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I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should sometimes go down and have a listen to the quality of debate in the House of Lords. We have in that place people with immensely important expertise, who bring something to the quality of debate in Parliament. I have to say that I disagree with his view of that House.

I finish by referring to reports that I have seen today, and rumours that I have been picking up around the House, about the time when Members take their seats in the mornings. I understand that both Labour and Scottish National party Members are looking to come in earlier and earlier in the morning to secure their seats, possibly even earlier than 7 o’clock in the morning. It has been suggested to me that, to accommodate that, a trolley service of breakfast might be provided to Members in the Chamber to enable them to come in that early. I simply say that I do not think that would be consistent with the traditions of the House.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): New house building is an important priority for the Government, and buying a new home is the biggest purchase that most of our constituents will ever make. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to examine the quality of new house building and how the current system is working to expose substandard building companies that fail to deliver the quality of new build houses that we would all expect?

Chris Grayling: That is an important issue, and I praise the work that my right hon. Friend has done in her constituency, where a substantial amount of new housing has been built in recent years. Of course, the people who buy housing and find themselves in possession of properties that simply are not up to scratch go through an immensely difficult time. I simply suggest to her that she use one of the mechanisms available to her, such as Adjournment debates or Communities and Local Government questions when they come up, to keep making her important point and ensure that the message gets across to both the Government and house builders themselves.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): At the time of the 1975 in/out referendum on the then Common Market, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, very wisely agreed that the Labour party would have a free vote. I hope that that wisdom will be observed by all parties when we come to make a decision again. Will the Leader of the House be advising the Prime Minister and his Chief Whip to observe that wisdom in future?

Chris Grayling: I think this is very much a matter for the Prime Minister. We have barely started the renegotiation and the European Union Referendum Bill has not even had its Second Reading, so I think these matters are for the future.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): The town of Wellington is in my constituency and the famous Wellington monument is prominent from the M5 as one goes south. The town will be having lots of celebrations for the 200th anniversary. May we have a debate to celebrate and discuss this wonderful anniversary? Might the Leader of the House find a little pot of money to restore the wonderful Wellington monument, which is in such great need of an upgrade?

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Chris Grayling: I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I do not have a budget from which I could give her that small amount of money. There will, however, be many opportunities to lobby those of my colleagues who do have such a budget. I commend her for the work she is putting into her constituency to celebrate this great anniversary of a great moment in our history. The anniversary is being celebrated in a variety of ways around the country, including with the production by the Royal Mint of a celebratory coin, although I gather that on the other side of the channel there has been some resistance to producing a euro coin to celebrate the same event.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the news that the BBC is due to air a programme entitled “Britain’s Hardest Grafter” which has been dubbed “The Hunger Games for the unemployed”? May we have a debate on whether the BBC is fulfilling its objective to air programmes of quality and distinctiveness?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is certainly the case that challenges in our society should not be used to create show business opportunities. I would always ask broadcasters to approach their work on analysing life in this country and elsewhere with the utmost caution and sensitivity. She will have the opportunity to raise this issue with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in a month’s time, and, of course, she can always ask for an Adjournment debate on this subject.

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): My constituents in Lewes, whether from Seaford, New Haven, Lewes or Wivelsfield, are experiencing acute rail delays and poor service due to both Network Rail and the train operator. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to discuss these severe issues, which are affecting all MPs in Sussex, to see if we can improve the service and communications to rail passengers?

Chris Grayling: I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend and her constituents. These issues are partly being caused by the necessary improvement works at London Bridge; an investment in the future that is absolutely vital and will be enormously beneficial, but is disruptive while it happens. Nevertheless, she is aware that there have been some real issues concerning services on the Southern routes, and the company needs to address them. I urge her to raise this question again at Transport questions next Thursday.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May we have an urgent statement next week on the plight of 25 British citizens who are trapped in Sana’a? The civil war in Yemen has so far cost 1,000 lives. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is an obligation to try to help our citizens in need? May we have a debate on this very important issue?

Chris Grayling: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about what is happening in Yemen. We have every reason to be concerned about events in many parts of the middle east at the moment; it is an area of enormous challenge for the international community. He will, early next week, have an opportunity to raise this issue directly with the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions, and I encourage him to do so.

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Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May we have a debate on education funding? West Sussex is the second-lowest funded area in the country, yet there are many demographic pressures in constituencies such as Crawley.

Chris Grayling: I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. I represent the county next door, where there are also significant demographic pressures—we are going through a baby boom. These are tough times for the public finances, but I encourage him to talk directly to the Secretary of State, who has proved very thoughtful and very receptive to discussing these issues with colleagues.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): First, Mr Speaker, I thank you for affording us the opportunity yesterday to pay tributes to the much-missed Charles Kennedy.

As we move towards the summer, may we have a debate on the case for reducing VAT on tourism? It is a policy pursued by all but three countries in the EU; it was endorsed by two Select Committees of this House in the last Parliament; and many regional and national economies of the United Kingdom would benefit immeasurably from it.

Chris Grayling: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be an opportunity for such a debate. As the Chancellor has already indicated, between now and the summer there will be an additional Budget statement, and the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise this issue at that time.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The contaminated blood tragedy is affecting families the length and breadth of Britain. May we have a debate in Government time on the difficulties that my constituents and other Members’ constituents face in trying to access appropriate treatment and support?

Chris Grayling: This issue has affected constituents of Members across the House. It is a matter of great concern for this Government and it was addressed by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health in the last days of the last Parliament, and I know that the Department of Health is working carefully on it. I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue further opportunities to discuss this matter, either here or in Westminster Hall, and to continue to ask for updates from the Secretary of State at Health questions.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): May I request a debate to address the promise made by the Chancellor just a few days prior to the election that constituencies such as my own—Dewsbury—will be identified as enterprise zones within 100 days of the new Parliament? Many businesses in my constituency are struggling significantly and would undoubtedly welcome a period of zero business rates.

Chris Grayling: The Chancellor of the Exchequer will undoubtedly have taken note of the hon. Lady’s comments; I will make sure that his team are aware of what she has said. Of course, we are not yet 100 days into the new Parliament. Nevertheless, I point out to her that Dewsbury, and indeed the whole area of west Yorkshire, has benefited enormously from the economic progress that we have made in recent years, with falling unemployment and more businesses being created. Of course there is further

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to go, but what we have seen is a real step in the right direction for the country and the area she now represents.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the deficiencies of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012? We may need two days to go through them all, but one pressing matter is that the

“Offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon”

set out in the Act applies only when it happens

“in a public place or on school premises”.

It misses out many occasions when threatening with a knife takes place either in the home or on other private property. Can we ensure that this Act is amended as soon as possible, to make sure that violent offenders do not escape justice through a loophole that should not exist?

Chris Grayling: As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point about crime and justice matters. I will ensure that my colleague the Lord Chancellor is aware of what he has said. I am no longer able to provide a direct solution to the issue that he raises, even though, as he knows, we share many views on criminal matters. However, I will ensure that the Ministry of Justice is aware of what he has said.

Stewart McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): The Leader of the House will be aware of a leak in the press at the weekend that HS2 Ltd says there is no business case to take the project up to Scotland. Scottish National party Members would welcome the opportunity to make that case to the Government. So can he—acting in the spirit of his party’s much-vaunted “one nation” approach to politics—ensure that we have an urgent statement on this issue?

Chris Grayling: First, we regard High Speed 2 as a crucial part of the future infrastructure of the United Kingdom. I am not aware of any plan that has been brought before this House to change the plans that we set out in the last Parliament, but the hon. Gentleman will have two opportunities next week to raise this issue—once in Scotland questions and once in Transport questions—and I hope that he will take them.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): May we please have time in this Chamber to debate rural broadband? We are still not getting BT to pull its weight; it is doing part of the work in constituencies across this country, but it is not fulfilling its obligations, including its contractual obligations. The time has come for this House to speak out on this matter and secure the future for rural people.

Chris Grayling: The House has debated this matter extensively and will continue to do so, and I encourage my hon. Friends to continue raising the matter. My hon. Friend’s comments will have been heard by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The new Secretary of State is a long-standing and experienced Member who does not take prisoners, as the BBC knows—and I have no doubt that BT will have the same experience.

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Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has just mentioned, the Secretary of State for Health announced in Liverpool this morning that the 18-week target for elective operations will be scrapped. Does the Leader of the House recognise that this shows absolute contempt for this House and our democracy? Did he know about the announcement, and what will he do to ensure the accountability of the Executive to the country’s elected representatives and, in turn, the people?

Chris Grayling: It is important to put on the record that the Secretary of State has made no announcement today. The news story that has emerged has come from the senior official at NHS England who has responsibility for the area under discussion. While it is the responsibility of Ministers to make statements to the House about decisions they personally take, where the NHS has been put under the operational control of the experts best placed to run it, as is the case now and has been argued for over many years, it is not always for Ministers to announce the decisions they take.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): May we have a debate on the workings of the neighbourhood planning process in the Localism Act 2011? The intent of the Act is to bring decision making closer to communities, but that does not appear to be happening in Warminster in my constituency, so I would welcome an early debate.

Chris Grayling: I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. The process is clearly a new development as part of the Act designed to ensure that local communities have as strong a say as possible over the future development of their areas. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is made aware of my hon. Friend’s comments, and I hope he will take advantage of the Adjournment debate system to bring forward a debate as soon as he can.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): Parc Slip open-cast mine in my constituency has been closed for several years and is a dreadful scar on the landscape. Will the Leader of the House make time for a much-needed debate on the fate of open-cast mines across the country?

Chris Grayling: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I know that he might have to do some additional campaigning elsewhere in the next few weeks—having just finished one election, his family has another one to fight.

I am aware of the legacy of coal mining, including open-cast mining, in the area the hon. Gentleman represents. In a recent visit to the valleys, I was impressed with how the hills were returning to nature in many places, but he makes an important point about the impact of open-cast mining, and I hope that he will take advantage of the many opportunities available to him to bring a Minister to the House or raise a question directly with Ministers at Question Time to ensure that this issue is firmly on the agenda.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): In welcoming the Government’s commitment to end many new subsidies for onshore wind farms, which have marched across

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Yorkshire like a plague of locusts in recent years, including a number of applications on green-belt land in my constituency, will the Leader of the House provide a clear timeframe for when these proposals will be implemented?

