27 May 2015 : Column 29

House of Commons

Wednesday 27 May 2015

The House met at twenty-nine 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.

Members Sworn

2.15 pm

The following Members took and subscribed the Oath, or made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:

Right honourable David Michael Davis, for Haltemprice and Howden

John Martin McDonnell, Hayes and Harlington

Karl Ian McCartney, Lincoln

Andrew John Stevenson, Carlisle

Emma Elizabeth Reynolds, Wolverhampton North East

Andrew Richard Rosindell, Romford

Speaker’s Statement

2.30 pm

Mr Speaker: The House has directed the Speaker to make a statement at the beginning of each Session about the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members, in place of the Sessional Orders.

I begin by reminding Members of their duty to observe the code of conduct agreed by the House and to uphold the seven principles of public life that underpin it: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

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The House asserts its privilege of freedom of speech. It is there to ensure that our constituents can be represented by us without fear or favour. It is an obligation on us all to exercise that privilege responsibly. It is enjoyed by Members of Parliament only in their work in this House: as private individuals we are equal under the law with those whom we represent.

In our proceedings every Member should be heard courteously, whatever views he or she is expressing. Members of this House have a duty to behave with civility and fairness in all their dealings.

Parliament should be open to those whom it represents. We should seek to explain its work to those who elect us, and make them welcome here. But the security of this building and those who work and visit here depends upon all of us. We have a duty to be vigilant, and to assist those whose job it is to maintain this place as a safe place to work.

Before moving to the first business of the new Parliament, I would like to express my very best wishes for the forthcoming Session to all hon. Members—the 182 new Members and those returning—and all those who work here. I also send best wishes to those former Members not returned at the election, and thank them for their service to the country and their commitment to the democratic process, which can sometimes be a bruising experience.

Deputy speakers

Mr Speaker: In accordance with Standing Order No. 2A, I will now announce the arrangements for the ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers. The ballot will be held in Committee Room 6 from 10 am to 1.30 pm on Wednesday 3 June. Nominations may be submitted in the Lower Table Office from 10 am to 5 pm on Monday 1 June. A briefing note with more details about the election will be published on the intranet. Nomination forms are available in the Lower Table Office and the Vote Office.

I should also inform the House that, in accordance with the Order of the House of 26 March, I have nominated Sir Roger Gale and Mr George Howarth to serve as temporary Deputy Speakers until the House has elected Deputy Speakers.

Outlawries bill

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

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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 speech be printed in 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 will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country. It will adopt a one nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration, giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged and bringing different parts of our country together.

My Government will continue with its long-term plan to provide economic stability and security at every stage of life. They will continue the work of bringing the public finances under control and reducing the deficit, so Britain lives within its means. Measures will be introduced to raise the productive potential of the economy and increase living standards.

Legislation will be brought forward to help achieve full employment and provide more people with the security of a job. New duties will require my ministers to report annually on job creation and apprenticeships. Measures will also be introduced to reduce regulation on small businesses so they can create jobs.

Legislation will be brought forward to ensure people working 30 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage do not pay income tax, and to ensure there are no rises in income tax rates, value-added tax or national insurance for the next five years.

Measures will be brought forward to help working people by greatly increasing the provision of free childcare.

Legislation will be introduced to support home ownership and give housing association tenants the chance to own their own home.

Measures will be introduced to increase energy security and to control immigration. My Government will bring forward legislation to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes.

To give new opportunities to the most disadvantaged, my Government will expand the Troubled Families Programme and continue to reform welfare, with legislation encouraging employment by capping benefits and requiring young people to earn or learn.

Legislation will be brought forward to improve schools and give every child the best start in life, with new powers to take over failing and coasting schools and create more academies.

In England, my Government will secure the future of the National Health Service by implementing the National Health Service's own five-year plan, by increasing the health budget, integrating healthcare and social care, and ensuring the National Health Service works on a seven day basis. Measures will be introduced to improve access to general practitioners and to mental healthcare.

Measures will also be brought forward to secure the real value of the basic State Pension, so that more people live in dignity and security in retirement. Measures will be brought forward to increase the rights of victims of crime.

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To bring different parts of our country together, my Government will work to bring about a balanced economic recovery. Legislation will be introduced to provide for the devolution of powers to cities with elected metro mayors, helping to build a Northern powerhouse.

My Government will continue to legislate for high-speed rail links between the different parts of the country.

My Government will also bring forward legislation to secure a strong and lasting constitutional settlement, devolving wide-ranging powers to Scotland and Wales. Legislation will be taken forward giving effect to the Stormont House Agreement in Northern Ireland.

My Government will continue to work in cooperation with the devolved administrations on the basis of mutual respect.

My Government will bring forward changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. These changes will create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom.

My Government will renegotiate the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all Member States. Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.

Measures will also be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. New legislation will modernise the law on communications data, improve the law on policing and criminal justice, and ban the new generation of psychoactive drugs.

My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, using its presence all over the world to re-engage with and tackle the major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges.

My Ministers will remain at the forefront of the NATO alliance and of international efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat terrorism in the Middle East.

The United Kingdom will continue to seek a political settlement in Syria, and will offer further support to the Iraqi Government's programme for political reform and national reconciliation.

My Government will maintain pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will insist on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

My Government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India and China.

Prince Philip and I look forward to our State Visit to Germany next month and to our State Visit to Malta in November, alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. We also look forward to welcoming His Excellency the President of The People's Republic of China and Madame Peng on a State Visit in October.

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My Government will seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year.

My Government will undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.

My Government will work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and terrorism.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

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

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Debate on the Address

[1st day]

Mr Speaker: Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address: Thursday 28 May—home affairs and justice; Monday 1 June—Britain in the world; Tuesday 2 June—health and social care; Wednesday 3 June—devolution and growth across Britain; and Thursday 4 June—the economy.

2.34 pm

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): I beg to move,

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

Most Gracious Sovereign,

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

It is a great honour for me, and for my constituents, to propose the Humble Address, not least as this is the first majority Conservative Government elected since 1992—and one should not lose sight of the historical context of this achievement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the first Prime Minister who served a full term to win his second general election with more seats and a higher share of the vote since Lord Palmerston in 1857.

It is a pleasure to be called first in a debate by you, Mr Speaker, though I suspect this will be the last time.

I must confess that I am finding this a nerve-racking experience, because I am not used to addressing such a packed Chamber. In fact, I feel a bit like a very young British diplomat serving in our mission in Beijing in the mid-1960s who at a diplomatic reception found to his horror that he was standing next to Chairman Mao. He was terrified that whatever he said would be inadequate and he desperately racked his brains to try to find something intelligent to say. Finally, he found what he thought was intelligent and asked Mao, “What do you think would have happened if Khrushchev rather than President Kennedy had been killed in Dallas.” There was total silence and he felt that he had committed the diplomatic faux pas that he was trying to avoid. What he did not know, as all too often I do not know, but certainly my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows, is that wise men always think before they speak. After what seemed like an eternity, Mao turned to the young man and very quietly said, “I don’t think that Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Khrushchev.”

Talking of diplomats, I would like to pay tribute to our former colleague William Hague. He was a great parliamentarian and an outstanding Foreign Secretary who will be sorely missed. I am personally indebted to him for arranging for me to meet Hillary Clinton at the Foreign Office four years ago. Towards the end of the meeting, William grabbed my arm, pulled up my jacket sleeve and thrust my wrist in front of our distinguished American guest. At first, I was worried that William was wanting to demonstrate his judo skills, but it soon became clear that he was attempting to show Hillary my

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watch, which features a picture of her on the face of it. Hillary looked at it and literally screamed with laughter—I knew it was laughter, but her secret service protection officers were not so sure; they immediately stepped forward, and one of them was heard to mutter, “What the hell’s he done to her?” Fortunately, calm was restored before what could easily have been an untimely by-election in Chelmsford.

Despite the security scare, I thought the meeting had gone pretty well. I was therefore taken aback when William called me a few months ago with some unsettling news. Hillary had got wind of my desire to help her 2016 presidential campaign, and it was not good news he had to convey to me. She told William she had heard about my record: “He worked for McGovern’s campaign in ’72, and he lost; he worked for Ted Kennedy’s campaign in 1980, and he lost; he worked for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s campaign in 2002, and she lost; and he worked for my campaign in 2008, and I lost. For goodness’ sake”, Hillary pleaded with him, “please find Simon something—anything—else to do, away from the United States in 2016.”

Proposing the Humble Address is a great honour for me. In many ways, this is a kaleidoscope Queen’s Speech—people can twist it as much as they want, but all the patterns are blue, without a hint of yellow, red or purple. I was brought down to earth, however, when I reread the excellent seconding speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) in 1992, when he defined the role of the proposer and seconder. He said a seconder had the opportunity to shine and further advance their career, so I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has a glittering future ahead of her, but as he explained, the proposer is

“some genial old codger on the way out”.—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 56.]

I now know my role in life. Never again, when the word “reshuffle” permeates Westminster, will I sit anxiously by my telephone, because I now know that old codgers only have a past to look forward to.

In recent years there have been dastardly rumours that you, Mr Speaker, and I do not get on, or even—heaven forbid—that we do not like each other. Just before Dissolution, I read an article by your biographer, who bizarrely suggested that I might be ugly, but, as you know, it is said that politics is show business for ugly people, so, Mr Speaker, I would say that we are all in this together.

It is time, Mr Speaker, that we buried the hatchet—preferably not in my back—so I would like to offer an olive branch by clearing up a rumour about your car. As you will know, in recent years my relationship with cars has not been an altogether happy one, but it has been said that a few years ago my car reversed into yours in Speaker’s Court. You apparently saw the incident through the window of your apartment and hurried out shouting at me, “I’m not happy”, to which I am reputed to have replied, “Then which one are you?” If it is helpful to you, Mr Speaker, I want categorically to confirm that this incident never happened.

It is also said that anyone wanting to keep a secret should mention it in the Chamber of the House of Commons. As I trust all right hon. and hon. Members

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here today, I would like to make a confession—


When I first came to this House, two MPs a week had to queue overnight in armchairs in a room upstairs for ten-minute rule Bill slots because of the high demand for them. Believe it or not—this is true—the night I chose was with Ann Widdecombe. If Jack Kennedy was the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris in 1961, I am the man who spent the night with Ann Widdecombe in 1991!

I am very proud of my constituency, which is set in the heart of Essex. It is the home of “Essex man” and “Essex girls”, who like to work hard and play even harder. It might have caught on only over the last few years, but I have been saying it since 1987—“The only way is Essex!” My constituents fully embrace the work ethic: they are aspirational for themselves and their families, believing that the harder they work, the more they should benefit, without losing sight of helping those who are genuinely in trouble or need assistance.

