§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the mover and seconder of the humble Address, I should announce to the House the proposed subjects for debate on subsequent days, which will be as follows:
Thursday 21 June—public services; Friday 22 June—foreign affairs and defence: Monday 25 June—economy, trade and industry; Tuesday 26 June—rural communities and transport; Wednesday 27 June—home affairs and constitution.
I call Mr. Barry Sheerman to move the humble Address, after which I shall call Mr. David Lammy to second it.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
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 pleasure and a privilege to he asked to move the motion today. When the Chief Whip first contacted to me, I was a little surprised, and I reacted with a proper degree of caution. As comrades and colleagues know—[Interruption.] That is a continuing joke, to which I shall return. As I was saying, I chair the cross-party group on preparations for the euro, which the Conservatives have never joined, so I subjected the invitation to five rigorous tests, and then decided that the time was right to move the motion.
I am especially relieved to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his rightful place, after various unconfirmed news stories during the recent election campaign. We all heard that shadow Ministers and Ministers seemed to be missing or very elusive, but I can report that although the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time in my area, he eluded me in my constituency, Huddersfield. That was rather a blessing, because if I had suddenly seen the battle bus at the end of my road I would have wondered what was happening to my majority.
There were many rumours and a great deal of speculation about close sightings of the Prime Minister, and someone resembling him was seen apparently enjoying fish and chips at the Happy Haddock—or was it the Contented Plaice?—in Brighouse in nearby Calder Valley. The Prime Minister was also rumoured to have downed half a pint of something alcoholic in Lindley in neighbouring Colne Valley. That was an unconfirmed rumour, but there was a pretty substantial report of a close encounter with the Huddersfield Daily Examiner photographer in either Shipley or Keighley.
In Huddersfield, however, there was no sign of the Prime Minister. My constituents were vigilant, as always, but wherever my right hon. Friend was, he could not be spotted in my patch. If we had tracked him down, he would have been very welcome. He has been a regular visitor to the town. On the most recent occasion, he came to unveil the statue to Harold Wilson, the only other Labour Prime Minister to win two consecutive victories.
36 If we had tracked the Prime Minister down, this time we would have wanted to show him a little of Huddersfield. We would have liked to take him to the McAlpine stadium, where Huddersfield Town plays—a team denied its rightful place in the premiership by a wicked international conspiracy. Within two years, we hope to be in the premier league. If the Prime Minister had been feeling a little generous, we could have fitted him up with some fine worsted suits, as Huddersfield is still a great textile, chemical and engineering manufacturing and exporting town.
We would also like to have shown the Prime Minister the dynamic new enterprises and to have introduced him to some of the people behind them, many of whom came to this country not so long ago with nothing but their raw talent and ambition. They are making their way and are progressing and prospering in a harmonious town, where all people live peacefully together.
My right hon. Friend would have been particularly impressed by our biggest wealth creator and employer. What is that? It is not a great chemical company or textile empire but the university of Huddersfield, which dominates the town with its 2,500 staff and 17,000 students and its outstanding academic achievements.
To be fair, we would have told the Prime Minister about some of our problems, worries and concerns. We are a prosperous town, but we have had our share of deprivation and under-resourced public services. Although we have seen much improvement in the past four years, my constituents are impatient for the next delivery phase that is promised in today's Queen's Speech. That will start to make a dramatic difference in health, education and transport and in services for the elderly, the disabled and those who are in need of special assistance.
Huddersfield folk have a reputation for being fair minded and generous, so they give credit where credit is due. We are delighted with the progress that has already been made, not only in health and education but in properly training people and getting them back into work with a guaranteed minimum wage.
Huddersfield is a superb town and it is a lovely town to represent here in Westminster. They say that the art of politics is a mixture of good timing, excellent judgment and a fair measure luck: those of my generation who came here in 1979 obviously had a wonderful combination of all three! Although my timing was a little unfortunate, my choice of constituency was not. There is no better place in the land to represent. It is set in one of the most beautiful valleys of Yorkshire and is populated by the most industrious and resourceful people in the world. It is a town with a brilliant future and a rich past.
People who have managed to find their way to this paragon among towns have sometimes been rather frightened by the experience. The famous Methodist, John Wesley, wrote after riding through the town in 1757:A wilder people I never saw in England, the men, the women and children filled the street and appeared just ready to devour us.Fortunately, I never encountered any of that type of person during my recent election campaign. Had I done so, I would immediately have turned to the Deputy Prime Minister—a fellow Yorkshire Member of Parliament—for some protection.
I wonder how the new Home Secretary, even with the Deputy Prime Minister's assistance, would have dealt with Ned Ludd and his luddite followers. More-educated 37 Members will know that the Luddites came from Huddersfield. Sometimes, as the Member representing the constituency, I resent the rather loose use of the term "luddite" in this Chamber. The fact of the matter is that Ned Ludd and his supporters roamed the country, for some reason dressed as women as a disguise, destroying mills and manufacturing plant and machinery. It was an attempt to hold back the progress of industrialisation that threatened their lives and livelihoods. It was partly as a result of such wide-scale protest in the 19th century that an enlightened system of universal franchise was created.
Elections are, of course, a thing that we professional politicians all love but also hate. How many of us share that awful dread of going out on a cold, miserable evening, with the sleet falling and the wind blowing—this is, after all, in June—to lead a canvassing team in a particularly unresponsive part of the constituency? On the way there it feels like the last thing in the world that one has ever wanted to do, but with the first knock on the door and the first encounter, when someone says, "Eh, lad, you must be joking. I wouldn't vote for you and your lot if hell froze over", the adrenalin starts to flow and the excitement returns.
Something happens in the heart of the true politician during the next few hours of meeting people whom one wants to represent. Those are the best of all times, and I am sure that I speak for many Members when I express that emotion. The patter and the repartee flow and only on a rare occasion is one left speechless on a doorstep.
In the recent election—this is a true story—I knocked on the door of a rather fine house. A lovely Huddersfield woman explained that she wanted to vote Labour very badly, but she had severe reservations about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I pressed her about the matter. I said, "What is the problem? Is it his management of the economy?" She said, "No, I am happy with that." I said, "Is it his stance on the euro?" "No, I am happy with that," she said. "Is it the fact that he is a Scot?", I said rather nervously. She said, "No, I can just about cope with that." So I asked why she could not vote for us, and she answered, "I cannot bring myself to vote for a man who bought his wife cheap champagne." [Laughter.]
If I may continue the champagne theme, I have always believed, like my old friend John Smith, that politics must be fun at the same time as being deeply serious—a belief that he brought to politics and to this Chamber. I loved the fact that when John was interviewed on "Desert Island Discs" when he was shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the luxury that he chose without hesitation was an inexhaustible case of champagne. Similarly, I remember that when I was first a councillor on a brand new council and we were looking for a motto we decided—this may sound a little old fashioned now—after much deliberation that we should go with "Nothing but the best is good enough for the workers."
Labour Members should remember that we are able to move this Queen's Speech motion today because of the dedication and determined struggle. of a host not only of our party leaders past and present but of party workers who have striven and will continue to strive to ensure that nothing but the very best is good enough for the people of our country.
To be a politician is such a privilege; to be a parliamentarian is a great calling. There is a great joy in politics that many of us do not share openly enough. 38 I know that there are many books about the joys of other things, but the joy of politics is one that perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) should start to write. There is a lot of joy in politics and we do not celebrate it; there is also a lot of pain. Looking at this Queen's Speech, I can see a great deal of pleasure for my constituents.
As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment for the past two years, I find the strong emphasis on education in the Queen's Speech particularly welcome. More generally, its commitment to delivering significant improvements across the range of public services should be applauded, and I commend it to the House.
I shall finish on a very serious note. I hope that in this Parliament we will have the opportunity seriously to address two other issues. They are not general issues but House issues. I hope that we shall have the time and the patience to take seriously a discussion of what a modern representative Parliament should be like in the 21st century and our changing role as parliamentarians in that 21st century Parliament. In my two years as Chairman of the Select Committee, that is something on which a lead has been given and on which we have to spend time as a House. There are no easy and quick solutions, but if we do not examine the future of our House and our Parliament in the 21st century we shall be neglecting our jobs as politicians. We neglect both of those at our peril, and we owe it to ourselves and to the future of parliamentary democracy and our constituents to meet that challenge.
I am delighted with the massive majority that the country gave to our party, but we should all worry about the decline in turnout and apply our minds to it. I say to the Prime Minister and to the Government, in the most helpful spirit, that just as there is no conflict between a strong, well-managed economy and an excellent set of public services—I strongly applaud everything that we said on the stump and on television about that balance—there is also no reason for not having a good, vigorous, re-energised Parliament that holds the Executive to account but at the same time allows the Government to deliver on their vision and on their manifesto commitments.
I have kept the House too long—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I gave hon. Members that one. The measures contained in the Gracious Speech will be fiercely debated—and rightly—in coming days. It is lovely to see the Chamber full for a change. However, the fact of the matter is that this is the speech of a Government who are determined to quicken the pace of the radical changes that this country has long needed to make it a prosperous, peaceful and inclusive place to live. I commend the speech wholeheartedly to the House—comrades and colleagues together.
§ Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)
It is a great privilege to second the motion on the Loyal Address. I stand here today with a sense of humility, knowing that the honour really belongs to the people of Tottenham, who invested their trust in me for a second time.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who has distinguished himself over many years in the House. It is not without a degree of trepidation, however, that I join him in commending the Gracious Speech.
39 It is wonderful to be no longer the new boy in the House. In today's edition of The Guardian, the former Member for Gloucester refers to this place as something of a public school. I did not go to public school, but I was reminded of school when I was summoned by the Chief Whip yesterday. I felt more than a bit concerned and anxious about why I had to visit her office. What had I done during the past few days?
The feeling of anxiety took me back to the time I moved from infant school to junior school. I was quite a boisterous seven-year-old, and quickly found myself in a fracas with another child. Miss Vaisey, my headmistress, commanded me to go to her office. I remember that long, nervous walk, because I had been told by some of the older boys of the slipper in her office that she often had occasion to use. She told me to take my coat off, and said that she would be back in 10 minutes. Nervous and very scared, I thought that she said, "Take your clothes off"—[Laughter.] To this day, I recall with horror both our faces.
Imagine my great relief when I found out that the Chief Whip had summoned me to ask me to second the motion today. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, who proposed the motion, joined the Labour party when the late Harold Wilson became its leader in 1963, and my hon. Friend has the honour of representing the former Prime Minister's home town as his constituency. Mr. Wilson's famous remark that a week is a long time in politics evidently made a deep impression on my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, who in her wisdom realised that 24 hours was quite long enough for me to prepare for the speech of my life.
It was clear, however, that strict rules governed the tradition of making this speech. Back in the far distant days of May 1997, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) spoke of his pleasure at hearing senior Conservatives on the "Today" programme declare that they would listen to the country, learn from their mistakes and change their policies to make their party more electable again. I am delighted to continue that tradition, and report that I have heard that very same debate just this week. Those days in 1997 were a time when some wondered whether the career of the former Conservative Member for Enfield, Southgate was over: now we know that it is.
It is almost a year and a day since I was elected Member of Parliament for Tottenham. To represent the area where I was born and brought up, and where I now live, is truly a great privilege. It is impossible for me to talk about Tottenham without paying tribute to its most prominent advocate, Bernie Grant. Bernie's understanding of the realities and needs of his constituents earned him the enduring respect of so many people in Tottenham, and it was his determined pursuit of justice and equality for the under-represented that made him a national and international leader for those who needed a voice. I am committed to continuing that pursuit, and I wholeheartedly welcome the legislation to allow increases in the representation of women in public life. I know that that development alone will speed up the modernisation process in this place, and I know that many other younger voters will be grateful for that.
40 I hope, too, that the House will join me in working to achieve concrete results in increasing ethnic minority representation in this place and in public life. I am never anonymous in the Palace of Westminster, but I look forward to a day when women and black people will not stand out on these Benches and the House will truly be a House of representatives.
The emphasis on delivery rightly dominated the Gracious Speech. Yes, many of my constituents understand that business confidence, interest rates, tax levels and the economy are an important part of the national picture, but they will not say, "A job well done" until they see excellence in all our schools, the national health service transformed, safer streets and an efficient transport system.
It does not matter whether one is in Tottenham, parts of Glasgow, Toxteth, Moss Side. Oldham or Leeds; we are at a turning point in this country, and our constituents ask the same things of their representatives. Are we to become a ghetto or a gateway? Are we to become isolated or integrated? Are we to become an area of fragmented communities or a successful community of communities? It is the latter of these alternative possible futures that the Labour Government can deliver for my constituents.
In Tottenham we have witnessed significant improvements in our primary schools, with seven failing schools coming out of special measures, but the challenge of improving our secondary schools still lies ahead. I hope that the education Bill will continue to move us in the right direction, treading that difficult tightrope between support and intervention in turning schools and local education authorities around.
For me, education was the gateway to opportunity. I went to a primary school in Tottenham, as I have said. It had the unfortunate name of Downhills, but it was teachers at that school and later schools who pushed me uphill, improving my prospects and self-belief. I value those teachers because, academically, I never found things particularly easy. Right through school, I was in the second to bottom teaching set, and my mock exams predicted just two GCSEs.
My mother dug out my old school report recently, and my year 11 report says:Your son is a model pupil. Unfortunately, he's not a working model."—[Laughter]—If he gets his head down, he might get back into the sixth form.I would not have the self-assurance to speak in the House of Commons were it not for those teachers and adults who invested in me as a child.
Hon. Members have heard me describe my constituency as the most multi-ethnic in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who is now the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, and I represent constituencies in which 160 languages are spoken—a most diverse corner of the busiest capital in the world—so Members on both sides of the House will be surprised to hear of my recent conversion to Euroscepticism. Yes, I have decided that I must declare myself very much against the free movement of goods and people across Europe if the reports that Sol Campbell is to move from Spurs to Barcelona are true.
May I seek your indulgence for a few more moments, Mr. Speaker? I was in a surgery the other day, when an old Jamaican lady came up to me and told me a story 41 about travelling on a train in Jamaica. The train was moving rather slowly, and an American passenger became increasingly agitated. He stormed down the aisle of the train and asked the driver, "Can't you go any faster?" The driver replied, "I can go faster, but I've got to stay with the train." [Laughter.] This House has not always appeared to be at pace with the people outside, but I stay with this House, because it is the only vehicle for delivering change in our country. Under this Government, a second term offers the only opportunity for thousands of British children and for transforming public services. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
§ 3.3 pm
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
It is the custom of the House for the Leader of the Opposition to congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address on their speeches and to comment on them, and it is a great pleasure to do so this afternoon. I should like to begin by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) on his entertaining, enlightening and charming speech. I have a lot in common with him—I did not go to public school either. At the beginning of his speech, he referred to reading The Guardian. I do not know whether he knows that, next to the words "sitting Air, the pre-election profile of his constituency, supplied very authoritatively by The Guardian, stated:David Lammy, 2001 election: Not Standing.I hope that he will join me in my resolve in saying, "The Guardian 2001: Not Reading."
The hon. Gentleman and I have other things in common. We were both elected to the House at by-elections, and at the time of our elections we were the youngest Members sitting on the Government Benches—so he had better be careful; strange things can happen to him. I shall give him some advice. Following his victory in the Tottenham by-election, he was quoted as saying that the Prime Minister tried to speak to him to congratulate him, but he had been too busy to return the Prime Minister's call. He had been elected for only a matter of minutes and was already behaving like the Chancellor. That is not a good idea. Given that we enjoyed his speech and that he started out as a chorister at Peterborough cathedral, I hope, as he speaks so well and straightforwardly, that he will not merely sing other people's tunes in the coming years.
It is also a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). He is the author of a book, a fact that is not widely known. It is quite substantial. Indeed, I was torn between his speech and his book. He is co-author of a biography of Harold Laski. No doubt he will be flattered to know that I went to the Library last night and took out the book. However, he will not be too flattered to know that according to the inside cover, I am the first Member in eight and half years to do that. I got well advanced into it last night and reached the end of the acknowledgements, where it says:The original idea for this book was Barry Sheerman's in 1986 …By 1991 most of the burden fell to the co-author and it was also he who wrote the manuscript. We see it in the general sense as jointly authored".He wrote the book in the sense that Her Majesty wrote the Queen's Speech.
I shall be a bit nicer about the hon. Gentleman now. He has many other achievements to his name, one of which was to windsurf from Majorca to France. However, 42 he sailed closest to the wind when he urged restrictions on drinking in the Palace of Westminster. His career never really recovered from that. He also said other things that he might regret. In 1999, he said that theOpposition has lost the battle to discredit the dome, it is on track to being a huge success".The hon. Gentleman referred to Huddersfield Town. I know that he will be deeply distressed—as we are in Yorkshire—at the current performance of the Huddersfield Giants rugby league team, especially as they have the longest run of defeats in English rugby league, including all of the first 14 games this season. Will he tell the players from me that I know how they feel?
The hon. Gentleman proved even more far sighted than in his other predictions by keeping his seat. Despite the huge majority that he mentioned, the House will be surprised to hear that in one way he held on only by the skin of his teeth. As the New Statesman reported in May this year:Stranger's Bar gossip identifies Huddersfield as the next likely target for Shaun and his butler".May we congratulate the hon. Gentleman on resisting all the considerable temptations that were no doubt placed in his way?
It is a delight to congratulate both hon. Members on their speeches, all the more so because they have refused to use the script set out in the wonderful "New Labour, new Britain" briefing on the Queen's Speech for Labour Members that was so helpfully faxed to my office earlier today. It has an extremely useful model speech insert for hon. Members to use. We all look forward to seeing who makes that speech. I am happy to place a copy of it in the Library for my hon. Friends to judge speeches as the debate progresses in the next week. The speech does, however, require hon. Members to insert the right name of their constituency—so look out for that pitfall. It also refers toReal improvements to our schools in ANYPLACE. Real improvements to our hospitals in ANYPLACE…Here in ANYPLACE…unemployment is going down by XXXXXX".Finally, it says:Our ambitions for ANYPLACE.That could have been the briefing for the Queen's Speech or the selection speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) as he went around the country. There may have been a mistake.
Obviously, there are measures in the Queen's Speech that we welcome, such as those to reform our adoption laws. We welcome the commitment to give legislative backing to the conclusions on rail safety that Lord Cullen is likely to reach in the second part of his report. It is time to learn the lessons of the Paddington rail crash and to make travelling by rail as safe as travelling by any other form of transport. We support an early, comprehensive world trade round, which was mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We strongly back the commitment to the observance of human rights, including throughout the Commonwealth, which we hope will lead to stronger action to put pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe.
We would have given a general welcome to other measures that are not in the Queen's Speech had they been included. Only this morning, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), sacked as a Minister after the election, accused the Government of breaking their 43 promise to every pub-goer in the country—a group with whom I am happy to declare a joint interest. It is no wonder that young people are so disillusioned when at 10 pm on the Saturday before the election, they receive a text message on their mobile phones, saying,
"CLDNT GVE A xxxx 4 LST ORDRS? VTE LBR ON THRSDAY 4 XTRA TIME",
only to discover a week on Wednesday that the Bill is not included in the Queen's Speech.
Of course, there are other aspects of the Queen's Speech that Conservative Members and, I hope, Members of other parties can support. We welcome especially the commitment to build on the progress made by successive Governments in Northern Ireland. We continue to believe that the Belfast agreement offers the best hope for a peaceful, secure and stable Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and we wish the current negotiations well. However, as the elections have shown, among mainstream moderate Unionists confidence in the agreement is in dangerously short supply.
The terrorists have been released; their political allies are now in government; the RUC has undergone painful change; yet not a single gun or ounce of Semtex has been given up. If the agreement is to realise the hopes that so many of us throughout the House have invested in it, it must be implemented in full and by all sides. I believe that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and his party have been stretched as far as they can go, and it is now up to others to deliver. Unless that process begins shortly, we will face another serious crisis and the Government will face the first major test of their second term. I wish them well in dealing with it.
More generally, the Prime Minister always regarded winning a second term as the most important goal of his first term, and it would be churlish of me if I did not now congratulate him on achieving his prized objective. He has taken the opportunity to carry out a large reorganisation of the Government, including Ministers who days earlier were said to be doing a fantastic job. I, too, have been doing a bit of reorganising. In fact, since I announced my resignation even the Prime Minister has been nice about me. The experience of resigning has been so pleasant that I am thinking of recommending it more widely. The trouble is that for members of the Government, praise comes immediately before they leave their job, rather than immediately afterwards as in my case.
When we said that the former Foreign Secretary was not doing his job properly, the Prime Minister said that he had every confidence in him and that heis one of the most respected foreign ministers Britain has had for years and years and years".When we called for the former Minister for Europe to be sacked, the Prime Minister said thatit would have been grossly unjust to have dismissed him",while his official spokesman said that he hadthe full support of the Prime Minister—end of story".So when the Deputy Prime Minister hears the Prime Minister describe him as "loyal, true and decent", he ought to regard it as a deeply worrying development.
The Deputy Prime Minister has now been promoted to what was the first rung on the ministerial ladder occupied by his very close friend the right hon. Member for 44 Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). After three failed attempts to appoint a Cabinet enforcer, the Government finally settled on a Cabinet bouncer. However, we congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on the fact that whatever the Prime Minister does to him, he will always be one of the Cabinet's big hitters.
§ Mr. Hague
Steady, I do judo you know!
It has been a time for dishing out rewards and settling scores, but the Prime Minister would be most unwise if he did not realise that it is a time for delivery, because delivery has been put off for so long. The Government succeeded in persuading the British people to give them a second chance to deliver. The argument that they needed more time worked, but it will not work again. People will demand delivery.
During the general election, the Prime Minister promised the country 20,000 more nurses, 10,000 more doctors, 6,000 extra police recruits and an extra 10,000 teachers. But the public know, as he knows, that he cannot at the moment even keep the doctors, nurses, teachers and police that we already have. He has said that Britain will boast world-class public services by the next election, but he will find that urgent task all the more difficult if he has no public servants to run them.
