Queen's Speech

Charles Walker welcomes policies outlined in the Queen's Speech and urges the Government to ensure that mental health provision is high on its list of priorities.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me to speak on this first day of the Queen's Speech. It is fantastic to see you in the Chair.

There are so many new things going on: this is the first time that I have been on the Government side of the House and I am getting a new perspective on the Chamber; and it is the first time that I have been in the House with a Conservative Prime Minister, and I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron). He spent four long, hard years getting us to this position. He made huge personal sacrifices in his life, and I wish him the very best as he leads this country through some difficult times. He has it in him to be an outstanding young Prime Minister. I also welcome the Liberal Democrats to this side of the House. I have many friends among the party-I like them very much-but it will take me some time to get used to them being in government with us. I will get used to it, I promise, but it will not happen over night. However, I have a great deal of time, particularly for the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), the Deputy Leader of the House, whom I know has a great love and passion for this Chamber.

I have been very disturbed by today's maiden speeches, because they have been awfully good. My hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) and for Watford (Richard Harrington) have been dangerously erudite. They are either geniuses or total creeps, but I think that they are geniuses, because I have never heard such good speeches in this Chamber from new Members-I certainly did not hear them in my first six months, and I doubt that we will hear much better in the months ahead. They were fabulous speeches, and I am sure that their families are extremely proud of them. I bet that their constituents are very grateful that they have them as their Members of Parliament.

I am enormously excited by the number of new colleagues on the Government and Opposition Benches. They are a very self-confident and vibrant bunch, but what excites me most is that they are independent-minded. I am sure that that does not excite the Whips on the Front Bench so much, but I think it is a great asset to this place to have independent-minded Members of Parliament who will go on to be brave and courageous, because if our constituents want anything, they want people who say something in their constituency and then go down and do it in the House of Commons. They want consistency. They want their Members of Parliament to deliver on their promises.

We in this House will be faced with an enormous number of challenges in the weeks, months and years ahead. We will have to make some enormously difficult decisions-decisions that will cause us personal pain and, I am sure, personal pain for our constituents, but decisions that need to be made. They need to be made for the sake of our children and grandchildren. We need to rebuild our economy. We need to have a strong and vibrant economy that can support high levels of employment. It does not matter if we represent a Labour seat, a Conservative seat, a Lib Dem seat or, now, even a Green seat; the most important thing to the majority of our constituents is having a job, because with a job comes self-respect and the ability to put a roof over their families' heads and food on the table. We in this House have a duty to ensure that we have a vibrant economy that can continue to generate high levels of wealth. I and others will be working to achieve that.

We also have to deliver on our promises. All of us-or almost all of us-said that immigration was a concern that needed to be addressed. My constituents in Broxbourne are fair-minded, decent and compassionate people. They want skilled workers coming to this country who can add to the wealth of this country and pay taxes that help to support hospitals, schools and infrastructure. My constituents also want to provide genuine sanctuary to those who are in genuine fear for their lives. However, we have to recognise in this place that uncontrolled immigration is not an unalloyed good for everyone.

Immigration tends to work very well for the middle and upper classes, but many of my constituents are competing for scarce public resources, such as education, health, transport and housing. That has created a level of concern and bad feeling which has caused me a great deal of concern, because in my constituency and others we still see the British National party getting a foothold and gaining traction. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) and the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) had such fantastic results against the British National party, not only turning back Nick Griffin, the leader of that party, but ensuring that night that many BNP councillors lost their seats. We need to continue that progress, but if we are to do so, our constituents need to know that we are serious about addressing their concerns.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend when he is in full flow, but may I just point out two things? First, I come from an immigrant family-I am third generation-and the thing that made it work was that my ancestors came to this country because they admired it and wanted to be part of it, to learn the language and to integrate. That is an essential component to which he might give some attention. The second thing is that if we were unwise enough to have changed the voting system, we might have BNP MPs in this place right now.

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend makes two powerful points. Of course we want to enable people to integrate into our wonderful society. It has many benefits-freedom of association; freedom to hang out with who we want to hang out with; freedom to marry who we want to marry; freedom to go to a polling station and vote for the person who we want to represent us, for better or for worse-so I agree with him: there are many, many things that need to be done.

While I have the attention of the House, let me say that it is so nice to speak to such a packed House. Many new Members will smile at that, but let me tell them that there will be evenings when they are speaking to no more than three or four people, so this is a good outcome for those who have made their maiden speeches today.

