-seven years ago, Lady Tweedsmuir, the then Member for Aberdeen South, had the double pressure of proposing the Loyal Address and making her maiden speech. What she said deserves our consideration for its relevance today. She started by extolling the strengths of Scotland in the United Kingdom. She then set out the challenges facing the country, including the forging of a new relationship with Europe based on trade and co-operation, the creation of a new defence able to respond to Russian aggression and the growing of the economy, fusing the gigantic resources of the old world to the new. She then discussed the cost of living and the reform of the upper House, and finished by advocating the advantages of having more women parliamentarians.

It is a shame that the response Lady Tweedsmuir received from the then Leader of the Opposition is less able to stand up to contemporary scrutiny. Mr Gaitskell—with gallant intent, I am sure—replied to a nodding Commons that she had probably made some good points but that, alas, he had been unable to respond to any of them, such had been the distraction of her soft, attractive voice. So struck was he that he felt that, despite being a grandmother, she was rather easy on the eye, and he had found it impossible to concentrate on anything she said.

I realise that, in recounting this, I might have left the present Leader of the Opposition with a modern man’s dilemma. Should he now risk insulting me by concentrating solely on the issues raised, and failing to mention that I am also a softly-spoken charmer? Or, if he were to compliment me, would he risk incurring the wrath of

4 Jun 2014 : Column 8

the Labour party’s women’s caucus, potentially triggering the newly introduced power of recall? These are perilous times for a chap. Whatever he decides to do, I hope that this will mark the end of the parliamentary leap year. Women parliamentarians should be allowed to propose more than once every 57 years.

Lady Tweedsmuir’s first husband, Major Sir Arthur Lindsey Grant of the Grenadier Guards, was killed 70 years ago in Normandy, aged 32, in the aftermath of D-day. It was from Portsmouth that he and other heroes of that blood-red dawn of 6 June 1944 set sail, and it will be Portsmouth that will provide the focal point for our national commemoration of that blow for freedom that does indeed live in history. At 70 years’ distance, the invasion of Normandy is almost impossible to comprehend in its scale and industry. I have been able to understand it through speaking to the people who were there, many of whom it is my privilege to represent. This most remarkable war-time episode was made possible only through the blood, sweat and tears of so-called ordinary people.

The anniversary is a chance to reflect on what the people of this country can achieve when we are united in a common cause. I am proud that this Parliament has recognised the unique service of our armed forces and enshrined a covenant in law; proud that we have seen the injustices of the past addressed by the striking of the Arctic Star and the Bomber Command clasp; proud that we have introduced the Mesothelioma Act 2014, by which those dockyard workers in my city who would otherwise be left without assistance will receive support; and that we are now to create an armed forces ombudsman further to protect the interests of service personnel.

I am pleased too that the Defence Secretary has abandoned the unfortunate tradition of outlining the number of ships required in a defence review and then ordering precisely half of them. Since the strategic defence and security review three extra warships have been commissioned: a former Member for Portsmouth and Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Hedworth Meux, would have approved. In 1917, he seconded the Loyal Address in his number 1b uniform, and in the course of his remarks, advised that the naval service was better praised by an outsider than one who belongs to it. I, in contrast, am not in my uniform. Alas, Chamber protocol and concerns for the blood pressure of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) prevent it. As hon. Members who have come within earshot of me during the past four years will know, I am very happy to praise the senior service from within.

Since King Alfred, whose name my reservist unit bears, first fitted out the fleet at Portsmouth, she has been the crucible for our maritime nation’s considerable accomplishments—the battles of the Solent, Solebay, Trafalgar and the Falklands to name but a few. In 1902, she was home to the Navy’s first submarines, a capability dismissed by some Admirals at the time as

“underhand, unfair and damned un-English”.

Four years later, she hailed the awesome step-change in fire power brought by the Dreadnought. Today, the Type 45s, the most sophisticated and capable warships in the world, call Portsmouth home, and so too will the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, the first of which will be named exactly one month from today after our sovereign. [Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear.”] Their arrival in Portsmouth will see more tonnage in the harbour than at any time

4 Jun 2014 : Column 9

since Lady Tweedsmuir was on her feet, and 1,000 extra naval personnel. These ships, the largest ever commissioned by our Navy, will ensure an awakening for our nation of a golden maritime age. It is because of the skill and dedication of the men and women who built that ship that her launch marks not the end of the order book, but the beginning of a new chapter for Portsmouth’s shipyard—£1 billion of investment, assisted area status, a maritime taskforce, the defence growth partnership, and our very own Minister, enabling business to transform Portsmouth and the Solent into the maritime heart of the United Kingdom. In mentioning the new office of Minister for Portsmouth, I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) for the sterling work that he is doing to deliver this for my city and the nation. My advice is: if one wants a job doing, ask a busy Minister.

Such is my city’s confidence that we have never sought progress at the expense of our sister base ports of Plymouth, home of the amphibious fleet, and of Faslane, home to the deterrent submarines. I pray that a year from now, the Royal Navy will still have all three bases and those submarines remain damned un-English. I pay tribute to the achievements of the best navy in the world and to 350 years’ service of the Royal Marines.

The Prime Minister recently spoke about the UK being a small island with a big footprint in the world. That could apply equally to Portsmouth, the only island city in the UK. From the top of Portsdown hill, whose Palmerston forts point their guns inland as that was the only way the city was considered vulnerable to attack, one can see the whole of Portsmouth’s few square miles. However, the city’s reach stretches far out of sight. Our goods and services are exported around the globe, our satellites circle the heavens above and our citizens fuel the imagination. We are the city of Brunel, Dickens and Conan Doyle, who, when not writing prescriptions and detective novels, was keeping goal for Portsmouth FC.

Portsmouth football club is now owned by its fans. Pompey has blazed a trail for other clubs and given supporter involvement in football governance the legitimacy and momentum it deserves. That triumph was a wonderful expression of the Pompey spirit: determination, resilience and a close community bond. There are other examples, too. We have organised and fundraised to give the Hilsea lido a new lease of life—a project for which I have gladly sacrificed money, time and almost all my dignity.

In Wymering, we have come together with Highbury college to save for community use a Tudor manor in the middle of a housing estate—left to decay by the council, but now rescued by residents. Touchingly, the manor’s gardening group has christened its hedgehog mascot in honour of the man who enabled community asset transfer to become the norm: his name is Eric Prickles. Elsewhere in the city, the Lime Grove CAPE forum, the Beneficial Foundation, the Baffins Pond Association, Southsea Greenhouse and many other community groups work hard to improve their communities. We love our city and we love our country, too.

It has been said that Portsmouth is peopled by those who express their patriotism in their lives, the ultimate expression of which is to serve in our armed forces. I am proud that the Government are to review the roles in our services currently barred to women, to make sure that we make use of the best talent. In doing so, there

4 Jun 2014 : Column 10

must be no compromise of standards, but we must recognise that we cannot set women up to fail. Training must be tailored to enable us to be our best. I have benefited from some excellent training by the Royal Navy, but on one occasion I felt that it was not as bespoke as it might have been. Fascinating though it was, I felt that the lecture and practical demonstration on how to care for the penis and testicles in the field failed to appreciate that some of us attending had been issued with the incorrect kit.

Give us the opportunity and the training and women will embrace the challenge—that has certainly been Portsmouth’s experience. There were the all-women crew who beat all comers in the Portsmouth regatta of 1824 and there was Hertha Ayrton, suffragette and inventor of the Ayrton fan, who spoiled her 1911 census paper thus:

“How can I answer all these questions if I have not the intelligence to choose between two candidates for parliament?”

There were also the girls in the war, such as the now 96-year-old Mary Verrier, whose experiences are the subject of a new play “Tender Loving Care”, and those who learned a trade while coping with motherhood, widowhood or both. Today there are the first women submariners and the first female commanders of our warships. I look forward to other such firsts for women who serve. The review sends a strong message not only to them but to nations where women’s rights and talents are accounted too cheaply.

I am proud today that we have a parliamentary first—an all-women double act to propose and second the Loyal Address. I am delighted to serve as the warm-up act for the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke).

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): No pressure, then.

Penny Mordaunt: My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is concerned about the consequence of the coalition running its full course. He might see us as the Thelma and Louise of the parliamentary Session, driving at top speed to the Grand Canyon of electoral defeat. Let me reassure him that this will not be the case, because, unlike a 1966 Thunderbird, this coalition is right-hand drive. [Laughter.] He must guard against being like those Palmerston forts on Portsdown hill, our default position introspection. We must turn and face the horizon and face those issues of which Tweedsmuir spoke.

Before the next Queen’s Speech, the future of at least one Union will be decided, and possibly two. We will have withdrawn our troops from Afghanistan. We will have moved towards greater energy self-sufficiency, grappled with Russian aggression and the Syrian crisis, fought the evil that is modern slavery, further paid down the deficit, and continued with our long-term economic plan. If we are to be successful in these endeavours, then we must draw from the same sources as our forebears as D-day dawned. We must take confidence from our heritage. We must be willing to serve a cause greater than ourselves. We must show unity of purpose and the dual belief in the right of our cause and our ability to achieve it. If we ever doubt that our nation’s best days lie ahead and that our country can accomplish all it sets

4 Jun 2014 : Column 11

out to do, and lose sight of our duty and the principles and values that underpin it, then 60 miles and 220° south-west of this Chamber lies our inspiration.

2.52 pm

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): It is a great honour and privilege for me personally, and for my constituency of Mid Dorset and North Poole and for the Liberal Democrats, to second the Loyal Address today, and indeed to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). That was really some warm-up act—no pressure on me! She has certainly made a great impact, if not a big “Splash!”, in her first Address.

Although I was not born there, I have lived in Dorset for nearly 40 years. I would love to describe myself now as Dorset woman, but I am afraid that truly local families would not accept that. The constituency that I represent was created in 1997, and part of it—indeed, the part where I live—was represented by Sir John Ward from 1979 to 1997. By quite an amazing coincidence, he and I attended the same school in Romford, albeit decades apart. This school, it has to be said, was not a prestigious one, and I recall that in my school year only two pupils went to university, so it is quite remarkable that at least two former pupils became MPs, and extremely remarkable that we have represented the same area. I remember Sir John and his wife, Jean, with affection. On many occasions we recalled our schooldays, and Sir John encouraged me to believe in myself.

