I am delighted to follow Alex Salmond, whom I welcome back. He is a formidable operator, but I am sure I am not alone in finding it quaint that he devoted so much of his speech to making the case for Scotland remaining wedded to the European Union at the same time as wishing to break up the United Kingdom. It simply does not make sense, but he will no doubt argue that corner with vigour in due course.
I must say that it is a great relief to sit on these Benches as part of a Conservative Government for the first time since 1992, 23 years ago. The majority is small, but it is a majority, sparing the nation the prospect of another Labour Government committed to a policy of spend, tax and borrow. It is particularly pleasing to see so many new colleagues sitting around me, not least my successor in Cannock Chase, my hon. Friend Amanda Milling, who did fantastically well and follows our good friend Aidan Burley in that seat. I of course pay special tribute to my son-in-law, my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, who brings a wealth of political as well as business experience to the House. He will be the beneficiary of advice from his wife Emily, just as I have been from her mother for the past 30 years.
I have been delighted and humbled to be able to secure my fifth mandate from the electors of the Aldershot constituency, who did me the honour of giving me more than 50% of the vote for the first time in eight general elections. For us, with the largest Nepalese population in the United Kingdom, the election period was of course marred by the earthquake tragedy in Nepal. However, I am pleased to say that people rallied round fantastically, delivering bedding and clothing to local Nepalese welfare centres and raising thousands of pounds for the victims, not least the £22,000 raised in just three days by the local Rotary clubs, a collection I and my Labour opponent Gary Puffett joined in. It is a great pity that Joanna Lumley could not see that and chose instead to insult the good people of Aldershot, for which she should apologise publicly.
Immigration was the No. 1 issue at the election, and I welcome the renewed vigour shown in tackling it, but we must be more determined. Our services simply cannot continue to accommodate a quarter of a million new arrivals a year, quite apart from the serious cultural issues arising from people taking advantage of our liberal society while seeking to impose their medieval ways on us. We are a Christian country: if you despise our Christian values, please leave and go somewhere else.
Constitutional issues abound in the Gracious Speech, and we have heard about some of them already. I welcome many of the measures, not least the Prime
Minister’s fulfilment of his promise to hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. So many people in the country doubted his word on that, but he gave his word, and he has fulfilled it. The people of Britain will decide, not the Government of the day. The Prime Minister is right to seek to renegotiate, but the issue is way beyond tinkering with provisions for benefit claimants. He really needs to press the case he outlined in his Bloomberg speech two years ago. As he said, it is
“national parliaments…which are…the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”
“We could amend Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act to reassert the supremacy of Parliament. We could make clear that, in any conflict between Westminster and Brussels, Westminster has the final word.”
This year, as we mark the 750th anniversary of Simon de Montfort’s first Parliament, we in this House must have the final say on implementing EU legislation.
On the Human Rights Act, I shall simply say that it is wrong for judges in Strasbourg to decide matters that should properly be decided here. For 750 years, this has been the place where the redress of grievance has ultimately resided. It is simply unacceptable that a convention designed to prevent a repetition of the holocaust has been subverted to prevent us from deporting people who have no right to be in the UK or to demand that we give prisoners the vote. I therefore hope the Prime Minister will not backtrack on his commitment.
I particularly welcome the Government’s explicit commitment to continue to play a leading role in global affairs and, to quote from the Gracious Speech, to
“do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.”
Those are fine sentiments, and they are wholly compatible with the deeply embedded Conservative philosophy that the first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. However, words alone are not enough. We in the United Kingdom face a series of potential threats to our kingdom and to our broader interests around the world. As the Foreign Secretary said, our prosperity relies on trade, but for trade to flourish we need international stability.
Russia continues to rebuild its military might. It is constantly testing our air defences and endeavouring to track our nuclear deterrent. President Putin’s overt military intervention in Ukraine, where he has been able to annex territory with impunity, has emboldened him, although I note that I am not on his list of prohibited people, so perhaps I should make a diplomatic visit to Moscow.