I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the Queen’s Speech, which is a timely intervention if ever there was one. On apathy, last Thursday is a warning that many of our voters see us as rudderless and lacking ambition and vision. That is a shame after we led the world in fighting the pandemic and given we are leading the support for a battered Ukraine—I commend the Prime Minister for both. It was an extraordinary coincidence that, on 24 February, when all restrictions were lifted, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, the world has faced soaring costs, shrinking revenues and shaky alliances, with fuel and food shortages threatening global stability. What concerns me is that, while we defend freedom and aim for recovery, our nation struggles with ever-weakening institutions and toxic culture wars, and citizens are struggling with the consequences of a cost of living crisis.
The future seems less certain now. Our economy, blighted by covid and lockdowns, is not reigniting as fast as we would like. Unbelievably, we, the Conservative party, are presiding over the steepest taxes since the 1940s and the highest sustained spending levels since the 1970s. That is not the Conservative way, nor is it the way to cope with a stumbling economy. High taxes stifle enterprise, aspiration and, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), productivity. They also risk low growth, stagnation and unemployment. This week, the Bank of England warned of impending recession and 10% interest rates driven by higher energy prices.
These are difficult times, but every cloud has a silver lining and, as Conservatives, this is the time to be radical and to return to our vote-winning philosophy of less state, low taxes and sound public finances. If ever there was a time to loosen the screws, this is it, and the Prime Minister knows it. He said that
“this moment makes clear our best remedy lies in urgently delivering on our mission to turbo-charge the economy, create jobs and spread opportunity across the country.”
Hear, hear. So let us get on with it, Prime Minister.
The Chancellor, of course, must fulfil his role. The promised tax cuts in two years will be too little, too late. We will have lost the electorate, who, burdened by high taxes and debt, will turn to a ruinous socialist Government, possibly in coalition with the SNP: the ultimate nightmare scenario. I accept that legislation on its own cannot solve the cost of living crisis, which has been caused to a large extent by events outside the Government’s control, but we do have the power to cancel the increase in national insurance, remove VAT from domestic fuel and reduce fuel duty even further.
The power to control our own economy is one of the major reasons I backed Brexit, and I am generally delighted by measures in the Queen’s Speech to, at last, fully exploit our new-found freedom. About time, too, as hardcore remainers are still out there and only too eager to highlight any difficulty that we face. While I am on the EU, despite the lack of a specific Bill, I am glad to hear that the Government will prioritise support for the Good Friday agreement and its institutions. Unless the EU compromises further, we must rewrite the Northern Irish protocol to ensure that Northern Ireland is genuinely and unquestionably back in the United Kingdom. The current system is not working and endangers all that so many have worked hard to achieve, namely, peace and prosperity.
I am also relieved—I think that is the right word—to see at last a Bill that aims to conclude the appalling witch hunt of our Northern Ireland veterans. I do not want to commit myself any further at this stage as the devil will be in the detail. While I am on our armed forces, I would be failing in my duty not to warn the Government once again against impending cuts to the Army. Regrettably, Ministers appear persuaded that Ukraine’s success against overwhelming odds proves what a small, flexible and manoeuvrable army can achieve on the battlefield, but the Russians have shown, fortunately, how inept they are at combined operations, so that is a false comparison. I am told that mass is no longer necessary, but an Army of 82,000 is not massive and, for sustained operations against a peer adversary—God forbid what we may face in future—numbers will count in any future conflict.
I return to the Government’s direction of travel. Their adviser has said that it is time to
“scrape the barnacles off the boat.”
I have some sympathy with the Opposition about the lack of an employment Bill, but, as an employer myself, I would say that we are already riven with legislation from top to bottom.
The danger of imposing more is to disincentivise employment rather than encourage it, while quite accepting that employees should have rights—of course they should. On flexible working, yes, if it works for the employer, the employee should be allowed to work flexibly, but it should not be a right. That is all we hear so often from the Opposition Benches—right, right, right, right. What about responsibility? It is the employer who takes the risk to employ someone and give them a life chance, a career and a salary, not the employee. A balance should be adopted, with not necessarily so much weight on one side.
Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not. I am going to plough on. There are a lot of people who want to speak and I do not have much longer left.
On housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) spoke such sense. The Bill to ensure that locals have more of a say is to be welcomed and I really am backing that. Far more imagination, less density, more green space and supporting infrastructure is needed in the planning system. It is failing every single time. Affordable homes must be affordable. I have seen examples where developers have really taken the care to build affordable, friendly, safe and warm homes that look nice. All too often, sadly, I see larger developers building homes that seem to fall apart within a year. That has to be changed.
There was no mention of the NHS, but as I have said repeatedly, I believe that although it serves us well and I wish it to continue, it needs to be overhauled. As Allister Heath pointed out in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, which I thought was very good, all reform is stymied by the lie that any improvement is privatisation by stealth. It simply is not.
I am delighted, too, that protestors will finally be challenged when gluing themselves to each other, roads or anything else they can find and stopping people going about their daily lives, jobs, medical appointments or whatever they want to do. I am delighted that, at last, that Bill has come forward.
In conclusion, there is much to welcome. I do not believe that a huge number of Bills—this point has been picked up—is always necessarily the right thing. My father was a great believer in less is more. What matters is the significance of a Bill and what it delivers, rather than the number of them. Having said that, I support many of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech.
However, I must end by warning the Government that we must return to our traditional Conservative philosophy if we are to turn the country around, regenerate the economy and, importantly, win the next election. That means giving people more of their own money, especially during hard times. What happened to the Singapore-style low-tax economy we boasted about, hoped for, fought for and were looking to deliver, which will create the wealth, prosperity and jobs we all need? It is there for the taking now and I urge the Government to grab it.