In 1994, when Sir John Ward was approaching 70, John Major brought him from the Back Benches to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary. I cannot help but speculate about potential further coincidences between Sir John and myself. The appointment was made at a time of splits on Europe and political scandals. Hon. Members may just have observed that there are differences of opinion in my party at the moment and difficulties involving some prominent individuals. Should I switch my phone back on as soon as I leave the Chamber, I ask myself, and await a similar call from the Deputy Prime Minister? Could I be plucked from obscurity? But perhaps I would prefer to preserve what little remains of my reputation as an old leftie. Sir John, of course, was a right-wing Eurosceptic. Respecting people with different political opinions is very important in coalition. Perhaps I learned important lessons from my acquaintance with him.

Looking back at other MPs who have represented constituencies in Dorset, I see that females are conspicuous by their absence. There was, of course, my noble Friend Baroness Maddock, who had a spectacular by-election victory in Christchurch. I was first elected in 2001, along with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) and many others—a year group that clearly included some high fliers. My election was the first Liberal victory in Dorset in a general election since Frank Byers became MP for North Dorset in 1945. His grand-daughter, of course, is now the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who sits on the Opposition Benches. I am proud to be the first female Liberal MP to propose or second a Loyal Address. Unfortunately, this could be down to the under-representation of women in my party—something which must change in the future.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 12

Alfred Russel Wallace, who along with Darwin co-discovered the process of evolution by natural selection, is buried in a splendid grave very near where I live. I cannot help wondering whether there are any lessons from his work regarding adaptation of women to the parliamentary environment and a reduction in male dominance; or is it Parliament that has to adapt? I have decided not to stray into his studies on monkey colonies today.

When describing my constituency, it is always tempting to say what it does not have. Like the whole of Dorset, it does not have a centimetre of motorway, but it also does not have a college, a university, a main hospital, a prison or a full-time fire station—I could go on. My constituency does not have a coastline, but provides the gateway to Purbeck’s spectacular world heritage Jurassic coast. What it does have is a collection of diverse communities with very special people. It has the market towns of Wareham and Wimborne, both steeped in history.

In April this year, there were 539 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance—a 1.4% unemployment rate. Although that will be an underestimate, it reflects a healthy mixed economy with a strong industrial base. Key defining features are very large areas of protected heathlands, which include Canford Heath and Upton Heath. A recent lottery grant of £2.7 million, matched with £2 million from the local community, has funded the Great Heath Living Landscape project, which is fantastic news for our natural heritage, a huge range of common and extremely rare wildlife species, and tourism.

Thomas Hardy country extends into my constituency with part of Egdon Heath. In “The Return of the Native”, Hardy writes:

“Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity.”

I thought I should just have a quote to show that I actually agree with some of what the Secretary of State for Education has been talking about. Hardy also writes, “Civilization was its enemy”, and that, in today’s context, is sadly so true, with damaging heath fires and pressure from an increasing population. I love our heathlands and feel a great duty to protect them for future generations, but I care deeply about those struggling to find a home. Finding the right compromises can be difficult.

Many Members present may recall that I was my party’s shadow children’s Minister before the 2010 general election—a role that I felt passionate about. Although I taught economics to sixth-formers and college students in my former career, I had not previously engaged with under-four-year-olds outside of my family. A child’s life chances are so strongly influenced in their early years, and successive Governments have grasped the importance of investment at that stage. I frequently praised the previous Government for their progress from the low base they inherited in 1997 to the level of nursery and pre-school education achieved by 2010. I have always argued that as well as supporting parents into work, nursery education should be provided for children living in workless households. I am incredibly proud that the coalition Government are already providing 15 hours of free education per week for 130,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds, as well the 15 hours per week for three and four-year-olds. I welcome the announcement today that free child care for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will be extended further, and that a Bill will be introduced to help working families with child care costs.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 13

Apart from child care, my interests ranged over an enormous area, as they do when someone is the spokesperson for a small party. Of great relevance for me today, of course, are the proposals for the Modern Slavery Bill and legislation to tackle child neglect. One of my first trips abroad as an MP was to Moldova, with UNICEF, to look at a country from where young girls were trafficked. It was a harrowing visit in more ways than one, as it included a visit to a sanctuary where returnees were staying. I remember how intrusive it felt to meet young women with so many physical and mental scars. It was predicted that many of them would be trafficked again. I also recall how a non-governmental organisation was setting up simple business opportunities for young girls in their village to enhance their local earning power. I welcome wholeheartedly the inclusion of the Modern Slavery Bill in the Queen’s Speech today, and the additional support for victims. More generally, I want to say how proud I am of this Government’s achievement in reaching the aid target of 0.7% of GDP.

I have been very pleased to support Action for Children’s campaign to update the criminal law to protect children better from emotional abuse. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on his private Member’s Bill, which undoubtedly contributed to the welcome announcement today. I also welcome legislation further to tackle female genital mutilation, following the work led by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention.

I suspect that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), will not forgive me—especially as he is sitting next to me— if I do not mention zero-carbon homes. Like him, I believe that climate change must be tackled. The largest share of greenhouse gases comes from our homes, so I am delighted that, through changes made in building regulations this year and today’s announcement that we will proceed with zero-carbon homes from 2016, people will have warmer homes and lower energy bills, and there will be a huge contribution towards reducing carbon emissions.

I must briefly mention the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), who has responsibility for pensions. He will bring in yet further reforms, some of which may even be applicable to me in my retirement next year. He has made an outstanding contribution to pension reform in this Government.

Coalition has been a difficult period for me politically, but I am pleased to have had the opportunity today to comment on just a few of the many policies of which I am generally very, very proud, and to reflect on the economic recovery that was made possible by the formation of the coalition. I am honoured to commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

3.4 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): This Friday we will mark 70 years since the Normandy landings, when wave upon wave of allied forces poured on to the beaches of northern France. They marked the beginning of the final chapter of the second world war, which preserved the freedoms that we enjoy today, so I want to

4 Jun 2014 : Column 14

start by honouring the service of those veterans and the memory of their fallen comrades—a feeling that I am sure is shared across the whole House.

I am sure that across the House today Members will also want to remember and pay tribute to the work of our armed forces over the past decade in Afghanistan. At the end of this year, British combat operations will come to an end. We should be incredibly proud of the service of our armed forces in that country. They have fought to make Afghanistan a more stable country, a country with democracy and the rule of law, and a country that cannot be used as a safe haven to plan acts of terrorism here in Britain. We grieve for the 453 members of our armed forces who have been lost, and our thoughts are with their families and friends. All of them and all the people who have served have demonstrated, as did our Normandy veterans all those years ago, that they represent the best of our country.

By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary Session we remember the Members of the House we have lost in the last year. In January, we lost Paul Goggins. He was one of the kindest, most honourable people in the House and someone of the deepest principle. At a time when people are very sceptical about politics, Paul Goggins is a reminder of what public servants and public service can achieve.

Let me turn to the proposer of the motion. The hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) gave an excellent speech—so far, so good. It had a sense of history, a sense of place and a sense of humour. From reading about her background, she can only be described, as we saw from her speech, as one of life’s enthusiasts. Before coming to this House, she had a varied career. She was a magician’s assistant when a teenager and then had a job that was nearly as dangerous—running the foreign press operation for President George W. Bush.

The hon. Lady made headlines for her recent appearance on “Splash!”, to which she made reference. If she will allow me, I will quote her admirable line in self-deprecation about her performance:

“I have the elegance and drive of a paving slab”.

I say unequivocally today that that is wrong. As she got to the quarter finals, I am not sure what that says about the contestants who were knocked out before her. It certainly takes guts to get in a swimming costume and dive off the high board. If she is looking for a new challenge, she should try wrestling a bacon sandwich live on national television. In any case, it is clear that she deserved her place on the podium today.

The seconder of the motion made an eloquent speech. The hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) came to this House with more than 20 years’ teaching in further education and the Open university behind her. Since being elected in 2001, she has campaigned with distinction on children’s issues and has been an assiduous local Member of Parliament. She voted against tuition fees, has described being in the coalition as terrible and says that the Lib Dem record on women MPs is dreadful. By current Lib Dem standards, that apparently makes her a staunch loyalist. On gender representation, she can take consolation from the fact that she can now boast that 100% of Liberal Democrat MEPs are women. As she said, she will be standing down at the next election. For her outside experiences, her wisdom and her all-round good humour and kindness,

4 Jun 2014 : Column 15

which I remember from when I was first elected to this House, she will be much missed.

Before I turn to the Loyal Address, let me say something about one of the most important decisions for generations, which will be made in just a few months’ time—the decision about the future of our United Kingdom. The history of the UK, from workers rights to the defeat of fascism to the NHS to the minimum wage, is the story of a country stronger together—a country in which representation from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England has helped us to advance the cause of social justice. It is a decision for the people of Scotland, but I believe passionately that this kingdom should remain united.

The ritual of the debate on the Loyal Address has existed for centuries. Today we do not just debate the Queen’s Speech; we assert the importance of this House and the battle it has fought over hundreds of years to exercise power on behalf of the British people. But what the recent elections show is that more than at any time for generations this House faces a contemporary battle of its own—a battle for relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public. The custom of these debates is to address our opponents across the Dispatch Box, but today that on its own would be inadequate to the challenge we face. There is an even bigger opponent to address in this Queen’s Speech debate—the belief among many members of the public that this House and any party in it cannot achieve anything at all.

About 10% of those entitled to vote at the recent elections voted for UKIP, but as significant is the fact that over 60% did not vote at all. Whatever side we sit on in this House, we will all have heard it on the doorstep—“You’re all the same. You’re in it for yourself. It doesn’t matter who I vote for.” Of course that is not new, but there is a depth and scale of disenchantment that we ignore at our peril—disenchantment that goes beyond one party and one Government. There is no bigger issue for our country and our democracy, so the test for this legislative programme, the last before the general election, is to show that it responds to the scale of discontent and the need for answers.