Chris Grayling: One of the many reasons why I am delighted that we now have a Conservative Government, not a Conservative Government with Lib Dems attached, is the issue of onshore wind farms, which, in my view, has to be handled with the utmost care. I know that the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is looking at this matter carefully. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are drawn to her attention, and I expect her to bring forward a new approach at an early opportunity.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I and many other Members have in recent weeks received urgent pleas for help from British nationals stranded in Yemen. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about the matter in April and was informed that there were no plans to evacuate British nationals from the country. It is heartbreaking to have to reply to these cries for help with such a response. May we please have an urgent statement about what more the Government can do to ensure the safe return of British nationals stranded in Yemen and neighbouring countries, such as Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and Oman, as the situation remains extremely volatile?

Chris Grayling: I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is aware of the concerns raised today. Ministers will be before the House on Tuesday, when I would encourage her to raise the issue with them directly.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): You will know, Mr Speaker, that there are few more shocking or grotesque practices than supermarkets throwing away 50 million tonnes of food as waste every year. Today, the chief executive officer of Tesco, Dave Lewis, has announced that Tesco will stop this practice and ensure that the food goes to charity. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to clarify what is being done to ensure that, if Tesco can do it, all the other supermarkets can do it so that this grotesque practice can be stopped, and to ensure that if they refuse to do it, we will consider bringing in legislation, as has happened in other countries?

Chris Grayling: I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend had to say. He is, of course, absolutely right: it is inexplicable and indefensible that good food should be thrown away. He is absolutely right, too, that the step taken today is a positive one. I will ensure that my colleagues in the Cabinet Office are made aware of what he said. There will shortly be an opportunity to raise the issue directly with them at Question Time but, before that happens, I shall make sure that they are made aware of my hon. Friend’s message.

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Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that the women’s institute is celebrating its centenary this year, and he may be further aware that it was founded in the pioneering county of Anglesey, at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogo goch—I will help Hansard later! May we have a debate in Government time on this important organisation and the things it has done at local level, national level and international level? Will the right hon. Gentleman, along with Mr Speaker and the House authorities, use his good offices to provide an exhibition for this fine organisation?

Chris Grayling: I had no idea that the women’s institute was founded in the village with the world’s longest station name, which I visited last year—but I will not even start to seek to pronounce it in the way that the hon. Gentleman clearly can and does so well. Collectively and across party, the whole House should pay tribute to the women’s institute for the work that it and its members have done for this country over many decades. It has been the backbone of our voluntary sector for a very long time. I was delighted to see its achievements celebrated at the palace recently. This provides an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to bring forward what would be an ideal subject for an Adjournment debate.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. With short single-sentence supplementary questions and the continuation of the Leader of the House’s exemplary brief replies, I will not say that we will get through everybody, but we will make a pretty good stab at it.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Places of worship in Kirklees were targeted 132 times by thieves in the last three years. There have been many stone thefts, and last night Scapegoat Hill Junior and Infant School had tiles stolen from its roof, just days after the scaffolding required to make repairs after previous thefts had gone. May we have an urgent debate on the scourge of stone thefts that are blighting our communities?

Chris Grayling: I am very sympathetic to those who have experienced both stone and metal theft. We have, of course, legislated to toughen the penalties for metal theft. What I did for the business community in my previous role was to provide an opportunity for them to explain in detail to a court the impact of the loss of what might sometimes appear to be a small amount in value terms but can be enormously important to the organisation involved. I encourage my hon. Friend to bring the issue forward for an Adjournment debate so that a Minister comes to the House to address it. I express my sympathies to those who have been the victims of this theft over the past 24 hours. Stealing from a place of worship is one of the most despicable crimes one can imagine in our society.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): In the light of the eye-watering projected costs and at a time of austerity, will the Leader of the House undertake to make a statement on the renovation of the Palace of Westminster to explain how Members, and indeed members of the public including my constituents in Airdrie and Shotts, can scrutinise the process?

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Chris Grayling: An independent report into the condition of the building has been prepared and it will be made available in the next couple of weeks. There is an extensive discussion to be had across both Houses of Parliament about how to respond to the needs and challenges. This is an iconic building—an enormously important building, not just for our democracy, but for our nation and as a source of tourist revenue from around the world. We should cherish it and look after it. We have to deal with the reality of fiscal austerity and challenging financial times but I would be very reluctant indeed to see anything happen that left this building with an insecure future.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Many of my constituents have contacted me about a threatened neo-Nazi demonstration in the neighbouring borough of Barnet. Although I support freedom of speech, anti-Semitic hate crime is completely unacceptable. Can my right hon. Friend facilitate a statement by the Home Secretary about what action she is going to take to prevent such hate crimes, which threaten the Jewish way of life?

Chris Grayling: I shall be happy to raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Let me, however, make it absolutely clear that anti-Semitic crime in any form is unacceptable, and—like anti-Islamic crime, and crime against any other religious group—should be treated with the maximum toughness by our justice system. As my hon. Friend says, while we should generally cherish free speech, free speech that encourages hatred or violence will never be acceptable in our society.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Leader of the House aware that thousands of children throughout the country who suffer from special educational needs, and autism in particular, cannot be assessed or treated? May we have a debate about that very soon?

Chris Grayling: All Members of Parliament have probably had far more exposure to special needs, and developed a far greater understanding of them, since being elected. I certainly have, and I recognise the importance of getting the arrangements right. I believe that this issue concerns the Education Secretary. She will be answering questions in the House on Monday week, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of that opportunity to raise the issue directly with her.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Can the Leader of the House confirm that next week’s Government business has passed the family test, and that family impact assessments will be published alongside legislation?

Chris Grayling: Next week’s business includes the European Union Referendum Bill on Tuesday and the Scotland Bill on Monday, and I think that the family test will feature less centrally in those Bills than it will in some other measures. However, the Chief Whip and I have noted what my hon. Friend has said, and Ministers in all Departments should do so as well. Getting things right for families is central to protecting the fabric of our society, and we should always work towards that end.

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Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s decision, announced just hours after the general election, to limit access to the higher rate of work support for deaf people who earn more than £27,000? That is not a cap on benefits; it is a discriminatory cap on career opportunities for the deaf.

Chris Grayling: Changes in the welfare system will, of course, be included in legislation that will be laid before the House in the coming months. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his case when that time arrives, as will his party.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Following the successful introduction of video games tax relief, which was announced in last year’s Budget, and the contribution that the video games sector makes to our economy—not least in my constituency—may we have a debate about how we can help the industry to grow further, so that it is on an equal footing with the United Kingdom film industry?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in supporting a sector that is enormously important to our economy. We are world leaders in that sector, and we should work to maintain our position. Even many Members are enthusiastic participants in the products of the video games industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer—who is, of course, preparing his Budget—will be in the House on Tuesday week, and Members will have an opportunity to make representations to him about the issue then.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): May we have a debate on pay for care home staff? Social services bosses say that the system is in crisis. We need the very best staff to look after our older people.

Chris Grayling: I do not think anyone could disagree with that. It is very important for us to have quality staff, quality support and quality service in our care homes. The hon. Gentleman will have many opportunities to raise the issue directly with Ministers, but in many instances care is provided by private companies, some of which are good and some of which are not. As Members of Parliament, we should always seek to highlight poor performance in the care sector when we encounter it, because we can play a role in ensuring that standards are raised.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I do not know whether the Leader of the House has had the displeasure of using the Dartford crossing recently. If he has, he will have noticed that the free-flow system there seems to have improved the flow of traffic. However, the administration of the scheme through the Dart Charge has exasperated many of my constituents. May we please have a debate about the charge, and about the frustrations that are being experienced by my constituents and people in the surrounding areas?

Chris Grayling: I understand the issues that my hon. Friend and his constituents are facing. I myself have used the Dart Charge on a number of occasions in recent weeks when, for reasons I cannot quite recall, I spent quite a lot of time driving to Essex—to places

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such as Thurrock and Basildon, which are still represented by Conservatives. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State in Transport questions next Thursday. The scheme has the potential to make a real difference, but it needs to be got right.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In the light of the publication of the Shrewsbury report on the baby ashes issue earlier this week, and of the fact that this is an issue in many constituencies up and down the land, including my own, where the family of Mike and Tina Trowhill have been affected, may we please have a statement from the Government on what assistance they will offer to local councils to carry out independent inquiries into what happened to babies’ ashes in those local areas?

Chris Grayling: This is an enormously sensitive issue, and our hearts go out to the families affected. They have had to go through not only the trauma of losing a child but the aftermath that the hon. Lady has described. I know that my colleagues are carefully considering that report, and they will seek to deal with the matter sensitively and appropriately. They will come forward with their response in due course.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a statement on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the welcome changes designed to prevent nuisance phone calls are actually having an effect? It was quite apparent during the general election that the problem had certainly not gone away, and that these persistent unwanted phone calls were continuing to blight the lives of my constituents.

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Work is under way to try to curb this practice, but we are dealing with people who are constantly looking for new ways to do this and who are working around the law. I myself have been the victim of these calls. When I was Secretary of State for Justice, it sometimes came as a bit of a shock to the person making a nuisance call to my mobile phone when I told them that I was the Minister responsible for regulating the sector and asked them for the name and address of their company. They normally hung up on the spot. It is a serious nuisance, however, and we must continue to work hard to address it. I know that my colleagues will do so.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I want to raise a small but important matter. Yet again, this place will take its summer break a month after midsummer, which will coincide—accidentally, no doubt—with the English school holidays and stretch long into the autumn. Could we not have a shorter parliamentary break that coincided with the Scottish and the English school holidays? This would help Members with children, and it would also help all MPs to get round to some of the events in their constituencies.

Chris Grayling: Of course we will always seek to provide recess dates that work as well as possible for Members across the House. The hon. Gentleman talks about holidays, and every Member of Parliament deserves a holiday, but to allow the narrative to continue that

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says recesses are holidays does a disservice to the House. They provide the time that we all need to spend in our constituencies, working on our constituents’ behalf.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. Let us see whether, with extreme self-discipline, we can accommodate everyone by 12.15, at which point I would like to be able to move on.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the report on the failings at the Emstrey crematorium in Shrewsbury, where babies’ ashes were not returned to their bereaved parents, was published earlier this week. The report found that at least 60 families were believed to have been affected by these failings. May we have a debate on the failings at the Emstrey crematorium, and on the lessons that could be learned by local authorities to prevent such failings from happening again?

