Mr Redwood’s contribution in response to the Gracious Speech, 4 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next thing we need is more domestically supplied energy and cheaper energy. The two go together, felicitously, so if we can get a bigger energy sector extracting oil and gas in Britain—onshore and offshore—we will have more jobs, some of which will be higher-paid jobs, but also access to cheaper energy. I am very pleased that the Government are going to get behind the shale gas revolution. It is already transforming the American economy, creating higher living standards for many and producing the much lower gas prices that are pricing Americans back into competitive jobs in industry vis-à-vis Europe and Asia, where the price of energy is high. We need the same here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Redwood: I will have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The Gracious Speech of course invites us to talk about this matter by referring to the possibility of more extensive devolution of powers to Scotland—in the likely event that Scotland votes to stay in the Union, which many of us want to see—and of the extension of powers to Wales. However, the Gracious Speech makes no mention of extending devolved powers to England, and we cannot carry on with lop-sided devolution without considering the business of England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I agree with him wholeheartedly on that point. In the SNP we have a self-denying ordinance of not taking part on English issues and non-Scottish issues because we believe, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is demonstrating this, that England is as good as France and Germany and can run itself amply, without any help at all from the Scots.

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

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

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

Mr MacNeil indicated assent.

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

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

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

What has now happened under a European Court judgment is that the European convention on human rights is being absorbed into the corpus of European law and will become an instruction on this House, against the wishes of Labour and against the wishes of the rest of us in the House at the time. I think the House should now move an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972 expressly ruling out that grab of power by the European Court of Justice on this issue, reflecting the words of the treaty we signed and reflecting the words of the legislation that this House passed. Unless this House is prepared to do this at some point on some important issue, this House is in no sense sovereign any more. We can claim to be sovereign only because all the powers of the European Union today are technically the result of our passage of the 1972 Act, but if we are never going to amend or revisit that Act, those powers have gone and we are completely under treaty and ECJ law.

Another area that we may need to look at is the promise by Governments of all persuasions that matters relating to taxation and social security would remain national issues, because they involve the money of our taxpayers and the money going to people in our country who most need help. Surely this Parliament should control our taxation, and our expenditure of substantial sums of it on benefits.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful speech. Is not another mark of a sovereign nation that it controls the integrity of its own borders? Is it not high time that, even if we fall foul of the European Court of Justice, we look again at the ramifications of the free movement directive and possible changes to it? Should we not employ some of the changes that Spain, for instance, has made, to protect the integrity of our borders within the European Union?

Mr Redwood: I agree, although I do not think the legal case is quite so clear on that matter, which was why I concentrated on one on which were given assurances that a power had not been transferred. I believe the previous Government transferred a lot of power over borders, so it might be more appropriate to consider the matter by way of renegotiation. However, if my hon. Friend has particular examples of the ECJ or the Brussels Commission exceeding the powers that were granted to it, exactly the same argument will apply as with the human rights convention. We need at some point to make changes if we cannot effect them by negotiation and agreement with our partners. When negotiating, it is always a good idea to have a plan B just in case they do not see it our way. I always find that that concentrates the mind somewhat.

The Gracious Speech will reinforce the recovery, and that is what matters most to many of our constituents, who wish to have better jobs, better living standards and access to better housing. We are the inheritors of mighty constitutional turmoil, and we can no longer put off the business of England. Whatever result comes from the Scottish referendum, this House must engage earnestly with the business of England as surely as it has, on and off, with the business of Scotland and that of Wales and Northern Ireland in recent years. Above all, because we need to be in control of our own destiny and represent our people in ways that our forebears would respect, this House needs again to say that there are limits to European Union power, which will be prescribed here and dictated from this House. We can then look the British people in the eye again and say, “Yes, we will redress your grievances. We still have the power to do so, and we have the political will to act.”

1 Comment

  1. The PrangWizard
    June 9, 2014

    I notice that while the PM gives his support on the constituencies, he makes no mention of England and your proposals for making a start on an English parliament. Some will no doubt give him the excuse that he did not have time. Many of us know however that never does mention England in any meaningful sense – maybe he thinks that if he does say anything in favour of England he will drive more in Scotland to vote for independence.We will see if he changes his tune after the vote, but he faces accusations of weakness and appeasement in the meantime. I suspect he won’t, but I hope I am wrong. I would have thought that there are many voters to be regained for your party by his embracing support for England, and the injustices suffered by the people of England.

    Given the content of your speech on an English parliament does it not follow that you must urge the party to produce a Manifesto for England? Your proposals need to be strengthened, that is, followed up with other procedural proposals, the formal and official re-naming of Ministers now are examples. I trust you are working on it.

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