I am the first nationalist MP to represent the people of Argyll and Bute since the late Iain MacCormick was elected in 1974. Iain lived long enough to vote in September’s independence referendum, managing—despite

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being gravely ill—to get to the polling station to vote yes on 18 September. Iain sadly died the following day, without living long enough to see an independent Scotland. I like to think that he would view my presence in this place as a reasonable second prize, and I shall raise a glass of Argyll and Bute’s finest “special water” in his memory tonight.

As I said at the start of my speech, we come to this place in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation, but Members should be in no doubt that we are determined to achieve what the people of Scotland elected us to do. I am sure that the Government will recognise the mandate that we have from the people of Scotland, and will act accordingly. There can be no more one-size-fits-all policies covering everything and everyone from Truro to Thurso; and there can be no return to “business as usual” for Scotland.

7.27 pm

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is a real pleasure to see such a distinguished member of the Procedure Committee looking after our affairs this evening.

I really want to congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) on his superb maiden speech. It was the ideal maiden speech, containing everything that a good maiden speech should have. It was serious minded, enormously respectful of the House of Commons, generous to his predecessor—against whom I imagine the hon. Gentleman had quite a good campaign to have won so successfully—while also having a little bit of steel that good maiden speeches need so that we know that he means business in this House. I congratulate him most sincerely on a brilliant speech, supported by so many of his compatriots and fellow members of the Scottish National party. Looking at my own Benches, I fear it rather puts us to shame.

Speaking as a parliamentarian, the Scottish Nationalists have shown us how to behave today. They have come here more smartly dressed than the Conservatives; they have sat through the debate in greater numbers than those of my own party; and they have even let the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) have his usual seat. Their good manners and respect for the House of Commons is something that those on the Government Benches will look forward to taking very seriously over the next five years, because those of us who are Unionists recognise that their right to be here is just as great as those of us from England, Wales or Northern Ireland. That will be an important part of how this Parliament develops.

Let me turn to the Queen’s Speech. The Gracious Speech divides, I think, into two parts. There is the natural business of government—the important and urgent business of government, starting, of course, with the economy. What the coalition managed is beginning to yield considerable fruit. The latest monthly deficit figure was much ahead of forecasts, with a significant increase in tax revenues coming through. That is what it would have been reasonable to expect.

Tax revenues are a lagging indicator of economic performance, and the fact that they are now coming through more quickly probably means that the deficit

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will decline faster than it is currently forecast to do. That will give us a strong background ensuring that we can live within our means, and that the legislation to prohibit an increase in national insurance, income tax or value-added tax will be a type of legislation to which we can commit ourselves very easily. Nothing particularly difficult will be involved, because, in my view, the revenues have now been boosted, but also because any increase in VAT would probably reduce the tax take for the Government. It is already clear that businesses reaching the VAT threshold are deciding not to grow and not to take on extra customers, because as soon as they do, their costs will become 20% higher. I think that 20% is as high as VAT can reasonably be.

We saw that the 50p income tax rate raised less money than the 45p rate is raising now, and we all know the lesson of the Laffer curve: higher rates do not produce more income for the Exchequer. When we consider national insurance and income tax together, we see that the Government are, among other things, taking lower earners out of tax. If those people were put back into tax, they would merely have to be paid more in benefits, thus increasing the deficit.

On that side of things—the fiscal, or tax, side of things—the Queen’s Speech is admirable. Given that it is a continuation of the work done by the coalition, I suppose that it would be mean-minded not to pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats, who, although now reduced in number, played an important part in that work. I think that the nation should be grateful for the big decision that they made in 2010, at considerable cost to their party’s fortunes, to ensure that the country could get out of the mess that had been left.

Beyond that, however, there are the constitutional matters, which, to my mind, are of a piece, whether they concern English votes for English issues, more devolution, the European referendum or human rights. I say that because, between 1997 and 2010, the Government started a whole process of constitutional reform which they did not complete or round off. One example is devolution. It began in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but nothing was done for England. That is because it is very complicated to come up with a solution for England that meets the requirements of constitutional propriety, while also recognising that England contains 85% of the population. If England demands exact parity with Scotland, we shall probably have broken up the United Kingdom anyway. If the English want the Union, the onus is on them to recognise that, and to be generous to the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

That is why I support—although I note that there is opposition to it—the use of Standing Orders at some point during the progress of a Bill to allow English votes. Standing Orders are easy to suspend. A Standing Order could be suspended if, for example, a future Government were dependent on Scottish votes for their continuation. There might be a political cost, but the Government of the country could continue, and Members of Parliament from Scotland would remain exactly the same Members of Parliament. It would be like an extension of a Grand Committee. There would be an issue in which some Members of Parliament were not involved, but ultimately it would once more be in the power of the whole House to decide on it.

That is a much more flexible system than a legislative system that would create a Parliament within a Parliament. A legislative system would mean that the franchise

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would change, and the ability of MPs from other countries in the Union to vote on issues would be permanently reduced, whereas a Standing Order is essentially a self-denying ordinance that could be overturned for a single vote. Standing Orders are suspended fairly routinely when it suits the Government for business to run a bit late, or when they want Second and Third Readings to take place on the same day. That cannot be done with legislation. Standing Orders are not a means of playing some wretched trick on Scottish MPs, but a way of ensuring that the system in the House of Commons can work and can be fluid. However, I should prefer that to be a fairly limited aspect of our law-making, involving issues that are so clearly and unequivocally English—or English and Welsh—that no reasonable person would think otherwise. I do not want the standing of individual Members to be determined by the nation from which they come.

The other issues that we face—the European issues—stem, in a way, from the same source. They involve a loss of power from the House of Commons to the continent and to continental courts, or even to judges in our own country. I worry about that, not because I think that out of nowhere has come a common sovereignty that we must fight to the death to protect, but because we hold that sovereignty in trust for our electors, and we must and ought to have returned it to them every five years. Instead, we have given it away to judges in Strasbourg, and to some of our own judges across the road in the Middlesex Guildhall. That has made it easy for legislation to be overturned, and hard for it to be reinstated by the House of Commons.

I do not deny that there are some very clever judges. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), the former Solicitor General, said that there were judges who understood the law better than us mere politicians, and that may well be true. Nevertheless, we make the law, on behalf of our constituents, for the judges to interpret, and if we do not like the judges’ interpretation, it is for us to change the law. If we give away that power so that the judges become the final arbiter, we shall have given away something that does not actually belong to us, but belongs to our electors and to the British people.

The reform that I want is a reform that reasserts the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, not as an end in itself, but because it supports democracy. That is where I think all the constitutional issues become involved. They are about respecting the will of the people, including the will of Scottish people to have more devolution, which I cannot deny, however much I want to. I stood in Scotland once; I got 9% of the vote. I did at least hold my deposit in Glenrothes, which is a fine town, and I very much enjoyed the experience. It is that level of democracy that we need to retain, be it in respect of devolution, Europe, or human rights.

7.37 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is a provocative parliamentarian in the best of senses. I join him in congratulating the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) on his excellent maiden speech. Given its quality, I suspect that he will prove to be a shrewd ally on one or two issues on which the Scottish nationalist and Labour parties will make common cause in the House, but a difficult opponent on many others.

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I believe that Britain’s future is as a federal Britain, and I believe that we are heading for that destiny now. The journey is happening in a very British way, by means of evolution, and it will look very different in different parts of the United Kingdom; but we must master the route to a federal state, rather than being buffeted by events along the way. I believe strongly that London must be part of that journey, that it must have its own compass, and that Londoners’ voices must be heard. I welcome the plans in the Queen’s Speech for the devolution of more powers to Scotland, and also the plans to give Britain’s northern cities stronger powers to shape their citizens’ own destiny.

We have traditionally seen the Union as consisting of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It is time that we recognised that London is a very specific part of that Union. Yes, there are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but there is the city state of London as well. London is the centre of wealth creation in the United Kingdom. I recognise that Britain’s wealth has many sources, but London makes proportionally bigger contributions to the UK’s economy than any other UK region or nation.

Much of the wealth that is created in London is rightly redistributed to other regions and nations. I agree with that in principle, but I also believe that London deserves more in return, and that Londoners deserve a better quality of life. We have the highest cost of living in the UK. The housing crisis is at its most acute in London. We have the highest rents and the most expensive homes to buy. In 2005, the average home in London cost £274,000. Ten years on, it is £465,000. Earnings have not doubled, but costs almost have. That is the reality for Londoners. The ratio of rents to earnings is higher in London than in any other region or nation of the UK. Owning property is now out of reach for most Londoners.

In the next decade, London will see an additional 1 million citizens needing somewhere to live, needing to use public services—schools, GPs and hospitals—and looking for work. Our transport system needs significant investment now, never mind in future years. Those pressures demand increased public investment and of course private sector investment, too. Inequality and poverty are starker in London than in any other region or nation of the UK. I say that not to diminish the scale of both in other parts of the UK, but merely to underline the seriousness of the challenges in London.

I supported the recommendations of the London Finance Commission. It concluded that London needs fewer borrowing constraints and greater devolved tax powers. At the moment, London retains little more than 7% of all the tax paid by London residents and businesses. In New York, more than 50% is retained by New York’s mayor. Other cities of comparable size to London can set their own taxes, yet London cannot. Madrid, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Frankfurt and New York can all set property taxes. Paris, for example, can set a property tax on developed and undeveloped land. New York can determine land taxes, a hotel occupancy tax and a commercial business tax. The London Finance Commission made the powerful point that, if London has more control over its taxes and the ability to borrow, it will be better able to tackle impediments to further economic growth, never mind to tackle other key issues in our city.

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Crossrail was first suggested in the 1940s. It was first formally proposed after an inquiry in 1974, but it has taken more than 40 years since then to start serious building work. We simply cannot take that length of time to decide whether Crossrail 2 should go ahead. London needs to be able to respond more quickly to the infrastructure challenges our city faces if we are to secure its continued prosperity and status as the greatest city on earth.

I share the view that London’s property taxes should be devolved to London’s government. Indeed, London generates a higher percentage of total income from property taxes than any other region of the UK. The House will be aware that London would still be making a greater than proportionate contribution to the Exchequer via corporation tax revenues, VAT revenues and other crucial areas of national income. Devolving property taxes would be a first step towards what should be a radical devolution package for London.

Geraint Davies: Given that Camden has greater asset value than Wales, the idea of devolving property tax, air passenger duty from Heathrow and all these other taxes to London would be a threat to the coherence of the Union.

Mr Thomas: I say gently to my hon. Friend, for whom I have considerable respect, that I profoundly disagree. Never mind the Scottish question, the Welsh question or indeed the English question, there is a London question that demands an answer: when will London be able to shape its destiny without always having to go to the man in Whitehall and the man in Downing Street to sort out our great city’s challenges?

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I was the last chair of finance at the Greater London Council. London did have control of its business rates. It did have an element of property tax in the sense that it could borrow against its own assets. In addition, it had its own capital fund. It was certainly not a threat to the nation then.

Mr Thomas: I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. I hope that he will agree with me on this, too: there is now a democratic deficit in this capital city. London did not vote for austerity on the scale we can expect. London did not vote for cuts in the NHS. London did not vote for cuts—to our police, our schools or the services our councils provide—on the scale that is set to befall our great city. I gently say again to the House that London deserves better. It is time to start a proper debate about the devolution of further responsibilities and about income tax being devolved to London.

Many international cities derive income from a local income tax, including, I am told, New York, Berlin and Madrid. In the UK, there is already a precedent with Scotland having the power to set income tax. Given the huge contribution that London makes to the rest of Britain, it is not identity politics that drives the case for further devolution; it is economic and social imperatives.

The London Finance Commission argued that property taxes should be devolved first and that is right, but it also concluded that, if greater powers, for example, in

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welfare, health or education were devolved to London, the option of devolving or assigning income tax in London should be revisited. I believe that moment is now. If Greater Manchester is being invited to shape the future of its health and social care, I believe London should be invited to do so, too.

The London Challenge helped to drive up standards in education. I believe that it should be re-established and London given more collective responsibility to champion stronger standards and higher achievement in our schools. Skills and employment training budgets should be devolved, too.