My constituents understood the scale of the economic mess that we inherited and they accepted the measures my right hon. Friend the Chancellor took to establish the firm foundations of our long-term economic plan. That has meant for my constituents: unemployment down; inflation down; the deficit down; income taxes down—and growth up. They welcomed the income tax cuts through the significant raising of personal allowances each year of the last Parliament. For these reasons, they will warmly welcome the tax lock Bill, which will ensure no tax rise on income, VAT or national insurance contributions throughout the lifetime of this Parliament. They will also welcome the childcare Bill, which will double free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week, as this will help a tremendous number of young mothers in my constituency who would like to get back into work but find it difficult because of the cost of childcare.

My constituents are forthright in their views, and what will impress them about this Queen’s Speech is that we have kept the faith by honouring our election commitments. During the election, the media and the pundits said we would not be able to deliver. This Gracious Speech disproves that fallacy, and I commend it to the House.

2.48 pm

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): It is an honour to be invited to second this Humble Address, which was proposed so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns). He has the pleasure of representing an area that differs considerably from my own, although I am sure many of his constituents have had fantastic holidays in the beautiful Duchy of Cornwall.

This honour really belongs to the people who live in South East Cornwall, and I am proud that they have chosen me to represent them in this place for a further term. South East Cornwall is where I have always called home: it is where I was born, where I was schooled, where I have worked and where I am proud to call home. Anyone who has visited my beautiful constituency, who has walked the rugged coastline or explored the wonderful countryside and met the warm, genuine folk of Cornwall will understand why it is where my heart lies.

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I think I am right in saying that I am the first Cornish maid to second the Loyal Address, although back in 1971 the proposer was the Member of Parliament for St Ives. I am pleased to welcome the new Conservative representative, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), although he did keep us waiting: his constituency was the last to declare.

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister visited Cornwall on a number of occasions. On one occasion, a group of enthusiastic party supporters were summoned to a large cowshed to meet him: that is the way we do things in Cornwall. In his rallying speech, he mentioned how glad he was to be in the county of Poldark. Like Poldark, the Prime Minister rode into Cornwall—not on a horse, but on a bus—where he was introduced to all those who were waiting by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who himself has been likened to Aidan Turner, the actor who played Ross Poldark.

On the morning of 8 May, as votes were counted in that same cowshed, it became evident that true-blue representation throughout Cornwall was on course to double when my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) was elected. The Prime Minister can now tell his wife that, like Ross Poldark, he has his own six-pack—six blue constituencies in Poldark’s county—and that three new Conservative Members are joining me and my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice).

The result of the general election was a surprise to many people. Cornwall is surrounded by blue water, and the blue tide rose, sweeping across the duchy, but it did not stop at the Tamar. It crossed into Plymouth, where a new Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), joined my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) and for South West Devon (Mr Streeter). The tide swept across Devon, and halted only when it reached the constituency of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), where his defences could not quite be penetrated. I know from experience in my own constituency that water does have a way, so he should be warned.

I look forward to working with colleagues from Devon, and with other west country Members, but I want to set a clear ground rule for my right hon. and hon. Friends. Given that I am Cornish born and bred, it will comes as no surprise to hear me mention clotted cream. I say to my colleagues, “Please note: the jam must come first on the scone, before the cream.” If they agree, I am sure that we shall get along fine. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for putting his jam and cream on a scone in the proper way. It has been said that the only reason those in Devon prepare their cream teas incorrectly is their wish to hide their use of clotted cream with the jam.

A number of dairy farmers in my constituency and elsewhere have diversified, producing not only cream but cheese. The Gracious Speech supports aspiration and small businesses like those producers, and I am sure that they will welcome it.

Many of my constituents told me that they had been waiting for an EU referendum Bill for a very long time, and were fed up with hearing that it would be provided directly by Opposition Members. I am delighted that the Bill is at last going to happen, and I welcome the

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fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has changed her mind and decided to support it. I shall not dwell on the fact that she has changed her mind; women do.

I cannot end without passing on special thanks to the Prime Minister from the residents of my home villages, Kingsand and Cawsand. Last Saturday, I attended the reopening of the newly repaired clock tower, and the Prime Minister’s help in making this historic building survive was acknowledged. The building was reopened by 102-year-old Doll Jago, who is the oldest resident in the village. It was extremely special for me because Doll’s late son, Tony, first introduced my late husband Neil to commercial fishing.

It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of Cornwall, to commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

2.56 pm

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I am sure the whole House will want to pay tribute to our armed forces. Since the last Queen’s Speech, UK military operations in Afghanistan have come to an end; 453 British servicemen and women lost their lives in that campaign and many more were injured. They served with valour and they deserve our gratitude, and we honour them here today. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with their families, to whom we pledge our enduring support.

I congratulate the mover and seconder of the Queen’s Speech. Traditionally, as has been said, the seconder is a rising star with a bright future ahead of them and the mover is someone of great distinction with an illustrious career behind them, so it is a pleasure to congratulate the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) as the mover of this Queen’s Speech. He came into the House in 1987, shortly after I did, and I remember it well, because he cut a real dash then. [Laughter.] Many of us—well, me actually—thought he looked like a young Robert Redford; I know these days it is a bit more Jeremy Clarkson, but, believe me, back in the day he was real head-turner.

As everyone could hear from the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, he is outspoken and engaging, and irrepressible. He was public health Minister, but he did not let that stop him smoking—it was the red box in one hand and the fag in the other—and the fact that he is a Tory has, as we have heard, never stopped him being a passionate supporter of the US Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s No. 1 fan. His good humour did not desert him even when he was rail Minister dealing with the vexed issue of HS2. Nothing will stop him speaking his mind, except possibly you, Mr Speaker, and at a time when we politicians are thought of as all the same—too cautious, too guarded—no one could ever say that about him. He made a good speech today, and I congratulate him on it.

I also congratulate the seconder of the motion, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). She was elected in 2010, the first woman to represent her constituency and only the sixth woman ever elected in Cornwall. We are here to bring the issues of concern of our constituents to the heart of Parliament, and she is a fine example of that when she speaks about her beloved county of Cornwall—or as we know it, the county of Poldark. She does not just speak up for them; she gets things done for them. It is hard to believe that

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someone who was elected for the first time only in 2010 has already got two Bills put into law—the Marine Navigation (No. 2) Act 2013 and the Deep Sea Mining Act 2014. She comes from those Cornish fishing communities and shares not only their joys, but their sorrows. When only one year after she was elected her husband was killed in a fishing accident, we all admired the tremendous courage she showed in the face of such a tragic loss. Her speech showed her as she is—brave, determined and human—and at a time when people are sceptical about politicians, she is a credit to this House.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron): he returns to the House as Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Although he and I have many differences, people have pointed out that in some ways we are quite alike. One of the things that we have in common is that we are both, by our own admission, interim leaders. [Interruption.] So, from one interim leader to another, can I give him some advice? I am sure he will understand what I mean when I say: beware the blond on the zip-wire.

Speaking of interim leaders, I turn to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). Let me give him some friendly advice about the thorny issue of seating arrangements in this House. The lion might be roaring in Scotland, but don’t mess with the beast of Bolsover!

We have come through a general election. We applied for the job but the right hon. Member for Witney got it. Even though we did not get the job we wanted, we have an important job to do for this country: holding the Government to account. Where he acts in the interests of the country, we will support the Government. When he does not, we will not hesitate to be a determined, forensic and vocal Opposition, and that is what every one of our 232 Labour MPs will do. The Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) is looking somewhat smug, sitting there on the Government Front Bench, but I remind him that the Prime Minister has only a slender majority, so he will not have it all his own way.

Britain faces a fragile future for our economy, our constitution and our public services. Although we are seeing economic growth returning, its benefits are not being shared and the economy remains fragile. Compared with other countries, Britain’s productivity lags behind. Tax revenues have fallen short of where the Government said in 2010 that they would now be, meaning that it is taking longer to reduce the deficit. Britain cannot succeed with low-skilled, low-wage, insecure employment and a race to the bottom. The path to economic prosperity and recovery must involve a high-skilled, long-term approach.

Our productivity is being held back by a lack of investment in training, infrastructure and industry. We will support investment in the skills that people need for the future. We will support measures that genuinely help to get people into work. We will support measures that help small businesses, the vital drivers of the economy. We will support investment in our infrastructure, particularly in affordable green transport systems. All of that will help productivity, but what we will not support are more arbitrary measures to undermine people’s rights at work. The Government have already made it so

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expensive that it is virtually impossible to go to an employment tribunal. That is not about better productivity; it is divisive, it is posturing and it is unfair.

The Government are bringing forward legislation on tax. We want a fair tax system. We do not want to see taxes going up for those on lower or middle incomes, but the Government must not repeat what they did in the last Parliament, which saw those on the very highest incomes prioritised for a tax cut. This legislation must not block off the possibility of the Government being able to raise taxes on the very highest earners, if that is necessary to protect public services. We believe that it is a matter of basic principle that those with the broadest shoulders must bear the biggest burden.

Our political and constitutional system is fragile, too. Big changes are under way, and no one should be in any doubt that there needs to be further reform. The Prime Minister must keep the promises on further devolution to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland, and there will need to be change in England and in this House, but to get change that is fair and lasting, it must be done in a way that builds the broadest possible consensus. The Prime Minister must seek agreement and he must break his habit of divisiveness. Of course the Scottish National party wants to break up the Union—it wants people to have to choose between being Scottish and being British—but it would be utterly irresponsible for the Prime Minister to continue what he did so shamefully in the general election, which was to set the English against the Scots. [Interruption.] We saw him do that. No party, especially one that claims to be “one nation” should set the interests of a family in Gloucester against the interests of a family in Glasgow or Glamorgan. Let us be in no doubt: the worst possible outcome for Scotland would be the SNP demanding full fiscal autonomy, which they know does not add up, and a Tory Prime Minister giving it to them.

Let us continue with the much-needed process of constitutional evolution, but whether on the Prime Minister’s proposals for English votes for English laws or on constituency boundary changes, he must proceed in a way that is absolutely in the interests of the country, and not just in the interests of his party. If there are to be any changes on party funding, they must be made on a fair, cross-party basis, not just rigged in favour of the Tory party. When it comes to devolution to the English regions, with local councils facing unprecedented cuts, especially in the north and some of the most deprived areas of the country, local government cannot be empowered by being impoverished.

On Europe, we will support the Government’s Bill for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. [Interruption.] We believe that it will be better for Britain if we stay in the European Union. It is important for the future of this country, which is why 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote in the referendum—it is their future, too. Our continued membership is important for our economic prosperity, but that prosperity has to be more widely shared across this country, and a crucial part of that includes stopping unscrupulous employers exploiting migrant workers and undercutting wages. Our membership is also important for our place in the world. Europe does need to change, and we want reforms, so we wish the Prime Minister well with his new best friend, President Juncker.