Chris Grayling: As I said a moment ago, this is an enormously sensitive and difficult issue that we need to treat with enormous care and respect for the families involved. The Government will respond to the report in due course, and it is really important that we get this right.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on when young boys in this country who are suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy can expect to have access to the drug Translarna? The drug is readily available across Europe, but its approval has been delayed in this country because of bureaucratic arguments within NHS England that are a direct result of the health service reforms. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health in the previous Government guaranteed to me and the parents that this matter would be speeded up, but it is still being held up today.

Chris Grayling: I know that this issue has already been raised with Ministers this week, and that they take Members’ views on it seriously. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are once again passed on to my colleagues in the Department of Health today.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): There is a troubling example of poor development in an area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the subject, and in particular whether there should be restrictions on the use of retrospective planning permissions in AONBs?

Chris Grayling: I am always concerned when I hear about planning going wrong in the way I suspect it has done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It may be most helpful to Ministers if he could produce a short summary of what has gone wrong and pass it to them. That will enable them to look at the regulations and see whether anything needs to be changed.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The House was at its best yesterday, but also at its worst in another degrading spectacle of Prime Minister’s Question Time, which was an exchange of insults and non-responses.

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May we debate early-day motion 51, which seeks to reinvent the format for Question Time so that it retains the robust questioning but is carried out in an atmosphere of calm and mutual respect?

[That this House is appalled at the demeaning and deteriorating spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions; notes the widely expressed public revulsion at this ill-mannered, pointless exchange of insults; and calls for its reinvention into a new format in which the Prime Minister can respond to questions in an atmosphere of calm, respect and dignity.]

Chris Grayling: One of the things that make this one of the great debating chambers of the world is that there are lively debates between the two sides. I would never condone insults across the House, but I think we would lose something in this Parliament if we did not have a vigorous and sometimes challenging debate of the kind that we see regularly.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The Queen’s Speech contained reference to a reduction in the subsidies for onshore wind turbines. This has caused some uncertainty among businesses serving my local community that deal with offshore wind. May we have an early statement to reassure them that there is no uncertainty about continuing subsidies for the offshore renewables sector?

Chris Grayling: I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. I know that the prime concerns of those on the Government Benches are to protect our countryside and ensure that onshore wind is handled sensitively. I shall ask my right hon. Friend to address the issues that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): I and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) have contacted the new Secretary of State for Energy to ask her to continue with the successful cross-party oil and gas promotion group, which had notable achievements in the previous Parliament. May I urge the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State and ask her as a matter of urgency to make a positive decision on this request?

Chris Grayling: I have noted the hon. Lady’s comments and I will make sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of her concern.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): My thoughts and those of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), are very much with those seriously injured at Alton Towers in Staffordshire. We would like to praise the community first responders, who were so quickly on the scene. May we have a debate about community first responders and in particular the issues surrounding markings on cars, which my right hon. Friend knows about, because they are causing great concern to my constituents and those of my hon. Friend?

Chris Grayling: I have been aware for a long time of the fine work done by first responders in my hon. Friend’s constituency. In a past role in opposition I made a number of visits to the Staffordshire ambulance service and learned about the work done by first responders.

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Clearly, this week was a moment when that work was enormously important. Our hearts go out to the young people affected in that tragic accident. We wish them all the very best for their recovery. I praise all those involved in the rescue efforts and hope all the lessons that can be learned are learned. I encourage my hon. Friend to use the Westminster Hall or the end of day Adjournment debates to find an opportunity to put on record the importance of the work done by first responders and to make sure that Ministers are aware of the issues to which he draws the attention of the House today. I am aware of them and believe they are very important.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): My 82-year-old constituent was refused a blue badge, despite having had one for the past 10 years and having a progressive condition. May we have an urgent statement on and a review of the blue badge guidance to stop this unfairness?

Chris Grayling: The blue badge guidance always has to be fairly tight in order to ensure that people cannot abuse the system. One of the things that we can all do as constituency Members of Parliament is challenge the local authorities when they get it wrong. I have done so in the past and I know that the hon. Lady will do so now to ensure that the right decision is taken.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that Thoresby colliery will close in July this year. Will he encourage the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to the Chamber to make a statement about the measures that will be put in place to assist the employees there in retraining and reskilling so that they can move on to jobs elsewhere?

Chris Grayling: Extensive support is now available across government for those unfortunate enough to be caught up when a business closes, be that support through Jobcentre Plus or the skills development work done in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in this House in a couple of weeks’ time. I encourage my hon. Friend not only to raise these issues then, but to go directly to the Department now to make sure that the teams there that can help in these matters are ready and available when the change comes.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Leader of the House’s views on human rights law and conventions are at least clear—he is against them. But could he clarify the Prime Minister’s view, which has moved this week from support for the European convention on human rights—reportedly—to now contemplating leaving it? In the absence of a Bill, may we have an early statement or debate so that we can explore the full range of the Tory party’s views on this matter?

Chris Grayling: The Conservative party’s policy on human rights has not changed since last October. What we do not know is where the Labour party stands, because it says it wants to defend the human rights legal framework as it is, yet on prisoner voting Labour Members will line up to say that they do not want to give votes to prisoners. Those two things are not compatible and Labour needs to decide where it stands, because at the moment it is all over the place.

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Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): In September 2014, the Conservatives gave a commitment that we would scrap the 15-year rule for British ex-pats so that these people could vote in elections. What progress has been made on that? What is the timetable for making sure it happens?

Chris Grayling: That is a clear manifesto commitment and we will deliver it at an early date. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact timetable, but I can assure him that it is in our plans and it will happen sooner rather than later.

Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House secure an urgent, early debate on the future of NHS walk-in centres, which were opened by a Labour Government and a quarter of which have been closed by this Government? The one in Jarrow is due to close, because of unaccountable management, and 27,000 people are going to be dumped on local GP surgeries that are already overburdened.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman has already had the opportunity this week to raise this matter, in Tuesday’s health debate. This Government have already increased spending on the health service and we are committed to spending a further £8 billion extra on it. We are, as yet, uncertain what his party’s policy is.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the flawed review of children’s heart services in the previous Parliament. Although much can be welcomed in the new review, access to units is still omitted from the standards, which is causing concern. May we have a statement or debate as soon as possible so we can ensure that the review is first rate this time?

Chris Grayling: First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on behalf of his constituency and West Yorkshire on this deeply sensitive matter. The concern he has shown is typical of the approach he has taken as a constituency MP and it is one of the reasons he was so successfully re-elected to this place. There will be many opportunities in the coming days to requisition debates so that Ministers come to address these issues, either in Westminster Hall or in this Chamber, and I suggest he take advantage of those.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): The Government announced a bus Bill to allow some local areas to re-franchise services. In Tyne and Wear, similar plans are already under way, but Ministers have consistently failed to back them. May we have a statement from the Department for Transport about what, if any, implications this planned legislation has on our existing proposals?

Chris Grayling: The bus Bill will be an important part of our devolution plans and we will be introducing it in the near future. The hon. Lady will have an opportunity in next Thursday’s Transport questions to raise the issue directly with the Secretary of State, and I am sure she will take advantage of that opportunity.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May we have a debate on the importance of local arts festivals? The forthcoming weekend sees the first ever Kett Fest, a spontaneous celebration of local arts, culture and music in the town of Kettering. Although supported by the

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relevant local authorities, it is—rightly—drawing on only a minimal level of public funding, and its success will be almost entirely due to the individual initiative, enthusiasm and endeavour of a large number of public-spirited individuals who are proud of the town in which they live.

Chris Grayling: I know that Kettering is a town with a very strong community spirit, and what my hon. Friend describes is this country at its best, with people coming forward to deliver change or events that really bring communities together. It is great to hear of such a good example and one that is not simply dependent on public finance to deliver real community togetherness.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Will the Leader of the House give consideration to a statement on submarine activity in the Irish sea that has already interfered with fishing efforts? The latest incident took place on 15 April, when the boat and fishing gear of one of my constituents was destroyed.

Chris Grayling: I do understand the concerns about this matter, including in the fishing community. There will be Defence questions on Monday, and the hon. Lady will have the opportunity in topical questions to raise this issue then, should she choose to do so. Of course, she will have other such opportunities this summer.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): One unintended consequence of the general election is that we have a gap in our Question Times, as there is now no need for Deputy Prime Minister’s questions. One very talented Minister, who has a lot to do with the running of this House, has been sitting silently on the Front Bench. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on instituting a Question Time in future for the Chief Whip? We could then ask him how he united the Conservative party on Europe, how he got every single Conservative Member through the Lobby and how he has had no rebellions.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the Chief Whip, who has made a brilliant start in his job. I would, however, have been slightly worried if he had had a rebellion in his first vote. There is a long tradition in this House, only occasionally broken, of Chief Whips simply getting the job done, rather than advertising what they are doing. I suspect that my right hon. Friend will prefer to keep things that way rather than change the practice of the Chief Whip remaining a silent participant in the House.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House now answer the points made by the shadow Leader of the House on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill? A great many Members, on both sides of the House, from Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Hull wanted to speak in yesterday’s oversubscribed debate on devolution to the cities and regions in England. There is clearly a great demand here, and it is doing this House a disservice to start the Bill in the other place.

Chris Grayling: First, it may be appropriate to wish the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday. May I point out to him that there is an Opposition day next week, and

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the subject of that debate has not been announced yet? A couple of Opposition Members have expressed an interest in discussing the issues he raises, so there is an ideal opportunity for them and they should speak to the shadow Leader of the House.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Later this month, the Government will receive a report from the Electoral Commission on the completeness of the electoral registers, in preparation for full implementation of individual electoral registration. May we have a report, and a debate in this House, on that very subject?

Chris Grayling: I believe the new approach to electoral registration has been absolutely the right thing to do. We are a society and a democracy that prides itself on being clean and free from fraud, but that has not always been the case in recent years. The reform takes us a step nearer having a fraud-free system. The House will of course have the chance to study the Electoral Commission’s report when it is published, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issues when he chooses to do so.

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Debate on the Address

[6th Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 3 June).

Question again proposed,

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

Most Gracious Sovereign,

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

The Economy

Mr Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected amendment (e) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and amendments (a) and (b), which will be moved formally at the end of the debate.