These are, I recognise, big judgment calls for London itself and for the country as a whole. I disagree with many of the current Mayor’s choices, but the mayoralty throughout the terms of its two incumbents has demonstrated generally sound management of major public services, notwithstanding the current garden bridge plans. I believe that it is time to establish a cross-party, cross-government inquiry, with business and other key stakeholders closely involved, and with the remit to explore both the case for devolution of further responsibilities to London and the case for devolving further taxation powers. The next Mayor, even if they serve for two full terms, may not be the Mayor who sees responsibility for income tax devolved to them, but I believe profoundly that it is time for London to accelerate its path to proper devolution. We should, for example, consider the case for more local control of London’s NHS. I want the NHS to continue to be a truly national service. I think there is a need for national targets—cancer and waiting times being two key yardsticks by which to judge quality of service—but it is surely right that Londoners have more control themselves over services we value so highly.

Why should London not have responsibility for the decision on whether to introduce a London living wage, of course after consultation, not least with business? Why does that power need to rest with Ministers instead of Londoners? Why cannot we in London decide whether to control the cost of renting? Londoners together should be able to make these decisions, not have them dictated to us.

Any further devolution of tax powers and extra responsibilities will inevitably require scrutiny over how London is governed and whether the current divide in powers between Mayor and local boroughs and the Assembly are correct. Instinctively, I believe more power should be devolved to London’s boroughs. City Hall has often felt remote from outer-London suburbs, but I suspect it has not always felt terribly helpful to some inner-London boroughs either. A root and branch review of the powers and effectiveness of City Hall and the Greater London Assembly ought to be part of the work of a commission looking at future devolution. I say that recognising the skill, hard work and powerful contributions of many in the Greater London Assembly, not least many of my own colleagues.

London is a great city, the envy of many worldwide, but we face huge challenges as our city grows even bigger. Certainly we look to this great House to help, but in London we have the imagination, the talent and the wealth to confront head on the issues that hold our city back or hold back the ambitions of our neighbours and fellow citizens. If others in this great country have succeeded in securing greater powers to control and

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shape the response to their problems, why should not Londoners expect their Mayor to have the powers to be able to act?

I want London to continue to play a leading role in the UK. Indeed, I want London to lead the UK. But for that to happen, Londoners need to be able to lead London’s future.

7.49 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important Gracious Speech debate. May I welcome you back to your Chair, may I thank the people of The Cotswolds for electing me in ever greater numbers, and may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on succeeding for the first time in almost 20 years in getting an overall majority? I suspect he will have to play his cards carefully, because although he will have a honeymoon period for a month, even a year, after that time impediments will no doubt get in his way. I suggest that he get on and do the controversial legislation first.

It is almost déjà vu for me, because in 1992 I was immediately pitched into the all-night Maastricht debates, and today we are likely to be pitched into debates on the European Union. I suspect it will be a very different experience from 1992, because one thing I have learned on the many thousands of doorsteps I stood on in the last five weeks is that there is a huge division of opinion on Europe. Some people are radically in favour of remaining in the EU, while others are violently opposed to remaining in the EU. For that reason I believe a referendum on Europe is absolutely essential, so that we can have the arguments and the debates and then a vote, and live with that verdict, whatever it happens to be—and I think at the moment it is very close.

I congratulate the Scottish nationalists but I hope that they, as good democrats, will respect the result of their referendum in Scotland. They are going to get major devolutionary powers over tax raising and a host of other matters in this Parliament. I hope they will equally respect my constituents who want some form of English votes for English laws. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg): whatever solution we put in place—and I quite like the Standing Order solution because it is simple to enact and simple to get rid of—I hope it will only be operated in sparse and few circumstances.

There are two parts to this Queen’s Speech in my view: constitutional and financial. I am absolutely delighted that we are building in this Queen’s Speech on the financial improvements we made to this country in the last Parliament. Members have not mentioned jobs much so far in this debate. For me, jobs and public services are the two things we were really elected here for. If we do not have a sound economy, we cannot keep creating new jobs. I am particularly pleased that we are creating ever more jobs for youngsters, and ever more apprenticeships—2.2 million in the last Parliament and 3 million in this Parliament—as that is an admirable route for those who do not want, or are not able for one reason or another, to go to university.

I do not want to dwell on domestic matters this evening, however, and I have cover in the Queen’s Speech as Her Gracious Majesty did refer to Ukraine and other

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matters foreign. It is to those matters that I wish to devote my remaining time in this speech. I want to talk about Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, Syria and, above all, stabilisation of the African countries so that we begin to solve the real problems we have got with migration into this country.

About two months ago I went to Ukraine and met its Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. I discovered a very sad state of affairs: the country is bankrupt, almost devoid of all necessities, and certainly does not need a fighting war with Russia. I discussed this matter at a conference this weekend, and I met some very bitter Ukrainians who said to me in very stark terms, “The Americans, yourselves and the Russians signed the Budapest agreement in 1994.” That was not a military agreement, but it was an agreement that prevented aggression towards Ukraine in return for her giving up nuclear weapons. They felt very bitterly that we had not given them sufficient help to deter the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt that the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine is going on at a pace. Every Minsk agreement has been broken almost to the day: the agreement in February was broken the day after by Russia reinforcing its troops within eastern Ukraine, and there have been instances of Russian artillery shelling Ukrainian positions from within Russia itself. We desperately need a strategy on Ukraine. We need, along with the EU and the Americans, to come up with a cohesive strategy that works and that deters the Russians. We have degraded their economy a bit through the sanctions, but we have not deterred their ambitions to take over the whole of eastern Ukraine. I put it to this House that if we do not deter the Russians in their ambitions in this respect, we will continue to have problems with Russian ambitions elsewhere.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I have very little time left and an awful lot to get through.

I want to move on to Iraq, and talk about ISIS. ISIS is one of the most vile terrorist organisations humanity has ever seen, yet, again, we do not have a concerted strategy to deal with it. We started with the Cyprus talks involving the Americans, the Germans, the French, ourselves, and the Russians. Wrongly, in my view, we did not include the Iranians, but that is another point. Unless we have a concerted strategy to deal with ISIS, it will undoubtedly take over more parts of the world than just Iraq. What worries me most about Iraq is that Iran, with its Shi’a militias, is doing our bidding against ISIS. If we are not careful we will come to a point where Iran—with its emerging nuclear ambitions, despite the agreement with the Americans—will simply take over Iraq. When I close my speech with the figures on oil production, the House will see how dangerous that is.

On Syria, I did a social action project in Gaziantep in south-east Turkey and was able to meet many Syrians in one of the refugee towns. They all—to a man, woman and child—told me they wanted to go back to a country that was at peace with itself. They wanted the international community to intervene and sort out the problems and restore their country to what it had been. It appears to me that the world does not have a concerted policy on Syria. It looks increasingly unlikely that the Free Syrian Army will be able to defeat the President’s regime, and it

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looks ever more likely that ISIS will play an ever bigger part—again, ISIS is only likely to be defeated by Iran in some form or another, probably backed by the Russians. The Syrian situation is extremely dangerous, and it is extremely bad for the poor people of Syria; 300,000 people have been killed in Syria, and over 2 million people have been displaced. What a human tragedy.

Finally, I want to talk about the Maghreb and the Sahel—north Africa. We are dealing with an unprecedented situation of migrants trying to leave Africa, mostly via Libya—the migrants are mostly not Libyans, but come from other countries—and to cross the Mediterranean to come to Europe. Ultimately this is unsustainable. However Europe decides to deal with the problem, we have to try to keep these people in their own countries, and in doing so we have to redirect our foreign aid. I was delighted to be able to argue during the election that we had kept to our 0.7% of GNI pledge, as that is absolutely right, and I am delighted to be saying this with the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), on the Front Bench. We need to redirect that aid now to north Africa, to try and stabilise some of those countries: give them the help they need; stabilise their Governments and civil service; stabilise, and make sure we have, the infrastructure so that companies want to go into those countries and invest and provide jobs, so that the people are content to remain in those countries and do not have a desperate desire to leave them and come to better climes. These are very important matters that my right hon. Friend needs to deal with.

The trouble with the world today is that where we have very weak Governments, the forces of evil tend to move in. We are seeing it in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are certainly seeing it in some of the north African countries, in Libya, in Chad and in the Central African Republic. We are seeing it in those very weakly governed countries. We are seeing it in Nigeria, too, for goodness’ sake, with the activities of Boko Haram. I believe our aid must go towards trying to strengthen those countries, so that we can defeat and deter some of the dreadful human rights abuses.

I promised the House that I would give the world oil production figures: Iraq has 12% of the world’s oil reserves and Iran has 13%. If we allow Iran to take over Iraq, who would be happy with an emerging superpower, and a nuclear superpower at that, controlling a quarter—that is more than Saudi Arabia and more than Venezuela—of all the world’s oil reserves? I think that could lead to a very big danger for the world.

7.59 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Earlier in the debate, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) suggested that we should have serious discussions in this Parliament about the future of our economy, and I agree with him. In the debate so far, I have found remarkable complacency about the situation that we are facing. In fact, all the structural weaknesses and other factors that were present before the last crash are now reappearing, and many economic forecasts suggest that there is a prospect of precipitating another crash over the next two years. Consumer debt is rising,

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as are housing costs. There has been no sustained pick-up in wages, productivity is stagnating and living costs are vulnerable to rises in interest rates and inflation. If the Budget on 8 July cuts £30 billion as predicted, that could push us back into recession as a result of reducing demand so dramatically.

The fundamentals of our economy remain completely unaddressed: we have an unbalanced economy; production, manufacturing and construction have still to recover to their 2008 levels; and the finance sector is oversized and unregulated. At the last estimate, 60% of the big five banks’ profits since 2011 have been lost as a result of scandals. There is now a current account deficit of 5.5%, and a massive outflow of capital from this country. We have a debt of 80% of GDP, the bond markets are extremely volatile and the eurozone is unstable. These are all the ingredients for another crash, yet we do not seem to be debating that at the moment, despite the continuous warnings from the Office for National Statistics and the Office for Budget Responsibility in recent months.

The Prime Minister wants us to believe that economic recovery is under way and that the crisis is behind us. At the micro level, for my constituents, the economic crisis appears every payday. Many of them are experiencing economic crises, hardship and insecurity on a regular basis. As a London constituency representative, I believe that housing market failure is at the heart of our economic crisis. We knocked on every door in my constituency during the election, and I know that we are now facing the worst housing crisis since the second world war. I have 4,000 people on the housing waiting list. There were 10,000 last year, but a manoeuvre by the Conservative council simply wiped 6,000 of them off and denied them eligibility to be on the list. Tonight, I have 200 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I have families living in appalling housing conditions, with overcrowding, damp and insanitary conditions. I have families living in sheds. Shanties are now being built in my constituency to house families.

Rents in the private sector are between £1,200 and £1,600 a month for a little house. We have reinvented the back-to-back in my constituency, with some families living in the front of a property and others living in the back. The landlords of those properties are reaping something like £3,000 a month in rent. The buy-to-let landlords are making a fortune out of exploitative rents in my constituency. They fail to maintain their properties, but if the tenants complain, revenge evictions take place on a regular basis. This week, however, we have discovered that buy-to-let landlords have been given a £14 billion tax concession each year in recent years. Why? It is because, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said, successive Governments have failed to build council houses. It is also because they have sold off council houses. The sell-off of council houses in my area has resulted in the bizarre situation of a Conservative council now having to rent back some of the council houses that it sold off 30 years ago, in order to house families in desperate need.

Affordable properties are being built at a minimal level. At the same time, affordability has now been redefined as 80% of the market rent, so “affordable” properties are now unaffordable to most of the population in my area. We were told that there would be a cap on benefits, and that that would reduce rent

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levels as the message went out to landlords, but it has had no effect whatsoever because supply is not matching demand.

The legislation proposed in today’s Queen’s Speech on selling off housing association properties will simply exacerbate the problem. I fully agree with the housing associations’ view that it will simply deplete their stock. Worse, it will undermine the asset base against which they can borrow to build new properties. We are told that this proposal will be funded by the sell-off of councils’ higher-value properties, but that is absolutely unrealistic. The sell-off of more council properties will mean a greater depletion of council stock. In addition, the record of reinvestment and rebuilding following the sell-off of council properties has been abysmal: it is a record of non-delivery over decades.

