It is a great honour to follow Nick Smith, who showed why we are all here, with our passion for our constituencies and all believing that we represent the best constituency in the country. That was also rightly the theme of the excellent maiden speech by my hon. Friend Craig MacKinlay. I made my maiden speech 10 years ago and he has already beaten me on two points. First, I was the second of our intake to make my maiden speech, not the first, and secondly, I noted the panoply of TV and media that followed him around during his election campaign. I am delighted to say that I was followed by the Wimbledon Guardian, the rain of south-west London and Finnish TV, which pulled out of an interview halfway through, I think for all sorts of reasons.
Ten years on, I still regard being a Member of Parliament, chosen by our electorate to represent them here, as a great honour not only in the context of our constituencies but in the context of what we do here for our country. The Human Rights Act has been discussed already, but we embody the protection under the law for all our citizens and it is an honour and privilege to be given their confidence to do so.
After 10 years, I am delighted that we had yesterday a Conservative Gracious Speech. It set out a clear vision for the country of security, aspiration and opportunity for everyone. The Queen’s Speech followed faithfully the manifesto on which my hon. Friends and I fought and based our election campaigns. It was a manifesto and a campaign to be proud of. Despite the cheap parody that some have made of what was said, it was an election campaign in which my side talked about hope and aspiration for the future. Others talked about being anti-business and the politics of envy and, unsurprisingly, the country yet again rejected that approach.
The Queen’s Speech builds on the achievements of the last five years, including the monumental achievement of cutting the deficit, on which there is still more to do, but huge progress has been made; a cut in income tax for 26 million people; and the creation of more jobs and apprenticeships than ever before, so that unemployment in my constituency is now under 1% and we have created more than 1,000 apprenticeships in the last two years. There were many other achievements, but I have mentioned the ones on which the Queen’s Speech needed to build—and I think it does.
The first task for any one nation Government is to make sure that all people have the opportunity of a job, because that is crucial to people’s lives, hopes and aspirations, and that is set out in the Gracious Speech. The second task is to make sure the first is done with fairness and to champion social justice. That must come from education. I see that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is in his place—I congratulate him on his new role. Many Conservative Members will wish to praise what he did in the previous Parliament in reforming education, so that more and more children have the opportunity to attend good schools, and the support he gave to many schools through extra money that recognised the primary places crisis that we had in London. I first spoke about that crisis in 2007, and his achievements in that regard do not go unrecognised.
The Gracious Speech builds on those achievements more concretely. The enterprise Bill will sweep away regulation. The Conservative party has always been the party of business and small business, and the enterprise Bill will embody that in law. The children Bill will be attractive to large swathes of the country in introducing 30 hours of childcare, and I suspect that the EU referendum Bill will be one of the more hotly debated Bills.
Today is of course home affairs day. We had a long debate in January on the Serious Crime Act 2015, and I am greatly concerned about the issue of cybercrime and its economic consequences, including organised crime syndicates and the potential for foreign state activity. Our networks—electricity, telecoms, power, banking, fuel and food distribution—rely on logistics systems backed by complex cyber-systems. If those networks came under criminal control, even for a relatively short time, the scale of theft about which the Home Secretary spoke—some £24 billion—would be dwarfed.
Cybercrime is an issue to which the Government rightly paid great attention over the last five years, and I hope that we will continue that in the next five years. I welcome therefore the investigatory powers Bill, which will provide the opportunity to address some of those issues. The economic consequences of cybercrime could be devastating to this country. We therefore need to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers and capabilities they need to keep Britain safe. I think a lot of people see this in the context of extremism and international terrorism, but I also see us using those powers of “who”, “where”, “when” and “how”—not necessarily of content—to combat cybercrime in a hugely effective way. I very much welcome that. Modernising the law on data communications so that the police and the agencies have that information will be one of the most widely supported, if not highest profile, measures in the Gracious Speech.
The shadow Home Secretary rightly talked about the need to distinguish between asylum and immigration, but then she muddle-headedly expressed a number thoughts in which she completely brought them back together again. Those who fought the election campaign will have heard many things on the doorstep, but for a number of people immigration was one of the key factors in deciding how to vote. I found that not only in south-west London, where I do a lot of campaigning, but in other parts of the country while helping various colleagues. The new immigration Bill, particularly the provision on preventing illegal immigrants from accessing services that allow them to remain in the country and the “deport first, appeal later” principle in respect of people with no status to remain in the country, will be a powerful tool that could help to reset the whole immigration agenda. As many new MPs will quickly find out, this place deals with a huge panoply of issues. Many MPs might say, “You represent Wimbledon, a leafy suburb”, but immigration is among those issues I deal with. Only yesterday, I dealt with someone who had been in this country illegally for nine years and was still trying to stay here. The powers and provisions in the new immigration Bill will enable us to act with fairness and justice.
Although this is home affairs day, I would like to stray into an area that is not explicitly home affairs but which clearly affects many people in this country. I am talking about infrastructure and the approach the Government are setting out in two Bills. In one area, there is continuation. The benefits of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, which is passing through Committee, will be unparalleled. The Chancellor has rightly spoken about the need to bring economic prosperity to all parts of the country, and I have long been a proponent of high-speed rail as a means of extending capacity to bring economic growth to widespread areas of the country, so I strongly welcome the Bill.
I also welcome the housing Bill. For many of us, housing was a key issue on the doorstep during the general election campaign. Much has been said about right to buy—I will not rehearse the arguments colleagues have already made—but the provisions to build more starter homes, increase the right to build, create a register of brownfield land and establish a London land commission are all innovative ideas that we need to bring forward, so I am delighted that they will be in the Bill. The Chancellor’s record on supporting infrastructure in the previous Parliament—of taking difficult decisions while keeping capital expenditure high—was pretty much unparalleled, and I know that he rejects the British disease of doing a piece of infrastructure, sighing and then doing nothing for the next five years.
I impress on the Front-Bench team my support for the housing and high-speed rail Bills and urge them to think about how we could bring infrastructure projects more closely together. I hope that either within or outside the existing ministerial structure, a ministry for infrastructure could be brought forward in this Parliament. The benefits, in terms of linkages between energy, housing, broadband and transport, could be huge, as too could the cost and delivery benefits. We need to create a cluster of expertise and a conglomeration of skills within government. From my brief experience as a Minister, I got the impression that those skills were unfortunately lacking inside what is a well-intentioned civil service. Those skills are not there, and they could be brought together. From this country’s point of view, it is hugely encouraging to see the continuing commitment to infrastructure, but I press the Front-Bench team to think about a potentially better way to deliver it.
It is an honour, 10 years on, to contribute to the debate on the Gracious Speech. I congratulate all new Members elected at this general election. I wish them the camaraderie, the skill and the opportunities that this House brings, and I hope they have a successful future representing their constituents.