I should advise the House that 53 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye in the debate and I am sorry to say that inevitably some will be disappointed. Depending on the length of the Front-Bench speeches, I will make a judgment on how exacting the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will need to be. We need to hear and probably will hear fully from the shadow Chancellor and the Chancellor, treating all the issues, but if they feel able to tailor their contributions in a utilitarian spirit to minimise unhappiness and to maximise their colleagues’ happiness, they will, I think, be widely applauded.

12.20 pm

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:

“but regret that the Gracious Speech fails to provide a strategy to build the productive economy that the country needs; note that a fragile recovery and stagnating productivity harms living standards and makes it harder to reduce the deficit; believe that every effort should now be concentrated on supporting middle- and lower-income working people; further note that the Gracious Speech is a missed opportunity to tackle the principal causes of rising welfare costs that flow from a low wage, high rent economy; further believe in the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK as the best mechanism for delivering social and economic change; urge the Government to pursue sensible savings in public expenditure as part of a balanced approach and not an ideologically-driven attempt to shrink public services beyond what is needed to address the deficit; and call upon Ministers to spell out where their cuts will fall and who will pay for their unfunded election pledges.”

I welcome the Chancellor to his place. Very few people serve two full terms as Chancellor and I am sure that the whole country will be grateful that he does not plan to do so either. Although he might have his eye on another job, I congratulate him on his reappointment to this one. Of course, we should not ignore the fact that he has a fancy new title to illustrate his role in the EU renegotiation process. He is now the First Secretary of State, no less, following in the footsteps of John Prescott and Peter Mandelson. Let us hope that his ministerial counterparts are suitably impressed.

The Chancellor must now deliver negotiations with other member states to convince the public to opt decisively for Britain to remain a member of the European

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Union. It is important to secure stronger rules so that welfare payments go only to those who have contributed to our system, but in my view we also need greater devolution from Brussels, an overhaul of the EU budget and far greater accountability of the main institutions of the European Union, which still feel too distant and out of touch. It is also essential that he agrees that we need a comprehensive independent risk analysis of Britain leaving the European Union. It needs to be carried out by the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility and it needs to be published in ample time for the public to consider it in full before the referendum.

Although this is not the Queen’s Speech that I wanted the House to be debating, I reassure everybody and remind the Chancellor that we will be a vigilant and responsible Opposition, watching closely the choices he still has to make and holding him to account at every step.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The shadow Chancellor talks about being a responsible Opposition. In the spirit of responsible opposition, will he admit the errors in his previous economic policy, in which he predicted that unemployment would rise and that we would have no growth? He was comprehensively proved wrong in the election. Has he had time to reflect on how he might recalibrate his economic message?

Chris Leslie: I have had plenty of time to reflect on the result of the general election. Obviously, we are disappointed with it and we will review our policies accordingly, but it is now our job to ask questions and scrutinise what the hon. Gentleman and those on his Front Bench plan to do. I shall come shortly to my observations about that.

Let us not neglect the subject at hand, which is the Queen’s Speech. The headlines have, of course, now been spun and the rhetoric from Ministers has started. They are trying in vain to make all the right noises about fairness and even a one nation Government, but let us pause for a moment, walk through the measures in the Queen’s Speech and cut through the spin.

The tax-free minimum wage for those working 30 hours sounds fine until we realise that it is already tax free. The real question is why there is no action in the Queen’s Speech for the low paid, such as incentives for a living wage, which even the Mayor of London supports. I do not know whether he is in his place, but perhaps he will join us later.

As for the rest of the spin, the household benefit cap, although it is necessary, is only a drop in the ocean of the overall welfare bill, saving less than one 10th of 1%, and is a total distraction from the root cause of escalating welfare costs for the taxpayer in recent years, the low-wage nature of our economy.

What about devolution to a northern powerhouse? If it is genuine, that is all well and good, but local communities have heard these promises before and they know that when the Chancellor talks about devolution it is usually code for shifting the consequence of cuts and not the power to deliver services.

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Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): At a meeting of the leaders of northern cities on Monday, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council, who has many years of experience, said that the north is working together better than it ever has before. Does that not show that the northern economic powerhouse is a reality and that it is working?

Chris Leslie: The clue was at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Labour leaders do work well together in local government, and when we hear the Chancellor’s response to this debate they might find that there are a few surprises and a hidden agenda with a bit of a sting in the tail for them over the next few months.

What about the rest of the spin in the Queen’s Speech, such as extending the right to buy? Everyone is in favour of home ownership, of course, but the scheme proposed by Ministers is so badly thought through, throwing housing associations into chaos, that even the Mayor of London—for it is he—has called it the “height of insanity”.

There was a further piece of spin, of course: a tax lock designed purely to stop the Chancellor raising VAT again. Do not get me wrong, we welcome any effort by the Chancellor to legislate against his own record and his own worst instincts, but this legislation does nothing more than prove that he does not even trust himself on tax. Of course, it does not give any guarantees about other stealth tax rises elsewhere, nor does it prevent him from acting on his other instinct of always prioritising tax cuts for the very richest over those for those on middle and low incomes—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are all shouting from the Back Benches, but the Chancellor’s eyes are down on his notes. Is the Chancellor planning to cut that top rate of tax from 45p on earnings of more than £150,000? I will give way to the Chancellor if he can clarify for us whether that is his plan. Will he cut that rate of 45p for those earning £150,000, or not?

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con) rose

Chris Leslie: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman knows the answer.

Graham Evans: Why in 13 years of the Labour Government did they not increase the top rate from 40p to 50p?

Chris Leslie: We have heard those arguments. I was asking the Government whether they plan to cut the top rate of tax of earnings of £150,000 from 45p, and perhaps down to 40p, and there is silence from the Government Benches and from the Chancellor. Perhaps he will come to that later in his speech.

The Queen’s Speech was high on rhetoric but was in reality the usual combination of diversion and distraction. As ever with this Chancellor, there is more than meets the eye. All the rhetoric is just the tip of a Tory iceberg, with 90% of their real agenda hidden below the surface, still invisible from public view. That agenda will not even be partly revealed until the emergency Budget on 8 July. Until then, serious questions remain unanswered about what drives the Government, and in what direction.

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The trajectory of overall cuts set out in the March Budget goes beyond what is needed to eradicate the deficit by the end of the Parliament. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Queen’s Speech still leaves us totally in the dark about more than 85% of the Chancellor’s planned £12 billion of welfare cuts. Just this morning, the IFS criticised the Government for giving a

“misleading impression of what departmental spending in many areas will look like”.

Frankly, there is growing disbelief across the country that the Chancellor can protect those in greatest need while keeping his promises to the electorate on child benefit and disability benefits. My hon. Friends will not have failed to spot during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday how the Prime Minister, when challenged by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on the question of disability benefits, digressed into all sorts of reminiscences about the campaign trail and how much fun it was going to various meetings. The Prime Minister promised that

“the most disabled should always be protected”

and I will be looking to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to keep the Prime Minister’s promises. The Government might have secured a majority, but they did not secure a mandate for specific cuts to departments or services because those were never explained or set out before the election. Nor have we ever had an explanation of how they will pay for their multi-billion pound pledges on tax and services or, crucially, for the NHS.

The Opposition agree with yesterday’s OECD assessment that a fair approach is the right one to take—sensible savings and protection for those on middle and lower incomes. Cuts that decimate public services would be too big a price to pay, especially as they may even result in higher costs in the longer term. We also heard how 8,000 nurse training places were cut in 2010. The use of agency nurses then proliferated to fill the gap. Is it any wonder, therefore, that NHS trusts now face a deficit of about £2 billion? Part of the reason the deficit is so big is that productivity has been so poor. Britain has the second lowest productivity in the G7, and output per worker is still lower than in 2010. This should have been at the top of the Chancellor’s agenda throughout the last Parliament, but he did not even mention it in his last Budget speech. For the Tories, it seems that productivity just springs magically if the Government just get out of the way, unrelated to any fiscal or policy choices that they make.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): The shadow Chancellor will know that many pundits have been looking at that productivity puzzle. The Treasury Committee has examined it for the past five years. If the Governor of the Bank of England, economists and everyone else does not understand that productivity conundrum, will he share with us where he thinks the lack of productivity comes from?

Chris Leslie: I will come to that in a moment. The hon. Gentleman must also be staggered that the Chancellor did not even mention it in his Budget speech. That was an omission that the Chancellor needs to correct. We take a different view of where productivity comes from because, for us, it depends in part on having decent infrastructure and public services—motorways that flow

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freely and trains that commuters can actually get on, tax offices answering business queries efficiently rather than keeping companies’ staff waiting on hold, employees who are off sick able to get treated swiftly in a decent NHS, an education system that supports a work force and provides training in high-quality skills. Each of these is crucial for our future economic productivity, and each depends on the Chancellor making the right fiscal choices for this Parliament.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend push the Chancellor a little harder on productivity? The recent report from the Chartered Management Institute said that management and skills were at the heart of productivity. The Government have not tackled those, and a culture has grown up in which even when managers fail to meet targets they still get their bonus.

Chris Leslie: My hon. Friend makes a good point. According to the OBR, if productivity growth per worker was closer to 4%, our national debt would be £350 billion lower by the end of this Parliament. There is a connection between the choices that are made in fiscal policy and the productive nature of our economy.

The OECD confirmed just yesterday in a sobering reality check for the Chancellor that continued weak productivity could lead to a higher than expected budget deficit, and he should listen to the OECD.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The shadow Chancellor rightly says that infrastructure is important. On the day when, by coincidence, the Crossrail tunnel is completed, will he not bring himself to recognise that, even at times of great public spending restraint, the last Government continued and, I am sure, this Government will continue with essential infrastructure spending on rail and roads, which lays the foundations for future long-term prosperity, but is difficult to do if the Government run up an unsustainable deficit?

Chris Leslie: The civil service used to have a phrase for things like this. It was a brave decision of the right hon. Gentleman to defend his Government’s record on infrastructure. Many projects that were started under the previous Government have still not been completed. Would it not be better if we rose above party political picking out of which infrastructure project should proceed and tried to have a more mature debate about how we plan infrastructure in this country?

The Chancellor knows that Sir John Armitt’s report on infrastructure was widely received across the business community and that all sorts of parties wanted to find an independent approach to infrastructure planning. I still believe that that would be a better, more grown up way to plan for infrastructure.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Why did the Labour party announce in its manifesto that it would put on hold the dualling of the A359, which is very important to delivering good transport links to the west country and my constituency?

