§ Mr. Speaker
It may be helpful if I announce to the House that the proposed pattern of debate for the remaining days of debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows: Thursday 14 November—health and pensions; Friday 15 November—education, culture, media and sport; Monday 18 November—economy and trade and industry; Tuesday 19 November—regional and local government, transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Wednesday 20 November—home affairs.
I now call on Mr. George Foulkes to move the Address, and Ms Oona King will second it.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is a great privilege and a real pleasure for me to be asked to move the Address together with my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). To be honest, I wondered "Why me?" My good friend and fellow seventy-niner, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), mischievously suggested that the answer could be traced back to August 1999. That was when my daughter, Jenny, gave birth to a son and made me a very proud grandfather for the first time. I did not say, "We are a grandfather", but the parents were in a quandary about what first name to give him.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Wait for it. Eventually, Jenny came to tell me the decision and she was disconcerted that I burst out laughing when she told me the name. My grandson was to be called Blair. [Laughter.] I assure the House that I had no influence whatever over the decision—well, consciously. Blair is a popular first name in Scotland—honestly—but it does have interesting consequences.
On the Sunday after the election—a day when Ministers and aspiring Ministers and their telephones are almost inseparable—the phone rang at my home in Ayr. It was someone from The Scotsman, and Jenny answered. She said, "I am sorry. He's not here; he's with Blair all afternoon. Can you phone back this evening?" I was already imagining The Scotsman sub-editor drafting the headline, "Foulkes for Foreign Secretary". [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Unfortunately that cheer came from Conservative Members. The Scotsman phoned back that evening and said with some awe, "We hear that you have been with Blair all afternoon." I said, "Yes, I took him for a walk." The penny dropped.
7 Thankfully, the phone rang again the next day and this time it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I was back not as Foreign Secretary, but as No. 2 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) in the Department for International Development, where I belonged.
That brings me to what must be the real reason that I am now on my feet. It goes back over 23 years, to 22 May 1979, when I made my maiden speech in the Queen's Speech debate. This is a reward—or is it a punishment?—for surviving that long. The Defence Secretary rather ungallantly told me that I had got the old codger's spot today—[Interruption.] But that was untypical of him.
When thinking of what to say, I received an unusually helpful suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). He suggested that I check who was the last Scottish Member to propose such a motion, as opposed to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Dr. Clark), who seconded them so eloquently. I was delighted to find out that George Younger in 1990 was the last. For 13 years, George was my neighbouring MP and, notwithstanding our political differences, we co-operated very closely on local issues. Other Scots Members described us as the Ayrshire mafia, probably rightly. He was known locally as Gentleman George—why do I never get called that? Anyway, he deserved it.
Once, I met a delegation of protesting councillors coming out of a meeting with him at St. Andrew's house when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. They said that it had been an excellent meeting, but when I asked them whether he had agreed to their demands they said, "Oh no, but he was very nice." Sometimes, being a gentleman can be politically useful as well.
George mentioned in that speech in 1990 that the most important constituency issue that he faced was the future of Prestwick airport, which had then declined to the point where it had almost no passenger traffic. He and I soon afterwards persuaded BAA to sell it and George became chair of the company that bought it—I do not know why they did not think of me—and the airport never looked back. My hon. Friend the current Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) has assiduously followed in his footsteps and now it is the fastest growing airport in Britain. Two new air links were announced from the airport in the last two weeks. Sadly, George Younger is unwell and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would wish George to know that our thoughts are with him today.
In my maiden speech, as tradition suggests, I spoke about my constituency. I just want to add a few remarks today because this is an honour for the constituency as well as for me. My constituency is the cradle of the Labour party. Keir Hardie, the founder of our party, made it his home from 1880 until his death in 1915 and he returned there even when he represented West Ham and Merthyr here in the Commons. Keir Hardie's first manifesto included three key aims: home rule, a minimum wage and temperance. It has taken this Labour Government to achieve two of those three—and, may I say it, the right two.
8 My constituency has, since the time when Keir Hardie was secretary of the Ayrshire miners, had a proud coal mining tradition, yet it is also one of the most beautiful in the country. It contains the birthplace of Scotland's bard, Robert Burns, and many of the places mentioned in his magnificent works, so it is a great honour for me to have represented it for the past 23 years, although the effects of all those Burns suppers have taken their toll.
I searched the poems and songs of Robert Burns to find a suitable verse for this occasion. Fortunately, no song seemed appropriate. I was going to suggest thatThe best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley And leave us naught but grief and painFor promised joycould now be an ode to the Leader of the Opposition, but I am not a cruel person, so I will not. Instead, I chose the lines0 would some power the giftie gie us To see ourselves as others see us".Robert Burns was ahead of his time: he thought of focus groups even before new Labour.
In that Queen's Speech debate in 1979, the Leader of the Opposition, Jim Callaghan—I, like almost everyone, if not everyone here, have always had a great respect and deep affection for him—sought a guarantee from the new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, whom I cannot say the same about, that overseas aid would be exempt from her planned cuts in expenditure. She refused to give such an undertaking. Sadly, she was true to her word and spending on aid halved in 18 years. In contrast, by the end of this Parliament, spending on development will have more than doubled since 1997, and it is moving steadily towards the United Nations target; and there is much more.
The new Department for International Development and our whole Government are leading the world in securing both debt relief and trade preferences for the poorest countries of the world, and the reaffirmation in the Queen's Speech is particularly welcome. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and particularly the Secretary of State for International Development deserve our huge praise for that. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not a prophet without honour in her own country, I know from my four years as her deputy that she is also held in even higher regard by world leaders, including the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, and the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan. We should be really proud of her.
My only sadness is that that is one of the many achievements of our Labour Government that is too often taken for granted. It reminds me of "Monty Python's Life of Brian". I think that Eric Idle, the leader of the Judean People's Front—
§ Mr. Foulkes
No, it was a breakaway from the People's Front of Judea. I think that Eric Idle asked, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" The reply—I think that it was from John Cleese—was, "Well, roads, cities, a legal system, running water, drainage, wine, and, of course, peace on the streets." The ungrateful native responds, "Yes, but apart from roads, cities, 9 a legal system, running water, drainage, wine and peace on the streets." I am sure that the Prime Minister knows how the Romans felt.
As well as a doubling of development spending, we have a minimum wage, the lowest unemployment for a generation, the lowest inflation and mortgage rates since the Beatles, reform of the House of Lords, a Parliament for Scotland, an Assembly for Wales, and much more that is far too easily discounted, set aside and taken for granted. It is also too easy, and far too glib, for some commentators and some of our critics to pretend that this Labour Government are no different from a Tory Government. It would have been very strange had a Tory Queen's Speech announced a national minimum wage, an end to the hereditary principle, devolution to Scotland and Wales, and statutory union recognition, to name but a few measures. The Leader of the Opposition would have had even more rebels with such a list of proposals.
That brings me to this year's Queen's Speech—not before time. Notwithstanding the progress of the last five and a half years, there is still more to be done, particularly to bring peace to our streets. The proposals outlined this morning, focusing on crime and antisocial behaviour, will take that forward. May I add seriously, as a Scottish MP, that the problems are no different in Scotland? The problem of drugs is the same in Cumnock as it is in Cannock. Vandalism, graffiti and antisocial tenants are no less of a problem in Doon Valley than they are in Don Valley. Where responsibility is devolved, therefore, I hope that my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will not be deflected by any nationalist tendency from applying similar solutions, within the context, of course, of our legal system.
It is also particularly pleasing to me that the Gracious Speech includes such a positive reaffirmation of the Government's intention to decide on joining the single currency, once the five tests have been met—[Laughter.] Hon. Members will recognise that I can read the Chancellor's writing. Far be it from me to anticipate the outcome, but I look forward to campaigning vigorously and enthusiastically for the euro when the day comes, as do the vast majority of my colleagues.
As one of the 1979 intake, too, Mr. Speaker, you know that I am one of the few who survived those 18 long years in opposition—you remember them well—to serve in Government for five years. I enjoyed that enormously, and I am proud to have served what I believe to be a radical reforming Government under a great Prime Minister. The even greater honour, however, is to serve as a Member of this House. As an MP, I have had the joy of celebrating the return of democracy to Chile in the plebiscite, of visiting South Africa when the evil of apartheid had been swept away and everyone was able to vote—they queued for hours to do so—and of seeing eastern Europe before and after the liberation from the tyranny of communist dictatorship. That is why I am eager for us to explore ways of ensuring that every one of our citizens is enabled to exercise their vote. It is also why I am once again spending many hours each week in the Chamber, at the epicentre of our democracy, listening as well as occasionally intervening. That is why it is such an honour to move the Loyal Address today and to be followed by such an able and delightful seconder. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I second the motion. It is a particular pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).
§ Ms King
I was coming to that. I have taken some time in preparing my speech, most of it spent practising saying the name of my right hon. Friend's constituency.
My right hon. Friend is one of the longer serving Members of the House. Traditionally, the parliamentary honour of moving and seconding the Queen's Speech falls, so I am told, to two types of MP: the younger whippersnapper MP-type and the old—I should say older—and wise, but not weary, parliamentary sage MP-type. It is up to us to guess who is who. My right hon. Friend needed all his sage-like qualities when he became an International Development Minister. All politicians say that they want to make the world a better place, but my right hon. Friend did not just say that, he did it, when he worked with the Secretary of State for International Development. For that he deserves our thanks.
It is also traditional, when seconding the Queen's Speech, for MPs to say that their constituency is the jewel in the crown. I hate it when MPs get proprietorial, but there is only one constituency that has the jewel in the crown—indeed, it has the Crown jewels—and it is mine; it is the beautiful, the bountiful, the historical Bethnal Green and Bow. A collection of picturesque hamlets nestled around the Tower, we are Tower Hamlets.
Though not without our problems, we have what any estate agent will say is the most important thing: location, location, location. On top of that, we have education—I will not repeat the mantra—and since the Government came to power in 1997, the young people of Tower Hamlets have made the greatest educational improvement of any young people in this country. As we have the highest density of poverty, I hope that everyone shares my pride and pleasure in that improvement.
It is just as well that improvement has taken place, because London's centre of gravity is moving east. We have the transport infrastructure to sustain that: City airport, Stansted, the docklands light railway and the Jubilee line extension. In addition, we are hoping, Mr. Chancellor, for the long-awaited Crossrail. I hope that local east-enders will benefit for the first time from that prosperity. To summarise, in my humble opinion, east London is the future of the planet.
When I became an east London MP, one of my predecessors to second the Queen's Speech, Neil Kinnock, gave me some advice. He said, "Oona, if you want to succeed at Westminster, you've got to do three things. First, you must specialise. If you don't, it'll set you back 10 years. Second, you must stop swearing. Third, you must stop wearing micro miniskirts." I stopped wearing micro miniskirts and finally specialised in two areas: housing and genocide. Like all MPs, I worked on many other issues, but the cry went out from my office to any journalist who rang, "Housing or 11 genocide. Housing or genocide. She'll talk about anything as long it is housing or genocide." The phones went dead.
Why housing and genocide? Housing because it is the issue that affects my constituents most, and genocide because it is the issue that affects me most, and gives me most sleepless nights. It is apt that just 48 hours ago we commemorated the end of the second world war and the horror of the holocaust. When soldiers returned from the first world war, they were promised homes fit for heroes. I must congratulate the Liberals—I hope my hon. Friends do not lynch me for it—[Interruption]. I shall tell the House why. It was a Liberal politician who came out with the phrase "homes fit for heroes".
Of course, that was all spin and no trousers, and a Labour Government had to be elected to deliver those homes, which we did with the Wheatley Act in 1924. It has always been thus: if people want more money to be put into affordable housing, they have to elect a Labour Government. It was recognised after the second world war, as it must be recognised today, especially in our debate about public services, that housing is the most fundamental public service. Again, a Labour Government are introducing legislation to increase the amount of decent, affordable housing, and I warmly welcome the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech.
Most of the constituents who come to see me say that their biggest problem is housing, followed by, and often inextricably linked to, antisocial behaviour. In areas such as mine, a lot of antisocial behaviour is linked to race. Frankly, I am sick to death of race, but if you are black, it is a bit like having a stalker, and you cannot get away from it. I have been very lucky; I have not suffered much racism. I am very light-skinned, to put it crudely, and I had to wait until I became an MP before I got death threats because of my race.
I remember, however, the first time I was materially affected by my race. I was 18 and staying in a very down-market youth hostel in America—$6 a night for a mattress and $4 if people shared. For no apparent reason, the owner of the hostel suddenly marched up to me and shouted, "We don't have niggers like you here." He went upstairs and threw all my belongings out of a first-floor window. First, there was the humiliation of having my things scattered all over the street; secondly, I had a problem in that 1 had nowhere to sleep that night; thirdly, rage engulfed me and started to drive me mad.
That experience taught me two things. First, if people are subjected to racial abuse they will, if they are average, like me, either go mad or try to get even, neither of which we want to happen. Secondly, race is no longer—as if it ever was—black or white. The man who threw me out of the hostel was Asian. The most unprejudiced, non-racist person I have ever met is my mother, who is white. The worst racial abuse that I saw while I was growing up was inflicted on Asian children by white and Afro-Caribbean children together. The icons of the 20th century who did most to inspire respect for universal human rights were black and Asian: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. To think that any race has a monopoly on racism, or on virtue, is absurd. Last year in Tower 12 Hamlets, 42 per cent. of the victims of racial crime were white and over 50 per cent. were Asian or Afro-Caribbean.
As I said, I am sick of talking about race, so I want to ask the House a favour. As long as I am one of only two black or ethnic minority women ever elected to the British Parliament, I am not going to get this stalker off my back. So if there is any chance of having a representative democracy any time soon, I would be really grateful. Not a single Asian woman has ever been elected to this Chamber, and white women are not doing very well either. People ask me, "What's it like now there are so many Labour women MPs?" If we add up the numbers of MPs called John, David or Michael, we find that there are more of them—107—than there are of us. To all those outside the Chamber who are waiting for the revolution, I say, "Don't hold your breath."
I hope that hon. Members will indulge me if my final subject is a recent parliamentary visit to Rwanda, which leads me, predictably, to genocide. Some hon. Members will know that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Rwanda—the group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention. Last month, six MPs took part in an Inter-'Parliamentary Union delegation to Rwanda. None of us will forget the small church we visited. Everywhere inside were scattered items—a shoe, a football, a bag, a jumper, a bone, then another bone—and as we looked, we realised that everywhere we turned there were bones. All I could see were hips, skulls, arms and legs. On a makeshift altar at the end of the church sat a single skull, peering out over former friends and family, now scattered, mingled and crushed in the most diabolical human rubbish tip.
That memorial site is slowly turning to dust. Without preservation, evidence of the crime will disappear. Rwanda does not have the money to build its equivalent of Israel's Yad Vashem. Forgive me for asking, but if there is anyone out there listening who, in the spirit of Remembrance Sunday, could contribute to preserving the memories of those who died in a more recent holocaust, please let me know.
While those 5,000 people in the church and up to 1 million people elsewhere were being murdered, the United Nations did nothing—well, not absolutely nothing. In 1998, with the Select Committee on International Development, I visited a genocide site, where I picked my way through 10,000 corpses. The UN had come in after all the killing was done and put up curtains with the UN logo on them—perhaps to keep off the flies, I do not know: surely the most perverse case of window dressing in history.
The fact is that the UN did nothing because we did nothing. The lesson that we must recall today is that the UN is only as strong as the resolve of its member states. I am the UN's harshest critic, but also its most passionate advocate, because if we had had an effective United Nations, the genocide in Rwanda would have been averted. To have an effective UN, we must do two things: root out the appalling double standards that cripple international relations, and prove that the UN means business. We cannot allow countries—any country—to flout UN resolutions, and we must enforce those resolutions.
I know that traditionally, this is a light, breezy, cheerful little speech, so I will conclude by telling the House what happened in Rwanda four weeks ago when 13 six MPs, including me, came face to face with a gorilla that made King Kong look like a chihuahua. I have a visual aid here—I know that that is a bit modern, but Parliament is hurtling towards modernity, and I think that our little time capsule here in the House of Commons will be rapping on the doors of the 1950s any minute now, so I trust that hon. Members will not be perturbed if I use this visual aid, which shows the gorilla in question.
When the picture was taken, I was standing about 15 ft away from that huge silverback gorilla. On my left I had a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, whom I see in his place now, and on my right, I had a Conservative Whip—not necessarily the private militia I would have chosen for my defence in the circumstances. I was terrified—I distinctly remember asking, "Anyone up for getting out of here while we're ahead?" No answer—silence. Twenty seconds later, the gorilla charged. I am not joking, and I do not mean it charged in the other direction—it charged towards us.
The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on my left was remarkably cool, calm and collected—[Interruption] He did not faint. Incredibly, however, the Conservative Whip on my right grabbed me by both shoulders, stood behind me and used me as a human shield—[Laughter.] It is with great regret that I must report to the House that there are elements in the Opposition Whips Office who will not hesitate to use the tactics of the butcher of Baghdad. For that reason, I hope that we will all give the Leader of the Opposition our sympathy if he chooses, as he may well do following recent events, to open up his party to weapons inspectors.
I do not mean to be too harsh, because during my time in Parliament I have made good friends on both sides of the House. Despite our shortcomings, and despite what people read about us in the press, there are some wonderful people in this place who work as politicians. I therefore commend this House of Commons to the country, and this Queen's Speech to the House.
§ 3.5 pm
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address, but before I do so, I shall pay tribute to Jamie Cann and Sir Ray Powell. Jamie Cann was an independent-minded and much-respected Member of Parliament. He was also an effective member of the Select Committee on Defence, but he will be remembered above all for his commitment to his Ipswich constituents, whose interests he always fought for. I am reminded that when the Ministry of Defence planned to sell a local airbase to the Natural Law party, he warned that it was handing it over toa bunch of nutters who will use it to bounce up and down on their backsides".He was clearly thinking of his experiences in the House. I know that the whole House will join me today in honouring Jamie Cann's memory.
Sir Ray Powell served Ogmore for more than 20 years, and was a fearless champion of the Welsh valleys. He could not exactly be described as a pioneer of new Labour—indeed, he delighted in being a Labour Member of the old school. I am told that, as a Whip after the 1987 election, he magnificently kept Ken 14 Livingstone without an office or phone for an entire year. There is not a commuter in London who does not wish that someone could do that today. Ray Powell and Jamie Cann will both be greatly missed.
Let me now turn to the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on a most spirited speech—no old codger he, I promise him. I can safely say that no one in the House has ever given as much publicity as him to the cause of the Scotch Whisky Association, on which we highly commend him-Keir Hardie roll over. Asked whether he saw himself as old or new Labour, he endearingly described himself as "slightly shop-soiled Labour". He has campaigned to ban many things, including smoking and proportional representation—but not drinking—and even once introduced a Bill to ban space invaders. Perhaps he was thinking of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who said recently that he was "put on earth" to be a Minister. He has returned to his mother ship for the moment—but, I remind the Prime Minister, is ready to come back.
Some unkindly souls regarded the departure of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley from the Scotland Office as a demotion, but, like him, I know that he has been promoted to a far more powerful position in new Labour. He is now one of the Prime Minister's special envoys. I warn him that the next step is to become one of the Prime Minister's tennis partners—I am not sure whether he will appreciate that. He has made a long career, both in office and in opposition, of fighting for the cause of the developing world and battling injustice. Today's powerful speech shows that he has lost none of his fighting spirit, and I genuinely congratulate him on an excellent contribution.
I also warmly congratulate my fellow east Londoner, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). Like many in the House, I knew her predecessor, Lord Shore—a man I admired and was personally fond of—who sadly passed away during the last Session. I know that, as an assiduous constituency Member, as well as a man of great principle, he would be smiling with pride today at her performance. The only surprise for us came when she held up the picture; everybody on the Opposition Benches wondered which colleague's picture she was showing.
I gather that when the hon. Lady was a teenager she said that she wanted to be both Prime Minister and an air hostess. There is consistency in her ambition: air hostesses and the Prime Minister spend their days repeating the same pre-prepared and utterly predictable announcements before jetting off around the world. She knows—perhaps more than most, I understand—that being a close friend of this Prime Minister can be a more hazardous affair than it sounds. She says that she once caught the flu after being kissed by him. Ah, that infectious charm of the Prime Minister!
To avoid any doubts, let me quickly tell the House that the hon. Lady says of her Italian husband:He is Andy Garcia-gorgeous, speaks five languages including Japanese, has a black belt in karate, does all the cleaning and shopping, and cooks the most fantastic Italian food.Now we know why she has campaigned for so long and so hard to, change the hours in this place: she wants to get home a bit earlier. I am not sure whether it will help 15 her career, but I also understand and I should reveal to the House that even my predecessor in Chingford, Lord Tebbit, has had very warm words to say about her. It might be helpful in the future if she would tell me how she managed to pull that one off.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has worked tirelessly to combat the evil of drugs at home and the evil of genocide abroad. Her work in the countries around the central African great lakes has brought the region's suffering to the attention of the whole House, and her speech today reminds us all why she is such a powerful champion of every issue that she takes up. I am glad that Neil Kinnock gave her the advice that he did, and I congratulate her warmly on a tremendous speech.
As the hon. Lady knows only too well, the new Session of Parliament will bring not only a new legislative programme but new procedures in the House to govern the scrutiny of it. We will do all that we can to make those reforms work, but we are determined to ensure that they do not result in less effective scrutiny of proposed legislation or an easier ride for the Executive. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that in recent years and under Governments of both parties the Executive have grown stronger and Parliament weaker, so we will watch the new procedures very carefully indeed.
The coming Session will, I believe, be overshadowed by global events. If anyone ever doubted that 11 September would be more than a horrendous but isolated event, the devastating bombing in Bali showed that international terror can strike any time, anywhere. As the daily alerts remind us, Britain is a prime target. This is the most critical issue facing our nation. The Government know that from the outset, from the Conservative party at least, they have received the fullest support and will continue to do so.
International terror takes many forms, which is why we strongly backed the American and British drive to get a toughly worded Security Council resolution on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We are immensely pleased that the resolution has now been passed. Saddam has run out of places to hide. He faces a simple choice: accept the will of the international community, or have that will imposed upon him.
Terror at home and abroad is never easy to fight in a democratic society. We all want our security, but we want our freedom too; it is the job of the Opposition to make sure that the Government strike the right balance between the two. In that spirit, we welcome the emergency planning Bill. It is clearly both timely and sensible to examine our ability to cope with a major terrorist attack. We will examine the detail of the Bill when it is published. We will support measures to help the security services, but we will oppose vigorously any new powers to arrest and deport British citizens for activities that are not crimes here in the United Kingdom.
There are other parts of the Queen's Speech that we can welcome. We will support measures to introduce a single media regulator, provided that it has a very light touch, although we ask this question: why does the BBC appear to be excluded from its remit? We back licensing 16 reform, provided that the interests of local residents are properly protected. We support moves to strengthen protection of children. When the Home Secretary introduces the sex offences Bill, he should take on board the suggestions of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for strengthening the law on paedophiles.
We are also delighted with one omission from the Queen's Speech—the controversial mental health Bill. Many expert organisations in the field and many hon. Members on both sides of the House have grave reservations about the Government's proposals, so I hope that that omission signals a real change of heart.
We also note that the civil service Bill has not made it into the Queen's Speech. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, said after the Jo Moore affair thatnever has a civil service Bill been more necessary in Britain".He is right. We need that Bill to restore trust and honesty to our public life.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about omissions, will he clarify whether he agrees with the Government's proposals on antisocial behaviour orders, or with his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who believes that they should be torn up?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until I reach that point, but we have heard it all before from the Government and it never seems to work.
With regard to honesty, let us come to the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) recently said that his party should notput leaflets out which say untruths, or distort things in a dubious fashion".He went on to say:our literature and party promotion should focus on our strengths.But his colleagues, in a document sent round at the same time, said:You can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory".It goes on:Be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly.That is the Liberal Democrats whom we know and love.
The Prime Minister has said that the Government areat our best when at our boldest".[Interruption.] How the little voices often sound loudest, like empty barrels. We waited for evidence of that in the Queen's Speech, but the truth is that each year they promise bold measures, and each year it is the same old story. They promise real reform but they fail to deliver. The one thing that the Government and the Chancellor are delivering is higher taxes. There has been a rise of more than £100 billion since 1997— £38 per person per week—in taxes on pensions and petrol, mortgages and marriage, cars and congestion, houses, and now higher education. As Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said this week: 17For five years the engine of wealth creation has been overtaxed and almost run into the ground.From next April, national insurance contributions will rise by £8 billion a year—and that from a Prime Minister who, before 1997, said:We have no plans to increase taxes at all.Five years on, Britain has overtaken Germany in the high-tax league. We are paying the taxes, but so much is getting worse—so much more.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he can tell us all why the Prime Minister broke his pledge on taxes.
§ Jim Knight
The right hon. Gentleman talks about taxation, but does he agree with the increases in public expenditure that go with it?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The reality for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench is that the Government have failed to reform public services, which is why they are having to spend so much money. He should ask them why they do not reform public services. He did not answer the question because one cannot trust the Government.
The Queen's Speech is being debated on the day of the first firefighters' strike for 20 years—since, I must remind the House, the last Labour Government. Let me be absolutely clear: the decision to strike and to put people's lives at risk is wrong. When I asked the Prime Minister last month to let our soldiers have access to the most modern firefighting equipment and training, he said that he would not do so, because it might inflame the situation. The situation is now inflamed, so will he give the Army access to that modern equipment so that it can provide the protection that people need? When he speaks, perhaps he will explain exactly why not. The firefighters should call off their strike now.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
The right hon. Gentleman refers to a question that he put to the Prime Minister in Prime Minister's questions. Will he explain why last week he flouted parliamentary convention by failing to notify me that he was going to refer to me and purport to quote me at Prime Minister's Question Time? Why, by selective quotation, did he distort—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Kaufman
Why, by selective quotation, did the right hon. Gentleman distort what I said by omitting my comments on Gibraltar:this House…would not accept the sell-out of the Falklands by the Tory Government"?—[Official Report, 12 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 1174.]18 Why now—[Interruption]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The intervention is too long. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the Leader of the Opposition misquoted him.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to write his apologies to the Prime Minister in his own way. I promise that I will not intervene.
It is not just union militancy that has got worse over the past five years under this Government, but a number of other things—for example, the crisis in pensions. The Chancellor has slapped a £5 billion tax on pension funds each year. We have the lowest savings ratio for 40 years. Fewer than four in 10 salary schemes are open to new members. Britain is in the grip of a Minister-made pensions crisis. There are no bold measures on pensions in the Queen's Speech—not one. So there is no real reform on pensions; just plans to scrap tax breaks on pensions for hard-working savers.
What about the crisis in transport? One in five trains do not reach their destinations on time. Delays on the tube have doubled since the Government took office. Their 10-year plan has been rubbished by the Transport Select Committee, which is dominated by the Prime Minister's own party. The transport system is in gridlock. There is no real reform in this Queen's Speech on transport; just, next year, more congestion charges for commuters in London.
There is a crisis in education. In the past three years, the number of serious assaults on teachers has nearly quadrupled. The number of teacher vacancies has doubled since the Government took office, and the A-level fiasco was a disaster for thousands of hard-working parents and students.
§ Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week three head teachers told the Select Committee on Education and Skills that this year there were fewer remarkings of A-levels than in normal years?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
It really is a shame when Labour Back Benchers have to get up to defend the disaster of those on the Front Bench, who have plunged A-levels into crisis.
I am aware also that the brand new Education Secretary recently said that the problem is that the Government have introducedToo many initiatives in too many directions.19 He must have been thinking of the 4,500 regulations that the Government heaped on teachers year after year.
I have copies of the Government's answer to all the paperwork. First, there is "Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume One", followed by "Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume Two". They are to be used in conjunction with the "Bureaucracy Cutting Toolkit". The Prime Minister who promised us education, education, education has given us paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
The Queen's Speech contains no bold measures to slash red tape and set teachers free to teach. There are therefore no bold reforms on education, only plans to hit hard-working families with top-up fees for university students.
Let us consider the crisis in health. Five years after the Prime Minister said that there were 24 hours to save the NHS, the health service has more administrators than beds. In Britain, the average wait for an operation exceeds four months. In France, the maximum is four weeks. In Britain, patients have to wait hours in accident and emergency; in Germany, the maximum wait is minutes. Most important, the Government's handling of health professionals has left morale at an all-time low.
§ Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the £1.5 billion necessary to provide the private operations to which he is committed would come out of the NHS budget?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
In the past year, 250,000 people had to go outside the health service to buy treatment. The Chancellor is not paying for them and the hon. Gentleman is not caring for them. Tell them what sort of care the health service provides.
We need bold action on health, but we shall get only 12 foundation hospitals out of the 250 hospital trusts. Bold health reform would make every hospital a foundation hospital.
Let us consider the crisis on our streets. Five years after the Prime Minister said that he would be tough on crime, a crime is committed every five seconds. The number of solved crimes has fallen by 18 per cent. in the past five years. Street crime has increased by almost a third in the past year. After five wasted years and 12 criminal justice measures, the Queen's Speech again promises action on crime.
The Government promised genuine reform but they failed to deliver. They said that there would be 5,000 antisocial behaviour orders a year, but only 300 were issued last year. They said that child safety orders would tackle antisocial behaviour, but four years after their introduction, only 12 have been issued. They said that child curfew zones would tackle antisocial behaviour, but, four years later, not a single local authority has issued one.
One does not fight crime by undermining the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens while allowing thugs and criminals to walk free.
§ Bob Spink (Castle Point)
Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for the Prime Minister to give police 20 back the power to confiscate unopened cans and bottles of alcohol from youths and younger children on the streets, where they would otherwise consume the alcohol? The Government removed that power from the police under the Criminal Justice Act 2001.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I should love to ask the Prime Minister for a promise, but we get only promises from him, never delivery.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The Deputy Prime Minister usually misses out in the Queen's Speech. It is a pity that that has not happened again this year. The right hon. Gentleman has a Bill to tear up the map of Britain, to destroy our historic counties and to create a new layer of government that will employ fresh armies of bureaucrats and create a new mass of red tape. The Bill will impose a new tier of politicians on local people and place new burdens on business. That is not devolving power down; it is grabbing power up.