It will not work to turn the Government into the head teacher of every school, the manager of every hospital or the superintendent of every police station. It will not work to make promises about inputs into public services when people want outputs; they need to see results.
§ Mr. Hague
I will give way in a moment.
It will not work to make claims that things are getting better if people's daily experience is that they are getting worse. It will not work to keep shifting targets and measures so as to make it harder to judge them. That applies right across the public services. Let us take the national health service as an example.
It seems that I was not the only person who had to face up to bad statistics on the morning of Friday 8 June; there were bad statistics in the NHS as well. An increase of 16,000 people on the waiting list was announced on the day after the election. I know how hard the Government must have worked to compile those figures quicker, and how disappointed they must have been that it proved possible to issue them only just a few hours after the polls had closed—so disappointed that they have decided to abandon the entire waiting-list initiative.
The pledge to cut waiting lists appeared on all those posters, mugs and credit cards at the previous election. Achieving it adorned speech after speech in this House from Government Members. Time and again, we pressed on the Government the fact that the target was distorting clinical priorities and should be abandoned. Time and again, the Health Secretary said that he would not do so, but within a few days of the election the initiative has been abandoned. At the 1997 election, we were told that we had 24 hours to save the NHS by introducing a waiting-list initiative, but in 2001 it took 24 hours to abolish it.
45 Unfortunately, it seems that the real lessons of that initiative have not been learned. The Government have replaced one set of targets with another. Maximum waiting-time targets are better chosen than their predecessor, but still substitute political priorities and headlines for clinical decisions. They will still distort clinical behaviour.
The Government should be warned not to fall into the trap of believing that passing legislation on public services is the same as improving those services. They should not be fooled into thinking that administrative changes in Whitehall alone bring about a greater chance of delivery. That delivery is in the hands of countless thousands of men and women who joined the public services to serve the public. They want to be allowed to get on with their jobs.
The Government have announced in the Queen's Speech a Bill to help the police fight crime and to reform the criminal courts. If that results in the police being able to spend more time detecting and preventing crime, patrolling our streets and catching criminals, it will deserve widespread support in the House. If, on the other hand, it means more targets, rules and regulations, and even more paperwork, the Government will have learned nothing from what police officers have said to them in recent times.
The Queen's Speech promises more freedom for successful teachers and governors, and more diversity in schools. Given that the Government have spent the past four years abolishing grant-maintained schools, threatening grammar schools with ballots over their very existence and weighing down teachers with a directive a day since the beginning of last year, they will forgive us a little scepticism. If they are now genuine about rolling back uniformity, bureaucracy and centralised control, that will help a great deal. If, however, that means laying down in ever more detail what every teacher should be doing with every hour of every working day, the Government will not succeed in attracting and retaining the teachers that the country needs.
The same argument applies to the economy as a whole. The Queen's Speech commits the Government to economic stability and a more prosperous society. In The Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Chancellor said:Margaret Thatcher rightly emphasised the importance of the enterprise culture",but thatshe didn't go far enough".Now we know what all those years of protest and Tribune group meetings were about: he wanted the Conservative Governments of the 1980s to go even further. We can all picture him with his placard: "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, more, more, more." That is what he was asking for.
The Chancellor did not stand for an enterprise culture then, and he has not stood for it yet. He has run Britain's businesses ragged with rules and regulations. The British Chambers of Commerce says thatthe bottom line is that the sheer quantity of … red tape on business is damaging our economy, stifling enterpriseand so on. The Chancellor might have chosen The Wall Street Journal rather than the House in which to set out 46 his programme for this Session of Parliament, but readers will not have forgotten what that newspaper said on 15 May:Chancellor Gordon Brown has presided over the largest peace time increase in taxation ever witnessed in the United Kingdom.No wonder Britain has dropped from ninth to 19th in the world competitiveness table.
Now, the Chancellor says that he wants to make British businesses more competitive. If he really means to reverse the regulatory burden on business, genuinely wants to remove stealth taxes and is serious about giving up pathological meddling in the affairs of businesses, we Conservatives will support the measures that he introduces, but until that happens we are entitled to remain sceptical that his conversion to our cause is in any way genuine.
The Government should not fall into the trap of thinking that passing legislation is the same as delivering, or that making administrative changes is a substitute for delivery. The creation of a new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not, of itself, begin to deal with the chronic crisis facing our countryside. Rural communities expect something more than a new nameplate on a Government building: they expect a change of direction from the Government.
Seven weeks after the Prime Minister told the country that we were on the home straight, it is clear that foot and mouth is not beaten: it is rife in my constituency and others, with many new cases reported in the past two weeks. I believe that the Government should be honest about the extent of the crisis. Official figures put the number of cases at about 1,800, but it could be twice as high owing to cases on farms where precautionary culling has taken place.
The case for a full and independent public inquiry into the causes of foot and mouth and the measures taken by the Government to tackle it is overwhelming. A Government who wasted no time establishing an inquiry into the previous Government's handling of BSE and even found time to apologise formally for the Irish potato famine of 1845 must see fit to commit themselves to having their own response to the foot and mouth crisis properly examined. The case for an inquiry is clear—let us have a full and independent public inquiry.
People living in rural areas will be outraged that the Queen's Speech contains no reference to the crisis in the countryside and the urgent need to adopt measures to help it to recover, and that the only mention of rural affairs is a free vote on the future of hunting with dogs. The Government should produce a strategy for the recovery of the countryside. We have made many suggestions. Those are the real priorities on which people who live in rural Britain expect the Government to concentrate. It is time to deliver, and on that delivery the Government will be judged.
In this country and the rest of the European Union there are growing signs that people feel disconnected from the political process. Those who spoke before me have mentioned that. If people see policies steamrollered through and are told that there is no alternative, they will take an increasingly cynical view of the democratic institutions that should be their proud inheritance. The Government, and all parties, would do well to reflect on that in the months and years ahead, but I see no immediate sign of that in today's Queen's Speech.
47 The speech makes it clear that the Government intend to introduce legislation to ratify the Nice treaty, but it does so against the background of a referendum in Ireland that decisively rejected ratification of the treaty by that country. The concerns expressed by Irish voters are more widely shared. One EU diplomat said last week:If there had been a referendum in every country, half would have voted against it. The Irish were acting as proxies for the rest of us and this needs to be handled with care".The Government could begin a new term with a new approach of being open with the British people about, for example, their plans for taking Britain into the euro. Since the election, we have heard that the Government's policy on the pound is to keep back as much information as they can about their true intentions. We have heard how the then Foreign Secretary was allegedly under orders not to speak his mind on that subject for fear of jeopardising the Prime Minister's election prospects—but the Prime Minister now has that second term, so surely we can look forward to his having the courage to make the case, and to allow his colleagues to do so as well, for the policy to which the Government have said they are deeply committed as a matter of principle.
It is not only on Europe that we need to consider the disconnection between political institutions and those whom they are intended to serve. In the Queen's Speech, the Government say that they will consult on stage 2 of reform of the Lords. We hope that that consultation will be widespread and genuine. However, respect for and participation in our democratic process will be enhanced only if we reform the relationship between government and Parliament, including, in particular, the House of Commons. Otherwise, the disconnection between politicians and the public that we saw in the general election promises to become even greater.
All of us in the House, in all parties, should be chastened by levels of voter apathy that resulted in the lowest turnout at a general election since 1918, with the number of voters staying at home exceeding the number who turned out to vote for the winning party. Elections to this place should be the cornerstone of democratic accountability in our country, yet millions of people are not sufficiently motivated to take part in them. The blunt truth is that people increasingly see politics and Parliament as remote from their lives. They do not think that they matter. They no longer see Parliament as a place in which they can get things done.
Why should any of this be surprising when many Governments, but especially that in the previous Parliament, have taken every opportunity to sideline, marginalise and bypass Parliament, with the consequence that its standing and reputation are lower than at any time in living memory? We face an urgent task to reform Parliament, to make it relevant to the people whom it is supposed to serve and to place it once again at the centre of our national life. Without a strong Parliament, democratic accountability in Britain ceases to exist.
I urge the Prime Minister to look again at proposals to reform the House. These include putting the parliamentary timetable in the hands of Committees, to make the publication of Bills in draft standard practice, to improve the scrutiny of secondary legislation and delegated instruments, to make substantial improvements to the 48 examination of European legislation, to allow civil servants to supply information to Parliament and to enable deeper questioning of Ministers. The Prime Minister should look again at proposals to give Select Committees more teeth by taking appointments to those Committees out of the hands of party managers. The Queen's Speech contains none of those things. It contains nothing to improve the accountability of the Government to Parliament, and nothing to increase the accountability of the Government and Parliament to the people.
There are lessons for us all, on both sides of the House, in the election that has just passed. Party leaders and Prime Ministers may come and go—we certainly come and go—but our democracy must endure. The work of this place must mean something to those whose views we have been elected to represent. We need the Government to be honest and straightforward about what they are trying to achieve, about where they succeed and about where they fail. We need the Government to understand the value of being held genuinely and fully accountable to the British people through this place. We need also the Government to trust those who work in our public services and those who rely on them. A Government who do those things need not fear judgment at the ballot box in future. A Government who fail in those things risk losing something far more precious than power at the next election.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election to Parliament and to the office of Speaker. I know that you will continue to serve the whole House with integrity.
I give my thanks to the proposer and seconder of the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) proposed the motion in his usual energetic manner. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells me that he will be drinking a toast to him later. My hon. Friend worked hard for his constituents and his party during some 18 difficult years in opposition, when the Labour party was out of power and it seemed that it would never get back into government; indeed, at times it even seemed likely to split asunder. In fact, my hon. Friend is available for therapy consultations with Conservative Members if needed.
My hon. Friend's service to the House during those years in opposition and afterwards is well recognised. In particular, his service as Joint Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment has been valued by Members on both sides of the House. He is widely recognised as contributing greatly to policy and practice in both areas.
I know that my hon. Friend supports the historic and ancient team of Huddersfield Town football club as well as rugby league. I know also that it is a sensitive issue that is close to his heart. However, he will note that Huddersfield—like the Tory party, that other historic and ancient institution—play in blue, have had a terrible season and were relegated, but at least they have not lost their manager.
May I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) for an outstanding speech seconding the Gracious Speech? His passion for his constituency of Tottenham, like that of his predecessor, Bernie Grant, shone through his contribution, as did his 49 defence of the Government's efforts to make life better for his constituents. As he said, this Friday marks his first anniversary in the House. I learned of his sound judgment during the course of the by-election, not merely afterwards when he failed to return my call, but beforehand, when he had to choose the photograph to go on his leaflet. He could have had a photograph of himself with me, but instead he chose as endorsement a photograph of himself with the manageress of his local fried chicken store. I thought that that was absolutely right.
As for the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition, may I tell him that it was a vintage Hague performance? It was extraordinarily witty and eloquent, which is what we expect of him. Whatever else, and whatever disagreements we may have had, he has been a formidable adversary in the House. I wish him well in future, as we all do. The election to succeed him promises to be interesting. I understand that there are four names in the ring: one is in repentance, one is in hope, one is expectation and one is in Vietnam. However, whoever replaces the right hon. Gentleman will struggle to match the resilience he has shown in difficult circumstances—one of the qualities, I hope, that will continue to be demanded of whoever is leader of the Conservative party.
Amid all that is new, I hope that the House will forgive me for pointing out one thing that, in a sense, is new but which has also stayed the same. For the first time in our history, a second-term Labour Government are sitting on this side of the House, ready, willing and able to fulfil a full Parliament and build on the work that we have begun. Hendon; Hove; Hastings and Rye; Enfield, Southgate; Eastwood; and Birmingham, Edgbaston have Labour Members of Parliament again. Who would have thought that my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and for Kettering (Phil Sawford)— who, I seem to remember, were taunted by Opposition Members with cries of "Goodbye" every time they spoke-would be returned with increased majorities at the election? I offer particular congratulations to two people on my own side: one took Ynys MÓn from the Welsh nationalists—it returned to the Labour fold after 22 years; and in Dorset, the place where trade unionism first flourished, a Labour Member of Parliament was returned for the first time ever at a general election.
However, the importance lies not in my hon. Friends' being returned, but in what we can achieve. That means, for example, that the poorest paid people in our country will receive an average increase of £8 a week in October, when the minimum wage goes up. It means that pensioners this winter will be assured of the £200 winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for those over 75. It means record investment in our schools—more teachers, more books, better school buildings and higher standards—and it means record investment in our health service too.
This is a Queen's Speech that bears out the mandate that we were given. It is a Queen's Speech for enterprise to build on stability; a Queen's Speech for public services; a Queen's Speech that puts schools and hospitals first. The public have signalled their priorities: the economy, health, education and crime. Today, we again signal ours: the economy, health, education and crime. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that of course we must look at 50 ways of making Parliament more effective, but the biggest thing that will repay people's faith in politics is our carrying out the programme on which we were elected.
In our first term, we altered the entire system of economic management with Bank of England independence and new fiscal rules, which have given Britain today the lowest inflation in Europe, 1 million more jobs in the economy and interest rates half what they were in 18 years of Conservative government. I believe that today the Labour Government are the Government of economic competence for our country. In 1997, 42p of every extra £1 of public spending went on social security and on interest payments on the nation's debt. Today, the figure is 16p. Today, Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world, the national debt is falling and youth unemployment has been halved. Those are not abstract economic figures; they mark real improvements in this country and in the living standards of our people.
It is on those foundations that we must now fulfil our mandate for the second term—to continue building first-class public services and to introduce measures to boost productivity and enterprise, bringing prosperity to every region of our nation. That is why, during the next three years, spending on health will rise by 5.6 per cent. per year, on education by 5.4 per cent. and on criminal justice by 4.2 per cent. year on year. Transport spending and overall capital investment will rise by more than 10 per cent. a year during the next three years.
That is important, because it is our belief, borne out in the course of the election campaign, that public services are not optional extras to be sacrificed to short-term expediency or unaffordable tax cuts. Good public services are the vital infrastructure for rising prosperity in our country. They are the indispensable platform of security and opportunity for each individual citizen.
The Queen's Speech launches the most fundamental programme of reform in the public services for many years. The individual citizen is the focus of all our reforms—the pupil first, the patient first, the victim of crime first. Putting the individual first requires big investment and reform, and that was the issue during the general election.
The election marked Britain's desire to move beyond Thatcherism. The Conservative party lost because it lost the arguments about the kind of country that the British people want Britain to be, and I am pleased to say that I see precious little sign that it has changed its mind. As far as I can make out from studying the positions of many of the new intake of Conservatives, the only way to resolve the leadership question is for the title to be renounced, the by-election held and the mummy to come back to the Dispatch Box. If not that, I am told that the Conservative party's saviour looks set to be the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) who is now, I understand, the moderate candidate for the Conservative party leadership—the man who brought in the poll tax, who in 1992 at the Treasury presided over interest rates of 10 per cent. and who was the author of the Conservatives' spending cuts programme at the election. If he is the answer to the Conservative party's prayers, may I say, in a spirit of cross-party consensus, that he may also be the answer to ours?
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
On the question of public services and the indication of increased 51 private finance in the health and education systems—to which the Prime Minister alluded during the election campaign and which is alluded to again in the Gracious Speech—after the huge success of private funding in the railways, how much private money does the Prime Minister anticipate for the health and education systems, and according to what time scale does he intend to introduce the creeping privatisation of the public services?
§ The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we opposed the privatisation of the railways and we certainly do not intend introducing that in any part of our public services. But in respect of private finance, in, for example, the national health service, we have had the largest hospital-building programme since the war, with the hospitals being built to cost and on time. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have learned that that was a sensible way of proceeding.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I congratulate the Prime Minister on leading his party to its election success.
On public services, which the Prime Minister, like the Liberal Democrats, chose as the key issue for the election campaign, and given his commitment to recruit all the extra teachers, nurses, doctors and police that we need, will he give one additional commitment at the beginning of this term—that when those people come into the public services, by the end of this Government, public sector workers' pay will be nearer, if not equal to, that of someone doing a comparable job in the private sector? We shall never have good public services if the equivalent job is far better paid in the private sector.
§ The Prime Minister
That is true, and I shall come later to how we recruit and retain people in the public services, but one point that I must deal with is the idea that no progress was made in those areas in our first term in office. In education, for example, some 17,000 schools were modernised. Partly as a result of the new deal money, which the Liberal Democrats opposed—[Interruption.] They say that they opposed not the new deal but the funding. Outside the Liberal Democrat party, however, it is a generally accepted view that if one has a programme, one has to fund it. We believe that the Liberal Democrats, too, will appreciate that in time.
As a result of phasing out assisted places, there are 450,000 fewer infants in classes of more than 30 pupils, and 150,000 more 11-year-olds are passing their tests in English and maths. In health, there are already 17,000 more nurses, but we need far more. As I said, a huge hospital-building programme is under way. On law and order, crime is down overall by 10 per cent. and domestic burglary and car crime are down by 21 per cent. On welfare reform, there are already, after the past four years, some 860,000 fewer benefit claimants.
Our mandate, of course, is now to do more. In education and health and in putting the pupil and the patient first, that means reform to achieve three specific goals: universally high standards; services built around choice with sufficient diversity to achieve it; and devolution to the front line, thus empowering staff who deliver on the ground—teachers, doctors, nurses and police. So, standards, choice and front line first are the goals for the second term.
52 In education, secondary schools are now the priority. Over the next year, we will extend the literacy and numeracy strategies into the early secondary years. We will set ambitious targets for improved test results: at least 75 per cent. of 14-year-olds are to be up to the required standard in English and maths within three years. We will give new vocational routes for pupils beyond the age of 14 and greater challenge for the most able pupils in our schools. The education Bill will free up successful schools without the abolition of local education authorities—a Conservative party proposal that would be damaging. It will free up successful schools and also provide far more effective action to turn around weak schools, including partnership with the voluntary and private sectors in promoting greater diversity.
By next September, from a total of almost 4,000 secondary schools, we intend to ensure that 830 are already specialist schools, each with a centre of excellence in a key area of the curriculum. In five years, that number will increase to at least 1,500. There will also be significantly more city academies, faith schools and schools managed by external sponsors—all with a strong individual ethos and a mission to raise standards, putting pupils first and extending parental choice.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman shouts about secondary moderns. Some 93 per cent. of these specialist schools have a fully comprehensive intake. I have one in my constituency that has raised standards across the curriculum. I say again to the Liberal Democrats that it is not simply money that public services need; they also need change and reform, and they will get it with us. The aim of all these reforms is clear: to ensure that all children—whatever their background, wherever they live and whatever the wealth of their parents—get the chance to succeed and make the most of their abilities.
On health, we will reduce maximum waiting times year by year as we invest in reforms. Maximum waiting times for in-patients will be reduced progressively from 18 months to six months within four years. Within that period, we expect average waiting times to fall from three months to seven weeks, with urgent cases being seen faster. We will also devolve directly to the front line. The NHS reform and decentralisation Bill will radically alter the power structures in the health service. By 2004, the primary care trusts, to which more power will be devolved, will control 75 per cent. of the NHS budget. The number of health authorities will be reduced by two thirds, and we will engage with voluntary and private providers when that helps to meet our commitment to improving patient care within the national health service.
All those reforms are to one end: to ensure that the national health service, which is the proudest creation of a Labour Government, is rebuilt and modernised on the fundamental principle that good health care should not and must not depend on ability to pay, but on need.
We will also legislate to reform the criminal justice system; to modernise the rules of evidence to simplify trials in order to bring the guilty to justice; and to establish a new recovery agency to seize the assets of serious criminals. We will continue to invest in the police and work with them on a reform programme to improve 53 performance and give more power to local police commanders. We plan to establish a criminal courts system that is fully equipped to tackle modern crime patterns, with more of the 100,000 persistent offenders who are responsible for the vast bulk of crime in our communities being brought to justice. Every active offender will be on the DNA database by 2004. There will be greater protection against sex offenders, the law on corruption will be reformed and we want to double the assets that are seized from criminals and drug dealers. I want Britain to be the toughest place in the western world to be a drug dealer.
As all hon. Members know, improvements to our transport infrastructure are vital. We inherited a system that had been undermined by decades of neglect and under-investment. We are emerging only now from the post-Hatfield collapse of the rail system. The transport plan, with £180 billion of investment, sets out the necessary changes in the next 10 years. The backlog of road investment is also being tackled.
To take up the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, we know that we must take further steps to improve the recruitment, retention and motivation of staff throughout the public sector. I stress to hon. Members that that again means extra investment; the improvements will not happen without it. We have pledged 6,000 extra police recruits. 10,000 extra teachers, 10,000 extra doctors, 20,000 extra classroom assistants and 20,000 extra nurses. That requires more trainees and improved incentives to attract them.
Postgraduate applications for teaching have increased by 25 per cent. since last year, thanks to new training salaries, bonuses and the promise to write off student loans for recruits in many subjects. The number of nurses in training is increasing, thanks partly to bonuses for those in areas with a high cost of living. There is a target to recruit 40 per cent. more medical students by 2004.
We need not only more staff, but improved rewards, better training, modernised working practices and far greater opportunities for staff to fulfil their potential. This year, the performance pay scheme for teachers is likely to provide an increase of £2,000 for more than 150,000 teachers.
Old demarcations in working practices have to go. Classroom assistants can make a big contribution to learning, thus freeing teachers to teach. Nurses can be trained to take on some of the tasks that doctors currently perform, and general practitioners are often able to perform minor surgery. Greater use can be made of physiotherapists and other NHS disciplines to free consultants' time.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Instead of making comments about Conservative results, will the Prime Minister answer a simple question? What were the public trying to tell him, given that the Labour party polled 3 million fewer votes in this general election than in 1997—a lower result than the Conservatives achieved in 1992? Were not the public saying that the Prime Minister had failed last time, and they did not believe he would succeed next time?