The Government’s legislation announced today will permanently embed the crisis in our housing market for future generations. We are storing up a greater crisis for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is no longer in his place, said that these policies are socially cleansing whole areas of our city. Properties are being sold off, then sold on again to speculators and overseas property developers. Even those in the professions—the teachers, the firefighters, the police officers—can no longer afford to keep a roof over their head in London. As a result, working-class people and what could be described as middle-class professionals are being forced to move out. Alternatively, they live in an asset that they cannot sell because they are trapped and cannot find an alternative. Their sons and daughters are unable even to get on to the property ladder.

This all adds to the precarious nature of living in London at the moment, as incomes fail to match basic living costs. Professor Guy Standing defined the “precariat” as people on zero-hours contracts or on the minimum wage, but many people on middle-range incomes—teachers, firefighters, the police, middle managers and small businesspeople—are now cascading into the precariat because they cannot afford the housing costs in our city. They are also faced with unstable employment, threatened by outsourcing or privatisation. They are no longer able to find a voice for their frustrations, either at work as a result of the undermining of trade union rights or, to be frank, within the political system itself at times.

We need to remind Governments to have an element of humility. This Government were elected by 25% of the electorate; 75% of the electorate failed to support them. That is why I issue this warning. There are real frustrations within our political system. People whom we represent are angry because successive Governments have not delivered the basics to them—new Labour and Conservative Governments alike. They have not provided people with decent jobs, decent wages or the ability to live in a decent home with a roof over their head and in a decent environment. Unless Governments acknowledge those frustrations and they are reflected in this House, they will be ventilated elsewhere.

If the Government fail to listen, opposition will surface on picket lines no matter what the legislation states. We will go back to the days of wildcat strikes, whether or not union members comply with the legislation proposed in this Queen’s Speech. These problems will be seen on the streets, just as we have seen tonight in Parliament Square, which has been blocked by people

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who are angry at not being listened to and angry at the production of this Queen’s Speech. We will also see more occupations, particularly among the people in our capital city who are desperate to have a roof over their head and are forced to squat. We saw an example last year, when a young man was evicted from a squat and froze to death on its doorstep later that night.

The Government have said that this is a one-nation Queen’s Speech, but I fear that this country has now been divided geographically and that people will be riven by division as a result. This is about inequality. The Government are not listening to the people who are suffering as a result of the recession and who are not seeing the sunlit uplands of the supposed recovery. If we in this House are not very careful, we are going to witness a population driven by anger losing faith in politics altogether. Yes of course we must have a rational debate on the Queen’s Speech, but there needs to be room for some compromises in the legislation. I urge the Government to take a common-sense approach to a situation that could, if we are not careful, develop into an elected dictatorship.

8.9 pm

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): Mr Speaker, I am fairly confident that, whatever the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) might think, under you we will never be an elective dictatorship or any other kind. Instead, we shall enjoy the freedoms of this great place. Leaving dark humour aside, thank you for giving me my first chance to speak in this new Parliament. As many other hon. Members have done, I wish to put on the record my thanks to my constituents, in the beautiful areas of Norwich North, for again putting their trust in me to represent them here. I intend to speak up for them here and to gain results for them again, on the economy, on jobs coming to our city, on transport, on housing and in all the other areas where I have worked hard for solutions and will do so again.

I am delighted with the election result and I am pleased to be able to take my place on a majority Government Bench. That may be a novel feeling for the first few days, but I have no doubt that our majority will allow us to deliver the economic stability requested of us in the course of the election. It will allow us to increase living standards up and down the country, from Norwich to Newcastle, Newquay and everywhere in between. It will allow us to support real aspirations and create new opportunities.

I wish to make my few remarks tonight on the topic of younger people—the new generation for whom we hope to secure a better future. First, I wish to discuss turnout, which, as hon. Members will know, in the 2010 general election was 65% overall. However, three quarters of pensioners voted, whereas fewer than half of those aged 18 to 24 did, with the figures for the other age groups ranged neatly between those extremes. We do not yet have, and may not have, accurate data on this election from our new favourites, the pollsters, but recent figures published by Ipsos MORI suggested that turnout at the election among that youngest age group may have got worse, at 43%. Once again, the gentle range appears true, with those data showing older voters neatly and gradually turning out more than younger people.

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Some people may find it reassuring to think that youngsters are just going to bounce into behaving in the same way as their parents or grandparents did when they hit a certain point in their life cycle, but I do not believe they will. A number of things have changed with this generation—I will call it my generation, although I am no longer the baby of the House. I pay tribute to our new colleague, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Ms Black), who has taken on that mantle. My generation reports less belief in voting as a civic duty; less interest in traditional politics, when asked about that per se; and less affiliation with parties. Today’s 18 to 24-year-olds will not settle down to voting once they get married and get a mortgage. If democracy were banking on that happening, we would be waiting a long time for it, as marriage occurs later, if at all, and house prices crush many twenty-somethings’ hopes of owning a home. So I welcome the announcement of a housing Bill in this Gracious Speech, and I shall discuss that a little later.

Voting is a habit that must be formed and, like many habits, it sticks if it is formed early. If individuals are not doing that any longer and are choosing no longer to exercise their vote, as a low turnout rate suggests, we have a barometer of broader patterns of change. Some have also argued that we also have

“a window into the future behaviour of Western citizens.”

The UK is the sick man of Europe for turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds, with participation rates in the UK and Ireland disturbingly low—Britain’s are worst of all. Work by the Pew Research Centre suggests that although turnout among younger voters has always been lower in the United States than in the UK, with US younger voters always turning out in lower numbers than US older voters, the turnout rates there have been comparatively solid. In other words, the gap between American youth turnout and overall turnout has changed little in 40 years, whereas in Britain that gap has worsened dramatically. Young people vote less than their elders everywhere, but Britain’s problem is worse and has worsened. That is something broken in our system. There is no one silver bullet answer to this problem, although we might talk about a number of campaigning, policy and franchise aspects. The point is that this is not about young people being young like they have always been; something has changed and has broken.

This Gracious Speech shows that it is the Conservative party that can be the home of young voters, with action on the issues that matter to them—housing, jobs, education and so on. We have a chance to serve the whole country in those terms. The youngest generation is least in favour of redistribution and high welfare spending, and we know that this group look to themselves to take action and look to business, charities and other action groups to achieve things with them for their chosen community; actions that the state can take come a long way down the list, according to some research. Even The Guardian has been forced to admit that generation Y may back the Conservatives.

I want politics in Britain to work for generation Y. I want to show clearly that the principles of the small state, responsible economics, freedom, enterprise and social liberalism matter for this generation as they have always mattered, and that people can have them through

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a Conservative vote. In government, we Conservatives have had a good record of action and delivery. We have spoken honestly about the public finances and have tackled the deficit; we have brought about more jobs, with the most recent figures showing record levels of youth employment—that is important; we have set out our stall on house building; we have reformed welfare; we have set out ambitious standards for quality in education and put universities on a freer and more stable financial footing; and we also delivered a successful large-scale programme for young people, through the National Citizen Service.

The No. 1 thing the Government can do—we can do it more through this Queen’s Speech—is mend the economy. If the economy improves, there will, of course, be more good jobs. This generation wishes for the Government to be able to cut red tape further and foster a business-friendly environment, because 80% of 16 to 30-year-olds believe they will start their own business in the next five years. So I welcome the Bill to increase the tax-free allowance to ensure that people working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will pay no income tax. I welcome measures to deliver more childcare and 3 million more apprenticeships. That is why we shall be the party of young working people.

Let us also consider what is happening on housing. Obviously, building more homes, and thereby bringing down prices, will benefit the young people who are locked out of those prices at the moment. Like all hon. Members, in my constituency I have had to balance the needs and desires of older residents, perhaps for tranquillity and green spaces, with younger residents’ needs for homes they can afford. By its very nature, the planning process divides people in that way.

Jim Shannon: I have noted in the hon. Lady’s contribution a negative view of how young people are responding to the political process. I want to ask her about something I have seen in my constituency: the number of people who took the time to come to vote, feeling that they wanted to be part of the process for the first time. Does she think we can learn from those people and use their example to encourage others to come along, too? Is that not the way forward?

Chloe Smith: Yes, I see no reason to disagree with what the hon. Gentleman sets out.

What we see among this generation is that they have a different way of doing their politics. It is less about the traditional forms, as the turnout figures might suggest, and increasingly more about different techniques and methods. One such technique, which I was going to discuss, as I know it is of detailed interest to you, Mr Speaker, is the use of the internet and the facets of digital democracy. Your Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy was absolutely right to look into that, and into the ways in which our lives are enabled—they are sometimes just sped up—by the internet and the ways in which politics must keep up as those things change generationally. It is extremely unusual for this generation not to be able to do something online and for that reason I have argued, as others have done, that we ought to consider moving voting online. Such a project will take 10 years to get right, given where our starting point would be, but it would signal our intention to move democracy to where people rightly are. It would

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say, “There is every type of welcome here for you, however you choose to do your community activity.” We ought to be able to say that proudly about this place.

Let me draw to a conclusion. I began with the economy, I have mentioned housing and I will throw in one more policy area, which is transport. By its very nature, transport deeply interests those who want to get about and who want to begin their lives. As a 16-year-old in rural Norfolk, transport was what got me interested in politics, because I could not get from my village to anywhere where I could see friends or do anything else that would help me live my life as I chose. Transport is crucial from a social point of view, from a growth point of view and from an economic perspective. I am delighted that in the Conservative party manifesto we have committed to completing the Norwich in 90 project, a piece of work that I and others have led locally. Transport, jobs and housing will secure the economy for a future generation. I am proud and pleased to support this Gracious Speech.

8.20 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) who gave the first maiden speech of this Parliament. I look forward to working with him to tackle the scourge of poor broadband services. It is certainly a scourge in rural areas, as I am aware from my work on the Public Accounts Committee, but it happens in my area of Shoreditch too. I will not detain the House on a topic that I have spoken about many times before, but I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to tackle that.

I also endorse the comments made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the right hon. and learned Members for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) about the Human Rights Act. They spoke very well and as they are four of the 12 Member majority, it is quite right that the Government are looking to rethink the question. It might be that a sensible alliance is already arising in the very first day of this Parliament that will ensure that sense is seen and that irrevocable steps are not taken in that direction.

I cast my mind back to the morning of 8 May at 4 am, when my result was declared in Hackney South and Shoreditch. Celebration was far from the minds of the people I represent in one of the poorest communities in Britain. For them, there is now and was then a sense of trepidation and fear about what the next five years might bring. I thank them for returning me, as I did in the early morning of 8 May, but I stand here with some fear and trepidation about what might affect them.

My constituency borders the Square Mile, where vast fortunes are made and millions are traded every second. In Shoreditch, we are also home, of course, to some of the fastest growing tech companies in Britain, the household names of tomorrow. That is the tech hub of Shoreditch and the Silicon roundabout. Hundreds of entrepreneurs and start-ups from around the world come to a borough bustling with ingenuity and innovation, radical thinking and a willingness to take risks. Amid all the buzz and excitement, however, there is a dark heart of poverty and social exclusion, with poor families struggling to make ends meet, poor pensioners shivering under blankets

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and poor young people without the connections to join that tech revolution on their doorstep. Hackney might be achingly hip but parts of it are also achingly poor.

The Prime Minister spoke earlier about his one nation vision for Britain, and I hope that when he next visits Tech City he will also take the time to visit the Wenlock Barn Estate or other estates in my constituency and see the face of poverty, so that he really means what he says about one nation. In Hackney, 47% of children live in poverty. One local housing association recently told me that it has more working tenants on benefits than tenants who are not working. In many of the excellent secondary schools in Hackney, which are doing a great job, headteachers have a supply of clothing because so many children cannot afford to replace school uniforms. Only recently, one headteacher told me how she had had to buy, after much cajoling, a pair of new shoes for a child which they had been promised but could not afford.

Let me share with the House the story of a local teenage boy who was missing school. He received detentions and when he was still repeatedly absent was excluded. Eventually, the school arranged for a home visit by the education welfare team, which discovered that mum was an alcoholic and that the young man and his brother had a single pair of school trousers to share between them. They shared the trousers and attended school on alternate days. If it sounds Dickensian, that is because it is. The young man overcame that and went on to university, which is a remarkable sign of resilience.