The Queen's Speech offers more of the same failed policies as before, with more edicts, more targets, more indicators, more centralisation, more spin and more control. It could have delivered so much. It could have given head teachers the final power to exclude unruly pupils. It could have offered treatment to all young heroin and cocaine addicts. It could have extended the right to buy to housing association tenants. It could have cut regulations for care homes and restored care beds. It could have made all hospitals foundation hospitals. It could have handed power back to doctors, nurses and teachers. It could have given choice to patients, parents and pupils. Finally, it could have offered genuine hope to the millions of people who work in and rely on our public services. It did none of these things. Instead, the Queens' Speech is just more of the same. Each year the Government promise real reform and each year they fail to deliver.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
Before I respond to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address, let me first pay tribute to our colleagues Jamie Cann and Sir Ray Powell, who died during the last Session. Jamie Cann served Ipswich for nearly 10 years as its Member of Parliament, and for many years before that as a member and later leader of Ipswich borough council. His sudden death was a sad loss to us all. As we all know, Jamie had strong views, which were often forcefully expressed, but he was immensely well respected. His funeral service was full to overflowing and the affection that the people of Ipswich had for him was clear to all. I know that the whole House will mourn his loss.
Sir Ray Powell's death after 22 years' service as a Member of Parliament was a great shock. Ray was known throughout the House as Whip and latterly Chairman of the Committee that oversaw the construction of Portcullis House. It was said of Ray—I know accurately—that he could predict the result of any 21 vote, and I mean any vote, in this place. It helped that he was the Whip in charge of accommodation. He was a true voice of the valleys, and all of us are the poorer for his loss. The House extends its condolences to the families of both Ray and Jamie.
I have heard many speeches proposing and seconding the Queen's Speech, from both sides of the Chamber and I have to say that I think the two we heard today were among the best that I have ever heard. I give my warmest congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—[HON. MEMBERS:"What about his grandson?"] I was reflecting on that. It is kind of my right hon. Friend to have called his grandson Blair, although I cannot promise him that if and when I have a grandson I will call him Foulkes. We will reflect on that. We can always set up a review.
My right hon. Friend made an immensely humorous and generous speech. It was the hallmark of him that when he spoke about his time as a Minister—he was very kind about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State although he himself performed an enormous service and did a lot of tremendous work—what came through was what always comes through with him: his general optimism and hope for the future. It was an excellent speech and I commend him on it.
The statistic that impresses me most about my right hon. Friend is that when he was first elected in 1979, his majority was just 1,500. Last year it was 15,000. There were 22 Conservative Members in Scotland when my right hon. Friend was elected and now there is only one. So his contribution has taken many forms. He has done his constituency proud today and we thank him for it.
As we know, the loyal address was seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). I echo entirely the Leader of the Opposition's words about her predecessor Peter Shore, whom I knew for many years as well. Even if I did not always agree with him—on some issues I strongly disagreed with him—he was someone of genuine integrity. He commanded the immense respect of all people, whether his political opponents or political friends.
I thought that the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow was marvellous. What she said about housing in her constituency and about the work that she did in relation to genocide is absolutely right. We wish that she had identified the Conservative Whip. She did not, but I hope that she will identify him at least to the Leader of the Opposition, because that could be immensely useful.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the education results in her constituency and local borough. They have improved dramatically, including a 7 per cent. increase in GCSEs. That is a tremendous tribute to the teachers, pupils and parents in the schools in her constituency. She made a marvellous speech that was witty and also contained serious points. She came into the House as one of the youngest Members of Parliament and it is clear that she has a long and successful political career ahead of her. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] However, how and when it will be successful I cannot say.
I hope that the House will forgive me if before I respond to the Leader of the Opposition's speech directly I say something about the firefighters' dispute, 22 which he mentioned. I am sorry that the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union has chosen confrontation. The firefighters have been offered 11 per cent. over two years. That is more than nurses, teachers and police officers—much more. All that is asked in return is the modernisation of plainly outdated practices.
The offer came out of the independent review by George Bain, the man who headed the commission that introduced the minimum wage and who sat with two others, one from local government and the other last year's president of the TUC and himself a trade union leader. The idea that such a review was biased in some way is, therefore, palpably absurd. It was an entirely persuasive and reasonable report that I commend to people to read.
All of us in this House I hope pay tribute to the hard and sometimes dangerous work that firefighters do, but with inflation at around 2 per cent., no Government could yield to a wage claim of 40 per cent. with the insistence that it is unlinked to any change in working practices. It is not just this Government who could not contemplate doing so: no Government on earth could yield to such a claim. If we said yes to 40 per cent. for firefighters, how could we, or any Government, say no to a 40 per cent. claim for teachers, nurses or police officers? If we said yes to all, the consequence is so clear that it hardly bears spelling out. After all the hard work to get low inflation, low unemployment and low mortgage rates—in each case, the lowest for decades—and to stabilise the economy, we would simply wreck it and take this country back to days that I believe we all hope have gone for ever.
No Government—and certainly not this Government—want a confrontation. We especially do not want one at this time. The suggestion that amidst the current security issues the Government have tried to engineer this strike is offensive and wrong. On the contrary, we have tried our utmost to be as reasonable and as generous as possible, within the limits of what is possible.
Even now, I hope that common sense will prevail after this 48-hour stoppage. We have been in discussion with the union about emergency cover in the event of a major incident, which is obviously important. Meanwhile, we will continue to make all preparations to minimise risk to the public in so far as we can do so, guided by the best professional advice of our armed forces. I know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister wishes to make a statement on that tomorrow, with your permission, Mr. Speaker.
I welcome the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) to his first Queen's Speech debate as Leader of the Opposition. It has been a busy few days for him, and we are here to help. We know that he is on "Desert Island Discs" next week, so I thought that we could help with one or two choices of music. For example, everyone could choose a Beatles song—[HON. MEMBERS: "Help!"] My hon. Friends are unkindly suggesting "Help!". I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends have any messages for him, but perhaps they would suggest "Hello, Goodbye"—"You say hello, and we say goodbye." To celebrate his political roots, what about, "I Can't Let Maggie Go"? To mark his contribution to the last Conservative Government, he could perhaps 23 choose "Rebel, Rebel". To commemorate his year as Conservative leader, I think "The Sound of Silence" has the right ring to it.
The other thing about "Desert Island Discs", which is where we can really help, is that the right hon. Gentleman gets to choose a book, and I have the perfect volume for him. It is a work published by Common Courage Press, its title is, indeed, "Unite or Die" and its author is one Fidel Castro. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—that is the very point that I was going to make. He is shouting out, "He's still there," and he is. Yes, 42 years is what hon. Members have to look forward to with the right hon. Gentleman.
I have not always studied the Conservative party website with assiduity, but I have studied it for today. It shows that the right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, is carrying on unabashed:The self-styled 'quiet man' of politics is following up his party's successful Bournemouth conference with a pledge to meet and listen to people.—Mr Duncan Smith said he was prepared to return again and again to impoverished localities. He said, 'I can't just revisit once and expect people to turn round and say "Thank God you're back",'.I have some good news for him. A News of the World opinion poll on potential Conservative leaders was published a few days ago: the bad news is that he is behind the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), but the good news is that he is three points ahead of Basil Brush, so there is hope for him yet.
The truth about the position of the Conservative party is that its problem is not disunity, but what it unites around. It is policy that is the problem, because the right hon. Gentleman stood up at that Dispatch Box and effectively repeated the Conservative position of opposing investment in the national health service and in schools. [Interruption.] Oh yes. He got up and attacked the increases that we are introducing in April. That is because he does not agree with putting the extra investment into the health service.
Yesterday, the Conservative party made it clear that it is opposed not merely to the extra spending on schools, hospitals and the police—all the extra money that we are putting in. It also said that it would scrap the sure start programme, which has brought hope to people in communities up and down this country.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you recall ruling in the last Session that the Prime Minister should address his remarks to the subject under debate, not to Conservative policy?
§ The Prime Minister
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman—I know that he does not want us to talk about the Conservative party—but it is important in this Queen's Speech debate to state the difference between the two parties.
The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is opposed to the investment and he, alone among Conservative leaders in Europe, is opposed to the Nice treaty on 24 enlargement in Europe. He is opposed to the single currency on any terms, at any time. The Conservatives put a three-line whip on opposing adoption by unmarried couples. Where they should be moderate, they are extreme, but where they should be tough, they are soft. They will oppose, apparently, the Government's new law and order proposals. They have opposed many of the proposals on the seizure of assets of drug dealers. They are opposing the tightening of rules on evidence, previous convictions and cracking down on abuse in Crown court trials. They even opposed the fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour.
Where people need investment in public services, the Conservatives are opposed to it. Where business needs a sensible attitude in Europe, they would leave Britain marginalised. Where people want us to get tough on antisocial behaviour, they tell us it does not matter. That, with respect, is their problem. Out of touch and backward. Not so much nasty or nice. Just plainly and simply irrelevant.
The Queen's Speech focuses on economic stability, the invest and reform programme in public services, strong civic society based on rights and responsibilities and Britain engaged in the world. Now the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the previous crime Bills. Let me first point out that crime under this Government is down; under the Conservatives, it doubled. [Interruption.] Oh yes. If people look, for example today, at the latest figures issued by the Metropolitan police, in the last year in London, it has managed to cut street crime—not have street crime go up, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated.
The previous Bills were important. There was, for example, the Bill to introduce the crime and disorder partnerships in 1998, supported by the police and by local people. There were measures to do with licensing the private security industry. There were measures to do with terrorism—in particular, anti-terrorist legislation post-Omagh and post-11 September.
This criminal justice Bill sets out to rebalance the system in favour of the victim. It arises from the Auld review of two years ago and this year's White Paper. It will set up a strategy to modernise the entire criminal justice system from end to end—from better detection to effective sentencing, and right through to the rehabilitation of offenders. It will make fundamental changes to pre-trial processes, including reforms to police and criminal evidence, bail, charging and disclosure. It will change criminal trial processes by making changes to rules of evidence, double jeopardy, juries and appeals. It will put sense into sentencing through comprehensive reform of the sentencing framework, and will introduce provisions to address drug-related and juvenile offending. It will also improve the treatment of victims and witnesses.
I might have hoped that such a Bill would be supported by the Conservative party, because it will be supported by people in the country. It will be backed by the courts Bill, which, at long last, will unify court administration and modernise court practice. We will also deal with antisocial behaviour.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
Throughout the House and in the country, many people 25 will support effective measures to deal with crime and antisocial behaviour: that cannot be a matter of disagreement.
The Government rightly want to change sentencing policy, ensuring that time in custody is followed by supervision. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether that good idea has now received the support of his friend the Chancellor, so that when we have passed the Bill money will be available, in the current Parliament, to ensure that it is implemented immediately, rather than promised immediately but not delivered until much later?
§ The Prime Minister
We do indeed have money set aside to implement the provision. That is the purpose of the settlement given to the Home Office in the spending review.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman speaks for the Liberal Democrats when he says that most Members will support the measures on antisocial behaviour, but I hope that they will support those measures, because they are essential. After all, we are putting a huge investment into communities up and down the country, with the new deal for the unemployed, the new deal for the communities themselves, the working families tax credit, sure start, and record rises in child benefit. I think that, given the opportunities we are providing, we are entitled to demand responsibility in return. I think we are entitled to say that the things that make people's lives a misery—graffiti, vandalism, aggressive behaviour, fly tipping, abandoned cars, antisocial tenants, truancy and irresponsible use of airguns—should be dealt with comprehensively, and that a simple system of penalties should be introduced.
§ Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)
My constituents and I will certainly welcome the list of measures to deal with antisocial behaviour, but my constituents are also concerned about another aspect of crime and antisocial behaviour. I heard nothing about domestic violence in the Queen's Speech, and I hope that it is not slipping off the Government's agenda.
§ The Prime Minister
A consultation paper on domestic violence will be published within the next few months. My hon. Friend is entirely right: domestic violence is a huge problem that affects many thousands of people in this country, causing them great misery.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I appreciate the commitment to dealing with antisocial behaviour, but will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the laws will be extended to Northern Ireland? People there want them as well, particularly to deal with the so-called joy riding and the car thieving that have led to so many deaths. Would it not be easier to include such measures in the new legislation than again to trifle with police reforms that were never in the Belfast agreement?
§ The Prime Minister
We are considering how to ensure that the antisocial behaviour provisions are available in Northern Ireland as well. I think they will be very important to the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
As for some of the measures introduced so far, it is simply incorrect to say that antisocial behaviour orders have not worked; but it is true to say that cumbersome 26 procedures are needed to secure them. That is the precise reason for streamlining. It is also the reason for introducing the fixed-penalty notices that we now want to increase. We want to extend them to a wider range of offences, and to give more people power to implement them.
What that will do is critical. If we talk to any police officer dealing with antisocial behaviour, we hear that the problem is the length of time it takes to go through the court procedures. The fixed-penalty notice gives the police a simple thing to do. It is then up to the person who is, effectively, the defendant to come to court and have the notice set aside.
§ Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said in relation to air weapons. Thousands of people up and down the country have been victims of air weapons, or have family who have been victims. Can he give an indication of when the legislation will come forward? Will it be a priority within the timetable?
§ The Prime Minister
It certainly will be a priority. We will bring it forward as soon as we possibly can.
As well as measures to change the criminal justice system and the courts system and to deal with antisocial behaviour, we will carry on with the programme of invest and reform. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green says, effectively, that all the changes and all the money that has been put into the health service and education have not worked, that nothing has happened, that nothing has changed. The Conservatives have to say that. They have to say that the national health service has failed because they do not want it to succeed. They have to say that our schools system cannot get better because they do not believe that improving our schools system is a priority for the Government.
Take any constituency and look at what changes have occurred, even the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. This year, his primary care trust has had an 8.9 per cent. increase in cash terms. He says that it has been wasted but let me tell him what it has bought: a 25 per cent. reduction in in-patient waiting lists from March 1997; a reduction in the total number of out-patient waiters of almost 50 per cent; the achievement of a maximum waiting time of 26 weeks for the first out-patient appointment; over 1 million to modernise accident and emergency. On education, there has been an increase of almost 20 per cent. in funding per pupil. The primary school results, GCSE results and A-level results are the best that his constituency has ever had. That is why the money is important for our public services. That is why it would be so wrong to take that money out.
§ David Burnside (South Antrim)
The Prime Minister will recognise that Northern Ireland's secondary schools have a higher standard of academic results than any other part of the United Kingdom. Will he give the House a commitment that he will not follow up the decision by the Minister of Education, Martin McGuinness, in abolishing selection procedure and destroying the grammar school system in Northern Ireland?
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that my right hon. Friend with the relevant responsibilities will have heard 27 the hon. Gentleman's submission. I am aware that it is a controversial issue in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I will let my right hon. Friend get back to the hon. Gentleman with the detail of it.
In relation to health and education, let us be clear. Of course there is still an immense amount of progress to be made but the money has made an immense difference to constituencies up and down this country. Go into any school and see the capital investment there. Look at the extra number of nurses—tens of thousands extra. Look at the extra number of teachers. The right hon. Gentleman went on about teacher vacancies. Actually, he was wrong in what he said; but there are 20,000 more teachers today than there were five years ago and there are 80,000 more classroom assistants.
Does that solve the problem? No, but it is better than the situation where funding per pupil was getting cut in our schools, and where we had a 400,000 increase in the number on the waiting lists in the national health service. As a result of what we are trying to do now, we have the chance for the first time in a generation to get the reforms through in our public services that we need, backed by substantial extra investment.
Whatever the problems in the Conservative party, the Conservatives' real problem is that when it came to the test of whether they were really going to change, when it came to the test of whether they were prepared to back the investment in our public services, they voted against that investment.
§ Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)
Every day, the company pension rights of British workers are getting worse. All we are promised by the Government is another Green Paper and more delay. Does the Prime Minister think that there will be any decent pension schemes left by the time he legislates?
§ The Prime Minister
It is not correct to say that we have done nothing in relation to pensions and pensioners. A massive amount of money has been put into helping the poorest pensioners. We have the pension credit. There is the state second pension and the stakeholder pension. The purpose of the Green Paper is to try to simplify the system. It will be extremely important that we take the long-term decisions necessary in relation to pensions but we are only going to get to be able to do that on the basis of what works, which is why we set up the two reviews under Mr. Sandler and Mr. Pickering, and we will implement the recommendations that they have made.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan):
Does the commitment in the Queen's Speech to high levels of employment extend to the fishing communities around our coastline? The Prime Minister will know from his own recent experience that if the French fishing industry were facing mortal threat, President Chirac would be personally involved in defending it. What personal initiative can the Prime Minister offer to fishing communities in their time of need?
§ The Prime Minister
First, unemployment in this country is far lower than in France. The best protection 28 that we can give to people is to create jobs in the economy. Secondly, it is a cruel deception to pretend to people in the fishing industry that there is some easy solution to the problems that they face. We have said that we will sit down with the industry, in light of the decisions of the European Council, and try to work out what we do if we have to decommission ships and if people are laid off to make sure that those people are properly looked after and protected. We will do everything we can to do that, but to try to say that there is some easy solution that will prevent any job losses in the fishing industry is not being honest with those in the fishing industry.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West):
The Prime Minister said that he was concerned about hospital waiting lists. Is he aware that 40 beds are blocked at any given time at the Royal Bournemouth hospital as a direct result of the cuts of £3 million a year that he has made to the social services budget, which means that there are no places in nursing homes? How does he reconcile that with his ambition to reduce waiting lists?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point, which I shall answer. We have a Bill—his party is opposing it, incidentally—precisely to make sure that we deal with the issue of delayed discharges and bed blocking. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support it. I do not know the exact position in his constituency, of course. However, if he is saying that his constituency needs more money than we have provided—I am sure that a real increase was provided-how on earth can he support the position of those on his party's Front Bench, which is to oppose even the money that we have put into the NHS?
What is more, the Conservatives are opposed not only to the money, but to the reform. Effectively, they are saying that they want to scrap all targets, which they attack all the time. I make no apology for saying that if we are putting extra money into the NHS, we want to see reductions in waiting lists and waiting times, because that is important for people who use the service.
The reason why the Conservatives must oppose the reform is that their reform proposal, in so far as there is one, is not about improving the health service or state schools. As came across clearly in the response of the Leader of the Opposition to an intervention, they want to provide a subsidy for people to go outside the NHS.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman says that they are doing that. Fine; we have had an admission that that is his policy. Let me spell out to his right hon. and hon. Friends the consequences of that policy. His policy would mean that we had to take £1.5 billion out of the current NHS budget, with that money going to a tiny percentage of the overall NHS clientele. How would a pensioner who does not have much income afford to pay the money in order to get the subsidy? When the right hon. Gentleman talks about giving people a subsidy to go outside the state education system, how will taking that money, by way of subsidy, out of the state education system improve the quality of education for the millions of children who depend on state education in this country?
29 That is why the choices could not be more stark. The choice could not be more stark on crime, where the Conservative party has now got itself into a position where it is opposing the measures that we are taking on crime and antisocial behaviour; on the investment programme, where we want the investment to go in and the Conservatives want to take it out; and on reform, where we are trying to reform the public services as public services and they are trying to make sure that the public services stop being for the public at all.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
When will we see the introduction of NHS dentistry into Market Harborough?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon, and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that that is a problem. That is why we have created a system in which people can get to an NHS dentist—[Interruption.] If the hon. and learned Gentleman gives me chapter and verse on the cases, I will have them looked into. However, when we came to power, the previous Government had wrecked NHS dentistry in this country. The idea that the Conservative party, with its record on the national health service and dentists, can turn round and tell us that we are the ones responsible for that situation! We are the ones trying to put it right, by investment and reform, and the Conservatives are opposing it.
It is not merely a question of the Conservatives having opposed the investment, having opposed the reform and opposing the criminal justice and antisocial behaviour measures: the Conservatives also have no coherent policy whatever for the economy. We have delivered in this country low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment; we are now making a major investment in science and technology. The communications Bill announced in the Queen's Speech will free up the market in communications and the planning Bill will simplify procedures, but all these things would be put at risk if we returned to the disastrous policies that, under the last Conservative Government, gave us interest rates of 15 per cent., interest rates of 10 per cent. for years or more, and 3 million unemployed. [Interruption.] The Conservatives say that they have heard it all before, and I can tell them that they will hear it all again from now until election time.
On the issues of foreign policy, the Leader of the Opposition and I of course agree on the need to go through the United Nations and disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but I hope that, as one part of any changes that the right hon. Gentleman is looking at in the Conservative party, he will change its disastrous policy towards the European Union. There is no way that this country can be a leading player in the European Union unless it has a constructive and engaged policy. It means of course that we have to stick up for British interests, but British interests are about being inside the European Union, not being on the outside.
At every level in this Queen's Speech, whether it is on the economy or in relation to Europe—
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Before the Prime Minister leaves foreign policy, will he answer this question? No one doubts his genuine concern with the continent of Africa, but would he reflect as to whether 30 there is something rather grotesque about the fact that we have the situation in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, and in southern Africa, and the starvation, while the west—ourselves and the Americans—are proposing to launch an attack that will end up heaven knows how in the middle east? Would it not be wise at least to reflect on the consequences of the two rather different approaches, because there are many people in the world who do not think that the west is being very wise about this?
§ The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend put his question in a very reasonable way and I pay tribute to the sincerity of his views because he disagrees profoundly with what we are doing in relation to Iraq, but I would say to him that the simple answer is that we should do both things. We should be ensuring that, through the United Nations, Iraq is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, but we should also be carrying on the policies that the Labour Government have pioneered on aid and development and on third world debt, to help people in Africa. The reason why it is so important to get action in Africa, and the reason why we have been leading on the issue of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, is precisely to achieve the combination of measures against conflict and measures for better aid and development, so that the issues that have arisen in Ethiopia and southern Africa do not recur.
The truth is that on each of these major issues there is a fundamental difference between the two political parties: fundamental on the issue of the economy, fundamental on the issue of Europe, fundamental on the issue of investment for public services, fundamental on the issues to do with reform of public services and fundamental in relation to crime and law and order and antisocial behaviour. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition can count.
However, it is important to realise that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman has taken his party to the position that it is in, is that in each of those cases, he has made the wrong choice. That is the real reason why, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he has the problem that he has. This country knows that we need a stable economy and low unemployment, not a return to boom and bust. People know that we need investment in our public services rather than cuts. They know that we need reform of our public services not the privatisation of them. They know that we need the tough measures on crime and antisocial behaviour and they know that this country's future in the end, whatever difficulties and doubts they have about Europe, lies at the heart of Europe and not on the outside of Europe. It is for that reason that the Queen's Speech continues that programme of the Government, continues the programme on the economy, on our public services, on a strong civic society, and on a foreign policy that allows us to play our part in Europe properly, and it is for these reasons also that the Conservative party, as it has shown once again today, has made the wrong decisions for the country and as a result will remain out of office for a very long time.
§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)
First, may I begin by joining in the appropriate tributes that have been paid to the late Jamie Cann and 31 Sir Ray Powell, both of whom were respected in all quarters of the House? On behalf of Liberal Democrats, I pass on our best wishes to their families, relatives and loved ones.
Secondly, it is my very pleasant task to join in the congratulations of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). I do not have to practise too hard to say his constituency name. As someone said to me on a television programme, when I mentioned the title of my constituency, it sounds like a firm of accountants. We have that feature in common.
On the serious side, I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming the emphasis on increased foreign aid and international obligation in the Queen's Speech. I pay tribute to his long-standing work, as a Minister and in opposition, over many years, through the 1980s in particular, in that field. I think I am right that, such was his global track record in opposition, as a member of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, that the late Donald Dewar remarked percipiently that if he ever found himself, as he frequently did—as the press recorded on many occasions—in a global trouble spot, whether it was a military coup or a civil war, it was always possible to find him, as he would be in the radio station, broadcasting to the rest of the world about what was happening.
I remember that, in my first Parliament, just as we entered the summer recess of 1983, The Guardian decided to run a competition for its readership. The prize was a bottle of champagne for the first sharp-eyed reader who could spot the first Member of Parliament to demand the recall of Parliament. The next day's edition carried a clarification saying that the competition was now suspended, because a sharp-eyed reader had written in to say that, the day before, the right hon. Gentleman had already demanded a recall of Parliament. He was never one to miss a trick.
The right hon. Gentleman has been at his most persuasive this afternoon. I only regret that I have never been able to persuade him of the merits of proportional representation. In that respect, he is unlike the much more enlightened hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). In the past, she and I have worked together on electoral reform issues through the Make Votes Count campaign. I wish her every success in her chairmanship within her party of the ongoing campaign for electoral reform. I hope that, like me, she will not miss the opportunity, which will occur during this Session, to remind the Prime Minister of the commitment in the last Labour general election manifesto to review all voting systems after next year's May local elections. If he is not susceptible to my persuasive charms, I hope that he will be susceptible to hers.
Over the years, the hon. Lady has also impressed many of us—in the best sense—with her independence of mind and spirit on issues as wide-ranging as Afghanistan and asylum. I suspect that she subscribes to Thomas Jefferson's view of life that a little rebellion now and then is no bad thing—I do not expect the leader of the Conservative party to be saying that in his sleep at 32 the moment—and I wonder whether aspects of the Queen's Speech might encourage her in that direction. I look forward to that in the coming months.
In many ways, the Queen's Speech defines what are the new fault lines of British politics in the 21st century. The old, more sterile and outdated arguments about left versus right—the arguments across the Dispatch Box between the two other party leaders make this point—are increasingly being supplanted by arguments between those who pursue a liberal approach and those who pursue an illiberal approach.
Much of the Queen's Speech is sensible, but in its measures on law and order and on crime and punishment, there is also much that is too illiberal. It is clear from the general stance of the Conservative party that a properly effective Opposition, who take a critical approach to the Government's measures, is more likely to come from those who are instinctively liberal and democratic in their approach. That is the case in both this House and the House of Lords, as we saw up to and including last week with the progress made on the last Session's legislation and the changes that we made to it.
I am surprised about one of the Conservative party's choices in respect of the Queen's Speech. Many people watching from outside will not know how our procedures work. We are in the process of modernising, and the Liberal Democrats have given full support to the efforts of the Leader of the House on that. However, there is one aspect of the Queen's Speech that I should like modernised. As things stand, the Conservative party decides the themes for each day of the Queen's Speech debate. I am sure people outside the House will join me in finding it unbelievable, given the long shadow that the international situation is casting in the Chamber and across the country, that the Conservative party has not allocated a day to discuss defence and foreign policy.
One can only speculate why. On Iraq, as we saw during the parliamentary recall, the leader of the Conservative party has positioned himself so close to the American Administration—it is not simply a matter of being close to the British Government—that he does not have the valid questions to ask which need to be articulated. I find it even more incredible that when the chairman of the Conservative party was asked by an interviewer at lunchtime today why it had not allocated a day to discuss foreign affairs and defence, which is in its gift to do, she said that the party wanted to concentrate the focus of its discussions and attack over the coming week on the public services.
How interesting! Let us consider the big initiative on the new Conservative approach to the public services launched by the leader of the Conservative party, who made his name in the House as a principled and consistent Maastricht rebel. On taking up his position, he asked his Front-Bench spokespeople to go around the rest of the European Union to find out why Europe delivers better public services than the Tories managed to provide in 18 years in power. Surely the benefits that he now believes can flow from the continental experience, as reflected in the Conservative's reformed approach to the public services, mitigate all the more the decision to have a day's debate that focuses on matters European and further afield. It says it all that the quiet 33 man approach to the domestic and international agendas is increasingly becoming the silent man approach.
We welcome the fact that the Government again rightly pay tribute to European enlargement remaining the big goal, a view that we share. However, as we did in exchanges a couple of weeks ago after the last summit, we have to enter the reservation—I think the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor would agree—that despite the agreement, which goes up to 2006, Europe will have to revisit the common agricultural policy if it is serious about making a success of enlargement. We hear nothing positive from the Conservatives on that because they have nothing to contribute. I say in passing that when agricultural matters are considered, it is important that the Prime Minister, with an eye to the many fragile communities around our coastline and country, puts maximum political support behind the plight of the fishing communities, which face an uncertain future.
On Iraq, there may be an opportunity for a fuller debate beyond the Queen's Speech, but clearly the progress that has been made in influencing the American Administration to recognise the legitimacy of the United Nations is welcome. We hope to see the readmission of the weapons inspectorate and a sensible, authoritative international analysis of the situation regarding weapons of mass destruction.
The American Administration, having been so dismissive of the UN and having become much more realistic and responsible in their attitude to it, must surely realise that if the weapons inspectors enjoy unfettered access according to a clear timetable, as we believe they should, and return with qualitative information based on that, the moral mandate must rest with the UN. We must not allow the situation to slip in favour of the more hawkish elements in and around the Bush Administration who in their hearts, many of us suspect, would still prefer to take a unilateralist approach with Britain tagging along, if possible, rather than maintaining the international coalition of interest against terrorism which has been such a successful feature since 11 September last year.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I find these elements of behaviour of the hawks rather surprising because, after all, it was Mr. Rumsfeld who went to Iraq to negotiate on behalf of his firm and on oil interests in 1983, and it was Mr. Cheney whose firm, Halliburton, had the most intimate connections with Iraq as late as 1994. Is it not a bit strange?
§ Mr. Kennedy
The hon. Gentleman, as Father of the House, is something of a parliamentary deity, but I read with considerable interest a recent article in The Daily Telegraph by the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury which touched on some of these matters. There is a growing perception at a senior level in different walks of life that some of the decisions being made and some of the attitudes being espoused cannot be divorced from some of the economic and business background of recent decades.
I turn, finally, to immediate issues. The Prime Minister's remarks about the firefighters' dispute were correct, and the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union 34 must recognise that it should have contributed properly to the Bain inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), within whose constituency the FBU national headquarters is located, made a submission to the inquiry on behalf of our party.
We certainly share the view that there has to be restructuring, and that it can accompany the additional salary increases that are on the table. The Chancellor should be willing to recognise his obligation to help local authorities to make that package possible. The Government have slightly hidden behind the argument that there are savings to be achieved in the provision of a fire service, and that those could somehow be transferred to assist in the payment of additional salaries. That is not so, at least in the short term, because some of the savings will accrue several years further on, as is so often the way with restructuring. It will cost more in the short term to save more in the longer term, and the Government must recognise that.
My final reflection on the matter concerns the Conservatives' contribution. The leader of the party returned to the issue about which he was asking the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, but on BBC television last night one of his shadow Cabinet colleagues, who speaks for the party on defence, said, of what is already a difficult situation:You almost wonder whether the firefighters' union is being paid by Saddam Hussein.How immature and how inflammatory. I hope that the leader of the Conservative party will distance himself from such discussion.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
While we are talking about inflammatory and infantile contributions, does the right hon. Gentleman care to retract his remark at the Liberal Democrat party conference, when he said, regarding what America has had to face over the past year, that there is more than a hint of imperialism in America's actions in respect of Iraq? Does he stand by that, or does he withdraw it?