§ The Prime Minister
That we lost rather than won the election is an interesting speculation. There are issues 54 relating to turnout, and perhaps I shall comment on them shortly. However, it is important to emphasise that we have a mandate for the change and reform that we set out. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well—whoever the next leader of the Conservative party might be, I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be there to challenge him.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
If student loans are not a disincentive and a problem, why offer to write them off for teachers?
§ The Prime Minister
If, as employers, we need to recruit people into teaching, it is important to provide an added incentive in subjects where there is a shortage of people. We could write off everyone's loans, but I stress to the hon. Gentleman, as I emphasise to Liberal Democrat Members, that such incentives have to be paid for. If people want them to be paid for, it is sensible to do that by making the investment when we can, based on a strong economy. We should not make promises that we cannot keep. Hon. Members in the hon. Gentleman's position can make whatever promises they want because they know that they will never have the responsibility of fulfilling them.
The Queen's Speech makes it clear that there will be a continuing programme of welfare reform. The changes that we have announced to Government structure underline our belief that work is the best route out of poverty to fulfilment. The welfare reform Bill will represent a further widening of the opportunity and responsibility agenda in the benefits system. As we extend greater help to people who could work but do not, we will enforce greater responsibility to take that work.
The Bill will increase the standard rate of statutory maternity pay to £100 a week and extend the payment period from 18 to 26 weeks. That means an extra £1,200 in maternity pay for the 360,000 women expected to have babies each year. That is all part of our commitment to helping people to balance work and family.
The minimum wage will also be raised, first to £4.10 and then to £4.20 an hour, helping 1.5 million people to escape poverty pay. The working families tax credit will be maintained, benefiting 1.2 million families, and we are putting millions into sure start, child benefit and support for Britain's poorest families so that we can build on the figure of 1 million children already lifted out of poverty in the past four years. In addition, the tax credit Bill will set out the next steps in the programme to tackle child poverty.
The pension credit Bill will mean that from 2003—for the first time in the history of the social welfare system—pensioners will be rewarded rather than penalised for having worked and saved to provide for themselves. Above all, we will continue the new deal for the unemployed, extending it to the disabled, to single parents and to those who could work but are not. We stood on a clear manifesto pledge to extend the new deal. The Conservative party pledged to scrap it. To those who say that the election was not about big choices I say, "Tell that to the 290,000 young people lifted off benefit and into work as a result of the new deal."
On Europe, the European Communities (Finance) Bill will implement the excellent deal on future financing that we secured at Berlin in 1999. We will legislate to ratify the treaty of Nice, which gives more voting power to the 55 UK, secures more qualified majority voting when it is in our interests and is at the heart of the commitment to enlargement. Our position on the single currency remains as we set it out in the manifesto and during the election: in principle, in favour; in practice, the economic conditions must be met. The final say in any decision will be with the British people in a referendum. In this election, the British people decisively rejected the narrow nationalism and monomania of the Conservative party on Europe. I hope that, for the good of the country, the Conservatives will learn that lesson.
International development will be another key second-term priority. We will write off £1.9 billion worth of debt of the world's poorest countries, increase aid and development by £0.7 billion, and establish it in law, through the Queen's Speech, that reducing poverty, not tying aid to trade, is the paramount aim of any aid and development assistance that we give.
Although the enterprise, education, health and crime Bills are the flagship Bills in this reform agenda, there are others. I welcome what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said in his welcome for adoption reform. There are also Bills on commonhold and leasehold reform, reform of land registration and so on. To pick up the point made by the right hon. Gentleman earlier, we will also work to eradicate foot and mouth disease and to provide a viable future for British agriculture.
To those who say that the Queen's Speech does not contain every Bill that the people might have wanted, I say that it is always the case that many more Bills are introduced than are listed in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, I understand that following the 1997 Queen's Speech, some 30 Bills were eventually added. Many of the provisions that people have mentioned—such as laws relating to drinking and to tobacco, for example—are ones for which we can legislate if we have the time, which I hope we shall.
Elections are about big issues and big choices. The public at this election rejected policies of boom and bust. They rejected cuts in public services. They rejected the belief that there is no such thing as society. They rejected the idea of Britain turning its back on the world. The British public chose economic stability, and that is our choice. They chose enterprise, and that is our choice. They chose investment and reform in public services. That is our choice. They chose to put schools and hospitals first. That is our choice. They chose leadership and engagement in the world, and that is our choice, too. In making the choices that they did, the British people have given us our mandate. We know exactly what they demand from us, and we fully intend to deliver it.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)
May I begin, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Liberal Democrats, by joining in the deserved tributes to the two hon. Members who opened the proceedings this afternoon?
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and I have known each other in a very friendly way since I first became a Member of this House in 1983. I notice that he has been described, in one of those guides that 56 give almost unrecognisable descriptions of people whom one has known for a long time, as a Europhile Blairite, whatever that might be. Much more interestingly, he describes the previous Conservative Government as having a nervous timidity as far as Europe is concerned. How unlike his own Government.
I do not know what the question was, but in 1999 the hon. Gentleman was awarded something called the "golden pager award" for the year's most obsequious question in the House I think that we should be told what it was—I may table a written question. It is a good question to ask. If I were the hon. Gentleman. I would be most concerned by one description of him: Matthew Parris described him as "lived in". I do not know what Matthew Parris meant by that particular reference, but it is none the less in the lion. Gentleman's biography.
The Guardian blows hot and cold, certainly about those of us who consider ourselves on the general centre-left of politics. Some days we love it and some days we hate it; I suspect that, on balance, we hate it more than we love it. Usually, an endorsement by The Guardian is a kiss of death, whether one is in the Labour party or the Liberal Democrat party. However, some time ago, it referred to a wonderful speech that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) had delivered on poverty and social exclusion and said that, on the strength of that speech, the Prime Minister should give him a job. That has not happened yet, but I think that I speak for people of all parties in the House this afternoon by saying that, on the strength of his speech this afternoon, it cannot be too long before the Prime Minister does that. We wish him well.
May I add one personal point by way of an introduction to my speech? Over the past couple of years, the leader of the Conservative party and I have had our principled political disagreements, but in personal and professional life and in dealings that party leaders have with each other, he has always been charming, civil, good humoured and good company. I wish him good fortune. On a personal level, I really do.
It has been a privilege for me to lead the Liberal Democrats during the recent election campaign. I am not one of life's great historians, but those around about me who are tell me that, in terms of numbers in the House of Commons, this is our strongest showing since 1923. I should like to thank all my colleagues for the tremendous support and effort that they contributed during the campaign. In particular, I welcome the 14 new colleagues who join us in the House for this Parliament.
Obviously, that was a good aspect of the election for us. A bad aspect for all of us was the decline in active participation by the public as a whole. That must set the alarm bells ringing for those in all political parties. Seventy-five per cent. of people eligible to vote did not vote for the Government whom the country elected. They were elected quite fairly under the rules—I would like to change the rules but they have been fairly established—but the fact that 75 per cent. of people have not actively endorsed the Government of the day is a problem not just for the Government but for the Parliament that is elected with the Government. That is the smallest mandate in modern times for any Government of any party. The Government must bear that sobering thought in mind as they take the Queen's Speech forward.
The Queen's Speech should be judged on what it does for the predominant issues of the election. I submit to the House that those issues were not the euro or asylum 57 seekers, but the quality of public services: how one delivers quality and enhanced public services, and how one fairly provides the finance for them—for schools, hospitals, pensioners and rural communities. Those issues affect so many people.
All politicians encountered that. To an extent, we can leave party politics to one side just for this afternoon because the verdict has been delivered. The Prime Minister experienced it personally; the leader of the Conservative party heard it from people as he travelled round the country; and the same happened to me. People genuinely felt that those public services had been neglected during the previous four years, which had occasioned an expectation after the previous 18 years.
We must judge the Queen's Speech on those issues, but we must also judge it on what it proposes to do for the environment. The Labour party promised to put the environment at the heart of government. If one looks at the track record, one realises that it has manifestly failed. Equally, there is great concern about the future of civil liberties and the erosion of those liberties, given some of the commitments in the Queen's Speech. If there is one thing about which my colleagues and I are absolutely determined—and if the Liberal Democrats are here for a purpose in this or any other Parliament—it is to champion the cause of environmentalism and individual civil liberties. Increasingly—this emerged during the election campaign—we must be seen and heard to be speaking up for those issues because not enough people elsewhere in the House are doing so.
There is also the problem of reconnecting the public with politics and the political process as a whole. I very much welcome the new Leader of the House to his responsibilities and I hope that he will be able to make his distinctive contribution in the way that we go about our business as an institution and in trying to make that more relevant to the people outside. That means that we must reform Parliament so that it is more democratic, accessible and understandable to the people we are supposed to be here to represent and to do our best for.
Those are the key areas in which the voters want the re-elected Labour Government to do better than the voters felt they did in their first term.
On the specifics of the Queen's Speech, education has to be watched very closely indeed. The Prime Minister's response to one intervention more than confirmed that. I was watching and listening to him as he replied, but I was also watching with equal interest the expressions on many of the faces behind him. There is a fine divide between a so-called successful school given over to the private sector and an independent school. The Government will have to be very careful indeed about the legislation to ensure that they do not simply preside over an unplanned dismantling of the state education system. That could be what is about to happen. Parliament has a real job to do to ensure that it does not.
As the Prime Minister said, the Government are creating many different layers of school. He listed them: the specialist schools, city academies, church and other faith schools and, rightly at the bottom of the pile perhaps, the celebrated, so-called, "bog standard comprehensive". We have to be careful that the legislation does not amount to privatisation and complication by stealth.
58 We do not oppose private sector involvement in the provision of school services. As a principle, that is not something that should be difficult for any party in the House. However, it must be demonstrated that that is the most efficient and effective way to deliver the services and that it is better than a purely public sector alternative. The Government have not yet demonstrated that and they did not make it clear in the election campaign exactly what they meant when they alluded to such issues.
What is missing? The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked a good question during the Prime Minister's speech. What is missing from the education provisions in the Queen's Speech is simple: it is the abolition of student tuition fees. Any Member of Parliament of any party who has in the past month faced a student audience or a potential student audience, such as high school pupils, for example, can only have been living on a different planet if he or she did not hear expressed the unanimous viewpoint time and again that fees are a disincentive, are discriminatory, that they put off children from lower income households and that they are totally self-defeating for our society in the long term. Hon. Members should not take it just from the Liberal Democrats. The Labour party in the Scottish Executive agrees with that argument and is implementing a policy as a result. It is high time that that was done in the House of Commons as well.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, while there has been much discussion, especially from Liberal Democrats on the stump, about tuition fees and the £1,400 that students pay on average, that is still £600 less than the £2,000 charge that his party wants to introduce?
§ Mr. Kennedy
The hon. Gentleman should have the decency and dignity to accept that on this issue his party has lost the argument. [Interruption.] A little less synthetic rage, please. It has lost the argument because the Labour party in government in one part of the United Kingdom has acknowledged that the argument is not valid. That is why we are right and why we intend to stick by our policy.
§ Mr. Kennedy
The hon. Gentleman knows me. I do not want to detain the House, and I do not want to overstretch him, so he should take his seat.
Turning from education to health—
§ Mr. Skinner
The right hon. Gentleman failed to answer the question. It is simple. He talks about fees up front, but the Liberal party policy is for students to pay £2,000 at the back. He had better make his mind up. Which is more—£2,000 for every pupil at the back or £1,400 at the front for some?
§ Mr. Kennedy
Well, there you are. You can rat, but you can't re-rat, as the man once said. The point is that the 59 hon. Gentleman should surely endorse what the Liberal Democrats have helped to implement in Scotland. Poorer students are now enjoying an endowment access that was never available under the principles that have been implemented. Such access is a socially egalitarian measure, which should commend itself wholeheartedly to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Another way of looking at it is that, under the Government's scheme for student financing, half of all students pay no fees at all. Those students would pay the £2,000 end-weighted fee under the system that the right hon. Gentleman's party supports in Scotland.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I respect the hon. Gentleman very much, as he knows, but the Labour party doth protest too much on this issue. Labour Members need only listen to what the students are saying and look at the figures. Why is it that applications from Scottish students for Scottish universities are increasing and from English and Welsh students to English and Welsh universities are falling? That cannot be divorced from the debt that is being imposed on students.
The Prime Minister also said that he wanted a mandate for investment in the health service. He spent the past four years blaming his predecessors in office for the problems in the health service. It is fair to say—we joined in the criticism in opposition in those days—that many faults were attributable to the previous Administration. However, sticking for three of the past four years to the Tory spending plans, which even the occasional Member for Vietnam, as he is this week, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), has acknowledged that he would never have stuck to had he been in office, resulted in a failure to invest in the staff, beds and equipment that the health service needed.
So what do the Government propose in their reform Bill? The Bill will do nothing to improve public health, health promotion and preventive care. It will do nothing either to improve staff morale, which, as anyone knows, is very low in our health service, or the disastrously poor performance of the health service in some areas of the country.
When the Queen's Speech states that the Government propose to give patients greater influence, do the Government actually mean that they intend to abolish the community health councils? They do not speak in that language explicitly in the Queen's Speech. When they claim to decentralise power, in many respects, they will do exactly the opposite.
The speech seems to suggest that Wales will be able to do differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. It is ironic, is it not, that while the Government are centralising health services in the rest of the UK, they are allowing decentralisation in Wales. Wales will be able to retain community health councils, but that will not happen in England. That, surely, is rather an inconsistent approach.
60 There is no mention of mental health reform—surely a huge issue for Parliament to tackle. But most revealing of all, there is no commitment to free long-term care for the elderly. That issue will come back to haunt the Government.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and I applaud his tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).
Given the welcome advances in medical science and the fact that whenever a new cure is devised a new queue is necessarily created, what lessons does the right hon. Gentleman think that we can learn from our continental partners about the use of private resources to complement the contribution of the state sector in the provision of health care in Britain?
§ Mr. Kennedy
Principally, and in direct response to the hon. Gentleman, we need to learn two lessons. The first is that, in our liberal democratic society, if people have the income—the purchasing power—to choose to go private, whether for education, health or anything else, they should not be restricted by the dead hand of the state in doing so. But what the state must make it its business to get right is to ensure that the majority, who are not in that fortunate income category, have the right to aspire to and, indeed, to demand from the state decency and quality of public services at the point of need. What the state must not do is to provide—as the hon. Gentleman's Government did in days gone by—a tax incentive for the former at the expense of the latter. That is one principle that we need to learn from our continental competitors.
The other principle that the hon. Gentleman's party needs to learn from the experience of the past few weeks is that there is an inescapable contradiction between supposing that there can be a European level of quality of service alongside a North American tax policy. That does not work. The public gave a resounding reply to that argument when it was put by two of three parties during the election.
§ Mr. Redwood
Given that only 12 per cent. of the electorate voted for the right hon. Gentleman's amazing statement that a penny on income tax would transform all our public services, has he not learned that they did not believe him then and they will not believe him in the future, or does he say that the other 80 per cent. of the electorate were wrong?
§ Mr. Kennedy
I hope that it is not for our party—that really would frighten the children in the liberal democracy ranks. I shall not rehearse in detail the arguments of the election. The penny on income tax and the money it raises are specifically for education. The one thing that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) shares with the Prime Minister is that that has been persistently misrepresented by them both over a number of years—and well they both know it.
On civil liberties, there are obviously several issues—not least in respect of the draft criminal courts reform Bill—that will have to be examined with considerable care, both in this place and especially in the House of 61 Lords, where the rights of the individual citizen and the operation of the judicial process are concerned. The review of the criminal courts under Lord Justice Auld is obviously welcome. However, in our view it would be unacceptable to rush through legislation before his report has been published and properly considered. That report has not yet been published. However, we will strongly and resolutely oppose—as we did in the previous Parliament—any re-introduced moves by the Government that would further restrict the right of the individual citizen to trial by jury in this country. For us, that is a fundamental principle, which we will defend completely. I believe that we have made common cause with the Conservatives in the other place and I suspect that we shall continue to do so on that matter.
We must be extremely cautious of giving juries greater access to information on defendants' previous convictions, because that could increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice. It is better to legislate with some consideration than to do so in haste and live to regret it in terms of citizens' rights.
May I raise a specific point about the politics of the euro, the single European currency, which does not feature in today's Queen's Speech? A couple of years ago, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, myself, the former Deputy Prime Minister—now Lord Heseltine—and the former Chancellor all sat together in the Prime Minister's study the day before we launched the Britain in Europe campaign, and a very good, positive discussion we had, too. But, as is so often the way in party politics and cross-party politics, nothing has happened since the launch. We have had a mixture of mood music from the Cabinet, not least the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. We have had good cop one day, bad cop another.
On that issue, which will be a paramount issue in the politics of this Parliament, we must not repeat that mistake. The Prime Minister will have to follow on from the rather courageous speech that he made during the election campaign, setting out a constructive and rational case for Europe in general and the single currency in principle. That case will have to be made on an all-party basis to turn round public opinion in this country. Although the issue does not feature in today's Queen's Speech, it is an issue of principle and priority for this Parliament and, I hope, for this Government.
Finally, on the environment, the Government have committed themselves in the Queen's Speech to tackle climate change and fulfil this country's international obligations arising from the Kyoto protocol. That is very welcome. However, we must do everything that we can as a country to ensure that America shows a similar degree of respect and commitment. President Bush was wrong to abandon the Kyoto protocol; he should think again. This is one issue where our country must be prepared to be a candid friend where the United States is concerned. The US policy is short-sighted, and self-defeating for humanity. We must give the matter priority.
There are other items that I might discuss but, given the number of Members who want to speak, I do not want to overstay my welcome in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I knew that that particular remark would get a very positive response.
Where constitutional issues are concerned, I particularly welcome the commitment that the Government have entered into to make or enable legislation that will facilitate 62 the promotion of women in all political parties. We very much subscribe to that aim, but please let us not see such progress in isolation from the reform of voting systems, because experience in this country and elsewhere shows that the fairer and more representative the voting system, the greater the likelihood that more women will be elected. The Scottish Parliament provides a classic illustration of that, so I hope that we shall initiate such reform.
Secondly on matters constitutional, Northern Ireland has been mentioned, and I pledge the Liberal Democrats again to a constructive and non-partisan approach. It is not an issue for point scoring or for playing fast and loose. Let us hope that further progress can be made.
My final comments are very much directed not only to the Prime Minister, but to the new Leader of the House. We need to reform Parliament. We need to consider the reconnection of politics. We need a Committee of both Houses that can take evidence from the public and find out not just what we think about one another, but what they think about all of us and the way in which we go about our business. We might well be rather taken aback by some of the comments that we would hear, but if we listened we might learn a lot.
We might do something else that would benefit the House: continue the cause of regionalism. We have devolved power to Wales and Scotland, and we hope that the Northern Ireland peace process will succeed, but let us deal with the democratic deficit as it exists in England. We need more regional devolution in England, and we are very much committed to that.
During the new Parliament, we shall examine new Departments, such as the rural affairs department, which does not have a single Bill in the Queen's Speech. That is extraordinary, given the problems that have afflicted rural communities lately. There has been no commitment to hold a properly independent public inquiry into foot and mouth disease, which must surely be a priority. There is no legislation to tackle homelessness in what is now the world's fourth largest economy. There is no legislation to repeal the offensive and unacceptable section 28.
The Labour Government have been re-elected for a second term with a remarkably huge majority—undeniably, a great achievement for the Prime Minister and his colleagues—but there is still a poverty of ambition at the centre of the Government that, for many of us in the reformist tradition of politics, remains equally and deeply disappointing.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
When the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) was elected to the House in 1983—a pleasant, shy young lad—he seemed to have a sort of promise. I never thought that that promise would be ruined by his becoming leader of the Liberal Democrat party. Ted Heath—to whom he referred last week during your election, Mr. Speaker—described Lonrho as the unacceptable face of capitalism. I am sorry to say that the right hon. Gentleman has become the smiling face of opportunism, which is what the Liberal Democrat party represents. Some political parties—the Conservative party, as well as the Labour party—look at a grievance in different ways and try to find a solution. The Liberal Democrats look at a solution and try to find a grievance.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no visible evidence of an improvement in public services during the four years of the previous Parliament. He should read his 63 own words; I think that he even said that public services had deteriorated. The new deal, whose funding his party voted against, has been responsible for the improvement of school after school in my constituency, but that would never have happened if his party had had its way.
The right hon. Gentleman lectured us about the proportion of the vote that our party polled in the general election. Like him, I lament and regret the reduction in the turnout, but the fact is that his party received its lowest number of votes since 1983–18 years ago. The proportion of votes cast for his party was lower than that cast for it under Jeremy Thorpe in February 1974. The only reason that his party has more seats now than the number achieved by Jeremy Thorpe with a higher proportion of the vote is the voting system, which it derides and very much dislikes, together with the unrequited tactical votes bestowed upon it by Labour voters who, for reasons that escape me, dislike it less than they dislike the Conservative party. [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman heckling? He was rude when my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) heckled. He must keep better order if he is going to lecture us on how to behave.
On Monday, I celebrated the 31st anniversary of my election to the House of Commons. I am now subject to the conjugated verb, "I am a senior Member, you are a veteran, he is clapped out." I want to pass on to the Opposition and the Government Front Bench my reflections on what I have learned in different phases of those years. I say to the Conservative party that a member of the current shadow Cabinet asked me early on in the previous Parliament, while we were part of an overseas delegation, what the Conservative party had to do to regain its place in the electorate's esteem. I said that it had to decide what it was for, but what we heard in the general election was only what it was against. That was why the electorate rejected it so decisively.
The Conservative party must understand that it is one thing to be rejected as a Government, as it was in 1997, but another to be rejected as an Opposition by a similar majority. That is a serious development in its history. The electorate saw the Conservatives only as being against things such as foreigners and asylum seekers, which was their code for race. One reason why the ethnic minorities in my constituency gave more active support to the Labour party than they even gave before was because they saw the Conservatives as an enemy who spoke about them, not to them. I welcomed the fact that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) moved away from such talk today.