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Turning to human rights, there is normally a degree of unravelling of the Government’s legislative programme after any Queen’s Speech, but this is the first time I have known it to start unravelling before Her Majesty has even spoken. Leaving aside a woman changing her mind, this looks like a classic “Gove special”. On the Human Rights Act, the Government are clearly still working on the back of that envelope. We have heard the grandiose rhetoric; we are yet to see the proposals. Let me make this clear: if they seek to undermine basic human rights, take us out of the European convention or undermine our ability to stand up for human rights abroad, we will oppose them all the way. In the meantime, we will be keeping an eye out for another group that might need their own rights—the poor foxes.

We have a fragile economy, a fragile constitution and, sadly, fragile public services too—top of that list is the national health service. The Government should be straining every sinew to protect and improve our health service, but where is the effective action so that people can get to see their GP, so that patients in accident and emergency are seen promptly and so that people, especially those needing cancer treatment, do not get stuck on waiting lists? The Prime Minister has got form on this: he has made promises before on the NHS and he has broken them. Whatever is in this Queen’s Speech, we know that you cannot trust the Tories on the national health service. [Interruption.] We will see.

Turning to education, we will hold the Prime Minister to account for his latest promises on childcare. The rhetoric might be promising, but the reality is that children’s centres have closed and the cost of childcare has soared. The average family are now paying £1,500 more per year for nursery fees than they would have been in 2010. Parents do not need more empty promises; they need childcare they can afford.

On welfare, we back measures to get people into work to achieve full employment and thereby get the social security bill down. That is why we put in our manifesto a commitment to a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. We support a cap on household benefit entitlement. The Government are now planning to reduce it and we are sympathetic to that, but that makes it even more important that the jobs are there for people to move into, that childcare is there, particularly for lone parents, and that there are adequate funds for discretionary housing payments. All that is necessary to ensure that this measure does not put children into poverty, increase homelessness or end up costing more than it saves.

On housing, we want more people to be able to own their own home and more affordable housing that people can afford to rent, but the Prime Minister has a poor record on this, too. The percentage of people who own their own homes is at its lowest for 30 years and now the age at which people can afford their first home has risen to 33. In the last Parliament, when the Government increased the discount for people buying their own council homes, they promised that for every council home bought another would be built. They did not keep that promise. For every 10 council homes bought, only one replacement council home has begun to be built. Now the Government plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants and are making more promises, but they have not said how it will be paid for. It will

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clearly lead to fewer affordable homes and there is an emerging view that, because it is uncosted and unfunded, it is unworkable.

A fundamental priority for every Government is to protect our security, never more so than from the threat of violent extremism. We await David Anderson’s review and will look at the detail of the Government’s wider proposals. If the Government bring forward extra powers, we will want greater accountability for the use of those powers and we will want to see the strengthening, not the watering down, of community-based counter-radicalisation programmes.

The rhetoric at the beginning of this Queen’s Speech is well honed. Indeed, the best lines look uncannily like we wrote them. [Interruption.] Actually, we did not just write them, we engraved them on a tablet of stone, but that is another story and we will perhaps not go there. We fear that the reality of this Queen’s Speech will be very different from the rhetoric. The Queen’s Speech talks of one nation, yet the Prime Minister sets the nations of the country against each other. The Queen’s Speech talks of working people, yet he threatens basic rights at work. At a time when our economy, our constitution and our public services are fragile, we fear that this Tory Government will make things worse. As the dust settles, the real question is whether this Queen’s Speech will improve our country, our communities and people’s lives. That is the test that will be set for this Government and that is the standard to which we, as the Opposition, will hold them to account.

3.13 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): As we meet today, we should start, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) did, by thinking of our incredible servicemen and women and all they are doing for our country around the world. Our sailors on HMS Bulwark are saving hundreds of lives in the Mediterranean. Pilots in our jets are serving over the skies of Iraq. In Ukraine, we are training local forces to help counter Russian-backed aggression. Our submarines, at sea for months on end, are maintaining our continuous nuclear deterrent. Our troops are helping aid workers with disaster relief in Nepal and running treatment centres against Ebola in Sierra Leone. As we consider this vast range of tasks that these brave people are undertaking, and many more, so we should recognise the extent of our reach and role in the world, and as the right hon. and learned Lady did, we should remember all those who lost their lives and those who were wounded in the campaign in Afghanistan. Our servicemen and women are the best of British, and so above all today we should thank them for what they do.

This Queen’s Speech is building on strong foundations. In the last Parliament we cut the deficit in half as a proportion of our GDP; we grew our economy by almost 10%; we created 1,000 jobs a day; we cut taxes for more than 27 million people; we helped more than a million people off out-of-work benefits; and we cut the youth claimant count to its lowest level since the 1970s. If the last Parliament was about a repair job, this Parliament must be about renewal. Behind this Queen’s Speech is a clear vision of what our country can be—a country of security and opportunity for everyone, at every stage of life. That is our ambition: to build a

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country where, whoever and you are and wherever you live, you can have the chance of a good education, a decent job, a home of your own, and the peace of mind that comes from being able to raise a family and enjoy a secure retirement—a country that backs those who work hard and do the right thing.

This is the Queen’s Speech for working people, from a one nation Government that will bring our country together. We have a clear mandate from the British people, a long-term economic plan that is working, a detailed and compelling manifesto, and we will not waste a single moment in getting on with the task.

Let me welcome the right hon. and learned Lady back to her place once again. She said that we had something in common. I was wondering whatever it could be, because of course she is far posher than I am. But it is certainly true that we have faced each other before. She told us last week that she is now the Mother of the House. I am not entirely sure what that role involves, but if she is the Mother and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) is the Father, I think we may be in need of one aspect of the Queen’s Speech, which is the troubled families programme. Whatever our differences, she has always been a great parliamentarian, and if politics is about never giving up and always fighting for the things that you believe in, then the right hon. and learned Lady is a tribute to the best traditions of this House. From increasing maternity leave and maternity pay to ensuring more prosecutions for domestic violence through her Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, she has made an outstanding contribution in advancing women’s rights, and as she stands down as deputy leader of the Labour party this year, she should be proud of all that she has achieved.

Let me also welcome the new Scottish National party Members of Parliament. It is good to see that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is back with us. For someone who has fought so hard to break away from Westminster, he seems remarkably keen on coming back to the place. I notice that he is now the foreign affairs spokesman for his party—for which I assume he speaks on issues relating to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a serious point, however. The right hon. Gentleman has broken new ground. It is the first time that someone who has served as a First Minister of one of our nations has come back to the House of Commons, and whatever our differences—and there will be many differences—he will bring great experience to this House and to our debates.

The Humble Address welcoming Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech was brilliantly proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns). He described himself as a man with his future behind him, but I think after that great rapprochement, perhaps a future in the diplomatic service—or even, who knows, as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons—awaits him. There are all sorts of possibilities. I am very grateful for the reference to the record I have set and the reference he made to Lord Palmerston. Given that I think I am right in saying that Lord Palmerston died in the arms of his mistress, I do not want to emulate all his achievements in the rest of his life.

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As my right hon. Friend said, as well as being a strong Conservative, when it comes to American politics, as he explained, he is a devout Democrat. He named his son after Bobby Kennedy, he regularly goes to America to pray with President Carter, and as he told us, he keeps his daily schedule on track by wearing a Hillary Clinton wristwatch. I have met Mrs Clinton on many occasions, but I have never yet had the courage to ask whether she wears a Simon Burns wristwatch.

Many of us have had experience of exceptionally demanding constituents over the years, but my right hon. Friend may be able to lay claim to the most demanding constituent of all. This is a story he told me in the Tea Room many years ago, so I am sure that it is true. A constituent came to his office, looked at him longingly and said, “Simon, you are my Member of Parliament and I have my needs and wants.” History does not relate how he handled this, but I know that he has increased his majority over the years from 7,700 to more than 18,000. I can observe only that he is a very good and decidedly active constituency Member of Parliament.

My right hon. Friend’s other great addiction is nicotine. As Minister with responsibility for trains, he was criticised for travelling by car, but the real reason for that was not that he was a bad Minister, but that he was gasping for a fag. We may all wonder how we will be remembered in this place after we have gone. In my right hon. Friend’s case, I can confirm that there will be a permanent memorial in the Palace of Westminster. I refer, of course, to the smoking shelter that he established. He goes there on a daily basis, and it is said that when he has gone a plaque will be placed there, dedicated to the former Health Minister.

My right hon. Friend has achieved some remarkable things in this House. His private Member’s Bill on tackling football hooliganism made important changes in giving courts greater powers to stop hooligans travelling to games and gave police vital powers to deal with racist chanting. He served as a Health Minister in Sir John Major’s Administration, as well as being a Health and Transport Minister in mine. Over three decades, he has become loved in most parts of the Chamber, and his speech was in the finest traditions of the House.

The Loyal Address was brilliantly seconded by another Member who can also sometimes be found under the Commons smoking shelter—my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). We hear a lot about identikit professional politicians who all look and sound the same and do not have any real experience of real life. Well, people certainly cannot say that about my hon. Friend. She came into politics because she believed that fishermen needed a voice when they were away at sea, and she has given them that voice. No one in the House knows better what to do with skate, hake, bass and bream, so I hope that she will give me some tips on how to deal with Salmond and Sturgeon—[Laughter.] Who says puns don’t work in the House of Commons?

My hon. Friend has the distinction of being the only Member in the last 20 years to get two private Members’ Bills through the House in her first term. One of them, the Deep Sea Mining Act 2014, will position Britain to make the most of an industry that has the potential to be worth £40 billion in the next 30 years. Most exceptionally, my hon. Friend has played a pivotal role in championing

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the safety of fishermen. No one knows more just how important that is, and my hon. Friend’s courage and resolve in the face of the greatest tragedy have been an inspiration to us all. She has the admiration and support of everyone in the Chamber, and her speech was in the finest traditions of the House.

The first priority of the Queen’s Speech is to help working people, and we are clear about what that means—more jobs, more apprenticeships, more tax cuts, more help with childcare and more opportunity to get a home of their own. That is the agenda for this Parliament. The last Parliament created 2 million jobs, and the Queen’s Speech will help to create 2 million more. The last Parliament saw more than 2.2 million new apprenticeships start, and the Queen’s Speech will help to create 3 million more. The last Parliament cut taxes, and the Queen’s Speech sets out plans for cutting them further. For the first time, we will legislate for a tax lock and a minimum wage tax guarantee. That means no increases in income tax, VAT or national insurance, and no income tax at all for those working up to 30 hours a week on the minimum wage. We have made the choice that we will make savings in public spending in order to keep taxes down. That is the right choice and it was backed by the British people in the election.

