Henry Smith MP speech during the December 2019 Queen's Speech Debate - 13 January 2020

Henry Smith MP (Crawley) (Con)

It is wonderful to see you deservedly back in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) for his excellent maiden speech? I am afraid that my Welsh ancestors would view me very dimly for not being able to respond in Welsh, but I will try harder in future. May I also pay tribute to all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today? They have given us a tour de force on the constituencies of this great United Kingdom, and it fills me with great joy to hear newly elected Members speak so passionately about their communities in this wonderful House of Commons.

It is important that the main debate on the Queen’s Speech starts with Britain’s place in the world, because we are at a pivotal moment in our national history. Three and a half years ago the people of this country voted, clearly and very decisively in my constituency, to leave the European Union, and I was appalled by the previous Parliament’s attempts to frustrate that democratic decision. Two general elections later, we now have a decisive majority. The British people had to express themselves three times over before the political establishment finally got the message that they want us to leave the European Union. That throws into sharp relief the importance of our looking outwards into the world—not ​being little England or a small island nation, but global Britain. That is very much where the great strength of our history has been and where our strength and future prosperity lie.

This country has unique global links—more than any other nation on earth. Our history with the Commonwealth, which has been referenced many times in this debate, is part of that, but there is also the strength of the English language around the world, the strength of our common law system, and the respect in which this country is held. All that puts us in a good position for the future. We can use our unique global links to be a conduit or bridge, given our proximity to continental Europe.

Right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the importance of future trade agreements not only with the European Union, but with the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the rest of the Commonwealth and other nations. As an island trading nation, we rely on global transportation, and we are world’s second aviation power behind the United States. I therefore want to make an early bid for a reduction in air passenger duty at the Budget. This country charges the highest air passenger duty of any major developed nation. Only Chad charges more, and many of our European competitors do not charge any at all. We need to address that as we look to trade globally.

In the previous Parliament, I was proud to be a member of the Select Committee on International Development and, again, there have been many comments about our commitment to give 0.7% of gross national income in aid. However, we need to use that international aid budget in a much smarter way not only to respond, as rightly we should as a responsible nation, to natural disasters, to deal with the consequences of conflicts around the world and to help the poorest and most marginalised, but in the interests of ensuring that Britain’s influence around the world is increased in security, trade and this country’s clear commitment to playing our part in addressing climate change. I again pay tribute to the Conservative Government for ensuring that we are the first major world economy to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We should firmly promote that commitment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned the British overseas territories. All too often in our recent history, as he correctly pointed out, they have been an afterthought or even forgotten. It is important that that British family, as he correctly termed those overseas territories, have respect paid to them. They are loyal to this country, and they deserve proper attention. Specifically on the Chagos Islands, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, my constituency has perhaps the largest population of Chagossians anywhere in the world. They were appallingly exiled from their homeland by the Harold Wilson Administration in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I believe that they should have a right of return. However, it is clear that in February 2019 the International Court of Justice came to a judgment that the islands should be handed to Mauritius, and I think we should reject that. The majority of Chagos islanders—certainly the ones I know and speak of—despite their treatment by this country, cherish the support of British sovereignty, and I do not think we should pay heed to that judgment. It is quite clear to me that the Chagos islanders are British.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for everything he is saying about the Chagossians and for his incredible work on the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos Islands. If we, as a Government, uphold the right to self-determination for Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and the British people of all British territories, why should the Chagossians be treated differently?

Henry Smith

My hon. Friend is entirely right about self-determination. As a democracy, we have been talking about our own self-determination to leave the European Union and how people were seeking to thwart it. As a country, we believe in self-determination for ourselves and for other people around the world. It is absolutely right that, just like every other British overseas territory, the people of the Chagos Islands should be able to decide their own future, not an international court that seeks to pass and hand down judgments. The Chagos islanders have been ignored for far too long, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is their territory and that it is for them to decide their own future. If given that choice, I think they will correctly choose to be part of the British family.

In conclusion, because I know other hon. and right hon. Members want to speak, I will mention our overseas territories and the important role that Britain is playing and can play in promoting environmental sustainability. Through our overseas territories, we are responsible for millions of square miles of ocean around the world. I commend this Conservative Government for the Blue Belt programme that we have initiated around many of our British overseas territories. The programme plays an important role in marine conservation around the world.

That is Britain at its best: outward looking, ambitious, free-trading, promoting liberty, promoting the environment and promoting justice around the world, and doing so as a responsible global state. The best years of Britain as a global nation are ahead of it, and I am grateful that is a key policy of this Government.