A political party that tries to get votes from the gutter will discover that not enough of the electorate are prepared to get into the gutter with it. The electorate were better than the Conservatives thought, which is one reason why they were so decisively defeated a few days ago. They need to learn that lesson; my party failed to learn it for a long time. What baffles me is that the Conservatives saw what happened to the Labour party in that terrible decade of the 1980s. They know what members of the Labour party did to each other and how disconnected we were from the electorate, but they have learned nothing from that appalling experience. We were carried through by the courage of, first, Neil Kinnock, then John Smith and, finally, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
64 It is not enough to elect a personality as party leader. The Conservatives have to assess how to re-relate themselves, not in terms of jargon about inclusiveness, but to the mass of the electorate within society. Otherwise, they are in for a long period of opposition. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows, I say that as one who rightly forecast a similar majority in this general election as I forecasted for the previous one. However, I did not bet on that and am a poorer man for it.
I turn now to my right hon. and hon. Friends. It took the Labour party a long time to learn where we went wrong from 1979 onwards. Now that we have learned that lesson, I hope that it is learned for good. When a Government have a very large majority, as this one have, there can be a temptation for Government Members to believe that they can let fly and behave as an unofficial Opposition—and looking at the Opposition, that might be very tempting.
One of the most important things that we ought to have learned during our long period in opposition is what loyalty is all about. Ken Livingstone—now happily no longer a Member of this place—used to believe that loyalty was supporting people only when one agreed with them, but Lord Melbourne summed up what loyalty is really about. When somebody said to him,I will support you as long as you are in the right",he replied:What I want is men who will support me when I am in the wrong.I am not saying for one instant that a form of sycophancy that I have pursued fairly consistently should be the theme of the entire party—
§ Mr. Kaufman
Now, David, you shut up.
We have to look at what happened when large numbers of the party's members decided that they knew better than not only the party leadership but the electorate.
Towards the end of the last Parliament, there were a considerable number of panegyrics, in which I did not feel able to join. for Mr. Wedgwood Benn, who tried to turn the Labour party into a Stalinist party, not believing that the electorate had any voice in what the Labour party should become. Having played a very large part in keeping us out of office for 18 years, Mr. Benn's final gift to the Labour party was to hand over to the Liberal Democrats a seat that my friend Eric Varley used to win by 18,000.
Not long ago, I got an unsolicited letter from a stranger that said, "Dear Mr. Kaufman, I saw you on television the other night. I know that if something horrible comes on television, you can turn it off, but you came on too quickly." In the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn I am quicker off the mark with my remote control, so I did not hear what was reported to me—namely, that he said that Chesterfield was lost because it was an old Labour seat. It strikes me as very strange that old Labour voters should demonstrate that they are old Labour by electing a Liberal Democrat, although the Liberal Democrats are of course now the tax and spend party. Perhaps that is what he meant.
Loyalty and cohesion are essential for our party, but that does not mean unquestioning adherence to whatever Ministers put forward. There were occasions in the last 65 Parliament when some of my hon. Friends felt it necessary to disagree with the Government, and I am sure that there will be such occasions in this Parliament, perhaps involving substantial numbers of colleagues. That may be appropriate in certain circumstances because no Government, especially one with a majority of this size, must feel that they can do whatever they like without responding to Parliament and, in particular, to their loyal supporters. I hope that all Labour Members can get together to make sure that the Government understand what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meant when he said the day after the election that he was under an instruction to deliver.
Many good things have happened in each of our constituencies since the 1997 general election. My constituents have been liberated from the scourge of mass unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. Because we have a national minimum wage, the choice in my constituency is no longer between unemployment and poverty pay. Those are huge achievements by our Government.
I have already described what has happened in education. There have been very beneficial consequences from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. Three schools in my constituency offered assisted places, from which 90-odd boys and girls living in my constituency benefited. Now, instead, 14,000 children in the state schools in my constituency benefit from the £2 million that went to them.
I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that money and the will, important though they are, are by no means sufficient to deliver the services that the Government and their supporters want—and that our constituents certainly voted for. One thing that must be done is to crack open the stranglehold of inefficient low-level bureaucracy that holds back the changes that we want and that the Government are investing in.
There is no excuse for the local health authority closing down the clinic for epileptics at Manchester royal infirmary, leaving some epileptics to travel miles for treatment and others with no choice at all. It is unacceptable that, owing to a reorganisation, the local health authority did not replace the Macmillan nurse, and people suffering from terminal cancer have not received the treatment that they wanted. The reason for that was not lack of will or finance from the Government, but a sheer shambles of insensitive failure to administrate properly at local level. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues must tackle that level, among others, if we are to deliver what our constituents want and voted for.
I am very happy that our Government have been returned, and with such a large majority. That gives them great scope to do all the things that our constituents want them to do. Since the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to it, I include in that a ban on hunting with dogs. I hope that if this House of Commons votes for a complete ban, the Government will force that through the House of Lords under the Parliament Acts.
Although hunting with dogs is an emotional and significant matter, as the Government have said, and as we certainly believe, what we want is the delivery of good health and education services, better housing, more and better paid jobs and the freeing of people from the fear of crime on the streets. Antisocial behaviour orders are 66 beginning to work in Manchester to that end. I look to my right hon. and hon. Friends to deliver that. If they do so, I shall win the bet that I made last night with Bruce Anderson that Labour will win the next general election by an even larger majority.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
I have placed in the Register of Members' Interests the interests that I should declare.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made practically no reference to the Gracious Speech. I understand why he overlooked it. Even after the four years that the Government have had to consider what might need doing to tackle the country's problems, Her Majesty was not given a very ample speech to read from the throne.
Returning to the House at the start of this new Parliament is a little like turning up on groundhog day. Four years on, and after four weeks of hectic electioneering, the party balance is almost identical to that which we faced in 1997. A Labour Government with a large majority are telling us that the state of hospitals and schools is poor, that something ought to be done about it, and that they might get round to tackling those issues. Did we not hear all that four years ago? After four years of government, are they not mainly responsible for the state of our schools and hospitals? Would not a little more humility on the part of those who had to struggle and scrape for every vote that they garnered have been a good idea?
Before Labour Members spring up to say that the Conservatives did not do well on 7 June, let me say that I fully accept that; of course we did not do well. We are heeding and learning from that experience, and in the next few days and weeks we shall have an interesting contest in which new ideas are set out and we choose the new leader we think we need. However, all Members should express a little humility about the fact that 41 per cent. of the electorate decided that it was not worth voting for any party or any candidate, and that for the first time in living memory a Government have a majority with positive support from only one quarter of voters—a massive 16 percentage points less than the proportion of voters who abstained altogether.
Collectively, we have a serious problem. The audience is leaving the political theatre, walking away from the offerings of all the main political parties. Almost every candidate and Member of Parliament who is honest will admit that, in the four weeks preceding 7 June, they had to struggle to retain the votes of those who had supported their party in previous elections. Labour's vote was almost 3 million down on the number of votes it achieved in 1997, which, in turn, was less than the number achieved in 1992 by John Major, the former right hon. Member for Huntingdon, who was then Prime Minister. He got rather more votes, but a rather smaller majority, than Labour achieved in 1997.
The Queen's Speech should address the issues and the style of politics that have caused people to walk away from the offerings of all the major national political parties and that have, through that massive abstention, hollowed out the democratic consent that upholds all Members of Parliament. On the doorsteps in my constituency and in others, whether represented now by a 67 Member from my party or from another, I encountered a growing dislike for politics based on spin and highly centralised message making. Many people told me that the offerings of central spin machines—an idea probably modelled on that of the Labour party, but not uniquely—were deeply distrusted.
If a group of politicians constantly parrot the same refrain week after week, month after month, with no differentiation, no dialogue, no progress and no understanding of the fact that the public do not always agree with them, the public, instead of being impressed by that, say, "We simply don't believe you. We would like to see more genuine debate and greater nuance. We want you to understand that everything is not perfect, and to evince some recognition of the fact that mistakes have been made by Governments of all persuasions. We would like you to understand our concerns and problems." I think that that means that we have to forge a new style of politics based on campaigning around the local and national aspirations of individuals and communities, which we, as their representatives, can pick up.
We have to be keener to hold the Executive to account, whether we are Opposition Members or Government Back Benchers. Many of the Labour Members of Parliament elected or re-elected to this Parliament will not sit on the Treasury Bench, but they all have a duty, with Opposition Members, to hold the Government to account—to remind the Government of what their electorates want and to tell the Government why they are failing—[Interruption.] The Minister of State, Scotland Office keeps scoffing. He is not seriously interested in the problems of this country or the electorate. He obviously did not knock on enough doors during the general election to understand the problem that affects his party, mine and the others represented in Parliament. The audience is walking away in droves.
During the general election campaign, many people in Labour constituencies as well as Conservative ones did not want to come to the door and talk at all if they thought a canvasser was outside. They stayed indoors because the television soap was more interesting. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what happened to you."] I am talking not about my experience, but about that reported by canvassers operating in a wide range of constituencies, both those in which there was a chance that the seat would change hands and those in which there was none.
Labour Members are deluding themselves if they do not understand that 3 million people staying at home sends a serious message to them as well as to us. There are some common elements in the problem we face. If Labour Members do not understand that centralised spin machines churning out messages that people do not believe is a turn-off, they had better think again, because their actions are helping to destroy belief and trust in Parliament and politics. If they believe that a Government repeating that schools are getting better will solve the problem, when people want a Government who engage in the detail of why local school standards are not rising, why the money is not getting through to teachers, why teachers are not being recruited, and why a circular a day does not motivate a teacher more strongly, but turns him or her off, they have not got the message of the general election.
68 It was quite breathtaking to hear in the talismanic remarks at the end of the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton the statement that the Government must do something about all those bureaucracies. Many of them were set up over many years by Labour councils, or have recently been set up and strengthened by the Labour Government, who were extremely good at appointing officials, bureaucrats and spin doctors, but very bad at appointing real doctors and real teachers and giving them the power and the tools that they would need to do the job.
We are promised in the Gracious Speech that there will be an"Education Bill…to promote diversity and higher standards, particularly in secondary schools.I am delighted that the sinner has repented. However, in the previous Parliament the Government introduced legislation to try to ensure that people whose children did not go to grammar schools could vote the local grammar school out of existence. They spent some time campaigning for that in Yorkshire—and I am delighted to say that they failed. They did not understand that not everyone is jealous. There are those who like to know that bright children from whatever background can go to a good school. When the Government were defeated, they limped off and did not really try that again.
I am glad that the Government have changed their mind, but we cannot welcome that as a sign that they will now give us a better education system. We shall not be able to do so until we know that they will repeal the legislation that still threatens grammar schools, as proof that they now genuinely understand that diversity and choice are the way to achieve higher standards.
When will the Secretary of State for Education and Skills come before us to repent of all the mistakes of her predecessor, who sent out virtually a circular a day, to the point where teachers in schools in my constituency were saying, "We can't take any more circulars. We are spending too much time reading them and not enough time is left to teach. We are spending too much time completing ridiculous corporate plans, and we don't have time for the extra-curricular activities, such as sports and the setting up of clubs, that children need if they are to have a more rounded education." I guess that that has happened in most other Members' local schools, too.
Too many teachers are saying, "I didn't come into teaching to write corporate plans, read Government circulars and do the Government's work in responding to the surveys that they wish to be completed." Teachers came into teaching to teach, and they are discovering that a meddlesome and interventionist Government are getting in their way when they try to do so.
Instead of promising vague pieces of legislation, when will the Government sort out the issue of teachers' pay? In my part of the world, and in the constituencies of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is difficult to recruit and retain teachers with current national pay scales. The problem has become considerably worse over the past four years. There has been some good growth in competing private sector wages, and many younger people are saying, "I have a degree and I have prospects. I could get £5,000 a year more with shorter hours or easier conditions if I took a private sector job and didn't go into a state-run school."
Worse still, people train and become state school teachers, and after two or three years say, "I can't stand the circulars, the atmosphere or the fact that the 69 Government don't allow me to assert proper discipline in the school. I don't like the rates of pay and I don't like the whole package. I'm going to leave." All their training is written off and the Government have to spend even more taxpayers' money to train new people, who may go through exactly the same process of discovery. They will not be retained for long, and even more Government money will be wasted.
I urge the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, as she plans an education Bill, to welcome diversity and higher standards and to understand that those will be more quickly brought about by sorting out teachers' pay in areas of scarcity and shortage, both by subject and geographically. The issue would be more quickly sorted out by rapid repeal or withdrawal of many of the proposals and documents that were hurled at the education sector, and which it received all too unwillingly, over the past four years by the Secretary of State's predecessor.
It is interesting that her predecessor has been given promotion for what he did in his previous office. I hope that he is not planning to do to the police what he so clearly did to the education system. thereby damaging the morale of, and the incentives for, all those who are most important in delivering the service.
We were told in the Gracious Speech that we would getnew opportunities for school sponsorshipandmore options for tackling failing schools".We need to know a little more about those ideas of more sponsorship. We hope that, given the large sums of money raised from us as taxpayers, with the huge tax increases of the last Parliament behind us, this Parliament might vote us enough money to be able to afford the teachers, head teachers and equipment that we need in our schools, without their having to devote a lot of their energy to getting private sector sponsorship.
I am all in favour of parents and voluntary bodies raising additional money for schools—that is easier in richer areas than poorer ones—and many of them do it willingly. However, I hope that a great deal of senior teacher time will not be diverted into scrambling around for industrial and commercial sponsorship, when schools should get reliable sources of money to pay teachers' salaries and buy the books and equipment that they need from the substantial sums that are collected from taxpayers and that, undoubtedly, are voted for in the general education budget.
I recommend to the Government the Conservative policy that was proposed in the election. It was a well-kept secret because the media decided to concentrate on other issues, but it was the good policy of routeing much more money for pupils—£540 more on average for each pupil—directly into schools. We believe that the head teacher and the board of governors are better able to judge the range and value of services that they need, and could use for educational purposes some of the money currently being spent on services, bureaucracy and administration.
The Queen's Speech states that the Governmentwill introduce legislation to reform health services. A Bill will decentralise power and direct resources to National Health Service staff, give patients greater influence on the running of the NHS. and strengthen regulation of the health professions.Does that come from the same group of Ministers who wish to scrap the community health councils, which are a way of giving patients and the general community some 70 influence on the running of the NHS? I thought that the Labour Government disagreed with CHCs and wanted to abolish them. How will they implement their proposal? Shall we not have a dearer and more complex bureaucracy that gives even less power and influence to those who may wish to spend their time in that way?
How will power be decentralised? I should be delighted if my local hospital had more power to make its own decisions, compared with the organisation of the local bureaucracy, but I should also like it to have more of the money that we vote for health service purposes generally. I must tell the Government that, in the fast-growing area of the Thames valley, the money going to Royal Berkshire hospital is simply not adequate for the large number of people who wish to use its services. The hospital is currently a building site—which, I trust, means that there will be good news when the building is completed. However, we still do not have the money that is needed for extra nurses, consultants and beds.
§ The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes)
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head again, but he should know that the reorganisation plans that the Labour Government have put through are reducing the number of beds in a fast-growing area of the country. I am the first to admit that there were not enough beds under the outgoing Conservative Administration in 1997, but since we left office, the number of people needing the service has gone up and the Labour Government have decided to reduce the number of beds. How can that possibly make sense? How can we welcome the new Government on this auspicious day if, although they say that they are dedicated to the message that public services must get better, in my local area I face the conundrum that there are not enough staff, nurses, consultants or beds, yet Labour plans allow no increases to meet the extra demand? I hope that Ministers will look at that problem again and will think again.
Throughout the country, there are still plans to reduce the number of hospitals. Why do the Government have it in for the smaller hospital? What is wrong with the cottage hospital or the small hospital that does not qualify for full district general status? Why can it not be given a right to life? Have the Government not understood that in this extraordinary election, when many people felt that we were all disconnected from what they wanted, a by-election was held in Wyre Forest? That is what it looked like; people came out in droves to vote out of office a Labour MP who was also a junior Minister, and elect someone who had never been a politician and probably had not intended to be one—he simply wanted to save his local hospital. Does that not tell the Government something about the mood in the country, and does it not show that we need to take seriously the message from the electorate that they do not feel that the Government are engaging with their concerns and worries?
Perhaps the biggest failure of the previous four years of public service delivery, which has come across loud and clear to me on the doorsteps of Wokingham during the past four years, not just the past four weeks, was in transport. The Government swept to office saying that car drivers were wicked, that people really should not use their cars very much or at all and that we needed to understand that we had to switch to buses and trains on a 71 large scale. They said that they would reduce the amount of traffic using the roads—the number of car journeys—by following a restrictive policy towards the motorist and an expansive policy towards public transport.
My electors said to me, and I agreed with them, that during the past four years they had observed no improvements in public transport facilities. I was able to tell them that part of the problem was that investment in many of the public transport facilities had fallen during the past four years. The other part of the problem was the extraordinary hostility of the Deputy Prime Minister, then the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to any private enterprise business involved in transport that might want to take some action to improve transport facilities.
The Government were undoubtedly able, with the help of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, to restrict the use of the car. All sorts of chicanes, bollards, obstacles, speed humps and other devices were introduced. Roads were blocked off, access to stations was made more difficult and other unhelpful impediments were placed in our way. I am all in favour of safety measures near schools and in residential roads, but many of those obstacles were placed on main routes where there was no such strong case in favour. The Government tried that part of the strategy, but it did not reduce the number of car journeys, because there was no alternative.
I suggest that Ministers try doing the weekly shop on a bike or on the bus. I suggest that Ministers try walking their children to primary schools, or to secondary schools if they still need help to get there, rather than taking them by car. I suggest that Ministers see how easy it is for the disabled, or those carrying heavy loads, or those who have to carry tools and equipment for their daily work, to travel by bike, by train, by bus or on foot. For many people it simply is not practical. It is not that we want to wreck the planet. I will use the bus or the train wherever it makes sense, wherever it can be timely, wherever it is a good alternative, but in many cases there is simply not a good alternative.
§ Norman Baker (Lewes)
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the previous Government and this Government for failing to invest in public transport, but does he believe that the Conservative party's proposal to cut petrol prices by 6p a litre would help to reduce congestion?
§ Mr. Redwood
The proposal would have a fairly neutral effect on congestion. It would be a good relief for those making essential car journeys who are being taxed over the top for the privilege. We have a rip-off Government, who dare to blame the petrol companies when it is the Government who are the main beneficiaries and the main raiders at the pumps. Most journeys are not voluntary. We have seen that because, with the huge petrol price increase, there has been no diminution in the use of the motor car. There has been no move from the car to the bus or the train, because people are unable to make such a switch.
I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats are still wedded to the deeply unpopular rip-offs at the pump. The mood of the country is very much in favour of giving the 72 motorist a bit of a better break. So little of the money collected from the motorist is spent on alternative public transport or on roads. People might feel a little better about it if they thought that transport was benefiting from that huge raid on their pockets and purses, but unfortunately it is not.
§ Mr. Bercow
May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend has just said? Does he agree that quite the most damning indictment of the Government is the fact that pre-tax we have the cheapest petrol in Europe, but post-tax ours is without doubt the most expensive?
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend makes his point excellently, as always. He has proved that it is not the rip-off oil companies but a rip-off Government who have done the damage.
The public are prepared to use buses and trains more if they can get to the bus stop or the station, if they can park, if it makes economic sense and if it is timely, but for too many journeys that is not practical or timely. The Government need to put much more effort into promoting better public transport and creating the conditions in which the private sector can get on and do the job.
§ Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House of the success of the Government of which he was a part in running down rural bus services by deregulation and the withdrawal of investment support?
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not see it quite like that. Deregulation produced a big increase in bus services in a number of important areas. For example, it certainly led to a large increase in the number of park-and-ride buses in Oxford city, to the extent that people eventually said that there were too many buses. That experiment was successful, but in rural areas my party and I favour flexible bus services, including more dial-a-ride services. Such services should bring together existing publicly subsidised transport so that more people without cars can have access to a more flexible service. In rural areas it will not he feasible to run hourly or half-hourly bus services to places that only a few people want to go to, so we need to be a little cleverer in thinking about how to meet the needs of a minority without cars, and allow those with cars to use them, as the car is the best way of getting around in rural conditions.
The Government's great boast, which was repeated in the Prime Minister's speech, is that they have run the economy wonderfully and banished the trade cycle. If only that were true. Again. they should be a little more humble than they currently seem on the basis of the support of a quarter of the electorate. This is the Government who have created a phenomenal boom and bust in the telecommunications, high-tech and computing industries, which is very serious for the British economy.
Most people now believe that economies will succeed in this decade as they did in the previous one—through the lead growth provided by high-tech activities involving new computers, internet links, new telephone links, mobile telephony and all the wonderful devices that have been developed in recent years. However, what did the Government do about that? Instead of deregulating, and encouraging and producing more competitive conditions 73 so that we could catch up with the United States of America, they embarked upon clumsy regulation, followed by a massive stealth tax in the form of their large auction licence fee. If they take £22 billion out of the lead sector almost in one go. they will create a crisis, and if the German Government follow up and take out even more, the crisis will be made Europe wide. That is exactly what the Government have done, and they still do not seem to understand the seriousness of their actions.
I want Britain to be one of the strongest economies in the world. I want it to continue to grow as it did under the Conservatives for most of our time in government, and during a part of the Labour Government's first term. Instead, however, the Government are heaping more and more sandbags on the British economy. They have started by deliberately creating a bust in telecommunications and computing, which form the colossal lead sector. Before Ministers and others look even more sceptical, they should consider what has happened to British Telecom's balance sheet and share price. They should also consider what has happened to the entire telecommunications sector and to all those internet start-ups. The Government's refusal to cut the tax burden—they have instead insisted on raising it—or to deregulate and create competitive conditions has caused very serious problems.
§ Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that the fall in the share prices of many of the telecommunications and high-tech companies is due to falling profit figures in the United States and a lack of confidence in the sector as a whole? Those reductions were not caused by the sale of third generation licences, which occurred because band width is a limited resource that should not be given away free.
§ Mr. Redwood
No, I do not agree with that view. British Telecom makes practically no profit in the United States of America and is largely a UK profit-derived operation. It is the pressure on that profit and the huge borrowings that the company has had to make to pay for licences that has caused the damage to our lead company in the sector. Ask the companies; they will explain that the sums that they had to borrow were extremely large, especially at the very time when they needed huge amounts to invest in future technology, including the broad band revolution that the Government want them to introduce, the internet revolution sought by the education establishment and the mobile phone revolution that the public are keen for companies to carry out. It was the height of folly to take that money away.
There has been similar insistence on creating boom and bust in rural areas, which was first evident in a little flurry at the beginning of the Government's time in office. An obvious bust occurred in rural areas, led by their bad handling of common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy negotiations. That was followed by their lamentable performance on foot and mouth, when they did too much too late and caused terrible carnage in associated rural industries, in addition to causing terrible damage to our livestock. They were responsible for all sorts of beastly scenes that we had to witness on our televisions as they mishandled that crisis.
The message from the electorate is very sombre for those of us who believe passionately in parliamentary democracy. Too many people out there do not believe in very much of what is said and done in this House and by 74 this Government. Too many people believed that the Labour Government would at least improve their schools and hospitals. They feel deeply let down.
The challenge for my party is to devise, with our new leader, ideas for persuading people that we will give them better schools and hospitals, provide a choice, allow them to spend their private money when that makes sense and guarantee access to the good, free care that they need, but do not get under the Labour Government, when that is important. Of course, we need to provide a better answer for the difficulties of getting around the country, and tackle the problems in the economy that the Government have made worse.
The Government do not say that they want more regulation, more tax and more boom and bust, but that is what they have provided in the telecommunications industry and the rural economy. The Government are on probation; they are not about to experience their coronation. It would be wrong of them to believe that because we may be small in number, we lack stomach for the fight. We have much to do in drawing attention to the extent to which they are out of touch. The public are angry about the state of their services and they wish their money to be considerably better spent.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)
Chief among the many penetrating and acerbic insights that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) offered was his observation that, during the general election campaign, the Conservative party comprehensively failed to set out clearly what it stands for. After listening to the rather long application of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) for readmission to the shadow Cabinet, we are none the wiser. I shall not weep too many crocodile tears about that, although I believe that a good Government need a half decent party to oppose them. On the basis of this afternoon's performance, I fear that that will take some years.
I shall concentrate on Northern Ireland and the part of the Queen's Speech that refers to it. First, I want to express my strong support for the measures in the Queen's Speech. Measures to boost school standards, especially in secondary schools, to reform health services and to strengthen the fight against crime will be particularly welcomed by my constituents. People in Hartlepool did not sit by their television sets and fail to come to the front door during the election campaign. They came with open arms to find out what the Labour Government would do in the next four years. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Wokingham had such a disappointing experience; he should have come to Hartlepool.
I also welcome the measures for enterprise, not least because they bear more than a passing resemblance to those that I tried to promote when I was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 1998. I am glad that the Government now propose to implement them. However, I want to make a further point about the information revolution. Away from popular concerns and the measures in the Gracious Speech, I am worried that the Government propose to publish only a draft Bill to create the much-needed order, clarity and support that the rapidly changing and growing media and communications industries need.
75 Big issues are at stake for the United Kingdom's economy and culture in the convergence of the technologies. We need to improve broad band roll-out and increase the take-up of digital television to increase access to information services. The Government need quickly to make clear what exactly they will do to help the United Kingdom to sustain or regain its lead in those industries. In that fast-changing world, it may be preferable to wait and get legislation absolutely right rather than introduce a Bill that is faulty or in danger of being rapidly overtaken by technological developments and thus quickly become out of date.
There are five existing regulators in those industries. If the Government are proposing, as has been suggested in some quarters, to create a shadow office of communications, a shadow Ofcom—which would be a shadow strategic body with no teeth—to take over the powers of the existing regulators, my fear is that those regulators would be emasculated without being put out of existence, and without the real problems effectively being gripped. If there are any lessons to be learned from the rail industry, its shadow Strategic Rail Authority—and even its Strategic Rail Authority—should be sufficient warning for us.
I come now to Northern Ireland. Without any doubt, the peace process is in a very serious condition, although not, in my view, a hopeless one. Its condition has been highlighted most notably by the resignation offer made by Northern Ireland's First Minister. His offer to resign at the beginning of July is as regrettable as it is probably inevitable in the circumstances. Seemingly irreconcilable pressures abound in the peace process at the moment, but in my judgment there is a way through, and I shall refer to that presently.
There is no doubt about what is at the heart of the present crisis in the peace process. It is that the Unionists are irretrievably hooked on their demand for a start to decommissioning by the republicans of their arms, and that the republicans are using that demand for decommissioning effectively to hold the peace process to ransom, to get their way on everything else that is of concern to them. That includes issues of security normalisation, or demilitarisation as they would call it in Northern Ireland; the amnesty that the republicans want for former terrorists who are fugitives from justice or from imprisonment; and the reform of policing, only six or seven months after the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 received its Royal Assent.
We have finally reached the impasse on arms decommissioning that everyone has seen coming for a very long time—indeed, probably since the early days of the Belfast agreement. Many of us have tried repeatedly to head off this impasse, using different permutations and formulations in relation to arms decommissioning. One of the first things that I did when I went to Northern Ireland was to join Senator Mitchell in his review. We produced a way forward on decommissioning from that; we then produced another permutation to head off the threatened collapse of the new Government and institutions early in 2000; we then came forward with another formulation after the suspension had taken place; and we came back with a further permutation in the talks that gave rise to the Hillsborough agreement in May last year.
76 Frankly, I think that we have run out of ways of postponing the issue of decommissioning, of parking it, of sidetracking it or of disguising it. It is sitting there, right in the middle of the road, and there is no way of getting round it. It is going to have to be addressed. Some people say—they argue this with me and I am sure that those voices are being raised now—that we should simply ignore the issue of arms in Northern Ireland. They suggest that we forget about decommissioning and find another road. After all, if the ceasefire is holding, which by and large it is, and if the peace in Northern Ireland is secure, which by and large it is, if arms are not in the main actually being used, why make such a fuss about them? Why not just let them lie there?
That is a tempting thought, but also a profoundly wrong thought. We stand no chance of stabilising democracy in Northern Ireland while armed paramilitary organisations are running around threatening to second guess the democratically elected politicians so that they can then take over and start calling the shots again. We simply cannot live and flourish as a democracy and a decent civic society in Northern Ireland in those circumstances.
It is true that decommissioning did not have the same status as the other heads of the Good Friday agreement. None the less, decommissioning was accepted by all the parties—all the signatories—as an essential part of the peace process. Sinn Fein remains committed to making its best efforts to bring about decommissioning by the Provisional IRA. The IRA itself has said that it will engage properly with General de Chastelain's decommissioning body, but has so far failed to do so. If the Northern Ireland peace process depends on anything, it depends on everyone living up to their word. It is when people step back or fall short that confidence fails and trouble ensues.
My second point about decommissioning is that every party—every shade of political opinion—was represented properly and fairly in the devolved Government in Northern Ireland. It was the first time that that had happened since Northern Ireland was created. That was predicated on a belief that democracy could take over because the war was over. That has never been said in so many words. The IRA has never said that the war is over—it has nearly said; it has sort of said it; it has been implored and encouraged to say it; but it has never actually said it. If it is too difficult to say—if the words are too difficult to express—it is essential in Northern Ireland to rely on actions rather than words. The actions that demonstrate that the war is over must include a preparedness to put arms permanently beyond use.
The Provisional IRA is, after all, an army that continues to be organised: recruited, supplied and disciplined. For all I know, it continues to set targets—I do not know enough about the Provisional IRA to say. That being so, it is difficult to stand by as that army continues in existence. It would be easier to live with it if there were tangible signs of those arms being put beyond use in a way, within the existing legislation, that would persuade people—even if it cannot be said—that the war is, indeed, over.
Furthermore, like everything else about the peace process, decommissioning is important because it is about building up mutual confidence among people who are sectarian and who, after decades of strife, have an enormous amount on which not to trust each other. Therefore, confidence-building measures have an 77 enormous premium in Northern Ireland. Opening certain of its arms dumps to international inspection was a major confidence-building measure by the Provisional IRA. I do not think that it would now be a huge step for it to make those dumps that have been opened to inspection and reinspection by the two international inspectors permanently inaccessible. People have speculated that the IRA might do so and I certainly would not discount such a move. It would be a significant step to all reasonably minded people if the Provisional IRA did so. It would be the start of the decommissioning process for which everyone has been waiting and which the peace process so desperately needs. Indeed. it would do an enormous amount to help to restore confidence anal trust.
What else is needed in Northern Ireland to rebuild the trust that has faltered in recent months? The republican movement is under a clear obligation to make the start in decommissioning that I have described. None the less, the movement is entitled to expect others to continue to help to create the best context in which it can make that start in actual decommissioning. After all, trust is not simply a two-way street in Northern Ireland—it is multi-directional and has to come and go from all quarters in all directions to be effective.
The British Government have a particular role and responsibility to inject trust into the peace process from their direction in relation to known republican concerns. Those include security normalisation—lowering the profile and dealing with the bases and military installations that are still present in Northern Ireland. That means tackling the problem of on-the-runs, or OTRs, who are the people who have become fugitives from justice or have escaped from prison some time in the past 20 or 30 years—I do not know how ling—and are in an anomalous position given the early prisoner release scheme that has been operating under the Good Friday agreement.
Republican concerns also relate to police and criminal justice reforms. In May last year at the Hillsborough talks, when we put the inclusive, all-party, devolved Government in Northern Ireland back on the road following the three-month suspension, the British Government committed themselves co taking steps in all those areas by now—by June, this year. The Government have done so faithfully and conscientiously. It is worth pointing out that if the Government had waited for the republican movement to make a start on arms decommissioning so that progress was made in implementing the Good Friday agreement across the board, we would not have made a start on anything. We did not wait—we acted and we went ahead in the belief and expectation that a start with arms decommissioning would be made following a serious engagement not only by the Provisional IRA, but by other paramilitary organisations, with the de Chastelain commission.
We are in June, the criminal justice reforms are going ahead and security normalisation in Northern Ireland has made sustained progress throughout the past 12 months—not merely sustained, but quite dramatic progress in many parts of Northern Ireland. Within the constraints of the existing law, the Government have shown considerable flexibility in their treatment of OTRs—former terrorists who are fugitives from justice. In relation to the reform of policing, the Patten recommendations have been implemented in full, except for minor practical modifications.
78 In other words, the Government have kept their side of the bargain during the past year, but they have done so and made serious progress in ways that have been sensitive and designed to maintain the confidence by and large of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. The Government have struck a balance that has provided a proper and adequate context for the republican movement to move, without ultimately sacrificing the good will of the Unionists or the effectiveness of the security forces.
Many Unionists have been concerned, troubled, sometimes angry and occasionally despairing about what has been done in the name of the Good Friday agreement and in the cause of the peace process during the past year, but I believe that the Government have acted in a way that will ultimately secure the good will of the mainstream body of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland. That is an absolutely essential condition and compass that the Government have to maintain in the coming weeks of negotiation.
There will be no peace process in Northern Ireland that tries to hop ahead on one foot alone. Both sides of the sectarian divide need to buy into, have to be tied into, and have to have a stake in whatever the British Government do if the peace process is not to falter. One cannot proceed with the support of one side alone. We need the good will of all, across the community.
It is against that background that I believe that in relation to security normalisation there is more that the Government can and should consider doing. It is a matter for the professional judgment of the Government security experts at the end of the day. The considered and informed view of the Chief Constable, and the General Officer Commanding in support, must be respected by the Government.
At the beginning of this year, we concluded that it was possible safely to go somewhat further in relation to normalisation, including in that most difficult area of South Armagh. Nothing has happened since January, since I was in office, to my knowledge, to alter the conclusion that we can safely go somewhat further, on the advice of the Chief Constable.
On OTRs, existing legislation might not afford sufficient flexibility to move forward. The existing framework of law might not provide the scope that the Government need to deal with the range of cases that the past 20 or 30 years have thrown up. If that is the case, it would be timely for Parliament to consider appropriate changes in the law to address the thorny question of former terrorists still on the run.
In relation to police reform, however, I have a cautious view. I, probably more than anyone else, was responsible for the legislation. I am acutely aware of the criticisms that were made of it, but people need to bear in mind the fact that the final form of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 had been extensively amended to meet republican and nationalist concerns. As finally enacted, the measure was different in many respects from the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill originally introduced in the House. However, we cannot proceed simply on the basis of trying to satisfy one side alone; we have to carry mainstream Unionist opinion, as well as the police themselves, if the reforms are to be sustained in practice.
We may not have got everything exactly right in that legislation—however hard we tried. If so, the legislation can, and should be, reviewed in time, but it would be 79 better to do that after we have seen how the new police service is able to work in practice, rather than before. At the end of the day, it is not by political correctness that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has to he judged, but by its operational effectiveness and efficiency. So much do we owe to the people of Northern Ireland that they must have a police service that is able to do its job in combating crime and paramilitary violence. I hope that that will continue to be the guiding thought of the Government during the weeks and months to come.
Let me end by saying that the recent election results in Northern Ireland were not wholly encouraging. The extremes have been favoured as a result of what happened. However, we are a long way from the moderate wipe-out that took place after Sunningdale in 1974. Let us bear that in mind before anyone sounds panic stations. Despite their differences and despite the rhetoric and the hyperbole to which we are treated, all the parties in Northern Ireland still have a stake and an interest in preventing collapse of the political institutions. In my view, that goes as much for Sinn Fein as for the Democratic Unionist party represented in the House this afternoon.
I say to those people who claim that they are acting for their principles, "Please do not let your principles get in the way of your interests." The collapse of politics—should it occur as a result of a breakdown in the negotiations and of a failure to agree a way forward—will help absolutely nobody in Northern Ireland in whatever part of the community spectrum they live. To be forced back to the threat of the gun and the prospect of violence on the scale and in the terms of yesteryear would leave everyone in Northern Ireland worse off. Some flexibility and accommodation are needed on all sides to ensure that that does not happen.
No one should assume that if any one side, any one party, or any single individual is pushed beyond breaking point by others' intransigence the process will remain intact, because it will not. It is near—but not at—a potential breaking point, which will happen if individuals are pushed beyond their forbearance and their ability to carry their constituencies in their part of the community. Therefore, an enormous amount is at stake at this 11th hour.
I strongly support the efforts of the British Government, the Irish Government and all the parties committed to the Good Friday agreement to find a way through, because surely, for all our sakes, that is exactly what they must do.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
That was a powerful speech by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson); it will repay careful study. On behalf of all my colleagues, I reiterate the commitment made by our party leader earlier in the debate—that we shall continue as a parliamentary group to support the efforts of Her Majesty's Government in trying to secure peace. I pay tribute to the role previously played by the right hon. Gentleman in the success that has been achieved, despite the fact that there are on-going worries, to which he alluded. I never really thought that he was a quitter, and it is reassuring to know that he is willing to contribute to debates in the House in the way that he has—long may it continue.
80 At the start of his speech, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool said that a Government, especially a Government with a majority of this scale, need effective opposition. I agree, and I hope that the Liberal Democrats will provide that effective opposition. It is not a weak position to he constructively critical. We shall encourage the Government to go further when we think that they have not gone far enough, and we shall criticise them if we think that they are going too far. That is a perfectly reasonable and rational way of practising politics, and it partly deals with the point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who, instead of staying to listen to the rest of the debate, has busily returned to the doorsteps, trying without success to get people away from their television sets. However, that is his choice.
I believe that the electorate were rather taken in by the nightly messages that they received in the national media, which suggested that nothing was at stake in this general election. When I was campaigning, people told me on the doorstep that they believed their voting would change nothing, so they had decided early in the campaign not to do so. Of course, there were some issues about spin and the confrontational aspect of politics. I am certainly not saying that we should censor polls or in any way stymie the comments made during election campaigns, but we do have a real problem in terms of re-engaging with the electorate. I hope that this Parliament will not ignore that, and I intend to return to that point.
For me, disappointment runs right through the Queen's Speech. The speech reveals a poverty of ambition. Under our new leader, the Liberal Democrats will try to represent an interest in defending civil liberties, in dealing with the environment, on which the Government have been lacklustre, and in the question of Europe, on which the Government have also been timid.
The most important thing that I want to say, in this debate on the Queen's Speech at the very beginning of this Parliament, is that it was not at all adequate for the Prime Minister to deal with the agricultural situation only in a single last sentence in his introductory speech. Although I agreed with many of his other remarks, the signal that was sent about the priority that the Government are prepared to attach to the future of our rural communities augurs ill for the future.
Foot and mouth disease was a disaster for many communities. There were infected farms in my constituency, and the problem completely overshadowed the election. The Government were right to delay the election—it was eminently sensible to do so—hut a shadow was cast and the local people in the rural and landward areas of my constituency were completely distracted by the direct effects on the fanning communities but, equally, by the indirect effects on tourism and on other small and family businesses. When I was campaigning, many suggestions were made to me about how that problem could be remedied. I raised one with the Paymaster General—the idea of a business rural tax relief system, which would allow small amounts of cash for small self-employed and family businesses in rural areas, to give them some immediate cash flow to keep them alive.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many industries in urban areas depend on the rural areas, are badly affected by foot and mouth and are at present barred from receiving help?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I absolutely agree. I am focusing on my constituency experience, but I take the point that the Government will have to embrace the consequences in urban and rural economies throughout the United Kingdom. A new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just been established and I have a great deal of respect for its new Secretary of State. I hope that, early in this Parliament, she will give us some clear idea about what should happen next. I certainly reinforce the call, made by my party leader, that we must have a full-blown public inquiry because much concern, anxiety and fear and many conspiracy theories exist outside Parliament. Someone even suggested to me that the Government started the infection to try to reduce livestock subsidies.
Clearly, those suggestions are fantastical, but the perceptions are real for the people who have been dramatically hit by the disease. Giving them a chance to ask questions and receive answers may take time, but the infection's provenance, the way in which it was managed and the financial consequences must form a major part of Parliament's work for at least the next 18 months before we will be able to say that we are beginning to get on top of the long-term effects.
In addition, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should produce some coherent long-term stability plans for agriculture, especially the livestock sector. That involves reform of the common agricultural policy. The Government have been reasonably progressive in the past, but they have met resistance in Europe when promoting reform and a sensible way forward. It is absolutely essential that, early on, the Government should produce sonic serious plans that give people the confidence to continue in agriculture and small business in rural areas. That is a crucial issue in my constituency.
The single European currency was of great concern during the election campaign. There is a great deal of ignorance—I use the word in its best sense—among the electorate, but there is an appetite to learn. People are willing to try to apply their minds to what the single currency means for them, but no one is giving them information of any sort. A politically charged election campaign is perhaps not the most objective atmosphere in which to promote constructive debate.
I have always been a passionate European, but I am not daft; we do not want to enter the single currency at a silly exchange rate, for example. I believe that when it is time for my children to take responsibility for the country, there will be three big blocs—America, China and Europe—so the United Kingdom's future will be rather bleak if we are not an intrinsic part of the single currency.
The moment is now right for the Government seriously to promote a campaign that allows people to consider the options and make objective choices about what they think should happen to their currency. If that is not done in the next two years, people will draw their own conclusions, industry will start to go offshore and we will start to lose jobs. In constituencies such as mine, which is heavily reliant on exporting knitted garments, with high added 82 value, to other parts of the world and has been suffering from high exchange rates and difficulties in achieving export orders—not to mention the banana war and so on—the Government need to promote a sensible debate that will lead to a decision, one way or the other, in two years' time. So long as the debate is constructive, I am prepared to accept the result of the referendum at face value, and that will be the end of the matter, although I passionately hope that we can win the referendum.
I want to say a quick word in passing about the public-private provision argument that formed part of the Prime Minister's speech. I am seriously worried that the idea of public service is being denigrated. I meet professionals, schoolteachers and others in my constituency who were passionate servants of the public when I was elected in 1983. They had chosen that career, but they are now "hodden doon", as my granny would say; they are completely subjugated by the bureaucratic administration with which they are forced to deal. Given some of the talk coming from the Government at high level—the Prime Minister's speech compounded this today—they believe that public service is no longer highly regarded. The excellent quality of our civil and public servants is a quintessential part of what we as a country have achieved. The worst thing that we can do is to send them signals that we intend to engage wholesale in the privatisation of big chunks of our public sector. They will leave in droves and the situation will worsen dramatically.
We need only think of the disastrous reform of the national insurance recording system—NIRS2—and the private sector's involvement, through the private finance initiative. The Horizon computer scheme with ICL was also a disaster. It, too, involved the PFI. In addition, my hon. Friends experienced catastrophic failures in public services when attempts were made to privatise housing benefit payments in some London boroughs. We should not think that private is all good and public is all bad. For heaven's sake, we must decentralise decision making and invest in the managers so that they are capable and equipped to do the job. We need to give them the money and let them get on with it. Central Government are too hung up on public service agreements, targets and outcomes. There is a prescriptive control freakery in central Government, and we need to deal with that urgently.
Mention was made in the Queen's Speech of a couple of specific measures for welfare reform. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister as he talked about encouraging people to take work. I am nervous about the long-term effects of taking sanctions against people who do not do the work they are supposed to. Some American states have sensitive waiver systems that allow people who are acting in good faith to continue not to work. However, the evidence in other parts of America is that they often become repressive systems. Had the Conservatives made similar suggestions a few years ago, Labour Back Benchers would have gone mad with anger and frustration. We must be careful about sanctions—some people will never survive in the labour market. I worry a great deal about the stigma attached to them when the adage "Work for those who can and support for those who cannot" is trotted out.