The last Parliament increased free childcare, and the childcare Bill in the Queen’s Speech will double free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week from 2017, which should save families £5,000 a year on average. The last Parliament helped more than 200,000 people buy or reserve a property, and the housing Bill in the Queen’s Speech will extend the right to buy to housing association tenants, so that more people have the security of owning their own home.

In recent days I have noticed that some of the candidates for the Labour leadership seem to have discovered a new word—“aspiration”. Apparently that has upset John Prescott, who went on television to explain that he does not know what it means. Well, I am happy that we will spend the next five years explaining what it means and how vital it is to everyone in our country. If Labour Members truly believe in aspiration, they will vote with us to cut people’s taxes so that people can spend more of their own money as they choose. If they truly believe in aspiration, they will vote with us to cap welfare and use the savings to fund more apprenticeships.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is talking about “one nation” and the rest of it. How does he justify what is now being proposed, namely—this has been widely reported—the £12 billion cuts in so-called welfare, which will hit the disabled and the most vulnerable people in our society? It is shameful. The Prime Minister should recognise that if that were to go ahead, it would create a battlefield situation in many parts of our country, and the responsibility would be on him.

The Prime Minister: What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that in the last Parliament, we found £20 billion of savings in welfare. We should be doing this, because the alternatives are to put up taxes for working people or to make deeper cuts in public spending programmes such as health or education. The right answer is to get the country back to work, find the savings in welfare and

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make sure that we keep people’s taxes down. That is the choice we made at the election and that is what we will deliver in government.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the election result that he has delivered to those on this side of the House. He will share my pleasure at this month’s employment figures, which show some of the lowest youth unemployment rates locally on record. Will he ensure that this Government keep going further?

The Prime Minister: One of the most important things we can do is give young people the chance of an apprenticeship and the chance of work. What we have done is expand apprenticeships and uncapped university places, so that there is no cap on aspiration in our country. We now want to go further by saying that every young person should be either earning or learning. Leaving school, signing on, getting unemployment benefit, getting housing benefit and opting for a life out of work—that is no choice at all, and that is why we will legislate accordingly.

If Labour Members believe in aspiration, they will vote with us to allow housing association tenants the right to buy their own home. That will be the test of aspiration for the Opposition: are they going to talk about aspiration, or are they actually going to vote for it?

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): The best way out of poverty is through employment. What can the Prime Minister do to help small and medium-sized businesses create more jobs—more than the 2 million he created in the last Parliament?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right: we have to recognise that the jobs growth in this country is likely to come from small and medium-sized enterprises, rather than big firms. What we have to do is continue the drive of deregulation and keeping taxes down for those vital businesses. In the end, it is not Governments that create jobs; it is businesses, and that is why we will continue to be a business-friendly Government.

Delivering for working people also means controlling immigration. Members right across the House will have heard that issue raised on doorstep after doorstep during the election campaign, and I am determined that we should deliver. Our new immigration Bill takes action right across the board, including extending our approach of rapid deportation. People who have no right to be here should not be able to launch appeal after appeal after appeal. Under our plans, they will be deported first and can only appeal later.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): An issue of immediate concern is the situation in the Mediterranean. The proposal of the EU to initiate quotas is, in my view, not the answer. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the solution to the problem is to deal directly with the countries of the Maghreb, so that they can deal with the people traffickers and the criminal gangs who are forcing people to their deaths?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman, who led the Select Committee on Home Affairs in such an accomplished way in the last Parliament, is absolutely right about this. My fear is that if we have a repatriation

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programme that distributes migrants across the European Union, all it will do is act as a new draw for the criminal gangs and for people to get on those unsafe boats and head off into the Mediterranean. What we need to do is focus on the two things that will make the biggest difference: one is trying to get a competent Government in Libya—a Government that have authority and that we can deal with—and the second is to break the link between people getting on a boat and getting settlement rights in Europe. We need to return people to the continent of Africa. There is a clear model that worked well. When the Spanish Government faced this problem, with people arriving in the Canary Islands, they worked with the relevant countries and invested in their security, and they were able to deal with the problem. That is the approach we should take.

We should also be using our significant aid budget. It is to this country’s great credit that we have kept our promises to the poorest in the world and achieved that 0.7% target. Together with European partners, we should be using that budget and trying to stabilise and improve conditions in the countries from which these people are coming. They are not by any means all Libyans. In fact, very, very few of them are Libyans—they are Eritreans, Somalis and Nigerians. We need to stabilise those countries to take away the cause. We also need to go after the criminal gangs because they are the ones who are profiting from this evil trade.

The second set of Bills in this Queen’s Speech is about spreading opportunity more widely by helping people out of poverty. The best way to do this is not by spending money that we do not have, but by helping people to get a job and a good education. Again, we are building on a strong platform: in the last Parliament inequality fell and relative poverty reached its lowest level in over a quarter of a century. By the end of the Parliament over a million more children were being taught in good or outstanding schools. Over a million people came off the main out-of-work benefits and over 2 million got into work, but the challenge for this Parliament is how we go further.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the challenges is to address the fact that two thirds of children in poverty have one parent who is in work?

The Prime Minister: I agree that we need to help people who are out of work into work, and for those people in work, we want to see their living standards rise. We will do that by seeing the welcome increase in the minimum wage that is taking place this year, and also by taking people on low pay out of tax altogether. That is the choice we made in the last Parliament, and we pledged to continue it in this Parliament by saying that people can earn £12,500 before they start paying income tax. That is one of the best ways in which we can encourage work in our country.

The greatest driver of opportunity is education. Some argued in the election that school reform had gone too far. I disagree. I think it is time to increase the pace of reform in education. Every child we leave in a coasting or failing school is an opportunity wasted and potentially a life wasted, so our schools Bill will crack down on

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coasting schools and force them to accept new leadership, so that every child has the opportunity to go to a great school.

At the heart of our education reforms will be our commitment to create a further 500 new free schools at least, creating an additional 270,000 extra places. We should be clear about the facts about free schools. Almost half of free schools so far have been set up in the most deprived communities in our country, and most important of all, almost a quarter are rated as outstanding compared with a fifth of other schools. Considering the short time that free schools have been going, for a quarter of them to be outstanding is truly remarkable. It is the fastest growing and most successful schools programme in recent British history, and it is opening up the education system and giving new opportunities to children who in the past would not have had them. Anyone who cares about equality of opportunity should support the free schools programme.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister see the fact that 60,000 people used food banks in 2010 as opposed to a million last year as a sign of the success or failure of his Government?

The Prime Minister: I do not want to see anyone having to rely on food from a food bank. That is why we need to take more people out of poverty, get more people into employment, cut more people’s taxes, and continue with the long-term economic plan that is working.

Several hon. Members rose

The Prime Minister: I will give way to hon. Members in a moment. I will get to all of them, but let me say something about free schools. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has had some things to say about free schools, and I thought that in the spirit of encouraging the Opposition leadership debate, I would offer some thoughts. He supports the Everton free school. He supports the Atherton community free school, which is the first-ever free school in Manchester, yet he says, “I don’t think free schools are the answer.” If free schools are good enough for his constituents, why are they not good enough for everyone else?

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): On food banks, the Prime Minister will be aware that recent research from Oxford University has said that the £12 billion cuts in welfare will double the number of people using food banks to 2 million. Is that a sign of success?

The Prime Minister: This debate about whether it is right to try and drive down the costs of welfare to keep people’s taxes down and make sure we are a successful country getting people back to work—that is the debate we had at the election. If the Labour party wants to spend all of this Parliament arguing for more welfare, more debt, more taxes and more spending, it will be making an historic mistake. The Labour party needs to decide whose side it is on. This Government and this Queen’s Speech are on the side of working people who want their children to have the best start in life, wherever they live in the country, and that means more academy schools, more free schools, more rigour in the curriculum and more of the brightest graduates going into teaching. That is our programme and we are stepping up the pace.

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Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend also pay tribute to our noble Friend Lord Baker, the former Secretary of State for Education, who has launched a fantastic campaign to promote university technical colleges? They offer a fantastic opportunity to young people who are not necessarily the most academic but who have technical skills, tapping into that resource, which this nation has, and providing skills.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to Lord Baker of Dorking. He was a huge enthusiast for education reform when he was Secretary of State, and he has kept that going all his life. The university technical colleges are a great success—indeed, we launched our election campaign in one in Swindon. They help to complete our education system by providing what was missing: a high-quality technical education for children who would benefit from it.

Giving people opportunity and security means investing in our national health service. That is why this Government will back the NHS’s own plan—the Simon Stevens plan—and deliver the extra £8 billion a year needed by the end of this Parliament. We started the previous Parliament by making a big decision to increase spending on the NHS every year. The Labour party told us at the time that we were irresponsible to do so—from what I have seen, it has learnt very little. At the election we promised to make the investment needed for the Simon Stevens plan, and again the Labour party opposed it. It just goes to show that the best way to protect the NHS is to make sure that the Conservatives are in government.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask the Prime Minister about another area of the public services: funding for the police? Can he confirm that the Metropolitan Police Service faces further significant cuts in its funding, potentially leading to the loss of between 5,000 and 10,000 police officer positions?

The Prime Minister: What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the police did a brilliant job in the previous Parliament, taking spending reductions and cutting crime at the same time, and actually increasing the percentage of police officers on the front line. That is a remarkable achievement, and we believe that further savings can be made. Again, if Members do not agree that we need to make some welfare reductions, the police would have to be cut even more deeply. That is the problem that the Labour party will eventually have to confront.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): The Prime Minister says that we have to decide whose side we are on. The Opposition are on the side of this country’s 6 million carers—carers who were hit by the bedroom tax and by many of his welfare reforms, and who are now worrying about where those £12 billion of cuts will be made. Can he confirm that there will not be a move to cut eligibility for carer’s allowance, because at least 1 million carers are worrying about that?

The Prime Minister: What the previous Government did for carers was pass a landmark piece of legislation that gave them rights for the first time, as well as the people they care for, and it made sure that they had breaks from caring, because the Conservative party supports Britain’s carers.

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The third set of Bills in the Queen’s Speech addresses the great challenges we face as a nation, and we are starting with our place in Europe. We have seen treaty after treaty pass through this House. The EU has changed a great deal since 1975, and it is time the British people once again had their say. We have a very clear strategy of renegotiation, reform and referendum. The Bill in this Queen’s Speech makes it clear that the referendum must take place at the latest by the end of 2017. It builds on the excellent work done by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (James Wharton) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who introduced similar Bills in the previous Parliament. I am delighted that the Bill now has all-party support, so I look forward to seeing it make its way through both Houses in extra quick time.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): We are told that the EU referendum Bill will be introduced after the Prime Minister has negotiated reforms. Will members of his Cabinet be allowed to vote against staying in the EU? Will they be allowed to vote no and stay in his Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: First of all, the hon. Gentleman has the order slightly the wrong way round. We are going to introduce this Bill straight away. I want us to legislate straight away to get the Bill in place, so that everyone knows that there will be that referendum. But the Government have a very clear view, which is that we believe that the right answer is reform, renegotiation and referendum. We go into that believing that Britain will be successful. That is the view of all the Government and every Government Minister.

