May I be the first to congratulate you while you are in the Chair on assuming your position, Madam Deputy Speaker? As it happens, this is turning out to be a Parliament of firsts for me. Last week I think I was the first Member in this Parliament to be granted an urgent question, and I am the first Member to have been called by you. I am tempted to ask whether you can enjoin the House not to interrupt me, on the basis that this is perhaps a maiden speech. I say that because, after I was granted the urgent question last week, someone at Sky kindly tweeted that a new Member had been granted an urgent question. I have obviously made an extraordinary impact on the media over the course of the past few years.
May I also congratulate all the Members who have made their maiden speeches today? They are my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, Chris Stephens, my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) and for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) and Matthew Pennycook. They will all obviously have fine parliamentary careers, although I remind them that in 1837, when Disraeli, whom we have already heard about twice in this debate, made his maiden speech, he ended it, after a considerable amount of barracking, with the words:
“I will sit down now, but the time will come when you will hear me.”
Well, the House has heard from all those Members today, and it is much better for having done so.
I have sat through the entirety of the debate, and if I may I would like to commend Edward Miliband on one of the finest speeches I have heard during my five years in this place. It was a speech that, in common with my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen, I am pleased he did not make before the election. It was a speech that, essentially, could have come from the Conservative Benches, because it was a speech about one nationism. One nationism is what this
Government and this party stand for. The Gracious Speech, on which we are debating the Address, is a speech about one nation. It is a speech about this country over the next five years, and about what the Government’s plans, on which we were returned with a significant majority, are going to achieve.
Time is very limited in this debate given the number of speakers, but there are three areas on which I wish to very briefly focus my remarks. I understand that this is principally a debate on the economy, but the first area relates to the Human Rights Act 1998. A rumour has grown up on the Conservative Benches—or at least that is what I hear from my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, who is now the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice—that I am somehow going to be difficult in relation to the Human Rights Act, given my background and role as a lawyer. That rumour is misplaced.
I stood on a manifesto—I want to remind Conservative Members that we all stood on a manifesto—that said we would replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. That does not need to involve our withdrawal from the European convention. What we have said, and what we said in the manifesto in 2010, is that the Act can and should be replaced by a British Bill of Rights which is justiciable in the courts of this country, whether they are the courts of England and Wales, or of Scotland or Northern Ireland. That, as was made crystal clear by an editorial in The Sun last week and by what we were told on the doorstep during the general election campaign, is what the British people want.
The other thing that the British people want in relation to Europe, albeit unconnected with the European Court of Human Rights, is a referendum on the European Union. It is this party that is going to deliver that referendum. I remind everybody in the House—all right hon. and hon. Members, whether they are the most fervent Europhile or the most ardent Eurosceptic—that we are all here because we were elected in a democracy. If we believe in democracy, as we all ought to do, then giving the British people a say on whether they want to continue to be part of what the European community has become is absolutely the right thing to do.
I have already said that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North mentioned Disraeli in his speech. Disraeli also said, in a very famous passage, that he was
“a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad.”
This is a Government who have my support in relation to the Gracious Speech, because they are Conservative in relation to what is good in our constitution and they are radical in relation to what is bad.