§ Mr. Kennedy
I certainly did say that there was more than a hint of imperialism, because my speech was delivered the day after Mr. Rumsfeld made a speech in which he referred to the "decapitation" of Iraq. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is the sort of language that the US Defence Secretary should be using in such a dangerous situation, but some of us involved in politics in this country believe that we are right to point out the dangers of that approach.
Moving on to the other details of the Queen's Speech, it is welcome that there is to be more pre-legislative scrutiny. All would agree that that has worked well in the Scottish Parliament. We will examine aspects of housing policy, management of nuclear liabilities and the laws on corruption. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a good innovation, and we would like to see more of it.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Does the leader of the Liberal Democrats think that the Government propose to spend enough on health and education to deliver high-quality services, or does he recommend more spending and higher taxes?
§ Mr. Kennedy
First, we voted with the Government for the extra expenditure that will now be made. 35 That fundamentally distinguishes our position from that of the Conservatives, because they voted against that extra investment. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will remind the public of that at hourly intervals between now and any future elections.
Secondly, having supported that investment, we have advanced specific arguments in respect of health expenditure. In addition to the investment that has been announced, welcome though it is, we want greater decentralisation—in both health and education—than the Government are proposing in the Queen's Speech, because we think that the money could be more efficiently deployed. On health in particular, at our conference this autumn we proposed that national insurance contributions should be earmarked specifically for the health service—our argument in favour of that being that, unlike the short, time-limited commitment that the Chancellor is able to give, national insurance contributions go on year after year and could provide a rolling fund for ongoing additional health service investment.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) for their interest. In their constituencies, the Liberal Democrats need a swing of less than 5 and 7 per cent. respectively to win the seat at the next election.
§ David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)
On the issue of funding for public services, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify his party's position? The Liberal Democrats, as part of the Scottish Executive, have approved a public-private partnership private finance initiative bid from Inverclyde council for £80 million to improve our schools, yet the Liberal Democrats on Inverclyde council have opposed the bid and said that they will not take the money in any circumstances. Will he say which bit of Liberal Democrat policy he supports—the policy in Edinburgh, or the policy in Greenock—lest he leave the impression that his party has two wholly different policies on the same issue?
§ Mr. Kennedy
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman—and I think that the Prime Minister will support me on this—is, welcome to the devolution politics of Britain today. The Labour party and its leader find themselves defending one Labour policy on university funding in Scotland and a different policy in England and Wales. That is the truth of the matter.
The hon. Gentleman should talk with Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister in the coalition Administration in Edinburgh, and with the Scottish Trades Union Congress, whose representatives say that they find the general Liberal Democrat approach to the private finance initiative more sympathetic to their concerns than the approach for which the Labour party has been arguing. That, too, is the truth of the matter. He should talk to the STUC—he might find it educational.
§ Mr. Salmond
He might not say that afterwards.
36 Never mind the PFI—can the right hon. Gentleman explain why Mr. Jim Wallace was in favour of a full-scale privatisation of the prison service in Scotland, and even now proposes an extension of privatisation, while his colleagues here argue that there has been over-privatisation south of the border?
§ Mr. Kennedy
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, a former Member of the Scottish Parliament and leader of the Scottish National party who curiously decided to stay at Westminster rather than Edinburgh does not understand the way in which the Scottish Parliament works. Unlike at Westminster, consultation means something there. When the Executive consult and Parliament has a vote, lo and behold, Ministers must pay attention. Would that not be a novel approach here? The hon. Gentleman's facts are therefore simply wrong.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I cannot let down someone who has displayed such magnificent adherence to principle recently.
Despite the draft legislation introduced in June, the absence of a mental health Bill is a serious omission. The Government are culpable, because it is their fault that the Green Paper and the draft legislation introduced after consultation angered many professionals and people involved in patient rights, not least in the community. That is a pity because, while we would have opposed many of the measures in such a Bill, there was all-party agreement on many other good components, which have been lost. I therefore hope that in this Session the Government listen more carefully. If they had done so during consultation, we would have a Bill with broad-based all-party support and progress would have been made.
§ Mr. Bercow
Advances in medical science on the one hand, and the inevitable limits on the availability of public resources on the other, mean that whenever we create a new cure in this country we also create a new queue. Would the right hon. Gentleman say something more about the precise structural reform of the national health service that would enable his party more effectively to translate care from a word into a deed?
§ Mr. Kennedy
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) will have more time at his disposal than I have this afternoon to deal with that. However, having listened to the hon. Gentleman's contributions on the issue over the years, I believe that he shares our view that there must be a fundamental shift in political management and aspirations for health care. We must move from crisis intervention to prevention and promotion. That is a difficult political hurdle to overcome, because the easier debate is the one about statistics. We again had a sense of "Groundhog Day" in the Queen's Speech. The Government preferred another reform Bill to targeting something in a more sustained way.
On the changes to broadcasting and communications policy—incidentally, it was interesting to hear how the Conservative Front Bench phrased the issue—it is 37 important to get the new regulatory framework in place before fast and loose decisions are possibly taken about television ownership, monopoly provision and who has the right of control. However, the Queen's Speech included at last a piece of environmental legislation, which has not been mentioned by Conservative or Labour Members so far. We welcome measures on extraction policy, the prevention of abuse and licences on water management. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) is right that there is a significant omission regarding company pension policy. In addition, we expected a Bill from the Department of Trade and Industry on corporate responsibility and company reform, not least as the banking sector can easily be accused of manipulating the clearing system. There were high hopes that that would be something that the Government wanted to deal with, but unfortunately they have not done so. There is still too much centralisation in many of our public services, although we obviously we welcome one significant piece of decentralization—the Bill to facilitate more regionalism, with elected authorities across England.
Finally, on the crime measures, in a joint statement earlier today after the Queen's Speech, the Bar Council, Liberty, Legal Action Group and the Criminal Bar Association described many of the measures as "misguided" and said that they could send more people to jail. They went on to make the central point that we will hear again and again in this House and in the House of Lords:The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime is fundamentally flawed.That is the fundamental issue of philosophical principle and policy distinction between ourselves and the Government on these matters. Making previous convictions available to a court is a trial of a person's past. What impact will double jeopardy have on juries, when they know that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Court of Appeal have already sent a case back? That is bound to influence the way in which juries look at the issue. If the measure is allowed to be retrospective, it will be a potential Pandora's box, with profound consequences for the future administration of justice in this country.
We welcome the move to bring together magistrates and Crown courts, but we need more lay magistrates and more local courts. Over recent years there has been too much regression in that respect, which many of us have experienced at constituency and regional level.
Many of the antisocial behaviour measures strike one as gimmickry. Some have been tried out, but we have never seen the results of the pilot schemes published or heard what assessment was made. Some have never been tried out—they were not worth trying out, because they did not equate with common sense and were not worth pursuing. As regards young people and the kinds of issues that the Government are addressing—again, we all know this from our constituency experience—what is needed is not another full range of Bills in a Queen's Speech, but measures to redress the consequences of the closure and withdrawal of youth facilities at community level up and down the land. That is what will ameliorate the situation, rather than punitive measures which amount to applying a poop-scoop to a problem that is already out of control.
38 On domestic, European and wider foreign policy, there is a need for effective opposition in the coming Session. Parliamentary democracy requires it and the country needs it. The Liberal Democrats are determined and best situated to provided it.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
I have been listening to the debate between those on the two Front Benches and the leader of the Liberal Democrats about the current situation in the firefighting industry and the likelihood of a strike beginning in a couple of hours. Many of us come into the House with some history and memories that stay with us throughout our lives, although we move on.
Thirty years ago, I was a coalminer working in the coal industry in south Yorkshire. Probably one of the most political events that I experienced was the strike in 1972, when we found ourselves working in an industry that was pretty bad in terms of the environment and that was about 19th in the industrial wages league. We went on strike for four or five weeks and returned victors. Our position in the industrial wages league moved up to about third place. Within two years, we were back on strike again, because every public sector union that settled with the then Government in 1972 settled for percentages as high as we had achieved, so back down the industrial wages league we went.
When we went on strike again in 1974, we became a special case. The trade union unit at Ruskin college—the college that I was to attend as a student a few years later—held an investigation into coalminers' wages at the time and settled the dispute. In retrospect, one of the benefits was that it cost the Conservative Government their time in office—the Labour party won the general election. More importantly, it was going on strike and being a special case that put the miners back up the industrial wages league, and no one followed in the way that they had between 1972 and 1974. The great pity of what has happened in Britain in the past few months is that the Fire Brigades Union did not take up the offer of a review to put forward its case about its terms and conditions and the reasons why believes it is a special case, if indeed it is. Given that its wage rates have remained unchanged for the past 25 years and how society has moved on, that might have been a better path. I had not intended to talk on that subject today, but I thought that I should say those few words.
I want to touch briefly on the subject of civic society and rights and responsibilities, with which the Prime Minister dealt today. We all have a right to employment, to have ambitions for our families, to security in old age, to good schools, to a good national health service, to good housing and to strong communities free of crime. Indeed, today the media have led on the measures in the Queen's Speech to combat crime and antisocial behaviour. Those are the rights that the Government rightly argue we should have. Our responsibility is to help to achieve those rights through what we do, what we earn through employment, what we contribute to our families and what our families contribute, what we contribute to our communities and to our country, and through our attitude to life in general, our behaviour and our values. Those are the responsibilities of everyone in society.
39 However, in many respects society is not equal. It is easy for us to say that those are the rights and responsibilities that we should have. Some of us can have those rights and responsibilities because we can afford them, but many others in society cannot. We should always remember that when we talk about rights and responsibilities in society.
In my constituency I have seen those rights grow during the past five and a half years of a Labour Government. Unemployment has been drastically reduced and poverty has been attacked not just by people having better benefits and more targeted benefits, but by measures such as the national minimum wage. They have given my constituents great rights—if that is the correct word to use—and there is no doubt that life for the vast majority of people has improved. However, it does not follow that there has been less antisocial behaviour and crime. No matter what the statistics say, people do not believe that there has been an improvement in that regard. We still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, the management of the economy has greatly assisted individuals.
I do not know whether any hon. Members here today were present at Prime Minister's questions last Wednesday, when the length of time that people have to wait to get on to detoxification or drug programmes, as they are now called, was debated, but about two and a half months ago I was telephoned by a single parent in my constituency who was in despair about her son, aged between 20 and 21 years of age, and she subsequently came to see me at my surgery where I had a long chat with her. Her son has been homeless for many years in Rotherham. He used to live with his mother but he stole to feed his drug habit and she effectively turfed him out because she could not have him living there any more. She is a single parent who works a 12-hour night shift in a food processing factory. Her son decided to seek treatment for his drug problem and he was told that he would have to wait between six and eight weeks before he could be put on a detox programme, a fact which I later confirmed.
I spoke to my constituent again this morning—[Interruption.] It appears that the electricity supply has gone, or at least some of it, but I will not worry; people have never been known to be unable to hear me when I am speaking. Two and a half months ago, her son was awaiting a court appearance, and she said at the time that she could not do anything to bring him back into her home because the old habit of crime and everything else would start up again. [Interruption.] It appears that we are now back on course.
The son has recently been back in prison for a few weeks, at Her Majesty's pleasure. I did not know that he was waiting to go back to the magistrates court, and in due course he was back in one of the local prisons. He came back out on Friday with a recommendation that he should participate in a drug programme. I spoke to his mother today, however, and he is still homeless in Rotherham as the programme was not ready for him.
On drug-related crime in my constituency, it is estimated that in South Yorkshire, and particularly in Rotherham, somebody who has a heroine or similar habit that needs to be fed has to steal about £75,000- 40 worth of goods a year to feed a habit of £15,000—the approximate cost of a year's supply of street heroine in South Yorkshire. Yet people have to wait weeks and months for a chance to join a drugs programme. The young man to whom I referred came out of prison last Friday to find that he is homeless in Rotherham again as of today. He stayed with his mum for the first two days after his release, but he is now back with his friends in Rotherham. I have no doubt that old habits will soon be picked up again. If we do not start to attack those issues, we will never get rid of crime.
All of us are conditioned by the circumstances into which we are born. For many years, it was denied in the House that poverty led to crime or anything else. I remember well the debates that took place year after year, when my constituency had unemployment of 25 or 26 per cent., but people still said that that did not lead to crime and other problems. It clearly did so. Nobody would argue that there has been no clear evidence of that in the past five years. What breeds crime is the communities in which it occurs and their run-down state. It is all right talking about airguns and ensuring that people take individual responsibility; 1 agree, but five years on my constituency still has some of the most atrocious housing estates in the UK.
The Government have done a lot, and I am not for one minute attacking them. The local authority—the main body that can take control of such situations—is a bit handicapped in terms of resources. My constituency has a legacy of public sector housing that is not local authority housing. Most of it was established by the National Coal Board, and the homes were sold to individual tenants when they were working. Many of those tenants—not hundreds, but thousands—have now retired and cannot afford to do anything about the condition of the housing stock.
§ Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I have the same problem. He and I represent coalfield communities in Yorkshire. Does he agree that the decision to privatise National Coal Board colliery houses was disastrous? Does he also agree that one of the main problems in such communities is the effect of private landlords not paying enough attention to the sort of tenants who have been located there?
§ Mr. Barron
That is exactly the problem. There are examples of local authorities taking action against bad tenants on such estates, as the Queen's Speech highlighted. I am pleased that they do that, but those people have to live somewhere. They cannot simply be moved round and round. A major problem in areas such as mine is the inheritance of housing stock, the vast majority of which is pre-war, that is no longer in public hands. It is not easy for individuals who have bought such houses to do anything about their repair. The alternative is, of course, private landlords. However, most of them want to put up rents and do little else to the properties.
We have the added problem of abandoned properties. People live in fear of an estate in my constituency. A house that becomes empty soon attracts vandals and people towards whom some of the words in the Queen's Speech are directed. People are scared to death that the houses will be set on fire. Members of the Fire Brigades Union are on one specific estate at least once a week to 41 put out fires in properties. If any of us lived next door to an empty property that was targeted by such antisocial behaviour, we would want more than Bills in Parliament to deal with the matter.
I often have to persuade people not to take the law into their own hands and ensure that they contact the police. Some have little faith that anything will happen if they do that. I do not blame South Yorkshire police. Major problems need to be tackled on estates that have the history of those in my constituency, and that have been systematically abandoned.
To the Government's credit, they set up some pilot schemes on abandoned estates two years ago. One in north Rotherham, not in my constituency, is up and running. However, we do not need pilot schemes; we know what is wrong. We need resources and the political direction to do something on the estates.
Another estate in my constituency is not as bad as others with regard to fire hazards and so on. A capital programme of approximately £900,000 has begun there to repair 29 homes that Rotherham borough council owns. Sadly, about 34 homes on the same estate are not owned by the council, and not a penny will be spent on them. I have argued with my council and written to Ministers about the matter. It is bad public investment to put thousands of pounds into council houses when neighbouring properties are abandoned or run down, and the people who live in them cannot afford repairs. We must tackle such matters quickly.
Community care delayed discharge is another important subject in the Queen's Speech. We all know about the national health service's problems, especially bed blocking. However, we must be careful when we consider the best way in which to discharge the responsibility of getting people out of hospital and into different forms of care as soon as possible. I stress to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that, for many years, Rotherham has had a good track record on social services such as looking after people in the community, especially elderly people.
It was therefore not difficult for Rotherham borough council and the local health service to work together on joint packages for good partnerships to enable social services and the primary care trust to work together more closely. Many services that are designed to prevent inappropriate admission to hospital and facilitate early discharge have been developed through the partnership approach. The partnerships made a good response to the consultation document, which was discussed in several partnership arenas in Rotherham. The resulting firm consensus was that a system of penalising local councils for circumstances that are frequently beyond their control would have a detrimental effect on current and future partnerships.
We are considering an important but fragile subject for legislation. We all accept that there is a possibility of jeopardising partnerships such as those in Rotherham if we get into a position whereby people blame one another for patients not being discharged. My local authority is especially worried about the penalties that a Bill may contain for cases when patients do not come out of hospital in the set time scales.
A safe and speedy hospital discharge depends on the availability of a range of community-based services and appropriately qualified and skilled staff to provide them. 42 We know that there is a national shortage of qualified social work staff. We know that there is a national shortage of nurses. There is also a national shortage of therapists, who are important in providing care in the community. It is important that when the proposed legislation goes through the House—I am not making a bid to be a member of the Standing Committee—we get it right. The partnership with the health service, social services and Rotherham borough council should be replicated in many other parts of the country, if it has not been replicated already.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)
My right hon. Friend is making an important point that certainly affects Ealing and Hammersmith. Most of us would support ideas that move things forward, if necessary through financial penalty. It is crucial to ensure that a local authority has the facilities to make the necessary provision, and that includes places in homes. He is making an important point that the Government need to address.
§ Mr. Barron
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government should be aware that if they introduce a system that makes it impossible for discharge to take place within the time frame that has been referred to in consultations, and penalises people for situations not of their making, they will disrupt what has been working in Rotherham for a number of years. It seems that we would be going backwards and not forwards.
I am pleased once again to be involved in a Queen's Speech debate with a Labour Government in office. I am pleased also with the massive improvement that has been seen in my constituency over the years. We have agreed a private finance initiative of about £52 million to knock down schools that have been around since the turn of the last century and to replace them. I live about 500 yd from my old school and I look forward to it coming down and a new school being built on the site. Without a Labour Government, that would not have been possible. However, there is a long way to go before we can say that the breeding grounds of crime and antisocial behaviour have been removed. We must keep up the good work for many years to come.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
I associate myself and my colleagues with the remarks made about former Members of this place. I have been a Member for more than 30 years. I knew the two Members particularly well and I think that the tributes were well paid, and I think that all who knew them would like to pay their tributes—[Interruption.] When the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) left his place, I thought that he wanted me to give way to him. I do not think that I would have done so.
I shall mention the entertaining—if I might use the word—words of the proposer and seconder. I have heard many of these debates in my time, but I think that the contributions of the proposer and seconder on this occasion were extra special. I think of the background of both Members.
Unfortunately, as a representative for Northern Ireland, I have a sober picture to put to the House. Men who risked their lives during the entire terrorist 43 campaign—I refer to prison officers—are now engaged in a constant protest because documents concerning themselves, their wives, their families, the numbers of their cars and their associates are in the possession of IRA-Sinn Fein. They have been stolen from Government offices. Many of these men have not yet been informed of what documents the Government now have knowledge of that are in the possession of IRA-Sinn Fein. When a deputation from my party met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he had to admit that he was not a position as yet to give the deputation the number of documents involved because the full scale of this thievery from Government offices is not yet known.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and I wonder whether he can throw some light on a point that has puzzled me since the first break-in at Castlereagh. Surely sensitive documents should be cleared from desks and locked in safes, whether in police headquarters or a Minister's office. Then, even if those places were infiltrated, the documents would have been put away safely at the end of the day.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The people who had access to the offices were not properly vetted and were part of the spy ring. In an amazing development the night before last, the assistant Chief Constable for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland said that he wanted to announce that the police had cracked the greatest spy ring that had ever tried to gain intelligence in the United Kingdom. He told us the number of documents that had been stolen and then he made such an amazing statement that I nearly fell off my chair. He said that he had no evidence that the documents that had been stolen would ever be made use of in terrorist campaigns. That suggests to me that there is a plan afoot, on the part of the Government, to get IRA-Sinn Fein back to the table without dealing with the problem of their possession of arms.
The leader of the SDLP, Mr. Durkan, said at his annual general meeting and rally that the Prime Minister had asked him to join in removing IRA-Sinn Fein representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive, but that he would not agree to their removal. However, the Prime Minister has not said that he did not say that. The Prime Minister should know that the people of Northern Ireland believe what Mr. Durkan said. He was convinced that IRA-Sinn Fein were involved in that conspiracy.
The situation in Northern Ireland is serious. When the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland he praised the integrity of Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness. I do not know why he did that. He spoke of some "malignant whisperers", but he could not have meant me, because I never whisper—as the House knows. When I spoke with the Prime Minister a few days ago, I said, "Don't tell me, Prime Minister, that you were not referring to the people who support me and who are opposed to any terrorist organisation, be it loyalist or IRA-Sinn Fein, being in office in any Government of Northern Ireland."
The assistant Chief Constable, Alan McQuillan said that the greatest spy ring ever had been broken. I would not like to say what that has cost the Government or 44 how many people have been taken away from other security duties to take part in those operations. However, now we are told that we do not need to worry because there is no evidence that the information that is in the hands of terrorists will be used by them. Anybody who has come through the catastrophe of these last years will know exactly what the men involved were after and what they were doing. One need only enter the areas where they have mafia power and see what they do to their own co-religionists to know what they would do if they were let loose on the whole of Northern Ireland.
Today, we have had the Queen's Speech, but I wonder why it was not mentioned that the Northern Ireland Office has just announced that it has called a round-table conference next week—with Sinn Fein-IRA having a representative there—to discuss the situation, under the presidency of the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Foreign Secretary of the south of Ireland. So we shall have at the table those who are accused of this spying; some of their organisation's members are charged with it. We are to consider also the matter concerning Castlereagh, for Mr. McQuillan has made it. clear—there is no doubt about it—that IRA-Sinn Fein were responsible for breaking into that police station and that papers have been issued to bring back from the United States of America a man who is wanted in respect of some of those cases.
Next week there will be a meeting which people can attend even if members of their organisation go to Colombia, although we were told that they went there on holiday. We were told by the leaders of the IRA that they did not even know those men, but now they all know them and the leaders of IRA-Sinn Fein have been out in Colombia to help them with their legal matters. How did they come to know those men so quickly? Do hon. Members go on holiday on forged passports? Is that how hon. Members take their holidays? It is dangerous enough travelling on our own passports, so travelling on a forged passport, as those men did, shows the extent of the matter. Car bombs similar to those that have gone off in Northern Ireland have started to go off in Colombia since the visit of those men.
So all these things are mounting up, yet those people are to be credibly accepted as negotiating partners again, despite all that background. Surely the time has come for them to be told. When the Prime Minister was in Belfast, he told them that they had to make a decision—I wonder what he is saying now—but today the Government have made a decision to bring those people back to the negotiating table.
My party will not be at that table, because we will not be sitting down with those who are responsible for what they have done. Nor will I associate myself with those who are putting the wives and families of the men who look after our prisons through terrible agony and trauma. Those women are demented. One has said, "My friend's husband has been told he is on the list. My husband has asked whether he is on the list, and the Northern Ireland Office says it doesn't know." So we have a double jeopardy: it is not right that those who give their lives to preserve peace in society should have to go through this, or that those who have done all that should be taken by the hand and told that they should have a say in negotiations on the future of our Province.
45 The fact of the matter is that the Queen's Speech has only a few lines about what is happening in Northern Ireland. Interestingly, it says:Legislation will be brought forward on policing in Northern Ireland.None of us on the Unionist side, including colleagues in the official Unionist party, understands what that is about. We were told that there were places on the Policing Board for our parties and that if we did not join by a certain day, we would never be allowed to enjoy those places until there were elections in Northern Ireland—we would forfeit our position. We said, "Well, if we join the board, will you bring IRA-Sinn Fein in by the back door?" In fairness to the man who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he said, "Certainly not. You either come in now or you don't come in." I know that he said the same to the Official Unionist leader and those with him.
We were told that no changes would be made to the board until a new election had been held, but extreme action is apparently being taken now. It seems that even the report that set up the present police structures will be changed. Throughout Northern Ireland, all we hear is, "We must get Sinn Fein on the police board", but that will not be possible if the commitment made to the Unionists is kept. They went on to the board on condition that IRA-Sinn Fein would not be represented on it until after the election.
Policing in Northern Ireland has been radically changed, as everyone knows. What are those changes? The last time I spoke to the Prime Minister, I said, "Mr. Durkan has announced that he knows what the changes are. I am a Member of the British House of Commons, which he is not, but I do not know what they are."
What are these changes? What is this legislation? We were told that an agreement was made at Weston Park. What was that agreement? The leader of the official Unionists told us that the meeting at Weston Park was called for one purpose alone: to discuss and settle decommissioning. Evidently, however, decommissioning had very little to do with any of the debates in Weston Park, but changes in the police had something to do with them. What are these changes? Is this another coin to buy off IRA-Sinn Fein? That is what is worrying the people of Northern Ireland.
The Belfast agreement has failed. It was bound to fail. It was supposed to have been built on the foundation that only those who had forsworn violence and given up their weapons could take part in the government of Northern Ireland or in negotiations to set up a legitimate Government of Northern Ireland; but that, as we know, is not what it was built on.
This matter will keep arising unless the Government face the fact that the obligations of even the Belfast agreement in regard to terrorists must be dealt with. There is no place in any Government, in the United Kingdom or anywhere else, for those who command terrorist support and use that support for their own ends.
The House should look seriously at the situation of Northern Ireland. It should consider, in particular, the fact that many of those who manned our jails were slaughtered by the IRA, as were many of their children. A number had to move house after the Castlereagh 46 break-in, and millions of pounds had to be spent to shift them from their homes. If those who are now in control have to be moved, the money will run into many more millions. The former Secretary of State told us that a vast sum had been paid on the last occasion.
Surely the time has come for us to call a stop to this once and for all, and to say that only those who do not have armed gangs behind them to conduct night parades should be able to negotiate the future of Northern Ireland. During the day they are politicians; at night the gun comes out, and we see the tragedy.
When we had good security in Northern Ireland because of the troubles, there was less "petty crime", as it has been called—although no crime is really petty. Now we are seeing rape on our streets, the mugging of old people and the beating up of children. People are being nailed to gates and crucified. All that is happening because we have failed to deal with the root of the matter: the gunmen who can get concessions as a result of the pressure and blackmail that they can exert on those in power.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on their speeches, which were excellent.
There is much to welcome in the Government's programme for the Session, which is being debated at a time when the world is preoccupied with the war against terrorism and, we hope, avoiding a war between nations. I hope that in the next few months there will be positive advances on both fronts. As we witness yet another period of famine in Ethiopia that threatens the lives of millions of people and yet more trouble between Israel and the Palestinians, we must recognise that the great injustices and inequalities in the world that starve the helpless feed the terrorists.
The Queen's Speech is predominantly about domestic issues, and I shall concentrate on its contents in that respect. There is much in the speech about the need to step up the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour. I support that and look forward to the measures announced in the speech achieving a reduction in both areas. It is true that crime is not as prevalent as the perception and fear of it would suggest, but if people are intimidated into restricting their social activities and their freedom to move about their neighbourhoods because of that perception, we are not winning the war against crime.
Similarly, if people's lives are blighted by the yobbish, selfish and antisocial activities of others, we are not winning the war against antisocial behaviour. It is that sort of behaviour that most blights people's lives—more than crime, more than terrorism and more than the fear of wars—because it is local and personal to thousands of our citizens throughout the country.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great possibility that the apparent decline in crime is, rather, a decline in recorded crime and that people are not recording it any longer because they are disillusioned?
§ Mr. Clelland
Disillusionment has spread across many aspects of our nation. Crime is one of them. There 47 may be something in what the hon. Gentleman says, but I still believe that the perception of crime is much greater than the actual possibility of it affecting individuals. It is still a real fear.
I hope that the measures announced in the Loyal Address will have an impact on those and related problems, such as the indiscriminate scattering of litter on our streets, the chewing gum problem, animal excretions, people who empty the contents of their cars on to the side of the road and even throw rubbish out of moving vehicles on to roads and motorways. When I compare the state of some of the streets in our towns and cities with some of our close neighbours in Europe, I am ashamed that so many of our people seem oblivious to the way in which litter blights their environment, to say nothing of the vermin and disease that it attracts. We need a combination of penalties and education to begin to make inroads into the problems of litter, and a step change in our approach to recycling and the reduction of unnecessary packaging.
In my remarks on last year's Queen's Speech, I highlighted the fact that antisocial and neighbourhood problems could be reduced with the co-operation of private landlords. Indeed, in Newcastle and Gateshead, voluntary arrangements between landlords and the local authorities have had an effect. However, too many landlords are not interested in the effects that the behaviour of their tenants or indeed the condition of their properties have on the rest of the neighbourhood. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for R other Valley (Mr. Barron) of similar problems in his constituency.
In Newcastle and Gateshead, we know from bitter experience how that can lead to the complete rundown of an area, with decent people being driven out and their empty homes vandalised and often burned out. The resulting devaluation of the properties leaves people in negative equity and the whole area looking like something from the blitz. Houses are then sold off for knockdown prices and—surprise, surprise—who buys them? Often, it is the very landlords whose neglect contributed to the disaster in the first place. They then go to the local authority, asking for grants to help to restore the properties and increase their value. The fact that people can profit from such activity is even more unpalatable than the misery that they cause doing it.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another serious anomaly is that tenants in some private properties pay rents that are nearly twice what would be paid normally in council-owned properties, despite the fact that private landlords are allowing the properties to deteriorate? Surely someone should step in soon to ensure that tenants get a fair deal.
§ Mr. Clelland
I agree, except that it is often not the tenants who pay the rents but the taxpayer, who pays through housing benefit and social security. That matter definitely needs to be looked at, because through housing benefit we can help to control landlords. I very much welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of measures to remedy the problem. Landlords must be 48 made to bear some of the responsibility for the behaviour of their tenants, as well as for the condition of the property.
A system of licensing and regulations, accompanied by a requirement to issue tenants with proper and enforceable tenancy agreements, is long overdue. Local authorities will have a policing role to play, and I know that they will welcome the opportunity to help to put an end to blight and antisocial behaviour in their localities.
That brings me to the proposed local government Bill. The encouraging words of the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister about releasing councils from the shackles that too often give the lie to the term "local government" will be welcomed by councillors up and down the country. The Government's devolution programme has to be about cascading decisions down to the most appropriate level: devolved assemblies and local government.
I hope that the Bill will also provide an opportunity to look at the proposals from the National Association of Councillors for some sort of recognition for long-serving councillors who retire from public life. A considerable number of elected councillors spend a considerable amount of their working lives on council work, so there should be some provision to ensure that they do not suffer a loss of pension as a result. The Bill might also include a provision for lump-sum payments so that councillors are not deterred from making way for younger candidates by the prospect of financial hardship.
Although not part of the Bill, the House will soon be told of the result of the consultations on the local government finance review. It is important that Ministers make every effort to get this right and make the system fair. The Prime Minister has said that he believes that the ability to make bold decisions is a virtue. This issue requires bold decisions, and I hope that Ministers are up to it. There is a north-south divide and the present system of local government finance is an integral part of it.