In this election we heard concerns about the way the EU works and the need for reform. We heard deep-rooted concerns about immigration and the need to make changes, but I believe there is an even deeper reason for this discontent. Fundamentally, too many people in our country feel that Britain does not work for them and has not done so for a long time—in the jobs they do and whether hard work is rewarded; in the prospects for their children and whether they will lead a better life than their parents, including whether they will be able to afford a home of their own; in the pressures that communities face. and above all whether the work and effort that people put in are reflected in their sharing fairly in the wealth of the country.

The Governor of the Bank of England gave a remarkable speech last week, saying that inequality was now one of the biggest challenges in our country. We should all be judged on how we respond to this question, right as well as left. There are measures that we support in this Queen’s Speech, including tackling modern slavery, an ombudsman for our armed forces, and recall, but the big question for this Queen’s Speech is whether it just

4 Jun 2014 : Column 16

offers more of the same or whether it offers a new direction so that we can genuinely say that we can build a country that works for all and not just for a few at the top.

For me, this task starts with the nature of work in Britain today. It is a basic belief of the British people that if you work all the hours God sends, you should at least be able to make ends meet. We all, on all sides of the House, say in our slogans that those who work hard and play by the rules should be rewarded for what they do, but we should listen to the voices of all those people who say that their reality today is that hard work is not rewarded and has not been for some time. All of us on all sides will have heard that during the recent election campaign, such as from the person I met in Nottingham who was struggling with agency work and total uncertainty about how many hours’ work he would get. This was his working life: every morning at 5 am he would ring up to find out if there was work for him. More often than not, there was none. He had a family to bring up.

The fact that this is happening in 21st-century Britain, the fourth richest country in the world, should shame us all. This is not the Britain that that man believes in, it is not the Britain we believe in, and it should not be the Britain this House is prepared to tolerate. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We have seen the number of zero-hours contracts go well above 1 million. We need to debate as a country whether this insecurity is good for individuals, families and the country as a whole. It is not.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to continue to create more and more jobs, but one of the things we have to make sure of is this: we have just reduced national insurance by £2,000 for employers, so will he now rule out any increase in employers’ or employees’ national insurance?

Edward Miliband: I believe we actually called for that proposal first, but I say to the hon. Lady that there are two schools of thought on the recent experience of the election, one of which says that this country is fine and the economy is fixed. I do not believe that that is the message of the recent elections.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I am going to make a bit more progress.

We must debate, as a country, whether we should really be prepared to do something about the problem, and we need to debate the wider problem. Five million people in Britain—one in five of those in work—are now low paid. The shocking fact is that, for the first time on record, most of the people who are in poverty in Britain today are in work, not out of work.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that politics cannot be the same. In that spirit, will he be clear and transparent and rule out once and for all—should he enter Downing street, God forbid—any new tax on employment through increases in either employers’ or employees’ national insurance contributions?

4 Jun 2014 : Column 17

Edward Miliband: We want to see taxes on employment fall—that is why we have proposed a 10p tax rate to actually make work pay for people.

The shocking fact is that for the first time on record most people in poverty are in work—so much for hard work paying. None of our constituents sent us here to build such an economy. At a time when we face significant fiscal challenges into the future, it is costing the taxpayer billions of pounds. It is no wonder that people in this country do not think this House speaks for them. To show a new direction for the country, and to show that it is not just more of the same, the Queen’s Speech needs to demonstrate to all those people that it can answer their concerns.

There is a Bill in this Queen’s Speech covering employment, but the Bill we need would signal a new chapter in the battle against low pay and insecurity at work, not just business as usual. What would that involve? It would set a clear target for the minimum wage for each Parliament, whereby we raised it closer to average earnings. If someone is working regular hours for month after month, they should be entitled to a regular contract, not a zero-hours contract. If dignity in the workplace means anything, it should clearly mean that. We could make it happen in this Parliament and show the people of this country that we get what is happening, but this Queen’s Speech does not do that.

Britain, like countries all round the world, faces a huge challenge of creating the decent, middle-income jobs that we used to take for granted, and many of those jobs will be created by small businesses. There is a Bill in this Queen’s Speech on small business, but we all know—[Interruption.] A Government Member says “Hear, hear”, but we all know that we have a decades-long problem in this country of banks not serving the real economy. Companies that are desperate to expand, invest and grow cannot get the capital they need. For all the talk of reforming the banks, is there anyone who really believes the problem has been cracked, with lending to small businesses continuing to fall? The choice that we face is whether to carry on as we are, or whether we say that the banks need to change, break up the large banks so that we tackle our uncompetitive banking system and create regional banks that properly serve small business, but the Queen’s Speech does not do that.

A Queen’s Speech that was setting a new direction would also tackle another decades-long problem that has happened under Governments of both parties, and would devolve economic power from Whitehall to our great towns and cities. If I may say so, Lord Heseltine was right in his report—we do need to give our towns, cities and communities the tools to do the job. That is even more important when there is less money around. They need more powers over skills, economic development and transport, and the Government should be going much further. None of that is in the Queen’s Speech.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman rule out a jobs tax on workers in my constituency should he get into power?

Edward Miliband: Here we have it: the country wants answers to deeply serious questions, and what do the Government do? They get every Tory Back Bencher to

4 Jun 2014 : Column 18

read out a planted Whip’s question. I have to say it: no wonder the public hate politics, given the way Government Members behave.

The first thing this Queen’s Speech needed to do was signal a new direction in the jobs we create in this country and whether hard work pays, and it did not rise to the challenge.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to the question that I have obviously been given by the Chief Whip. In his opening and thoughtful part of his speech he called for a different form of politics, but as soon as he gets on to the detail it is business as usual and he criticises us for doing the same. May we go back to his first speechwriter, who was actually giving us something rather interesting?

Edward Miliband: I say to the hon. Gentleman that the man who called for a pact with UKIP clearly has great confidence in the prospects of the Conservative party and its ability to win the election.

Let me come to the child care Bill. We support measures on child care, which is part of the cost of living crisis, although the scale of that challenge means that we could go further on free places for three and four-year-olds. We also support the Bill on pensions, although we want to ensure that people get proper advice to avoid the mis-selling scandals of the past.

The next task for this Queen’s Speech is to face up to another truth: for the first time since the second world war, many parents fear that their children will have a worse life than they do. No wonder people think that politics does not have the answers when that is the reality they confront, and nowhere is that more important than on the issue of housing. We all know the importance of that to provide security to families, and we know that it matters for the durability of our recovery too. The Bank of England has warned that the failure to build homes is its biggest worry, and that generational challenge has not been met for 30 years.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Thirteen years!

Edward Miliband: The hon. Lady speaks from a sedentary position, but I say that that challenge has not been met for 30 years. Part of the challenge we face as a country is facing up to the long-term challenges—[Interruption.] I say to Government Members who are shouting that in no year of this Government have there been as many housing completions as in any year of the last Labour Government. It is a long-term challenge that we all have to face. We are currently building half the homes we need, and on current trends the backlog will be 2 million homes by 2020.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the Leader of the Opposition confirm that in 13 years of a Labour Government, fewer council houses were built than under even the Thatcher Government?

Edward Miliband: What I can say is that we built 2 million homes under a Labour Government, and we had a faster rate of house building than under this Government. As I have said, we face a big long-term challenge in this country, and the question is whether we are going to face up to it or just carry on as we did.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 19

This Queen’s Speech proposes a new town at Ebbsfleet. That is fine, but it does not do enough to set a new direction in building homes. What is the fundamental problem? The fundamental problem is a market that is not working, with a small number of large developers not having an incentive to build at the pace we need. We know there is a problem of developers getting planning permission, sitting on land and waiting for it to accumulate value. There are land banks with planning permission for more than half a million homes, and we can either accept that or change it. We could give councils powers to say to developers, “Use the land or lose the land”, but the Government repeatedly refuse to do that. We could give councils the right to grow where they need more land for housing. The House could commit today to getting 200,000 homes built a year—the minimum we need. After all, in the 1950s that is what a one nation Conservative Prime Minister did. However, the Queen’s Speech does none of those things.

A Queen’s Speech that is rising to the challenge on housing would also do something for the 9 million people who rent in the private sector. There are more than 1 million families and 2 million children with no security at all. Children will start school this September, but their parents will have no idea whether they will still be in their home in 12 months’ time—and we wonder why people are losing faith in politics.

When the Opposition published our proposals for three-year tenancies, some people said they were like something out of Venezuela. If something as modest as that is ridiculed as too radical, is it any wonder that people who rent in the private sector do not think this Parliament stands up for them? Those proposals would not transform everything overnight, but they would tell 9 million people who rent in the private sector that we get it, and that something can be done. It is not an insecurity hon. Members would be willing to accept, so why should other people have to accept the insecurity they face?

There is another area where people are fed up being told that nothing can be done: their gas and electricity bills. It is eight months since Labour called for a freeze on people’s energy bills. Just this week, we have seen figures showing that companies have doubled their profit margins. That is a test of whether the House will stand up to powerful vested interests and act or say that nothing can be done. The companies can afford it, the public need it, and the Government have ignored it: this Queen’s Speech fails that test.

Another test for the Queen’s Speech is whether it responds to the anxieties people feel in their communities—[Interruption.] I say to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) that shouting from a sedentary position is another thing people hate about this Parliament. [Interruption.] We are seeking improvement. We all know that one of the biggest concerns at the election was around immigration. This is an important point. I believe that immigration overall has been good for the country. I believe that as the son of immigrants, and I believe it because of the contribution that people coming here have made to our country, but hon. Members know that we must address the genuine problems about the pace of change, pressures on services and the undercutting of wages.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 20

Some people say we should cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and withdraw from the European Union. In my view, they are profoundly wrong. We have always succeeded as a country when we have engaged with the rest of the world. That is when Britain has been at its best. Others say that nothing can or should be done. I believe they are wrong, too. We can act on the pace of change by insisting on longer controls when new countries join the EU. We need effective borders at which we count people in and out. The House can act on something else that all hon. Members know is happening in our communities by tackling the undercutting of wages. We should not just increase fines on the minimum wage, but have proper enforcement.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am sure the entire nation is grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for allowing the British people to speak about immigration—the Opposition have previously denounced as racist many of our fellow citizens who have spoken out on the matter. Will he apologise for the policies of the previous Labour Government, who admitted uncontrolled migration of 2.2 million people into this country—deliberately—the result of which is huge pressure on our social services and a massive increase in the demand for housing, to which he has referred.