The people of Hackney are asking the Government: “What about us? How do we fit into the Government’s plans for the next five years?” How will Ministers help my constituents make their dreams come true and how will opportunity spread through society instead of being hoarded at the top? How will wealth, power and opportunity be enjoyed by all? We are asking the questions, but we will search in vain for answers as we consider this Queen’s Speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke just now about the challenges of housing. Rather than repeating his points, I endorse what he said about the challenges he faces. There are many in Hackney too. More people rent social housing in Hackney than own or rent privately combined and more people rent privately than own their own home. Londoners are crying out for decent affordable housing. The average price of a home in Hackney is £606,000, but that masks the fact that a family house is now typically more than £1 million. House price inflation has sent prices rocketing and the effect is brutal. Young couples cannot afford to buy their first flat, let alone move up from the first flat to their first home. Unless they are millionaires, they might as well not bother.

In 2010, the Government proposed a constituency boundary review, which we note was not mentioned today in the Gracious Speech. According to the figures cited then, my constituency was one of the smallest in Britain. Today, it is one of the largest with a 40% rise since 2005 to 84,000 people on the electoral register. That is a sure sign that we need a radical house building programme to ease the pressure, particularly in London but also nationally.

The Government have done nothing to ease the pressure on the housing market. They have built a pitiful number of houses for affordable rent. The hon. Member for

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Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who is not in his place at the moment, although I mentioned that I was going to say this, has sold the fire station in my area for £28 million, which can only mean luxury flats. That is a scandal and not only because the fire response time is now more than six minutes. If it had to be sold at all, why not for affordable local housing? The dividend for the taxpayer would have been much greater over time.

In Bishopsgate in Shoreditch, an area that has not had a single social housing unit built in 10 years, the part-time Mayor of London and part-time Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is again on the drive for a 48-storey tower block with luxury flats. In contrast, Hackney council is one of the top councils in the country when it comes to building more affordable homes for rent. In its pipeline of 3,000 new homes, half will be for affordable rent—a laudable achievement—but not enough given the scale of the crisis. The word affordable has become meaningless. The new definition of 80% of local private rents has no connection with the money that shop workers, nurses or teachers earn. Without a strict definition of “affordable” based on real incomes and real prices, we cannot have a proper debate about how to put affordable roofs over people’s heads. We need urgent action, and I have not seen enough in this Queen’s Speech about how that will happen. Right to buy will not work in my area. Even if the discount meant that my constituents could afford a home—which would be unlikely because homes are so expensive—it would further denude the stock in London and reduce the opportunities for housing associations to develop.

The Gracious Speech also mentioned childcare. I welcome the move to provide 30 hours a week of childcare for three and four-year-olds free from 2017. It sounds good but the devil will be in the detail, because unless it is properly funded, it is unsustainable. I shall be watching that very closely.

The Gracious Speech mentioned job creation, and it is obvious to me that there is work to be done on that, both in helping young people reach the jobs on their doorstep and providing encouragement and support to the businesses that create those jobs. Although many of my constituents are poor, they have no poverty of ambition, but many of the jobs that the Government say they have been creating—the Prime Minister spoke today about creating 2 million more—have been in low-paid, part-time work. I think of Julie, in one of the local supermarkets. She came off jobseeker’s allowance and was very excited to get a job working 15 hours a week. She hoped that over time she would get more hours and work up to a full-time position. Two years on, she is seeing more part-time staff recruited in her supermarket—no chance of a full-time job for herself. She is just one of many people locally who have raised that issue with me—stuck having to claim in-work benefits but itching, desirous, to work more and earn more.

The Government have only unveiled around £6 billion-worth of cuts to welfare; they are pledged to make £12 billion. We need honesty very quickly from the Government about where that axe will fall, because my constituents are very scared. If they fall out of work, or cannot work as many hours as they want, what happens to them? We are seeing the rungs of the ladder of

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opportunity pulled away. For the poorest, opportunities to study are costing more, and many of them want to study and improve their skills. Parents, especially, who want to improve their life chances are frightened of getting into debt by taking out loans to go into further education.

This Gracious Speech is a missed opportunity for devolution of real powers from Whitehall. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) laid out a great manifesto. I hope that whoever becomes Mayor of London in May 2016 takes that up and challenges the Government to devolve to local level powers to make decisions on health matters, and the responsibilities for job creation that currently lie with the Department for Work and Pensions. Only that will really help my constituents, who are living in great need but have huge ambition to be part of the one nation that the Prime Minister has promised them. I will be challenging him not to let them down on his vision of a one nation Britain.

8.30 pm

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. It is my first task to congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) on a very thoughtful and entertaining maiden speech. He reminded us that his constituency occupies one tenth of the land space of Scotland. I thought I had a large constituency, but that is enormous. I think I met him outside the Table Office this morning, and I wish him well. As he—not me—put it, he has broken his political virginity today, or something to that effect, and there is no better way, as he also put it, to do it than in the Queen’s Speech debate. Many congratulations to the hon. Ladies and Gentlemen from the SNP on their stunning victory, and on being present in such numbers this afternoon to support colleagues.

I wanted to comment on the tribal warfare that seems to have broken out in the Chamber at prayer time at 8 o’clock in the morning, when we come in to put prayer cards on seats. I do not know whether I am breaking confidences in telling you this, Mr Speaker, but this morning there was a wild dash to get the seats on the Opposition Front Bench below the gangway and there was some deep unhappiness. Indeed, there were members of the Scottish nationalist party whose seats had hardly touched the green benches at the back before they were clambering to the front.

In case hon. Gentlemen and Ladies think that they have set a precedent, I can assure them that they have not. When we went into opposition in 1997, the Liberals came up with the same scheme. Instead of the embattled hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), it was the embattled former Prime Minister, the then right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, Sir Edward Heath, who found himself being monstered by the newly enlarged Liberal party. You may not be aware of this, Mr Speaker, but I can tell you that it was resolved when Speaker Boothroyd decreed that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup would retain that seat—you are nodding—and no doubt you are thinking carefully about whether it is necessary to have a protection order on the hon. Member for Bolsover in these extraordinary circumstances.

This has been a wide-ranging Queen’s Speech. It was a great occasion for Conservative colleagues to be back

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in power with a majority, and to hear Her Majesty the Queen give a speech that was straight out of our manifesto instead of being one that had been adulterated by the Liberal party. I absolutely support the set-in-stone blocks on increases in income tax, VAT and national insurance, which make it absolutely clear where we are for business—hon. Ladies and Gentlemen from north of the border may like to mark that. I welcome the referendum on Europe, and the powers to take over failing schools and to create more academies.

I am also delighted with our commitment of £8 billion to the NHS, meeting the NHS five-year plan. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) spoke about foxes earlier. I welcome the fact that we really shot the Labour fox during the campaign. It is very important politically that we did that. However, I am concerned, having served on the Health Committee in the previous Parliament, and having been involved in health for so long in this House, that we are not really addressing the issue of reducing demand for the health service. If I may advertise the fact, I have tabled early-day motion No. 1, encouraging the Government to tackle the obesity crisis in this country, and early-day motion No. 2 asks the Government to look at the quality of food in hospitals, some of which is really not up to standard.

It may surprise the hon. Ladies and Gentlemen from the Scottish nationalist party that I have been, in this House, passionate about healthcare in Scotland. I was in the House before devolution. I flew, at my own expense, to Glasgow to the opening of the Homeopathic hospital—the Glasgow Centre for Integrative Care as it is now—in 1999. I feel passionately about a wider choice in healthcare in Scotland, but since devolution I cannot table a question on Scottish healthcare. Scottish Members, on the other hand, are able to comment on our affairs in England. I offer that as an illustration of the frustration felt by English Members about the imbalance and why we have to tackle the West Lothian question, as it has been called for years.

In the last Parliament, the Health Committee produced a report called “Managing the care of people with long-term conditions”, which was published when I was acting Chair of the Committee. I commend it to the Scottish National Members, because it deals with the issues of multimorbidity polypharmacy, when people suffering from many diseases are prescribed many medications. That is a particular problem for people in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. So we do take an interest in Scottish affairs.

I represent a seat in the middle of England. It is not a traditional shire seat and it was held by Labour until 1974. It was won for the Conservatives by my predecessor, Sir Adam Butler, a very distinguished man. It is extraordinary how we have transformed the economy in my constituency. I was saddened by the speech from the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), because in my area I see thousands of new jobs. We cut unemployment—that is those on jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit—by 40% generally and by 45% for 18 to 25-year-olds in one year, so there is something stirring in the heart of England.

I am delighted that the Queen’s Speech contains measures to push High Speed 2 north. I served on the Committee that considered the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996—High Speed 1—which enabled the building

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of the line from St Pancras to the Dover portal. It took as long as it would take to walk, at a leisurely pace, from London to Madrid and back to complete the consideration of that Bill. We sat for three days a week for over a year, and it was the last railway Bill. I am sure that extending High Speed 2 north is the right thing to do, as is bringing the northern cities together to create this great hub. The fact that our Chancellor—the man with the moneybags—represents Tatton is very helpful to those in the north.

As I have said, I take an interest in Scotland. I am related by marriage to a family in Scotland, one of whose members made the last speech in the Scottish Parliament against the Union some time ago—not the current Parliament, but the one that finished in about 1704. Scottish Members face a huge problem. Scotland already has some tax-raising and fiscal powers that it has not used. If we are to give it a whole lot more, which is part of the agreement, that is fair enough, but if they are used there will be the equivalent of a white flight of resources—businesses and clever people—south of the border. I predict that if the Scottish nationalist party—[Interruption.] Forgive me, I mean the Scottish National party. I am in the flow of my speech and I am trying to be polite, not insulting. If the SNP increases taxes dramatically, I predict that in 10 years’ time it will lose to the Conservative party in Scotland because a Labour recovery is not likely. If Scotland increases taxes and its economy is completely out of line with that in England, the SNP will lose to our party. I just issue that word of warning.

I am not keen on the proposed reduction in the number of Members of Parliament from 650 to 600. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has already said that Parliament has changed dramatically. He has served here for more than 30 years and I have served for 28 years. That was before we had computers and mobile phones, and we used to have to stop on the motorway to make calls. Our job has become more complicated and we are more like social workers. I do not relish the idea of representing more people. The current number is about right and we should think very carefully about any change.

I have been thinking about the points my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) made on foreign affairs. At the end of the cold war, in the 1987 and 1992 Parliaments, some of us spent a lot of time building relations with Russia. Judging by what I hear, I do not think we have any understanding of how closely aligned Russia feels with Ukraine, which was always administered by Moscow. However difficult it appears, it is not sensible to have Russia offside.

8.40 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and may I say what a pleasure it is to see you back in your place? Those of us who were Members of this House on the last day of the last Parliament remember how shabbily you were treated by some Members on the Government Benches. It is indeed fortunate that you are back as Speaker of the House of Commons. No one has been a greater champion of Back Benchers and no one has done more to promote this place and demystify it to the public, and for that service I thank you, sir.

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Five years ago this very day, Mr Speaker, you called me to make my own maiden speech. I still remember the terror and chill running up my spine as I watched the then hon. Member for Argyll and Bute make his speech. As I watched him, I remember thinking how bad my speech was, how I wanted to bury it forever and forget it ever happened. What we have seen today is the emergence of someone who I believe will be a great parliamentarian and will make a great contribution to this House. I for one welcome the new hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) and his colleagues to this place.

Like other Members, I pay tribute to the proposer of the Humble Address—it seems like a long time ago now. As one whose political awakening began with a book on President Kennedy, it was good to hear so many references to the great man by Parliament’s greatest Kennedy devotee, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns). The seconder of the Humble Address, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) demonstrated an abiding love for her home village and a passion for the fishing industry. No one in this House has a greater understanding of the tragedies that fishing communities often face, and I am sure that her husband would have been rightly proud of her contribution today.

Like other Members, I pay tribute to the brave members of our armed forces. The job they do should be rightly honoured and celebrated. However—coming to the Gracious Speech—we cannot talk about jobs, growth or indeed the economy without mentioning what I believe is the elephant in the room: welfare reform. Whatever their political persuasion, the question any Government face is this: how can society move forward when human talent, potential and resources are wasted through worklessness and a lifetime on benefits?

My attention was immediately drawn to the full employment and welfare benefits Bill. It is important that Ministers report to this House annually on job creation and apprenticeships, and I support the annual household welfare cap being reduced from £26,000 to £23,000. Work should always pay more than benefits. That, I believe, is a cornerstone of the benefits system. However, I am concerned that measures such as the full employment and welfare benefits Bill only pay lip service to the problems, treating the symptoms and not addressing the causes. The present welfare system teaches the wrong values, rewards the wrong choices and, worst of all, hurts those it should be helping.