I have mentioned devolution and I very much welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of legislative proposals to allow for referendums in the English regions on elected regional assemblies. That is long overdue and is an essential next step in the process that was started in 1997. I was disappointed by the response of the Leader of the Opposition. I know he was there when the Queen read out the Speech; I saw him. I am sure that he has a copy, but he seems to have the wrong end of the stick. He went on about how the Government were going to break up the United Kingdom, how the Deputy Prime Minister would impose a new tier of bureaucracy, how there would be burdens on business and how the Government were abolishing county councils. I wish that the proposals were substantial enough to merit such condemnation. The Queen's Speech does not propose any such thing; it proposes that people in the regions ought to have the right to decide for themselves. I cannot see why anyone in this House should want to deny people in the regions the right to decide for themselves whether they want regional government.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that when it comes to the 49 legislation on the referendum, it would be a huge mistake for the Government to continue to pursue the argument that the referendums should be on the dual issues of whether people want a directly elected regional assembly in their region and, in the same single question, whether they support any reorganisation of local government? Does he agree that they are two separate issues and should be treated separately?
§ Mr. Clelland
Having made that very point on the record, I can hardly change my mind on it now. I agree that local government reorganisation and the introduction of regional government are two completely separate issues. I am not saying that once regional government has been established there may not be a case for regional government's examining the local authority structure in its region and taking decisions, or at least recommending changes along those lines, but I shall certainly be arguing that we need not necessarily make this part of the legislation.
Meanwhile, I look forward to further consideration of the economic disparities between regions. This is a two-edged sword and it is now as much of a problem for the regions that have enjoyed its benefits as it is for those who for too long have suffered its consequences. The south-east is now overcrowded and over-congested. House prices are out of the reach of many average wage earners and key workers, causing problems for public services and private sector employees alike. The situation is becoming critical. At the same time, the north-east continues to suffer the United Kingdom's worst unemployment levels. The population continues to decline and empty properties abound. If regional policy does not address that disparity, people are entitled to ask what regional policy is for.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. Gentleman champions the empowerment of local government on the one hand but in the next breath and on the other hand he seems to support the creation of an additional layer of government, further away from the people. Why is it that he thinks that regional government is necessary, when surely the principle upon which local government should be based is that people's identification is with their parish, their village, their town or their district?
§ Mr. Clelland
The hon. Gentleman is as ignorant as his leader on regional government. It is not about taking power from local government; on the contrary. [Interruption.] No, it is not. If Opposition Members had studied the subject more deeply, they might have understood that that is not the intention or the implication of what the Government want or what I would champion. Regional government is about power coming down from this place to the regions, not power coming up from local government.
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government will simply give up power and hand it to the regions?
§ Mr. Clelland
I believe that the Government's record stands to be examined on its merits; they have already 50 done just that, in Scotland, Wales and London—and in Northern Ireland, except that we have a bit of a hitch there at the moment. That is the Government's policy: to devolve power from the centre to regional assemblies and to national Parliaments and, let us hope, to regional assemblies in England as well. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members have not recognised that, I do not know what on earth they have been looking at.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Deputy Prime Minister said in his statement on 17 July that the regional spatial strategy would dictate to the unitary authorities, or the district or county councils, exactly how many houses were to be built in each area, and the densities? If that is not taking power from local government, I do not know what is.
§ Mr. Clelland
The hon. Gentleman should not assume that because we have a new tier of government, national Government will have no powers and nothing to do; or that regional government will take over everything and local government will have nothing to do. There will still be powers at each level. There will still be regional planning, of which local authorities will have to take account. There will still be national planning, of which regional authorities will have to take account. We are simply talking about each tier having the appropriate level of responsibility; that is all that it is about.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Deputy Prime Minister. I am unaware of the specific remark that he mentioned, but the Deputy Prime Minister does plan to publish in the coming Session a national communities plan, which promises the most far-reaching changes in housing policy for 30 years. However, if it merely means more new towns in the south, the problems will continue to get worse. If step changes are in vogue, nowhere are they more needed than in regional policy. The Government should consider more decentralisation of Government Departments and the moving of jobs into the regions. More should be done to encourage economic activity and business development in the north. Too many old myths about the north still abound and too many who have never travelled there still harbour images of pit heaps, flat caps, grey skies and depression. For too many, the truth remains an untold story. The north-east in particular is an historic and beautiful region of England. We have the cleanest beaches, most beautiful countryside, good internal transport links and forward-looking public authorities. A great deal of work is being done in the region to overcome the difficulties. I am particularly proud of the renaissance on Tyneside, my birthplace, and we are determined that, should we succeed in our capital of culture bid, the benefits will be spread throughout the north-east and will help to dispel the myths.
We need even more than that, however, for our long-term survival and revival. Central government must take economic decisions that will attract jobs to the north and cool the economy in the south. We need more fiscal and other incentives to encourage business start-ups, improvements to the inter-regional transport infrastructure and fast, direct passenger and freight access to the channel tunnel. We need to be linked to the country's motorway network—we are the only region in the country that is not so linked—through 51 improvements to the A 1, A69 and A66. We need better use of regional airports and sea ports, and there should be more urgency in investing in improvements to the east and west coast rail lines.
Regional government will help us to help ourselves. I fear, however, notwithstanding the step forward in the Loyal Address, that that is still some way off, and more urgent action will be needed if we are to prevent the north and the south from suffering even more discomfort as a result of the economic disparities between them. Devolution to Scotland, Wales and London—welcome though that has been—has further disadvantaged the English regions economically and politically. It surely cannot be right that Scotland and Wales continue to have Secretaries of State sitting in the Cabinet, and that there should be a Minister for London, when they also have devolved assemblies. I am not making a personal attack on any of the Ministers concerned, or on the devolved assemblies, but it cannot be fair that they are doubly advantaged in such a way to the detriment of the rest of us. One Secretary of State for the nations and regions, with Ministers for Scotland, Wales and England to assist, is surely all that is now required.
I hope that the new Session will also see positive steps to improve the pensions regime. Although I accept that improvements have been made, and that the poorest pensioners have benefited from Government policies, much more needs to be done to ensure security in retirement for too many of our citizens, and to provide a direct link between pensions and the prosperity of the nation. Security in old age would be the greatest service that we could provide for our people.
That brings me nicely to my final point: House of Lords reform. The intention of the Joint Committee seems to be that the House should be given a range of choices on the way forward, and there will be opportunities for further debate in due course. I appeal to colleagues on both sides of the House whose love of democracy drives them to conclude that an elected second Chamber would enhance our system of government to think hard and long before voting for such an outcome in the new Session. It is surely simplistic to argue that if the second Chamber is elected it must therefore be better. One could infer from such an argument that the country would be better run by rolling referendum. Democracy is desirable, of course, but people would not thank us for an inefficient democracy—one that was constantly deadlocked because of competing mandates. The second Chamber should enhance, not obstruct, the process of government. At the same time, it cannot, of course, continue on the basis of patronage. A representative, responsible and respected second Chamber could be constructed by transferring the responsibility for selecting representatives to the country as a whole, not by direct election but by giving devolved assemblies, organisations and institutions, employers and trade unions the responsibility to provide people who could truly act in an advisory capacity.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. Gentleman is addressing a central question. Would he not agree that creative tension between the two Houses of Parliament, far from 52 being a bad thing, could serve to check the legislative appetite of the Government if only a self-denying ordinance were applied?
§ Mr. Clelland
That depends on what should be the role of the second Chamber. The hon. Gentleman provokes me to make a longer speech than I had intended. With all due respect, however, I do not see the role of the second Chamber as being a check on the Executive. That is the job of Opposition Members, and of Back Bench Labour Members, and it should not be the job of the second Chamber. I do not, however, want to pursue that line at the moment.
A second Chamber made up as I have suggested would provide a good regional and demographic spread of representatives, and would also provide what has eluded us in direct elections so far—a House that is truly representative of gender and ethnicity.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
I have declared my interests in the register.
In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty said:This approach will enable my Government to continue to invest in the public services, while supporting major programmes of reform on health, education, transport and crime.The Government are right to recognise the dreadful failure during their five years in office to deliver the public services that people require. They are right to realise that they need to do something dramatic to improve and change the situation. All too many of us have daily evidence in our constituencies of patients who are waiting far too long to get treatment or who are unsure when they will be diagnosed or allowed into an out-patient clinic. All too often we have evidence of parents whose children are not allowed to go to a popular or successful school and who are sent against their choice to a school down the road that will often have results far worse than the school they would like their children to attend.
Above all, my constituents and those of most right hon. and hon. Members are only too well aware of the catastrophic collapse of our transport system. The Government, the many Labour councils and the independent rogue Labour Mayor of London are making the situation worse for those who have to use their motor cars, while offering no positive, attractive or feasible alternative to enable our constituents to get their children to school, or to enable them to get to work, to the shops, to meet their friends or to attend leisure facilities in the evenings.
The most disappointing aspect of the Gracious Speech is the Government's refusal to realise that many of their problems in public services are self-inflicted. They have come about because this Government are the Government of tax and waste. They seriously believe that if they just announce a lot of extra money and tip a lot of extra money willy-nilly into the public services from the centre, there will be a miraculous transformation and suddenly nurses and doctors will be available in abundance, patients will be treated, pupils will be well educated, A-levels will go swimmingly and all will go well.
The Government are discovering the hard way that tipping a lot of money into an over-bureaucratic and over-centralised system can make matters worse and, 53 clearly, often does not make them better. Instead of a tax-and-waste Government, I want a Government who are dedicated to proper public service reform that gives freedom to those in schools, hospitals and surgeries to run them in the way that they think best. I want a Government who give real choice and real freedom to all our constituents so that they can take advantage of free treatment or free places while choosing between different providers. I want constituents to exercise some control and to be treated better by the system as a result.
Over the 15 years during which I have been proud to represent my constituents in the House, I have never attended or heard of a debate about the bread supply. Bread is a crucial public service but miraculously, day after day, a good range of loaves is provided in the shops to my constituents and others. The bread industry even manages to handle the phenomenal demand for hot cross buns just before Easter. I never see notices in the shops saying, "Please delay buying your hot cross buns until October. We are short because there is a rush on them." The bread industry manages to handle that by the magic of free enterprise, choice and freedom. Yet when in the winter there is a rush of people with flu who want an even more important public service—the service of decent health care—they are told, "It is impossible to handle all these people because they have all chosen to have flu at the same time."
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman advocating that every industry should receive the same subsidy as the agricultural industry?
§ Mr. Redwood
I am not advocating that, although I am advocating a system that delivers health free at the point of use and therefore rightly attracts much heavier subsidies overall than the agricultural industry. The hon. Gentleman will also realise that if we broke up the CAP or distanced ourselves it, as the Government sometimes say they want to but never manage to do, we could buy our wheat on the international market at a considerably lower price with no subsidy and we would have even cheaper bread from the free enterprise bakery industry, which has delivered so well throughout my time in the House. The difference between our handling of the bread supply and the way in which we sort out our hospitals is that we allow ingenuity, innovation, choice and freedom in the one and we have centralisation, bureaucracy and control in the other.
I shall give the House another, even more relevant, analogy: I have never noticed that we have a shortage of hotel beds or holiday places. Many people want to go on holiday at the same time of year, but that does not seem to cause a peaking problem, and many want to use hotels in the same town or city at the same time, particularly when they go to party conferences or pensions conferences, but the free enterprise sector manages to take care of all that. Magically, there are places, and people are not normally turned away. We do not hear many modern versions of the Christmas story with people being turned away as a result of a shortage of hotel accommodation such as that which unfortunately occurred when taxation got in the way in the holy land some 2,000 years ago.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in both cases there is a 54 considerable surplus, which makes it possible to offer choice? He may not regular attend Prayers, but does he accept that we pray for our daily bread every day in this House?
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been. I have often prayed in the House and my prayer has always been answered. That demonstrates the miracle of combining religious faith with free enterprise. At the risk of not showing due deference to one much mightier than anyone here, I have a suspicion that free enterprise has rather more to do with that particular prayer being answered, but that is all part of the greater scheme. All this will come to pass, even to the hon. Gentleman in due course when he seeks a place far higher than he has already achieved in this mortal life. [Interruption.] I would not be so cruel as to suggest that he wishes to go to the other place, and I do not believe that the Government would allow him to do so.
If the Government really meant what the Prime Minister told the Labour party conference, they would break up the monoliths of state provision. The Prime Minister certainly talks the talk but on this occasion he is unable to walk the walk because he is supported, or undermined, by Ministers and Members of Parliament who simply do not have their heart in public service reform. That is why it is the duty of the Conservative party, the Loyal Opposition, to set out how we can give people choice and freedom and how we can achieve the necessary expansion in the capacity of public services.
The hon. Gentleman, who said that the problem is one of shortage, is quite right. Is not it interesting that on transport the Government have such different policies and achieve such different results? I would be happy to support much of the Government's aviation policy because it promotes free enterprise, choice and competition. As a result of pursuing that policy, we have a surplus of airplane seats. We could leave the Chamber and book a flight to almost anywhere, and providers would be scrambling to offer us seats at ever lower prices to try to fill capacity. That is the joy of freedom and free enterprise delivering the goods. If, however, we want to drive a car we are handicapped by having to use a public monopoly road, so we are short of road space. If we want to hire a private sector train seat, we are hamstrung by the insufficient capacity of track and signals in the right areas at the right time of day, so again supply is short thanks to a public monopoly or an over-regulated business.
This Government have over-centralised and over-regulated, and wherever they have intervened most, the catastrophic effects have been greatest. Let us consider recent examples. The Government decided that they knew better than the marketplace how to run a railway, and they intervened very badly in Railtrack. Instead of doing a deal and breaking the monopoly, which would have produced better results, they decided to bankrupt the company and set up Network Rail, an operation financed according to the so-called third way. That has created a massive delay in new projects, a huge overspend and a bonanza for consultants. We are now two or three years away from making any progress in increasing railway capacity, which we need. Where are the new signals, the new lines and the dealing with bottlenecks that are clearly required before we can hope 55 to divert more people and freight from road to rail? The Government's intervention has caused delay and damage.
Next, let us take the Government's ham-fisted intervention in this country's examinations system. Many young people have been bitterly disappointed—they were misled about their grades, then led to believe that they would be revised; the grades of some were revised, but others were let down again by being told that their grades were not to be revised after all. Unfortunately, confidence in the system has been damaged by the clumsy intervention of the Government and their quangos. There was a huge row between the quango chief and the Minister responsible: the Minister made sure the quango chief left, then decided that she had to go as well. At least it was an honest resignation. That affair underlines the fact that all too often the Government intervene and make things worse, and that centralisation and bureaucracy do not work.
Precisely the same theme is seen in the Government's law and order policy. In the Gracious Speech, the Government propose a large number of legislative measures, but most people looking at our criminal justice system would say that what is needed is the Government to get out of the way of the police and let them get on with their proper job of trying to apprehend offenders. It is difficult to prosecute people successfully through the courts and produce the right sort of sentences when the rate of detection is so low, so the Government should ask why the rate of detection remains so low.
There are two obvious reasons for that. The first has been set out by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary—there are not enough policemen. We look forward to the Government spending some of those huge extra sums on recruiting more police, rather than on recruiting more bureaucrats. The other, even more important reason is the use we currently make of our policemen. Any Member of Parliament who goes out in the evenings or at the weekend with the local police force hears the same story—that police are snowed under with paperwork, deluged with circulars, advice notes, requirements and forms. They spend far too much time in the police station handling the paperwork because that is the requirement imposed by the Government and the Home Office.
If the Government got out of the way, if they understood that they could purge the system of a great deal of the paperwork and did so, a lot more policemen would suddenly be able to do what they need to do—walking around, being a visible presence, picking up intelligence from their contacts on the streets, and, immediately after burglaries, thefts and crimes of vandalism and damage, pursuing the people who are likely to have committed the offences, or witnesses who might be able to help. All too often, my constituents tell me that the police were unable to attend within a reasonable period after an offence was committed, so the trail went cold; and the reason that the police were unable to attend was that too many of them were bogged down in paperwork back at headquarters.
We are told that the Government are now on the case and we have been given some fascinating paperwork. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition 56 referred to it in his excellent speech, but I think that the House should be given more information. The Government have homed in on the problem of excess paperwork in the education service. To illustrate that, I shall read the project summary from "Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume 2"—a real must for any insomniac seeking bedtime reading. The fact that in all there are three volumes of this great tome is itself a delicious irony or a paradox. I cannot detain the House by reading all of it, but it might be helpful if I give a little flavour. The project summary states:In January 2000 the then Department for Education and Employment"—which reminds us that since then the Department has been though changes of name, logo and literature; a worthy expense, I am sure—asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake a project to `Investigate, Test and Implement a Holistic Approach to Reducing Bureaucratic Burdens in a Range of Schools'. This was a second phase of work, which aimed to build on the work of Phase 1"—very logical—by focusing on how individual schools could implement good practice in setting up 'lean burn' management and administrative systems across the full range of their activities. Phase 2 focused in particular on"—and so it continues, for several pages. You will have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, given your great attention to such matters, that the project summary tries to streamline schools' response to the massive amount of paperwork emanating from the Department for Education and Skills. There is nothing in phase 2 about the Government requiring schools to do less, although their wanting all those things caused the massive workload in the first place.
"Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy", which is not necessarily a beginners' guide, as a scholarship in gobbledegook is still required to understand the finer points, expects each school to begin by drawing up a plan—a suitably bureaucratic response—and undertake a thorough review of all the paperwork foisted on it by Her Majesty's Government; it is not allowed to cast that paperwork in the wastepaper bin. The simplest way to get schools moving again is to tell them, "Dump everything from the Department in the bin and get on with teaching children."
§ Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)
The right hon. Gentleman has amused the House with his anecdotal evidence, which many of us have heard before from friends and relatives who teach. What does he suggest are the best lines of accountability for parents who want to know more about what their children are doing and achieving at school? Does he have a formula for achieving that without teachers being involved in significant paperwork?
§ Mr. Redwood
I would like to leave that to teachers and parents. The best ways of communicating are perhaps the traditional reports on pupils, and sessions during which parents can meet teachers and talk to them about their children. That always worked when I was a parent with children at state school, and I am sure that it can continue to work in schools with the time and energy to do it. Schools do not need massive bureaucracy from quangos and national Government 57 insisting that they complete forms for national record purposes. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that teachers could usefully spend most of that time teaching children and a limited period communicating directly with parents and pupils to keep them up to date on progress.
I have therefore recommended that my right hon. and hon. Friends in a future Conservative manifesto offer to abolish the apartheid that divides independent and state schools. Everyone should be allowed to go to an independent school, and I would like every state school to become independent. Schools could adopt a number of forms, and choose whether to become a mutual or teachers' co-operative—that may attract the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase)—or a profit or not-for-profit private company. I would guarantee that money would flow from taxpayers to pay for free places for the many pupils whose parents wanted the free place that their children currently enjoy. However, I would not be prescriptive—I would not stop schools allowing top-up fees or charging much higher fees than average, as long as there was a guarantee of free places at good-quality schools for everyone who wanted them.
§ Mr. Redwood
The Conservative party will set out its proposals on taxation and spending in the next Parliament nearer the time of that Parliament. I fully support my right hon. and hon. Friends on the importance of studying things carefully and not making our plans known until the Government have published theirs. The hon. Gentleman could not tell me about the spending plans that the Labour Government will put to the electorate at the next election in the hope of winning another term. When we have seen those plans, we will able to say how much more or less we will wish to spend in a number of different areas. I strongly believe that we should spend a lot less in big areas that have been deliberately expanded by the Government, but not on schools and hospitals, or nurses, teachers or policemen, on whom we should spend more. We may have at least to match Labour's spending plans or direct even more money at those crucial public servants. However, those services account for only a quarter of total public spending.
I would love to slash the regional government that Ministers constantly foist on us. I want no regional government at all in my part of the country. The Government do not even know what my region is called. Sometimes we are the rest of the south-east, sometimes we are London and the south-east, sometimes we are Wessex, and sometimes we are the Thames valley. They do not know, because where I live, there is no entity that is a region.
§ Mr. Clelland
Would the right hon. Gentleman inform the House what research he has done into the 58 costs to which he refers? How much will regional government cost, and what proportion is that of national expenditure?
§ Mr. Redwood
I have indeed researched the cost. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in the months ahead I will be producing plans that will save billions of pounds by reducing the Government overhead, and save several hundred millions from the regional government area. We do not need a regional government office in Guildford or the south-east.
§ Mr. Redwood
No, I am not recommending that, because the Welsh and the Scottish people were offered a different type of government and voted for it in a referendum. I would abolish the posts of Secretary of State for Wales and for Scotland—and for Northern Ireland if it goes back to having a devolved Assembly. I see no point in paying twice for the same thing. The people of Wales, Scotland and indeed England are paying for the superstructure of First Ministers and all their supporting staff in the devolved Assemblies, and there is no need for a similar establishment in Whitehall. There is a need for one senior Minister, who would probably be properly styled Secretary of State for the regions and local government, and who would argue the case in Cabinet for the relative sums of money that needed to go to English local government and to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved Assemblies. That Minister would have more detailed duties in England, because he would be facing a range of responsibilities day by day and week by week in English local government, whereas one would hope that he would have to intervene very little in the devolved Assemblies in the other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not reverse the settled position that exists in Wales and Scotland, not least because the people voted for those arrangements by a majority. If, by the time of any change in government, the regions in the north, the west midlands or wherever had similarly voted by a majority for an elected regional assembly, would that be sufficient for him to desist from reversing that position?
§ Mr. Redwood
It might be, but we would need to cross many hurdles before we got there. The hon. Gentleman assumes that the necessary legislation would go through; that a referendum would then be called; and that a region would be foolish enough to vote for a regional assembly. Those are three rather big ifs, and he should have a little modesty. Legislation sometimes gets modified or changed in both Houses of Parliament. That is a noble tradition, and he should be a little careful, in case he pre-empts all the discretion that the Houses have.
Looking at the problem in the run-up to an election, my hon. Friends would obviously investigate very carefully both turnout and percentage majority, should 59 the event that the hon. Gentleman describes come to pass. My observation in London was that very few people wanted devolved London government. If we re-ran that referendum today, I suspect that even fewer would want that outcome, because they now know that it was an expensive waste of time and money. I did not include London, as I believe the Conservative party has serious thinking to do about London.
I am not sure that the mayoralty is serving the capital well. It may need to have its powers even more reduced. It has no significant powers, but those that it does have, it seems to abuse and use to make life difficult. Perhaps we need to ask the public in a general election or a further referendum whether it was a good idea to save the money. It looks as though the present mayor is all tax and waste, and doing that to an even greater degree in London than the Government are doing for the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Bercow
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the premise upon which regionalism is based is that in some sense we in this country suffer from too few politicians and too little government? Is that not eccentric, to put it mildly?
§ Mr. Redwood
Indeed. My hon. Friend warms my heart. There needs to be a powerful voice in this country for fewer politicians and fewer bureaucrats, and for some control to be placed on the political classes. The Government have been a wonderful Government for the political classes and their bag carriers, advisers and consultants. With reference to an earlier intervention, one of the big areas in which I would like to see huge cuts is in the amount of money that we waste on the political classes themselves. We do not need huge armies of politicians at every conceivable level and layer.
In some parts of the country now, we have parish councils, district councils, county councils, regional offices, regional development agencies, national Government and the European Union—massive bureaucracies. The result for the public is that they pay the bill many times over for expensive staff, consultants and, in many cases, politicians. They all row with each other; they often do deals in private behind closed doors; and the public find it very difficult to understand who has done what, whom they can blame and whom they can throw out. We need much less of it, and the politicians whom we do have should be much more accountable.
§ Mr. Don Foster
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have too much regional governance, given that in every region there are some 70-odd quangos spending billions of pounds, and costing a great deal of money because of all the quangocrats that run them, each operating in its individual silo with no joined-up thinking, and no opportunity for local people to have any influence on what they do? Surely regional government, directly elected, would provide an opportunity to bring functions together, reduce some of the bureaucratic costs, ensure that there is more joined- 60 up thinking and ensure that there is true democratic accountability? May I add one further brief point? I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Redwood
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I got the drift of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I agree with the first part; we have far too many quangos and unelected bodies.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman says that I set them up. He is mistaking history. He should know that, as Secretary of State for Wales, I transferred some powers from quangos to local government and wanted to do rather more, but other events transpired which took my interest at the time. He should also know that the present Government have become the king and queen of the quangos. It is they who have transferred to quangos huge areas that were previously accountable directly to this House. They have transferred a big chunk of our economic policy to the Bank of England. They have transferred our food safety policy to a new agency. They have transferred more powers over the environment to the Environment Agency. They have transferred most City regulation to the Financial Services Authority, whereas much of that was originally under Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury.
There has been a massive transfer. In each case, the Government have argued that technicians and professionals are better at doing those things than elected people. The ideal world for Labour Ministers is one where they have a completely empty Red Box and a very large salary, and can say on every matter that it is absolutely nothing to do with them, because they know a quango down the road that will carry the can.
In the regional area, to which the hon. Gentleman drew my attention, I would like to see the functions that are worth carrying out transferred to elected local government, and the others abolished. I would like my local council to have real planning powers, I would like it rather than the Environment Agency to deal with matters such as flood control, I would like it to deal with some aspects of law and order, and I would like to see the quangos in those areas abolished or given a thoroughly good haircut, so that they spend much less of our money and trouble us far less than they currently do.
If we in the House are serious about democracy, we should be saying to the Government, "You have given away far too many powers. You set up too many quangos. You transferred far too many important functions outside democratic control. You have given away massive powers to the European Union. You are not serious, Government, about creating democratic accountability." Everything that Ministers do, as the Queen's Speech reveals, transfers matters away from probing, from the light of democracy, from challenge and from accountability in the Chamber. I would like to see a streamlined Government. I would like to see us curb the political classes. I would like us to have far 61 fewer elected politicians, but I would like those whom we do have to be in serious Chambers, doing a serious job of work.
§ David Taylor
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be making an immensely powerful and persuasive case for democratic centralism, which as I remember did for Stalin. Would it do for the Conservative party as well?
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman has clearly been listening to a different debate. The main proposals that I have put forward are for true devolution. I want schools in every part of the country to be independent, to get their money because pupils go there on free places, and to choose how to spend that money. That would mean that they got far more money to spend on education than they currently get, because the huge educational quangos and the national Government machinery would be cut back, and the money would be better spent.
I want the Government to propose foundation hospital status for all hospitals and to give those hospitals real independence so that patients have choice, and I want those hospitals to have enough independence to be able to borrow and spend money so that they can provide the extra capacity that we so clearly need.
I want there to be bridges between the public and the private sectors. I do not want to live in a world like the one in which I was brought up where there was an apartheid whereby someone from a low income family like me simply could not go to the really smart hospitals and schools. I want everyone to be able to go to an independent school or hospital if they so choose, and I want the money to follow them out of taxpayers' revenues. That would be cheaper, better and fairer, and it would expand capacity and bring the joy of choice and free enterprise to public services. It would implement the Prime Minister's strange idea that he will break the monoliths of state provision. I only wish he would.
The Queen's Speech is a ragbag of hopeless ideas. It does not go nearly far enough. It will not give hospitals or schools independence; it will not give people choice; and it will not solve the shortages and the transport problem. My right hon. and hon. Friends are right to oppose it.
§ 6 pm
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I completely disagree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on devolution and good governance, but I also think that many of my hon. Friends understate the case for having real devolution throughout the United Kingdom. The fact is that this Parliament, of which I am proud, tries to do too much and does it badly. Moreover, the Government are overtasked. Comparable big democracies, whether in Canberra, Ottawa, Washington, Moscow, and certainly Berlin, have a legislature and a Government who are charged with defence, foreign affairs, broad macro-economic and social policy. We should be arguing not about whether there is a great desire for devolved government; we should be arguing for it positively on grounds of good governance. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meets President Putin, Prime Minister Chrétien, the Chancellor of Germany, or the 62 President of the United States they deal with only broad macro-economic and social policy, defence and foreign affairs. They are not charged with or expected to be able to understand, pontificate and decide on all the other important matters that are sensibly dealt with by either the provincial premier, the governor of a particular state, the president of a Land, or the president of an oblast in the Russian Federation. It makes good sense to devolve down.
There should be constitutional symmetry. The same powers that exist for Scotland should also be devolved to the other units of the United Kingdom. I do not minimise the task. I realise that the south-east in particular has no natural boundaries. Nevertheless, many states tackle that and in my lifetime I want to see a federalised United Kingdom with a strong central legislature focusing on matters of most importance and for which we as a legislature can most effectively provide in statute and scrutiny. In truth, much of the scrutiny that we pretend to do is a charade.
I do not want to delay the House too long on that theme, but I remember being held here night after night on a two-line Whip on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. That is extremely important to the people of Wales, but the good people of Tilbury did not lie awake at night worrying about it. That is sensibly a matter for the people of Wales. Equally, my friends from Caithness and Sutherland should not be too exercised about London taxi Bills or London governance. Those are matters that should be dealt with at a much more local level.
§ Mr. Bercow
Given the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the decentralisation of power, can he name a single example of a directive or regulation that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality under the treaty of Amsterdam?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
No, this is not a quiz. I am for devolution and for subsidiarity to maximise that. I do not have the time to paint a great canvas on how I should like the United Kingdom's constitution to be substantially reformed. I shall do that on another occasion in the Chamber or sitting down with the hon. Gentleman.
I come now to the Queen's Speech and I want to get off my chest early on some of my concerns. I welcome much of its thrust and contents. However, with regard to the reform of the House of Lords, I am concerned by the reference to giving further consideration to the report of the Joint Committee. That is parliamentary speak for kicking into touch and I do not like it. We need to deal with the so-called second phase of the reform of the House of Lords. I favour a wholly elected House, but being a reasonable man I shall settle for a substantial wedge or slice of democratically elected members of the upper House because, as night follows day, in my lifetime it will be wholly elected because it would be unsustainable to have some people placed there by 63 patronage with no mandate or legitimacy arguing against those who have the force, protection and authority of having been put there by the electorate.
§ Mr. Soley
As a member of the Joint Committee, I must place it on the record that there is no way that I or, I think, the majority of that Committee will ever allow the issue to be kicked into touch. We want it back here, we want it soon, and we want the reform to continue. I give my hon. Friend that assurance, certainly from my point of view.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am grateful for that reassurance.
