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Europe, Human Rights and Keeping People Safe at Home and Abroad


Andrew Mitchell speaks in the debate on the Queen’s Speech on housing, Syria and human rights.

House of Commons, 24 May 2016
Volume 611

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who has entertained the House with a truly exceptional maiden speech. He spoke about his constituency with eloquence and about his predecessors with wit. Many of us remember his distinguished predecessor, Sir Raymond Powell. Indeed, I served in the Government Whips office opposite him and I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that he was a distinguished butcher. The hon. Gentleman will discover, I hope, that his expectation of working with people across the House will be fulfilled. He will find that we on this side are the opposition and not the enemy, and I personally look forward to working with him. It is perfectly clear from his maiden speech that he will fulfil his expectations, just as his partner and his constituents would wish him to do.

The Queen’s Speech that we are discussing today is an authentic one nation speech. Social mobility is at its heart, and it makes clear the importance of capitalism working for everyone. It also puts some flesh on the bones of Prime Minister’s speech at last year’s party conference, which was one of the finest that he has made.

For the moment, Europe dominates our politics. Indeed, at midday on 11 June, Sutton Coldfield town hall will hold a debate between the noble Lords Heseltine and Ashdown on the one side and Nigel Farage and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on the other. I can tell the House that tickets for that great debate sold out faster than Glastonbury and all went within half an hour yesterday.

I want to make just a few brief points in the time available. I want a much greater focus in this parliamentary session on the importance of building new homes. It is virtually impossible for young people today to get on to the housing ladder in the way that my generation did, and dreams of a property-owning democracy are receding. However, homes must be built in the right places. Sutton Coldfield would suffer from the proposals of Birmingham’s Labour council to build no fewer than 6,000 new homes in the green belt. That is completely unacceptable, and we look to the Government to call that in at an early stage.

I propose three ideas for how we can make the house-building process easier. First, there must be more imaginative and considered inner-city developments, with more power for local communities and less for developers. Secondly, there must be more incentives to decontaminate land, which would have a huge effect on the availability of land for house building in Birmingham. Finally, I want a real effort to be made to bring to fruition the plans to build a garden city in the black country that could provide up to 45,000 homes, none of which would need to be built on the green belt.

This Queen’s Speech debate takes place against the background of an agonisingly difficult but ultimately catastrophic situation in the middle east. The four horsemen of the apocalypse continue to ride through what was Syria—a second-world country. I remind the House that in a country of just over 20 million, 11 million souls are now on the move—6 million within the country and 5 million outside. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) and I have produced a report under our joint chairmanship of the all-party political group on Friends of Syria, which benefits from considerable expert advice and input. Clare Short and I recently visited the Turkey-Syria border with some brilliant British Muslim charities, and I pay tribute to their bravery.

We must ensure that every child in a refugee camp and all those refugee children in Jordan and in Lebanon get an education, which should be paid for by rich European countries. Lebanon and Jordan are swamped by the number of refugees using their public services, and we must help out.

Alec Shelbrooke

On that point, it is perhaps worth reminding the House that if the UK took an equivalent percentage of people, 17 million people would be coming into the United Kingdom.

Mr Mitchell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

We must also keep refugees and migrants as close as possible to the areas from which they came. Few if any of these people want to recreate Syria in Europe; they want to return to the homes from which they were driven, often under gunfire.

The EU must cancel all tariffs on goods from Lebanon and Jordan. Industrial and agricultural goods are still subject to tariffs in some cases. No progress has been made on the EU’s 2011 proposal to have deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with those areas. We also need to encourage the international community to look ahead to the reconstruction of Syria. The Prime Minister has already made it clear that Britain will provide up to a billion pounds of support for reconstruction, which we must ensure happens as swiftly as possible. For how much longer will the international community tolerate the deliberate targeting of hospitals by Russian military aircraft, which have now hit more than 30 hospitals in Syria? Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but its shocking behaviour is an affront to international order and is almost certainly a war crime.

Finally, I want strongly to support what was said about human rights, and about the two key pieces of legislation in that respect in the Queen’s Speech, by the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Let me just make it clear that ISIL will be relatively easily defeated militarily, but 90% of any defeat will be an ideological defeat, and that will be very much more difficult to achieve. We must show the same abhorrence of Islamophobia as we show of anti-Semitism.

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