As well as the challenge of Europe, we will continue to work with our international partners on securing a proper replacement for the millennium development goals in September. We will confront the challenge of climate change, not least with the build-up to the vital Paris summit in December, and we will meet the challenge of combating extremism, including through a new Bill in front of this House. We want to take on the poisonous narrative of extremism—not just violent extremism, but all extremism—in a much more aggressive way, standing up for the liberal and tolerant values that make this country great.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful that there was at least one reference to climate change in the Gracious Speech. However, the speech was devoid of detail on climate change. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he will reverse his reckless policies that are deepening our dependence on oil and gas and instead put our resources into renewable energies and energy efficiency? Those are what we need if we are serious about climate change, jobs and energy security.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady, whom I welcome back to her place, is being a bit churlish; the last Government grew the economy and cut our carbon emissions and this Government will do the same. We saw a massive increase in investment in renewable energy, including the largest offshore wind market anywhere in the world. The difference between me and the hon. Lady is that I believe in a green environment on the street corner as well as in the stratosphere. I hope that she will have a word with her Green colleagues in

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Brighton and make sure that they begin to empty the dustbins, because that matters as well when it comes to a green environment.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The Prime Minister said a little while ago that he was pleased that the EU referendum Bill now has all-party support. As he takes that Bill through the Commons, will he remind the Opposition that they cannot dump their policies overnight and hope that people will not notice?

The Prime Minister: I am all for encouraging as many U-turns as possible from the Labour party; that will mean that our majority of 10 or 12 will be far, far bigger. We should encourage them to join us in the Lobbies—[Interruption.] I can hear the Chief Whip enthusiastically endorsing that. I am not sure that the British people will forget. If we had listened to the Labour party, there would be no renegotiation and there would be no referendum—there would be no choice.

This Queen’s Speech will also modernise and strengthen our United Kingdom. It includes Bills on devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These Bills will deliver on all the promises made to people in each of those countries in our United Kingdom. We will also ensure fairness for English voters, through English votes for English laws.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) rose—

The Prime Minister: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Pete Wishart: I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Can he confirm that there will be a piece of legislation—a Bill—for English votes for English laws? Surely he is not even contemplating bringing something so significant constitutionally under the Standing Orders of the House.

The Prime Minister: What we will do, in terms of English votes and English laws, is exactly what is set out in our manifesto—copies available from all good bookshops. That will involve a vote here in the House of Commons, and I think that is right.

I look forward to taking on the arguments from those who want to break up our country. Frankly, they have received little scrutiny until now. Devolution is not just about getting new powers; it is also about the responsibility of how those powers are used. I would say to the Scottish National party that if it is not happy with decisions made here in Westminster and if it wants more taxes, spending and borrowing, it can now introduce those measures in Scotland. It is time for the SNP to stop talking and start acting.

Let me respond very directly to something important that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham said, which was that in this Parliament there will also be the opportunity for the SNP to set out what it means by full fiscal autonomy. I am clear about what that means: it means raising 100% of what it spends. That means asking Scottish people to pay almost an extra £10 billion in taxes or making almost an extra

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£10 billion in additional cuts by the end of this Parliament. That is £5,000 of higher taxes or additional cuts for every single family in Scotland. That is the true price of the SNP. It is ironic that the party in this House that claims to represent Scotland advocates a worse deal for Scotland than the rest of us do. People who want the best for every nation of our United Kingdom should fight for a Union with solidarity at its heart. That is something that I will always do because I am proud to lead the Conservative and Unionist party.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On dumping policies overnight, how many of the Prime Minister’s right hon. and hon. Friends came to tell him that they would not support him over the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act?

The Prime Minister: Let me put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery. Be in no doubt: we will be introducing legislation and legislating on this issue because I want these decisions made by British judges in British courts, not in Strasbourg.

This Queen’s Speech provides a clear programme for this Government, delivering for working people: more jobs, more apprenticeships, more tax cuts, more help with childcare, and more opportunity to get a home of your own. The best education for every child, a strong and properly funded NHS, and the chance to raise your family and enjoy a decent and secure retirement: that is what this Queen’s Speech is about, and that is why I am fighting for it in this Parliament. It is a Queen’s Speech for working people from a one nation Government who will bring our country together, and I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Before I call Mr Angus Robertson, I should warn other right hon. and hon. Members hoping to catch my eye that on the conclusion of his speech a time limit of 12 minutes on Back-Bench speeches will take effect.

3.46 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I begin by adding my voice to those of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the Prime Minister in paying tribute to members of the armed forces who have died on operations, not least in Afghanistan. The biggest single loss of life from the UK was my constituents aboard Nimrod XV230 who died in the skies above Afghanistan. Regardless of the right hon. and learned Lady’s views of the conflicts in which our servicemen and women take part, we pay tribute to all of them and our thoughts are with their families, especially those who have lost loved ones.

It is a real pleasure to join in the praise for the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns). Before considering what I should say about him, I decided to review the back copies of the Essex Chronicle—a very well-read newspaper in the north of Scotland. It highlighted his praiseworthy record as being in the top 10 of most responsive MPs in dealing with the queries that are brought to his office. That is a reminder to all of us that our first responsibility is to represent and assist our constituents, and I praise him for the example that he has set.

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I also congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who is a doughty representative of her constituency with a very strong maritime interest. She has shown the way that a Back-Bench MP can effect change in successfully piloting two private Members’ Bills through this House—most notably, I believe, a marine navigation Bill.

The example that both Members have shown neatly complements the next role of parliamentarians, which is to hold the Government to account. It is an honour to reply to the Queen’s Speech on behalf of the third party in the House of Commons—the Scottish National party. [Applause.] It is our intention to be the effective opposition to this Government, who seek to govern Scotland with only one out of 59 seats. I will spare the Prime Minister further panda jokes, but he knows that he has a democratic legitimacy problem in Scotland—and if he does not, he should by now. Having said that, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his election success—in England.

I extend genuine commiserations to colleagues in all corners of the House who wished for better, or different, results. I also pay compliments, as the Speaker did at the beginning, to all those Members who were not re-elected, and to those who are often not mentioned—their staff. I think that many people do not understand that when Members of this House, on both sides, lose, their staff also lose their jobs. We all rely on our staff, who do a remarkable job on behalf of all our constituents. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish our very talented chief of staff, Luke Skipper, well as he moves on to pastures new.

In the general election the SNP won half the vote—something not achieved by any party in Scotland for 60 years. The SNP won more votes than all three UK parties combined, and 56 out of 59 seats. It was a remarkable result and an amazing achievement for our leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for all SNP candidates, almost all of whom are here, our volunteers and our dedicated headquarters staff. We will do our best to stand up for Scotland, but let me be absolutely clear: we did not win the votes of all voters in Scotland, and we are mindful of that. We still remain supporters of electoral reform and proportional representation.

It is no secret that we in the Scottish National party wish Scotland to become an independent country again, but the referendum last year determined that we remain governed by Westminster in many areas. The Queen’s Speech, drafted by the Prime Minister, talks of a one nation approach, without acknowledging that the UK is a multinational state, or that the four nations of the UK elected different parties to lead in England, in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland. I genuinely hope that Government Members understand what that actually means.

At the start of a new Parliament, it is right to reflect on the challenges and opportunities we all face over this term, and then ask ourselves whether the proposals in the Queen’s Speech match those challenges and opportunities. I am sure that we all acknowledge the scale and challenge of sustaining economic recovery while managing public spending. Balancing the finances is hugely important, and no party should underestimate the importance of not beggaring the next generation. The UK already has unsustainable debt and unsustainable deficits, and all of us are paying a price for an era of

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debt-fuelled expansion. However, I respectfully suggest that too few alternative views are heard about how we go about fixing the problem. It is not a zero-sum game, or simply cuts versus tax-raising. Already built into the forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility are some very big assumptions about what happens to productivity levels. We would like the Government to take a more active role in channelling spending to areas where it can boost growth and competitiveness.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): In the last Parliament, the Scottish National party Members took a principled stand—that they would not vote on English-only business. Are they going to stick to that?

Angus Robertson: The SNP has had a consistent position in this House—that we will review every single piece of legislation brought forward and, on the basis of an evaluation of whether it directly or indirectly has a significant impact on Scotland, then decide on the measures on which we vote and those on which we do not vote—and that position has not changed.

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

Angus Robertson: I will make some progress, and then I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

What we need, and have not had thus far, is honesty about the scale of the accelerated austerity cuts that the Government are planning. The 2015 Budget showed that the cuts are set to grow. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted, the cuts will be

“twice the size of any year’s cuts”

in the last Parliament. The mammoth cumulative cuts to public services in the UK are estimated at about £146 billion. These decisions have a very real and devastating impact, most often on those vulnerable people and families who have the least. The IFS has found that the coalition’s tax and benefit changes have seen the poorest endure the largest proportionate losses. The IFS also estimates that by 2020 relative child poverty across the UK will increase to over 30%, affecting 4.3 million children—I repeat, 4.3 million children—and that would be a scandal. All of this comes at a time of widening wealth disparity, with the top 10% of society owning 44% of the wealth, while the bottom half owns just 9%.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Many of us on the Opposition Benches are wondering what exactly the hon. Gentleman is complaining about, given that he and his colleagues spent the entire election campaign undermining the only party that had a chance of beating the Conservatives. Is it not actually the case that they wanted a Conservative victory, because they know that that is the best chance of getting another referendum and the best chance of the Scottish people voting for independence? What they should do is go and sit on the Conservative Benches with the Government they wanted to get elected.

Angus Robertson: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has difficulty reconciling the conscience of him and his colleagues who trooped through the Lobbies shamefully unaware that support for the austerity agenda—[Applause.]

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Mr Speaker: Order. May I say at the start of the Parliament that the convention that we do not clap in this Chamber is very, very long established and widely respected, and it would be appreciated if Members showed some respect for that convention? They will get their speaking rights from this Chair—of that they can be assured. They will be respected, but I would invite them to show some respect for the traditions of this Chamber of the House of Commons.

Angus Robertson: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The UK is the only G7 country to experience rising wealth inequality since the turn of the century. Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years since the crash compared with the seven years before, and the super-rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour, and it rose faster under the coalition. Inequality is felt acutely in particular regions of the UK, with regional economic performance the most unequal in the whole of the EU. What is happening to remedy this meaningfully rather than symbolically?

Given those challenges, we need honesty from the Government on their plans for austerity cuts. Where will the £12 billion of cuts to welfare and benefits fall?