I come now to an omission from the Queen's Speech. I had hoped that there would be an indication that legislation would be brought before us to create corporate criminal liability. In Britain, unlike elsewhere, boards of directors can wash their hands when things go wrong and when lives are lost through bad board decisions and selfish interests. It is always the poor train driver, lorry driver, coach driver or ferry captain who take the rap, never the directors. I had hoped to see that measure included.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am pleased by the interest in my speech, but I cannot give way each time. However, as it is the man from Essex who is seeking to intervene, I shall do so on this occasion.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
As the hon. Gentleman, who I know is a very wise person, has promoted elections for the House of Lords and for the regional councils, and as 25 per cent. voted in the elections for the European Parliament and the percentage voting in the general election dropped to 60 per cent., what percentage of the people of Tilbury does he think will vote for elections for the House of Lords and for the regional assembly based in Cambridge?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I never uttered the word assembly. I want regional devolved parliaments. One of the problems of the Greater London Authority and the Welsh Assembly is that, rather like Bossom, they are neither one thing nor the other. We want proper parliaments to which people can relate. There is a major problem in engaging the electorate with Government. This place is treated cynically by the electorate and it is time that we reformed.
I do not want to take up too much time, so I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not allow too many more interventions. I want to give notice to the Front Bench in relation to the provision to speed up the planning process. I do so because the Chief Whip likes to know if Members do not intend to support legislation. This Member for Thurrock may do, but he wants to see the Bill. I do not like that terminology because it is BAA speak and that of other big battalions in the country for saying that the terminal 5 Heathrow inquiry and the like were awfully irritating.
64 I do not want any erosion of the ability of the little man or woman or the small residents' group to frustrate some of the big interests in this country, of which the best example is BAA. I know that BAA has uttered the words in the Queen's Speech, as I have heard it do so both publicly and privately. Events have been awfully irritating for it and I think that the terminal 5 inquiry results were wrong, but my goodness it was absolutely right that such interests should have to fight all the way to get their planning permission. I think that this House should jealously safeguard the interests of the small objector against the big, powerful interests. Two or three Whips are present. I give notice to the Chief Whip that the Whips must use all their powers of persuasion and patronage on me before I shall support the measure.
I welcome the fact that legislation is to be introduced on hunting with dogs. I am opposed to hunting with dogs, but the issue has not tremendously exercised me. I am amazed that it appears to be almost the most important concern of all for some Members of Parliament, although perhaps I am doing them an injustice. Above all, I want it to be resolved. I have been a Member of Parliament for 10 years, and after six or seven years under a Labour Government, it is time for us to include on the statute book a banning of this unacceptable sport. After some time has passed, people will be amazed that it was tolerated and children will say "Grandad, did they really allow the hunting of animals with dogs, so that they could be torn apart?" It will be one of those activities on which people look back with amazement, like bear baiting and so on. Let us resolve the issue once and for all.
My good people in Thurrock will welcome the measures announced in the Queen's Speech to end antisocial behaviour. One colleague listed items of behaviour that are relatively minor in themselves, including litter and dog fouling. When I travel on the train to my constituency and elsewhere in London, it almost seems a condition of travel that people have to put their feet up on the seats. I am amazed that some professional people in grey suits—some of them even look like the hon. Members in the Chamber—put their feet up on the seats, even though they would never dream of doing so at home. We need to try to reverse that culture. It is not the most important thing in the world, but people do not seem to think that there is corporate ownership or have pride and respect. It is often some of the professional groups that are the most offensive in those areas.
When we come each year to today's ceremony, we are given some time for reflection. Many of us, if not the overwhelming majority, take enormous pride in the privilege of serving in this Parliament with all its rich history. We are mindful of the mandate that we are given by our electors and of what a great honour it is to serve here. I was thinking today that it is 40 years since I first entered the House of Commons, not as a Member, but as a visitor.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
Yes. I remember the scene. Harold Wilson was shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. I thought that it was magic to see all the Members of Parliament with their feet up on the seats. Before the installation of television cameras, it was 65 almost mandatory for Front Benchers to have their feet up on the Table. I was fascinated by that. It does not happen now as a matter of rule, but it was done in those days.
I also remember Harold Wilson chiding Iain Macleod, who had said in a speech the week before thatNations gain their right to riseBy service and by sacrifice.Wilson said the same and added:Britain aims to reach the top with capital gains and the betting shop!" —[Official Report, 18 July 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1181–82.]There was a tremendous howl of laughter and I thought "This is good; I must have a slice of the action." It took me five general elections and another 25 years before I could get elected. I rushed into the Chamber, sat on the Front Bench and threw up my legs, but they did not reach the Table. I think that that must have been an omen that the Front Bench was not for me.
I, too, remember making my maiden speech 10 years ago. I welcome this debate in which we can paint a broad canvass, while the other days of debates on the gracious speech are allocated subject areas. On considering today's Queen's Speech, I thought it would be appropriate to read what was said 10 years ago, to see what I said and what was mentioned in that Queen's Speech. Obviously, the same themes were dealt with. Transport was mentioned and I raised the question of my London-Tilbury-Southend line. The service is now called c2c, which some people call "chaos to chaos" or "cancellation to cancellation".
I also spoke about the port of Tilbury and my concerns about privatisation. The port is now very good, but I have raised in the House during the past few weeks my concerns about port security. The port of Tilbury is very secure and has a small and dedicated police force. Indeed, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) and I joined the force in its recent bicentennial celebrations. The point is relevant because our seaports are generally not policed in the way that Tilbury is. There are only a few small and dedicated port police forces. At a time when there is maximum danger from the terrorist threat and massive human trafficking, however, I implore the Government to consider establishing a national ports police along the lines of the forces that exist in the ports of Tilbury, Felixstowe, Dover, Tees, Hartlepool and—I think—Merseyside. It is common sense that we should have such a force, and the sooner the better.
Health delivery was also mentioned, as it has been today. I was concerned about the closure of Orsett hospital in the borough of Thurrock and the concentration of all our resources in Basildon. Basildon hospital has now been established. It is doing a very good job and is a centre of excellence, but it is on overload. I still think that the Government should revisit the matter in relation to my particular area.
I was pleased to see in the Queen's Speech that the Government want to address a growing problem that is seen by many hon. Members—bed blocking. Although we try to score party political points on the issue, we need to ensure that local authorities have the necessary resources and implement the necessary measures to get out of hospital people who should not be there occupying beds. I see that that is heralded in the Queen's Speech and I welcome it very much.
66 The need for scrutiny is an issue on which I think I was prophetic in my maiden speech and which is relevant to today's speech from the Throne. I said in my first speech in Parliament that there was a need to buttress and enhance Select Committees. Whatever sins I have committed since, I was certainly a robust member of the Select Committee on Transport, of which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were a member at the same time. We certainly gave the previous Conservative Government a good run for their money on a range of contentious issues, including the foolishness of rail privatisation. In the two Parliaments in which I have served on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, I have certainly not been held back from scrutinising my hon. Friends in their stewardship and conduct of our external relations.
The greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny is very much welcomed and the Government should be proud of it. It is another increment in creating more openness and reversing the trend of centralisation, which is to some extent inexorable and is not the fault of any one Government of a particular persuasion. It is in the nature of modern government, and I look to this Labour Government to be conscious of that and to continue to introduce measures to ensure that the legislature is more relevant and can scrutinise even more, and properly contribute to, the legislative process. Everyone here knows that at the present time, statutes are largely produced by Governments. A Bill is introduced and, because of parliamentary timetables and the backwards and forwards between the two Houses, Labour and Tory Governments rarely agree to amendments, whether they were tabled by Opposition Members or from their own Benches, and even if they would improve the measure. Such acceptance happens only very grudgingly and exceptionally. That is wrong. Members of Parliament can contribute and make better statutes if they are given the opportunity to do so in pre-legislative and other Committee processes.
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that pre-legislative consideration should be extended to European legislation, so that we can have an input to the debate in Europe before such legislation comes to this House and we are given the faits accomplis that are often sent down to us?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
y: Absolutely. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is not now in his place, challenged me about my attitudes to Europe and subsidiarity. I want scrutiny and accountability. I want things to be examined because, ultimately, I want the best European regulations and legislation, just as I want the best legislation here.
I also want to consider bureaucracies, whether based in Brussels, London or elsewhere. That must be our mission. To some extent, the Government have embarked on that course. I should like them to go faster and I am coaxing and encouraging them to do that. At the end of the Parliament, I hope that they will be able to look back with pride at the fact that they substantially shifted the balance and loaded the dice perhaps a little more in favour of this legislature.
The Queen's Speech rightly refers to the enlargement of NATO and the European Union. In the discussion of the Queen's Speech 10 years ago, John Major specifically said that he hoped that Poland would join 67 the European Union in 10 years. Some slippage has occurred, but the matter is important to me. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and all the states of central Europe were denied their right to join the club of free nations by the disfigurement of Europe through the Yalta agreements. When those countries join the European Union in a little more than a year, it will be the end of world war two for them. I therefore believe that enlargement is one of our most exciting missions. I shall be enormously pleased and proud when those countries join the European Union and benefit from everything that flows from membership, including opportunities for conflict resolution. NATO enlargement will also create a new and richer collective security. That is important and long overdue. I hope that I have been able to do my part in a small way in arguing for it.
In my maiden speech, I welcomed John Major's desire for Poland and other countries to join the European Union. I also said that it was wrong to argue for that and at the same time insist on visas for people from Poland. The requirement was abolished soon afterwards. However, we continue to insist on visas for people from Slovakia. We should remove that requirement. Visa systems do not prevent people who should not be here from getting into the country. However, they stop young students of English who are keen to improve their language skills coming here and subsequently returning to Bratislava or other places in central Europe.
People will always break the system and get through. However, it is wrong and ridiculous to impede people who are the seed corn and energy of expansion, and who will create a market in the wonderful countries of central Europe. It is also in our interest for them to master language skills and become familiar with the United Kingdom. I therefore urge Ministers to reflect on that.
It is time to bring to a head the question of our membership of the single currency. We should move to a referendum—and I would argue for a single currency. Even if the vote went the other way, at least the issue would be resolved for the time being. It will not go away, and as sure as night follows day we will eventually join the single currency. However, we should resolve the matter for now. I welcome the intimation in the Queen's Speech that we shall probably reach some resolution of this issue in the summer.
Let us consider international terrorism and Iraq. At the Labour party conference, I spoke in support of the Government and their stewardship of the Iraq crisis. Some of my friends were surprised, especially in view of my reputation for scrutinising the Government. I stress to them that when the Government are right, I shall proclaim that. Since the summer, the Government's skilful and courageous stance has meant that attitudes in the Bush Administration have shifted substantially from all the nonsense about regime change. They argued that they could go into Iraq simply on the basis of an "imminent threat" to the United States. We rightly said no to that and stressed that we need to buttress and support the United Nations and enhance its authority. That is vital. We are doing that, and we were pleasantly surprised by the recent unanimous resolution of the Security Council.
68 There is a great prize to be won. If Saddam allows the weapons inspectors unimpeded access, we will reinforce the authority of the United Nations and send a signal to other despots around the world, to those who seek to take on weapons of mass destruction, and to those who try to defy United Nations resolutions. It will help the world community to lean on Israel, which flouts United Nations resolutions, albeit not the chapter VII mandatory resolutions. A great deal is at stake but, uniquely, only the Labour Government could have made the contribution to our current position. We are entitled to say that.
When I was speaking to party members a few nights ago, I was surprised that one of my good friends believed that talk about the threats to London and elsewhere was propaganda. A few people in the House, in the media and in our constituencies do not understand the gravity of the situation and the nature of al-Qaeda and such organisations. Matters are grave. Of course, that view has to be balanced, and we must not be too alarmist. We also need to understand that weapons of mass destruction can be small, that they can lie in a cupboard or fridge and be procured and created in London. They do not have to be brought in. I have already mentioned the need to tighten security in our ports and I proposed establishing national ports police. I hope that the Government will consider that.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the issue's importance, but does he agree that the Government could do more by giving greater support to our local authorities on emergency planning? My local authority had a cut this year to £89,000, with which it must perform all the additional planning. There is an urgent need for more funding to support the work to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I agree; our emergency planning is deficient. I believed that before the immediate crisis. Prudent Governments should tackle the matter. Again, not only the current Government should be criticised. We have been rather sanguine about such matters for 25 years. Old vehicles have been mothballed and we must now beef up emergency planning and provision without causing alarm.
I want to consider Ireland. I listened carefully to my friend, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is focused on the matter. All hon. Members have sympathy for public servants who have borne the brunt of those 25 years, and bear the scars of losing loved ones and colleagues. We all hope that Northern Ireland will have a brighter future. None of us has easy solutions; there is no magic wand. However, the Government have done a great deal to bring about reconciliation.
Whatever the legislation in the Queen's Speech that will affect the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we must be sensitive about the reserve. It is a misnomer because the reserve consists of full-time, paid police employees. They are overwhelmingly of one religious grouping because that is the nature of things. However, they are also diligent, keen public servants. We cannot swiftly run them down—that is insensitive and not good policing. Whatever measures are devised, and at the same time as we implement the Patten proposals, those officers need reassurance that they will be treated 69 sympathetically. I appreciate that there must be an accelerated system of promotion, and that we need to create as soon as possible a more sensible system and a police force that better reflects the religious groupings in Northern Ireland. However, we must also consider those people who have borne the brunt for 25 years. The Northern Ireland police reserve is one such group. Insufficient deference has been given to these people.
I have enormous admiration for our colleagues who come from Northern Ireland constituencies, whatever their persuasions. They have difficulties because inevitably questions involving the constitution and security are paramount for them. There are many other issues that other Members raise, and because there is limited parliamentary time, limited slots and sometimes difficulty in catching the eye of the occupant of the Chair, comparable issues are not raised in relation to Northern Ireland. The opportunities are somewhat limited. During the period when we have direct rule, we should not return to the system which previously prevailed where we passed the equivalent of Acts of Parliament for Northern Ireland in an hour and a half by order. It would be much better if we included provisions for Northern Ireland when considering and enacting what I might call English legislation, rather than having a separate order for Northern Ireland being considered at a different time, with minimal scrutiny.
Some terrible outrages occur in Northern Ireland and the constitutional position is, obviously and inevitably, a matter of considerable debate, particularly in terms of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, outside the United Kingdom people get an entirely wrong impression about Northern Ireland. I shall share something with the House. For the third summer running, I spent my summer holidays in Northern Ireland. When I tell colleagues, I see the look of surprise on their faces. I snap back and say, "It is the safest place in western Europe." In many respects it is. We should talk up Northern Ireland. We should refer to the great beauty of the glens of Antrim, of the banks of the Foyle, of the lakes of Fermanagh and of the Strangford lough with its rich and almost unique bird life.
I was disappointed when a quango did not select Belfast to be on the shortlist as one of the European cities of culture. That decision may well have been borne out of prejudice and ignorance of the rich culture of Northern Ireland, of the peaceful nature of the vast majority of a beautiful country and of the tremendous hospitality of the people. We should make it clear that Northern Ireland is a great place for holidays, that it is rich in culture and is a place where there are some tremendous people who are overwhelmingly of good will. We must recognise the conflict, the terrible loss and cost, the sacrifice and the outrages that occur. However, we must be mindful that Northern Ireland is a part of these isles where people from the United States and north America should feel very safe. That applies especially to people from Washington, who recently had to undergo the outrages of the snipers. "American visitors, you are safe in Northern Ireland," —we should say that also to the people of the Irish Republic and of south-east England. We should visit this important part of the British isles and talk it up.
§ Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)
I welcome the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Time flew by when I listened to his remarks. I welcome also the remarks of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay); I echo what he said about Northern Ireland. It was disappointing to me that even when times were much more troubled it was possible to find an angler from Germany every 200 metres when it should have been possible to find an angler from the rest of Britain every 100 yards.
I remember taking my family for a drive round the whole of Ireland in 1971, when times were pretty rough. At one stage, we had apparently driven over a 600 1 b bomb. We still had a marvellous time in Northern Ireland. There is great hospitality both north and south of the border.
I shall cover a fair amount of ground, but not at length. I pay tribute to councillors throughout our country. We do not spend enough time considering the difficulties that they have when changes or proposed changes to rate support grant or equivalent moneys for the police or for both have an impact on what councillors will do. I wondered what the cause was. For a time, I was a junior Minister involved in rate support grant exemplifications. During my time in government, I do not think that we saw the sort of attack on certain parts of the country that we are seeing now. Some of the attack may be the result of misunderstanding.
I have a letter from West Sussex county council, which points out that a change in possible fines for county councils for not unblocking beds may cost the county council £3 million to £4 million a year, when the resources needed to make it possible to move people on will not be available. That penalty may apply to each of the county councils in my area with social services responsibility.
There are other changes, such as the possible changes in police funding. At one extreme, these might mean that the Sussex police force, which covers both East and West Sussex, might lose £19 million or £32 million, whatever the figure may be. In the end, I do not think that the situation will be as bad as that.
West Sussex has by far the highest proportion of over-85s and a very high proportion of over-75s. In my constituency, nearly half the population is above retirement age. If the county is penalised on policing money, social services money, housing money and other local government funds, many people on low fixed incomes—there is not as much unemployment as there is in some other areas—will find themselves penalised in a way that requires an example. I use some figures from about a year ago.
In the Prime Minister's health authority area, fewer than one person in 100 were waiting for in-patient treatment for more than one year. In West Sussex, as in west Surrey, one person in 10 were waiting for more than a year. That is postcode discrimination.
We should argue for a movement of resources to areas where people are waiting the longest and where most people are waiting. Yet the funding seems to move the other way. The Government should come to West Sussex and think about why they still pursue a system of penalty.
71 In 16 months, from towards the end of June 2001 to the end of October 2002, the Prime Minister made a number of official visits. Making allowances for some ambiguity, with some place names appearing in more than one county, I believe that the Prime Minister did not visit West Sussex, or for that matter East Sussex, Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire or Gloucestershire. I challenge each local newspaper or regional newspaper to ask whether the Prime Minister has made enough visits, or in some instances any visit, to its county. I will not get involved in whether the right hon. Gentleman went to Brighton for the TUC or Labour party conferences. He has certain duties that we understand. However, the only time when he went to the south coast was for matters party political or near party political. He needs to come down to the south coast more often.
The Prime Minister should understand that there are many who would benefit by some of the policies that are put forward by the Government, and possibly by some of the proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech. The right hon. Gentleman should understand also that many people have been penalised by the apparent ignorance of what conditions are like for many people on the south coast. Many of them are on relatively low pay and many others are on low fixed incomes. They are struggling hard.
When Government decisions require council tax to increase by 10 per cent., many people notice that. They are the people whom we should be serving the most. They are the old-time generation, my father's generation, who are living on the south coast. They worry about social security, policing and health services which mean it is necessary to wait. I will not produce a great list, but I am aware of a person who had to wait 12 months for a 20-minute hearing test at the local hospital. These things matter, and it is one of the reasons why I cherish having an individual constituency responsibility.
I move on to the Prime Minister's e-envoy. I refer to the electronic government person, probably about four or five years ago. For most of the past year I have been trying to find the Prime Minister's e-mail address. People would not tell me that he did not have one but they would not say what it was. We now discover that some time in the new year—that may mean the whole of 2003 or early in that year, given the ambiguity of language that comes out of No. 10—there will be an email address for the Prime Minister. Those involved should be able to cope with the blizzard of e-mails because No. 10 receives 12,000 letters a week. If they can cope with that number of letters, they can cope with e-mails, which are rather easier to dispose of. I condemn those who advise the Prime Minister for ensuring that he remained one of the few people in government without an e-mail address.
The Foreign Secretary is in the same position. When a Member of Parliament wants to make urgent representations to the Foreign Office about a constituent—perhaps someone facing deportation or in trouble overseas—it is helpful to have an e-mail address 72 for senior Ministers, and I hope that the Prime Minister will make it his business to ensure that every Minister has an e-mail address. It is all very well exhorting other people, but we and he should go further and set an example.
The Prime Minister's office has not commissioned any focus group research since June 2001. That is perfectly reasonable. The Department of Health was asked what research it had commissioned and whether it would identify the topics covered, who carried it out, the total cost, and whether the research would be published on the Department's website. The answer was that a table had been placed in the Library and that the Department's expenditure on focus group research could only be provided at disproportionate cost. I do not criticise that if it is true, because I do not wish to put the Department to disproportionate cost.
A Department should be able to state that any research carried out with public funds is published and that a summary, at least, is put on an accessible website. It was a rule when I was a junior Minister that if public money was spent on research, it was published, however embarrassing or boring it might be or however ill-considered its commissioning might have been. For the same reason, PhD theses should also be made available to the public.
The Prime Minister was asked what protocols existed that covered policy advisers able to direct Ministers or officials in Departments. The answer included this sentence:Policy advisers do not have powers of direction."— [Official Report, 6 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 399W.]Unless the Order in Council has changed, my belief is that Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell have the power to give direction. The response to that may be that they are not policy advisers but civil servants, but that does not cover the point of the question.
The Prime Minister should instruct those preparing answers on his behalf to give a full answer. The fact that no untruth has actually been told is not good enough. An example needs to be set throughout Government so that if it is possible to give fuller information, it should be given. If that question were to be answered after this speech, I would expect that it would include an extra paragraph saying that those people covered by Orders in Council were exceptions.
I ask my Front Benchers to ensure that we go into the next election saying that we will not have any Orders in Council that allow anyone who is not a Minister or a member of the permanent hierarchy to give instructions to civil servants. It is not right that those Orders in Council cover Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, and I hope that there are no others about whom we have not been told.
It may amuse the House to learn that because of a rare slip in Hansard—a heading has been missed out—we do not have our attention drawn to the fact that officials do not give reports on junior Ministers to the Prime Minister, and that if they have a complaint to make they make it through the Cabinet Secretary. I mention that as some encouragement to the junior Ministers who are in their places.
§ Peter Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman asks how I became a retired Minister. It was partly because I 73 volunteered and partly because I was doing such a marvellous job that the Prime Minister thought I should go.
My next point is about VAT on energy-saving materials. The Government's scope for action may be limited by the European Union, but that may be up for review. It is important to have a lower rate of VAT on materials that will prevent the wasting of energy—for many reasons, including price elasticity, the signal that it would send and the recognition that if we are to take global warming seriously, we must take seriously the reduction in the use of energy and the reduction of the pollution that accompanies the creation of energy. If we took some of the tax reliefs that are available to the power companies when they purchase plant that generates energy, we could better spend it on helping people to be warm and snug in their homes. It is normally those in lower income groups who are slowest to obtain energy-efficient boilers and insulation materials.
The Law Commission has produced many reports to which the Government have not responded. I remind the House that our law is a combination of the common law, the decisions of the higher courts and the statute law enacted or authorised by Parliament. The main areas in which the Law Commission works include trust and property law, criminal law, contract, tort, commercial law, the law of landlord and tenant and damages. If the Law Commission, after consultation, has produced a draft Bill which it believes would clarify the law or change it to make it more just, and if the Government do not act on that within a short space of time, they should be required to report in detail to the House. If the Law Commission puts forward a suggestion that, by general agreement, would make things fairer or change the judgments that courts make, we have a responsibility to demand of the Government that they give it a much higher priority.
Some of the issues facing the Law Commission may not sound enormously important to everyone, when they include, for example, shareholder remedies; business tenancies; aggravated, exemplary and restitutionary damages; liability for psychiatric illnesses; the rules against perpetuities, and excess accumulations. However, the Government's response on the Law Commission's recommendations on offences against the person is not adequate, because insufficient priority is given to them.
I ask that the Law Officers and the Prime Minister consider introducing a system that would require the relevant Departments to say explicitly what is happening. If the Department agrees with the recommendations, it should say so. If it thinks that there should be a second round of consultation, and therefore delay, it should say so. If the recommendations are to be kept for the third or fourth year of a Parliament, because they are not controversial, the relevant Department should say so. The Law Commission does the work, and we should not be left wondering what will happen next.
I do not know whether the Law Commission has addressed the reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I return to a case that the House has considered in the past when it was proper to do so—when no court case was pending—and that is the Wintercomfort case. Ruth Wyner and John Brock were sent to prison in a prison system where 19,000 of the 70,000 population have been 74 detected as using illegal drugs. Ruth Wyner worked as a counsellor in prison and had to agree to a level of confidentiality which, in her work running the project at Wintercomfort—a home for the destitute—got her sent to jail. She had a protocol on confidentiality under which she spoke in public about the threat of growing drug dealing, but the police with whom she was working were not told by other police that they were investigating drug dealing on or near her premises.
It is a scandal that Ministers did not intervene. They knew what had happened and they should have listened to homeless projects around the country. Ministers should realise now that the result of that use of section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was to change the sorts of people who could be dealt with by wet or dry shelters. If our homelessness projects, whether day or night centres, can cope only with the clean and the decent, or with those with sufficient self-control not to share or deal in drugs, and if the police will not cooperate in such cases, we will not find the volunteers, the professionals or the unpaid trustees who are willing to work together to help people lift themselves out of the misery of drugs that was described by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) as affecting his area and far too many other areas.
I turn to the curious case of Mr. JW. Two of my constituents have been involved with business premises in Spain. I wrote a letter on their behalf to lawyers saying that my constituents had not received justice in terms of shareholdings, dividends and ownership. I copied that letter to the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish ambassador. I received no reply for several weeks, so I wrote again, including in my letter an assertion that Mr. JW had not told the truth to a court. The matter proceeded. He has now written to me, saying that he is considering suing me for defamation for communicating to my secretary what was put to me by my constituents, and for communicating the information that I gave to the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish ambassador.
I have experience of defamation proceedings. I have not paid a penny to a lawyer yet, although that may be due as much to luck as to merit, and I do not intend to start now. So I have told Mr. JW that I am sorry that he thinks my action has lowered him in the eyes of the Spanish ambassador and the Foreign Secretary. I have received a letter from one of Mr. JW's associates, saying, "Sorry about the information in the fax. It was not that he did not say something in court; he did." The word "not" was missing, which shows that the complications go round and round and round.I say to this man that if he thinks that getting at a Member of Parliament for getting a secretary to write a letter in some way defames the person, he had better find someone else to challenge. I am not inviting him to take me to court, but I can say, quite simply, that many people would be delighted to give evidence in court, which is just as privileged as making these remarks in the House.
I say to those who face inquiries from Members of Parliament on behalf of constituents, "Your best advice is to co-operate and give information openly. If there is some dispute over facts, just spell that out." Few of us here are pushovers for such a letter, which I could have taken the wrong way. I hope that I have not done so, but if I have, I intend to use every opportunity to get justice for my constituents.
§ Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)
I want to refer briefly to a number of points. First, legislation dealing with crime, antisocial behaviour and law and order is central to the Queen's Speech. It is clear to me and, I think, almost everybody that a consensus is emerging that our constituents who live in poverty can suffer most from crime and law and order problems and, therefore, that those on the left as well as those on the right in British politics ought to take these matters seriously. I welcome the Government's intention to deal with them through legislation, but many other things need to be done within the criminal justice system that do not require legislation, but which could help to restore a degree of faith in that system—a faith that, sadly, many of our citizens have lost.
I want to exemplify that statement by referring to my constituent, Mrs. June Harrison, whose husband, a coach driver, was tragically killed while driving on the correct side of the A638 in my constituency by a French lorry driver who was on the wrong side of the road. It was a great personal tragedy, as the House can imagine, and many hon. Members will have come across similar circumstances. What happened next contributed to the cynicism over criminal justice.
As the House would expect, the French lorry driver received hospital treatment paid for by British taxpayers as well as free legal aid and advice, which he was entitled to. Again, British taxpayers paid for that. At Pontefract magistrates court, he was fined £500 and received a six-point penalty on his licence. Many people might think that a low price to pay for killing a person with a wife and family and a reasonable future ahead of him, but that was the decision of the court.
Many people might disagree with the fine—indeed, June Harrison, the widow, feels that it is inappropriate—but my point is that, although magistrates courts levy many fines, many people do not pay. Recently, the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, discussed the matter, and it is apparent that many people who are fined in a magistrates court simply fail to pay and that the criminal justice system does not cope very well with the non-payment of fines. It seems that foreign nationals can simply choose not to pay, and there is no process by which the fine can be collected.
Sadly, the driver in this case, Mr. Boulanger, decided to take advantage of the situation and refused to pay his fine, which it seems he was perfectly entitled to do. It is extraordinary that a French citizen can kill somebody in this country and receive free legal advice and hospital treatment—the process of co-operation across Europe works in those respects, so why should such a person not receive them?—yet a fine cannot be extracted from him. Furthermore, he has said from his home in France that he believes that my constituent's poor husband would not be dead if the British had only changed the side of the road on which they drive. Frankly, that is a disgraceful statement, but, as hon. Members can imagine, the fact that he has not paid the fine has caused grievous insult to the widow, to the community that I represent and to me.
Worse, the six points on that person's licence have no meaning whatever in France. It disturbs me that we have no criminal justice system whereby fines or punishments 76 registered on a licence can have an effect in the rest of Europe. This man is plying his trade in France and earning money while my constituent, June Harrison, faces a sad loss and a life without her husband.
I have looked into the matter, and I think that the system by which magistrates courts issue fines and that by which European sister countries co-operate need to be reviewed carefully to avoid bringing the criminal justice system into disrepute. I have corresponded with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the matter and I hope that we shall pay attention to such apparently small details somewhere in the raft of legislation that is to come before us. Those small details can do enormous damage to the reputation of the criminal justice system and, indeed, to the broader European project.
I wish to refer briefly to other matters in the Queen's Speech, including one mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). In many mining communities such as those that I represent the National Coal Board originally provided social housing. Some time ago, it was decided to privatise that housing. Some people bought their properties with savings br by taking out mortgages, but many of the houses were disposed of to so-called social landlords such as housing associations and, in many cases, to private landlords.
In the communities that I represent, there has been a process of abandonment—not of the odd house, but of whole villages. The private landlords and, to some extent, the so-called social landlords have put in tenants who, frankly, are inappropriate in small, enclosed communities in mining villages such as Fitzwilliam, South Elmsall, Hemsworth and Featherstone. There was a flight from the villages of the original tenants—the mining families—and the people left behind are those who bought their own house, who form a small minority. I could name five villages that have been totally abandoned, and my communities are in a deplorable situation. I have comments to make on that.
The Queen's Speech contains a proposal to license private landlords in certain areas. I strongly welcome that legislation, which I shall follow with interest, and I hope that early implementation is achieved. There are many good private landlords, by the way, and I do not wish to say that they all operate inappropriately, but it is clear to me that licensing and control are imperative in certain areas if we are to stop the continuing collapse of communities.
One can visit some communities almost any day of the week and see furniture vans and people who are moving away. I fear for the future of the people who are left behind and their children. After seeing some of those communities, it is hard to believe that this is England in the 21st century. Children are growing up facing a future represented by abandoned villages, which is an appalling indictment of the situation in which people find themselves.