Edward Miliband: Let me say to the hon. Gentleman plainly that it is not prejudiced to have concerns about immigration—he is right about that. We should have longer transitional controls, as I have said on many occasions, but the question is what we are going to do about the problem now. Are we going to tackle what is happening in our labour market? I do not understand why the Government are not taking action on those issues. Employers crowd 10 to 15 people into a house to sidestep the minimum wage. We all know it is happening. Gangmasters exploit workers from construction to agriculture. We all know it is happening. We should stop employment agencies from advertising only overseas or from being used to get around the rules on fair pay. We all know it is happening.

Alun Cairns: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I am not going to give way.

It is no wonder people lose faith in politics when they know those things are happening and Parliament fails to act. If the House believes those things are wrong, we should do something about them. Responding to the concerns we have heard about work, family and community is the start the House needs to make to restore our reputation in the eyes of the public.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I am not giving way.

At the beginning of my speech, I said that there is a chasm between the needs and wishes of the people of this country and whether or not this House and politics are capable of responding. We need to rise to this challenge. This Queen’s Speech does not do that, but it can be done. That is the choice the country will face in less than a year’s time. This is what a different Queen’s Speech would have looked like: a “make work pay” Bill

4 Jun 2014 : Column 21

to reward hard work, a banking Bill to support small businesses, a community Bill to devolve power, an immigration Bill to stop workers being undercut, a consumers Bill—




Mr Speaker: Order. Mr Cairns, you have done quite a lot of yelling loutishly from a sedentary position, which does not greatly advance your cause. I invite you to note that it is not difficult: the Leader of the Opposition is not giving way. The hon. Gentleman should therefore exercise his judgment.

Edward Miliband: This is what the Queen’s Speech should have done: a “make work pay” Bill to reward hard work, a banking Bill to support small businesses, a community Bill to devolve power, an immigration Bill to stop workers being undercut, a consumers Bill to freeze energy bills, a housing Bill to tackle the housing crisis and a NHS Bill to make it easier for people to see their GP and to stop privatisation. To make that happen we need a different Government: we need a Labour Government.

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): In this, the year that our troops leave Afghanistan, let me start by paying tribute to those who have lost their lives serving our country. Since 2001, 453 British servicemen and servicewomen have made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and our security. Our troops in Afghanistan have driven out al-Qaeda from their training camps. They have helped to train Afghan forces—over 300,000 people —to take control of their own security. They have done all that we have asked of them and much more besides. Last month, we saw a presidential election in Afghanistan that has paved the way for the first ever democratic transition of power in living memory. I said at the start of this Parliament that we would get all our combat troops home by the end of 2014. By the end of this year, we will have done just that. We will never forget the sacrifices made for us. We will build a permanent memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. We must honour their memory for generations to come.

There is clearly a huge amount to be done still to turn our country around, but, as a result of the work in the previous Session, the Government have now cut the deficit by a third, cut crime by more than 10%, cut taxes for more than 26 million people, capped benefits, frozen fuel duty, helped to freeze council tax for the fourth year running and cut billions from the bloated cost of government. We have introduced a cancer drugs fund in our NHS, treated 1 million more patients a year and all but abolished mixed-sex wards. Our economy is now growing faster than at any point in the past six years: faster than those in France, in Germany, and America. There are 1.5 million more people in work, 400,000 more businesses, 1.7 million more apprenticeships and almost 700,000 fewer adults on out-of-work benefits. The claimant count has fallen in every single constituency in Great Britain over the past year. Our long-term economic plan is working, but there is much, much more to do. This Queen’s Speech sets out the next steps in seeing through this vital plan to secure our future, but it will take the rest of this Parliament and the next to finish the task of turning our country around. That is the enormity of the challenge we face, but it is matched by the strength of our commitment to sorting it out.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 22

The Leader of the Opposition rightly talked about those MPs who, sadly, died in the previous parliamentary Session. He was right to say that the House lost one of its most respected and popular Members. Paul Goggins was a kind and brilliant man who believed profoundly in public service. As a Minister, he did vital work in Northern Ireland, and he cared passionately about delivering the devolution of policing and justice to the Province. He was one of those MPs who passionately believe that crime and insecurity affect the poorest people most, and he spoke about it with real power. He also cared deeply about the welfare of children. We are honouring his memory in this Queen’s Speech by making child neglect illegal. It is a move I know he would have supported and something I am sure will be backed on all sides of the House.

The Loyal Address was brilliantly proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). She showed us her characteristically shy and retiring style. It was a brilliant speech. She did her city proud and we saw a real parliamentary star.

It has already been noted by the Leader of the Opposition that my hon. Friend was once foreign affairs press adviser to President George W Bush. I am not sure which of the former President’s remarks she was responsible for, but as you would expect, Mr Speaker, I have done my research into her school reports and I understand that, despite an outstanding record, she gave up geography rather early, so I hope she was not behind the President when he asserted:

“Border relations between Canada and Mexico have never been better.”

My hon. Friend has done outstanding work in support of our armed forces, as everyone heard today, and she is herself a navy reservist. I understand that while training at Dartmouth, cadets are dunked in an icy river on Dartmoor and asked three short questions: name, rank and unit. When my hon. Friend hit the water, however, a crowd of marines formed along the bank and shouted, “Lads, we’ve got the Member of Parliament.” My hon. Friend was then asked for name, constituency, majority, votes polled, swing, number of constituents, followed by the request for a 20-minute explanation of the strategic defence and security review. Judging by her performance today, she would have done that without deviation, hesitation or repetition. She survived all that and is a great champion for Portsmouth. She helped to take Portsmouth football club, as she told us, into genuine community ownership; she is fighting around the clock to get new commercial opportunities at the Portsmouth shipyard; and, as has been said, she famously took part in ITV1’s “Splash!” to sell the Hilsea lido for the community. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, this is the latest example of people being asked to attempt something exceptionally difficult in front of a live audience on national television. As the Leader of the Opposition rightly said, the next one will presumably be a request to eat a sandwich live on television, and see how it all goes.

My hon. Friend has the distinction of being the only serving Member of Parliament to have captained a British amphibious assault ship. She captained HMS Bulwark, and I am sure that she was as effective a “master and commander” of that vessel as she was of this House this afternoon.

Let me turn to the seconder of the Loyal Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) has served this House with

4 Jun 2014 : Column 23

distinction for 13 years. She has done great work in that time as chair of the all-party groups on micro-finance, on ME and on breast cancer, while she spoke today about the importance of heathland, child care and nursery education—all causes close to her heart. I have looked very carefully at all the things she has championed. She failed to mention that she is also a leading voice in the campaign for the protection of endangered species—work that has taken on a new significance in recent weeks!

Last year, my hon. Friend became the chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party. I was pleased to note that in a party that prides itself on democracy, she was elected unopposed. She rightly welcomed the measures in this Queen’s Speech to outlaw the appalling practice of modern-day slavery, and I know this Bill will have all-party support.

My hon. Friend has a strong track record on human rights and a history of making a case on this subject. Again, I have tried to do my research, and I can inform the House that, like many distinguished Liberal Democrats, she has, of course, been arrested. In her case, the cause was entirely honourable. She told us about her visits to Moldova and I understand that she was campaigning for children’s rights when she was detained by the authorities because she was so vigorous in rightly championing what she believed in. She prevailed in this as she has in many other causes she has championed. It was entirely appropriate that she was given the honour of seconding the Loyal Address today; she did so with style and aplomb.

Our foreign policy priorities are set out in the Gracious Speech: strong in defence of freedom and united against all threats, especially the dark shadow of extremism falling over countries such as Syria and Nigeria. On Friday, I will join hundreds of D-day veterans on the beaches of Normandy as we begin a summer of commemorations, which will also include the centenary of the beginning of the first world war. The Leader of the Opposition quite rightly spoke powerfully about this important commemoration. As we remember the sacrifices made for peace and the threats that face us today in our world, there has never been a more important time to underline our belief in collective defence.

At the NATO summit in Wales, Britain will host the largest gathering of international leaders ever to take place here in the United Kingdom. As well as seeing through the transition in Afghanistan, we will support the Ukrainian Government as they embark on tough, but necessary reforms, and we will take steps to ensure that Britain and its NATO allies have the equipment and ability to address the ever-evolving threats to our security. Britain meets its NATO commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on defence, and we will urge other countries to do the same.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The Prime Minister has almost anticipated the question that I was going to put to him. We are meeting our minimum 2% commitment to NATO; will he give an undertaking that as long as he remains Prime Minister, this country will always meet that commitment?

The Prime Minister: It is very important to meet such commitments. We will set our detailed plans in our manifesto, but throughout the time for which I have

4 Jun 2014 : Column 24

been Prime Minister, we have kept—more than kept—that commitment, and it is important for us to use our record of meeting it, at a time when we have had to make difficult decisions about spending, to encourage other countries to do the same.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): May I return the Prime Minister to what he said earlier about his record on jobs? In Chesterfield, I constantly meet people who are in work but in poverty, and who use food banks because they cannot make work pay. Why has the Prime Minister done so little to support people who are working hard, but cannot make work pay under his Government?

The Prime Minister: Let me say first to the hon. Gentleman that it is good news that, in Chesterfield, the claimant count for unemployment benefit has fallen by 29% over the past year. He asked specifically what we had done to help people who are in work. Well, we have ensured that they can earn £10,000 before they pay any income tax, we have made it possible to have council tax frozen, we have cut fuel duty, and we have done many other things to ensure that people can keep more of the money that they earn.

We will continue to lead the way in reforming the European Union, which, as I have said, has become too big, too bossy and too interfering. We have already made a start, not least with the first ever real-terms cut in the EU budget. In this Session we shall see the first benefits of that cut, which, over time, will save British taxpayers more than £8 billion. That is proof that this House of Commons and this Government can get things done.