I have a particular concern about the pensioner credit proposal. It seems that people who are on housing and council tax benefits will not be able to take advantage of it. I cannot understand how it is possible to contrive such 83 a scheme without making the credit a financial dead loss for those who are on housing benefit or full council tax benefit. Nor can I understand how it helps people whose residential care fees are paid in full by the state centrally. All that does is put more money into local government. There are now concerns about those welfare proposals.
I must mention parliamentary reform. I believe that this is our last chance to achieve it. I have been in the House since 1983 and attempts have been made, in good faith, to modernise this place and make it more in tune with what people expect of a modern Parliament. Hon. Members on both sides of the House visit sister European Parliaments and know how things are done there. Much of their work is carried out in parliamentary Committees. The sine qua non is to recover to the House the power to nominate the people who scrutinise. Without that, we are just playing at reform and will not be taken seriously.
Select Committees do good work and many people who serve on them work hard, but we will never get on top of the problem until the House has the courage to implement that change. It is up to Labour Back Benchers in particular, because they have the power to drive the change through. Indeed, it is in their interests to do so because many will serve on Select Committees and, if they give themselves the opportunity, will perform distinguished duties on them. The House of Commons will never respond to the modern requirements of a Parliament until its Members take control of the process of scrutinising the Executive. If we do not do that now, the clear and inevitable result will be that Parliament is diminished.
§ Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)
I am pleased to be able to speak on the first day of the debate on the Queen's Speech. It is the first time that I have spoken as a Government Back Bencher, and it is somewhat daunting not to be provided with a mountain of comforting briefing, with lines to take and rebuttals of criticisms that might be made during my remarks. I very much welcome the opportunity to put a few comments on the record. I assure the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that I am certainly one of those Back Benchers who is interested in further reform of our procedures and effective scrutiny of legislation in the House.
We have already heard a number of powerful speeches, and I especially shared the general enthusiasm for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who vividly reminded us what a privilege it is to be here to represent constituents and to voice the concerns of the electors who sent us to the House. He made a tremendous speech that will remain with many of us for a long time.
Of course I share also the general enthusiasm of Labour Members for the party's very convincing election victory and the fact that it is able to embark on a full second term in government. We have looked forward to that for a long time, and, given the priorities announced in the Queen's Speech I am sure that we will use the time wisely, to the benefit of the people of this country. The Queen's Speech will enable us to build on some of the first-term achievements that are to the Government's credit and to 84 work towards our priorities, particularly the great improvements in public services that are necessary. Those priorities are shared by Labour Members, obviously, and more widely in the Chamber. Education, health, transport and welfare reform are certainly dear to my heart.
I was glad that the Queen's Speech places a continuing emphasis on the importance of our international commitments, and I am pleased that we will be proceeding with the International Development Bill. I greatly welcome the fact that we will introduce an export control Bill, because export control is an important part of responsibility in international relations. I am also pleased about the strong commitment to European involvement and, in particular, to enlargement of the European Union. Although the heady days of the fall of the Berlin wall were a long time ago, the possibility of building a new, durable relationship with countries from which we were previously irrevocably divided by the iron curtain is very exciting. So far, it does not seem to have grabbed the attention of our electors, but I hope that the Government will campaign enthusiastically for enlargement in the coming months and years.
I am pleased that the Queen's Speech includes a continuing commitment to constitutional reform. I refer in particular to reform of the House of Lords and to improving women's representation in political and public life. I welcome the commitment to the devolution process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) reminded us that devolution is important not only in Scotland and Wales but in Northern Ireland. I agree with him that devolution ensures representation of different elements of the community in Northern Ireland, and I am very much in favour of that.
I want to say a few words about devolution as it relates to England. I speak from the viewpoint of my constituency and my part of England. I welcome the fact that enshrined in the manifesto on which my hon. Friends and I fought the election is an on-going commitment to make provision for directly elected regional government in regions where people support the idea in a referendum. I welcome also the fact that the manifesto for my part of the country, which w is launched by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong), now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, said that proposals for consultation on regional government would be made early in this Parliament. I hope and expect that that will be the case.
I shall set out briefly why I believe that devolution is important, but first I want to make it clear that I do not believe that it is a theoretical issue of interest only to politicians. It has practical meaning for our fellow citizens. Regional systems elsewhere have been responsible for economic success. That is why I am glad that the Government created the regional development agencies in their first term and stressed the economic development aspects of the process. It is important that regions are able to bring together their economic forces, recognise their strengths and tackle their weaknesses.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire talked at length about agriculture, which, given his constituency, is not surprising. I feel strongly that it is important for agriculture to be seen as part and parcel of the rural economy. We must also consider what agriculture can contribute to the regional economy. The present departmental structure will highlight 85 agriculture and other economic sectors and enable us to look positively at their potential, as will increasing devolution.
Devolution will help to give the regions a powerful voice. We have an asymmetric arrangement in Parliament and Government, and the north-east of England sometimes looks enviously at the political weight that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have. England has a large population, and the regions need to increase their voice in government so that when policies are formulated and funding is discussed their interests are taken into account. When European policies are formulated, we should consider them not only as they promote the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole but as they affect its different parts.
Regional government would give people a sense of ownership of existing regional bodies. People often talk as if we did not have a regional tier, but of course we have the Government offices of the regions and many other regional bodies. Often, however, public involvement in the regions in those bodies is quite slight. I would like there to be an increased sense of ownership in the regions, and believe that regional government is one way of achieving that.
Many of us who have campaigned on the issue for a considerable time have become very used to the objection, "People in pubs and clubs are not talking about it." It is true that if I go into a pub or club in Gateshead, I am not usually first asked about the matter. However, certainly in my part of the world, people feel that central Government have often been remote and that our system could be reformed in order to give the regions a bigger say and a feeling of greater involvement.
Perhaps such reform would also help to tackle the concerns rightly voiced by Member of all parties about the participation rate in elections and the level of turnout. I certainly did not agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who seemed to think that the problem was simply one with which the Government must deal. All of us as politicians like people to vote, and therefore we all have an interest in considering how to increase voter participation as much as possible.
Regional government would be good not just for areas such as mine, where there is a strong sense of identity, but simply because the matter is not only about identity; it is about good governance and making decisions at the appropriate levels.
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that when companies are deciding whether to invest in Milton Keynes, we are competing with those from Barcelona and Stuttgart, and that both those cities have regional governments backing them up? We do not have that advantage in the south-east of England.
§ Joyce Quin
I accept that. The point has often been made to me that in some parts of the country there is not a strong sense of identity. The south-east is often mentioned, and so is the east midlands, yet I have noticed that Derby, Nottingham and Leicester have come together greatly in economic development. There is real interest in the south-east, too, in how to approach such issues in a joined-up, regional way. My hon. Friend's point is valid.
It is important for us to take into account the issue of devolution. This Government have already shown by their policies that they are firmly regionally focused. Many in 86 my part of the country feel strongly about the issue. Progress can be made in a way that can provide benefits not only to people in my part of the country but across the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
I should like first to take up some points made by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber at the moment. He made some matters clear to the House from his point of view, and they are alarming to the Unionists of Northern Ireland. The fact that he did so was definitely a kite-flying exercise; we can expect that the matters to which he referred will be part of a new deal that is about to be brokered in Northern Ireland: coming at this time, I look at them very suspiciously.
The House should remember that, today, schoolchildren in the Ardoyne area were attacked by republicans. I understand that rioting is still going on. It was a vicious attack on schoolchildren who were trying to get to the place where they should be taught. Let no one think that repetition of the words "peace process" means that there is peace.
The right hon. Gentleman said that Unionists had "irretrievably hooked" themselves to decommissioning. I should like to examine that statement. The promise was made to the people of Northern Ireland that there would be decommissioning, but it has not been honoured or kept. Consideration of the implementation of that promise has been put away. Dates have been set: they have not been honoured. More dates have been set, and they have not been honoured. Still more dates have been set, but not honoured.
It is not the Unionists who hooked themselves to decommissioning. We did so because of a promise made by this Government, which the Prime Minister, in order to push through the referendum, was prepared to write on a wall in Northern Ireland. He said, "Except that this happens; nothing else will happen. You are going to receive decommissioning." We have not received decommissioning.
If the right hon. Member for Hartlepool thinks that the people of Northern Ireland will be satisfied with gentlemen from time to time inspecting some carefully marked out places in the south of Ireland—which are under the supreme control of the IRA high command and enjoy all the immunity that would be given in the Republic to the property of another state—and then reporting that all is well, he is living in cuckoo land. The people of Northern Ireland are not bluffed or fooled by such visits. They are not fooled by the bunkers either. The IRA has no intention of decommissioning at this time.
When the leader of IRA-Sinn Fein came out of Downing street the other day, what did he say? He did not say that before 1 July we could have decommissioning. He said that he did not think that there would be any decommissioning before 1 July. He is better able to report on the matter because, as a member of the IRA authority and its governing army council, he knows exactly what is taking place.
It is a very serious matter for Governments to make promises. I heard the Prime Minister say from the Dispatch Box today that one should not make promises that one cannot keep. We in Northern Ireland have seen promise after promise made and promise after promise 87 broken. When the right hon. Member for Hartlepool suggests, as he has today that there are now matters on which more concessions could be made and that there could be more encouragement of the IRA, he is really telling us that this Government's only policy is one of concession and of not facing up to the reality.
It is of course very easy for the right hon. Gentleman to stand in this House and brand all those who will not vote for his policies as extremists. I smiled when he referred to the Sunningdale agreement and some other matters. I remind him that, at the time of that agreement, all the Unionist parties were united. He would not suggest in a speech today that they were all extremists. They united to resist an attempt to fly in the face of democracy.
If it is extreme to say that those who are responsible for the most atrocious murders and, shockingly, have even mutilated the bodies of those whom they have murdered, should do their time in prison and pay their debt to society, I am glad to be an extremist. They should do their time and pay their price to society. I have stood in homes where the coffin could not be opened and the bereaved could not look on the mutilated corpse. The persons responsible for that are on the streets—free men in Ulster today. If it is extremism to denounce that, then many people are extremists. If Parliament made a law that enabled such a thing to happen in Wales, Scotland, or any part of England, there would be an outcry, but it has happened in the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.
If it is extreme to say that the police who were recruited from both sides of the religious divide and who stood the hottest fire in the days when the Provisional IRA was at its murderous work, should not be at the negotiating table and that their standing and future should not be negotiated by the men who killed them and left their children orphans, then I am an extremist. If it is extreme to say that the matter of the police should not be negotiated by any terrorist and that no terrorist has a right to be at the table to negotiate the future of the police force, then there are many people who are extremists.
Recently, one IRA leader made the amazing statement that, unless they were given an undertaking that the police in Northern Ireland would never be allowed to have baton rounds in their possession, they would never co-operate with the police. The demands get larger and more aggressive as the concessions become greater, and surrender is the order of the day as far as the Labour Government are concerned.
Is it extreme to say that security should not be relaxed in Northern Ireland? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool suggested that security should be relaxed in—of all places—Armagh, where Protestant genocide has taken place. An elder of my Church was taken from his home in Armagh; a bag was put over his head and he was hauled out by IRA men. For hours he was held at gunpoint and he, his wife and his children were threatened. I sat with that man and his family and I realised to what depths they had been taken at the hands of those murderers. Yet, now we are told that security concessions might be made in the Armagh area.
On the doorsteps and in all our canvassing, we were told that people are concerned about the fact that the criminal elements let loose in our Province are now 88 engaging in all sorts of criminal acts. We have muggings and burglaries and there has been a decrease in security generally throughout Northern Ireland. When I asked the police superintendent in one area of my North Antrim constituency, "What is your problem, sir?" he answered "My problem is that I am 40 policemen short and I will not get those men until the new regime comes in and men are trained to take their place, so I'll not have them for six to nine months." A police officer in another part of my constituency told me, "I am 30 men short." Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have heard the same from their local police. It is unfair to make the police the target of attack and say that we must change things to please those who seek their destruction.
What sort of a country is it when those who walk to a place of worship on or around 12 July are not allowed to return from the church in which they worshipped because of an IRA threat? It was an IRA threat: Mr. Adams himself said, on Radio Telefis Eireann, "We have worked for years to get these roads blocked—do you think we're now going to run away and let people walk down these roads?" What sort of a country is it when a person is branded as extreme for saying that those people should be able to walk back from their place of worship?
Those are matters that should concern the House, because a central element of Government policy—I have been told this by the Prime Minister and by all the Northern Ireland Ministers—is that any settlement must have the support, not only of the majority of people living in Northern Ireland, but of a majority within both sections of the Northern Ireland community. They tell us that they are bound to that rule, but they are not—I wish that they were so bound, because if they were, they would now have to admit that the majority of the Unionist population does not support the agreement. One has only to look at the figures to see that. I am glad that those journalists in Northern Ireland who are no supporters of my opposition to the agreement or that of others admit that at the general election the majority of Unionists voted against the agreement.
Let us look at the figures taking into account the votes for official Unionist candidates who may or may not have been anti-agreement. If we add those votes, we see how big the majority was At least 60 per cent. of Unionist people have said that they are not in agreement. I accept that every nationalist vote in the election was cast for pro-agreement candidates—there is no doubt about that; but one could not say that the majority of Unionist votes were cast for pro-agreement candidates. The Democratic Unionist party achieved a total of 181,999 votes across 14 constituencies. We directly contested 13 constituencies with the Ulster Unionist party: in those seats, we got five Members of Parliament elected to the UUP's four; we finished ahead of the UUP in eight constituencies and behind in five; and the DUP got 166,450 votes to the UUP's 146,538.
Those are the election figures—let no one try to put a spin on them. Today, a majority of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland say that they are not going to wear the agreement. We are saying that the Government must keep to their word about having to have the support of a majority of both communities. We do not dispute that they have the support of a majority of the nationalist community, but they certainly do not have the support of a majority of the Unionist community. They must renegotiate and go back to the drawing board.
89 The agreement itself mentioned a review, so why can we not have such a review of the agreement? If the shoe were on the other foot—if these objecting were nationalists and Roman Catholics—the Government would hasten to negotiate with them; but because those who are objecting are Unionists and Protestants, they are not to have their democratic rights.
If the House thinks that elections can take place in Northern Ireland and the results can be forgotten, it will plough on regardless. In that event, the House will reap what it has sown, and the reaping will be serious. Those who have voted and exercised their franchise are the people who have supported the forces of law and order. By serving in the security forces, they have given their sons to be murdered, as well as their daughters. They have given their husbands and wives to be murdered. I salute my Roman Catholic fellow countrymen who have joined the police and the Army in serious circumstances. I know what happens when the lad who is in the Army or in the police wants to see his parents. There is a family in my constituency where the father and the mother have to fly to London to meet their son, who is in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is an indictment of any society that claims to be democratic. but that is what is happening in Northern Ireland.
The issue should rest with the Government. They should return to the drawing board, accept the facts of life in Northern Ireland and seek to find a way whereby a majority of Unionists and a majority of nationalists can agree. That was the original basis of the agreement.
We need a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland, but it must be democratic, fair and accountable. If we do not have fairness, democracy or accountability, we do not have the basis for good government.
No self-respecting democrat is prepared to negotiate the future of his country with the representatives of terrorism, who may say that they have a mandate. On that basis, every murderer who has a mandate should be free. However, he is not free. The murderer has to pay the price for his crime or law-breaking. In any democratic society there is no place for representatives of terrorism to be involved in negotiations and to have their way. However, on every occasion they increase their demands.
The right hon. Member for Hartlepool took the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill through the House. Having taken its place on the statute book, the representatives of the SDLP and Sinn Fein say that the Act must be changed. They say, "If it isn't changed, we shan't have anything to do with the police." As I have said, the Bill was taken through the House. There were arguments and votes and in the end the measure was accepted by the House. However, we are told that Mr. Adams and the Social Democratic and Labour party spokesman say that they will not accept it and that it must be changed. I think that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool hinted that he felt that it should not be changed until it had first been put into operation. I have set out what is happening in my country.
The decommissioning of terrorist weapons must take place. What is the position if we are in negotiations, as the Government are, and they are told, "If you don't do what we want you to do, we can always go back"? That is what a member of the Stormont Assembly, a Sinn Feiner, told us some time ago. He slid, "We shall go back to what we are best at doing." If that is not blackmail, I do not know what it would be.
90 Any relationship with the Republic of Ireland should be fully accountable to the Assembly. There is trouble in the Garvaghy road and there is a gentleman from South Africa who is supposed to be a mediator. I think they call him Mr. Curran. He admitted that there was no doubt that the southern Government was pouring many thousands of pounds into the Garvaghy estate. A so-called friendly Government are pouring many thousands of pounds into an estate. That goes to the very heart of the question of civil liberty and religious freedom. At a meeting of officials and others, Mr. Curran made that statement. Admittedly, it was confirmed by a member of the present Government. It is true that the southern Ireland Government are feeding money into the estate.
The Democratic Unionist party believes that something should be done quickly to restore the morale and effectiveness of the RUC. My party and I oppose the idea that in future all recruitment should be guided by a sectarian recruitment policy. Religion and not ability will lead to a place within the force, and I do not accept that for a minute. That is not the way to recruit police. Everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to it. We must strive for genuine equality, including equality of funding and provision for Unionist areas.
The result of a recent poll in Northern Ireland—it was not given the same publicity as other polls—showed that more than 50 per cent. of Protestants in Northern Ireland recognise that they are unfairly treated under the present system and that there is favour of treatment for Roman Catholics under the present system. If that is so, the House needs to face its responsibility.
The veto in any democracy is the ballot box. The people should have their say. The people of Northern Ireland spoke at the general election, as they spoke at the European elections about two years ago. I was told at that time, "We are not even looking at those votes. We are not even thinking that those votes have anything to do with the situation." When a Government cease to have respect for the ballot box, no one can give them the respect that he should be able to give them in a democracy.
These are matters that many hon. Members do not want to hear. There are a few lines about Northern Ireland in the Queen's Speech. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned Northern Ireland but the Prime Minister did not mention it at all. There was not a line in the right hon. Gentleman's speech about it. However, I am talking about serious matters. If we look to a happier future for Northern Ireland, we need to apply ourselves urgently to these matters and ensure that we establish a foundation to which the majority on both sides in Northern Ireland can agree.
§ Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)
One of the reasons why religion and tolerance are often at odds is that religion is concerned with absolute truth. At one time, law and politics were suffused by religion. Law was often used to enforce conformity, at great cost to ordinary people.
I am not saying that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is not talking about serious issues. Nothing could be as serious as the organised death of his constituents. However, his absolutist approach does not accord with the possibilities of politics, however imperfect. I support what is said about Northern Ireland 91 in the Gracious Speech, albeit that the measures that flow from it may not be those that any of us would want in an ideal world.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your reappointment. We share neighbouring constituencies, so I have long known your ideal qualities. However, in the previous Session of Parliament, the whole House started to appreciate your fairness, competence and light touch. I am sure that I am expressing the universal view of the House in congratulating you on your reappointment.
I want to identify three themes that run through the Queen's Speech and use them as a framework for my remarks. The first theme is economic stability and growth, without which other themes, such as social justice and investment in public services, are an uphill struggle. In fact, economic stability and growth are the bedrock of all that we want to achieve in government. This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out our successes, including the fact that we have overcome the problem of the national debt, that interest rates are now at an historic low and that unemployment is at its lowest for 25 years. Our commitment and action on full employment are especially important, because nothing robbed young people of their dignity more than the high unemployment that operated before 1997. We must build on our successes in that area, which is why I welcome the enterprise Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
Obviously, greater employment helps economic growth, but employees' productivity is also vital. The productivity gap is one of the biggest challenges that we face. The figures set out in the Treasury document "Productivity in the UK: Enterprise and the Productivity Challenge", which was published last November, clearly demonstrate that output and gross domestic product per worker in this country are lower than in other comparable countries. Of course, there are measurement problems: recently, a study for the London business school journal demonstrated that, to some extent, the official figures underestimate manufacturing productivity. That, Madam Deputy Speaker, is good news for our respective constituencies, in both of which manufacturing is important. It is not all doom and gloom. Productivity growth in manufacturing has been rising but, none the less, the productivity gap remains a significant problem.
Once, a reason for that was the low capital investment in this country compared with others, which goes back more than 100 years. Economic historians talk about the division between the City and industry in the late 19th century, failures in financial markets and so on. Again, it is not all doom and gloom. Business investment has been growing and the stability and low interest rates that we have delivered in the last four years are certainly important factors in encouraging more investment.
The problem with the other side of productivity—human capital—turns on a number of factors. There is a problem with skills; again, the Treasury document demonstrated that in this country intermediate skills are much lower than in countries such as Germany. I therefore welcome the education Bill, with its focus on improving secondary schools and finding vocational pathways for the over-14s.
One striking feature that has come out of the literature is the wide variation in firms' productivity. Queen Mary and Westfield college research found that productivity in 92 manufacturing plants sometimes varied by a factor of five or six, which is confirmed by the emerging finds in the McKinsey study of manufacturing. What is the explanation for that? Management has something to do with it. In his book "From Empire to Europe", Geoffrey Owen points to the historic failing of some British managers to realise the true sources of competitive advantage, the inability to choose correct strategies, obsolete thinking and so on.
The competitive environment is also important. Competition, of course, encourages innovation and efficient organisation and will ultimately reallocate resources in favour of the efficient. I am especially heartened by the provisions in the enterprise Bill to strengthen the competition authorities and to ratchet up the deterrents for anti-competitive behaviour, including the possibility of imprisonment in addition to fines imposed on companies for cartelisation. That has long been a possibility in the United States, where the issue goes back to the General Electric case in the 1960s. That does not mean that directors will go to jail, but it will certainly have a chilling effect on behaviour that encourages cartels. I also support the notion of consumers having a greater input in the actions of the competition authorities.
There is a suggestion that the provisions for administrative receivership will be changed. I recommended that our system of administrative receivership be adopted in other countries when I was a member of World Bank and other missions, so I have some interest in the matter. I shall wait to see the details. In theory, our system is drastic; a minor breach of provisions allows the bank to appoint a receiver, so there may well be a case for bringing the theory into line with the practice.