In recent years, there has been a trend of jobs being created only in the highest-paid and the lowest-paid industries; those in between are hollowed out. Too many young people leave university only to find no job opportunities in their field of expertise. People in their 50s and 60s find themselves redundant and are unable to return to work, and those who want to retrain to secure a better life find little or no support. To put it bluntly, our system is letting them down. That, to me, is not just a Government failure; it is a moral one.

Since the early 1970s, the UK Government have tried 34 different schemes to get long-term unemployed and young unemployed people into work. Since 1983, more than £13 billion has been allocated in Government funding to tackle youth unemployment. Flagship programmes have inevitably resulted in failure. In 1983,

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the Thatcher Government launched the youth training scheme, which included two years of training and planned work experience for 16 and 17-year-old school leavers. There was an allowance of £29.50 a week for participants in the first year, and £35 a week in the second year. However, research by the University of Newcastle in 2004 found that women who participated in the scheme saw little or no impact on future job prospects. For men, those who were on YTS spent more time unemployed later in life than those who did not participate in the scheme.

Successor schemes such as the Labour Government’s new deal for young people created a mandatory employment programme for all young people aged 18 to 24. However, the 2007 National Audit Office report, “Helping people from workless households into work”, found that the net cost to the Exchequer in 2005-06 was £390 per participant. This means that the Government spent £390 more per participant than they got back in benefit savings, increased tax revenue and reduced tax credit costs payable to people who move into work. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for all this cost, the new deal for young people increased employability by only 7% or 8%.

The problem persists, even with the Work programme. Long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high at 32% of the unemployment rate. At present nearly 200,000 young people have been unemployed for over a year. Between 2010 and 2015 there was a 50% increase in the number of young ethnic minority people out of work. We can move forward only by understanding that throwing billions and billions at the problem has not worked. The figures speak for themselves.

But it is no good standing here and setting out the catalogue of failure, for which both major parties must take their share of the blame. Anyone who cares about the future of our country and the lives of our constituents must seek solutions to this problem. To me, welfare reform regardless of political consequences is morally the right thing to do. Welfare dependency tears apart the ties that bind communities. Joblessness damages families for generations. It sets people and groups against each other. It divides people into tribes with no common purpose. Reversing this will take a generational effort. We cannot and should not accept that some people will be trapped on welfare for life. We cannot and should not accept that a certain number of people will be unemployed. We cannot and should not accept that long-term unemployment is here to stay.

We can solve this problem, but there needs to be a new approach to the worlds of welfare and work. It requires a fundamental shift to a system based on the principle of something for something, as William Beveridge wrote years ago. We cannot forget that the tension in the welfare system is that people in work like the insurance of the safety net that the welfare system gives them, but they do not want that insurance to be abused by people who are not really seeking work. People who lose their jobs should have a fund available to keep them going while they find work. They will get out what they have paid in. We must remember that the money paid in taxes belongs not to the Government, but to the people, and it should be there for them when they need it.

Based on the contributory principle, we need to see individual top-up welfare accounts running alongside universal benefit, providing people with a fund that is

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there for them if they lose their job. Also, we need a new approach to people who are searching for work. Jobcentre Plus, which was originally founded as a labour exchange under Winston Churchill when he was a Liberal, is not fit for purpose. Although 75% of jobseeker’s allowance claimants move off benefits within six months, only about half of them are still in work eight months later, while a third are claiming benefits again.

The goal should be to support claimants into sustainable long-term employment, and that should be delivered by providing targeted, local, individual support for jobseekers, not after six months, but from day one. If someone loses their job on Friday, their first appointment on Monday should be with a personal adviser from Jobcentre Plus. Unfortunately, as we have seen today, the OECD report found that the UK has the worst skills gap in the developed world between NEETs and young people in employment. Even with job creation, the skills gap is too great to get young people into long-term employment. The current one-size-fits-all model is wrong. People are leaving university or further education, increasing their skills in childcare, engineering and so on while they are working, and coming to jobcentres for help but not finding the jobs they need.

It has been shown that locally based schemes work best. What is needed in future is a partnership between local business, people and charities which put together personalised plans that can overcome the barriers for people coming back into work. It is time to change the terms of the welfare reform debate. What has gone before has not worked. We now need a new approach, and I hope we can debate that when the Bill comes before the House.

8.49 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and an honour to have been able to hear at least part of the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara)—I congratulate him on having the courage to make it so early in the Parliament. All of us who entered the House in the previous Parliament realise how big a challenge that can be. I congratulate the Scottish National party on the support it has provided him with today, and also on its election victories.

I would also like to welcome new Members on the Government Benches, because we had a good election. I would like to pay tribute to many of them, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), whom I have known for many years. When we first met she was a little smaller than she is today—[Interruption.] I should explain that she was about five at the time; I am not commenting on any other dimension of her being. She was much shorter, smaller and a child—I think I had better stop there and move on. I welcome her to the House and am sure that she will do a fantastic job.

It is wonderful to see so many new Members. I think that it inspires us to realise why we are here: to represent our constituents. It is an honour to have been re-elected in Macclesfield with an increased majority and an increased share of the vote. I will do everything I can to honour my commitment to the people of Macclesfield. Like all other Members, I will do it with complete conviction regardless of the political affiliations of those I represent.

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There was also an excellent vote of trust in the Conservative party in local government, as was true in many parts of the country. I am excited to work with local councillors in Macclesfield as we move into a new era of devolution, with the transfer of power to Manchester and increased demand, as today’s debate has shown, to see a greater transfer of powers to the counties as well. Government Members are absolutely committed to ensuring that the northern powerhouse is a real success. Macclesfield is famous for being a powerhouse for silk back in the Victorian days, and now we want to weave new economic threads in the life sciences and various other fields to help take the northern powerhouse further forward. I am pleased that the cities and local government devolution Bill provides us with a vehicle to help that succeed and flourish in the years ahead.

I am an optimist. In fact, in the previous Parliament the former Member for Edinburgh East, Sheila Gilmore, accused me of being over-optimistic—Panglossian, even—in my approach. Well, I have to say that it was Conservative optimism what won it on 7 May. The positive agenda that we took forward appealed to large swathes of the country and helped us win an outright majority. I am pleased that the Queen’s Speech today set out more reasons to be positive as we take our important agenda further forward. The Eeyores and sirens we heard in the previous Parliament, and whom we have heard today, have been proved wrong.

I think that it is really important that the Labour party takes time to reflect on why the electorate did not give it the support that it hoped and expected to get. The Labour party was not trusted with the economy. Moreover, it was not trusted with the task of spreading opportunity to other people and improving social mobility. It goes beyond economic credibility into those other areas. Of course, we have since heard several Labour Members talk about aspiration. It is sad that that is focused on their own leadership aspirations, when in fact they should be thinking about the aspirations of the people they represent. That accusation could not be made against the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), or indeed the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), but there are others who I think should be looking at their own agenda and at what they should be doing as a party.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to backing those people who want to work hard and get on in life. That is what our election campaign was about. As the Prime Minister tweeted on 30 April:

“We’re the party of the first chance, the first job, first pay cheque, the first home”.

He could have gone even further; I am sure that the issue was the restriction to 140 characters. We are the Government of the first-time entrepreneur, the first-time employer and the first-time exporter. During the last Parliament, I held a debate on encouraging more entrepreneurs to become first-time employers. Like other Members in the free enterprise group and elsewhere, I have written about the importance of social mobility, which Conservatives feel absolutely passionately about. We need to break down the barriers to first-time businesses, first-time employers and first-time jobs. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has given that issue such a clear focus in the Queen’s Speech.

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I hope that when the Bills on enterprise and schools are published and debated, we will see more detail on what can be done to make it easier for those with no family history in enterprise.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): What are my hon. Friend’s views about the job creation in his constituency and across Britain that we have seen in the past five years and that, hopefully, we will continue to see in the course of this Government?

David Rutley: In Macclesfield alone, unemployment dropped by 50% in the past year, which is a huge step. That has come from an unrelenting focus on what I call the four “e”s in an enterprise economy. The first is entrepreneurs; we have a massive over-index of entrepreneurs and the self-employed in Macclesfield. Then there are employers, exporters and, of course, employees—we must help each of them take the first step on their journey, encouraging them so that they see real success in their careers.

It is important to focus on the fact that more people are moving into self-employment. That tremendous change has taken place in just the past 12 or 14 years. Some 4.5 million people are now involved in self-employment: 14.5% of the total workforce, up from 12% at the start of this century. Anybody who has read the work of the Royal Society of Arts and Demos recently will realise that the trend is here to stay.

The pull of self-employment—the flexibility, freedom and dignity—helps make it an attractive option. In the past, some might have said that the push factors, such as redundancy under Labour’s great recession, were decisive. That has changed now; the issue is about the pull factors. We need to encourage more people to take the step. We should give them the information and support that they need, so that they want to become not only self-employed but first-time employers, helping out with first-time apprenticeships as well. I hope that under the enterprise Bill and other legislation more work will be done to support the self-employed in this country.

We need to ensure that enterprise is about what happens not only in this country, but Europe—particularly the European Union. Reform of the EU is not simply in the UK’s national interest, although that is our first concern, but in the interests of the EU as a whole. The world is changing and the EU must change to embrace it. There are clear opportunities and real challenges in the global economy in the 21st century. There are also compelling organic reasons for the need for reform. Many more eurozone countries want to pull together in ever closer union; I would not want to countenance that, but they are moving in that direction. States such as the UK that are rightly very much outside the eurozone need to make sure that the relationship between countries in and outside the eurozone is better defined. This is an important time for the debate about the renegotiation.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. One thing I would like to see in this Parliament—the response has been negative so far—is a reduction in VAT on tourism. That would be an advantage for Northern Ireland, as we could be competitive with

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the Republic of Ireland. When it comes to creating employment opportunities in tourism, Northern Ireland especially but the whole UK would benefit from a reduction in VAT. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

David Rutley: Obviously VAT can be quite complex and there are EU rules relating to it. I am not fully aware of what is going on in Northern Ireland in that regard, but I know that the devolution of corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland will create huge opportunities. Let us see how that goes and then there might be further opportunities, but VAT is more complicated.

Let me come back to the importance of reform and renegotiation. Having worked as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Europe in the previous Parliament, I know from working with MPs in other Parliaments and with senior civil servants in other countries that there is now an appetite for reform in Europe—there is no doubt about that. We need to tap into that appetite and make sure that we move things on in the interests of our own country and the EU as a whole. I know that the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe and, indeed, the Prime Minister are working hard to ensure that we bring about those changes. The unambitious 20th-century model of a fortress Europe sheltering from the world and rigid in its quest for centralisation cannot survive.

The Government believe that it is absolutely right to focus on reducing the bureaucratic burden and cutting the red tape that needs action both in this country and at European level. Last week, when further details were beginning to emerge about what would be included in the enterprise Bill, it was noticeable that those who represent businesses in the UK came forward to say that it was time for change not only in the UK but, particularly, in Brussels. John Longworth of the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“It is great to see the Government start the Parliament with a real drive to support businesses…To further free companies up from red tape and focus on growth, businesses will now expect to see a similar commitment from Brussels.”

That is absolutely the case. Katja Hall of the CBI said:

“Businesses will welcome the Government getting out of the blocks early by following through on its commitment to cut red tape”—

something that I have been talking about for many years. She went on to say:

“Moving forward, it should use its influence in Brussels to combat…regulation that impacts unfairly on British businesses”.

Our ambition for Britain and for Europe is to ensure that we get in place the fundamental foundations of social stability and economic opportunity on which we can rest a ladder of social mobility that will help to push forward ambition and aspiration so that people can thrive, making sure that the wealth we want gets generated so that those in genuine need can get the support they have so desperately needed. The Queen’s Speech shows a clear direction towards building more opportunities not just in enterprise but in helping to improve educational standards. That is critical, because we want to make sure that there are real opportunities for all children across all economic strata to enable them to get the skills that they need to take forward their talents and ambitions.

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The Queen’s Speech sets out a very exciting opportunity for many in this country. It will help the self-employed, help our businesses, help to set out an agenda for young people, and help to reform Europe—all in one go.