James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Should a Member introduce a private Member’s Bill to legislate for an in/out referendum on our membership of the European Union in the coming Session, will the Prime Minister give that Member the same wholehearted support that he has shown to me during the past year?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend the undertaking for which he asks. He did a brilliant job in presenting his Bill to the House of Commons. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned some of the issues that turn people away from politics. I think that one of the ways in which we can turn people back on to politics is to make it clear that, when it comes to the vital issue of whether or not Britain should be a member of a reformed European Union, it is the British people who should have their say.

At the heart of the Queen’s Speech is our long-term economic plan, which is based on a clear set of values. It is wrong to pass on an irresponsible burden of debt to our children, and it is right that people should keep more of the money that they earn. The best route out of poverty is work. Britain needs to earn its way in the world, and in order to do that we need modern infrastructure, new roads, high-speed rail, superfast broadband, and new sources of energy. It is business and enterprise that create jobs and generate revenue to fund our public services, and we can afford public services only if we back business, support entrepreneurs, and take on the anti-business sentiment that holds Britain back.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 25

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the Prime Minister recognise that his plan to strip property owners of their right to refuse permission for fracking under their homes is hugely unpopular? It is opposed by 75% of the population. Will he tell us why he is ignoring not just the public, but the science which shows very clearly that if we are to have any hope of avoiding climate change, we must leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground?

The Prime Minister: I think that we should look at the empirical evidence provided by countries around the world, including the United States, where the ability to access shale gas is making energy prices and industry competitive and is helping the economy to grow. Those who are against access to shale gas seem to be claiming that it will somehow be legal to go on to people’s property and frack against their will. That is simply not the case, as the legislation that we are setting out will make extremely clear.

I was speaking about the values that are at the heart of the Queen’s Speech, and I believe that they are what matter when it comes to turning people back on to politics and our ability to change things in a way that they will find satisfactory. One value that is important is fairness. However, fairness means not just what people get out but what they put in, so it is right for us to have a welfare system that rewards work and an immigration system that is tough, controlled, and unashamedly in our national interest. We will never have genuine equality of opportunity if we have low expectations for our children, so it is right for us to take on the dumbing down and the low standards of the past, and to ensure that we have the best schools and skills for the next generation. Those are the values at the heart of this Queen’s Speech.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The Government have created more than 1.7 million jobs, and have helped many of my constituents back into work. Will job creation continue to be at the heart of their policy?

The Prime Minister: Job creation is absolutely at the heart of what this Government are about. As my hon. Friend said, we have seen 1.7 million more private sector jobs and 1.5 million more people in work overall. One of the things that I think is absolutely vital is to give a clear commitment that we will not put up jobs taxes—national insurance—on either employers or employees. I am prepared to make that commitment; why will the Leader of the Opposition not do so? He was asked repeatedly. He says he wants to deal with the things that people find so frustrating. One of the things that is so frustrating is when someone will not give a simple answer to a straightforward question.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) rose

The Prime Minister: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps he can answer on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition and tell us whether he supports jobs taxes or not.

Andrew Gwynne: The Prime Minister is right that the Queen’s Speech is a question of values, so if he can find time to legislate on plastic bags, why cannot he also

4 Jun 2014 : Column 26

find the time to legislate to help the millions of people struggling with the cost of renting?

The Prime Minister: We have made new tenancies available. That is absolutely vital, and it is also important that we make sure that there is greater transparency in this industry, but the idea of rent controls that would lock people out of housing is a throwback to the 1970s and would not work.

As we recover from Labour’s great recession, the British public want to know that we will do everything possible to deliver financial security—[Interruption.] I thought that shouting from a sedentary position was out of fashion. The message has not got through. As is often the case, the message has not got through from the Leader of the Opposition, who has a new idea in politics that he has not yet told his shadow Chancellor. What a surprise! Financial security is what our long-term plan is all about.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Returning to the question of Europe, why, under the Prime Minister’s policy, do the British people have to wait three years for this referendum? [Interruption.] I accept that my views on this are not shared by others, but I am prepared—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry about this, because let me tell the Prime Minister that people concerned about Europe do not trust his promise to have this referendum in 2017. Let us trust the people, get on with it, make this decision more quickly and have the referendum before the next election.

The Prime Minister: The short answer to that is that if the hon. Gentleman wants a referendum, he could have supported our Bill in the last Session. Let me answer him directly: the reason for having the referendum by the end of 2017 is that I want to renegotiate Britain’s position in Europe to get us a better deal, so we give people a real choice: “Do you want to stay in this reformed European Union or do you want to leave altogether?” I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition that my experience of 13 years in this House is that when you lose the support of the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), you are in deep, deep trouble.

What we heard from the Opposition was that there was not enough in the Queen’s Speech. I think we should be clear about this, the fifth year of this Parliament. For the first time ever we are introducing tax-free child care to help hard-working families. We are creating new laws on producing shale gas to give us energy security; new laws to help build high-speed rail to modernise our infrastructure; new laws to reform planning to build more homes and help more young people. We are outlawing modern slavery, confiscating assets from criminals, protecting people who volunteer, cutting red tape, and curbing the abuse of zero-hours contracts. This is a packed programme of a busy and radical Government.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Does the Prime Minister also recognise the importance of taking forward developments in the North sea oil and gas industry and implementing the report of the Wood review, and in particular of getting the message across that it is not just jobs in the north-east of Scotland, but our whole supply chain throughout the United Kingdom, that will benefit?

4 Jun 2014 : Column 27

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks very powerfully for his constituency and for that absolutely vital industry which, as he says, is vital not just for Scotland, but for the whole of the United Kingdom. We are going to make sure that the recommendations of the Wood review are included in our infrastructure Bill, which is a key Bill at the heart of this Queen’s Speech.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Prime Minister mentioned zero-hours contracts. Having care workers in long-term employment on zero-hours contracts means that the people they are caring for are getting a bad deal, so will he amend his Bill to give protection to those workers?

The Prime Minister: Labour had 13 years to act on zero-hours contracts and did absolutely nothing. We are outlawing exclusivity in zero-hours contracts. I thought this was one of the problems with the Leader of the Opposition’s response—[Interruption.] Oh, too late we are told. Hold on, Labour had 13 years to do something and did nothing. One of the problems with the Leader of the Opposition’s response to the Gracious Speech was that I was not sure he had read it. He asked when we are going to make sure that employment agencies cannot only advertise overseas—we have acted on that. When we are going to have higher fines for not paying the minimum wage? It is in the Queen’s Speech. When are we going to stop exclusivity in zero-hours contracts? We have done it. Those are all things Labour has talked about and never acted on.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister is aware that there is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. I am not making a party political point, but in my constituency many people are on the minimum wage and it is not enough to make ends meet. Why did he not consider increasing the minimum wage in the Gracious Speech today?

The Prime Minister: I support increases in the minimum wage, and it has just increased at a faster rate than average earnings, which is actually the policy the hon. Lady supports. I want to see a £7 minimum wage, but what we need to do, while keeping the process of setting the minimum wage independent, is cut taxes for people on minimum wages. That is what we are doing. The income tax bill of someone working 40 hours a week on the minimum wage is down by two thirds—that is what has happened under this Government.

On inequality and poverty, let us just be clear about what has happened under this Government: today there are half a million fewer people in relative poverty than there were under the last Government; relative child poverty has been lower in every year of this Parliament than in any year of the last Government; the proportion of workless households is at its lowest since records began; and inequality is at its lowest since 1986. The facts may be inconvenient for the Labour party, but none the less it should listen to them.

Several hon. Members rose

The Prime Minister: I will take one intervention from the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) and then I will make some progress.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 28

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): The Prime Minister obviously has no idea about the poverty that exists now in our communities. Will he visit one of my local food banks, when it is open, to see what damage his policies are doing to Britain?

The Prime Minister: What I would say about the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is that the claimant count—the number of people claiming unemployment benefit—has come down by 23% in the last 12 months. That is what is at the heart of the Queen’s Speech: work is the best route out of poverty. That is what we should be supporting.

I have been very clear about what we are legislating for.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

The Prime Minister: I will give way one more time and then I am going to make some progress.

Geraint Davies: Does the Prime Minister not accept that there are now 1 million people on zero-hours contracts who are working and living in poverty? They have been taken off the claimant count, and in Swansea 65% of people on jobseeker’s allowance have been sanctioned. He is fiddling the figures, people are living in poverty and they have to go to food banks. These are not real jobs, there is no growth—he has failed.

The Prime Minister: Again, in Swansea the number of people claiming unemployment benefit is down by more than 10% in the last 12 months—that is what has happened. The hon. Gentleman is talking about people on low pay—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is still a lot of shouting on both sides of the Chamber. May I just remind the House that Members on both sides of the Chamber have this afternoon praised and paid tribute to the achievements of Paul Goggins? One thing Paul Goggins never did was yell at people across the Chamber. He spoke without fear or favour, but he spoke with courtesy at all times.

The Prime Minister: The point I would make politely to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) is that the best way to help those who are low paid in our country is to increase the number of jobs, cut their taxes, pare back the cost of government and make sure they feel the benefit from a Government who are on their side.

We are also legislating, for the first time ever, to claw back excessive redundancy payments to the most highly paid workers in the public sector, because I want hard-working people to know that their taxes are spent wisely. Any Government would be proud of all this legislation in the first year of a Parliament; we are now in the fifth year. We are also doing something else. For the first time ever, we are allowing people to spend their pension savings; it is their money, they worked hard for it, they saved it and they should be able to do whatever they want with it.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Was my right hon. Friend as surprised as I was by the interventions of the hon. Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies)

4 Jun 2014 : Column 29

and for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) given that a number of Labour MPs use the sort of contracts they were condemning?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. A number of local councils, including many in Labour areas, also use those contracts. We are taking a sensible approach. This issue has not been acted on for 13 years. We have sensible proposals for getting rid of exclusivity in zero-hours contracts. It is plainly unfair to say to someone that they have a zero-hours contract but that they cannot work for anyone else, so we will act on that in this Parliament.