Chris Leslie: Of course individual choices have to be made, but it would be better if they were made on the basis of need and evidence, not simply on whether the hon. Gentleman has the ear of a particular Minister at

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a particular point in time. That is the old way to plan infrastructure, and he knows in his heart that we should reform it.

The choices that the Chancellor makes in the emergency Budget in July will be crucial for productivity and therefore crucial to the health of the economy and public finances. I want to know whether the Chancellor will set out a sensible approach to deficit reduction by prioritising the areas of public spending that raise productivity. Why do we not ask the OBR to report on how the options for the spending review might impact on productivity and living standards and to set out the impact of the different choices that the Chancellor could make? He will have our support if he wants it to do that work. As the OECD suggested yesterday, the uneven profile of his planned fiscal pathway poses real risks, and higher productivity would give greater scope to protect working families, while still balancing the books. So these are the choices that he must confront. Is he still planning to double the pace of cuts, regardless of the impact on productivity, or is he now planning to moderate that pathway? The Chancellor has wiggle room here, even within his own fiscal rules.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making an excellent speech. I want to follow up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). According to the CMI report, leadership and management are a key issue for this country, and we have seen nothing in government strategy on that issue. How much does my hon. Friend think that that should also be part of our review of why we have such problems with productivity in this country?

Chris Leslie: This is at the heart of the Chancellor’s policy choices. Is he looking not just at how much but how spending is taking place? He can choose to ensure that where spending has to be prioritised decisions lean towards supporting growth and productivity and the skills that will in turn get us into that more virtuous cycle.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Leslie: I will give way in a moment. Not to take a reasonable and measured approach, when the Chancellor clearly has scope to do so, would suggest that he is influenced much more by Conservative ideology than by economic judgment. That is what it always comes down to with this Chancellor. Is he focusing on securing the long-term needs of the economy or on securing his own long-term future; is he focusing on the country or on his Back Benchers; is he focusing on his current job or on a future one?

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Does the shadow Chancellor agree that the best way to drive productivity is to increase competition and that 800,000 new businesses created in the last Parliament will drive productivity in this country?

Chris Leslie: Of course competition is essential, but so are important public services that support businesses

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and enable them to optimise the outputs from the inputs to the production process. That is the crucial point that we have to focus on.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the issues with productivity is that we have become obsessed with mergers and acquisitions for short-term profitability, rather than allowing industry to invest for the longer term as economies such as Germany have been doing?

Chris Leslie: Long-term investment, especially production process technology and business investment, is crucial, which is why the stop-start approach of recent years from the Treasury has seen us underperform in business investment into the productive economy. It is essential.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Governments should try to encourage increased productivity in the private sector, but it is down to business confidence and reinvestment decisions. Although business confidence is now the highest it has been since 1992, investment dropped off in the run-up to the general election, because business was scared that there would be a hard-left socialist Government.

Chris Leslie: I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to make his political points, but I think we have a duty to ensure that we examine far more forensically the drivers of economic productivity and the growth that will help us to repair the public finances more successfully. That is the agenda we have to follow.

These are serious times, and we needed a serious Queen’s Speech agenda to address Britain’s long-term economic challenges. We should not forget that progress in our economy is still fragile and the recovery is still too constrained. The economy remains fraught with pressures, which have been heaped on the shoulders of many working people. For example, the number of people who have to work a second job in order to get by has increased dramatically in recent years, and a record number of pensioners are returning to the labour market. Indeed, the number of over-65s in employment has increased by more than 8% over the past year alone. The Office for National Statistics says that our share of high-skilled jobs is falling. The Government’s vision for Britain is one of a low-wage, bargain-basement economy. That is not the vision of a party for working people.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully, but he has said very little about job creation under the previous Government. Will he take this opportunity to recognise that we now have record numbers of people in work in this country, which contrasts with the fact that no Labour Government, from the time they came into power to the time they left, have ever managed to bring down unemployment?

Chris Leslie: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the ONS report published yesterday, but it shows that we are losing high-skilled employment in this country and that gradually it is being replaced with low-skilled employment, which is a real worry. We need to ensure that we compete in the world on the basis of a high-skilled, virtuous cycle. I think that he would be complacent if he ignored what is happening in our economy.

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Christopher Pincher rose

Chris Leslie: I cannot remember whether I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already but, given that he is being so polite and persistent, I will give way one last time to him.

Christopher Pincher: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He likes to give the impression that sweetness and light always surround him, but he might like to look behind him occasionally. He must recognise that no one will take his talk about deficit reduction seriously when sitting behind him is his former leader, who less than a month ago said that the previous Labour Government did not spend too much.

Chris Leslie: When it comes to deficit reduction, let us never forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to eradicate the deficit by the end of the previous Parliament. We have passed that deadline, so he has broken that promise. He should put his hands up and admit that, when it came to his promise on the deficit, he failed.

We now need focus to address our economic challenges, not a Chancellor distracted by his own political ambition. We need a concerted drive to boost productivity; a balanced recovery reaching all corners of the country, with no sector left behind; a meaningful effort to tackle the root causes of higher welfare costs, low pay and insecure working conditions; a guarantee that any scope for tax cuts should be focused entirely on middle and lower earners; and a commitment to reject an ideological drive to shrink public investment. That is the approach Britain needs. That would be a genuinely one-nation approach.

Instead, we had a Queen’s Speech that focused on short-term political headlines, rather than long-term economic gain. It was designed to lay political traps for the Chancellor’s opponents as part of a grand political chess game, rather than to focus on productivity and balanced growth. This obsession with short-term, narrow political gain is the Chancellor’s curse. He is the Chancellor for whom productivity means kicking the Home Secretary off her Cabinet Committees. He is the Chancellor for whom a long-term plan means a move next door. He is sticking with the family business and measuring up the wallpaper for No. 10 already. That is his real agenda. Cold and calculating, he is the iceberg Chancellor, with hidden dangers beneath the surface. He is putting productivity and public services are risk, prioritising the very richest above those on middle and lower incomes, pitting one nation against another. Britain did not vote for a hidden agenda. I urge the Chancellor to put the ambitions of Britain above his own.

12.45 pm

The First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): I rise on the last day of the Queen’s Speech debate to support a programme for government that stands full square behind the working people of this country. It unashamedly backs the aspiration of working people to own their own home. It unflinchingly supports the businesses, especially the small firms, that provide the jobs that working people depend on. It unfailingly stands on the side of parents who want what every parent wants for their child: good education in a

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great school. It understands that the best way to support the incomes of working people is to let them keep more of their income tax-free. Our programme for government is unwavering in its determination to deliver sound public finances and the economic security that they bring for working people, because without that security nothing else is possible. We were elected as a party for the working people, and we will govern as a Government for the working people.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Osborne: I will give way in a moment, but let me first make some progress.

Of course, this is the day we vote on the Queen’s Speech, deciding whether the legislative programme it proposes should proceed into law. We were told four weeks ago by the pollsters and pundits that this day would be one of great constitutional drama. Would the party leader who managed to cobble together enough votes in a hung Parliament manage to survive the test of the vote tonight? As always, we are taking nothing for granted, but I am reasonably confident that we will have the votes tonight, because what the pollsters and pundits did not reckon on was the good sense of the British people, who did not want to put at risk everything that has been achieved over the past five years and who want to continue with a long-term economic plan that is working for this country.

Let me say—I mean this sincerely—that it is very good to see the former leader of the Labour party here today. I think that he earns everyone’s respect by coming to the House so soon after the election defeat, and I understand that he wants to take part in the debate. Despite the fierce arguments of the general election, I do not think that anyone ever doubted his personal integrity or the conviction with which he made his arguments. It is good to see him back in the Chamber.

Let me also put on the record my thanks to the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the former Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, who lost his seat at the election, with whom I worked incredibly closely. He gave great public service to this country. Of course, that is not to say that I am sorry to have a Conservative Chief Secretary. It is fantastic to have my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) in that role, along with the new members of the Treasury team.

The measures set out in the Queen’s Speech represent the next stages of our long-term economic plan, because we on the Government side of the House know that the job of repairing the British economy is not yet done, and that the work of preparing our country for the future has only just started.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Does support for hard-working people include sanctioning those who are in work but on low wages and in receipt of tax credits?

Mr Osborne: If the hon. Lady is talking about benefit sanctions, I think that it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are capable of work to turn up to job interviews and to make sure that they are doing everything possible to look for work. We support them while they are doing that, but the taxpayers of this country expect them to search for work.

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The economic situation at the beginning of this Parliament is vastly better than the one we inherited at the start of the last Parliament. Back then, debt was soaring; today, it is projected this year to fall as a share of our national income. Back then, millions were looking for work; today, 2 million new jobs have been created. Back then, we were in the grip of an economic crisis; this week, the latest forecast is that the UK will be the fastest growing of any of the G7 economies—not just in 2014, but now in 2015 as well. That we have come so far in five years is a testament to the effort of the working people of Britain.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): One of the myths that the Conservatives have been very successful with—I credit them for it—is the suggestion that debt soared under the last Labour Government from 1997 onwards. However, according to the House of Commons Library, debt in 1997 was higher than it was in 2007-08, just before the banking crisis hit. Yes or no?

Mr Osborne: The idea that the last Labour Government did not leave the country with a debt crisis is laughable. The fact that the Labour party is starting this Parliament making the same argument that it made in the last one shows how much it needs to learn and listen.

Clive Efford rose—

Mr Osborne: I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Mr Speaker: Order. We deal with these matters in an orderly and sequential manner. The Chancellor is seeking to respond to the intervention; the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) can always try his luck again in a moment. Ministers should not be hectored in these circumstances. Let the Chancellor reply first.

Mr Osborne: The point I make to the hon. Gentleman is that national debt started rising in the very first years of the beginning of this century—in 2001 and 2002. It rose through the boom years, when the Labour Government should have been paying down the debt and should not have been running a deficit. One of the things on which the various leaders of the Labour party all seem to agree at the moment is that the deficit was too high going into the crash.

Clive Efford rose—

Mr Osborne: I do not know who the hon. Gentleman is going to vote for in the Labour leadership contest; the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) may be the one person still sticking with the line that he is pursuing.

Clive Efford rose—

Mr Osborne: I think I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Mark Garnier: The subject of debt is incredibly important, but debt is not just national; there is household debt as well. Does the Chancellor agree that the £1 trillion rise in household debt between 1997 and 2008, taking it

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up to £1.47 trillion, was one of the most pernicious acts of the Labour Government? It damaged households immeasurably and is the biggest crisis that we have to deal with.

