Violence driven by hatred and intolerance have blighted our country in recent weeks, and the ghastly fire at Grenfell Tower has only heightened a growing sense of unease. I have to say that this feeling has been exploited shamelessly by some for political gain, and I find that totally inappropriate. I would like to place on the record the fact that I have the highest admiration for the Prime Minister, who was knocked first one way and then the other by events over which she had no control. Her apology to the House yesterday and today for the failure of both local and national Government to respond appropriately to the fire was delivered with great humility and should be welcomed.
Naturally, Brexit dominated much of the Queen’s Speech, and rightly so. We have a challenge ahead of us over the next two years, and one that we will rise to. I am a little tired of the siren voices, both in this place and in the media, for the decision to leave the EU has been made, and now it is time to get right behind UK plc. Of course jobs and our future prosperity must be key factors in future negotiations, but which idiot of a bureaucrat or politician would purposefully punish the UK by placing obstacles in the way of the free trade on which both we and the EU rely so heavily? I am confident that common sense and pragmatism will prevail against those wishing to prop up a failing political project. Let us face it: scores of countries already have access to EU markets, so why can’t we?
The future is exciting and prosperity beckons as we reach out to countries around the world for new trade deals. I was saddened that we did not hear more from the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade during the election. He has much to sing about and all of it encouraging.
To ensure that our overseas exploits are a success, we really must secure our finances back home. The elephant in the room is our massive debt of about £1.9 trillion. The interest alone to service this elephant is circa £47 billion—just imagine what we could do with that money.
I also wish that we had a simplified tax system, as it gets more complicated with every Budget. The easier the taxes are to collect and the lower they are, the more money the Government will find. I welcome the Government’s commitment to spend at least 2% of our national income on defence—the NATO minimum—but, as I have argued in this place for the past seven years, that is not enough. It was over 5% in my time, and even then retaking the Falklands was touch and go. We often hear people say that the UK tries to punch above her weight. Yes, we do. As a beacon of freedom, hope and democracy, we have frequently been called on to do our duty around the world, which does not come cheap. I call on the Government to spend more on defence, especially as we face uncertain times and do not want to be caught napping again.
Internal security also concerns me. As a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland on three operational tours, I know how important it is to have a uniformed presence on the streets. It not only reassures residents, but dominates the ground on which the terrorist wants to operate. Similarly, more police on the streets would do the same. I appreciate that the nature of crime has changed. Online crime, for example, consumes much police time and officers, but community policing is just as important and, frankly, it is where much of the intelligence should and must come from to tackle crime.
On education, I must repeat my call for fairer funding for schools, especially in a rural constituency such as mine in South Dorset. I accept that there are now more good and outstanding schools, and that is to be recognised —people must be congratulated on that—but the current funding formula is really not fair. We do not want all the cake in South Dorset, just a fairer share of it.
The vexed question of climate change is my next observation. Although no one would argue with the need to break away from our reliance on fossil fuels, there has to be an affordable and workable alternative that keeps our economy turning and the lights on. Yes, renewables must play a part, but phasing out our coal and gas-fired power stations could be a “monstrous act of self-harm”, according to Nick Timothy, the former aide to the Prime Minister. Interestingly, the Office for Budget Responsibility says that soaring green subsidies and levies are due to virtually double during this Parliament to £14.7 billion a year. Those are paid through our energy bills. We really need a credible approach to our future energy needs, and setting unrealistic and potentially damaging targets is not a sensible way forward.
On overseas aid, I am afraid that I do not agree with the arbitrary 0.7% target. Yes, we should help those who need help, but we need help in this country, too. Charity starts at home. I want the money that we send—taxpayers’ money—better targeted, and the money that we do not send spent on very good causes in this country.