9.2 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), my co-chair of the all-party mountaineering group in the previous Parliament. Every member of the group, in all parts of the House, was re-elected. We heard a stunning speech by the new hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), who beat a Liberal, so he will be particularly welcome to come and join the group. In the past we have had good contacts with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland in his constituency, which would be a fine place for us to consider visiting at some stage for our non-parliamentary pastimes. I congratulate his colleagues, who have bothered to turn up here. I am always a little astonished when people seem to spend half their lives fighting selection battles to become parliamentary candidates and fighting elections, and then, when they get here, do not turn up.

That lot over there on the Government Benches have won and there are hardly any of them here. Having seen what their legislative programme actually is, that does not surprise me. The main part of this dismal programme is a Bill that says what we are not going to do. Is that how good it gets when you have been out of power for 23 years and then get back in? I know that the Front Benchers present at the moment are hugely embarrassed. I hope that a few Government Members with a bit of ingenuity will come up with some ideas, and if they are good ones we will be able to back them on a cross-party basis.

But what about my own party? We have just been knackered in an election. We have got some new MPs, and our Whips cannot be bothered to get them in on the first day to listen to the debate. I will tell you what—

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): I’m here.

John Mann: You’re a retread. There are a few here and great credit to them and others who have been in, but our Whips need to learn a lesson. This lot beat us in Scotland. One of the reasons they beat us, in my view, is that they were better organised. They thought through how to win elections, and they are thinking through how to get in and use this place. If we are going to do anything as an Opposition, we are going to have to get off our knees and start fighting, and that means having Labour Members—I hope some are watching on the telly at the moment—in here arguing the case, asking questions and challenging these useless Tories and their invisible programme of nothingness. I do not know why SNP Members are wearing the Yorkshire rose. It is like the Geoffrey Boycott fan club, all on the way to the test match at Headingley to support England who are taking on New Zealand on Friday. I will be happy to welcome them there.

What should be in the programme? Two things should be there. Everyone seems to be saying—London is joining in now—it is all ours: we want this, we want that. Hon. Members should hope that Bassetlaw does not do that, because we have the coal power stations,

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and if we tax coal for the coal power stations, everyone would be paying a lot of money because we keep this country heated. But we are generous. We see this as a socialist country. Therefore, we are happy to share the energy that pollutes our lungs as we are making it. We are not asking for extra things.

I tell you what we do want though: we want to see power localised. The stupidest thing that the Tory party has not done—it would have been hugely popular among their voters, our voters, the SNP’s voters, everyone’s voters—would have been to say, with planning powers on housing, wind farms and fracking, “We’re going to give the power back to local communities. We’re not going to have the man from the Ministry, the Department for Communities and Local Government, overruling local communities on what they want.”

When people talk about housing—every party seems to want to have hundreds of thousands of houses—let me say that my constituency dun’t need any more new houses. We have got new housing plans in every field going. Everyone wants to put them there because we have got the land, but we have not got the people to go in the houses. The houses should be in the cities, such as in London, where there is a shortage; not more in my area. We will have a few—we have got plenty planned—but we do not need more and more. London needs them, Birmingham needs them, loads of cities need them. That is what localism should be about, and the Tories have abandoned localism for some reason—more fool the Tory party. We need to get our act together on that.

Localism ain’t just about saying, “Here you are, let’s give the NHS to a bunch of councillors. We were bad as MPs running it. Let councillors run it.” I would not put my councillors in charge of the national health service, any more than I want politicians in charge. The Government have got some more meddling stuff with schools and the NHS. Well, get your hands off it! That’s what I’m trying to say. Get your mitts off the health service and education.

We want a vision in the Labour party. I have got a good vision. How about we let those in education run education, and we let those in the health service run the health service, so that local communities have a proper say? I do not want this Government trying to shut my ambulance stations like they did last time, or trying to shut my accident and emergency, and trying to shut my maternity department. I did not want it, my community did not want it, and we fought back. We stopped it, and the cuts went somewhere else, because somewhere else did not do the job and fight it hard enough. In Tory Newark, they do not have a hospital any more. In Tory Grantham, it is 80 miles to the nearest maternity unit. That is what happens if you do not have localism—it is not a good idea.

There is one other issue that new Members need to be aware of, because it is going to haunt this Parliament. Yesterday on Sky television, Esther outlined it bravely. I have been in touch with her today. She has gone to the police with the name of an MP who she and others allege abused her as a child, but I am expecting other people with other names to come forward from other parts of the country in the near future. Others have already gone to the police. The scandal of historical child abuse in this country will be one of the defining issues of the next five years. It is going to corrode everything during this Parliament because it is so huge

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and involves so many people. Just in my area, I have had people come to me. One man was kept as a slave, forced to work in a foundry, aged 11 to 16, and that is nice compared to what happened to the rest of his family. I have 26 victims of child abuse just in my constituency who have been to see me—and who am I for them to come to? That is how big this scandal across the country is.

The last Government were right to set up the Goddard inquiry. I have tabled an early-day motion—for those who do not know, an early-day motion is usually a bit of nonsense we sign so we can send letters to people telling them how good we are—calling on the Government to lift the restrictions of the Official Secrets Act, because a lot of people, including former members of special branch, want to speak out to answer the basic question I pose to anyone who wants to know: why was Cyril Smith allowed to get away with prolific child abuse for so many years? But it was not just Smith. There were far more, and what was revealed in Staffordshire yesterday was just one other aspect.

My constituency is no worse than anywhere else in the country. This is nationwide and touches every aspect of society. The number of people, on top of the 26, who have been to see me who do not want the police involved, never want to go public and never actually want to say anything is phenomenal. That is how they have dealt with that childhood trauma—and it is their right to do so. A man flew back from Canada, having not visited my constituency in 30 years because of what happened to him, to spend 20 minutes in the library of my surgery, just to tell me about it, knowing nothing could be done, before flying back again. That is the impact of historical child abuse, and this Parliament is going to have to deal with it.

9.12 pm

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Speaker, and an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who made an impassioned speech. It is good to see him returned. I notice that not many of his colleagues were returned, which is good for Conservative Members.

The general election result was extraordinary, and every Member will be aware of the dramatic events on 7 May—we all have our personal stories. To secure a Conservative majority after 23 years was a great victory, and there is no doubt that the Prime Minister and those around him deserve all credit for securing that resounding victory, in a spirit of one-nation Toryism and openness, and for coming up with a Queen’s Speech that I think—I am not sure about Opposition Members—was very exciting. It represents a big opportunity to deal with our economic problems in a way that carries the whole country with us—the governing party—and reaches a better outcome for all the people of Great Britain.

One thing that was talked about a lot in the run-up to the general election—but not in this debate—is the size of the deficit. Members will remember that, when the coalition Government were formed in 2010, the deficit stood at £160 billion. It was clear to me as an MP campaigning in the election that only one party was believed and had any credibility when it came to dealing with this huge deficit. The Labour party was simply not

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credible, as can be seen in the election numbers: Labour now has 232 MPs, having started the previous Parliament with 258 MPs. It does not take the brains of an archbishop to work out that Labour lost a net 26 seats—an extraordinary result for anyone who felt that Labour had any credibility on the economy. It did not, and this Queen’s Speech has focused our minds on the fact that the economic questions—those relating to the deficit, job creation and how this country can make its own living and pay its way in the world—are the fundamental ones.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Has my hon. Friend noticed the economic improvements in his own constituency of Spelthorne over the last few years?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will not be surprised to know that I have noticed the difference that the Government’s policies have made. I am proud that the unemployment rate in my constituency is now less than 1%, having been about 3% at the beginning of the last Parliament. That is a signal improvement about which everyone in my constituency is pleased. The idea of aspiration can sometimes sound woolly, but in my constituency people really understand what it means. There are huge numbers of people in employment; there is a burgeoning private sector; and there are many who successfully aspire to be entrepreneurs. I am grateful to the Government and the people of Spelthorne for that. All the Government have done is to allow people to realise their own ambitions and to unlock their spirit of enterprise. I have certainly found that to be the case in my constituency.

I am pleased to follow on from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) who spoke eloquently about the need for more entrepreneurialism and for a Government that interfere less in the workings of the private sector and of people who want to better themselves, go into small business and set up their own businesses. That should absolutely be commended and applauded. Frankly, it was depressing and disappointing during the campaign to note that Opposition Members—not SNP Members, but Labour Members—failed to mention wealth creation. They never talked about how this country was supposed to pay its way. They were deficit deniers, and I hope that they will come to appreciate that in the course of this Parliament.

I was struck by the fact that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw still refers to Britain as a socialist country—even after this crushing defeat. In returning a majority Conservative Government, the general election was surely an extraordinary way of showing that Britain was socialist. The result was unexpected, but it belies the hon. Gentleman’s attempts to characterise this country in that way.

More broadly, the Government have not only delivered on job creation, but have focused on distributing wealth and the spirit of wealth creation across the country. In that context, I am particularly happy that the Government will push ahead with HS2 and the northern powerhouse. That is exciting, and Conservative Members will look on it with approval. We are enthused by the broad plan for economic development, which will not be concentrated solely on the south-east.

Clearly, the Labour party has deep-seated problems, and I am surprised to see so many Labour Members here today. It is a tribute to their resilience and fortitude

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that they are here to participate in the debate. I am particularly impressed by the number of Scottish nationalists who are present. It is great that they are coming into the Chamber and making an impact. I am not sure what the flower is about, but I am sure that I will get to the bottom of that before long. Perhaps one of them will enlighten me. [Hon. Members: “It is royalist!”]

Mr MacNeil: It is the “white rose of Scotland” that is mentioned in a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid. I encourage the hon. Gentleman and others to Google it, because it is a very beautiful poem.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I am very pleased to have been enlightened. I thought that it might have something to do with Yorkshire, but, although my knowledge of British geography is poor, I understand that Scotland is slightly further to the north.

I welcome the Scottish nationalists. The election result has clearly been fantastic for them, and it has done a signal service to us, because it has severely depleted the number of Labour Members of Parliament. I look forward to hearing the contributions of members of the other “party opposite” during the current Parliament.

I think that, during this Parliament, we should focus on the economic question. The deficit, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, is still £90 billion. That is an awful lot of money, and it means that we, as a country, are borrowing nearly £2 billion a week. What was said by some of the other parties during the election period was an exercise in complete fantasy. It was as if the deficit did not exist. None of the Opposition parties addressed the fact that we must reduce Government spending over a Parliament, and I think that, ultimately, that was responsible for the Conservative majority and victory. As I said earlier, it was clear that one party was going to adopt a mature and balanced approach to deficit reduction. As far as I could see, all the other parties had their heads firmly in the sand, and were not addressing the big question.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend is making an impassioned speech. Did he find on the doorstep, as I did in Macclesfield, that people were genuinely anxious for debt to be reduced because they believed that, if we did not get to grips with it, the debt would be passed on to future generations—to their children and grandchildren? I think that that is what helped us. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I found many things on the doorsteps in Spelthorne, where people spoke passionately about a range of matters. However, my hon. Friend is right. The issue of the deficit—the fact that, if we continue to build up debts, our children and grandchildren will have to pay them off, or at least service them by paying interest through taxation—was widely understood in my constituency, and I think that it contributed largely to the increased majority that I, along with many other colleagues, won in the election. It was remarkable to see Conservative majorities of, in some cases, 20,000 or 25,000, not only in the south-east but throughout the west country—where the Conservatives performed very well—and even in the midlands, where a number of incumbent Labour MPs lost their seats. I am sure that pollsters, historians, and other academics and experts

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will view that as an extraordinary result, and I think that it marks a shift in the political dynamics of the country. Of course, Scotland had its own result, which was remarkable by any standards.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I may be rescuing the hon. Gentleman, but perhaps it is worth pointing out that the Conservative party had its worst result in Scotland for nearly 100 years. That was because we said, very simply, that we should not balance the books on the back of our most disadvantaged citizens, but should balance them over a slightly longer period, and in a way that would not put people at a disadvantage.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I think that we are balancing the books over a longer period. We have not run a balanced budget since 2001. There have been 15 years of deficits, and, in my view, that is too many. Anyone who has heard anything that I have said in the House about the economy will know that I am a balanced-budget Conservative, and I think that we should be balancing the books every year. When I was on the Transport Committee, we went to Switzerland, where we were told, “We have a simple rule: we just balance the budget every year.” That seems a sensible way of proceeding. We are balancing the books over a period of time. At some point, the books have to balance and one is not going to get that by running a deficit year after year, as the parties on the Opposition Benches prescribe.