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was no institution looking at overall debt levels in our country.

Clive Efford: Make it up as you go along!

Mr Speaker: Order. If the Chancellor wants to give way, he will, and if he does not, he will not. A Member should not continue to stand in an attempt to intimidate a Minister or anybody else into giving way. [Interruption.] Order. A Member should not continue to stand as if their intervention was inevitable. Seriously, that is an established point of parliamentary procedure. The hon. Member for Eltham can have a go, but if the intervention is not accepted, he will have to resume his seat.

Clive Efford: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the record, I want to apologise—I did not want to intimidate the Chancellor.

Mr Speaker: Whether the hon. Gentleman wanted to or not, I am happy to concede that he was not doing so.

Mr Osborne: I am not feeling particularly intimidated by the hon. Gentleman because he is spouting the same old anti-aspiration, anti-sound public finances nonsense that we have heard from the Opposition for the past five years.

Let me make progress and come to the central point. We have to tackle the endemic weaknesses in the British economy that no Government have been able to solve in the past: we are not productive enough and we do not export enough, save enough, train enough or build enough.

Graham Evans rose—

Mr Osborne: Let me make a little progress before I give way to my hon. Friend. We do not see enough of the prosperity and opportunity produced by our economy shared across all parts of our United Kingdom. The Queen’s Speech addresses those weaknesses head on. The housing Bill will ensure that more new homes are built and that tenants of housing associations get the opportunity to buy their own homes.

Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): A disgrace!

Mr Osborne: But it is anti-aspiration to deny working people in housing associations the right to buy their own homes. That will be an early, key test of whether the Labour party has learned anything from its massive election defeat.

The enterprise Bill supports the small businesses that are the productive engine of the modern economy. The High Speed 2 Bill commits us to the vital modern transport infrastructure that we need. The Childcare Bill supports the working parents—especially the working mothers—who have never had the backing that matches their contribution to our economy. The full employment and welfare Bill delivers the 3 million apprenticeships and creates the work incentives in our welfare system so that every citizen who can work is able to.

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Yesterday, we discovered that the UK had climbed up the global employment league table, overtaking Canada to have the third highest employment rate of any of the major advanced economies in the world, on the path to full employment that we have set out. There is the promise of further devolution, delivered in the legislation, to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Then there is the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which helps to dismantle the failed model that says that we have to run the entire country from the centre of London. Instead, it empowers our great cities across England and adds to the foundations of the northern powerhouse that we are building.

That is the agenda that we offer—full of ambition, brimming with ideas, not afraid of the future but excited about what it can bring. What of the alternative? The Labour party has taken the unusual approach of erecting the headstone first and then conducting the post-mortem. What conclusion has it reached? The shadow Chancellor just said that this is not the Queen’s Speech that he would have wanted. The Queen’s Speech that he does want is not entirely clear. He said that Labour’s economic policy was not credible; that its spending policy meant that it spent too much; that its tax policy was punitive and, in his word, “crude”; that its housing and rent policy was unworkable; that its energy policy meant higher energy bills; that its European policy was anti-democratic; and that its business policy was anti-business. Other than that, it was all okay!

Chris Leslie rose—

Mr Osborne: I will give way, but I should properly welcome the hon. Gentleman, along with the rest of his shadow Treasury team. One of the great pleasures of doing this job has been the opportunity to work with four different shadow Chancellors. I wish the hon. Gentleman the same success as his predecessors enjoyed.

Chris Leslie: Very funny. I asked the Chancellor about an issue of substance—whether he is planning to cut the 45p rate of tax on earnings of £150,000. Is he able to rule that out as unfair and inappropriate?

Mr Osborne: There was a very good intervention which pointed out that there was a 40p rate for almost the entire period of Labour government. But let me say this. My tax priorities are clear: to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000. Those are my priorities and they will be reflected in the Budgets presented from this Dispatch Box.

The shadow Chancellor is a thoughtful man. Last weekend, he gave an interview to The Guardian, in which he tried to pinpoint what went wrong. This was his conclusion:

“It’s the Which? magazine strata of society that somehow we just didn’t understand”.

To be honest, I would stop worrying about Which? magazine and start focusing on which leader. There are four members of the Labour Treasury team. Three have backed different potential Labour leaders and the shadow Chancellor has led from the front by deciding that he is not going to back anyone at all. The truth is that it does not matter which of the leaders they pick—none of them understands the aspirations of working people because, in the devastating words of the right hon.

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Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), Labour has become the “anti-worker” party. That is what she said. That is a quote that I suspect we will hear again in this Chamber in the coming years.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) rose—

Mr Osborne: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Labour party is the anti-worker party?

Bill Esterson: The Chancellor has talked about his priorities. May I ask him about his priorities for the £12 billion of unfunded spending cuts? Will he confirm today what the Prime Minister refused to confirm yesterday? Will he be cutting benefits for people with disabilities—yes or no?

Mr Osborne: As the Prime Minister made very clear yesterday, we will follow the principles that we followed in the previous Parliament, when we protected the most vulnerable in our society and actually increased the amount we were able to give to the most disabled in our country. In every single intervention about economic policy today, in the different debates we have had since the Queen’s Speech, and at Prime Minister’s questions, Labour Members have demanded more public spending, complained about a public expenditure cut, or implied that there should be higher welfare bills. That is what we have heard about over the past few days—more spending and higher welfare bills that can be paid for only by more borrowing and higher taxes on the working people of this country. That would undermine the security that we have restored to our economy.

Graham Evans rose—

Mr Osborne: I now give way to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour.

Graham Evans: I wonder whether the Chancellor is aware that, as I speak, IBM is signing a multimillion-pound contract in my constituency of Weaver Vale on high-speed computing, in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council at Sci-Tech Daresbury—the enterprise zone. Does he agree that this has happened only because of our long-term economic plan for reducing the deficit and cutting taxes, that the British people know that only the Conservatives are the party of business, and that the whole world knows that Britain is open for business?

Mr Osborne: Let me say how fantastic it is to see my hon. Friend back in his place, because he has fought so hard for his constituency in delivering the Mersey Gateway bridge, the rail improvements in his constituency, and, as he mentioned, the major investments in science at Daresbury, including in high-performance computing. Today’s announcement from IBM shows what happens if we get our science and technology policy right as a country—we attract investment from all over the world.

Mr Sheerman: Can I ask the Chancellor about—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here for 36 years, and he ought to know that you do not pose the question before permission to make the

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intervention has been granted. I think the Chancellor has acceded to the intervention; let us now hear what it is.

Mr Sheerman: The right hon. Gentleman knows that I try to play fair in these things, but on his question about my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), I think a sense of humility is needed in this Chamber today. The Tory party has just got 30% of the popular vote; the Labour party got 31%. A hell of a lot of people in this country did not vote Conservative and did not vote Labour, and if we are not looking at why we do not enthuse the people, we are not doing our job.

Mr Osborne: I could not tell whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford that the Labour party is the anti-worker party—but we will find out.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con) rose—

Mr Osborne: Actually, I would much rather give way to the new Member for Taunton.

Rebecca Pow: This Government are committed to infrastructure investment to benefit business. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the Labour party, in its manifesto, was going to axe the upgrade of the A358, not realising that linked to that upgrade is the development of a new IT business park in Taunton on which depend many jobs and the future of our economy. The Conservative party understands that this is to benefit business; clearly the Labour party does not.

Mr Osborne: It is fantastic to see my hon. Friend here representing Taunton. She has already made an impact and made sure that the A358 is absolutely in the Government’s road programme. For all that we heard from the shadow Chancellor about investment and the like, the Labour party announced during the general election that it was cancelling the A358, and indeed the A20, which showed that it did not care about the south of England at all, or about investment in the south-west of England. That is pretty astonishing.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Chancellor will of course be aware that Scotland rejected the cuts agenda—the austerity cult that he is the high priest of—and we now have 56 out of 59 MPs. I see from the front page of today’s Financial Times that the OECD agrees with the SNP on spending and says that his cuts agenda is a danger to the economy of the UK. Will he take some economic lessons from the SNP and perhaps improve the performance of this Government?

Mr Osborne: If we had listened to the SNP there would be a massive hole in Scotland’s public finances because of the price of oil. We are obviously going to be hearing a lot more from SNP Members in this Parliament because of their numbers. If there are cuts that they oppose, let me point out that the Scottish National party in Holyrood has the power to increase taxes to increase spending. It has the power to increase income

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tax already and it is getting more powers next year to do so. When it comes to complaints about public expenditure, it is time for the SNP to put up or shut up.

Let me turn to economic security and public spending. Economic security is at the heart of everything. Without economic security, families cannot be supported, people cannot buy homes, businesses dare not invest, and jobs are not created. Without economic security, there are no aspirations, no opportunities, no hopes, and no ambitions. We cannot have economic security in a country that borrows too much and spends too much and does not live within its means. When confronted with the synthetic cries of Labour Members who claim to be standing up for the poorest in our country, let us also recognise this: the people who suffer most when Britain cannot pay its way, spends more than it can afford and sees security give way to instability are not the richest in this country but the poorest. When the economy fails, it is the poorest who lose their jobs and see their incomes cut and their dreams shattered. That is what we saw five years ago when there was no money left. For as long as Labour Members fail to understand that, they will remain the anti-worker party.

Economic security is at the heart of everything we offer, and it will be at the centre of the Budget I present to this House on 8 July. The budget deficit is less than half what it was, but at 4.8% it is still one of the highest in the world. Our national debt as a share of national income—

Luke Hall (Thornbury and Yate) (Con) rose—

Mr Osborne: I will give way to my hon. Friend and then make some progress because I know that lots of people want to give their maiden speeches.

Luke Hall: In Thornbury and Yate unemployment has fallen by 59% since 2010. May I urge the Chancellor to stick to the long-term economic plan and ignore the siren calls from Labour Members?

Mr Osborne: I absolutely will do that. I remember my visit with my hon. Friend to his constituency to meet some of the small businesses on the high street who depend on the people in this House delivering economic security and stability for this country, and that is what we are determined to do.

