Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Address.

In nearly 30 years in the House, it has been my experience that Governments are always accused of having either too much or too little in their Queen’s Speeches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) rightly said in his excellent contribution, however, they are works in progress. I congratulate the Government on bringing forward a measured and carefully thought-out programme, which has been welcomed by my constituents and which will make a positive contribution to the lives of many of our fellow citizens. The immigration measures, the national insurance contributions Bill and the deregulation Bill are particularly important to the work that the Government are doing—in my view far more successfully than they are being given credit for—in fixing the British economy, which is showing clear signs of real improvement.

I would like to report to the House that at the Burgess Hill Business Parks Association business exhibition on Friday there was a solid mood of determination to grow our local economy, as well as considerable satisfaction at the progress being made. The message that I take back from that admirable gathering is one that all our colleagues will find when they go to gatherings of that type: people want the Government to press on with getting rid of regulation and bringing in lower taxes—above all, they want to get on with growth. This Queen’s Speech presses on with a number of key reforms on welfare, on education and by the Home Secretary in her excellent work on immigration.

We were fortunate to have exceptionally good local election results in Mid Sussex, where the combination of a prudent and well-run West Sussex county council and an extraordinarily efficient and well-led district council have delivered with confidence the Government’s agenda, which is welcomed and well understood. What is clearly most important locally, however, is the state of the economy. For all of us, that must be at the very top of all our constituents’ concerns about the future of the country. Our constituents want the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to press on. If they do and the economy grows, much of the country’s serious anxieties will begin to disappear like the winter snow.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Washington today with President Obama in our pursuit of the European Union-United States free trade agreement, which is clearly extremely important to our future, not only for our national trade and commerce in Europe and elsewhere, but as a mark of stability in world trade, which is vital to the ordinary conduct of economic and world trade growth. All of us here know that the opportunities in that regard are enormous.

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we were to vote to leave the European Union, we would no longer benefit from that free trade agreement?

Nicholas Soames: I do agree, but I will come to that point in a moment, if I may.

As co-chairman with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) of the cross-party group on balanced migration, I warmly welcome the considerable progress that the Government have made on the difficult and sensitive matter of immigration. They have succeeded in driving down numbers and there is real progress, but there are no easy solutions. I welcome the carefully thought-out work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health on those services. The cross-party group, and I think most of the House, knows that the most careful attention must now be paid to the question of access to benefits and the health service. Thus, the immigration Bill is an important step forward.

I know the Government do not underestimate the anger and frustration that many people feel about too many people arriving in Britain and accessing public services before they truly should. To that end, I will conclude by saying a few words about the European issue.

The House knows that I am a staunch but not uncritical pro-European. I acknowledge the profound frustration of dealing with Europe, and there are certainly the most serious problems with the European Union that we must fix. The Conservatives are committed to doing that. In many of these matters, we will find solid support across the continent from our European partners, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will do that.

People need to understand that the Prime Minister has committed to the negotiation of a new settlement between Britain and the European Union. People questioned whether he would veto an EU treaty, but he has vetoed an EU treaty; people questioned his ability to get the EU budget cut, but he has succeeded in getting it cut; and people questioned his ability to get powers back from the EU, but the fact is that he got us out of the EU bail-out mechanism and saved this country hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Prime Minister has said that he is committed to negotiating a new settlement for Britain within the EU and I have every confidence that that is precisely what he will achieve. It will be then for the British people to judge that settlement in a referendum. There will be a referendum on our membership of the EU; the commitment on that is absolute. Some of my hon. Friends and indeed some of my right hon. Friends need to be a little cautious about trivialising what is involved. The decision on a referendum is hugely important for this country; it is probably the most important decision that it will have to take for generations. It is not to be lightly taken, or on the basis of prejudice or pub rhetoric.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Nicholas Soames: No, I will not. No good is done to the public governance of this country by a constant chipping away at trust and at the Government’s integrity. If the Prime Minister says that something will happen, such is the momentous nature and importance of this decision that it will happen with orderly process and proper debate, and not with some hysterical, knee-jerk, publicity-seeking action.

I beg this House to remember that, with all the EU’s imperfections and all its problems, it gives our country free and fair access to the single largest integrated economic area in the world; a single market of 27 countries and 500 million people with a gross domestic product of $16 trillion. I could not possibly look my constituents in the eye and tell them I was prepared to risk that. I urge the House to support the Prime Minister and the Government in the orderly process that has already been announced, which will result in a referendum. I am confident that it will be a positive referendum for the United Kingdom.

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