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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:48 pm, 3rd June 2015

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your election.

It is an enormous pleasure to respond to what on the whole has been a debate of the highest quality, although I have to say that it was marked by some slightly eccentric interventions. I am looking directly at Jack Dromey, who said that the Government were “out of touch” with the electorate of the country. I do not know whether he was around when the results came in on 8 May, but I think the electorate have had their say.

This is an important day for the Members who made their maiden speeches. They made distinguished contributions and their words will ring out from this place in the years ahead.

I welcome Emma Reynolds to her post and congratulate her on her promotion. There is a tradition in her seat of radicalism. Indeed, the Member who was considered to be Britain’s first Trotskyist MP was one of her predecessors. I hope that she will follow in a different tradition of radicalism. I am sure that she will, given her position of support in the Labour leadership contest.

I pay tribute to my good friend and predecessor, my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Pickles, for his outstanding work as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The House knows him as one of its most unique personalities. I had the privilege of working with him—as did some of my colleagues—when I was his Minister of State for our first two years in government, and I had the pleasure of learning from one of the most capable administrators in government.

My right hon. Friend was the architect of the Localism Act 2011, which dismantled the costly regional apparatus that has been discussed in today’s Queen’s Speech debate. He ended the ring-fencing of grants to local government—something that had been called for and was long overdue. He delivered the savings that were necessary to get our country’s public finances back on track. He ushered in a new era of transparency in local government. He created the troubled families programme that has turned around the lives of more than 100,000 families. He did a magnificent job and I am honoured to follow in his footsteps.

The theme of today’s debate, devolution and growth across Britain, is broad enough, but the debate has ranged even beyond that. Let me, in the short time that I have, comment on some of the maiden speeches that have been made from the Back Benches before commenting on some of the other speeches and concluding with some observations of my own.

Michelle Thomson has made rapid progress to the Front Bench of her party in a very short space of time. I can see why, given the informed and articulate speech that she gave on economic matters. I was pleased to hear her recognise something that Government Members believe strongly: that a strong economy is essential to underpin our essential public services.

I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, who spoke without notes. He had in mind the record of his predecessor in holding down three shadow Cabinet jobs at the same time. I do not know whether the Whips have marked that as a sign of his ambition, but the quality of his speech was significant. I am sure that he has a great future in this House.

It was a delight to hear the speech of Stephen Kinnock. He made a warm and amusing speech, of which his father and mother who were in the Public Gallery will be very proud. He talked a lot about the steel industry and its importance to Port Talbot. As a Teesside lad, I share his enthusiasm for doing everything we can to make sure that that great industry, wherever it is in our United Kingdom, prospers now and in the future.

My hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena made an elegant speech in which he revealed that the original chocolate-box village is in his constituency. He was right to point out that human rights were not conceived in 1998, and no doubt presaged discussion in future debates in doing so. I look forward to his contributions in those debates.

It is fantastic to welcome my hon. Friend Wendy Morton to the House. I got to know her in Tyneside, where she was a very effective leader of the local community. She will draw on that experience and her business experience in supporting the enterprise Bill.

My hon. Friend Byron Davies, for whom I had the delight of campaigning in Mumbles during the general election campaign, will bring considerable experience of the Welsh Assembly and his experience as a police officer to the House. He has a wonderful manner in this House and on the doorstep, which will commend itself to hon. Members.

Helen Hayes rightly paid tribute to her predecessor, Dame Tessa Jowell, who enjoyed a great deal of support from all parts of the House. If she channels the approach of her predecessor, she will go down very well here.

I was particularly interested in the speech of Anna Turley because I went to school in the shadow of the steelworks she described in South Bank, Eston and Grangetown. I share her enthusiasm for ensuring that the success that Teesside is contributing continues. With unemployment falling, businesses being created and now a Minister for the northern powerhouse in the Government, Teesside is on a roll, and I look forward to her support in championing that.

My hon. Friend Craig Williams gave a very fluent, poised and gracious speech to sell his constituency to the House; he did so very well. He mentioned the support of Lord Heseltine in years past for the redevelopment of Cardiff bay. We want to build on that legacy and to go forward to make Cardiff even more successful in the years ahead.

Jo Cox observed that there is more that unites her constituents than divides them. On this agenda of devolution, I hope she will find that that is the case in this House as well, and she will find in me someone who is prepared to work across party lines to do the best for every part of the country.

My hon. Friend Julian Knight is very welcome to the House. He is a representative—an embodiment, indeed—of the midlands powerhouse that exists alongside the northern powerhouse. It is probably a relief that the slogan of one of his predecessors, who is the father of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, was, “Vote for Percy Grieve”. The alternative is “Grieve for Solihull”, which would probably not be the best electoral slogan; he would want to avoid that.

Kirsty Blackman painted an enticing picture of Aberdeen; this is probably the time of year that it is looking at its best, and it is best that we visit it now rather than in the dead of winter. However, I am sure that all of us will have a great deal to contribute there.

It is fantastic to see my hon. Friend Steve Double in his place. He is Cornwall born and bred. Cornwall is a county that is familiar to many of us. When he talked about reviving a tradition in Cornwall exemplified in “Poldark”, I was relieved that he was talking about cakey tea rather than skinny-dipping; I thought he might be inviting us to join in.

Finally, Peter Kyle gave what was clearly a very well received speech. The “coolest place in Brighton” is a matter of some competition in itself; not everywhere in the country can say that. He gave a very thoughtful speech and his own journey is particularly impressive; I commend him.

It is not possible to cover the entirety of the content of the Queen’s Speech, but I would point out that all the maiden speeches from all parts of the House today were unique. No one could possibly confuse Redcar with Newquay, or the west midlands with Hampshire, and it seems to me that that is the principle that embodies the devolution reforms in our Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I confirm to the House that that Bill applies as much to our counties and towns as it does to our cities. I am afraid our predecessors did the opposite. Over decades—indeed, building up to a century—and despite making maiden speeches that were paeans of praise to their local distinctive places, they came here and passed laws and regulations and backed Governments who took power away from those places and invested it in central London.

The project that we have before us started in the previous Parliament. I have been grateful for the cross-party support that I have received for it—from leaders of Labour authorities as well as those of Conservative authorities. We have changed the direction; the question now is not whether we should localise but how much and at what pace. That is a significant change in direction and we all have the opportunity to extend it much further in the years ahead.

The question that will be put to all of us is how we can ensure that all parts of the country—north, south, east and west—can make their contribution to realising the potential of our country in the years ahead, so that the legacy of every Member of this Parliament will have been to have built a stronger economy, a stronger Britain and a stronger United Kingdom. I invite all Members to join us in that during the months ahead.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 275, Noes 331.