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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 6:18 pm, 3rd June 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I start by congratulating you on your re-election to the Chair. I look forward to serving under you in many debates to come. I also congratulate Kirsty Blackman and all the other Members who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon. The standard has been incredibly high, so the debates we have in this Parliament will be very well informed, and that is a credit to everyone who has spoken today.

To refer briefly to my maiden speech five years ago, I have Bletchley Park, the wartime decoding centre, in my constituency. In that debate, I mentioned the wish to put right a historical wrong and cleanse the historical criminal record of Alan Turing. Doing so was one of the proudest achievements of the previous Government. I am pleased that the Conservative party manifesto and the manifestos of other parties had in them a pledge to extend that to other people who were wrongly convicted of those so-called crimes. I hope that measure will be introduced during this Parliament.

Bletchley Park is just one of the great parts of my constituency. When Milton Keynes is host to the rugby world cup later this year, I hope visiting fans take the time to visit Bletchley Park and many of our other attractions. Should the machinations of FIFA result in a re-awarding of the location of the 2018 or 2022 World cups, Milton Keynes has a wonderful new stadium ready and waiting to play host to many great matches.

Milton Keynes is coming to a crossroads. In early 2017, we will celebrate our 50th birthday. We have reached our planned size as a new city—a new city that has topped the growth league tables over the past few years. That does not mean that we can just keep expanding without a proper vision of where we want to go. I want to use my time in this Parliament to help to shape the next 50 years of Milton Keynes.

In that respect, I look forward to the Government’s devolution agenda giving us the additional powers we will want to shape what comes next. Many other Members have asked, “Why restrict devolution to the city regions of England?” That is an important first step, but we cannot divide England in a rigid structure. Different parts of England have different needs and different aspirations. My hon. Friend Mr Walker made a powerful point about the need for shire counties to have more powers. Milton Keynes does not sit neatly in any region. We are on the boundary of three: the south-east, the east of England and the east midlands. We want to shape our own destiny, both for ourselves and in partnership with neighbouring authorities. The point is that what is best for Milton Keynes will be determined locally. We must take a bottom-up approach, not have a top-down division of the country into different parts. There will be different voices in the debate on the future of Milton Keynes. I want to help to facilitate that discussion—there is no monopoly of wisdom.

I congratulate the Government on introducing their measures on high-speed rail on the east-west rail link, which will put Milton Keynes at the epicentre of the nation’s transport infrastructure and give us unique opportunities to develop and expand our economy. I hope we will be able to retain more of our business rates locally, so that we can be rewarded for developing our economy in future. When I studied politics at university, I was taught that Britain is the product not of revolution, but of evolution. That is very much the spirit in which I hope we go forward.

Lastly, I want to mention the important issue of English votes on English laws. As a Unionist, I believe that is essential to the long-term health of the Union. As some have alleged, it is not a wish to stop any Member from any part of the United Kingdom from contributing to debates or voting on measures, but it does mean putting an English shield on matters that affect only England. Whatever devolution arrangements come forward, that will still be necessary, and I will enthusiastically support it in this Parliament.