I know of the commitment to economic stability and full employment, but in some of my communities the regeneration initiated by the Government has not begun. The process has not penetrated there. Former mining communities continue to collapse, and we urgently need further help. Economic stability is not enough for us; action must be properly targeted. There 77 is talk of overheating of the economy elsewhere, but my communities are collapsing. We need strategic action, such as the action taken in south Kirkby, a former colliery site. The Government found £3 million to recover the land and deal with the poisoning that was left when the mine closed. The site is now ready for redevelopment, but we need further support from the Government.
Action has also been taken at Green lane in Featherstone. I am sure that the Government know of our need for more regeneration, because Ministers have visited my community to look at the problems. I have mentioned housing problems and the collapse of villages. We do not need just action to deal with housing, though; we need social and economic community regeneration.
According to the Queen's Speech, a Bill will be introduced to ensure that local authorities support older people awaiting discharge from a hospital. Bed blocking prevents local authorities and other agencies from looking after the elderly. It would obviously be better for elderly people not to be in acute hospitals—better for their welfare, and better because acute hospitals should be dealing with acute medical problems.
A big private finance initiative project is in progress in my area to reconstruct two hospitals, one in Pontefract and one at Pinderfields in Wakefield. That project depends on what is described as intermediate care. We are short of 200 beds, which can be provided only by the local authority. I think that the authority will welcome the duties that are bound to be imposed on it, but the fact remains that while it is all right to legislate for the council to be an enabler in this context, the problem is one of resources. The PFI project cannot succeed in rebuilding hospitals unless someone provides for the elderly people who are currently—and inappropriately—being cared for in acute hospitals. I am troubled about the project, and about the proposed Bill. Resources must accompany the legislation.
I am proud that the Government have made one of their flagships the proposal to invest heavily in public services. Those on the left of British politics firmly believe in public service provision. I am not one of those who believe that the status quo is defensible: it is clear that many of our public services are hierarchic, involving tiers of management that are inappropriate and would not exist in the private sector, and it is also clear that on occasion the needs of consumers are not responded to. I welcome the idea that investment and reform should go together.
The Government talk of devolving power, and the Queen's Speech proposes a change in the status of hospitals. We must not confuse two separate principles, uniformity and universality. Public service provision has been far too uniform, and I do not object to, for example, the idea of a post-comprehensive era in education or that of more freedom for hospitals. Uniformity is the enemy of customer-friendliness and help for consumers, and I approve of any measure that would reduce it. Many Members may, like me, have been councillors before they were elected to this place. On housing estates that I knew, front doors had to be painted red, green or blue. Uniformity of that kind went a long time ago, but uniformity in public services is still a problem.
78 I fear, however, that our proposals to abolish uniformity may undermine the principle of universality—and the principle of a universal service, equally available to all, must not be undermined. I am worried, for instance, about the proposal to allow hospitals that are providing excellent services to borrow more money. That principle of universality, surely, depends on equal access for all to excellent provision. I fear that if funds follow excellence in management there will be two levels of management. I hope very much that neither the Prime Minister nor any other Minister intends to undermine the universality principle in that way, as it is not a course that I could easily follow—although, as I have said, I have no problem with the abolition of uniformity.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Much of today's debate has concerned the need to improve public services. Indeed, nothing is more important than a more effective police; a criminal justice system that works; good teachers and improved education; and well-motivated and well-rewarded NHS staff and a better health service. The only difficulty is this: we hear the same claims from the Government every year.
In last year's Queen's Speech, the Government trumpetedthe most fundamental reform of public services for many years".I suspect that if all those present were asked to name a supposed flagship Bill produced in the last Session, many of us would have difficulty in doing so. Indeed, I doubt that many Ministers could name a Bill that had made a difference. One year on, I do not think that last year's legislation has brought much change to my constituents and others in north Oxfordshire.
Every year we read the pre-Gracious Speech hype in the Sunday newspapers, forecasting great reform and great improvements. The Prime Minister was at it again over the weekend, sayingWe need a new, simpler and tougher approach to anti-social behaviour. It is petty crime and public nuisance that causes so much distress to people; vandalism, graffiti, low-level aggression and violence".I agree, but the Government have had an opportunity to deal with that. Indeed, they have already introduced a number of criminal justice Bills since taking office. The problem is that those Bills have not worked. It has been all posturing and no delivery.
I suspect that I am not untypical, and barely a day passes without my being approached by a constituent telling me of antisocial behaviour suffered by him or her, and his or her family, at the hands of mindless people. Only this morning I received an e-mail from a constituent, telling me:Tuesday night was a total nightmare. A continuous barrage of sound louder than shotguns, of which I have had a lot of experience.A little while ago, a constituent in Bicester wrote to me to tell me:The situation here is quiet, but as I stated in my last letter I believe the gang have only moved on to another part of our community to get their fun".That is in rural north Oxfordshire, not some inner-city area.
79 I do not suppose that I am alone among hon. Members in recalling at least one instance of a different antisocial crime affecting a different family in a different street on each different day in my constituency. A youth in my constituency has committed so many crimes and jumped bail so frequently that it would make the average supermarket shopping receipt look short.
I took that up with Ministers. The Lord Chancellor's Department said:Dealing with juvenile crime has been one of the Government's top priorities…the aim is a system in which the response to offending is swift, consistent and effective, which engages young people and their parents much more in…social responsibilities".Likewise, the Home Office said:We have also undertaken significant work across the Criminal Justice System to reduce unnecessary delays from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders.All that seems amazingly similar to the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister ahead of the Queen's Speech, so one has to wonder what the Government have been doing in all the years since they came to office. Little has changed over the past years with respect to antisocial behaviour and I—and I am sure many others—are sceptical about whether much will change over the coming year. Why is that? It is simply because the measures announced today are either old measures dressed up as new measures or proposals that are more concerned with berating the police over tackling antisocial crime than with dealing with the yobs who commit such crime.
I understand that the Prime Minister is frustrated at the failure of the police, courts and councils to use existing powers to curb antisocial behaviour, but let me explain why that may be. One of the earlier trumpeted measures to deal with antisocial behaviour was the introduction of antisocial behaviour orders. That was what was going to sort out young yobs on housing estates who make elderly people's lives a misery by persistent low-level antisocial behaviour. The Government introduced a Bill to introduce the orders. So far, Cherwell district council in my constituency has managed to get just one antisocial behaviour order and that took over a year. It was subjected to delays, red tape and obstruction by the individual, not surprisingly, on whom the order was going to be served.
If it takes a district council over a year to get a single antisocial behaviour order, it gives rise to the question whether we are not seeing a certain amount of gimmickry? Would it not be better for the Government to look at the measures that they have already introduced and to ensure that they are effective, rather than trying to give the impression that they are doing something about crime by producing more and more Bills and putting them on to the statute book?
I come to the police and the courts. We have in the Gracious Speech a Bill that seeks to assist victims of crime by reducing the rights of defendants. I suspect that the measure will be opposed by almost every organisation involved in English law. That Liberty, the Legal Action Group, the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council have issued a joint statement against the proposed changes to the criminal justice system—it is 80 the first time, as a barrister, that I can remember a joint statement bringing organisations such as Liberty and the Criminal Bar Association together—is a clear indictment of the Bill.
I do not believe that people in my constituency are looking to be treated as the victims in court. They do not want to go to court at all. They do not want to be victims in the first place. The best way of ensuring that is through the higher visibility of police officers on the street.
Last night, in Banbury, I spoke at the 184th dinner of the Neithrop Association for the Protection of Property. As hon. Members can see by virtue of the fact that it was its 184th dinner, that organisation has been going for a considerable time. It came into being before the introduction of the police service as we know it today. I suppose that 200 people were present from all walks of commercial, business and retail life in Banbury. I did not speak for long but the loudest cheers I got were when I said that we needed to see more police officers on the streets of Banbury. I suspect that the vast majority of people do not want the Government to introduce new gimmicks of on-the-spot fines for people who drop chewing gum. They want to see and have the comfort of knowing that more police officers are on the street.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the two are mutually exclusive? He wants more policemen on the beat. There cannot be an hon. Member who would not sign up to that. These are innovative, experimental ideas. I do not see why the Government should be ashamed to complement officers on the beat by trying these other measures. It is common sense. It is laudable.
§ Tony Baldry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because I clearly have not been sufficiently clear and he has given me the opportunity to clarify my remarks. My complaint is that often we have gimmickry dressed up as policy. Much of it distracts people from the real problem. In my patch, the real problem with regard to law and order is insufficient police officers.
In the Thames Valley area, two police officers may live next door but the one who works for the Metropolitan police gets free transport and is paid £6,000 a year more. It is hardly surprising that Thames Valley is bleeding police officers as they move either to the Metropolitan area where they get paid more or to forces such as Lincolnshire where the housing costs are considerably less and they can buy a lot more with what they earn.
Whether it is a statistical quirk or a problem with the funding arrangements, the simple fact is that, next year, the amount that Thames Valley police will receive from the Government is a staggering £77 million below the average for all other police forces, which puts further severe strains on the force. Indeed, I think that, just to stand still next year, Thames Valley police authority will need a 30 per cent. increase in its portion of the council allocation. It is losing out substantially in the amount of money that it receives from central Government.
Before they have more legislation, more criminal justice Bills and Acts and more gimmicks, people in my constituency, in Oxfordshire and indeed throughout the Thames valley would like a properly funded well-recruited police force that has a chance of retaining 81 police officers. Too many of the police officers on the street at the moment are recent recruits; although they are excellent that is grossly unfair on them and on everyone else.
§ Brian White
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that things such as the restorative justice project, which Thames Valley police pioneered, should not be taken up by the Government and that we should rely simply on the tired rhetoric that he is coming out with?
§ Tony Baldry
I have no complaints against Thames Valley police. We have been fortunate in having a succession of extremely good, innovative chief constables. The present chief constable is in that mould but whatever initiatives the police take on restorative justice or any other area of policy will be as nought if, as often happens, there are fewer than four police officers on duty in the whole of Banbury and all the surrounding villages on a Saturday evening. That situation would be unacceptable in anyone's constituency.
There is also a problem with the Court Service. The Government are understandably concerned about the length of time it takes for cases to come to court. The chief executive of Thames Valley court service, which is based in Bicester, recently wrote to me expressing deep concern that more than 50 staff had left over the past six months, which had led to the cancellation of more than 200 trials. He described howurgent action is necessary. We cannot rely on the goodwill of our remaining staff for much longer".I suspect that the solution to north Oxfordshire's Court Service problem is not dissimilar to that of many of those working in the public services in and around the Thames valley. The staff need to be competitively paid. Otherwise, they will look for more lucrative jobs.
I agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) on one issue. A debate on the Queen's Speech is not just about those measures that are in it, but about those measures that have been left out. Like the hon. Gentleman, I was disappointed that there was no Bill on corporate manslaughter. That would not be a gimmick. The Labour party has made that an election pledge not once, but twice; at both of the last two general elections. Omitting the Bill from the Queen's Speech is very much letting down employees and their families.
I wish to refer to the tragic case of my constituent Simon Jones, who was brutally killed. He was a student at Sussex university and had to work during the vacation to earn some money. He went to Shoreham docks and was killed on his first day in tragic circumstances. I do not use the word glibly, but in many ways it has destroyed the lives of his parents and family.
I went to the Old Bailey to watch the trial of the chairman of the company concerned. Under our present law, it is almost impossible to get a conviction against an individual director or person responsible, and the company was fined a pretty derisory amount. The Government have been consulting for a long time on the issue and they had almost got to a draft Bill. I think that they simply backed away in the face of pressure from employers.
As a traditional Conservative, I have always believed that it is right that the state should intervene in these matters. Indeed, most of the early legislation on 82 factories was introduced by Disraeli's Governments. It seems to me that the state has a duty to try to ensure that people have a safe place to work. Our record on deaths at work in this country is appalling and some sectors of industry have particularly poor records. I know that the Health and Safety Executive does a good job, but if directors—I speak as a director of a number of companies, as anyone who consults the Register will see—knew that they stood in peril of losing their freedom if they did not ensure that their work force had, so far as is possible, a safe place of work, it would substantially reduce the death rate of people at work in this country.
I hope that Labour Back Benchers will take this matter up with the Government because it is a dereliction of duty that such a Bill is not in the Gracious Speech. One can only hope that a Member will propose a private Member's Bill on the subject, or that the Government will see the need for such a Bill on a future occasion. The Government have got that one wrong.
The other parts of the public services about which we are concerned are our hospitals and schools. It gives me no pleasure to report that Oxfordshire has one of the worst-rated hospitals in the country, the Oxford Radcliffe hospital, which received only one star last year and, despite the hard work of its staff, still has only one star out of three under the Government's own ratings. That is not the fault of the staff working there. There is a critical shortage of staff in the NHS in Oxfordshire. A recent count revealed that of the 1,250 nursing posts at the Oxford Radcliffe NHS trust, 400 were vacant. I suspect that a similar number is filled by nurses from overseas—excellent nurses from the Philippines and elsewhere who by definition are temporary and will not be in this country for long. We have a critical problem.
The hospital needs more nurses and staff and—like most of the NHS, I suspect—fewer bureaucrats. I understand that for every bed in the NHS, there is an NHS manager somewhere. We must not focus on new legislation. I am not quite sure what foundation hospitals will do; I suspect that they will not do much to create nurses for the Oxford Radcliffe or the Horton hospital. Even if the Oxford Radcliffe and the Horton hospital could recruit a full complement of nurses, we could not afford to pay them, and our ability to do so will be further eroded by the Government-imposed underfunding of the budgets. There is little in the Queen's Speech that will help to address this adverse balance.
The state of Oxfordshire's hospitals is compounded by serious reductions in Oxfordshire county council's social services budget. Oxfordshire social services has for the past three years been getting a raw deal from Whitehall. Milton Keynes, which is almost next door, gets nearly a fifth more investment than Oxfordshire from central Government; yet, clearly, the cost of living, staff costs and care costs are not dissimilar.
Last week, I went to No. 10 Downing street with a constituent called Geoff Watts, whose elderly married parents—both in their eighties and in need of care—had been put in separate nursing homes, some distance apart. That was an appalling situation; a bit like going back to the days of the workhouse, where men and women were separated. That occurred simply because Oxfordshire county council can only afford to get two new people into residential care each week. It was a 83 complete disgrace and a tragedy that they should have been in those circumstances and that the county council did not have the funds to get them into the care home together. Until they were reunited last week, it was a desperately tragic situation. Unfortunately, it was not unprecedented in Oxfordshire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) said that the Prime Minister did not visit large parts of the country, and I agree. I think it would be a good thing and I would welcome more Ministers visiting Oxfordshire. Sometimes there is a perception that the home counties such as Oxfordshire are all dreaming spires and leafy roads. That is not the case. Many parts of my constituency have areas of considerable social need. As a result of the Government's recent consultation on redistributing local government grants, Oxfordshire county council faces either a 32 per cent. council tax rise or a £43 million cut to its budget.
Even if the Government introduce a complex series of floors and ceilings to dampen any such loss, it is almost certain that elderly care will continue to be under-resourced, that youth groups will be under threat and that foster care will lose its foundation. Even if the final option chosen by the Government next month is less severe than some of us have feared, Oxfordshire will not see fairer funding for its public services. That makes a complete mockery of proposed legislation on community care discharge. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) said that community care discharge would work effectively if local authorities and social services had the funding to take on that responsibility.
Over the last couple of years, Oxfordshire has substantially contracted the support it can give to elderly people living in the community. If the Government do not commit the funds to local authorities such as Oxfordshire county council, any legislation on community care discharge will be a mockery.
These are the sorts of thing about which people in north Oxfordshire are concerned—properly funded public services. They are not particularly concerned about local government gimmicks to do with the possibility of regional assemblies.
Banbury has absolutely nothing in common with Brighton. Henley has nothing in common with Hove. Witney has nothing in common with Worthing. The idea that the south-east is a homogeneous entity, which can be brought together in a regional assembly—[Laughter.] Quite rightly, Labour Members laugh at even the possibility of Banbury's having anything to do with Brighton. The ludicrousness of it is that three miles to the north is Northamptonshire, technically in the east midlands, while three miles in the other direction is Stratford, technically in the west midlands. My constituents want to have decent public services, delivered locally by local authorities that they know and understand. They understand the district council and the county council, and they will see the desire to have regional assemblies taking powers away from their district and their county as yet another gimmick and a distraction. No one that I have come across in my patch wants a regional assembly.
84 I ask myself, what is there in this Queen's Speech that speaks to the condition of those I am privileged to represent in Parliament? The answer is, very little. Yes, they want decent public services, but more specifically they want more police officers on the street; a decently funded, well-recruited national health service; and properly funded schools and social services. They do not want the Government tinkering—or, more than tinkering, messing about with—the local government financing formula, taking money from the south and, I am bound to say, giving it to their friends in the north. Those are the critical issues for people in Oxfordshire. Some will be concerned that the Government have dodged, and run away from, difficult issues such as corporate manslaughter.
Finally, I wish to pick up something that the hon. Member for Thurrock said. I would be more impressed by the Government's attempts at pre-legislative scrutiny if the Bills listed to be subjected to such scrutiny were not so excruciatingly boring that no human being—with the exception of someone who has a really sad life, reading draft Bills in bed at night—would want to read them.
I serve on the Select Committee on International Development, which I am fortunate enough to chair. The hon. Member for Thurrock serves on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We, and the Defence Committee and the Trade and Industry Committee, came together in the Quadripartite Committee, and in the last Parliament we put forward, as four senior Select Committees of the House, a very modest suggestion that, following the Government's proposal for an ethical foreign policy, it would be good if there could be prior scrutiny, by Select Committees of the House, of key defence sales licensing decisions. That suggestion, if I may use the expression, got two fingers from the Government. What indication is there that if the Government offer Select Committees prior scrutiny on such issues, they will take any notice of the results? I doubt very much whether allowing such scrutiny will make the legislative process much better, but it gives the impression that the Government are doing something. They will be able to say that they can rush their Bills through the House much more quickly because we have all had the opportunity to read the Bills in draft. I suspect that it will be yet another way in which the rights of Members of Parliament will strangely and perversely be eroded rather than enhanced.
There is very little about this Queen's Speech that gives me any cause for optimism and a lot that gives me considerable cause for concern.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The average length of speeches from the Back Benches is now running at about 22 minutes. Unless it reduces, not everyone who is seeking to catch my eye will be fortunate this day.
§ Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), whose speeches are always thoughtful, sometimes provocative and always combined with a caring persona.
85 May I have permission to make an apology to the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker? During the Adjournment debate secured by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) last Wednesday, I made an intervention and failed to declare a registered interest that I feel that I should have declared. The very next morning I wrote to the Speaker's Office, and sought advice. Apparently, there is no procedure for making an apology in those circumstances. Although my apology is short, it is none the less sincere for that.
I preface my remarks on the Government's programme by saying that it would be extremely helpful if Back-Bench Members could have some understanding of whether the convention of not trailing the Budget also applies to the Queen's Speech. I make no particular complaint at this point, except that it does pretty well hose off Back-Bench Members when everything is spread out over the weekend's papers and we have had little or no briefing on the subject matter that might well form the core of the Queen's Speech. I hope that Ministers will convey that message. It would be helpful for us to know, one way or the other. Either it is a free market or there is a properly organised and recognised convention that we do not have all that material trailed in the media in the weekend before the speech—sometimes earlier.
The Queen's Speech mentioned some initiatives that I should particularly like to see come to fruition as legislation in the coming year. Housing has already occupied some of Members' time this afternoon—more specifically, the idea that we may have a seller's pack. I hope that there will also be a recognition that the age-old practice of gazumping has returned and that it needs to be addressed, perhaps in the way that Scottish law does. It is a dreadful experience when people who believe that they have a deal, in many cases for their very first home, discover a few days—even hours—later that they have been gazumped, to use the terminology, and are no longer able to purchase the house that they felt was theirs. When we scrutinise the draft Bill for housing, we should spend some time considering how we might prevent that phenomenon of some years back from reappearing ever again on the English housing scene, and hopefully match the experience of Scottish buyers.
I welcome the proposed reductions in business rates—in some cases, I understand, of up to 50 per cent.—for small companies. As I have a particular interest in small businesses, I am anxious to see what that Bill brings in its substantive form, but I believe that this will be a welcome measure, should we bring it to fruition.
The licensing Bill brings some sense and reason to a difficult and confused matter, but I stress especially strongly the need to recognise that public houses and other licensed premises in urban areas can cause more trouble than they will ever be worth, in the form of the nuisance caused by some of their customers leaving the public house not just at closing time but at other hours during the evening. We should welcome rationalisation of the legislation, but we need to pay keen attention to the effects that it may have on our communities.
I note with disappointment that, despite the need to revisit workers' legislation, there is no proposal so far to look again at the question of companies confiding in their work force when redundancies are looming. Very often, we read in the press about redundancies to be made in our constituencies without the workers 86 concerned having been informed. That is exceedingly distressing for people who are made redundant, and, even for those who are part of a large company, not knowing who is to be made redundant is extremely stressful. I hope that we will revisit the question of rights at work, and recognise the importance of consulting with workers, not just on redundancy or bad news but on the aspirations for the company. That will bring the best out of our work force and aid the development of our economy—on which we all depend—the fruits of which we all hope to share.
On education, I am concerned that we may be moving towards seeing the end of the liberal post-war consensus on the way forward in secondary education. That process is presented to us as the opportunity, through choice, for diversity. Another way of describing that—from what I understand, read and try to absorb in discussions—is atomisation. That involves special schools, religious schools, city colleges, academies, and specialising in particular matters. If a school specialises—perhaps in a science or an art—it needs specialist teachers. If a specialist teacher is put in a particular school, however, that robs another school of the opportunity of learning and taking advantage of what that teacher has to offer.
The argument that was always used in the Labour party about grammar schools applies equally in this regard: if all the academically brightest children at the age of 11 are put in one, two or three schools in a borough, it is likely that teachers who specialise in A-level studies will be attracted to those schools, and will not therefore teach in secondary modern schools. We cannot claim to have had a comprehensive education system in England while we have had selection at 11, and, in some places, at 13. That simply does not work.
Before we go further down this road, I want to see some research, using enumeration districts, on where the achievers are. Instead of finding that grammar schools come near the top in terms of school results, we would find very different results by looking at where the boys and girls who end up at grammar schools come from. We would find a concentration in one school to the detriment of other schools. That is not the way forward for a modern nation. It was tried in the 19th century, and was reinforced by the Haddow report in the 20th century, and the so-called three-legged approach to education: the grammar school, the technical school and the secondary school. Is that different from what a famous philosopher referred to as men of gold, silver, lead? I think not. Exactly the same philosophy has brought us to the idea of having specialist schools that excel in one subject. What will that demonstrate about the quality and the breadth of the education being offered to young people who are to be part of making Britain strong and developing our economy in the 21st century? That is a considerable problem.
It is well known that, despite the sad efforts of a particular adviser, the Department for Education and Skills is aghast at the idea of bringing more religious schools on-stream. I am not knocking existing religious schools, but adding to them would replicate in our communities the problem that exists in Northern Ireland, where one religious group is deliberately separated from another. How are young people to grow up to respect one another in that way? A saddo—I 87 cannot describe him as anything else—has put forward the idea, and I do not believe that the Department has any time for it at all. The quicker that it is dropped the better. We need proper high-quality education for all our young people. That is what they deserve, and that is what they ought to get.
I understand that we are bringing forward plans to widen access to universities, and I wonder whether I may interpret the idea of wider access differently. It may be a guise under which we introduce a more elitist system with top-up fees. I make no apologise for returning to this issue, as I do not believe in it. It is common sense that those who aspire to and get a good education get a good job and pay more tax. That is right and how it should be. I do not mind if all of those people—100,000 or so—paid a little more tax. That might reflect the needs of the universities a little better, and I accept that the universities need more money and that more young people should be able to develop their education to the point at which they make a bigger and better contribution to the economy and to the development of the nation.
The way to do that, however, is not to say to those who have, "You shall have more." The fact is that those who have money to spend—perhaps 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people—on that kind of education will flock towards those institutions where they think that their children will get a better education than otherwise, and they will pay for it. Those universities will attract more resources, which will widen the gap again. The way for any party in a modern democracy to meet its education needs is to pay for them directly by taxation, and to reclaim that tax in the lifetime of all of us go to work, with those of us who earn most paying most. That is the modern way, not the old-fashioned way.
The Government secured the passage of the Enterprise Act 2002 at the last gasp in the previous Session, which was an important milestone. The hon. Member for Banbury, who is no longer in his place, asked if anything would make a difference, and I believe that the Enterprise Act will do so. More importantly, there may be time, even in this Session, to pass a new Companies Act. There is little question that a great deal of rationalisation is needed. If Members can see it this way, the Enterprise Act is about the big picture, prosperity and bringing forward new ideas and innovation, whereas a Companies Act deals with the little picture—the micro side. It is important that companies are not prevented from developing products and being entrepreneurial by company law that is out of date—a great deal of it dates back to the 19th century, and there has been no substantive modernisation of company law for many years. Bits and pieces have been added here and there, but that merely adds to the volume without providing clarity and cohesion in an area of law that is vital to the prosperity of this country.
A White Paper has been issued, and there has been much consultation in recent months, but I want to pick up on one issue: submitting accounts for small and medium-sized companies. Companies have the right to submit abbreviated accounts. That amounts to a statement, a balance sheet, the accounting policies followed and conventions met. There are also full accounts if companies want them. If they need to go to 88 a bank or anywhere else for money, they will need to show that the company is sound in wind and limb and that everything is above board and going well.
If the full accounts have to be lodged, however, many small companies, with perhaps just two directors, will have to disclose salaries. People may say, "So what?", but people rightly have hang-ups about disclosing their salaries. Why do we need to know directors' salaries? If by way of the taxation system they have rendered to Caesar that which is Caesar's, what more do we or the taxman need to know? We certainly do not need to know how much directors in micro limited companies pay themselves.
More dangerously, such a disclosure would show a company how much of its business makes up the total business of a smaller company, so enabling it to put pressure on that company. If a company buys 50 per cent. of all its production from another company, that knowledge puts someone in a strong position to turn the screw to push prices down. It would be possible to make life pretty damned hard for a small company that is perhaps aspiring to be a bigger company. It could be strangled almost at birth. There is good reason not to deprive small and medium-sized companies of the right to submit abbreviated accounts. All that small companies need to produce is a balance sheet, profit and loss and a statement of accounting policies. That is quite sufficient.
Interest is chargeable on bad debts, but no one claims it. If someone says to a company, "Look. Three months have elapsed. You promised to pay in 30 days and I am entitled to charge you interest", a buyer at a larger company will say, "Oh, sure, we will pay. By the way, you need not bother putting in any tenders or estimates for further work. But we've enjoyed your company. Thank you very much. Off you go." A better way—I have proposed this before—is to put a kitemark on the accounts of large companies and to show the average number of days they take to pay their debts. If small companies know that a company pays in 30, 60 or 90 days, at least they know what they are getting into. That would be far better than the right to claim interest, which no one ever does because they know that it is on pain of never getting another job from that company. People who have worked in industry or run businesses know that what I am saying is true, and I hope that the Government listen to my suggestion.
Finally, whatever we do in this Session, it will have the benefit of the House of Commons reforms which were pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I commend them to hon. Members.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
Although we have heard excellent speeches, I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) that it is unfortunate that everything in the Queen's Speech was announced beforehand. There was not a single surprise. Indeed, it is sad that Members only seem to be interested in what has been left out. I hope that the Government will ensure that the next time we walk to the House of Lords we will be excited and wondering what will emerge from the Queen's Speech.
I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for research on selection in education. I suggest he starts in a place called Glasgow, where I spent many 89 years, which had five selective schools. The rest were comprehensives. As the Labour party was in charge, it abolished the selective schools. The hon. Gentleman should consider what has happened to education results since then. Instead of equality and opportunities for able children from working-class homes, we have a system of class segregation in education. In those areas where circumstances are good, the houses are big and the parents care, the results are good. In other areas, the results are appalling. Where there is low parental expectation, the child does not have a chance. I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he should consider what happened in Glasgow and look at results there.
Three things in the Queen's Speech worry me a great deal. The first is the reference to regional government. I do not know why the Government are pursuing that unless it is because of the institutions that exist in the European Union for regional government representatives to meet each other at the Committee of the Regions. The Government are well aware that apart from the north of England, which thinks that it might get the extra cash that Scotland gets under the Barnett formula, no one wants regional government. I ask them to think about what it will do to our democracy. Frankly, what should worry us far more than how the parties are doing is the fact that people are switching off from the voting system. There was a 25 per cent. vote in the European elections—so 75 per cent. could not care less. In our national parliamentary elections, voting was again down by 10 per cent. It is nonsense to tell the average person that although the power of this place has been disappearing to Europe, we are going to divide up what remains between the regional assemblies and the House of Lords.
I hope that the Government will rethink that policy and ask themselves about the massive costs involved. People who are elected to regional assemblies will want secretaries and a great deal of expenditure to pay for researchers and offices. It is clear from what happened in Scotland what costs are involved. I hope that the Government will dump that policy.
The second policy that worries me is the introduction of unlimited licensing hours. I had the pleasure of speaking to a chief superintendent of police in Southend only two days ago. As a good public servant, he does not have views on public policy, but I got the clear impression that like most people in Southend he is very worried about the implications of unlimited licensing hours. Although I know that the Government want to go ahead with that policy, a middle course would be to make no changes unless a local council agrees to them. The local council in Southend or Tilbury might say that it does not want unlimited licensing hours, and it is right that that decision is left to local people. I fear that unlimited licensing hours will create a nightmare for residents who live in certain areas. It will also mean a serious problem of encouraging alcohol consumption when we should be thinking about trying to discourage it. The health implications of alcohol have never been taken as seriously as they should have been.
My third concern relates to the referendum on the single currency. I hope that the Government will go ahead with the referendum next June, irrespective of their assessment of the economic tests. The single currency would mark the end of Britain as an 90 independent country. We would lose control of our economic policies. The issue is so significant that people should have the right to express their view whether the Government think that the opinion polls are right or not.
I also want to make a general comment on contributions by hon. Members and the Prime Minister in particular. Although all Governments tend to look on the brighter side in the Queen's Speech and say that things are going splendidly, I am concerned that by consistently arguing that public services are getting better, we are failing to face up to the problems and to do something about them. It is my impression that public services are becoming worse and more difficult to manage, and that the services are finding it harder to cope with their problems. That is not a political point because I do not think that that is necessarily the Government's fault.