Several hon. Members rose

The Prime Minister: I will take one more intervention and then I will make some more progress.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): One in six children living in poverty comes from a working household. In some parts of my constituency, it is one in three children. What specific measures in the Queen’s Speech will eradicate child poverty, as promised in the coalition agreement?

The Prime Minister: What will help those families is for us to make sure that we have an economy that is creating jobs, that we cut people’s taxes, that we protect those at the bottom who are working hardest and that we ensure that we freeze their council tax, cut their petrol duty and help with the cost of living by reducing the cost of government. That is what we need to do in this Parliament.

I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and I have to say that there was a complete absence of anything approaching a coherent plan. There was nothing on the deficit, nothing on taking long-term difficult decisions and nothing on growth. That is his problem. It is not that he went to campaign in some target council seat but did not know the name of the leader of the council, or that he campaigns on the cost of living but apparently does not know the cost of his own groceries; it is that he has no coherent plan for our economy. He has nothing to say about how genuinely to improve our public services and nothing to say about strengthening Britain’s place in the world. What he has is a ragbag, lucky dip, pick’n’mix selection of ’70s statist ideas, which would set back this country, after all the work that we have done to turn it around. He has a policy on rents that would restrict access to housing; a policy on trains that would put up fares and increase overcrowding; a policy on energy that would risk power shortages and higher bills; and a policy on national insurance, which he repeatedly refused to deny today, that would increase taxes for hard-working people. Frankly, it is a revival of Michael Foot’s policies paid for by Len McCluskey’s money.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Last week, I held my third annual Weaver Vale jobs and apprenticeship fair at Mid Cheshire college. The number of jobseekers in Weaver Vale is lower by a third compared with this time last year, and it is lower than before the general election in 2010. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that job creation will remain at the centre of our long-term economic plan, so that more families can have the financial security of a pay packet?

4 Jun 2014 : Column 30

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The most important thing in this Session of Parliament is to keep up the pressure on getting the deficit down, so that we keep mortgage rates and interest rates low and continue with the growth in our economy that is creating jobs and giving many more people the chance and the stability of financial certainty in their lives.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): The Prime Minister has just mentioned that the Government have been successful in reducing the deficit. Will he tell us how much the national debt has gone up on his watch since 2010?

The Prime Minister: Every year in which we run a deficit, the national debt increases. The issue is to get the deficit down so that we stop adding to the debt. We have taken decision after decision on public spending and welfare, and not a single one of them has been backed by the Opposition. Simply on welfare, Labour has opposed £83 billion-worth of reductions, and, as we heard today, we have had not one single suggestion for cutting the deficit from the Leader of the Opposition. The Opposition offer nothing but a return to the past, while we on the Government Benches are looking to the future. The future is continuing to cut the deficit. In this Queen’s Speech, we will be introducing a new charter of budget responsibility to entrench strong public finances and to ensure that never again can a Government borrow in a boom and leave Britain bust in a bust. We have already cut the deficit by a third; in this coming Session, it will be coming down by a half; and, in the next Parliament, we are set to return Britain to a surplus.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): A moment ago, the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of financial certainty for families. Why does the Queen’s Speech not include the right for those who work regular hours but are stuck on a zero-hours contract to have a proper, regular contract?

The Prime Minister: I thought that the hon. Lady would have started by pointing out that in her own constituency the claimant count has come down by 22% in the last year, which shows that our long-term economic plan is working. We are going to take action on zero-hours contracts, in a way that Labour never did. We are going to take action to increase the fines on those who do not pay the minimum wage, as Labour never did. We are putting the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into the Home Office, next to the National Crime Agency, so that we end the scandal of people being brought here and being paid less than the minimum wage—something that happened all too often under Labour. We are going to war on all those abuses, and I am proud to lead a Government who do that.

The future is about creating more jobs. We are cutting jobs taxes, with a £2,000 employment allowance and the abolition of employer’s national insurance contributions for those under 21. Our infrastructure Bill will open the way for a second energy revolution in the North sea, creating more jobs in Scotland and along the east coast of England. Our small business Bill will make it easier for small businesses to start, to grow and to employ people, creating more jobs across our country. Next year, we will create even more jobs and, in the next

4 Jun 2014 : Column 31

Parliament, we will move towards our goal of full employment for our United Kingdom. All the measures in this Queen’s Speech are about building on the success of the last four years: Britain is growing faster than any country in the G7, we are creating more jobs than at any time in living memory and we have more inward investment than any other European country.

We have seen today a fundamental difference in values between the Leader of the Opposition’s party and mine. It wants to carry on spending and borrowing more and more, whatever the consequences for our children; we are putting our children first by getting our country back to surplus. They want an ever-expanding welfare budget; we are determined that work should always pay. Our long-term economic plan is about building a better Britain, where together we can secure a brighter future for all our people. I commend this Queen’s Speech to the House.

4.2 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) on their excellent speeches. This is the 27th Gracious Speech debate that I have spoken in and those were two of the best proposer and seconder speeches that I have heard.

The Prime Minister has kept his promise on Afghanistan. He said that he expected the troops to withdraw by 2014 and he has told the House that that expectation will be realised. I hope very much that Britain can also keep its promise in respect of Afghani interpreters: to treat them in exactly the same way as we treated the Iraqi interpreters. Many young men have laid down their lives. Their families have been affected by them being interpreters and are still in Afghanistan. I hope that the Government will remember the pledge and promise that we made to them: that they will be able to come to this country if there are no means by which they can remain in Afghanistan.

I know that the Prime Minister’s favourite video game is “Angry Birds”. I am not sure whether he was playing that as the results of the European elections were coming in, or what his score was, but all of us—the whole country—were surprised at the results. I am glad that the Gracious Speech includes a commitment to promote reform in the EU. As someone who supports not only the EU, but the reform agenda, I believe that this is one of the ways in which we can convince the British public that the House is serious about dealing with reform. I think there is a lot of common ground between the three party leaders on reform. All three have said that they want to remain within the EU but all three also support reform. I hope that in dealing with the rise of the UK Independence party and the remarkable results of last week’s elections the party leaders will be able to reach common ground on what we can do to reform the EU.

The Prime Minister is right to veto Jean-Claude Juncker as the proposed next President of the EU. He is the wrong choice and it is extremely important that following these elections we have somebody leading the EU who is capable of ensuring a strong and effective reform agenda.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 32

It is also important to consider the fundamental way in which we should change the institutions. Let me give an example. Last Wednesday I was in Brussels to seek meetings with European Commissioners about the ban on Indian Alphonso mangoes. I felt it was odd that the EU could make such a decision so I went to Brussels during the recess to meet as many commissioners as I could. One informed me that he had to return to his country of origin to vote—they have obviously not heard of postal voting in Brussels—so he was not available. I met the Agriculture Commissioner in a very good meeting in which progress was made, and I know that the Prime Minister supports the need to overturn the ban, but I was also told that for the next two days Brussels would close for a religious holiday and that that happens regularly. If we look at how the institutions operate, we see that we can fundamentally reform them. The idea of Europe is of course good and our participation in Europe is important, but we need that fundamental reform.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one possible reform would be for the European Parliament to meet in just one place, bringing to an end something that our constituents find entirely incredible?

Keith Vaz: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman—who, I am sure, probably went to every single city in the European Union during his time as Agriculture Minister—that the practice of moving the European Parliament is outdated and should end.

We should also confront what UKIP is saying on EU migration. I do not believe that the British people are against people who come from the EU to work in this country and to contribute to it. The Leader of the Opposition’s points about exploitation and low wages are important, but I have not come across people in Leicester who say that they do not want people to come from Poland or Romania because they do not make a contribution when they work. The issue for the British people concerns our benefits system—when it pays child benefit, for example, to people who do not have their children in this country, which costs a total of £30 million a year. There is no resentment towards those who have their children in the UK and contribute to our taxes. As we consider reform in the context of the Gracious Speech, as well as how we can improve the EU and how it operates, that is certainly one thing we should take into account.

We need to confront UKIP on its immigration agenda. All three party leaders were right to condemn the statement of Nigel Farage that he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians were going to live next door to him. The agenda takes the Christian principle of love thy neighbour and turns it into choose thy neighbour and, finally, into hate thy neighbour. It is important that we should confront that, because it is what was said about my parents and other members of the Asian and black communities when they came to Britain—people said that they did not want to live near Asians and black people.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is making a very fair point. I draw the attention of those Members who have not read it to the report of the Select Committee on Communities and

4 Jun 2014 : Column 33

Local Government on community cohesion and integration, produced during the last Government, which showed that it was the pace of change that was objected to, even by second and third generation immigrants, not necessarily the colour or ethnicity of the people who were coming in. That was what was so unplanned under the last Government.

Keith Vaz: The fact is that we are a very diverse nation. Whenever the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition speak about Britain, they speak about the importance of our diversity. It is diversity that won us the Olympics. It is important in dealing with UKIP that we can see the changes that have occurred. The Prime Minister has just appointed the first Asian member of a Conservative Cabinet, but we need to go further in showing how we have changed. When we come to the appointment of the chairman or chairwoman of the BBC, we need to ensure that someone from the ethnic minority community is on the shortlist. That is important in dealing with those who try to undermine the basic nature of our society. When we appointed the Governor of the Bank of England, we still selected from an all-white shortlist. The hon. Lady has many Bangladeshis living in her constituency. We have so much to offer as a nation, and the people do not want abuse. They do not mind legitimate people coming here to work.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Only the right hon. Gentleman could make a political issue of exotic fruits. Is he not in danger of conflating racism, which we all abhor, with a legitimate debate based on facts, which should have happened in 2004 when a moratorium should have been put on the free movement of labour? What we are really talking about is the pressure on public services, such as schools and health services.