I am very confident that the Chancellor and the governing team will be able to balance the books or get to some near balance, barring any wider economic upheavals. We should be able to do that in the course of this Parliament. That should be the principal aim of the Government. I am confident that we will achieve that goal.

9.25 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening. This is the second maiden speech today, following the excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). May I take a moment to thank you, Mr Speaker, and your colleagues across the parliamentary estate for all the help and co-operation that have been afforded to all the new SNP MPs since we were elected? The SNP group has grown more than ninefold since the election, causing something of a logistical headache for your colleagues. Their efforts are hugely appreciated, not least by those of us who have got lost around the parliamentary estate, rather than politically. As we have proudly pointed out, we are wearing the white rose of Scotland—we have no plans on Yorkshire just yet. Members will be glad to learn that well over 40 of us are still in the Chamber. As far as I am aware, the Whips have not told me that we have any plans for a snap vote this evening, so Members can all rest easy.

I would like to take the opportunity to refer to my predecessor, the right honourable Sir Menzies Campbell, who served the people of North East Fife with such enormous distinction over many years. He is held in fond affection by people there; I know that from my own experience. I also know that he is held in fond affection by Members from across the Chamber, not

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least of course the Liberal Members. I know that Members across this House, like my constituents and me, will want to wish him every happiness and a fulfilling retirement. He richly deserves it.

I am sure that Sir Menzies will not mind me saying that we do not agree on everything. However, we do agree that it is a huge privilege to serve the constituency of North East Fife. It is a wonderful constituency and a diverse one, running from the coast of Leven all the way to the old borough of Newburgh. Within that wide and diverse constituency lies Scotland’s oldest university, founded in 1413 and still a centre of educational excellence. In fact, I know that there are Members from across the Chamber who have benefited from that education. St Andrews remains an outstanding and ground-breaking institution. Indeed, since the last Parliament was dissolved, the university has announced it will be building a clean biomass facility in Guardbridge, which will make it Europe’s first carbon-neutral university—so it is still ground-breaking, 600 years on.

North East Fife is also home to some of our finest industries, such as tourism. As Members will be aware, it is the home of golf. It is also home to some of our finest food and drink industries. In recent years, the food and drink industry in Scotland has gone from strength to strength and credit should be given to Richard Lochhead and to the Scottish Government for their work on promoting that industry. More importantly, credit should also go to the entrepreneurs. Food and drink from North East Fife is now a byword for excellence and quality. It also provides, the Chancellor will be pleased to learn, significant exports and revenues. Among other fine small businesses, I have distilleries, Members will all be pleased to learn, at Kingsbarns, Daftmill and Eden Mill. I can assure Members of the excellence of those products. Actually I hope that the House will consider stocking some of the produce from my constituency over the coming months and years.

There are plans for another distillery on the site of Lindores Abbey. In fact one of the first references to whisky came in 1494. The Chancellor will again be pleased to learn that that was for an Exchequer roll. I will keep Members informed of the quality of that product, too.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Queen’s Speech—after all, that is what this debate is about. I want to mention something that is important to communities across North East Fife: the relationship with our European partners. Today in the Queen’s Speech we heard proposals about a referendum on our membership of the EU. We on these Benches fully intend to make a positive case for Scotland’s and the UK’s continued membership of the EU, and you will be pleased to learn, Mr Speaker, that we have some experience with referendums on these Benches. The Scottish referendum—regardless of whether people voted yes or no—illustrated what happens when we have an open and positive debate. It was an enriching experience for our democracy and everybody in Scotland.

That is why we want to look at a positive case, and even look at some areas where we could deepen our relationship with our European partners. Should we, for instance, be looking at greater co-operation on foreign and security issues, as has been mentioned by a number of Members? The refugee crisis in the

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Mediterranean is an issue not just for Malta or Italy, or Libya or Syria for that matter; it is an issue for us all, and I am delighted that Members from every party across this House have mentioned that.

We also need to build relationships with other countries, not least on how we deal with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union—where I personally have a little professional background. We should also be looking at working with our European partners in considering the challenges of, and opportunities provided by, tackling climate change and the benefits that a social Europe and a Europe that promotes a living wage and other benefits to its citizens can provide.

None of us on the SNP Benches is saying Europe does not need reforms. The common fisheries policy has had a devastating impact on communities across my constituency in the East Neuk of Fife and elsewhere across Scotland, as my colleagues will testify. Similarly, the expensive practice of moving the Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg every month defies any logic in these times of straitened budgets.

The Scottish referendum provided many lessons, most notably the case for making a positive budget and including as many of our citizens as possible in the debate about the future of our respective nations. That leads me on to the important point of the franchise. I think everyone would agree that extending the franchise in the Scottish referendum to 16 and 17-year-olds and EU nationals living in Scotland was a good thing. We are currently in a situation where nationals of Cyprus or Malta can vote in the upcoming referendum, but not an MSP called Christian Allard who is a French national and who makes a significant contribution to our country.

A short time ago, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) made a fine contribution in which she referred to low turnout among young people. All Members have a responsibility to think about how we can engage young people in the political process. I think a good place to start is votes for 16-year-olds, particularly in this referendum. Why should those with the greatest investment in the future not have a say in that future? We should be broadening things to include EU nationals and 16-year-olds. I strongly believe that it is the electorate who should make the decisions about the politicians and not the other way round, with the politicians choosing the electorate.

A vibrant democracy should also be reflected in this House. My colleagues’ comments have reflected the SNP’s willingness to work with Members from all parties in furthering the aims on which we stood and in furthering democracy across the United Kingdom. The Government may have a majority, but we must remember that they returned only one MP from Scotland, whereas the SNP returned 56, and I think they should be looking to work with us.

In Holyrood the SNP worked with parties across the Chamber and there is always scope to learn. During the period of minority Administration from 2007 to 2011 the SNP worked well, and nobody in this Chamber has greater experience of building alliances than my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). No party, not least our own, has a monopoly on wisdom or good practice. We would be the first party to recognise that. The SNP recognised that fact during its time in government, and we will recognise it during our time on

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these Benches as well. Mr Speaker, I should like to thank you for this opportunity to make my maiden speech, but most of all I should like to thank the voters of North East Fife for giving me the enormous privilege of representing them for the next five years.

9.35 pm

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins). He spoke with great passion and eloquence, and he is no doubt already a credit to his constituents. I am sure that we all wish him well here. He spoke with passion about his constituency and its people, and about his predecessor, who was a long-standing Member of the House. Many of us did not always agree with Sir Menzies, but we respected him for his longevity here and for his wise words on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman is following in those footsteps; he spoke with considerable passion and clarity about what matters to him. That is why we are sent here, and it does not matter if we are sent from the furthest north, south, east or west. I should like to extend my welcome to the hon. Gentleman now.

The hon. Gentleman made some accomplished remarks and will be a credit to his constituents. I think he also mentioned the House stocking certain products from his constituency. If I heard him correctly, he made a request about alcoholic beverages. That could actually be arranged. I am sure that he will not yet have found the Strangers Bar. It is quite a difficult location to find, and I know that the Scottish Members might need some assistance from others to find it. When the hon. Gentleman does so, he will see that it occasionally has guest alcohols. Perhaps he could arrange for products from his constituency to be among them.

I welcome the new Members from all the parties, but I particularly welcome the 76 new Conservative Members. We have not been wearing a rose today. I thought at first that the Scottish Members were wearing a Tudor rose as a mark of royalist endeavour, but I might have been mistaken. I am particularly honoured to have been re-elected as the Member for Northampton North. It is the town where I was born and brought up, and I have lived and worked there my whole life. My family live there, and my parents still live there. Coming back to this place with a substantially increased majority is a great honour for me.

I am not, however, going to follow in the footsteps of all my predecessors. One of them had the distinction of being the only Prime Minister of this country to be assassinated while in office, albeit in May 1812—

Stephen Pound: He lived in Ealing.

Michael Ellis: From what I hear, the hon. Gentleman recalls the incident quite well.

Stephen Pound: I was not actually present in the House in 1812, but Spencer Perceval was happy to live in the glorious and ancient borough of Ealing.

Mr Speaker: Order. I must gently point out that two other hon. Members are seeking to contribute to the debate, and we do not want unduly to curtail their opportunities.

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Michael Ellis: No we do not, Mr Speaker, and I would not want to annoy you so far as other historical figures are concerned, but I shall just point out that one of my other predecessors was Charles Bradlaugh, who was the last Member to be imprisoned in the Clock Tower. That happened only in the 1880s.

Turning to the Gracious Speech, this majority Conservative Government now have an opportunity to help the ordinary working people in my constituency and up and down the country through measures that will continue to reduce the level of unemployment. Under the previous Labour Government, unemployment was allowed to spiral out of control at an unprecedented level. The facts speak for themselves. From whatever angle we look at this, unemployment is down. In my constituency, it is down by more than 50% on the level of five years ago, and youth unemployment is down by more than 63%.

The Gracious Speech referred to measures that will further reduce unemployment, and I look forward to seeing millions more jobs and more apprenticeships created. I also look forward to the welfare reforms, which are, of course, designed to incentivise work and have already gone some way towards doing that. We will see further reductions in the maximums, so that there will be a greater incentive for people who can and wish to work to do so. I want and am encouraged to see further funding for the national health service, as there is no better example of our one nation philosophy than the NHS. Northampton general hospital, where I was born—I will not say what year, but it was some time ago—

Stephen Pound: 1812!

Michael Ellis: It was not quite that long ago, but it was a few years ago. I want to see more funding for that hospital and because, as we have heard, £8 billion a year more will be going into the NHS, I will be able to campaign for some of it to come to my local hospital.

On decent schooling for all, there are 29% more children in my constituency, and 1 million more children overall, now in schools classified by Ofsted as “good” or “outstanding” than was the case five years ago. Further improvements can be seen in that area, too.

We have heard about the in/out referendum. The reference to that has been controversial, but I do not see why, because it is clearly necessary and desirable to give people the opportunity to have a say on something that is crucial to their own futures—to our future. We have not had an opportunity to have a vote on Europe for decades. One would have to be over 65 to have had a vote on this subject, and this majority Conservative Government are now going to be able to push through a referendum on it. Whether one is in favour of being in Europe or outside it, the case for having a referendum on this subject is unarguable and irrepressible—this referendum has to be given.

The Gracious Speech is optimistic, looking forward to a one nation Conservatism and to prosperity in our country, and it will have my support.

9.42 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): First, I should apologise to you, Mr Speaker. I stepped out of the Chamber but got a bit interrupted and my return to

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my place was delayed by five years. I am pleased to be back and in a moment I will remind hon. Members of what I was speaking about five years ago, when I was rudely interrupted—by democracy, of course—because it has a curious echo. A Conservative Member, whom I shall name in a moment because he is still a Member, had said:

“Cabinet Ministers, including the Schools Secretary, have been tripping over themselves to claim that they have to cut only x hundred million or y hundred million pounds from their budgets. The truth is that they do not know how much they will have to cut, because they do not know what their budgets will be as the Chancellor has not told them and he has not told the electorate.”

That sounds a bit familiar. My response was:

“The hon. Gentleman decries the Chancellor for lacking credibility, vision, energy and new ideas”.

—[Official Report, 30 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 732-733.]

Plus ça change. The Member in question, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), was in opposition at the time.

We still have huge problems with the economy. In a moment, I will deal with the two big myths about the economy, but first I should briefly like to pay the tribute due to my predecessor, Paul Uppal. I acknowledge, as do many of my constituents, the amount of work he did in the constituency, how honest he was and how frequently he visited the constituency. I thank the voters of Wolverhampton South West for electing me this year for the third time, and I have to say that it was a lot easier than it was five years ago, when I had the millstone of Gordon Brown around my neck.

