This week saw all the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech. For me, it was an event that marked not only the start of a new Parliament but a clean break from the past and a fresh start for our country.
The legislation laid out in the Queen's Speech shows what the new Coalition Government is about: it is a programme of practical, achievable plans drawn up in the national interest and formed around three key principles: freedom, fairness and responsibility.
I welcome the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech and particularly those that will be directly helpful to us in Sutton Coldfield – measures like the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.
This Bill will devolve power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. It means that communities, like ours in Sutton, will be given much more control over housing and planning decisions in our area.
As I have continually argued, power on planning issues should be exercised at the lowest level possible. Local people know best about how things should be done in their area and I am pleased to see that this Bill will now start to redress Labour’s dreadful planning laws.
As a start, we will rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils, including giving councils new powers to prevent overdevelopment and ‘garden grabbing’. This has been, for Sutton, one of the worst effects of the last Labour government.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to shift power from Westminster to local people, to promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and to end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.
As the Prime Minister has said, we want to build a country that is freer, where the Government trusts in people’s common sense. A country that is fairer, where every young person believes nothing can hold them back. And a country that is more responsible, where we are all aware of our obligations to each other, where people ask not, “What are my rights?” but, “What are my responsibilities?”
You can see these values running through each and every Bill that was set out in the Queen’s Speech this week. Freedom - in the Freedom Bill and its proposals to scrap ID cards. Fairness - in our Education Bill and its plans for a pupil premium. Responsibility - in our Welfare Reform Bill and its proposal to cut benefits for those who can work but refuse to.
The new Coalition Government is about devolving power, not centralising it; trusting people, not dictating to them; saving money, not wasting it. It is what we have started this week with the Queen's Speech, and it is how we mean to go on.