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) rose

Angus Robertson: Who will be affected? Will it be the disabled, like the many impacted by the bedroom tax, or will it be people working on low incomes and in receipt of tax credits? We also need honesty about the Government’s plans to cut above and beyond the fiscal mandate. On the specific legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech, may I welcome the early unravelling of Conservative plans?

John Redwood rose

Angus Robertson: I am happy to give way on the unravelling of Conservative Government plans.

John Redwood: I wanted the hon. Gentleman to give way on the money. He said there were going to be massive cuts, but he will see from the Red Book that the Government plan to spend £60 billion a year more in the last year of this Parliament than at the beginning. By how much more does he want to increase public spending, and which taxes would he put up to pay for it?

Angus Robertson: The right hon. Gentleman obviously was not following the general election in Scotland, where the Scottish National party unveiled its proposals for increasing public spending modestly, and where the electorate then took a view on whose plans they would put their trust in—and as he can see, 56 of the 59 MPs returned from Scotland are from the SNP.

I return to the specific legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech and the unravelling of the Prime Minister’s plans, beginning with the Human Rights Act. It is now clear that the Government cannot secure the majority they were seeking and are kicking the issue into the longer grass. I say to right hon. and hon. Members across the House who, like us, want to protect the Human Rights Act that we will work with them to do so. The Act is enshrined in the devolved legislative framework of both Northern Ireland and Scotland, and although the Government have delayed the Bill, the Queen’s Speech makes it clear that they are still committed

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to it. However, we will not stand for any diminution of human rights—or indeed, in respect of other measures, of workers’ rights.

The Prime Minister is no doubt delighted—and presumably surprised—that he achieved a majority and does not need to continue in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but he will be less happy when considering that a 12-seat majority is small in historical terms. With 56 Members, the SNP will co-operate with progressive colleagues to secure positive changes or block bad proposals.

I hope that the early Government unravelling will continue on the EU referendum Bill, for which, incidentally, there is not support among all parties in the House.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) rose

Angus Robertson: I would like to make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow.

The SNP supports our continuing membership of the EU. We recognise the importance of the single European market and the ability to influence EU legislation. We look forward to making the case for EU membership and for reform, not just of institutions in Brussels, but of the approach of member states, such as the UK, that regularly deny Ministers from devolved Governments a direct say at the top table. It cannot be right that the most experienced and longest-serving Fisheries Minister in the whole EU cannot speak at EU Fisheries Council meetings and that instead the UK sends an unelected Member of the House of Lords. We will seek to amend the Bill to ensure that the four nations of the UK cannot be taken out of the EU against the will of their electorates. During the Scottish referendum campaign last year, the Prime Minister and his allies in the Labour party made great play of the UK’s being a family of nations based on mutual respect. The Prime Minister is nodding in agreement. If that is true, how could it be that in this family of nations, one country—the largest—can dictate to everybody else that we have to leave the European Union, and plough on regardless? That is not mutual respect.

Still on the subject of referendums, we in Scotland have had experience of fair participation based on residency. It was fair and right that 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, and I am delighted that the Labour party has changed its position on that to support the SNP. It is right for European Union citizens to vote on that basis, too. Incidentally, this was supported by the Conservative party, by the Labour party and by the Liberal Democrats in respect of the referendum in Scotland, so it beggars belief that the UK Government plan to disfranchise these voters, for whom this is a critical issue. We will seek to amend the legislation to try to put this right.

We support the further devolution of powers to the nations and, indeed, to English regions and cities.

Geraint Davies rose

Angus Robertson: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make further progress.

It is in the interests of everyone that better decisions reflecting local priorities should be taken closer to communities—including with respect to the “northern

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powerhouse”, much vaunted by the Government side, although there might be differing perspectives on what constitutes “the north”.

Big decisions will be taken in this Parliament about transport and infrastructure, including high-speed rail and airport expansion for London. There is going to have to be much more serious consideration of the advantages for the whole of the UK, and not just part of it.

With specific regard to the Scotland Bill, we welcome the commitment to deliver the powers agreed across the parties in the Smith commission. These measures are aimed at boosting economic growth, social fairness and financial responsibility. We will, however, look at the detail of the Bill. It already seems likely that the Government have not fully taken into account the proposals of the Scottish Government, which were endorsed by the electorate in the UK general elections. During his recent meeting with the First Minister, the Prime Minister committed to considering improvements—and we welcome that. If those improvements have not been included, however, we will seek to amend the Bill.

On the NHS, Members understand that decisions about it in England have an impact on the NHS budgets of the devolved nations. We have supported the recommendation to increase NHS spending, and I urge the Prime Minister to carry this out urgently so that people and the NHS can benefit sooner rather than later. The Government can, of course, do this in the July Budget, so that will be an early test for the Prime Minister.

SNP Members welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to support peace and security and to

“work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons”—

the exact words in the Queen’s Speech. We fear, however, that what the Government actually have in mind is to spend a whopping £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons. These weapons of mass destruction can never, ever be used. Meanwhile, the Government have cut back on conventional forces and have consigned the UK to being in the ridiculous position of having the only armed forces of a maritime state in northern Europe without a single maritime patrol aircraft.

The SNP will present a constructive, but tough opposition. The problem with the Queen’s Speech is that there is no recognition in it of the fact that Scotland completely rejected the Tory agenda. Instead, we are to be led by the Tories’ wrong priorities. At a time when people are suffering from the impact of austerity, the Tories are focused on the wrong issues. On the vow given to the people of Scotland, we will judge the Scotland Bill on its content. The legislation that is introduced must live up to the Smith commission in full. Anything less would be a breach of faith.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The 12-minute limit now applies.

4.3 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I rise to speak for prosperity, not austerity; I speak for England as well as for more powers for Scotland; and I speak for greater democracy as we seek to wrestle power back from the bureaucratic tentacles of Brussels.

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Austerity is what was given to this country in 2008-09. Then we had desperate austerity. We had deep recession and the biggest loss of national income than at any time since the second world war. We had families losing jobs, families losing bonuses, families having to take pay cuts. We saw austerity rampant. Since 2010, first the coalition and now the Government, led ably by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, are about restoring prosperity for the many, growth to our economy, the extra jobs we need, the higher pay and the better living standards that come from creating that world of opportunity.

We speak not just for prosperity but, yes, for aspiration. We speak for aspiration just as surely as some Opposition Members spoke for envy at the time of the general election. The electors told them that they did not want envy; they wanted aspiration. They do not mind other people doing well, as long as they too have a chance to do well. They are not jealous of people who go to good schools, but they want to go to a good school themselves, or send their children to one. They are not jealous of people who work hard and earn a lot of money, and want to keep a large amount of that money to spend on themselves, but they want the opportunity to do the same. I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer to press on in supporting those very aims. Spreading prosperity ever more widely is what lifts us from austerity and banishes austerity from our land.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Before the banking crisis hit in 2008, the right hon. Gentleman was calling for less regulation of the banking system. Does he still hold that position?

John Redwood: If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the economic policy review that I submitted to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will see that it clearly warned of a banking crash. It said that Labour’s regulatory system—introduced by the hon. Gentleman’s party after the 1997 general election—was not requiring enough cash and capital to be held by the banks, and that that was causing enormous strains, which would go wrong. I saw it coming; he took it down. The Labour party changed the regulatory system, the regulators made a huge mistake, and the banking system powered the recession, which was also furthered by the mistaken budgetary policies pursued by Labour. I am very pleased to see that those who now wish to represent the Labour party as its leader have said sorry for the economic and regulatory mistakes that are made by the hon. Gentleman’s party

Clive Efford rose

John Redwood: If the hon. Gentleman wants to have another go, by all means let him do so.

Clive Efford: One of the myths that were put around was that the Labour Government maxed out on their credit card. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that before the banking crisis hit in 2008, debt as a proportion of the country’s GDP was lower than the level that we inherited in 1997?

John Redwood: What matters is the rate of change. The Labour Government were borrowing too much at a time when the economy was overheating and collecting a lot of tax revenue, and we have been trying to right that mistake ever since.

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I think it would be helpful if, in this Parliament, we could have a more grown-up discussion about public spending and tax revenues than we were allowed in the last Parliament, because the meaning of austerity has shifted. It now has a narrower definition than the disaster that hit living standards and individual families in 2008. To the so-called progressive parties, austerity now means not increasing public spending as quickly as they think that it should be increased.

Let me remind the House what successive Red Books—Budget books—have told us about what happened between 2010 and 2015, and what they tell us will happen between 2015 and 2020, subject to the Chancellor’s Budget. It is very easy to remember. Between 2010 and 2015, the coalition Government increased total public spending by £1,000 per person per year, if the final year of those five years is compared with the starting point. The recently elected Conservative Government plan to do exactly the same: they wish to increase total public spending per head by £1,000 per person a year by the end of the current Parliament. That is not a huge rate of growth, but it is not an overall decline or a cut.

Because we inherited such an enormous deficit and could not continue to borrow on such a scale, we were—as a result of VAT increases and the general increase in revenue from some economic growth—charging people £2,000 a head more per year at the end of the last Parliament than the Labour Government did in their last year. This Parliament requires exactly the same increase, without any rate rises but coming from faster growth in the economy. The Red Book’s aim is that we should charge everyone £2,000 extra a year by the end of the Parliament than at the beginning. I think that that is a measured and sensible proposal to rescue us from enormous borrowing and a big debt hole, and I think it can work. I especially welcome the fact that, this time, it will require no tax rises.

Geraint Davies: The right hon. Gentleman may know that the number of people earning over £20,000 is now 800,000 lower than it was in 2010, and those higher-paying jobs have been chopped up into little part-time, low-wage, zero-hours jobs. That is why the tax revenues are not coming in and that is why debt as a share of GDP has gone from 55% to 80%. Admit it: you have failed.

John Redwood: That is a bit rich from the party that crashed the car and did all the damage to living standards in 2008. Would I like it to be going faster? You bet I would like it to be going faster, and so I am sure would the Prime Minister, but it has to go at a pace that can be achievable without taking risks and making it worse in the way that Labour did.

My party is not the party of low pay. We want people to be better paid. It is just that we have an economic policy that may deliver better pay; the Labour Government’s policy clearly did not, because they drove people out of work. They abolished the bonuses and they drove wages down by their dreadful recession, and that recession was caused by a combination of their mistaken economic policy and, above all, their mistaken misregulation of the banks. They should have stuck with the regulation of the banks we had before ’97. We never did anything like that with the banking system. We never had a run on a major bank under the Conservatives. We never had

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a big recession created by a banking crash. Labour needs to understand the history and understand that in future we have to follow different policies to try to avoid that.