Keith Vaz: There are those pressures for the hon. Gentleman because of east European migration. All parties now seem to be saying they want the maximum level of transitional controls on free movement. That means that the mistake that was made in 2007, whereby the transitional arrangements did not last the seven years, which was not the case with Romania and Bulgaria, will never be repeated. But that is a different form of migration. Those who came from south Asia and the Caribbean came to stay. If the hon. Gentleman looks at his constituency, he will find that a lot of the migration is easyJet migration. The communities will come from eastern Europe, they will work and they will go back. There are some who have stayed, but the vast majority have gone back to their countries. UKIP said that it would be the end of the world on 1 January—that thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians would come into this country. As the House knows, the Home Affairs Committee went to Luton airport and the plane was half empty, and 4,000 Romanians have left the country since 1 January, so the worst predictions were not realised.

When we look at east European migration, we should also consider migration from outside the EU. It is time the Government abandoned their target of bringing net migration below 100,000. I know that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have tried very hard to reach that target, but unfortunately it will not happen. The

4 Jun 2014 : Column 34

Prime Minister gave evidence before the Liaison Committee, and better to abandon the target and admit that it will not be met than continue to say that we still want to ensure that it will get below 100,000, because that will not happen.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that in advocating this policy there is a real danger that the message is going out around the world and to entrepreneurs who want to come to places such as Shoreditch that Britain is closed for business?

Keith Vaz: I agree with my hon. Friend. I wish she had seen the Prime Minister’s appearance before the Liaison Committee, because he is a class act in respect of his evidence. He told the Committee that he is responsible for the immigration total not going below 100,000 because he has been going around the world drumming up support for students to come and study in this country. He looked no further. It is a great achievement. When he went to China, he told all the Chinese to come and study in the UK. When he went to India, as he has done four times—full credit to him for being the first Prime Minister to visit India four times—he told all the Indians to come to study in Britain. No wonder the target has not been met. He is responsible.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for giving way. In the city that we represent we have two superb universities, both of which want to attract students from India. Yet the Home Office insists that students applying for visas have to go through credibility interviews. How on earth can the Government on the one hand say they want to increase our links and trade with India, and on the other hand make it more difficult for students from India to come to the UK?

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Both vice-chancellors were dying to get on the Prime Minister’s plane when he went to India, to get more students to come over. All that will do is increase the total.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the real damage to public trust on immigration was done under the last Government? After years of this country happily accepting roughly 40,000 people a year, the last Government deliberately did not take out the exclusion when the new nations joined the European Union. Levels of net immigration rose dramatically to more than 250,000 a year in an illegitimate cheap-labour policy. We are now reaping the whirlwind that that caused.

Keith Vaz: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard what I said to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), but we have already had the mea culpa. There is a limit to how many times even a Catholic can say “mea culpa” to the House of Commons. We get what we did wrong and it will not happen again; I do not think any more countries will be joining the EU at this rate.

Let me tell the Prime Minister about the importance of what he does with his European partners as he pushes forward the reform agenda. I am thinking about the issue of illegal migration from outside the EU.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 35

The Home Affairs Committee has been to the border of Greece and Turkey; 100,000 people cross illegally to Greece from Turkey every year. They want to live in the UK or western Europe. Some 40,000 migrants are camped in Morocco waiting to come to Spain. Only last week, the French authorities, under a socialist Government, disbanded the camp at Calais. Eight hundred people were trying to come from Calais to the United Kingdom. As we hear on the news so frequently, people are literally dying as they seek to come from Libya and north Africa to enter the EU through Italy.

This is a big issue for the EU. It cannot be confronted by the United Kingdom on its own and there must be support for our EU partners on the southern rim of the EU. Greece, Italy and Spain need the support of the British Government and Brussels to ensure that they can deal with illegal migration. It cannot be fair that people are risking their lives to come here. We need a new partnership with EuroMed to ensure that there is that support.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of stories in the press about the French? When people get on lorries going from France to the British mainland, they are caught and given to the French police. But the French police do not take any direct action; they put them back into the system and the people try again a week later. Something stronger needs to be done in relation to the French.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If he has not been to Calais, I suggest that he goes there. The problem is that the French clock off at 5 pm, so it is easy for people to know when the French authorities are not doing their job. He makes the case for better co-operation with the French authorities and for ensuring that our Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister can work together to deal with the problem.

The Gracious Speech always talks about other measures and I hope that those will include a toughening up of our policy on foreign national offenders. Currently, there are 10,695 foreign national offenders in our prisons costing us £300 million a year. The top three countries are Poland, Ireland and Jamaica. Two of those are EU countries; I cannot understand why an EU country cannot deal with these issues in a more productive way. I know that the issue is a concern to the Prime Minister because he said so when he gave evidence recently. It is vital that these countries take back their own citizens as quickly as possible. We must initiate legislation to make it a requirement that, at sentence, people produce their passports and declare their nationalities. What the Home Office says—there is a slight problem between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice—is that it does not know about nationality until much later. If we know about nationality at the beginning, we can start the process not of removal, but of looking at removal, much earlier.

I am sorry that no legislation is proposed on extradition. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) has led a brilliant campaign to protect two of her constituents, Mr and Mrs Dunham—British citizens who should not be in the United States of America and are there only because of a flawed extradition treaty.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 36

They are currently in detention and they are in great difficulties. There was an attempted suicide before they left the country. Despite the fact that America is our closest ally, I really think we should be talking to the Americans about ensuring that we can change this treaty, because what is going on is just not fair.

As for policing, I welcome the Bill on serious crime. Some £500 million of confiscation orders imposed on criminals in the past five years remains unpaid. The Mr Bigs—or Mr and Mrs Bigs—are getting away with not paying fines imposed by the courts. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has put forward some very reasonable suggestions, and I hope they will be included in the Bill. We should not allow criminals who benefit from the proceeds of crime to leave prison, and certainly not allow them to leave the country. We need to make sure that our system is joined up to prevent them from going before they pay out what the court has imposed on them.

The Government have radically changed the landscape of policing. I am not sure whether, at the end of the process, it will be as uncluttered as it was when they started. I know it is the Home Secretary’s wish that she declutter the landscape. I welcome the National Crime Agency and the College of Policing, which are incredibly important changes. I was present at the Police Federation conference when the Home Secretary made her speech which means that there is no need for legislation on the federation. After that speech, I decided that I would not want to meet her on a dark, wet night in Leicester, because it was certainly extremely brave. I was sitting next to Sir David Normington, and we thought it was too brave a speech to make, but in fact the Police Federation has shown that it can change. I hope that it will continue with the reform agenda and ensure that it becomes much more democratic. As the House knows, the Select Committee suggested that every police officer should get back £130 because there is £70 million in the bank accounts of the Police Federation and the local federations.

I am sorry there is not a health Bill to deal with sugar. Sugar, as we know, is a killer. I am glad to see that in the Tea Room we have now replaced some of the sugary biscuits with fruit at the point where we go to pay for our food. As a diabetic, I think it is extremely important that we save the Government some of the £10 million that we spend every year on dealing with this.

I welcome what is being done on violence against women. The Home Secretary has done a great job in trying to ensure that this work takes place. However, I feel that we missed an opportunity on female genital mutilation. The Prime Minister’s summit is on 22 July, and the Select Committee will probably report at the end of June. There are 24,000 women and girls at risk of FGM, and 66,000 have been subjected to it. I would have liked to see a Bill toughening up the responsibility on doctors to report this. I hope that the Select Committee’s report will be useful for the summit. The Government should look at their guidelines. Only yesterday, a woman was on the tarmac ready to be deported to Nigeria even though she said that if her children returned there they would be subject to FGM. In these cases, we should be very careful to make sure that people are not returned to a position that we would not like in which they are subjected to violence of this kind.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 37

As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said, the whole House will welcome the modern slavery Bill. This practice is a curse that blights our society. As a modern state and the fourth richest country in the world, we should take a lead in dealing with it. When we did our inquiry into human trafficking, it was difficult to find victims who were prepared to come out and say they were victims. We must make sure that they are immune from prosecution under the Bill, because if they report what is happening we do not want them to then be prosecuted for being in that position. I am sure—because the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has spoken often about this—that the Opposition will support what the Government are doing so that we can have a benchmark Bill that will truly be something of which the whole House can be proud.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning, the Downing street press office made available to the British and, indeed, international press a 100-plus page document that sets out in great detail every item in the Queen’s Speech, but Downing street is not making it available to Members of Parliament and it is not in the Vote Office. Is there anything you could do, Mr Speaker, to bring to the urgent attention of Downing street office holders the need to share the information with Parliament?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. If Ministers have prepared material which they feel would be helpful in understanding the full import of the Queen’s Speech, I have no doubt they would wish to share it with hon. and right hon. Members as soon as possible.

4.26 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say that what matters most in the year ahead is that the economic recovery, which is now under way and speeding up, needs to be supported and developed. The whole House agrees that we want people to be better off. Their living standards were cruelly squeezed in the great recession between 2008 and 2010, and in the early years of the coalition Government there was some further loss of real incomes. It now looks as if that is beginning to change, and the way it can best change is if there are more jobs so that more people move from being out of work and into work. Under my right hon. Friend’s important policy, it will always be better to be in work than to be out of work.

As the recovery extends, wages will go up and there will be more better jobs available. Very often the best way to get a well-paid job is to start off in a not so well-paid job and to work one’s way up. Many of us have had to do that, and it will be increasingly possible as the recovery gets under way. I see that Labour Front Benchers think that that is ridiculous or funny. They should live in the real world and understand that economic recovery is good news for people’s potential living standards. None of us thinks that living standards are anywhere near where we want them to be. We need to develop that recovery.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 38

The Queen’s Speech was right to have a limited number of measures. We have a short year before us and it is often not possible to do things through legislation. We need things to develop as the marketplace has its way.

Mr McCann: Perhaps the reason for the wry smiles on people’s faces is that, although there are opportunities for people to start in low-paid jobs and to progress to higher-paid ones—many people have done that in their lifetimes—in the current economic situation many people who work in my constituency are lucky if they get a few hours a week on a zero-hours contract. It is unlikely, therefore, that they will be able to meet the aspiration of starting off in any paid job, never mind anything else. That is why Members on the Opposition Benches have wry smiles.

Mr Redwood: I think that is churlish. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, using constituency after constituency as examples, people are getting back into work. Some are not in the jobs they would like or for which they are being paid nearly enough, but the way to work on that problem is to get behind the economic recovery.