The global economy is full of risks at present. We should be redoubling our efforts to prepare Britain for whatever the world throws at us in the coming years, not easing off. The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. So in the Budget and in the spending review that follows, we will take the necessary steps to eliminate the deficit and run the surplus required in good times to bring debt sustainably down. That is what we promised in the election, and it is what we aim to deliver in government. I am not going to pretend to the House that these will be easy decisions, but nor will I pretend to the public that we can avoid taking them—we cannot. We have a structural budget deficit—we spend more than we collect in taxes—and that is not going to be fixed by economic growth alone. We have to bring spending down so that our country lives within its means.

As with any challenge, the sooner you get on with it, the better, and that is what we do today. Over the past five years we have brought a culture of good housekeeping to Whitehall. In every year of the previous Parliament—

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Debbie Abrahams rose—

Mr Osborne: I will make a little progress, if the hon. Lady does not mind. As I say, lots of Members want to get in on this debate later.

In every year of the previous Parliament, Government Departments kept their spending not just within budget but well under budget. Outside key protected areas like the national health service, those budgets have been reduced year on year to more sustainable levels. At the start of this Parliament, it is important that we continue to control spending in the same vein. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the new Chief Secretary asked Government Departments to seek further savings beyond the £13 billion of savings that they are already delivering this year. I can report today that together we have got straight back to the task in hand. We have found a further £4.5 billion of savings that we can make to the Government budget this year, including sensible asset sales. Some £3 billion of these extra savings come from finding more efficiency in Whitehall Departments and from the good housekeeping of coming in under budget. The breakdown per Department is being published by the Treasury today.

There is another component to this: I am today announcing that the Government will begin selling the remaining 30% shareholding we have in Royal Mail. It is the right thing to do for Royal Mail, for the businesses and families who depend on it, and, crucially, for the taxpayer. That business is now thriving after we gave it access to investment from the private sector in the last Parliament. There is no reason we should continue to hold a minority stake. That stake is worth about £1.5 billion at current market prices.

Of course, share prices fluctuate and the final value will depend on market conditions at the point of sale. We will sell our stake only when we can be sure that we are getting value for money, but let us be clear: holding over £1 billion of Royal Mail shares in public hands is not a sensible use of taxpayers’ money. By selling it, we help that important national business to prosper and invest in the future, while we use the money we get to pay down the national debt and pay less interest on that debt as a result. It is a double win for the taxpayer, for we on this side never forget that it is not our money or the Government’s money; it is the money that people work for and pay in taxes, and entrust to us to spend wisely.

Chris Leslie: I warned in my earlier remarks about the Chancellor’s hidden agenda. Before he went into the section on Royal Mail, I think I heard him announce upwards of £4.5 billion or more of in-year cuts to public services. [Hon. Members: “Savings!”] I think he called it “good housekeeping”. He announced in-year savings of that magnitude without coming to the House to give an oral statement or publishing them for the House, so that we can scrutinise what he has just announced. It sounds to me as though any semblance of a long-term plan has been totally ripped up, and that there is panic in the Treasury and chaos, with in-year public spending decisions being taken. Why did he not announce those in the March Budget if they were part of some sort of long-term continuum? Has he suddenly decided rapidly to change his course when it comes to public expenditure? And why do it in such a shabby way?

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Mr Osborne: Only the Labour party would think it shabby to make an announcement first in the House of Commons.

Chris Leslie rose—

Mr Osborne: The shadow Chancellor can sit down.

We set out two weeks ago that we were going to find further efficiencies and savings in Government, and that is what we deliver today.

Chris Leslie: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is the usual convention, if there are significant changes to the estimates and supply that support public services, that the documentation and details for every single Department are laid before the House of Commons, so that all Members can be informed of what is happening with our public services within a financial year. This is ripping up any semblance of long-term continuity, and it is a shabby way to treat Parliament and the public services.

Mr Speaker: The shadow Chancellor has spoken, but this is not a matter with which the Chair needs to deal. He has made his point and it is on the record, but the Chancellor will now continue.

Mr Osborne: We made this announcement to the House of Commons, and the detail is there for people to examine. There will be estimates debates as usual, but there is a very simple question: does the Labour party support further savings in public expenditure? If it does not, that means the Labour party wants to increase borrowing, increase taxes and take this country back to square one and repeat all the mistakes it carried out in office—and, indeed, repeat all the political mistakes that meant it went down to a historic election defeat just a month ago.

Chris Leslie rose—

Mr Osborne: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman. He will have his opportunity.

Further savings in Departments this year, selling our stake in Royal Mail, getting on with what we promised, and reducing the deficit—that is how to deliver lasting economic security for working people, for as everyone knows, when it comes to living within your means, the sooner you start, the smoother the ride.

We continue today to deliver on our long-term economic plan. The measures in this Queen’s Speech back aspiration and opportunity, but they rest on the bedrock of economic security that our plan has delivered and continues to deliver. We have taken further steps today to prioritise that economic security. It is the security that the working people of this country elected this Government to provide, and I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.

1.15 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I start by thanking the Chancellor for his gracious words about me in his speech? It is an achievement to survive five years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, to be reappointed, and I congratulate him on that.

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I rise to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in nine years. I do so obviously deeply disappointed at Labour’s election defeat, for which I take full responsibility. I believe it is right that my party comprehensively examines the reasons for that defeat and does the hard and painful thinking necessary. On the day after the general election I rang the Prime Minister to congratulate him. I said, as the Chancellor said in his speech, that he had defied the pollsters and the pundits—and indeed that is true. I repeat those congratulations to the Conservative party.

In the time since the general election, I can report to the House that I have found some small consolations of losing, including spending time with my two boys, who feel that they have their dad back. However, I confess that my eldest, who has just turned six, did bring me further down to earth last week. He suddenly turned to me out of the blue and said, “Dad, if there is a fire in our house, I think we’ll be okay.” I said, “Why’s that, Daniel?” He said, “Because if we ring the fire brigade they’ll recognise your name because you used to be famous.” “Thanks very much,” I said. From my used-to-be-famous position on the Back Benches, I look forward to helping to play my part in holding the Government to account, as it is the job of the Opposition to do, and the occasion of the Queen’s Speech is the right place to start.

Whatever our profound differences over the years, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment in the days after the election, and repeated in the Gracious Speech, to govern for one nation. I welcome this because it speaks in historical terms to what I see as an admirable side of Conservatism, represented by Disraeli and Macmillan. It is worth reminding ourselves of the historical lineage that suggests. This is what Disraeli said in his novel “Sybil, or The Two Nations”, published 170 years ago this year, about what he was fighting against:

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets”.

For many people, that will sound like the description, in old-fashioned language, of some of what afflicts our country today: a divide between the top 1%, or even the top 0.1%, and everyone else. Facing up to that is a challenge for any Government of any colour, but particularly, if I may suggest, for one claiming the mantle of one nation.

A huge question facing all western democracies in the next five, 10, 20 years is whether we are comfortable with the huge disparities that exist, whether we are fated to have them and whether we want to even try to confront them. Personally, I believe we will have to, and I believe this is an issue for right and left.

What has changed in the debate about inequality is that, internationally and across the political spectrum, there is growing recognition that these gaps are not just bad for the poor, as we always used to believe, but bad—

Mr MacNeil: Come and join us, Ed.

Edward Miliband: No, thanks very much.

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These gaps are not just bad for the poor, but bad for all of us. Last month, the OECD joined the International Monetary Fund in saying that inequality was definitively a problem. The secretary-general of the OECD said there was

“compelling evidence that high inequality harms economic growth”

and social mobility. Simply put, if the rungs of the ladder grow too far apart, it is much harder to climb them.

The old idea was that inequality was necessary for economic growth. In fact, we now know that the deep structural challenges in our economy of low productivity—which, to be fair, the Chancellor and, indeed, my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor referred to—are bound up with high inequality. More unequal societies tend to use the talents of fewer people, and they suffer as a result.

It is not just internationally that the debate has shifted, and I applaud those on the right—some of whom are sitting on the Government Benches—who have focused on this issue. I was intrigued the other day to hear Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s former adviser, say that it was time to impose a maximum wage for the bankers. As you would expect from me, Mr Speaker, I see that proposal as anti-aspiration and anti-business, and I have no truck with it. [Laughter.] The serious point is that this issue will not go away and needs to be confronted.

I hope that we can move on—maybe the Government’s emphasis on one nation presages this—from discussing whether inequality is a problem to what the solutions are. There are no easy solutions in the context of a global economy, but progress can be made in the way we shape our economy and the way we approach tax and benefits. As a starting point, I urge the Government and the Chancellor, in the spirit of one nation, to look at the OECD recommendations—not just those about the pursuit of equal opportunity and skills, but those about tackling insecure work in our economy, which it specifically identifies as part of the problem, and progressive taxation, which it says is part of the answer. Perhaps that will all be in a one nation Budget in July. I wait with interest.

Within the profound and growing challenge of inequality lies the specific problem of in-work poverty. I would say that it is the modern scourge of our time. For the first time, as many people in Britain who are in poverty are in work as out of work. I believe that the left and right can agree that it should be a basic principle that if you go out to work, you should not be living in poverty. But we are very far from that in Britain today.

The minimum wage has played its part in countering the worst exploitation, but I believe it needs to do more. In Doncaster, which I represent, 28% of men and more than a third of women workers are paid less than the living wage of £7.65 an hour. The UK is one of the low-pay capitals of western Europe. There is an irony here: the Low Pay Commission is a great success, and indeed a lasting achievement, of the 1997 Labour Government—to be fair, the last Government continued to operate with the Low Pay Commission—but I fear that the way it operates has become too much a recipe for the lowest common denominator.

Countries around the world are confronting similar issues and seeking to act. There is a live debate in the United States about raising the minimum wage. Los

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Angeles has just passed a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $9 an hour over five years. I say to the Chancellor that if we are to make progress here at home, it will require us to strengthen and guide the Low Pay Commission much more explicitly. That is something that its previous chair, George Bain, has called for. Without it, I do not believe it we will be equal to the challenge of low pay.

Just as one nation requires the right approach to those who work, so it requires the right approach to those who cannot. The origin of one nation for Disraeli was rooted in the lives of the rich and the poor. Responsibility is absolutely part of a successful welfare system, but so too is protection of the most vulnerable. We will never be one nation without a social security system that supports those who need it.

I think it would repay Ministers to read some of the early speeches by the Prime Minister when he became leader of the Conservative party. On the 25th anniversary of the Scarman report in 2006, he said:

“In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms—meaning straightforward material deprivation. That’s not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms—the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted.”

