Debate on the Address — [1st day]

Part of Outlawries Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 27th May 2015.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member) 9:50 pm, 27th May 2015

It is a great pleasure to follow my colleague and friend, my hon. Friend Rob Marris, although I confess that I do not completely concur with his economic analysis. I will come to that later.

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

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

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

There are also divisions over Europe. We are now talking about severing ourselves from Europe, and even renouncing the human rights and other great values that came from these proud islands. I think the Queen, in uttering her Speech today, will have thought that she has given much better speeches in the past, if I may put it that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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