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May I say what a pleasure it is to follow Greg Mulholland? I am a sentimental sort of bloke, and I rather think we need to have the Liberal voice heard in this place. I observe that there is not a single Liberal in what used to be the Lib Dem heartland of the south-west, but I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has been returned and I look forward to his contributions in the months and years ahead.
We have spoken a lot today about the northern powerhouse. We need also to speak about the west country powerhouse. I confess my interest as a rural rustic from the south-west. I note that in recent years the Government have invested heavily in infrastructure in my part of the world, and I look forward to their continuing to do so. I am thinking in particular of the upgrading of the A303, which is vital for prosperity in the west country, and of investment in superfast broadband, which is clearly necessary for the rural businesses that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is particularly keen to promote.
While considering the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, we should be a little careful. I know that it would not be the Government’s intention to disadvantage the shire counties in any way, but it is vital that we get the balance right and do not inadvertently disinvest in rural parts of our country because of our understandable enthusiasm for investing in our great cities.
We have heard today about local enterprise partnerships and regional development agencies. In my part of the world, the transformation following the introduction of LEPs and the abolition of RDAs has been huge.
We have to admire the Opposition’s nerve in tabling an amendment attacking the Government’s record on housing; never was there a better opportunity for a political party to draw a discreet veil. In supporting the aspiration for low-cost housing laid out in the Queen’s Speech, I make a plea for the integrity of the core planning process that lies at the heart of the Localism Act 2011. In Warminster, which I represent, residents feel with good cause that they are being taken for a ride; the Minister for Housing and Planning knows that very well, as I have been to see him about the issue recently. I do not want public money or my constituents’ time to be wasted on core strategies that turn out to be worthless. I do want the right housing to be in the right place with the right level of supporting infrastructure.
The late Charles Kennedy suggested that this Parliament would be about two Unions: the United Kingdom and the European Union. I very much welcome the inclusion of the European Union Referendum Bill in the Queen’s Speech, and I look forward to its Second Reading next week. Devolution and subsidiarity must mean removing powers from Brussels as well.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is an operator. I am sure he will return from Europe like Moses from Mount Sinai, with a prospectus that I can recommend to my constituents. They would expect a British exception that will exclude the UK from ever closer union, which has only one destination: union. They will expect parity of esteem among EU currencies and the reaffirmation of the trading and commercial deal that my constituents, their parents and grandparents thought that they were signing up to in 1975.
My constituency has a heavy defence interest. I declare my own interest as an ex-regular and current reservist. I welcome with due trepidation the inclusion of the strategic defence and security review in the Gracious Speech. During the general election campaign, many of my constituents expressed puzzlement at the fact that we have committed to statute the OECD 0.7% of GDP development target without having committed to NATO’s 2% defence target, notwithstanding the progress made last year at Celtic Manor. They are also puzzled at the licence given to our unequal partners who enjoy NATO’s fully comprehensive cover while paying a third-party premium.
There can be no development without economic prosperity, and there will be no prosperity without security. The engineers of that security—Britain’s soldiers, sailors and airmen—are a distinct force for good in a troubled world. Despite the progress made by the coalition Government, the link between outcome and input in Britain’s international development effort since 1997 has been far less clearcut. If a country’s military deploys to a country whose inhabitants pose little direct threat, it operates in a space between altruism and enlightened self-interest. Britain’s military contribution to making the world a better and safer place must be properly referenced in the upcoming SDSR and in our development returns.