I also wish to speak for England. I am very pleased that the Gracious Speech says that there will be early progress in making sure that those MPs elected for England can make more of the decisions that relate only to England. I hear that the SNP are already saying that that should be in legislation. I think it is entirely right that in the first instance it should be done by amending the Standing Orders of this House of Commons. It can be done simply and quickly, and it is judge-proof and it is proof against challenges from outside this place. If we want a sovereign Parliament, sometimes this Parliament has to act in a sovereign way, and surely we can be sovereign over our own votes and procedures.

Pete Wishart: The right hon. Gentleman is, I think, a champion of Parliament and parliamentary procedures, so surely he agrees that we have to debate this issue. There has to be a Bill; there has to be legislation. It is not good enough just to change the Standing Orders of the House for something so constitutionally important.

John Redwood: Of course there will be a debate, and the SNP can use all the parliamentary procedures, which some of its Members know well, to make sure that the issue is properly scrutinised and debated, but we do not need a great piece of legislation. We just need an agreement on who votes on what. It is not that complicated, it is extremely popular outside this House, and it was clearly offered to the British people by the Conservative party. It was one of several policies in our manifesto which were about twice as popular as the Conservative party itself, and we were the most popular party when people did not really like any of the parties in the election very much. They backed us, but they backed some of our policies rather more.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I rise to support my right hon. Friend’s extremely relevant comments. The legislation has of course already been passed, in the form of the devolution Act in 1998. That is what devolved the functions. That is why it is necessary and fair to make sure that, through our Standing Orders, the English people know that they get exclusive rights over their own legislation.

John Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. To those who say we have not thought through this issue I would point out that we wrote many papers on it in opposition and that we thought it through over a 15-year period—it was in the 2001 Conservative manifesto—so the proposals should come as no surprise to anyone who is interested in the subject or who has been following the debates.

The third point I strongly support in the Gracious Speech is that at last we will get a referendum on our relationship with the European Union. Any honest Government picking up the task today should say to the British people that we need a new relationship because now the euro is driving so many of the changes in the EU. Those in the euro need much closer and stronger centralised government; they need to stand behind each other rather more. They are going to need common

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benefit systems and common cash transfer systems, and they are going to need to send support from the richer to the poorer areas, just as we do within our Union of the United Kingdom—if one part falls on hard times, the other parts pay more tax and send it the money. There is a mutual insurance or solidarity system which should appeal to all those of a socialist mind; it even appeals to me, because I think when some are down on their luck within such a union, they should be supported by others in the union. The United Kingdom has very clearly, and quite rightly, never elected a party that wanted to join the euro. The public have no appetite to join it; they have no wish to start raising more taxes in Britain in order to send financial assistance to Greece, Portugal or Spain, although those countries desperately need it.

Of course we need to define a new relationship with the emerging, closely centralised political union of which our colleagues in the EU now speak all too often, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is taking on this difficult and tricky task. There will be a range of views within and among the parties on this issue, so a referendum would be a good way of making the final decision. I urge my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that what the British people, and many in this Parliament, want is to restore the British people’s right to make up their mind and their MPs’ right to ensure that the British people’s views are reflected in what happens here. At the moment, it is all about borders, immigration and welfare systems, and at the general election the British people expressed a strong wish for change on those matters. We need Ministers who can deliver those changes, but some of them are neither legal nor possible under our current EU arrangements.

In the future, the British people might want to see changes in other areas. They might want cheaper energy, for example, but they would discover that their politicians were not entirely able to deliver it because energy is hedged by many European rules, laws and requirements. Britain therefore needs some way of dealing with a situation in which, because of European rules, elected Ministers are unable to act on a matter of consummate importance to the British people. We might be able to do certain things, because we can get a special deal through not being in the euro—that relates to how much centralised government the countries in the eurozone, which we must keep out of, are going to take to themselves. Adopting that more widely might help with their other problems, because at the moment we are seeing a series of collisions between the will of the people following the elections in countries such as Greece and perhaps Spain, and what the European establishment is dishing out by way of policy.

If Opposition Members dislike austerity, they should study what has happened in Greece. It has seen very large public expenditure cuts, of a kind that I would not have supported, at a time when its economy was imploding and its banking system was broken, and its GDP has fallen by 25% since 2008. Let us imagine how we would feel if that had been inflicted on us by policies from Brussels. Thank heavens that those of us who made the case against the euro persuaded others to keep us out, because there but for the grace of God would have gone Britain into a euro-scheme that can deliver untold damage and austerity. Who would want 50% youth unemployment? That is what they have in several parts of southern

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Europe now, thanks to the devastating austerity machine that is the euro. I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take advantage of our non-membership of the euro to negotiate a democratic settlement for us, so that if we need something for our prosperity, this House will be able to deliver it.

4.18 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). He has had a long and distinguished career, and he has a reputation as a deep thinker, but I really disagree with practically everything he says.

I should like to begin my remarks by thanking my constituents in Islington South and Finsbury for returning me to this place with such a convincing majority. I took my seat 10 years ago with a majority of 484. In this election, more people voted Labour in my constituency than had been the case for 50 years, and I now have a majority that is larger than the total number of people who voted for me in 2005. I am grateful to my constituents, although of course it could have been a better night. We were all very disappointed indeed that we did not come back as part of the Government, but I pledge now that I will not let my constituents down and that I will do everything I can to ensure that their lives are made better, not worse, over the next five years.

Many bread-and-butter issues are causing great concern, and it might well be the case that the Tories did not really expect to win the election—certainly not with a majority. They certainly expected to be able to knock a few rough edges off that manifesto by going into coalition discussions. How are they going to pay for the £7 billion-worth of tax cuts? Where are the £12 billion of unidentified welfare cuts going to come from? We hear various leaks: disability benefits, carers allowance and statutory maternity pay are all facing the chop, but that still does not amount to £12 billion, so where are the cuts going to come from?

The Conservatives say that a benefit cap of £23,000 will reward hard work, but we know from the past two years that such a cap does nothing of the kind. In my constituency, it pushes people out of Islington; children from established families in Islington have to leave their primary school and move out—not because £23,000 is not enough for the family to live on, but because it is not enough for their landlords to live on. The rents are so high and these people are expected to pay ridiculous amounts. Neither the Conservative manifesto nor the Queen’s Speech contains any answer to the housing crisis in inner London, across the south of England and, indeed, across the country. It is no answer to the housing crisis to say, “We will allow people who have secure tenancies in good affordable housing to buy those properties at a huge discount and local authorities can then pay the housing associations compensation by selling more affordable housing.” The only answer to our housing crisis is to build more homes.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on her re-election as my parliamentary neighbour. She has made points about building more council housing and stopping the sale of housing association and council housing. Does she agree that it is also important to devolve powers to London, so that we can

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have full regulation of the private rented sector? We would, be able to make the exorbitant, extravagant and appalling rents charged in the private rented sector a thing of the past and end the social cleansing of central London, which is happening because of the strategy she describes.

Emily Thornberry: My hon. Friend speaks from his constituents’ experiences, which are similar to those of my constituents, and of many people who have lived in central London for generations and want to continue to do so but find that the current private market is completely unaffordable. Other capital cities across the world have some form of regulation of rents, but ours does not. Merely allowing capitalism, red in tooth and claw, without any form of regulation will not be enough to solve the central London housing crisis. I agree with him on that point.

I suspect there will be extensive debate on those issues throughout this Parliament—I will return to them again and again—but today I most wish to ask how we answer a question asked of me last week. At a dinner, I was sitting next to an artillery officer who has the same first name and age as my eldest son. When he said he had not met an MP before, I asked him what his one question to an MP would be. This lad, who is prepared to put his life on the line for us, said, “What are we fighting for?” I said that I did not know. A few years ago I would have said, “You are fighting for Britain, which has reached a time in its maturity when it is coming to terms with its colonial past. It has a place on the Security Council, is close to America and is part of the European Union. We have close relationships with the Commonwealth and friends across the world. We feel that our role is to promote human rights and international law. We have definitely made mistakes but we are a force for good internationally and we have a strong national identity.” I would have said that then, but I do not think we can say it now, and I really do not know where we are going.

The growth of petty nationalism is profoundly worrying to us all, and I do not want to see the break-up of Britain. I am Anglo-Irish, British and a Londoner, and I am part of Europe. I am a European and an internationalist. That very identity is being challenged at the moment and we are slipping down a slope, but nobody seemingly has the true will to stop this.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: I will in a moment, because I wish to challenge something else first. I am deeply concerned that the Conservative party has won the election by playing on this petty nationalism, putting the Scots against the English, fighting off the Welsh and so on. The Conservatives have played on this petty nationalism by saying things such as, “We don’t want to be answerable to Europe.” That is very worrying, and they are playing with fire.

Mr MacNeil: I, too, am half-Irish. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that we do not wish to see the ending of the Republic of Ireland’s independence and that she

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respects the independence of the Republic of Ireland from this House obtained about a century ago.

Emily Thornberry: Of course I do, but I still feel British and as part of being British I want our country to remain united with Scotland. I want us to be British and I do not want to see the fracturing of our nation. The irresponsible way in which the Government have played those cards in the past few weeks and months has put at risk our very Union. I do not want to be pompous about this, but I am profoundly worried.

It has not been enough for the Government simply to do that. They have also been playing to their Back Benches, playing the Eurosceptic card and playing for good headlines in the Daily Mail, but they are also playing with the future of our country. The Conservative party seems to me to have moved far away from the Conservative party of Churchill that tried after the second world war to have a future for us in Europe, bound together by common ideals and principles. Those ideals, expressed in the treaty, have been looked after by the European Court of Human Rights over the past few decades. British Conservative lawyers wrote the European convention on human rights, which we have imported into this country.

Over the past few decades the Foreign Office has promoted human rights around the world; I am proud of that and want it to continue. The idea that we will pass a British Bill of privileges—under which certain people will be given rights and others will not, under which certain people will be more important than others, under which we will not have rights simply because we are human and under which we will not all be equal—and that we will not have legislation that fights for the weak against the strong is disgraceful. It is disgraceful that we are travelling down this road. How can we hold our head up high internationally if we are going to pull the rug from under a system of international treaties through which we have promoted human rights? Our legislation, written by us, is essentially part of a form of legal imperialism sent around the world to set a series of minimum standards of which I am very proud.

John Redwood: The hon. Lady might like to note that Churchill, in his Zurich and Fulton, Missouri speeches, made it very clear that the European Union would not have the UK as a member but that we would join a union of the English-speaking peoples. That was also the conclusion of his “History of the English-Speaking Peoples”. He did not write a history of the European peoples.

Emily Thornberry: I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that 67 years ago, Churchill said:

“The Movement for Europe…must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): The hon. Lady is talking about my party in terms that I certainly do not recognise and she has accused us of being a divisive party as far as the Union is concerned. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it perfectly

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clear that we are a Conservative and Unionist party and that we intend to retain the Union and to do what we can to do so.