Within the Government's priorities, of which there are many, they have paid great attention to the issue of health and the provision of health care to our constituents. I would make one plea to them. I see my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) in the Chamber; he has played a great part in raising in this place the profile and status of mental health. Nevertheless, mental health remains a very unfashionable subject, and that is a great shame. Many of our constituents live daily with terrible conditions that impact on their lives, on their happiness and that of their families, and, collectively, on their families' prospects.

I know that tough decisions will need to be taken on the allocation of scarce resources, but, for too many decades, mental health has been left behind. It has been at the back of the queue. It would be churlish if I were not to pay tribute to the previous Government, because they did start to address the shortcomings in funding and to ensure that the mentally ill got the care that they deserved. I have every confidence that my Government-this Conservative Government supported by my Liberal Democrat friends-will pay the same attention to mental health and elevate it further up the list of priorities in the NHS.

There is nothing more rewarding, having made a speech in this place raising an issue of great concern, than to have someone come up to you very quietly in your constituency, take you by the arm and thank you in a private, understated way. That is when you know that you are making a difference and giving people a voice who would otherwise not have one.

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): Mental health issues affect almost a quarter of people at some stage in their lives. During the last Parliament, I was surprised to discover how many people on incapacity benefit had mental health problems. They have particular difficulty in getting back into work, and they need special packages. This is a key issue, and my hon. Friend is perfectly right to raise it.

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The longer people are out of work and not socialising with people in the workplace, the worse they feel about themselves. They disengage from society, which has an impact on their mental health and on their ability to lead fulfilled lives. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that people who are not in the workplace and not actively involved in the economy are given every chance to take part in the world of work again, and to make a useful contribution to society-a contribution in which they can take great pride. This is not just about the amount of money they earn; it is about giving them a sense of self-worth. My hon. Friend has made a very good point.

Mr Syms: My hon. Friend is making a compelling argument. A key point is that many of those people were persuaded to take jobs on the basis that they would receive support packages-perhaps to do with travel or other forms of support-that have not necessarily turned out to be as good as they expected. The difficulty is that, once someone comes off benefit, they find it very difficult to get back into the benefits system if a job does not work out. The transition from benefit to work is an important stage at which to ensure that they get the support that they need to undertake a fulfilling job.

Mr Walker: Again, my hon. Friend makes a good point.

In concluding my remarks on mental health, I must point out that there are far too many initiatives. There are also far too many different groups and professional set-ups providing support services to people with mental health problems. We need to streamline all that. People with mental health problems do not want to have to relate to seven, eight, nine or 10 teams; they want to relate to one team that can give them the support that they need in order to manage their illness, recover from it-if that is possible; it is not always so-and get back into work to lead a fulfilling professional life.

So, Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr Speaker! I see that you are back in your Chair! How exciting! I have waffled on for far too long, but I should like to conclude with these few slightly rebellious remarks. There is a great tension in this place between Parliament and the Executive. For 100 years, the Executive have cleverly taken powers out of the hands of Parliament, taken them on board and used them for themselves. I hope that in the years ahead we will start to take some powers back from the Executive, find our collective voice on behalf of this nation and restore people's confidence in us.

I say to new Members, "Do not look towards any Government to raise the status of the House of Commons." That is not the responsibility of the Government and I assure new Members that if the Government try to do it they will not do a particularly good job. It is our responsibility to raise the status of the House of Commons, and I am very much up for the challenge, just as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, who wants to intervene, is up for it.

Dr Julian Lewis: I intend this to be an intervention rather than a subsequent speech. Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I say that should he be successful in becoming a vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee-a matter that I know he is far too modest to raise himself on the Floor of the House; it is being voted on tomorrow-I am sure that he will put into practice the very message that he is preaching to us tonight.

Mr Walker: I thank my hon. Friend for doing that advertisement for me.

Let me conclude by saying that a self-confident Government and a self-confident Opposition will tolerate and encourage independent-minded Members of Parliament. They will actually derive great strength from such independence of mind. I am delighted that there are so many new and able colleagues on both sides of the House. We have said goodbye to some very talented individuals who until six weeks ago were respected Members of Parliament for their constituencies. What I have seen over the last few days quite frightens me, as we have seen some enormously talented people here and the Whips are going to have their job cut out for the next five years-if it is five years. I wish new colleagues every success. This is a great place to be; it is the mother of all Parliaments; new Members have done fantastically well in getting themselves here.

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