The second theme in the Gracious Speech concerns the measures underpinning social responsibility. The Government believe that there is such a thing as a society hut, as rights are conferred on people, the correlative is that there are responsibilities. That theme has a special resonance for criminal behaviour and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out this afternoon, we have achieved a great deal in tackling that: crime is down and the mechanisms for dealing with antisocial behaviour are now kicking in. However, there are still problems with repeat offending and organised crime.
Persistent offending is not a new phenomenon; anyone associated with the criminal courts will realise that defendants often have a record as long as the proverbial arm. However, emerging findings that approximately 100,000 persistent offenders are responsible for about half of all crime has brought the issue centre stage. I therefore welcome the criminal justice Bill. We have to get the message across that persistent offenders must go straight, and the provisions for enhanced supervision will go some way in that regard.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. and learned Gentleman is certainly not alone in recognising the existence of society, but may I put it to him that he is wrong to depict a dichotomy between atomised individuals and the state? Will he pay proper tribute to the contribution made to our civic life by voluntary organisations, church groups and charitable institutions?
§ Ross Cranston
The hon. Gentleman was becoming philosophical in the first part of his remarks, but I agree 93 with the practical implications of what he said. Civil society is important. One of the problems in the United States is that civil society has broken down in some respects, and we would not want that to occur here. My constituency has active groups across the range of institutions that he mentioned. They are important and we would want them enhanced.
The criminal justice Bill will contain provisions on sentencing and we await the publication of the Halliday review, which will allow sentencers to tailor sentences not only to the crime but to the criminal. In principle, that is nothing new. Sentencers have always had the defendant's record before them and it was only for a short period under the previous Government in the early 1990s that one was prohibited from taking into account the defendant's record.
The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) raised the spectre of civil liberties and the problems that that poses for issues such as double jeopardy and the use of previous convictions. The Law Commission's proposals on double jeopardy are limited in scope to where DNA evidence emerges in relation to serious offending. With regard to previous convictions, the devil is in the detail, but there can be no objection to the proposals in principle. Previous, convictions can be admitted now as similar fact evidence and if the defendant attacks a prosecution witness. But they must be relevant and not give rise to prejudice. I look forward to scrutinising the relevant provisions.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that double jeopardy was not granted easily by the Executive but a right that had to be fought for over a long period? Does he accept that such rights should not be cast aside without some understanding of their consequences for the judicial and juridical systems?
§ Ross Cranston
Yes, we must consider carefully any change in the system, but had we not changed the criminal justice system, defendants would not be represented, nor would they be able to give evidence. The system moves on. It must accord with modern conditions. This is precisely an area where the criminal procedure must move on.
I welcome the proceeds of crime Bill. There is a technical need for a change here. Two different strands of law relate to the proceeds of crime, one under the drug trafficking legislation and the other under the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Commentators have long pointed out the problems in application because we have those two strands, so there is a good case for change simply on technical grounds. But the Bill will go much further and provide an institutional framework, an agency, that will have the task of seizing the proceeds of crime. In addition, it will provide a civil power not associated with any particular criminal conviction to strip criminals of any ill-gotten gains.
The third theme of the Gracious Speech relates to social justice and improving our public services. It contains a range of provisions, including the tax credit Bill, the education Bill, the NHS reform Bill, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) mentioned, at an international level, the export control and non-proliferation Bill. My right 94 hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the figures this afternoon for recent investment in public services. Social justice and good public services are at the core of Labour values, and they are linked in that good public services can have an ameliorative effect on social inequality.
Two specific issues run through the debate on public services. The first is the delivery mechanism. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) suggested that somehow, by use of the private finance initiative, we were denigrating public services. There can be criticism of some PFIs. There has been uncertainty on the part of staff who are to be transferred and their fears must be allayed. Some contracts have been ineptly drawn, for example by not having a clawback provision in the event of windfall gains on refinancing, but as Member for a constituency that is about to get a new hospital under the PEI, I support the PFI and the potential that it brings to public services. We in Dudley would not be having a new hospital in the near future if we had to wait for public financing.
My second general point on public services concerns targets. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned targets. Commentators line up to criticise targets, although most have never run more than their expense accounts. I would not deny that targets sometimes have perverse effects, but that is not universal, or even typical. In the area of criminal justice in which I was privileged to serve in government, targets had a beneficial effect, not just in themselves, but because they required the criminal justice agencies to work together as never before. Therefore, I do not go along with the modern and fashionable criticism of all targets.
I welcome the measures contained in the Queen's Speech. They will allow the Government to build on the successes of the past four years. They will contribute to the competitive environment, and thus to economic growth. They will underline social responsibility and they will strengthen our public services and further social justice.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) is right to draw the attention of the House to the lack of competitiveness in Britain compared with other EC countries, and to concerns about productivity, but that will not be improved simply by introducing further legislation to strengthen the Office of Fair Trading. If he talks to manufacturers in the west midlands he will discover that their concerns are not about some cartels working against their interests, but about over-regulation, an economy with far too much red tape and a Government who, whenever they see an issue, have been far too inclined to introduce further regulations, legislation and red tape.
Whatever fine words the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a former Solicitor-General, may use about the criminal justice system, I find it extraordinary that it should be a Labour Government and the Labour party who look as though they will abandon wholesale the right of English citizens to a trial by jury. I hope that at some stage, lawyers who are inclined to support the Labour party will explain to Ministers what damage that will do—for ever—to the Labour party's supposed reputation for supporting civil liberties and human rights.
Today there is a lot of pageantry, pomp, ceremony and backslapping, but all of us would do well to have a fair sense of humility, including the hon. Member for 95 Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). We all need a fair degree of humility, because none of us came out of the general election especially well. I say to Ministers that Labour has the lowest share of the eligible electorate of any Government for more than a century. The Labour party received fewer votes than any winning party since universal suffrage was introduced in 1928. Indeed, even when Neil Kinnock lost in 1992, he secured more votes than the Labour party has now gained in winning, so any talk of a landslide or of a great mandate is very wide of the mark. As has also been pointed out, the Liberal Democrats received fewer votes than at any election since 1983. As for the Conservative Benches, I think the facts speak for themselves. None of us comes out of the election especially well.
It is of particular concern to me that in my constituency, 40 per cent. of the electorate did not consider it worth voting at all. Like every other colleague in the House, I knocked on a good few doors during the election campaign. By and large, I was always greeted well and courteously. Most people recognised me and were pleased to see me on their doorstep, and there was no antagonism or hostility. There were rare occasions when I wanted to leave "Sorry you were in" cards, rather than "Sorry you were out" cards, but I was most concerned by the lack of interest in the whole process.
I do not think that it behoves us to blame our constituents for that lack of interest. We must consider what it is about this place that causes large numbers of people, especially the young, to be turned off completely by the process. I cannot believe that I am alone in having that feeling. I suspect that many hon. Members from all parties find that active party workers tend to be older, and that the help of younger people is increasingly difficult to gain. When I visit schools in my constituency, I find that younger people consider Members of Parliament, the parliamentary process and Parliament as an institution to be increasingly remote.
Part of the problem is that people are turned off not only by spin, but by the knockabout, yah-boo politics that often represents this place. For example, Prime Minister's Question Time is jolly good theatre, and might help Sky Television's ratings in the United States, but it does not help to inform public policy or to tell the electorate what we are doing. All of us need to pay some attention to working out not only how best we can disagree, but how we can acknowledge that we agree with one another on some occasions.
I do not suppose that any of us pretend we have all the answers on many public policy issues nowadays. Indeed, I suspect that we may agree on more such issues than we disagree on. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made an interesting speech about the politics of Northern Ireland, and I suspect that, by and large, very few hon. Members disagreed with his remarks. [Interruption.] I said that very few hon. Members would have disagreed; obviously, there are exceptions. My point is that we must give some thought to how we conduct ourselves in Parliament, especially as Back Benchers.
I very much agreed with the comments of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who, like me, entered the House in 1983. I think that hon. Members increasingly appear to be nearing their last 96 chance to assert any sort of realistic control over the Executive. When Select Committees were introduced, there were reasonably high hopes that they would provide an effective control. By and large, they have been useful. In the previous Parliament, I served on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, and I found the experience fascinating and interesting. However, I believe that in terms of controlling the Executive, the Select Committee is of pretty limited value, especially if its members, whether from the Government party or Opposition parties, are present only because of the patronage of their party Whips.
I agree that Labour Back Benchers will have most control, simply because they form the greatest number of people who can influence the Executive. I encourage people not to dissent or rebel, but to promote constructive engagement with policy and to seek to ensure that this House and all hon. Members can have some effective influence on policy and on government. Otherwise, come the next general election, fewer people will vote and we will find even less interest on the doorstep and even greater disenchantment.
§ Tony Baldry
It is not the result that matters. I know that the hon. Gentleman has Parliament's interests at heart, so he will recognise that it is not a question of who is sitting on the Government and the Opposition Front Benches. It cannot be in the interests of any hon. Member for Parliament to be seen as an increasingly marginal institution, and for its state opening to be perceived to be akin to trooping the colour and as relevant as that event. I hope that during the current Parliament, we can try to work out how to re-engage with the nation as a whole. It is not the fault of the public that they are not voting; it is our fault that we are not giving them reasons to feel that they should support Parliament as an institution. Members of Parliament—especially Back Benchers—must work out how to exercise more effective control over the Executive.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
Does the hon. Gentleman share my frustration and look to current Front Benchers in the context of the Pauline conversion that he seems to have undergone? I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity of his remarks, with which I agree. but he makes them having taken the Major shilling. There are also people who have taken the Blair shilling. That is the problem. Why do not some Front Benchers stand up now and say what they mean and mean what they say, rather than waiting until they are removed to the Back Benches?
§ Tony Baldry
Of course it is right and proper for Ministers to abide by collective responsibility, irrespective of the Government to whom they belong. That must be the case, because no Government could work without collective responsibility. When I was privileged enough to be a Minister and to stand at the Dispatch Box, the people who often caused me the greatest difficulty and who made the greatest mark on Government policy were not necessarily Opposition Members, but the awkward squad, such as the late lamented Nick Budgen and others of that ilk. They were good parliamentarians because they sought to hold us to account. I had one eye over my shoulder to see what was happening on the Benches 97 behind me more often than I was concerned with the then Opposition. There has been no conversion; we all have a part to play in this place, but as Back Benchers, in this Parliament especially, we must seek to assert our rights over the Executive more if this place is not to be genuinely marginalised.
Irrespective of the Queen's Speech, two themes will dominate the current Parliament. One of them is obvious and the other is not so obvious. The obvious theme is the delivery of public services. I must say again that I do not think that that is a question merely of legislation. One cannot legislate to provide a better health service. In my constituency, there are significant concerns about the ability to deliver in the Horton hospital and the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. Waiting lists are growing longer, as we were shown in April by the most recently published figures. There is also a considerable shortage of nurses. The Horton has nurse vacancies of 10 per cent., and some 10 per cent. of our nurses have travelled around the world from Australia. They are jolly welcome, but they are here today and gone tomorrow. All the legislation in the world will not help unless we can recruit and retain nurses by paying them decently—and likewise general practitioners, doctors and teachers.
We have to discover ways to improve the quality of public services without for ever hiking up taxes. That will require careful and cogent thought. The private finance initiative has been helpful in providing capital structures such as new hospitals, but those have no value, in Dudley or anywhere else, if they lack nurses and doctors. I am sure that when canvassing in the general election campaign, every hon. Member knocked on the doors of constituents who explained how long they had waited for a hip replacement or other operation. On the eve of poll, I met a lady who had to wait until next February simply to see a consultant to work out when she might have an operation to replace her hip. In the 21st century, that is appalling.
I do not believe that the Government can finesse matters simply by introducing several Bills. They will not be able to finesse to the satisfaction of people who live on housing estates and are worried about crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. It is no good introducing more and more legislation. Those residents want police officers on the estates who can arrest people and bring them before the magistrates. That is simple and straightforward. The provision of public services will be at the forefront of everyone's concerns throughout the Parliament.
A less obvious concern, which will nevertheless preoccupy us during the Parliament, is our relationship with Europe. The Queen's Speech contained a short passage about that. In the context of Pauline conversions, I am glad that almost all those who have thrown their hats in the ring for the leadership of the Conservative party acknowledge that the European Union is not such an article of faith that one should be burnt at the stake for taking different views about it. Hallelujah! The Conservative party can revert to being the broad church that it was under Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Ted Heath—and, I am bound to say, even Baroness Thatcher. When I started out in politics, I worked in her private office on the Britain in Europe campaign. Indeed, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire and I worked together, because I was the link between Baroness Thatcher and the campaign. I have speeches in her 98 handwriting that urge people to vote yes to Europe. I hope that we can all get away from the preoccupation with the euro.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman has several such speeches in his repository, does not he owe it to posterity to publish them at the first opportunity?
§ Tony Baldry
If I fell on lean times, I might have to auction them.
The Government's five tests are self-serving; the Prime Minister will call a referendum on the euro only if he believes that he can win it and that it will redound to the credit of the Labour party in a subsequent general election. That is pretty synthetic. Conservative Members should claim greater credit for the fact that John Major got us the opt-out on the single currency that has enabled Britain to take time to decide whether we want to join it. We failed to take the credit that was due to us for that.
Aside from the euro, both the Irish referendum and our dealings with our constituents show that the phrase "democratic deficit" is an understatement. How many hon. Members could name the Members of the European Parliament who represent different regions of the country, as we represent constituencies? Hon. Members' faces suggest that few could get all the names right. Consideration of Europe should not be dominated by whether we support the euro. Let us move to more positive ground.
I am sure that all hon. Members agree that we should have a competitive, responsive European Union that people believe relates to them, and with which they can engage. We can build on that and support a European Union that welcomes the countries of eastern Europe. Most members of my generation remember with joy the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the dismantling of the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union. Our ability to welcome such countries into the European Union is a fantastic triumph that we should celebrate. I was 18 when the tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. People had a humiliating feeling of powerlessness. No one could do anything about what was happening.
Instead of believing that the European Union is somehow taking us over, we should celebrate what we can achieve in Europe. We should be bold in doing that in this Parliament. Like any political institution, it is far from perfect, but we should acknowledge that we and other democrats in Europe have the capacity to change it. Perhaps it has taken a drubbing at the polls for my party to recognise that, although people in the United Kingdom might not love the European Union, they do not wish to leave it. The United Kingdom Independence party candidate in Banbury received only 600 votes.
All hon. Members should approach this Parliament with considerable humility, and a determination to try to re-engage the people of this country in the political and parliamentary process. Back Benchers should be keen to devise ways in which to hold the Executive legitimately to account. We should also acknowledge that we can often agree. The Chamber need not be a place where the only measure of success is how ably we confront each other. We must all work out ways in which to provide better public services and engage in improving our standing in the European Union. That should be celebrated, not condemned.
§ 7.7 pm
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North)
As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the matter, I should say that I was older than 18 when the tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. I was here, participating in a debate on that. I had recently returned from a private visit to Turkey, and I was the last Labour Back Bencher to speak when the House was recalled at the end of August 1968.
It is good to be back here, after the election, sitting on the Government side again. Like some colleagues, I spent 18 consecutive years from 1979 to 1997 on the Opposition Benches.
We should be worried about low turnout. Perhaps people took it for granted that the Labour Government would be returned with a large majority. Although the Prime Minister and the rest of us tried to undermine such complacency, persistent Labour leads in the opinion polls contributed to a feeling of, "Well, Labour's going to get in, so why bother?" A writer in The Daily Telegraph today argues that a feel-good factor contributed to a turnout that was lower than usual. I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury that, whatever the explanation, none of us should be complacent. It is unfortunate that the turnout was much lower than i12n previous general elections.
As long as the integrity of the voting process can be protected, there is a case for a wider range of voting methods than the orthodox way of going to the polling station. I support that provided that we can be confident about maintaining the integrity of the process. Let me mention the more controversial issue of what is known inaccurately as compulsory voting. We should examine the position in Australia, where citizens are obliged to vote unless they declare beforehand that they do not intend to do so or abstain in person at the polling station. We cannot have compulsory voting as such for the obvious reason that we can hardly force religious minorities such as, for instance, Jehovah's Witnesses, who will not vote on principle, to do so. That would be most undemocratic. I do not believe that Australia is a less democratic country than Britain. All that I would argue at this stage is that the Electoral Commission could perhaps look into the matter, as well as the Home Affairs Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) gave certain warnings to all sides. I do not intend to give any advice to the Conservative party; that is not my role. However, I want to make one or two points about the position of the parliamentary Labour party. The hon. Member for Banbury referred to humility, and that is the one thing above all others that we have to show after the second successive Labour landslide.
I watched Conservative Members for 18 years, particularly after their second and third electoral victories in 1983 and 1987, which was when their arrogance grew. They came to hold the view that they were unbeatable, and that the situation had so changed in this country that, no matter who led the Labour party or what policies we had, we were unable to get a majority in the House of Commons. More and more Conservatives took the view that, whatever happened, they were going to sit on this side of the House for a very long time to come.
It is important that we avoid that feeling of arrogance. If the electorate get fed up with us, be it at the next election or at any other one, they will turn us out. 100 No matter what state of disarray the Conservative party may be in—and it may not be in such a state at the next election—and whoever leads it, if the electorate want to get rid of us, they will. For heaven's sake, let us always bear that in mind. Apart from anything else, it might mean that we spend longer here on the Government side. We will be judged on many other matters, such as delivery and the management—if it can be described as such—of the economy, but humility is a factor that should not be ignored.
The good thing is that when I was out on the doorstep, like all hon. Members, day after day, although criticisms and reservations obviously were expressed—it would be strange if they had not been—I did not get the feeling that the electorate looked on Labour MPs standing for re-election as an arrogant bunch. That was encouraging and I hope that it continues to be the case.
I want to make one or two points, following what the hon. Member for Banbury said, about this House. There is bound to be a difference in, say, the situation between 1974 and 1979—or after the 1992 election, when the Conservatives' majority had been whittled down to a rather narrow one—and between the previous Parliament and now. Obviously, when a majority is narrow or almost non-existent—as it was between 1974 and 1979—the Chamber is bound to have much more of an impact. That goes without saying. I can just imagine the situation—I was between seats at the time—when there was a vote of confidence on 28 March 1979. Such circumstances are hardly likely to arise in this Parliament.
There might be ways in which we could examine how we conduct our affairs, to see whether we could improve matters. Let us take Opposition days, for example. In many respects, they have become a sort of ritual. There is very low attendance. Every effort is made on both sides of the House to ensure that Members come in for the main speeches, which is understandable; that is the role of the Whips. However, there is very little interest in the debates, except when they are on certain subjects.
Would not it be possible, instead of having these ritual Opposition days, for the Opposition to decide whether they want to have a debate or to raise an issue by some other means, such as putting questions to Ministers, as the Hansard Society has recommended in the past? It would not be quite the same as Question Time, more an opportunity for Members to have longer supplementary questions than otherwise. If I were a Minister and I had a choice. I would rather have a ritual debate than face questions that would not be on the Order Paper beforehand. That is one possible suggestion for trying to liven matters up.
I have considered whether there could be any improvement to Prime Minister's Question Time. It is yah-boo, but it is difficult to find a different format. Back Benchers—and, indeed, Front Benchers, unless they are the most senior Ministers—are unlikely to get much national coverage. I have been somewhat flattered to be told by people who take an interest in politics, and who watch the proceedings at Prime Minister's Question Time and on other occasions, that they have seen me on the screen, and to have received one or two flattering remarks, which, with due humility, I do not take too much to heart.
In other European democracies, as far as I understand it, the Prime Minister of the day—or the President, as the case may be—does not come to the debating chamber in 101 the way in which we expect our Prime Minister to do. This is not a question of whether he answers questions once a week or twice a week. It is unlikely that my right hon. Friend is going to change the format from that of the previous Parliament. I cannot see any change taking place. It could perhaps be argued that Members on the Government side should ask questions that are not over-friendly to the Government of the day. However, it is understandable that a Prime Minister, knowing that he is to face a barrage of hostility from the Opposition—that is the Opposition's job; it is not their job to come here and flatter the Prime Minister and Government policies—would prefer his Back Benchers to give support. That applies to whomever is Prime Minister, and whichever party is in office.
§ David Winnick
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend, but with the reservation that we cannot take the politics out of politics. I ask him to bear in mind what happened with the Treasury Committee in the previous Parliament. One Opposition Member in particular did his utmost to create a situation in which the Chancellor had a very rough time indeed. That Member was doing his duty, and I do not criticise him for that. How can we criticise a Member who feels that that is part of his responsibility? We cannot even, therefore, take the politics out of the sittings of Select Committees. Of course, there is more opportunity for scrutiny and, in many cases, they are not dealing with the most controversial topics. I take my hon. Friend's point on board.
I would like to suggest—although there will clearly be no promotion for me as a result—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should take up the recommendation of the Public Administration Committee that he should give evidence on the Government's annual report once a year to the Liaison Committee. So far as I understand it, the Prime Minister argues that no other Prime Minister has done so. He is right, but there is no reason, in my humble view, for him not to do so. It would provide evidence that he takes Parliament seriously, which I am sure that he does, and he would be engaging in an innovation that would only strengthen Parliament.
Anything that marginalises this place or makes it seem irrelevant is extremely unfortunate. I was speaking today to a local reporter who came up to interview the three Members who represent the borough of Walsall. During that interview, I said that one of the greatest blessings that this country had ever had was this place. Anything that undermines our authority, takes away more power or marginalises the House of Commons is extremely unfortunate. That is something that the Government should take on board.