The Gracious Speech promoted three big things that are important in that connection. I am glad that Labour now agrees with many of us that the opportunity and right to own one’s own home is one of the most important things. Many people have that ambition and all too many of them are not able to afford it at the moment, so measures in the Gracious Speech and elsewhere that can help create more opportunities for young people in particular to buy their first home and for others to improve their home, or even to have their first home in later life, will be very welcome.

Part of the answer is sensible rates of building, which in turn produces opportunities. I visited a construction site in my constituency, where the Prime Minister will be pleased to hear a lot of houses are being built. Not all my constituents are delighted about that, but those seeking a home are. We are already seeing many more jobs for plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters, and wage rates are going up, because those people are in demand. That means that they have a better living standard after the period towards the end of the last decade and the earliest part of this decade in which their wage rates were very badly cut or squeezed.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Is it not true that by controlling Government borrowing, keeping interest rates low and keeping mortgage rates low, we are giving more people opportunities to buy and own their own properties, to pay lower mortgages and to live the dream of having their own home?

Mr Redwood: Indeed. That is part of the strategy and, as we can see, it is beginning to work, with more house building now being undertaken and more people being able to afford a home.

The next thing we need is more domestically supplied energy and cheaper energy. The two go together, felicitously, so if we can get a bigger energy sector extracting oil and gas in Britain—onshore and offshore—we will have more jobs, some of which will be higher-paid jobs, but also access to cheaper energy. I am very pleased that the

4 Jun 2014 : Column 39

Government are going to get behind the shale gas revolution. It is already transforming the American economy, creating higher living standards for many and producing the much lower gas prices that are pricing Americans back into competitive jobs in industry vis-à-vis Europe and Asia, where the price of energy is high. We need the same here.

We need to make sure that all people setting up their own business, or who have already set up their own business but have not taken on many or any employees and are now thinking of doing so, should feel that that is possible and feasible. If we have too much regulation and control—much of it well intentioned, no doubt—the very bright or able can still run a business, because they know how to handle that regulation and control and can get proper advice, but other people find it far more difficult. They are put off, thinking, “I really do not understand all this. I don’t know what it’s all about.” Anything that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can do to make it much easier for people to start their first business and then to take on their first employee will be extremely welcome and will promote the recovery.

George Freeman: My right hon. Friend is making a very eloquent case about how the best and most sustainable means of raising the standard of living is by developing sustainable jobs. Does he agree that one of the most damaging things we could do is to raise the tax on jobs as represented by employer’s national insurance contributions? That is being considered by Labour Front Benchers, but it would be hugely damaging.

Mr Redwood: That is quite right. The point has been made before. Lower taxes on enterprise and effort are generally a good thing. We want people to keep more of the money they make or earn when they set up businesses or get good or better jobs, and we also want to make sure that the Government do not deter employers from creating more jobs by over-taxing work.

I am pleased that the Gracious Speech refers to the need for more and better roads. In the past 15 years, our road building has fallen well behind what needs to be done to support the economic recovery and to promote industry, commerce and more jobs around the country. I look forward to seeing the detailed proposals.

What I primarily wish to do this afternoon is to speak for England. [Interruption.] I am glad that at least two hon. Members agree with that proposition. We speak too little for England in this House of Commons; yet a majority of us are English Members of Parliament.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I heartily encourage this movement from the right hon. Gentleman. Let us hope he can do more and more of it post-March 2016, when Scotland becomes independent.

Mr Redwood: I will have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The Gracious Speech of course invites us to talk about this matter by referring to the possibility of more extensive devolution of powers to Scotland—in the likely event that Scotland votes to stay in the Union, which many of us want to see—and of the extension of powers to Wales. However, the Gracious Speech makes

4 Jun 2014 : Column 40

no mention of extending devolved powers to England, and we cannot carry on with lop-sided devolution without considering the business of England.

As many hon. Members will know, I believe in being economical when it comes to public expenditure on the business of politics and government. I do not want a new expensive building and a whole lot of new English MPs down the road, in the way that Scotland has for its Scottish Parliament. This sacred plot has been the site of the English Parliament for many centuries. This Union building is now for the Union Parliament—built for an empire and a great Union—but it could again be the site of the English Parliament under the United Kingdom Parliament. Like me, I am sure that many colleagues who understand the need for value for money for taxpayers would be happy to do both jobs. We would be prepared to come here under your skilful guidance, Mr Speaker, to talk with our Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish colleagues on all the matters of the Union, and to come here on other occasions to deal with the business of England without their help, guidance and certainly their votes. I think that there would be justice in that.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a great shame that after primary powers were devolved to Wales so that it could take more command of its own affairs, we did not reduce the number of MPs in Wales, as the last Labour Government did in Scotland, purely because, as I understand it, it was objected to by our partners in the coalition?

Mr Redwood: I take my right hon. Friend’s advice on that, because she is more current on those arguments than I am.

I would like English MPs to be able to settle English issues on a fair basis. Labour gave us a cruel inheritance. The Prime Minister is wrestling with the bodged constitutional reforms on a huge scale that were made in the previous decade, which have left us with lop-sided devolution. Many in Scotland are hungry for more devolved powers and many in England feel that the settlement is very unfair. Labour also left us with three mighty federalising treaties with the European Union, which have left this Parliament struggling for power in many important areas of policy that matter to voters, as we saw on 22 May. This Parliament no longer has the power to make all or, in some cases, any of the important decisions in those areas.

Mrs Main: I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my dismay at the missed opportunity to reduce the number of MPs and to have fairer constituency sizes, which was the result, sadly, of the lack of impetus behind the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011.

Mr Redwood: Indeed. The parties that voted against the boundary proposals have a lot to answer for. Again, that is unfair to England and to those constituencies that have many more voters than the average and that looked for some justice to be brought in through sensible reform. If this place is to work, we must surely work towards a world where we all represent roughly the same number of people. That is the kind of proportional representation that I believe in.

4 Jun 2014 : Column 41

I hope that Scotland votes to stay in the Union. I think that that is likely because, had there been a tidal wave of opinion in favour of independence for Scotland—if that really was the wish of many people in Scotland—surely in the general election of 2010, the Scots would have voted in 30 or 40 Members of Parliament who were rooting for independence for Scotland. We would have taken that seriously and would have had to listen to them.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. May I say how much I agree with him that in the next Parliament, we must address the issue of equal-sized constituencies? I ask his forgiveness for the ultimate insult, which is that I will leave his speech to depart for Brussels. Sadly, that is what I have to do because the G7 is starting in a few hours and I do not want to be late. I do not want to do him any discourtesy, so I wanted to point that out while commending his strong passion for equal-sized constituencies, which are a key democratic reform.

Mr Redwood: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his courtesy. He has been courteous to stay as long as he has given that he has such pressing engagements. He illustrates the point that I wish to move on to, which is how much Brussels dominates our proceedings and our government, but I will first complete my Scottish point.

The most likely need that we will face after the Scottish referendum is the need to look at the question of lop-sided devolution. I would be happy to extend more powers to the devolved Scottish Parliament, but I want to be a voice for England and I do not think that we can carry on doing that without England having a settlement as well.

In the less likely event that the Scottish nationalists get their wish and there is a vote for independence, I will be one of the first to congratulate the Scots and help them in any way towards a smooth transition. However, I will want them to be genuinely independent. I will not want us to pretend that there is some kind of special relationship that is rather like a federal system. If people wish to be independent, they should be independent.

In that event, I propose that the House of Commons should immediately pass legislation saying two important things. The first is that the 2015 general election will not apply in Scotland and the current Members of the Westminster Parliament from Scotland should continue for as long as it takes to complete the process of separating the countries. There would be no point in having the expense and nonsense of a general election in a country that was leaving the Union. The second thing, which the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) might like less, is that the Scottish MPs should play no part in any discussions about non-Scottish business in this place and no part in forming the response of the rest of the United Kingdom to their wish to be independent.

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I agree with him wholeheartedly on that point. In the SNP we have a self-denying ordinance of not taking part on English issues and non-Scottish issues because we believe, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is demonstrating this,

4 Jun 2014 : Column 42

that England is as good as France and Germany and can run itself amply, without any help at all from the Scots.

Mr Redwood: Very good. I shall now move on and speak for the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman might find that we are back here together still arguing about these matters after the referendum, but I hope he will accept the verdict of that referendum, as I will do, because we cannot go on arguing about this.

Jim Shannon: I support the unification of the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—that is, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England together—so will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether he recognises the contribution that the MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland bring to this House, and the knowledge that they bring from their own regions, which can help to formulate Government policy to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Mr Redwood: Indeed. I am a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament, and proud to be so. I would like my country to stay together, but I do not want people in it who are not keen to be in it. If a democratic process is gone through and we discover that a part of the United Kingdom wishes to leave, as democrats, we must realise that that is the answer. We cannot keep on pulling up the plant to see where the roots are. I hope the referendum will be a one-off and that it will settle the issue for a considerable time.

Mr MacNeil indicated assent.

Mr Redwood: I am glad to see the Scottish nationalists agreeing.

I come on to talk about the United Kingdom and its relationship with the European Union. We have today again witnessed a very important ceremony in this House. That ceremony is designed to remind us all of the battles and struggles of our forebears to ensure that this House of Commons had the power to limit the Crown—had the power to make the authority of government in this country accountable to this House of Commons—and a very moving and important ceremony it is. But we have a new struggle on our hands, equally important though not one, fortunately, for which we will need muskets and musket balls. We will need words, actions and independent thinking.

Our struggle is that this once great and sovereign House of Commons now is not sovereign or great in so many fields because the European Union has powers to instruct, overrule and command. There is a particular case that I would like the Government to consider in this next year in the legislative programme. The case is that of the human rights convention and the list of human rights therein. It was a Labour Government, when signing us up to the treaty of Lisbon, who expressly said in their motion on the treaty and in the Act of Parliament that they put through on the back of it that we were not going to consolidate all of the convention on human rights—that this House and this country would make up its own mind on human rights. That was reflected in the legislation that we passed—an act of sovereign legislative activity to say that we did not want it all dictated from the European Union.