He continued:

“I want this message to go out loud and clear—the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”

That was seen as a radical departure from the tenets of Thatcherism, and it was. If the approach in the Queen’s Speech is indeed meant to be a return to the earlier incarnation of the Prime Minister’s approach, which I welcome, Ministers need to prove it and to square the circle with the Government’s proposals for deficit reduction.

Can one nation really be consistent with making those on welfare shoulder £12 billion of the burden for deficit reduction and those at the top nothing at all? Can one nation really be squared with cuts to tax credits, with their impact on working people? Can one nation be squared with a welfare system that is so often harsh, brutal and brutalising? Can one nation be squared with a country where a million people go to food banks? Those tests on inequality, low pay and a compassionate social security system are appropriate tests for a Government claiming the mantle of one nation. There are many more besides, including, of course, keeping our United Kingdom together.

Let me make this final point about the situation facing the Prime Minister. Fighting an election and winning is some achievement; how he seeks to use the mandate is what will really define his legacy. He is in an unusual position in that he has fought his last election. He is able, if he wishes, to return to what he said when he first became Leader of the Opposition and not worry about an election round the corner, with all the pressures that entails. I urge him, perhaps through the Chancellor, to follow through on his one nation rhetoric. Opposition Members will hold the Government to account at every turn for whether they are living up to their own test: one nation in spirit and deed. If that is where the battleground of politics lies in the years ahead, I welcome it and look forward to playing my part.

1.26 pm

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) on his forceful and good speech, and on his

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resilience in coming here and facing the House with such dignity and distinction. I, too, pay tribute to the way in which he fought for his principles and his cause in the election. Indeed, it causes me slight annoyance that in the leadership election that has broken out in the Labour party, some of the people who a month ago were his greatest admirers, his most loyal colleagues and those closest to his cause are now busily detaching themselves and attempting to scapegoat him for the problems that the Labour movement experienced.

In my opinion, for what it is worth, the right hon. Gentleman fought a very good election campaign. It was much better than anybody expected, because of the expectations that the tabloid press had raised. I thought he put the message across very well. I thought the message was wrong, and that was the judgment of the majority of constituents in my constituency and my part of the world. It is not the case that his performance had anything to do with the result. Apart from the great events in Scotland—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Apart from the remarkable, almost bizarre, events in Scotland—the SNP is equalled only by Syriza in Greece on economic policy—and the very welcome events in the south-west, which were also very unkind because I lost many good colleagues in government as a result, the underlying basis of the majority that we won, to most people’s surprise, was the judgment of sensible people on economic competence and our record on the economy.

I do not think the election campaign made very much difference to the result one way or the other. My part of the country, the east midlands, is thick with marginal seats. We won all of them and added gains by taking back Derby North. In the end, people saw what we had inherited economically and what we had done over the previous five years. They recognised our economic competence and accepted the message that the job had to be completed. When listening to the Labour party’s message, however it was presented, they simply decided that they could not take the risk of changing the Government. When the problem arose that the SNP would apparently be able to hold a Labour Government to ransom in what was bound, because of the tsunami in Scotland, to be a hung Parliament if Labour won, that made a little bit of difference, but the result was mainly down to economic competence.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel that in individual constituencies, particularly Liberal Democrat-Conservative marginals, the fact that his party was often outspending my party by a factor of perhaps five to one made any difference to the election result?

Mr Clarke: I look forward to a little party political debate with the right hon. Gentleman again. As I have said, what decided the election was the coalition Government’s extraordinary record. It was a particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, closely assisted, as he said, by Danny Alexander, the former Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, who was an excellent Chief Secretary, in getting the affairs of the nation back in order and steering us to some of the most successful economic results in the western developed world, which is what we have now.

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What concerns us now, in this Parliament, is what judgment the public and history will make of this Government when they look back in five years’ time, or whenever. That will crucially depend on whether we finish the job and deliver the modern, more balanced, competitive economy that will give our children and grandchildren greater security and a better quality of life. That is the task we have set ourselves, and it is not going to be easy.

At the moment we are all enjoying the hubris of victory, as far as my party is concerned, or the relief of being back here just opposing, as far as the Opposition parties are concerned. On the surface the task looks easy, because at the moment our economy is growing more strongly than almost any other in the western world, employment is soaring because of our flexible labour market, which we should keep that way, our inflation is low, and real pay is at last beginning to rise as the benefits of recovery get through to every level of society. However, it would be a false assumption to think that it is plain sailing from now on, that everything will continue in that way and that the risks have vanished domestically and abroad, so we can take easy measures to reward those who voted for us. The world is not like that.

I take encouragement from what I took to be the Chancellor’s message. He has announced a July Budget, because he wants to take the opportunity while the economy is growing to take some of the tough and difficult decisions that the Government still have to take. I certainly encourage him to do so. In my part of the world—Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, the east midlands—the people who voted for us knew that there were still tough and difficult decisions to take. They were not seduced by the speeches of those whose only examples of what they intended to do were ways of spending money or rather short-term popular things. The sooner we get on with tackling the underlying problems—including, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has reassuringly just confirmed, the debt and the deficit—the better we will be able to get on with all the other things that need to be done, which will enable our economy steadily to get back on to a stronger and more secure footing.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: I will, but this is the last time I will do so, because a lot of other Members want to speak.

Neil Carmichael: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. Does he agree that one of the key tasks is to keep up the pressure to improve our skills agenda, so that we can ensure that our young people continue to contribute to a productive economy and increase our capacity to develop, innovate, research and develop and manufacture?

Mr Clarke: My hon. Friend anticipates some of the points I wish to make. I agree with everything he has just said. Tackling the deficit and debt, together with what he has just described and the other measures that we have committed ourselves to, is a genuinely one

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nation Conservative approach. Ever since I became active in politics, I have declared myself a one nation Conservative. The phrase has moved in and out of fashion a little in my time, but I have remained boringly consistent. In my view, it means free market economics combined with a social conscience, as well as a forceful internationalism that looks after Britain’s interests in the world and helps to spread our values.

On the economic front, the combination of fiscal discipline and economic competence, with measures such as taking the very lowest-paid out of tax altogether, easing the tax burden on the lower-paid, not taking people on ordinary incomes into higher rates of tax that should affect only the very wealthy, and the right to buy from those giant landlords the housing associations, which should be unlocking their resources to invest in more new social housing, gives the right one nation balance to the proposals we have put forward. As I have said, it is important that we get on with it, because this Session of Parliament is probably the best time to get some of the most formidable challenges out of the way and under our belt.

If I am sounding a little foreboding about what could go wrong, I should say that I do not foresee anything going wrong, but we will be lucky if no global shocks hit us. We have had five years of growth since 2010, with only a minor blip—not a recession—in 2012, and 10 years of uninterrupted growth would be pretty well a post-war miracle. It does not happen in the real world. We are doing better than any other western European nation, but that is based on the fact that we devalued by 25% when we had the crash—that has done us a bit of good, but not a great deal—and on a US recovery that is now looking rather feeble, as it was stimulated by quantitative easing, which is a dangerous thing. Our own recovery is not forcefully strong, and it was based on quantitative easing when that was necessary. Of course, we rely on interest rates, and they are the lowest they have been for 300 years, which is good for indebted countries.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Clarke: I will not, because other Members want to speak. I enjoyed what the hon. Gentleman said yesterday, and I would like to give way to him, but not at the moment.

It will be surprising if we do not face difficult times. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken the deficit down to a little under 5% of GDP—far too high, and quite unsustainable, but practically half what we inherited. He paced it pragmatically, because five-year forecasts of where we will be are a complete waste of time, although people always produce them. So long as we have growth, we should press on with taking the deficit down now, because if we ever have a slowdown we will have no weapons to do anything about it. If the Chinese turn out not to have a soft landing, or if America goes wrong, we will not be able to help ourselves by having a fiscal stimulus when we have a 5% deficit. We will not be able to ease monetary policy with interest rates at practically zero. Now is the time to get on the with the task.

There is much more that I would like to say along the lines of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), because cutting the debt and deficit is not in itself a complete economic policy. It

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is the essential precondition for all the structural reforms that we still have to make so that we can make our economy modern and competitive. We have a long way to go, because as Members have said, our productivity performance is dreadful, our investment performance is recovering but remains rather poor, our trade and export performance is pretty dismal and we have an appalling current account deficit. In this modern, balanced economy, we have a long way to go.

We therefore require the right kind of European reform. The European Union has been the essential basis on which we have established our voice in the world and our current economic base. In my lifetime, it has had the most beneficial effect on both those things, which were in a pretty dreadful state until we joined, but it does require changes.

When the Prime Minister announced his referendum, in a very pro-European speech at Bloomberg, he set out an economic agenda for change. That remains the most essential reform that we require and desire, and it would benefit the rest of Europe, as well as us. That means completing the single market, which we have talked about and never done. It means an EU-US trade treaty, which we have an opportunity to get and which would boost investment, trade, jobs and activity on both sides of the Atlantic.

It means deregulation. The Barroso Commission talked about deregulation and got no support whatever from member states. The Governments of all member states, including Britain, tend to send people to Councils from various Departments who advocate more regulation—on transport, road safety, food safety, environmental standards, pollution and all the rest of it. Vice-President Timmermans wants to deregulate. We should compete with deregulating there by deregulating here to stimulate our economy.

Of course we can stop people coming here just to claim benefit—we have always been able to do so. There are other things we can do. The economic reforms, however, were the basis on which we started the negotiations and they remain the most important to us.

Beyond that, skills training and education reforms are still required. We have immigrants because we have to go Romania to recruit nurses—we do not train enough nurses of our own. Our construction industry would come to an end if Poles did not come here in the numbers they do. Skills training, education and higher education—every innovative business I know complains they cannot recruit people with the necessary skills to expand their business. It is one of their major constraints. We do not train and produce enough engineers. We need to get somewhere with giving STEM subjects a higher priority and so on.

I could go on. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] No, no. This is an agenda for a Parliament. It is tough agenda. Now that we have been re-elected, we have the ability to deliver it. The precondition is that we start well, and we start with getting rid of the deficit and debt restraints while we can. In July, we need an iron Chancellor. We need a bold and radical Government. We need a Government who are going to repeat the success of the past five years, measuring up to these enormous international challenges, to show that the United Kingdom can again have one of the strongest global economies in a totally changed globalised economy and a new world.

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