Let me deal with housing. I have been an MP for a long time and have lived in my local community. I have never known the shortage of housing to be as serious as it is in Southend. It has also been a serious problem in Rochford for a considerable time. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the chief executive of the housing department. It is an excellent department, and although the Tories are in charge, I am not making a political point because it was also good when a Lib-Lab council controlled Southend. However, it is having a nightmare coping with a housing list of 2,000 and a constantly increasing number of homeless people.
This morning I spoke on the phone with a young lady with three children who is desperate to get accommodation. She is living in desperately overcrowded conditions with a relative, so she has to find somewhere. She cannot get private rented accommodation because in Southend, probably as in most areas, one cannot get a private rented property if one is on housing benefit. It is much easier for asylum seekers because they get money direct from the Government and payment tends to be more reliable. The young lady cannot get a house from the council because it has no properties available. Most importantly, she cannot even get bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
The council has access to the Palace hotel, which is neither a palace nor a hotel, where many homeless people are housed, but the situation is still very serious. The council is trying many solutions. It has a housing association, Estuary, which, we are told, is thinking of buying 100 properties to try to make more accommodation available. It is also promoting, through the social services department, a scheme to provide £1,000 to help people to get private rented accommodation in the hope that it will help to overcome the problem. Frankly, however, it is not helping. I am not trying to attack the Government, but the increased demand for housing is causing a desperately serious problem that is becoming a nightmare, and unless we recognise that, we will not look for the solution.
I am afraid that the same is true of the health service. I know that the Government constantly produce figures to show us that things are getting better, but the impression that I gain from Southend is that problems are getting worse. This morning I phoned the hospital about a person, whom I know well, who has a heart problem. He wanted to inquire how long it would be 91 before he will have an angiogram. Those who know medicine will know that people are sent for tests, then a consultant writes them a letter and after that they have an angiogram. In Southend, the waiting time for that procedure is one year; last year, it was six months. Is it fair and reasonable, in a national health service, that someone who may have a serious problem with his heart waits a year for a test?
We are told that services are expanding. This morning I also spoke to an old lady whose husband needs chiropody for his toenails. That used to be available on the health service, but now they have to pay £16. I appreciate that people in the health service work very hard to try to help the general public, but the plain fact is that the increase in demand is such that the service is having much greater problems, and things are getting worse.
Social services have a major problem with funding. We know, for example, that children who need special care are living longer, so more care is needed. Yesterday, I asked the head of the social services department what he would do if the Government say that a patient is blocking a bed and social services are not providing them with a home, so the department will be fined. He said, "What can we do? We are already overspending. If we have to spend money in that way, it will make a difficult situation impossible."
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am listening with bated breath to every word that the hon. Gentleman is saying about the housing shortage and problems in health and social services. I am awaiting his solution. He has not explained how the Government can provide homes when the housing stock has been sold. How would he fund the rapacious demand for health and social services? He criticises, but he is under an obligation to say how he would wave a magic wand to resolve the situation.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I am simply trying to get across the basic point that unless we accept that public services are now a major problem, we will not look for solutions. If the hon. Gentleman is looking for solutions, I will give him a cheque for £1.3 million and see what he can do with it. I know that because he is a kind, good person, he would spend it on the community and try to help the elderly and disabled. If he considers that every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we send that amount to the European Union, and a massive part of that is spent on dumping and destroying food, he will see that that is one way to get a lot of money.
The asylum seeker situation is certainly getting worse. I shall mention just one case that I know very well, which is that of a man who has been making various appeals for nine years. He came here as an asylum seeker from a terrible place called Turkey. I am not sure where that is but he said that he was scared to go back. For nine years, he has been making appeals, using public funds, under a variety of legislation. The asylum seeker problem is affecting the good race relations that have always existed in Southend. We have two mosques, and we have always had happy race relations, but since the asylum seeker problem has grown, relations are worsening. Something has to be done about the multitude of 92 appeals, a vast number of which are made possible by the European convention. The Government should ask themselves what is the advantage of the European convention, bearing it in mind that we could bow out of it if we wanted to.
Traffic congestion in Southend is getting infinitely worse. It is a lovely place to live but many problems are getting worse. I told the council that I hope it will tell the Government that it will not agree to one additional house until the Government agree to a ring road to make life more tolerable for the people of Shoeburyness.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Let us try to maintain the proper rules of debate. I appeal to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) not to make sedentary interventions.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I am desperately trying to keep my speech short because I know that there is a shortage of time, and much as I admire the hon. Gentleman, I will take no more interventions.
I spoke also this morning—I had a lot of phone calls this morning—to someone who wanted admission to my local comprehensive school, Cecil Jones. When I contacted the school, it said that it has a waiting list of 100 people. The next comprehensive school, Shoeburyness, is also packed full. The Government are more likely to find a solution if, instead of trying to pretend that things are getting better and services are improving, they accept the seriousness of the situation. Hon. Members should not think for a minute that I am saying that it is all the Government's fault—far from it. However, it is the Government's job to try to resolve problems, not to make things worse by pretending that they are better.
On a final point, I was disappointed by what the Prime Minister said about the European Union, particularly his reference to Britain having to become more and more involved in that organisation, which has not done a great deal of good for our community. I simply ask those who share the Prime Minister's view what has happened to the two countries which decided not to join the European Union?
I went to Europe; there were referendums in a place called Switzerland and a place called Norway. Both were told that disaster faced them if they did not join the EU, but both decided not to. Those two countries have the highest living standards, the lowest unemployment and the greatest volume of democracy in Europe today. Instead of being a disaster, that decision has been very good for those countries. I hope that, rather than becoming more involved, the Government will think carefully.
The crucial thing is telling the truth. If we tell the truth about the state of social services, we will have a better chance of resolving the problems. Instead of trying to pretend that things are getting better, let us tell people how things are.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), who had the misfortune to have me as a constituent.
I welcome this morning's ceremony, which provides employment for an industry in my constituency which produces the vellum on which the Queen's Speech is printed. I also welcome several of the proposed Bills, and as a refugee from the Utilities Bill, I welcome in particular the communications Bill and the water Bill. I strongly support licensing reform and measures to tackle antisocial behaviour. I especially welcome the announcement about regional referendums, which is long overdue. The test of whether there is support for such referendums will come in the referendums themselves. We in the south-east of England desperately need regional government to be accountable; we have regional government, but it is not accountable to the people of the south-east.
Like other hon. Members, I am concerned about the omissions from the Queen's Speech. I hope that the Government will do more work on the draft mental health Bill and introduce it at a later date. Despite the contentious issues, several key matters need to be dealt with and I think that the Bill requires further work. I regret that no Bill on corporate manslaughter was announced and I hope that the Government will think again about that, but one omission on which they should be congratulated is that of a civil service Bill. It would be wrong to waste time debating such a Bill now, so its absence from the Queen's Speech is welcome.
Although it is right that we concentrate on the legislative side today, we should ensure that we examine implementation when we discuss the Bills themselves. I was a member of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft communications Bill. That Bill is a good example of the way in which we should legislate: the Departments involved consulted industry and parliamentarians when preparing the Bill; then the Joint Committee introduced some innovative ways in which to tackle the legislation. So far, the process has led to the production of a pretty good Bill that can be made better as it proceeds through the House. I hope to speak on Second Reading, but I want to emphasise today that it should not pretend to be a broadcasting Bill—it is a telecommunications Bill. There are other issues such as radio, the role of the regulator and getting the objectives right, which are just as important as the more obvious controversies surrounding broadcasting and the role of the BBC.
My concern about the Queen's Speech and the way in which Government legislation is presented is not that we are doing the wrong things—I do not think that we are but that the things that appeal to our core supporters we do grudgingly, and the things that are necessary but appeal more to our opponents we do with apparent glee. Obstacles are put in the way when we tackle issues such as fox hunting and House of Lords reform, whereas the process of dealing with more controversial matters, such as the withdrawal of jury trial, appears to be accelerated. That alienates the people whose support we need to get reforms through and on whom we rely to implement them. That is a danger that we must avoid when we examine some of the Bills announced today.
94 The measures in the Queen's Speech require a change of culture as well as legislation. That is especially true of the measures on antisocial behaviour. In my constituency, as in many constituencies throughout the country, we had a problem with travellers, with the rate of illegal encampments running at about 150 a week. The council, landowners and police created a body called the travellers management unit, which was headed by a police sergeant. Instead of several agencies working individually, the unit could use the appropriate powers by itself. The result of that change in culture is that last week there was one illegal travellers' encampment, and for most of this year the average number has been zero or one, and the cleansing bill has decreased from more than £300,000 a year to £325 this year.
That tremendous success required a change of culture, as well as use of the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. No legislation that we push through Parliament will have an impact unless it is accompanied by such a culture change. Incidentally, when we were discussing the code of conduct for that travellers management unit, the leader of the Conservative group insisted that he would not endorse the unit. He preferred the sort of rhetoric attacking travellers that has not worked anywhere in this country. The response of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) when I asked him about restorative justice emphasises that point.
One of the problems we have encountered in the past is being unable effectively to translate pilots to the mainstream. That is especially true of action to deal with antisocial behaviour. Others have gone through the list of measures that are necessary, but I shall focus on a couple. There is a desperate need to ban immediately the use of fireworks outside organised displays. Constituents have told me about fireworks going off at 1.30 in the morning, about the problems caused to their children and their pets, and about the disruption to their lives. A ban is needed, and I hope that the Government will do that willingly, and not have to be dragged into doing so grudgingly.
Drunkenness has been mentioned by other hon. Members. Although I welcome the proposals on licensing reform, we must learn the lessons of the regulatory reform orders for new year's eve, when too little time was allowed for implementation. We should not rush to legislate—it is more important to get certain things right than to get them quickly. In particular, we must take account of the impact on the work force and on public services such as transport. It is right to remove licensing restrictions, but we must be aware of the consequences.
I had intended to talk about the need for drug rehabilitation measures, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) covered most of that ground and I agree with his comments. We must recognise that there are alternatives to prison—there is no one size fits all solution to antisocial behaviour. Prison works for some people and some crimes, but not for all. I fear that by trying to do things in silos, we cause problems.
I have long been a campaigner for some of the provisions of the planning Bill. One of the problems is that we have not recognised how different pieces of legislation interact, and the planning Bill will contribute to the reduction in crime. Many of the problems we have 95 encountered have arisen because we have thought of planning as a process rather than a political outcome. We can design a lot of crime out of the environment. I think that structural plans are the wrong layer to remove, but that is a matter of detail. What is important is that the planning reforms can have a major impact on the quality of people's lives.
I worry that, once again, the Home Office is to have three or four Bills in this Session. In each Session, the Home Office work load is great, and there is a danger that it will concentrate too much on new legislation and not enough on getting some of the issues within the Department under control. When debating the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, we heard about the problems of the immigration and nationality directorate; we have also heard about the criminal justice system being antiquated.
The Home Office promoted a number of regulations arising from the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, but when they came to be examined by Parliament, there was an outcry because the Department had not consulted industry properly, and the industry said that there were better ways in which to achieve the Government's desired outcome. We must work on proposals with voluntary groups and industry. In one example, it was thought that a statutory instrument was required, but the industry pointed out that the Department for Work and Pensions already had equivalent powers; all that was required was an application to the Data Protection Registrar to use the information for national security purposes. That, not another piece of legislation, was the solution. We have to be prepared to recognise that there may be much better ways of achieving our aims.
October witnessed the highest number of digital attacks on private and public companies in this country, including quite a few attacks by terrorist groups. The Queen's Speech rightly emphasises the importance of tackling terrorism, but I urge the Government to do that in ways that work with the grain of industry, not against it—ways that use people's skills. In Canada, some people working in financial services have been made Royal Canadian Mounted Police deputies in order to tackle some forms of terrorist crime. Such innovative methods are available to us—methods that do not damage business and are not confined solely to individual Government agencies, but which instead involve the whole community.
The Queen's Speech, rightly, talks about moving from a criminal justice system to a victims' justice system—although I personally would settle for a justice system. Anyone who sees the criminal justice system from the outside recognises that although we have a British legal system, we have precious little justice in this country. Merger within the courts system might be the right solution—I think that it is—but if we fail to bring people on board and if the changes do not translate into improvements on the ground, all we will achieve is a lot of argument and the alienation of key workers for no gain. There is a real danger of that happening if we are not careful.
96 Anybody who knows how organisations work understands that there is both a formal mechanism and a parallel informal mechanism. Too often in the House, we concentrate on the formal side, which accounts for only a small part of the way in which organisations work. We rarely concentrate on informal mechanisms, which is one reason why the hon. Members for Banbury and for Rochford and Southend, East could comment as they did on public services. We need to get informal structures right—in a legal setting, changes to the law are even more important. If people do not perceive that change has been made, the fact that we have made such a change will not do us any good.
Public service reform is a key aim of this Parliament, which is continued in the Queen's Speech. As I said, that requires a change of culture, not just the legislation that is going through. The House may concentrate on the legislative process, but we cannot take our eye off the other routes needed to achieve that aim.
We have made significant changes, and hopefully self-indulgent long speeches will be a thing of the past in the House—I shall shut up in a second. We have introduced reforms such as having an annual calendar, carry-over Bills and far more pre-legislative scrutiny, but there is still a lot more we can do to introduce more focused Bills and regulatory reform orders instead of unnecessarily wide-ranging Bills. We are not very good at auditing and reviewing what we are doing in the House—again, that needs to be built into the process. When we debate the Queen's Speech, we should not just go over what is new, but look back and review what has been effective.
The Queen's Speech rightly emphasises rights and responsibilities, concentrating on issues which provoke a lot of people to come to Members' surgeries. The proposed Bills are welcome, but we will be judged on what happens on our estates and in our villages, not on the hair-splitting that will take place in many Committee Rooms. What matters is what works on the estates. I am convinced that the legislative changes will help, but we must make sure that the implementation and administration of change will receive focused attention from Ministers and Committees.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White). He is not only a former constituent of mine but followed me in the college at which we were both privileged to be educated. In that context, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), who asked for an examination before anything was done about changing to a comprehensive system, looked at the example of Glasgow. I came from a working-class area of Belfast and, as a result of the scholarship system, managed to get into a Methodist college. Consequently, like many of us in the area, I managed to move on. We have got to provide an education system that allows people to develop their skills, which are not necessarily academic.
I therefore differ to some extent from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), who said that specialist schools will take us back to the old grammar schools because they do not provide choice. The harsh reality, as the illustration used by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, 97 East of two comprehensive schools in Southend showed, is that parents do not have choice. They are misled when they are told that they have parental choice, as we have discovered in my constituency, where parents trying to get their children into a local primary school discovered that they may have to send them to a more distant one. South Belfast has been denuded of state secondary education, so people from working-class and poor families have to travel more than three miles. There is no transport entitlement, as the distance has been measured and is just under the three-mile limit. People therefore do not qualify for transport allowance. No one, however, could walk through those areas, whether nationalist or so-called loyalist, especially if they were wearing a uniform. Someone coming from another area would get into trouble—even a loyalist in a loyalist area.
We should therefore abandon the concept that everything can be done in a particular way. I share the belief that one style is not necessarily appropriate to every problem. When the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East talked about common sense, I could not help but think of an old professor who used to say to us, "Gentleman, common sense—the most uncommon of all the senses." Sometimes a collective Parliament can get it wrong—we think that we have common sense because we are commoners elected by the people.
We must examine in greater detail what is happening. I regret that we have not been allocated a day on which to deal with foreign affairs, in which we take an interest. I fear that successive Governments—I am not making a party political point about the present Government—have been far too enamoured of the alluring European Union and have been prepared to sacrifice the first principle of government, which is to provide for and protect their own citizens. Because we like to have the support of the Republic of Ireland in Europe, we are prepared to sacrifice Northern Ireland. Similarly, the Spanish could help us greatly to get away with things in Europe, so Gibraltar could be sacrificed. As the protector of the citizens of the United Kingdom, the House should be prepared to deal with the international issues where we are too often the fall-guy.
It is understandable that the passage in the Queen's Speech on the Belfast agreement is of concern to us in Northern Ireland, and I shall come to that in a moment. First, however, I want to comment on other more general issues. On health, I regret that we have not proceeded with the health Bill. I accept that it may have had weaknesses, but there are even greater weaknesses in the present provision of health services. The sooner they are tackled, the better. We must try to assess what is happening. We may pride ourselves on waiting lists going down, but the harsh reality is that management, to meet the demands to reduce lists, often steps in and tells consultants that they must deal with less-important operations. As a result, consultants are becoming disillusioned—there is a loss of morale in the health service—as they believe that their priority is their duty to patients, and patients with the greatest need should be dealt with first. As a result, people who require serious operations have been put on a longer waiting list, while those needing less-urgent operations have been treated to bring down the number on the waiting list. We must watch that carefully.
98 I have discovered something fascinating, which other hon. Members may have noticed too. Constituents come to me with their problems and tell me that they have been to their doctor or consultant, who has told them to speak to their Member of Parliament. Why? That is playing the political game and blaming politicians for not providing the facilities. We all know that we have been pouring more money into the health service, but it has not always been used wisely or well. We must re-examine that policy.
Constituents also come to me with problems such as noisy neighbours, vandalism and destruction. They tell me that they have been to the police, but the desk sergeant has told them to speak to their Member of Parliament. Again, the police are playing the political game, blaming politicians for the fact that they do not have enough money or manpower. It is the structures of our society that need to be addressed.
In that context, I welcome the Government's proposal to deal with antisocial behaviour. I understand that that may be extended to Northern Ireland, as this Chamber is responsible for law and order in Northern Ireland. I hope that the legislation will apply to Northern Ireland, rather than being set side until the devolved Administration is re-established and can deal with the matter. The matter is urgent. Only yesterday, I received a plea from a cross-communal body campaigning for a change in legislation dealing with so-called joyriding and car theft. Most of those people came from what would be known as nationalist areas, where children have been killed by joyriders who have walked free, or in some cases received a six-month sentence, and who have no sense of accountability. The group is urging that action be taken.
The Queen's Speech refers tothe full implementation of the Belfast Agreementand the introduction of legislation on policing matters. I do not know what those matters are—that has not been trailed, but we have been told regularly that it was agreed at Weston Park. My understanding is that it was not agreed within the so-called conference at Weston Park. Colleagues who were there say that it was not discussed in their presence, and nothing was agreed in their presence. However, it is obvious that the two Governments, with a section of Northern Ireland society, decided to go forward in a particular way. That is not in the Belfast agreement.
Before we go any further down that road, we might be wise to take an in-depth look at the Belfast agreement. I have no difficulty with an Assembly in Northern Ireland. I may not like it if members of a party that opposes mine are in government, but they are there because of the will of the people. However, under the system of government that has developed, the Executive are not accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. The Executive are not cohesive. Forming an Executive under the d'Hondt principle will allow the electorate only to change the number of seats that a party might have, but in the foreseeable future the four main parties will still be required to provide the Executive, and they are not acting collectively.
What do I mean by that? A young girl was savagely raped at the weekend in west Belfast. Another 17-year-old girl from the area was interviewed. Women in the area were terrified and horrified, and did not know how 99 they could go out, in such circumstances. The Assembly Member for the area, who is Minister of Health and a woman, was interviewed on the same programme. Asked how she felt about the situation, she said that she did not like it. Asked whether she had advised her constituents to report incidents and give information to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, she said that she had told her constituents to advise those people whom they could trust in the constituency and who have been looking after things in the constituency. She was unwilling, as a Member of the Executive, to advise her constituents to speak to the police service serving the community. That is one of the problems of cohesion. It is near time that the Government in this place introduced legislation to deal with antisocial behaviour, rather than adding changes to the police, who are already under tremendous pressure.
I know that other hon. Members want to speak, and I share the view of those who try to curtail speeches in this place, although if I was tempted I could go on for 45 minutes without any bother. I want to deal with a topic that must be dealt with by the House in the foreseeable future—university research in Northern Ireland. In a Westminster Hall debate on the research assessment exercise, I praised and supported university researchers but pointed out the disparity between the allocations for universities in Northern Ireland and those elsewhere. The percentage per capita in Scotland is three times that in Northern Ireland, in England twice the amount and in Wales even more. In the recent round, the Government rightly increased the amount going to university research establishments, but in the recent draft Budget in Northern Ireland not a pound extra was given to the universities. I believe, as I think others in the House believe, that the future of our nation, and certainly of our Province, will depend on knowledge-based industries. It is deplorable that the two universities that have served the community well should be so treated. Queen's university, which took itself into the first division of British universities, achieving, at the last assessment, 19th place, has been told that it has done well and should try to do better, but that it will receive no help. The university of Ulster has also improved its position in the university league table, but it too has not been rewarded.
As a result, university entrants will look around, and many English and Scottish universities that have gladly taken young people from Northern Ireland will be happy to take more, and people such as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East will be serving here, to which I have no objection, but will be lost to Northern Ireland. That is one of the prices that we have to pay if the Department in Northern Ireland and the Treasury supporting it do not allow that extra money to restore the differential between university research in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Biomedical, biotechnology and engineering research in Northern Ireland is world-renowned. I believe that I speak not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom when I say that that would be money well spent.
I shall not detain the House further, but simply remind hon. Members not to take too seriously the concept of the Belfast agreement because it did not come down from Mount Sinai.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
It is becoming something of a tradition in the House for me to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). It has happened time and again. The points that he made about legislation on policing illustrate the theme that I want to develop. The Queen's Speech contains 10 little words:Legislation will be brought forward on policing in Northern Ireland.The hon. Gentleman and I are members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is interested in such matters. We might be able to make some reasonable guesses as to what is being proposed, but we do not know anything beyond those few words, and that is a problem that we have generally in debating the Queen's Speech. We never quite know what will result from the proposals in it. We may have a good idea because some measures have been trailed or leaked, but the speech itself is a thinly worded document and some of the details will not start to emerge until tomorrow. Even then, when we debate specific subjects, we will not have the legislation before us.
I for one am not clear about which items in the Queen's Speech I will be supporting, which I shall give critical support to, and which go too far and I would like the Government to pull back on—items that I need to start warning the Whips about, in respect of which I may receive a letter because I cannot go along with them.
I want to illustrate my remarks with an example from last year's Queen Speech:My Government will introduce legislation to encourage enterprise, strengthen competition laws, and promote safeguards for consumers.—[Official Report, 20 June 2001; Vol. 370, c. 32.]
Perhaps I should be more careful about words. I should have realised that the word "enterprise" might present some problems for a democratic socialist. However, it was not until much later, when the legislation was before the House, that I began to be worried about aspects of the Enterprise Bill. In particular, I was concerned about the fact that the Government were virtually getting rid of references made on grounds of public interest, including job losses, exports and so on, in relation to a takeover. Indeed, there are no longer serious possibilities of references to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading or the Department of Trade and Industry. That led me to fight for a place on the Committee considering the Bill and to raise the issue on a number of occasions, causing a couple of rebellions on the Labour Benches against the Government's position. Obviously, I eventually lost out, as my strength is not as great as that of the Whips.
What does the Queen's Speech contain that might bother me as much in future? Perhaps I should consider the wording a little more carefully. There is a great deal on which I will support the Government in the Lobby and in what I say. As I am here a great deal, apart from the occasions on which I go to Northern Ireland, I can claim to vote as much for the Government as anybody, even if there is sometimes rebellion. There is much in the Queen's Speech that I find very acceptable. What it says about the Belfast agreement—and what I understand needs to be made clear for it to survive—is that the ball is very much in Sinn Fein's court. Sinn Fein needs to respond and to detach itself from paramilitary 101 involvement, or it will not be possible readily to establish the future of the Northern Ireland Executive. At last, we also have a measure in connection with hunting with dogs, which is very welcome.
I shall therefore concentrate on the aspects that might cause me problems, rather than those on which I will solidly support the Government. I can do so as I am not seeking office anywhere. If I spell out some of my difficulties, someone might listen and take them into account.
The Queen's Speech contained these three little words: "constructive foreign policy", but the fact that the Government are in favour of such a policy does not tell us anything. Woodrow Wilson and Mussolini could have claimed at the same time to favour constructive foreign policies that were entirely different and conflicting. The aspect of foreign policy that worries me tremendously is the situation regarding Iraq and the likely direction in which we seem to be moving. The possibility that the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) does not make progress, and that action is taken, worries me a great deal.
I spent two years' national service in Iraq, way back in 1954 to 1956, and came to know the Iraqi people well. I have taken a great interest in what has since occurred in the country, which has been through many difficult periods. The problems under Saddam Hussein have been massive and people have suffered tremendously. Should those same people suffer now from bombardment and invasion, and what will we get at the end of it? We might finish up with a substitute Saddam Hussein who is more acceptable to western powers, but treats his population in a similar way. That concerns me. I want us to be constructive, although perhaps in a different way from that in which the Government see it.
The Queen's Speech went on to talk about two issues together that represent something like the new Labour philosophy. It links sound public finance and secure high employment, and goes on to link them with investment in public services. The problem is that we want to be prudent and careful and allow the market to operate, and also deliver many public provisions. As long as the system works well under such arrangements, resources exist to make the provisions. As a democratic socialist, I believe that one has to intervene more in economies' operation, without overloading them, to ensure justice in taxation and other provisions that create, for example, high employment and the required investment in public services.
A major item in the Queen's Speech involves the criminal justice system. We will have many discussions in the House about that. I am worried about the plans to allow retrials of cases after acquittal. We must be very careful. However, the speech included welcome measures, such as tackling antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) mentioned the specific problem of fireworks.
Fireworks cause disastrous problems in my constituency and in those of many other hon. Members. I hope that antisocial behaviour orders and fixed penalties can begin to be directed towards people who disturb young children, elderly people, those who are infirm, those who suffer from mental problems and 102 domestic pets. They are treated in an unacceptable way. We need legislation, but there may be scope for amendments when we tackle antisocial behaviour in the criminal justice measure.
The Gracious Speech also covered health, and devolving power and resources to front-line staff. We need to be aware of the big gap in democratic involvement and participation in running the health service. For example, we have had problems with policies on community health councils and the role of the trade unions. The consideration that unions should receive and the input that they should make into decisions should influence any measures in that category.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) has already mentioned some of the problems of raising educational standards. "Choice" is often used to cover selection and elitism. My hon. Friend talked about Plato without mentioning him by name. Plato distinguished between gold, silver and lead, and between individuals who are in different categories and operate in different ways. That should be anathema to those who believe in liberal education principles, releasing people's potential and acquiring the skills that are needed to run a democratic society as effectively as possible.
Let us consider the social security system and the work on that. The Government suffer from the problem that, although they have done much good work, for example, establishing arrangements such as Jobcentre Plus, the philosophy is one of "off benefits and into work"; of squeezing people off benefit to encourage them to get work. Many of us believe that the principle should operate the other way round, and that we should ensure that people have job opportunities and encourage them to take them up, thus leading to less need for benefits.
The next item is probably the major subject that we shall tackle: the modernisation of local government, including better financial management. I served on the Standing Committee in 1987—it was my first Standing Committee—that considered the measure that became the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which led to the poll tax. The poll tax has been changed to the council tax-essentially that is the only change—with some tweaking of the standard spending assessment and the arrangements that come from that. However, massive legislative changes are needed. There have already been some discussions on the Floor of the House. Many of us have responded to an important consultative document. If we do not overcome some of the injustices of the system that was set up as a result of the 1988 legislation, we shall be in for a disastrous period. Many hopes are riding on us at last getting fair systems established. I have already spoken about these matters, and there is an Adjournment debate tomorrow in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), when Derbyshire's problems will be debated and discussed.
Derbyshire has police funding problems. If it does not get 5 per cent. more of the resources that have been earmarked for it, it will not be able to sustain the level of services that it has been providing.
Different options have been set out. Extra money will be coming in in future years, and in the grid of different shire counties, there are five different options. We find 103 that 87.7 per cent. of the relevant cases finish up worse off under the new funding arrangements. Funding within shire counties needs carefully to be taken into account. If the police, environmental health officials and trading standards officers who come under these funding arrangements are to do their job properly in terms of fireworks, for example, they will need the necessary resources.
I am worried about what has been said about the planning system. There is a move to push through planning decisions much more quickly without proper and adequate democratic debate and discussion. It seems that we should be moving much more in that direction rather than away from it.
I move on to the material at the back of the Queen's Speech about playinga leading role in combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".and about improvements in terms of the third world. Tackling the problems of terrorism has been seen as two-sided. First, there is tackling weaponry within terrorism itself and its operation with al-Qaeda and other organisations. Secondly, we must tackle some of the causes that people can take hold of and develop. We must ensure that the third world does not have the destitution problems that now exist. That must be tackled seriously.
The Government have done much good work in the area of international development. They have taken a lead, for example, in dealing with third-world debt. I would like to see them take a lead also in terms of the resources that are available for tackling third-world poverty. Let us have an international tax and agreement about currency speculation. Tobin introduced the idea and War on Want now calls it the Robin Hood tax. It would be a popular tax among most people apart from the few who would have to pay it. It would dampen down some of the speculation that hammers economies throughout the world. It would assist greatly in ensuring that finance and resources that are desperately needed in the third world begin to be available to it. That will not necessarily be established readily and easily, but if we took a lead, I am sure that it would have a similar impact to the tackling of third world debt, even if more needs to be done on that issue. I may have several amendments to table or objections to make when the details are known, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)
I hope to be brief, but I wish to address four items from the Queen's Speech. It says that university reform proposals will be published to improve access and build on excellence. No one can disagree with that, but I hope that we will build on excellence in the broader sense than just a narrow academic sense. In education, we tend to consider a narrow definition of academic success. For example, in primary education, some parents try to prime their children for early-stage exams. Children are hot-housed, but that can often lead to them burning out. If we define excellence in universities too narrowly, we are in danger of losing much of what is good in various universities.
104 I have an example in my constituency. The university of Plymouth is an excellent university, but it currently proposes to close its colleges in outlying areas. That would affect a college in my constituency at Seale-Hayne, which was established in the 1920s as an agricultural college. It has always been a centre of excellence and in recent years it became part of the new University of Plymouth, since when it has developed several other courses such as land management, rural affairs, food and other subjects. The proposal is that the college be closed and all the students moved to the main campus in Plymouth. The argument is that a greater critical mass is needed to achieve greater academic ends, and it is difficult to argue with that.
I have talked to the students at the college, and they say that size is not everything. They learn other things by being at the college, which is a particularly pleasant place to study. Where better to study rural affairs or tourism at an academic level than in the heart of the countryside in a tourist area? The students can learn as much from being there as they can from their academic studies. The location of the college broadens their understanding more than a purely academic focus.