Emily Thornberry: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and if he is satisfied with some of the rhetoric from those on the Front Benches, let him be satisfied. It is important to look beyond the rhetoric and see with our very own eyes the real damage being done by what is happening to this country. This is a matter of huge concern and I ask the hon. Gentleman not to be complacent about where we might go if we start to pull apart our Human Rights Act and our place in Europe.

Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman. In Strasbourg, European judges make judgments all the time that essentially quote at length what happens in our Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court applies our Human Rights Act and does so across the board. If the hon. Gentleman were unfortunate enough to be arrested in Europe, he would have the right to a lawyer, which he would not have had if it had not been for the British system, which understands that people have a right to access a lawyer in order for there to be a fair trial. That was an interpretation of human rights that we exported to Strasbourg, and has now been exported right across Europe. It is a two-way street. Of the tens of thousands of cases that went before the Court at Strasbourg, does the hon. Gentleman know how many judgments there were against Britain last year? There were three.

David Tredinnick: The hon. Lady tempts me and I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker. The point is that we are trying to deal with an Act that has proved to be inadequate in dealing with the terrorists that we are trying to get rid of, and we want to bring those decisions back to this country. That is a very laudable objective. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not set it out in any detail because he wants to give it further thought, but it is widely supported in this country.

Emily Thornberry: Will the hon. Gentleman give me a moment in which to answer, because I only have two minutes left? The fact is that within our constitution—our unwritten constitution, which we play with at our jeopardy, if we do not think through what we are doing—we have different pillars. We have the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and of course there will always be tension between them. If we all agreed all the time, what would be the point? In what way would we be a democracy? There will be times when we disagree and, in the end, human rights is about protecting minorities. It is about protecting the weak against the strong. Yes, there will be times when people whom we wish to have no truck with at all will rely on basic rights and we must give them to them. That is the British way, and it is one that we are proud of and should remain proud of, and we should never allow it to be undermined.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the Prime Minister hinted, and then the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) blurted out, that there might be afoot an attempt to change the Standing Orders of this House to restrict the voting rights of some Members of this House. Surely such a change would fundamentally breach the principle

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that all Members of this House are equal before the Chair, and would such a change, if conceived itself as an Order, have to be considered by you or the Procedure Committee, or undergo some thorough investigation? Otherwise, as you will understand with your experience, Mr Speaker, any majority Government could change Standing Orders to restrict the voting rights of any Member without so much as a by-your-leave.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me a few minutes’ advance notice of his intention to raise this point of order. He has raised an extremely important point, on which I shall take appropriate advice, and which, as he would expect, I will give the most serious thought. I hope he will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to say anything beyond that this afternoon. Perfectly legitimately, he has raised it, and that is my response today.

John Redwood: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to read the Gracious Speech, it does very clearly say that the Standing Orders will be amended.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If we go back to the Bradlaugh case, it is well established that this House is entitled to limit the voting rights of individual Members. The House refused to let Bradlaugh take the Oath, and it was upheld by the courts that that could not be interfered with outside this Chamber, and that is in our Bill of Rights.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, on whom we can always depend for his historical exegesis, but I think that does rather underline why it would be imprudent of me to say anything beyond what I have said today. I note what has been said by other Members, and I think it sensible and wise to leave it there for today.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Well, if Mr Allen feels that no series of exchanges cannot be improved—

Mr Allen: I am very content.

Mr Speaker: I think he has relented. We will leave it there for now. Perhaps the House can now hear Mrs Cheryl Gillan.

4.33 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). Although I may not agree with some of the sentiments expressed in her speech, I am sure she would agree with me that it is delightful to return to Parliament with so many women elected to this place, irrespective of their parties or which part of the United Kingdom they come from.

It is very sobering to remember that every Member who is elected to this House has equal voting rights over one matter, and that is the power of life and death over our citizens in this country in the shape of our armed forces. So I should like to echo the tributes that have

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been paid, from the Front Benches and by others, to our armed forces and the way in which they keep this country safe, and carry out their duties without fear or favour.

May I also congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election? In Buckinghamshire, we had a clean slate of Conservative MPs—I count you as one of them, although I do not question your impartiality in the Chair. It is good to see you returned to your rightful place. It may be that, from time to time, your unique skills will be called on to create order out of chaos and disrespect in this place, as we have already seen so early in the Session.

I also offer my congratulations to the proposer and seconder of the Gracious Speech. The good looks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), as identified by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), have always escaped me, but no doubt he will now expect a starring role in “The Only Way is Essex”, rather than just talking about it in the House. I was particularly touched by the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) seconded the Gracious Speech. She truly is a great champion, and her husband Neil would have been very proud of her today as she took centre stage in the House.

It is a great pleasure to welcome the Gracious Speech. It is doubly welcome to me because, as part of the class of 1992, I was never quite sure—especially after 1997—that I would live to see another Conservative majority Government. It is all credit to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and our formidable Conservative team up and down the country that we now have the opportunity to continue to steer the country and the economy in the right direction. However, the joys of implementing the manifesto with a majority Government will not be lost on Conservative Members, as we have a tight majority, to say the least. Already, the manifesto has caused controversy, and we have seen opponents trying to make mileage out of the absence of a British Bill of rights and responsibilities. But I am pleased that we are taking a deep breath before jumping in with such legislation. Having sat for the last two years on the Council of Europe, I want to ensure that we remain within the ambit of the European Court of Human Rights, but finesse those elements that have extended the power of the Court and hampered British justice in some cases. A period of consultation and reflection is right, and is the responsible route. I hope that it will lead to better legislation, drafted with precision.

Mr Graham Allen: I thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for giving way as it gives me the opportunity to make the point that Mr Speaker wisely advised me not to make on a point of order earlier. Is not there now a perfect opportunity to look at this matter in some detail within the Select Committee structure, rather than rushing to judgment on whether we should abolish, amend or reform the Human Rights Act? Would not that prove that Parliament has a serious role to play on that issue and many others on the democratic agenda before us?

Mrs Gillan: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has done an awful lot of work in this area. I notice that his Committee was time-limited and has now been

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rolled in to the Public Administration Committee, which now again covers the constitution. I had the pleasure of serving on the latter Committee in the last Parliament. If I have the pleasure of serving on it again, I can assure him that we will scrutinise this area very carefully, and I believe that that would show the House at its best. We do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater in this instance.

After the election, I sensed great relief at the result among many of the people I talked to, and—as we would expect from a Conservative Government—the Queen’s speech proposes many important measures to ensure greater accountability and people’s security and safety. We are also offering people the opportunity to improve their lives. Job creation, job security and tax certainty lie at the heart of much of our legislative programme, but the Queen’s Speech also pays attention to the whole picture, relaxing and relieving the burdens on the lowest paid and the smallest businesses, widening home ownership and securing retirement prospects. There is no area that the Queen’s Speech does not touch.

The Gracious Speech also recognises our place on the world stage, and specifically our responsibilities to Ukraine and Iraq. The challenges that we face from extremism and increasing population movement will continue to occupy Government and the House for the whole of the next five years, not just this Session. I appreciate that some of our new neighbours will always be looking for opportunities to find the differences between us, but I hope that they will also look for opportunities to find common purpose, as we face a common enemy and protect the interests of the whole of this country.

I was a fresh starter, in both senses of the word, back in the 1990s, when the Maastricht treaty was debated in this House and the EU had only 12 members. The European Union referendum Bill will give new Members the opportunity early in their careers to reflect on our relationship with the now 27 other countries of the EU. In truth, every country would like to see some reforms, and like many of my constituents I look forward to seeing what the Prime Minister can achieve before putting the question to a public UK-wide vote. I hope the Government will resist the attempts to dilute the opinion of the UK electorate by introducing a four-country hurdle, as suggested by the SNP. It is the UK as a whole that is the member state, not the individual nations. I hope also that the Prime Minister will resist the temptation substantially to change the franchise in any way for the referendum.

I think every Government starts with an education Bill, and the present Government are no different. We have excellent schools in Chesham and Amersham, as we do in the rest of Buckinghamshire, and I share the Government’s determination to drive up standards and declare war on mediocrity and failure; but our schools in Buckinghamshire are not funded as well as those in other parts of the country and we do not receive the same level of grant from the Government. The national average per pupil is now £4,611 and we receive only £4,297, so I hope the Government will revisit what amounts to unfair funding. In our case, the unfairness is exacerbated by the fact that of the three elements that make up the funding in Buckinghamshire—the schools block, the early years block and the high needs block—we received no increase in early years or high needs funding, although there are increasing demands.

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During the election, it became even more obvious to me that we are not engaging our young people in politics, no matter where they live. I want a new civic studies course or element to be introduced in the national curriculum, so that students can learn about the structures and relevance of our administrative systems and governance. As some parties are keen to change the franchise to include 16-year-olds, I would have expected universal support across the House for some real education in this area. It would also help me to explain to some of my constituents why they cannot vote for Nicola Sturgeon or Leanne Wood.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a very cogent speech. May I say how much I agree with her that we need more constitutional studies in our schools? Many of the youngsters I came across during the election said they were not going to vote, and when I asked why, they replied, “Because we don’t know enough about this political system—how it works in this country.” We need our youngsters to be better informed.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. I know how much you have done, Mr Speaker, to improve the education of young people across the country, and I hope that this would be a natural sequitur to the work we do here in Parliament.

In Buckinghamshire, we have seen close-up the ongoing fallout from the terrible activities of one Jimmy Savile in child sexual grooming in cases such as the successful prosecution of the former head of Caldicott school. I hope the Government will now look again at securing mandatory reporting in regulated activities, so that we can increase the safeguarding surrounding our young people and schoolchildren.

I have had my brush with devolution, and devolution features quite strongly in this Queen’s Speech. I, like many others with shire constituencies, will study the city devolution Bill very carefully. It is all very well to hand more power to the city regions and I am supportive of the principle of putting decisions closer to people, provided that the consequences for other parts of the country are carefully considered. For example, I have a democratic deficit in Chesham and Amersham as a consequence of the governance of London, because Transport for London and London Underground own my stations, and to try to get step-free access at Amersham station involves an almighty battle, because the money is usually wanted elsewhere in London and not in my area, which does not have a vote in the London Assembly. In addition, we need to ensure that in implementing the new policy, the shire counties and other areas of the country not directly within or in the area of a city region do not have their funding squeezed or get forced into alliances that take decisions further away from their electorate.

Boris Johnson (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that her constituents get a superb service from Transport for London, without which they would be much the poorer? It is thanks to the continued investment by this Government in London transport that we have been able to deliver record improvements in the underground generally.

Mrs Gillan: My hon. Friend has an impeccable record of providing services, but if he could provide me with my step-free access, I would be even happier.