The first myth of the two that I shall delineate is the Labour myth on the economy, which is that there was no problem with the economy when the world economic meltdown occurred in 2008 and that all our economic problems thereafter were due solely to world factors. That is a myth and it goes back to 2001. Some of my colleagues may recall the Labour slogan for the 2001 general election, which was “an end to boom and bust”. That was brought forward by Messrs Brown and Balls. It was economic nonsense. I am a Keynesian, but whether we are talking about Kondratiev long waves or whatever, for 300 years capitalism has been cyclical, and that nonsense about an end to boom and bust was on none of my election material. It continued with the nonsense of the private finance initiative, which was a sleight of hand to disguise Government borrowing and, sadly, a sleight of hand that continued under the coalition Government.

The Labour Government continued with the nonsense of light-touch regulation and a Treasury Minister, one Ed Balls, boasting that Labour had become the financial capital of the world because we did not have the millstone of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was introduced in 2002 in the United States of America after the problems caused by WorldCom and Enron. The nonsense continued, as has been adverted to tonight, with the fact that we ran a deficit in seven of the 10 years in which Labour was in office before the meltdown in 2008. We should not have done. By the time we got to the world economic meltdown in 2008, our structural deficit just before it, according to the OECD, was 3.1%. That meant that when the wave came in from across the ocean it overtopped our defences much more than it should have done

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because our economic defences were not as high as they should have been. I have to say to the House, to make it clear, that before the world economic meltdown I made all the points I have just made to my then Labour colleagues.

The second myth paraded tonight is the wonderful economic performance of the coalition Government. Most of that is complete nonsense. Let us start with the deficit. The deficit is still £90 billion and still 5% of GDP. In the past five years, the national debt has gone up by 55%. We have a balance of trade crisis because we are not exporting enough. GDP per capita is still below what it was in 2008, productivity is down, we have rising personal debt, soaring house prices, jobs that people are forced into or forced into in a sense—such as bogus self-employment jobs, minimum wage jobs and jobs on zero-hours contracts—and falling living standards. Much of the economic growth we have seen in the past six months has not been prompted by anything the coalition Government did but by something the SNP Members will know about—that is, falling oil prices.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) talked earlier about the problems of a deficit because of the intergenerational transmission of debt. What the coalition Government have done and what this new Government have proposed to do is carry on privatising intergenerational debt in two main ways: through soaring house prices so that young people cannot afford a house; and through a huge rise in student debt for the half of young people who go to university. That is simply privatising the transmission of debt to the next generation and it totally undercuts what the coalition Government and the new Government have said about needing to get the deficit down to protect the next generation. I agree with that aim, but all they are doing is privatising it.

This Government will either have to borrow money, as the last Government did, to meet their promises, such as an £8 billion rabbit out of a hat for the NHS, or they will have to put up taxes. However, they have restricted themselves in the Gracious Speech so that they cannot put up income tax, VAT or national insurance contributions. Growth will not get them out of the hole, so I therefore suspect that they will cut even more than they have said that they will.

What we need in our economy is Government borrowing to invest in infrastructure and training and to stimulate economic growth, and Government borrowing for house building so that we have bricks and mortar to show for it. Let us face it, when most people in this country buy a house—although perhaps not some Conservatives, with their inherited wealth—they borrow money to do so. It is what we all do. To drive productivity, we need to drive up the minimum wage and to get rid of zero-hours contracts, which are exploitative. We need restored rights for employees at work, because that will drive investors to substitute capital for labour, which will drive productivity. We also need a bit more compassion, frankly, in our society and in our Government.

What we need from the Labour side is not only a recognition that economic faults were made before 2008, not just by Brown and Balls but by a lot of them. We need to challenge the power structure of this country. Yes, I support devolution, whether it is the northern powerhouse or something from my own west midlands or wherever, but I want a Government who intervene in

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markets and break up the big banks, which are too big to fail and will land us with another crisis all over again. Capitalism is cyclical. I do not know when that might happen; if I did, I could make a lot of money. We need to break up those big banks. We need to regulate the energy companies a whole lot more. They are ripping off all our constituents. We need to raise the tax on the richest. We need to abolish phoney non-dom status. Above all—this is one of the key lessons from the electorate both for the Conservative party, which has its majority, and for the Labour party—we have to recognise that one of the appeals of UKIP is that it represents itself as not part of the London-centric political élite. Believe me, we in Wolverhampton do not like that élite. I do not want to see any more of it, but I see nothing whatever in the Queen’s Speech to address the imbalance of power in our country.

9.50 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a great pleasure to follow my colleague and friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris), although I confess that I do not completely concur with his economic analysis. I will come to that later.

I congratulate the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) and for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on their excellent speeches, which I greatly enjoyed. Moreover, I compliment the SNP on being here in such large numbers. I feared that no one would be listening to my speech, and now I have a very large audience. I remember that when I made my maiden speech, I had the great pleasure and privilege of following the Speaker, who spoke only for a very short time—less than Winston Churchill, who spoke for one and a half hours, I think. [Interruption.] To be fair, it was a short speech—less than 40 minutes, I seem to remember.

Moving swiftly on, the key tests for the Queen’s Speech are these. Does it promote freedom? Does it promote equality? Does it bring unity to Britain? Does it bring strength? I would say—I will run through the arguments—that on all those counts it fails. The reality is that the Britain we are living in today is more divided than it was five years ago. It is more divided economically. I represent part of Wales. That is where the whole series of cuts has taken effect, be it in welfare, be it in the public services that many of our regions and nations depend on. Where has the investment been? It has been in London and the south-east. So we have seen imbalances. We have seen disproportionate attacks, with the bedroom tax and other severe cuts. Now, as I mentioned earlier, some Oxford University research is basically saying that, with £12 billion of welfare cuts in the pipeline, we will see another 1 million people relying on food banks. Already 1 million people do so. That is not the sort of country that many Opposition Members want to live in.

Nationally, we are seeing division. We are seeing division over Scotland. Scotland has risen and voted the way that it has for reasons that we can understand and need to discuss and debate and appreciate and respect.

There are also divisions over Europe. We are now talking about severing ourselves from Europe, and even renouncing the human rights and other great values that came from these proud islands. I think the Queen,

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in uttering her Speech today, will have thought that she has given much better speeches in the past, if I may put it that way.

There has been some suggestion that the economy is in great shape, but there are 800,000 fewer people earning over £20,000 now than there were five years ago, because the Conservatives have chopped up full-time jobs into zero-hours jobs, part-time jobs and low-paid jobs. They can say, “Look, we have created all these jobs,” but when we look at the overall amount of production, which is also indicated in productivity, we see that they have dismally failed because they have not invested in skills and they have flattened consumer demand. It is a complete nightmare.

I do not agree with the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West. I would point to the fact that, in the 10 years to 2008, the British economy grew by 40%. In 2008 we had a banking crisis, not of our making—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Look at Iceland; look at Greece; look at the United States—are Conservatives Members blind or just plain stupid? We had a global crisis. [Interruption.] Please be quiet. We had a global crisis, and Obama and Brown intervened with the fiscal stimulus. They stopped a world depression and they got Britain growing by 2010.

In 2010, the Tory Chancellor arrived and he announced that 500,000 people in the public services would be sacked. Those people stopped spending and started saving. Consumer demand flatlined and we have had a flatlining economy since. Debt, as a share of the economy, has grown from 55% in 2010 to 80% now. The Tories have borrowed more in five years than Labour did in 13—and we had to bail out the banks. Is that success? No, it is absolute failure. So why did the Labour party do so badly in the election? We should put our hands up: we did not explain the economic narrative effectively enough, but that does not change the fact that we are in an appalling mess thanks to what the Tories have done.

What would be the prospects for future growth if we did not stay in the EU? The EU is a platform for international companies from India, China and elsewhere to enter the biggest economy in the world—Europe. We will have a referendum. The Labour party has now said that it wants a referendum, because the nation has decided we should have one, but international businesses are thinking, “Hold on, all bets are off. We are not going to invest in British production. We will go to France or Germany because we do not know whether Britain will stay in the EU.” Tata Steel, Airbus and Ford—in Bridgend in my constituency—are saying, “Hold on, we do not want to face tariffs of between 5% and 100%.” The Conservatives say that we will renegotiate and then we will have a vote, but the reality is that the Prime Minister will support staying in Europe without reform. To a certain extent, he is dithering around to pacify right-wing Tories and UKIP, putting the tactical interests of the Conservative party before the strategic interests of Britain, and that is disgraceful.

We see the same pattern of disgraceful short-termist political activity with human rights. We are part of the human rights convention, and we have a proud record on human rights, democracy and freedom as a beacon of hope in an uncertain world. Now we are saying, “We don’t like those human rights, so we will have our own.” If we do not agree with universal human rights, how do we think Vladimir Putin feels? He passed a law on

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Saturday that stops people saying things that might undermine the values of Russia. He is focusing on foreign-funded organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and saying they are dodgy people saying unhelpful things. Their workers could face imprisonment for up to six years. Putin is looking at us and saying that Britain appears to think that human rights are not universal, but culture-relative. We can have one set of human rights, Putin can have another and China yet another. Is that what we want? Of course not, and it is outrageous to suggest it.

In any case, learned lawyers have pointed out that the human rights changes will not happen because the Human Rights Act underpins the constitutional settlement in the devolved nations. It is also underpinned by international treaties, so the proposal is ridiculous and has been kicked into the long grass. But it says a lot about the Conservative party.

Other proposed Bills include the enterprise Bill. What does that have to do with improving productivity and infrastructure, and increasing skills? Nothing. All it says is that the Government will cut red tape by £10 billion. What does that mean? Normally it means that health and safety will be cut. The strike Bill is another example. The Conservatives say, “You have to have 40% of the workforce to have a legitimate strike.” In my constituency, the turnout was 62% and my vote was 42%, so 25% of my constituents voted for me—

Alex Salmond: That is low.

Geraint Davies: I know it is low by SNP standards. It certainly would not be enough for a proper strike under these proposals. In reality, it is very difficult to achieve 40% and it does not happen in local government. It is an attempt to change the balance of power in the workplace, another aspect of which is the creation of all those zero-hours jobs without any rights.

The way forward for Britain is greater productivity, high-wage jobs, high skills and a high-value, export-driven focus. It is not through hobbling people, taking away their wealth and making them work for a pittance.

The Queen has seen us through a world war and seen Britain emerge from the fire of war to create a health service, a welfare state and housing, out of a state of virtual bankruptcy. Now, we have ended up with penny-pinching Tories hobbling Britain. I hope that in our discussions we can think about growth instead of cuts to get down the deficit, and that we can work together to build a stronger, better, fairer Britain for all our children to share.

10 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.

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Zero-hours Contracts

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

10 pm

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the first Adjournment debate of the new Parliament. It was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). I would love to tell him that the Scottish National party Members were sitting in their places because of the rumour that he was the most exciting speaker in western Europe, and that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) was there because he wanted to hear every word the hon. Gentleman had to say, but in fact I know that the right hon. Gentleman is sitting there with some of his colleagues because they want to hear what we on the Government Benches have to say about zero-hours contracts. It may seem unusual for a Conservative Member to be raising this subject, which was controversial at some point during the general election, but at a time when the Labour party is unable to focus on any subject at all, as evidenced by the number of Labour Members now in the Chamber, it is left to the governing party, the Conservative party, and what I think they would probably call the real Opposition to focus on the issues that are important to the nation, and zero-hours contracts is one of those issues.

The expression “zero-hours contracts” is a colloquial term for a contract of service under which a worker is not guaranteed work and is paid only for work carried out. It is fair to say that such contracts have attracted both criticism and praise. Employer organisations tend to stress the role that zero-hours contracts can play in helping businesses to meet fluctuating demand, and they argue that such contracts play a key role in keeping people in jobs. Trade union campaigners and others emphasise how the financial insecurity of those people who are on zero-hours contracts limits their ability to rent property or to access loans or mortgages, so that it becomes more difficult for them to provide for their families, and that the general uncertainty facing workers on zero-hours contracts is compounded because such people are not defined as employees, which means that they do not qualify for most employment rights.

The Office for National Statistics has examined the matter to estimate the number of people who have zero-hours contracts, and it is fair to say that there is a little blurring at the edges about the accurate numbers, depending on how they are counted. The ONS has collected statistics based on the labour force survey, which asks workers rather than employers about their employment arrangements, and this suggests that there may be about 697,000 people on zero-hours contracts. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development produced a rather higher number of about 1 million, but the ONS thinks that that may overstate the sampling of large employers. None the less, there is a small but significant proportion of the total workforce of 31 million people—perhaps between 2.2% and 3.2%—who are on zero-hours contracts.