If the colleges are all moved to one campus, that will also undermine the part that the university plays in the regional network. In Oxford, they used to have riots between the students and the local people, because they had little contact. If we lock our universities away on to one campus, they lose the ability to relate to the wider community.
The second aspect of the Queen's Speech that I wish to address is the reference to speeding up the planning system. Several hon. Members have already mentioned that point and expressed fears, which I understand, that if the process is speeded up, consultation will be cut out. My background is in architecture—I spent many years in various architectural practices—and I can assure hon. Members that the planning process for most people can be speeded up. For instance, local authorities have devolved powers to parish and town councils. That was brilliantly done in the district of South Somerset, whose town council was Yeovil. When dealing with a planning application for a client, we received the first response within four weeks, which enabled me to go back to my client to describe the problems about which the town council was worried. Within another four weeks, we submitted an amended application, and we received a final decision in favour of my client.
Under the straightforward committee system, people are lucky to get a decision from most district councils within eight weeks, which is supposed to be the statutory period within which a decision must be made. Up and down the country, the architect, surveyor or whoever makes the application will receive a letter after eight weeks—other Members will know this and have complaints about it—saying, "Do you mind? We wish to extend our period of consideration of your plans." Of course, everyone says yes to that. In some areas, particularly in inner London, I recall such consultations going on for 16, 20 or 30 weeks, without going further forward. A lot of that nonsense involves getting strung up on committee systems, which could be streamlined if we considered who could make decisions and the level at which they are taken.
105 I give a constituency example—the Kingskerswell bypass. A lot of my constituents say that they do not want the bypass; a lot say that they do. The process is strung out over a long period and it involves the initial plans drawn up by the county council, the consultation period and the resubmitted plans. Following resubmission, plans go out to the planning process and, eventually, the Secretary of State would hold a public inquiry. Ultimately, the decision would rest with the Secretary of State. If anyone is telling me that there is not some duplication in that process that could be cut out to achieve a speedier decision, I would like them to explain.
We could compact the beginning of the process—the local authority planning stage and the public consultation, which take place before the start of the public inquiry—and bring forward the dates involved by at least two years, if not three. We are talking about seven or eight years, so there would be a significant benefit to the people of Kingskerswell. They do not know whether they will get their bypass or not. On the one hand, those who want it would see the benefit once it was built; on the other, those who do not want it would know that there is to be no bypass, so they could develop their land or do what they liked on the land that adjoins and abuts the possible site.
Thirdly, the Queen's Speech says:A Bill will also be introduced to help ensure that local authorities support older people awaiting discharge from hospital.I find that wording quite extraordinary. From what we have heard from those on the Government Benches, they do not mean support. They mean that they will penalise local authorities if they have difficulty in placing the elderly people from the hospital in a care home or a nursing home.
We in the House keep using the term "bed blocking". May I ask hon. Members not to use it, as it sounds as if the poor person in the bed is to blame? They are not at fault; the system is. We could use the term "bed locking", as I am sure that patients would much rather be out of the hospital than in it. It sounds almost as if they are chained there, but they are not unwilling to move.
It is not easy for a local authority to place people if there are no care homes to move them to or if those homes are struggling financially and, as in many cases, under threat of closure. It is not easy to place people if the Government, through fines, are taking away the money for the provision of the service and transferring it to the NHS. It would be far better if the Government recognised the economic realities of social services departments, and the need for them to invest more so that the elderly care sector has the funds that it requires.
The Government will say that they provide enough money for that sector. What they do not do is provide enough for child care. Local authorities throughout the country—Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and under no overall control—have to divert money from the elderly to make legal provision for child care and child protection. We must end that. It will require another £400 million or £500 million. A year ago, our director of social services said that about £1 billion was needed. Although the Government have been generous, providing £400 million and then £300 million, that still does not amount to £1 billion—and, of course, time has moved on.
106 Moreover, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that bringing care homes up to standard would require £1 billion on top of the £1 billion mentioned by the director of social services. If that money is forthcoming, most of it will almost certainly have to come from the Exchequer. I ask the Government not to hit the donkey if the donkey is struggling to carry the load, because that will only break its back.
There is a proposal to abolish fixed pub opening hours, and to introduce a range of measures to reduce the amount of antisocial behaviour. I approve of the wording, but the legislation is much overdue. I hope that it has not been included just because the Government have been getting a lot of stick for not introducing it, having promised all the young people they texted before the last election that they would do so. I hope that it will have been enacted a year from now.
I also hope, however, that the licensing laws will remain with the magistrates. The industry fears that if they go to local authorities, they will become more arbitrary and will be subject to numerous pressures other than the basic question, which is "Are these people fit to run a licensed premise, and do they run it in a good way?" I think that the police and magistrates are better able to judge that than are local authorities, with all their politics. I am not disagreeing with what was said by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) about the need for local authorities to have a say on the hours during which pubs can stay open. That is a separate debate, and I will not venture a view now. It is important, however, for licences to be granted fairly, and for that to be seen to be done. Furthermore, if there are problems with antisocial behaviour, it is the police who will know about them.
I hope that other aspects of the present licensing legislation will be included in the new Bill. One of the early-day motions with the most signatures concerns the campaign for a full pint, which I am sure is supported by all parties and all political complexions. I also hope that the Government will review their decision to abolish the beer orders, which I fear would open up all the problems we experienced with breweries in the past. It would get rid of the guest-ale provision for chains of more than 2,000 pubs, and introduce covenants to prohibit the use of premises as pubs in rural villages.
I hope that the Government will see the broader picture, and consider some of my suggestions.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)
When I look at a Queen's Speech, I look not just at what is in it but at the general thrust and strategy of the Government's policy. The first period of the Conservative Government elected in 1979 changed the mood of the country and the second period began to change the structure of the country. That is what we are doing now and I am pleased to see it.
One paragraph in the Queen's Speech has attracted little attention: that on the second page that deals with the welfare state. It says that the Governmentwants to create a welfare state based on giving people rights and responsibilities. They will pursue proposals that focus on the importance of work as part of our social security system.It is important that that part of the speech gains more attention because it redefines the welfare state.
107 The Labour party created the original welfare state in 1945 alongside the concept of trying to achieve full employment. The problem for us in the intervening years was matching full employment with the welfare state and not creating a welfare state that just paid benefits to people who could not work. The problem for the Tory party—it was shown today by the Leader of the Opposition and one or two other Conservative Members—is that it has not quite worked out what to do with public services and how important full employment is to that issue. Until it addresses that issue and gets its act together, particularly on public services, it will fail to deal with the needs of the public. It does not know whether it wants to privatise more and cut public services or try to match what the Government are doing. There is a fundamental contradiction in where it is at the moment.
The concept of rights and responsibilities runs through much of the Queen's Speech: for example, through the law and order issue. There is an expectation that behaviour should improve, that families have responsibility for bringing up children, that schools and other people have responsibilities over and above teaching and that other members of the community—all of us individually—have responsibilities as well as rights. It runs through other areas but the most important is employment.
I give two short examples from my constituency. One man who had not worked for nine years got a council property when he was married and had one child. He has had three more children since then and still has not worked. He rang me recently to say that he had a right to a bigger flat. Clearly, he needs a bigger flat, if only for the sake of the children, but to put that in context we need to say that he also has a duty to find work.
If we were in the 1980s, I would not have put it in that way because 3 million people were unemployed; in fact, it was rather more than 3 million, but that is what the figures showed. Even in an area such as mine, a prosperous area that survived the two slumps of the 1980s and 1990s quite well, people who did not have many skills found it difficult to get employment. That is no longer true because we have virtually full employment. There is no reason why the man in the example that I gave should not be able to work. I hope to achieve that end in the not too distant future.
A woman rang me this week who is in a similar position, although the background is different. In a way, it was easier to feel sympathy for her. The example highlights the problem that this country has had over a number of years because of high unemployment. It is particularly true of areas outside London—many northern regions have generations of unemployment. She is in her early 30s and had never worked, apart from for a short time in a couple of jobs. She also rang me to get a larger house because she has children; again, there is a need for a larger house. When I talked through with her the importance of getting back into work, the extra child care money available from the Government, the extra money that she could get from the working families tax credit if she were on low pay, she said that she did not want to work at this moment, that she could not work, and that she just needed somewhere bigger to live.
108 The old idea of creating dependency, on one level, is right; however, that does not explain the full depth of that woman's problem. Basically, she is a depressed lady and, in due course, might end up in a psychiatric hospital because depression will destroy her life. We must get people out of that trap and, to do so, we must combine employment opportunities and training with the benefits system. If we can reform the welfare state in that way, we will achieve something dramatically different and, to some extent, we will produce a system similar to those of other European countries, particularly the Scandinavian countries.
In London, we suffer from incredibly high property prices. I moved a few years ago from Shepherd's Bush to Acton, which was regarded then by estate agents as a downmarket move, although I am not sure that that is technically right. The reality is that four-bedroom houses in Acton in reasonably good condition are renting at £3,000 to £4,000 a month. That produces a problem, of which the Government are well aware, regarding housing benefit and how we keep people in the area.
The Tories are talking about the right to buy for housing association tenants, and I recognise that that is politically attractive. Saying to people in London that they can have 50 per cent. off a house that they can sell for several hundred thousand pounds offers a good prize. However, we must bear it in mind that, during the Conservatives' 18 years in office, 3 million houses went out of the rented sector; about a million from the private rented sector and most of the other 2 million from the council sector under the right to buy. That is one reason why we have a mega-problem in London and the south-east in terms of affordable rented accommodation.
The Government have not done enough to replace such housing but I understand the difficulties, particularly in the south; so much so that I am now looking at packages for people in my area. When I am approached about housing, I ask whether the people concerned are prepared to move right out of London. I have talked to several colleagues from the north and the midlands—where there are houses to spare; often quite good houses in quite good areas—and suggested that we move that person or family out. However, there are problems. Often local authorities, to their credit, will pay a removal cost and the better ones will even pay for a family to visit to see the area.
Frankly, we need a number of things, including a more sophisticated package, including more than one visit to the area and the ability to stay in an area for a day or two to find out about jobs, schools, hospitals and so on. There is also the umbilical cord syndrome, as I call it. A number of people have told me that they would move from London, but that their mother, father, uncle or friends are in the area and give them some degree of support. They also know that many who move out of London have a better quality of life, particularly those from the income group about which we are talking.
I would like to see a system in which we are able to say to people who move that they will have a two-year gap to test out their new location. If it does not work, they can come back to a property of similar size, which will be provided for them. My guess is that many people would go, not just younger people. There used to be an organisation called Seaside homes. When the Greater London Council was abolished, Seaside homes went 109 with it; it was privatised. Those homes at the seaside were offered to elderly people in London who wanted to retire to the seaside. In doing so, a house was freed up in London. Such packages, including more help to buy and the shared equity approach, should be explored to deal with the serious problem in the south of England.
I briefly mention education. In areas like mine, some schools are trapped in the situation where, inevitably, they draw from areas where there are multiple social problems, so the schools need additional help. The Government have not failed to give that additional help. Indeed, we gave one school in my area—which was regarded some years ago as a failing school and has been turned round extremely well in recent times—£3 million over and above the norm in order to achieve that. It was one of the six failing schools throughout the United Kingdom. I was there last night, when the school mounted a splendid presentation, which was very impressive, with well disciplined children—a real turnaround.
Whether in that school or in other schools in such areas, two things are needed most. The first is somewhere for the more disruptive children, not necessarily on the school site. Secondly, there is a desperate need for tutorial groups to be smaller, because some of them consist of 24 to 29 pupils. Although some people argue that the evidence does not necessarily prove that results are better for smaller groups, I do not believe that private schools—for which parents pay a fortune—that have groups of only eight, 10 or 12 do not believe that it is a good thing. I am sure that it is a good thing. If we could reduce the size of some of the tutorial groups, we would help those children who could achieve more in those groups.
I should have liked to speak a little about the media regulation Bill, but I am aware of the time. Let me bring together two issues that address the problem of regulation, particularly in the print media, which I know are not covered by the media Bill. It is a subject of general interest. There is a link to education because I refer to the resignation of my very good friend, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris).
The way in which politics and journalism function in this country at present is doing both journalism and politicians no good whatever. As a result, we are both regarded badly in any polling. If it is any comfort to Members, politicians are regarded slightly more highly in all the polling over the past five to 10 years than are journalists—but only slightly, so we should not get too excited about that.
One of the reasons for that low regard is that so much of what we do both as journalists and as politicians is macho, aggressive and assertive. Looking back to the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley, if she had a fault—in my view she did not; she was a very able person by all standards—it was that she wore on her sleeve her openness, her inclusiveness and, above all, her willingness to accept criticism and to accept that she might not have the best policy. All the coverage of that suggested that it was weakness, and the word "weakness" was frequently used. In my view, it was a strength, actually, and we should say that very firmly.
110 When my right hon. Friend was replaced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and he was replaced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who was previously the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the press and media described the new Ministers as bruisers. I know all three of those people extremely well and all three are good listeners and very good on understanding policy and problems of policy. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley wore her openness on her sleeve and that was one of the things that got her into difficulties, all three bring to politics something that is profoundly important; but my right hon. Friend brought something that was rather different from the norm. That is why it is so important that we get more women not only in this place, but in the media. If we had more women in senior places in the media, the media might not have the problem of being seen as displaying the same aggressive, macho style. Even when women do reach a senior position in the media, it is significant that some seem to get trapped into being equally aggressive, assertive and macho. To name but one, for whom I have a lot of respect—she probably will not forgive me for this—Kirsty Wark, the television news presenter, is often more macho and aggressive than many of the men, and she has got to the top by being like that. That is how it has happened, and people like my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley, who brought that refreshingly open and different approach, pay the price for it. That is very sad, and I say that in the context of the media generally, which is an area that we need to consider.
I want to speak briefly on Iraq—I hope to do so at greater length in the not-too-distant future—because I have a very large number of Arabs in my constituency. Two of them are active members of my party. One, a Palestinian who was brought up in the camps, is the treasurer of my party, and would have taken the view that Palestine should extend from the river to the sea—thereby precluding the existence of Israel—but, over the years, has moved dramatically and sensibly towards the position that we must negotiate security for the Israeli community and the Palestinian community, and that there must be two states. When I talk to the many Arabs in my patch, I find that a majority—not as big a majority as people sometimes think—are opposed to us taking military action in Iraq. The overwhelming feeling among the Arabs in my constituency about Saddam Hussein, however, is a mixture of contempt, hatred and fear.
Let us make no mistake: Saddam Hussein is a psychopathic killer, and he would be in prison in any country where the rule of law applied. Speaking as someone in west London, every time such a person takes over a country—Milosevic is another example—we receive waves of refugees, and I cannot describe to hon. Members how horrific their experiences are. I know that many other Members have refugees in their constituencies, but, being in west London, I have a lot of them. I can understand—although, clearly, I do not condone it—how brutality can happen in the heat of a battle or a fight. There is something fundamentally different, however, when, in cold blood, a human being is held and repeatedly raped and tortured, or sees members of their family or friends being tortured or killed in front of them.
111 I do not want to go into the matter much deeper, but I understand the practical reasons why we do not want to get in a position in which we merely change the leaders of states whom we do not like. The United Nations, which has been pretty successful at preventing nation states from attacking each other, has not, for understandable historical reasons—not least that it was not set up for the purpose—been very good at dealing with those states that are taken over by psychopathic killers who proceed to murder their populations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) made a brilliant speech on that today, and she was right to focus on the genocide issue. We stood back and did nothing during the conflict in Rwanda, and we should have done something. I sat on the Opposition Benches when the Conservatives were in office, and I remember pointing out that Milosevic would not stop killing until we stopped him. I remember people saying that we must put in UN troops, which we did, but they had their arms taken off them and were tied to poles in exposed positions to say to the UN, "Don't push your luck." It was only when NATO intervened, without the formal structure of the UN, that we were able to stop the killing.
I want the UN to consider this question again—as a matter of reform—because, in terms of the moral question of whether Saddam Hussein should be removed, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Such action is morally justified, whatever the Church, bishops or anyone else says, and they are ducking their moral responsibility to think otherwise. There are practical considerations to take into account, such as whether we might make a disastrous situation worse, what we replace the regime with and whether the west's double standards towards Israel may inflame the region, but those are not moral reasons for walking by on the other side.
Let me compare the situation with domestic violence. Some 30, 40 or 50 years ago, a man could beat his wife to a pulp as long as he did it in his house. The people on the street would say, "Isn't it terrible? I'd hate to live there. Why doesn't she leave him? It must be awful for the children", but we are taking a similar approach to the Saddam Husseins of this world. We have to stop that and start saying that such behaviour is unacceptable.
I have several thousand Arab constituents and am fascinated by the fact that although most of them oppose military intervention, nearly all of them would agree with what I have said. We need to recognise that and address it, and I hope that we will return to the subject. Although the social issues and foreign policy issues, on which I touched, are profoundly important, I want to flag up a new aspect of foreign policy—the need to reform the United Nations so that we find ways to deal with such states.
§ Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)
Last year's Gracious Speech followed a massive Labour victory in the general election. Hon. Members can well understand Labour's enthusiasm to set out its clear legislative programme, but the Government have been found wanting in all respects. They were strong on rhetoric but short on delivery. I have no doubt the same will be true of this Gracious Speech.
112 I want to say a word about today's ceremony. The state opening of Parliament is precious and dear to the country. I am very proud of our Head of State. The golden jubilee celebrations were splendid. I regret the fact that the royal family has recently entered choppy waters. I hope that our precious gift of the sovereign and the state opening of Parliament is not going to be spoiled. We read in the newspapers that certain elements want to change all that, but it would be an absolute tragedy if anything were altered.
I have looked carefully at the Gracious Speech and have to ask: what is the point of any legislation? Given that laws are not enforced, we are in great danger of becoming a laughing stock. What is the point of meeting here as legislators, working hard on Bills that become Acts of Parliament, only to discover when we ask questions that laws are not being enforced? I have been fortunate to sponsor two private Members' Bills. The first, the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988, was a long time ago. A few weeks ago, I asked how many times that law had been enforced. I am still waiting for an answer. But I still get letters from constituents complaining about horses, ponies and donkeys abandoned on wasteland. I cannot chide the Government for not enforcing the other Act with which I am associated, the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, because we are still hearing what they plan to do to deliver the programme of ending fuel poverty within 10 years. I am, however, worried about the general lack of enforcement of Acts that we put on the statute book.
The Government are concerned about their performance on public services, but is there anything in the Gracious Speech to help to retain and recruit people in our key services? As a result of the Bills on which we will deliberate, will more women and men be in our police forces; will more of them work in our hospitals; will more teach in our schools? Sadly, I think not.
The centrepiece of the Gracious Speech is the criminal justice Bill. Oh dear, here we go again—more rhetoric, more gimmicks. There is absolutely nothing new in the detail of the proposals to combat antisocial behaviour. I find it bizarre that at the same time as the Government are telling us that they will deal with antisocial behaviour, we will see a relaxation in our licensing laws. I am proud to say that I enjoy a drink, but I am concerned that unless the Government later reveal something that we have not already read about in the newspapers, the proposal will place huge pressures on our already stretched police forces.
In Southend there is a pilot scheme for on-the-spot fines. That is wonderful, and I hope it works, but I am not aware that the Government have provided Southend police with any extra people to enforce the fines. It would be a brave police officer who tackled some of these yobs, if that is the idea of the pilot scheme, without being in fear of his or her life. The policy is another example of gesture politics.
Still on the subject of the lack of enforcement of existing laws, I know that some hon. Members are not interested in pro-life matters; I am. If we do not regard life as precious, I do not know what the House of Commons is about. Sir John Bourn of the National Audit Office tells us that, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, £600,000 of licensed 113 treatments took place but were not billed. Are the Government doing anything about that? They are doing absolutely nothing.
Of course, some laws are being enforced. Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) received an answer saying that, in 2000, nine babies were aborted at up to 24 weeks' gestation because they had a cleft palate. What a disgrace for the mother of all Parliaments. Even more shockingly, a baby with a cleft palate was aborted after 24 weeks' gestation. I hear absolute drivel talked about the reform of our working hours, which I regard as an absolute disaster. How on earth are we properly to scrutinise legislation if we are to work short hours? No doubt some of the measures on which we voted a week ago are good, but overall the reforms further diminish the worth of this, the mother of all Parliaments, and I despair of them.
The health and social care Bill is also splendid, but I have been advised by my local authority in Southend that fining local authorities who are not responsive in dealing with delayed discharges will cause them serious problems. The Health Committee on which I serve spent a great deal of time discussing delayed discharges, and we learned from our visit to Canada and America that it helps if one person is commissioned to ensure that people do not take up a bed unnecessarily.
It is very unfortunate that the Government are targeting local authorities. The idea comes from Sweden, but that model is not a good one. There, the measure was introduced gradually over two years and an enormous amount of money was put into sheltered homes. If the Government want to know why so many people are lying in hospital beds unnecessarily, it is because of their short-sightedness about the standards that they imposed on private and local authority residential homes, many of which, regrettably, are now having to close.
The Government believe that education is at the heart of all their proposals, and I welcome several of the measures in that respect contained in the Gracious Speech, but if the Government really want to know why truancy is so prevalent, they need look no further than parenting skills. I see nothing in the Gracious Speech that will address those serious issues. I regret that there is also nothing to deal with the issue of AS-levels. I should have thought that after the embarrassment that we all felt a few weeks ago, the Government would have recognised that AS-levels are not the right way forward and that they would have quickly inserted into the Gracious Speech a measure to change that examination. Unfortunately, however, nothing has been presented.
In local government, we in Southend have a splendid Conservative-controlled council, but it is struggling in several respects. Councillors are doing their best, but they tell me constantly that this centralising Government are taking away more of their powers. We have a housing crisis because so many people are being sent to Southend, mainly from London boroughs. My constituency, Southend, West, is a tiny urban area and there is no land on which to build. We ask for Government assistance. The chairman of the housing committee, Councillor Gwen Horrigan, has worked extremely hard on the problem, but we desperately need support from the Government.
114 I am concerned about the proposals to change our planning laws. It occurs to me that although the Government use the rhetoric of involving local residents in planning matters, the details of their proposals suggest that in future local people are to have even less of a say than they have now.
I conclude by listing a few Bills that I would have liked included in the Gracious Speech. Every Member of Parliament says how shocking the issues surrounding mobile phones are—they are worried about the health scares, they do not want any more of those ugly masts to be erected, and they are concerned about the number of people who drive while using their mobile phone. My local authority tells me that it has no powers in that respect—so who has the power to do something about the overuse of mobile phones?
I have tried to persuade the House to accept a Bill to protect endangered species. Surely we can find time to do something to protect exotic animals? It is no good Members of Parliament saying how terrible rhino hunting and other such activities are when we in this country import—albeit illegally—a huge number of exotic animals which are slaughtered.
Any number of Members of Parliament have talked about fireworks, and I eagerly awaited an announcement of legislation on that issue. Only this afternoon, a constituent faxed me to say that fireworks were going off nearby at 3.30 in the afternoon, scaring her family and the animals. Again, there was nothing in the Queen's Speech about that.
The Government are supposed to be extremely keen on energy efficiency, but sadly, their record on climate change is slipping backwards—in fact, the latest figures show that carbon dioxide levels are now higher than when Labour came to power. I would have liked to see in the Gracious Speech binding targets for energy efficiency improvements; energy efficiency surveys on new house purchases; cuts in VAT on energy saving materials; and energy efficiency measures in offices. Sadly, none of that is in the Gracious Speech. All Members will have had a briefing from Age Concern saying that it would very much have liked a proposal in the Gracious Speech to deal with age discrimination.
Yet again, the Gracious Speech is strong on rhetoric, but will be short on delivery. However, if any of the proposals that we shall spend the next year discussing are to be worth while, it is about time that we looked at Acts that are unenforced because of the lack of woman and manpower.
§ Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) for being brief—I am sure that he could have spoken for another hour. I shall try hard not to be macho, assertive or aggressive, but I shall be brief of necessity.
I really enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), which was lively, entertaining and everything that speeches in the House often are not: perhaps—dare I say it?—that was partly to do with the fact that she is a woman. My hon. Friend was elected on the same day as me and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and the Under- 115 Secretary of State for International Development who has just left the Chamber. We were among the 101 women Labour MPs elected five and a half years ago. None of the other parties has come anywhere near to achieving such electoral success for women, and I take great pride in the Labour party's achievement.
As I am short of time, I shall concentrate on the three paragraphs in the Gracious Speech that deal with the health service. The sentence that refers tohealthcare based on the founding principles of the National Health Servicewarms my heart. I cannot think of a better example than a tiny hospital in my constituency, Ilkley Coronation hospital. If anyone knows Ilkley, they will realise that it is hardly a Labour heartland—I do not get many votes there, but it is my priority to keep that small hospital open. It provides excellent services, including physiotherapy, a dietician, an X-ray department, family planning—much appreciated by young ladies from the centre of my Keighley constituency—and day care. It used to have a minor injuries unit, but, in anticipation of wider closure, it has been closed by Airedale NHS trust. We expect the whole hospital to be closed, but that decision will be for the primary care trust. Until then, there will be a consultation period, and I shall campaign to keep the hospital open, as it is a basic ingredient of what the NHS should be. I know that there are other important health issues, to which I shall turn shortly, but it is a gem of a hospital, and I shall come down next Tuesday with the chair of Ilkley parish council to see the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) to try to persuade her to help me to keep the hospital open for the people of Ilkley.
The hospital was purchased with public subscriptions from the people of Ilkley and built about 100 years ago. I visited it a few months ago. It is not at all seedy—it is a good little hospital providing an excellent service. I am not going to be dogmatic. If someone says that they can provide all those services at the Springs medical centre virtually next door, I shall be quite happy.
The Gracious Speech also mentions givinggreater freedom to successful hospitals".I am not certain what that refers to, but no doubt it has something to do with giving greater freedom to good, successful and probably acute hospitals.
Airedale general hospital is also in my constituency. It is the biggest employer in my constituency, so it is extremely important to me and my constituents. It provides a range of services not only to my constituents, but to people who live as far north in the dales as Bentham, towards Clapham, past Settle and in the other direction, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), as far down as Bingley. The hospital is therefore very well used, and I intend to keep it that way. I do not want anything else to be hived off from it and put into one of the mega-hospitals that seem to be growing in city centres, although I appreciate the facilities that they provide.
A few weeks ago, I opened a new pathology department at Airedale general hospital. It was a real pleasure for me to be there and see the work going on.
116 Today I wanted to highlight the work of that pathology department. Too often, we see the glamorous side of our health service—the surgeons and the big hospitals—but we do not know much about the background work that goes on. I suppose it is the equivalent of the background work that goes on in Select Committees in this place, with the surgeons as the equivalent of the Members who make the big speeches in the Chamber, and even Ministers.
I pay tribute to the work of the pathology department. Various bits of me have gone through it at various times, and I very much appreciated its findings. I will not say that it was lifesaving, but it undoubtedly improved the quality of my life from time to time. I recognise the need for regional centres of excellence, such as the one that we have in Leeds that is part of the Leeds teaching hospitals trust, which is made up of Leeds general infirmary and St. James's hospital.
In the Chamber we do not often speak of our personal experiences, but perhaps we should do so more often. Instead of speaking about myself as a constituency MP and my constituents, I shall touch on the fact that my partner, John, has been struggling with cancer for 15 months now. Two weeks ago—I hope that none of the hon. Members present is too squeamish—he had a liver resection in St. James's. He was diagnosed with that fifth cancer only two weeks before he had his operation, so, yes, there are waiting lists in the health service, but when someone's back is to the wall and he has a cancer in the liver that needs to be removed quickly, it happens. It happened with John, and I can assure the House that it had nothing to do with my position as a Member of Parliament. I am sure that Mr. Lodge, the surgeon, did not know who I was when we went to see him the first time, although he may do so now. It was excellent for us that, within two weeks, John was in St. James's and having the operation.
That was terrific, but we must watch out for too much of the health service gravitating towards city centre hospitals. As I said, I recognise that John had specialist surgery, which clearly cannot be provided in every cottage hospital throughout the country. Specialist services must therefore be provided in city centres, but I warn against too much movement. I want Airedale general hospital in my constituency not just to survive, but to prosper. It is in an attractive part of the Aire valley. If we start to siphon off services from there to the Bradford hospitals or the Leeds hospitals it will endanger my wonderful Airedale general hospital. I do not want that.
Airedale hospital has a great advantage over city centre hospitals, in that nurses, doctors and ancillary staff there can work within a short journey of their home, and that home will be reasonably priced and in a beautiful area of the Aire valley. That means that Airedale has no trouble whatever in recruitment. If we start moving more and more towards city centres, we may start having greater problems with recruitment because people do not want to commute great distances and may not want to live in city centres, although I recognise that Leeds is a wonderful city, which I appreciate.
The Queen's Speech states:A Bill will also be introduced to help ensure that local authorities support older people awaiting discharge from hospital.117 That is not just about bed blocking; it is also about the quality of life for those who have had surgery in an acute hospital such as St James's. I do not want to knock St James's, but it was built on a small site and it has grown and grown. Ward 63 was where my partner John was with two other men; it is a small room with a window about 1 m by 1 m that overlooks a brick wall. Recovering from a third operation for cancer is about not just one's physical state, but one's mental capacity to recover. The worst part of cancer surgery is the depression that can set in because it is such a difficult period, so it is important not to become depressed.
I really appreciate what was done in St James's. Ten years ago John would have died because we did not have the advantage of MRI scans or lasers, and liver operations could not have been performed. Therefore, I appreciate what has been done, but hospitals are more than operating theatres; they are also places where people recover, so their spirit needs to be uplifted. A wonderful tonic for John would have been a window through which he could see a bit of sky, not just a brick wall. There is not much that can be done about that. For historic reasons, St James's has developed on its present site, which is too small and congested and restricted by factors such as traffic. But health service planners should pay more attention to locations so that there is room for improvement and expansion without putting patients into a ward where they can see nothing.
We need to consider the future of the health service. I am proud of the health service, particularly in my area, but hospitals cannot develop and grow on one small site. We must be aware of the need for a little space. From Airedale general hospital there are wonderful views across the Aire valley. Patients recovering from major surgery would be helped by having a good view across such a valley.
I am proud of the health service, but it could be better. I do not say that small is beautiful because that is not always the case, but there is room in our health service for tiny hospitals such as the Coronation hospital in Ilkley, medium-sized hospitals such as Airedale hospital in the Aire valley, and for huge hospitals such as Jimmy's in Leeds. Let us concentrate on all those areas of the health service. They can all be improved on. Within the health service, we should be able to have a good quality of service in all those three different types of hospitals.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.