I should like to make a further point on internal matters, which might be somewhat controversial. I am not happy about self-regulation in relation to financial allegations against Members. It is rather invidious for judgment to be passed on our colleagues in that way, and even more so on our party colleagues. This is not a criticism of the all-party Standards and Privileges Committee, which did an 102 excellent job in the previous Parliament. I have no reservations at all about saying that. However, it is interesting to note that, in certain cases, when its report was being debated in the House of Commons, it almost became a party issue. Allegations were made of a kind of party bias, despite the fact that it is an all-party Committee and that all its reports in the previous Parliament were agreed unanimously.
Is self-regulation really the best way of dealing with these matters? If doctors on the General Medical Council or dentists sit in judgment on someone who has allegedly committed a misconduct, I assume that a panel member who knows the person concerned will not sit on the panel, but will withdraw from it. However, Members of Parliament know everyone here, and I suggest that this is yet another matter that needs to be looked at.
I am concerned that the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has been criticised. Whisperings have got into the national press that she has too much power. She is a servant of this House and it could be argued that, far from having too much power, she should have more authority. My suggestion that a copy of our annual tax returns should be sent to her met with little enthusiasm from other Members. Why? We have nothing to hide.
The Government have undoubtedly provided a full programme for this Session. A large majority of our constituents, especially mine, are likely to benefit if much of what is outlined in the Queen's Speech comes about. I shall therefore have little difficulty in supporting Government measures.
On the reform of public services, however, let me simply say that I shall have to see what is being proposed. I do not take the view that the public sector is somehow inferior to the private sector, and that the private sector is automatically better. One can hardly argue that the trains run better since privatisation and that Railtrack is an excellent organisation. It is hardly evidence that the private sector has a great deal to teach the public sector. I shall keep an open mind and watch the position carefully.
§ Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)
My hon. Friend talks about keeping an open mind about the balance between the public and private sectors. Will he similarly keep an open mind about the third sector—the possibility of more co-operation? I have in mind the Harmony co-operative, which is the out-of-hours GP co-operative that operates in north-west London. Is there not a case for extending such initiatives across the country, helping to modernise our health service provision and improve services?
§ David Winnick
As I said, I shall keep an open mind. My hon. Friend will know that that is my usual way of dealing with matters, especially controversial ones.
The Queen's Speech does not say clearly what the Government intend to do about hunting with dogs. Unless they provide Government time, there is no way that the matter can be finalised. I am totally opposed to hunting with dogs. The House of Commons has made its position perfectly clear. This is a controversial subject, and those opposed to legislation will, quite legitimately, use every Commons device to ensure that it is not passed. If the Government are serious, they must provide Government time; otherwise, the matter will continue from Parliament to Parliament. I hope that it will not and that it will be finalised.
103 I totally disagree with what the leader of the Democratic Unionist party said: our horror of the crimes and atrocities committed by the IRA and the loyalists is second to none. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has no monopoly on that. Throughout the years—certainly, when Labour was on the Opposition Benches—we have made our position perfectly clear. There was no shilly-shallying. We denounced the crimes and atrocities, as those hon. Members who remember the situation will bear out. The Good Friday agreement seeks to stop the horrors that have taken place over the past 30 years.
I am afraid that the hon. Member for North Antrim would never agree to all-inclusive government in Northern Ireland, no matter what degree of decommissioning took place. The remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who used to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and who did a very good job in that position, outlined clearly what needs to be done. I welcome the support again given by the Leader of the Opposition today to the Good Friday agreement. It would be most unfortunate if a large majority in this House were to undermine or oppose that agreement. It is the only way in which the people of Northern Ireland can live in a normal democracy.
§ Mr. David Laws (Yeovil)
I am proud to be a new Member of the House of Commons and to follow the thoughtful speeches of the hon. Members for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry).
I am only the seventh Member of Parliament for the Yeovil constituency since 1892, so it seems that my constituency has a good record in holding on to its Members of Parliament. I hope that I can convince my constituents to maintain that in future.
I suppose that one of the main duties of any new Member in his or her maiden speech is to make some polite and complimentary comments about his or her predecessor. When one has overturned somebody from another party to gain one's seat, that can be a testing process. For me, however, it is more straightforward because I have taken over from Sir Paddy Ashdown—soon to be Lord Ashdown, I believe. Sir Paddy has played a leading role in United Kingdom politics, both in this place and outside it. He was an effective leader of the Liberal Democrats for a decade and was a leading national politician who stood up for many issues. Some of them were unpopular at the time, but they were great issues of principle.
In spite of Sir Paddy's high profile nationally, he is particularly remembered in Yeovil for his contribution as a constituency MP—for 18 years as MP and for some 25 years as MP and prospective parliamentary candidate. I have had the pleasure of shadowing Sir Paddy over the past couple of years and have seen what an incredibly hard-working and effective constituency MP he is. His basic values of honesty, integrity and hard work are an example to all of us in this place. During the election campaign, I was provided with an answer to those sceptical individuals on the doorstep who are inclined to ask whether politicians are simply in politics for 104 themselves. Sir Paddy has never been in politics for himself, and many thousands of people in the Yeovil constituency have benefited from his hard work over the years. To that extent, it will be extremely difficult to take over from him.
While shadowing Sir Paddy over the past couple of years, I learned to my cost of the high standards and hands-on work that he has done in the constituency. Last year, when we had severe flooding problems throughout the south-west and other parts of the country, I recollect receiving the usual early-morning telephone call from him and the suggestion that I actively involve myself as soon as possible. I assumed that that meant going to the areas that had been flooded identifying the problems and firing off some letters to the relevant authorities to make sure that the issues were dealt with in the future. It turned out that Sir Paddy had something far more practical in mind and that the usual Ashdown approach to such matters was to put on his wellington boots and a chunky jumper and to help those in such a dire predicament to remove the furniture from their homes. He has been a hands-on constituency MP in every sense. While nobody can be a blueprint of their predecessor—some sort of carbon copy—I hope that I can maintain the high standard of service to my constituents in the years ahead.
I wish to mention dine aspects of the Gracious Speech. The first relates to the reason I entered politics in the first place. I became interested in politics some 20 years ago, when we had severe economic problems and high unemployment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Sir Paddy was making his maiden speech in 1983, he described a situation in which unemployment in his constituency stood at 7.6 per cent., which was quite low at that time, but youth unemployment was closer to 30 per cent. That horrendous figure reflected the many problems throughout the country. They were not only economic problems but extended to every area of social life and our ability to raise money for public services such as education, health and public transport.
It is a great pleasure to arrive here some 20 years later to discover the progress that recent Governments have been able to make in reducing unemployment. That has been done to such an extent that Yeovil has a current unemployment rate of around 1.5 per cent., one of the lowest in the country. Although there is clearly much more to do in many constituencies in black spots to bring unemployment down, that is a great achievement and the Government are right lo ensure that the highest priority throughout this Parliament is to keep the stable economic conditions that are in place and that will allow the economy to grow and, we hope, provide moneys that can be put into public services to improve them.
Secondly, on the state of such public services as health and education, pensions and public transport, I must be somewhat gloomier than the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) who earlier defended the Government's record and, to some extent, their reputation on those matters. My experience from the Yeovil constituency is that there is still dissatisfaction with the progress that the Government have been able to make so far. Although we may be able to detect some slight upturn when we study the minutiae of the figures available, our constituents cannot as yet identify improvements in policing, the national health service, schools, pensions and public transport.
105 I can recollect individuals, even today in a country such as ours, having to wait more than two years for a hip replacement operation, as the hon. Member for Banbury also said. One individual in Chard came to me recently with precisely such a problem, having waited two and a quarter years for a hip replacement, ending up in a wheelchair having to take large amounts of pain killers each day. That ruined her quality of life and it must be extremely expensive and inefficient for the health service.
Although there has been some progress on schools and education, we still have higher secondary class sizes in my constituency than we had in 1997 and we still have pensioners on pensions that are far too low. There is a great deal to be done in those respects and I fear that the measures in today's Gracious Speech do not necessarily live up to the challenge of the next four years.
Labour Members have recognised that by the time of the next election they will have been expected to have made great progress in those areas. Given the cash that is going to some areas and the reforms that the Government are contemplating, I am not convinced that the Government have today put in place the measures that will be necessary to bring about the sea change in public services that people are expecting. Given their record in the previous Parliament of acting too slowly, the Government should be extremely cautious about leaving those matters too late.
A grander issue, and one that we have all no doubt faced on the doorstep at some stage during the election, is the euro. Obviously, a great deal of attention will be paid in this Parliament to whether we have a referendum on the euro. I was pleased to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Banbury from the Conservative Benches, which seemed to show a slightly more mature and sophisticated approach to the European issue than that advanced from those on the Conservative Front Bench in the past few years.
However, I detect concern among many of our constituents, not so much on the economic issues but on the political issues that surround the euro. That is why the Liberal Democrats have been so keen to advance the notion of a constitution for Europe that would both define and limit its powers. It would ensure that it involved itself in the big issues that many people in this country understand it should be involved in. such as the environment, trade and even foreign and defence issues, but it would keep it out of others, such as taxation and even much of social policy, about which the House should be free to decide. I hope that the Government will play their part in Europe in the next few years by putting such reforms centre stage. I suspect that they are the reforms that will be necessary before the Government can win a referendum on the euro.
Finally, the motto of the town that gives its name to my constituency seems particularly relevant to the work that Sir Paddy Ashdown has done in the past few years. If hon. Members will excuse my Latin. it is "Industria, virtute et labore", which has been translated for me as meaning, "By diligence, courage and hard work." That is a good tribute to Sir Paddy Ashdown. That motto very much characterises the work that he has done in the Yeovil constituency in the past quarter of a century. I will try to live up to those standards in the years to come.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
I rise in my place with some trepidation, having just emerged from the murky shadows of the Government Whips Office. Therefore, I have some sympathy for those with a maiden speech to make. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) need have no such fears, however; he gave a confident and a competent parliamentary performance. He did not entirely follow the expected convention of being uncontroversial, but he need not be too concerned about that as exactly the same criticism was levelled at me by Sir Giles Shaw from the Dispatch Box 15 years ago. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has a difficult act to follow, as he observed—following a party leader who is still a prominent national figure—but he shows all the signs of being a credit to his predecessor and I am sure that he will also be a credit to his constituency.
I welcome the Loyal Address and in particular the stated intention to improve further our health and education services, as well as public services in general. There is much in the speech to celebrate, but there are also some omissions, not least of which is regional government, a subject to which I will return.
First, I must mention some specifics to which I hope the new Government will pay urgent attention when they introduce legislation. I hope that a system of licensing and regulation of the private rented housing sector will be introduced. Too many people have their daily lives disrupted, their environment damaged and scarred and their quality of life destroyed because of the antisocial behaviour of a minority of tenants. Councils have some remedy for that and take action from time to time to deal with the problem, but I hope that the Government will find ways to help councils to deal even more effectively with such people. Similarly, housing associations try—not too hard, I often find—to influence matters under their control. If the Government can do more to encourage effective intervention by those organisations, I am sure that thousands of tenants will be grateful.
Private absentee landlords are a different matter, however. Some of them are fine and they try to run their properties responsibly, but too many are content to sit back and count the rent that is coming in—often from housing benefit—and do not care two jots about the behaviour of their tenants, the condition of the property and the effects on the local community.
I hope to see the introduction of properly regulated tenancy agreements, which all private landlords must provide when letting and which they must be responsible for enforcing. I want agreements that would oblige tenants to act reasonably towards their neighbours and to keep the surroundings of the property in reasonable condition—agreements to prohibit the dumping of rubbish in gardens or the curtilages of the property and the putting out of waste in unsuitable containers that dogs and cats can tear open and scatter about the neighbourhood. I also want local authorities to be empowered and resourced to ensure that rented property is kept in reasonable condition—inside and out—and that landlords are meeting their obligations under the regulations and in accordance with the tenancy agreement.
Local government was another glaring omission from the Gracious Speech. Incidentally, I am not saying anything here that I have not said inside the tent, as it Ifcwere, which may go some way towards explaining why 107 I am now outside it. Sometimes, attitudes to local government in this place are appalling. When some people are elected to Parliament—often with little experience of much outside their own limited spheres—they seem to think that they have been elected because they possess a superior intellect or have suddenly become fountains of knowledge and wisdom. They bleat on about democracy and yet they seem to think that, even though councillors are also democratically elected, the Member of Parliament's mandate is somehow the only legitimate one.
Although the general structure, duties, responsibilities and overall expenditure of councils are, of course, legitimate areas for Parliament and the Government to decide, the extent of interference by Whitehall in what should be local matters and the patronising finger wagging by Ministers—of all Governments—are sickening. Ministers would do well to be a little more humble in their dealings with people who are also elected and who know their area, their duties and their responsibilities.
I suspect that hon. Members on both sides of the House will have found, as I did, during the recent election campaign that local councillors were the people on whom we most relied to organise and to help. We would do well to remember that and to appreciate the vital contribution that local government makes to our democracy and to the standard and quality of life of our fellow citizens on a daily basis. I also hope that we will soon take a new look at how local government is financed. I regret that the Loyal Address made no mention of that.
The current system of standard spending assessments—another Tory brainwave—is discredited and unfair. The population basis of calculations is too simplistic and fails properly to take into account the different needs and demography of an area. We have to look at new ways of financing local authorities, which will give them the flexibility to respond to local needs and demands and which properly recognise the values of locally based and accountable services.
I well remember my days as leader of Gateshead council—a position that I was proud to hold. I remember the relationship between the council and the private sector. There is nothing new in councils engaging private sector companies to do sometimes major works. Local authority relationships with private companies led to many problems in the past, but the way in which the relationship is being dictated by the Government now is undermining morale among councillors and public sector workers. It seems to some that the old adage "Public sector good, private sector bad" is being turned on its head by the Government. The Government should gan canny on this, to use a familiar Tyneside expression. Efficiency must not mean cheapness or cuts in wages for low earners, which is all too often the result of private sector involvement in the delivery of services, as opposed to capital investment.
With the proper safeguards, there can be a healthy relationship between the public and private sectors, but the Government have yet to show that they fully appreciate the strength of feeling on the matter, let alone the dangers to the public services involved. Public services will not improve if staff and local representatives are undervalued and demoralised.
108 Regional government was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin). I much regret the absence of any reference in the Queen's Speech to devolution, save for the curious statement:My Government maintains its commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales.I was not aware that there was any doubt about the Government's maintaining their commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales. Why is it necessary to leave out any reference to England? That is a mystery that I hope will be cleared up soon. Is there any significance in the fact that no references are made to the Government's commitment to London or Northern Ireland? The inclusion of that sentence in the Gracious Speech leaves many questions unanswered.
It is the case, of course, that the Gracious Speech does not contain the entirety of the Government's intentions over the whole Parliament or even the whole Session, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out. Other speeches will be forthcoming and, as Her Majesty put it:Other measures will be laid before you.However, some of us believe that there is now some urgency on the issue of regional government. Devolution, is a process, not an event, and we will be pressing for clarification of the Government's intention on the continuation of the process.
Indeed, there is a need for much clarification on regional policy—not least the division of responsibilities between Ministers and Departments. if, as I hope, regional government remains on the Government's agenda, who will be in overall charge of taking it forward? Which Department will be responsible for which aspects of policy and policy development? We need early answers to those questions. The issue will not go away, and the regions of England will not be sidelined, and certainly will not be ignored.
All Governments have recognised the administrative advantages of dividing England up into regions. For example, regional structures were put in place during the first and second world wars, and regional economic planning councils were put in place by the Wilson Government in 1964. The Kilbrandon report in 1973 recommended the creation of regional co-ordinating and advisory councils, part-elected and part-nominated. A previous Conservative Government set up regional offices to co-ordinate the activities of the regional arms of Government Departments, headed by a single civil servant with considerable power and influence. Labour has, of course, retained regional offices and supplemented them with regional development agencies, and encouraged regional chambers made up of community leaders to provide a quasi-democratic element.
Now that major constitutional reforms are in place, with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and a new Assembly for Greater London, it is time to move on. The new Government must complete the work. The reconstitution of the Standing Committee for the English Regions is welcome, but by no means a substitute for regional government. We shall have to wait to see how often the Committee is to meet and to what extent it is able to influence regional issues. Perhaps an all-party group on regional government, independent of the Executive, would be better placed to give vent to 109 Back-Bench contributions on the subject. I shall discuss that with colleagues, but in the meantime we should give the Standing Committee a reasonable chance to prove its usefulness.
The new Government must take early action to correct the anomaly that devolution has created. There can surely be no justification now for Scotland and Wales having their own Secretary of State sitting in the Cabinet, influencing things on their behalf, when they have their own assemblies. One Cabinet Minister for the nations and regions would suffice and I hope that that will be forthcoming soon. As long as the current system remains, the English regions, especially regions such as the north, are further disadvantaged.
I do not intend today to call for the immediate abolition of the Barnett formula, although believe that in due course the system of financing the nations and regions will have to be reformed. Some of those who call for the abolition of the Barnett formula, or the provision of a Barnett formula for the north, are joining those who make the rather simplistic assumption that abolishing the formula would somehow benefit the north or that the Government are likely to extend it to one region and not the rest. I want what is right for the north, not what is right for Scotland, Wales or London. That must be based on a proper assessment of needs and resources, not on petty jealousy of what some other area gets.
I have no doubt that such an assessment would benefit the north-east, but the general quality of life is good in our region. We have a lot to offer and to be proud of and, given the resources and the flexibility to use them to our best advantage, we can go a long way to resolving our own problems and extending quality living to all our citizens. The Labour party in the north has long campaigned for regional government in England. The proposal from some that there should be an English Parliament flies in the face of cultural and historical development and would leave northern regions dominated once again by the more wealthy and highly populated south.
Governments past and present have accepted the wisdom of creating and maintaining a regional structure in England that recognises the cultural and economic development of distinctive areas of the country. The time is right for that to manifest itself in properly accountable regional government that will not take powers away from local government nor be conditional on the restructuring of local government within its area. However, after the regional structure has become established, there could be a duty on the new regional government to report to Parliament within a specific time scale on the structure of local government within the region. It must be government with teeth, with the powers and resources to make a real impact on the economic and structural problems that the region faces.
Regional government in the north would give us direct influence in Europe and a strong, collective voice to promote our virtues and enhance our image in a way that central Government and local authorities cannot. It would give us the ability to pursue regional priorities that fit with regional aspirations, not the priorities as they are perceived in Whitehall.
What will a regional assembly look like? It will be democratically elected by the people of the region. Its members should think regionally and not consider 110 themselves representatives of a specific or geographical area. The system of election to the assembly should therefore reflect that principle. It will be small enough to be efficient yet large enough to be properly representative. That will form the directly accountable, decision-making assembly. However, its structures should be inclusive and encompass local government, regional business, the regional TUC, further and higher education, the voluntary sector and so on. It will be financed by central Government grant and the taking over of central Government's functions in the region. It will not have direct tax-raising powers.
Those who oppose regional government often say that it will be yet another tier of government, that it will be costly or that it will provide more jobs for the boys. I refute all those arguments. We are the most under-represented country in Europe. The 1974 local government changes cut the numbers of elected councillors by half. The previous Tory Government abolished metropolitan counties and the Greater London council. The introduction of regional government—a common form of government in the rest of Europe and throughout the world—will go some small way to redressing the cuts in democratic representation.
The truth is that our people are now ruled by quango—small groups appointed by and accountable to the centre. Regional government can replace much of that, so it need not place substantial additional financial costs on the taxpayer. Indeed, there are real opportunities for cost savings through regional government. Furthermore, as much of the responsibility of the regional tier will be transferred from existing central Government responsibilities, there should be no additional costs arising there either.
The "jobs for the boys" point should be directed at quangocracy, the little huddles of the great and the good who sort out who will be chairman of this or member of that—posts that often bring generous salaries for very little work. Such people are completely unaccountable to the local people whom they are supposed to serve.
We are proposing a big change; these are matters that deserve detailed debate and discussion on both sides of the House. The time is right for us to move forward to the next phase of devolution. English regional government is at least part of the answer to the West Lothian question. It will promote innovation and variety in the governance of our country. It is right for the UK and it is certainly right for the north.
Devolution is a process for the whole of the United Kingdom. It cannot be implemented in part or in a piecemeal fashion if it is to work efficiently and to full advantage. That is why regional government is a natural and necessary next step, but it can be only part of a holistic approach to modern government. It should be complemented by and associated with another constitutional change that will also be crucial to the development of efficient and modern government in the United Kingdom: the completion of reform of the House of Lords. Thankfully, that was mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The House of Commons is directly elected by the people and so must reign supreme. The second Chamber must be accountable and representative yet remain a "second" Chamber. For that reason, I oppose a directly elected second Chamber. Direct elections would confer 111 the same legitimacy to Members of the second Chamber as to MPs, possibly resulting in opposing mandates and bad government.
How then can we create a second Chamber with legitimacy and authority that would contribute to good government? How can we create a second Chamber that would have weight, would command respect and would have the confidence to challenge Government but, in the final analysis, not be able to frustrate the mandate on which the Government were elected? Just as the House of Commons represents the people, by direct elections, the second Chamber should represent the structure of society, by indirect elections. To the second Chamber, or perhaps the "House of Representatives", would come the representatives of business, trade unions, religious organisations, the voluntary sector, regional assemblies, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, local government and other appropriate sections of society.
Such a structure would create a House of representatives with wide experience and expertise—an assembly of men and women from a broad cross-section of society, accountable to their sponsoring organisations, and who could properly scrutinise legislation without pursuing an overtly party political agenda. Such a House would complement and enhance the policy of devolution. It would be a House finally free of the hereditary principle and of prime ministerial patronage. A second Chamber so constituted would command the confidence and respect of the British people; it would have a proper, useful role and would be an efficient and welcome addition to our constitution.
I have already gone on longer than I intended. No doubt that is a result of four years of purdah in the Whips Office. I spent six years in all in the Whips Office and that taught me about the frustrations of hon. Members when one Member drones on ad nauseam—I think I am getting close to that point. However, I hope to return to these and other issues in due course. In the meantime, I welcome the opportunity to return to the Back Benches.
§ Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)
I wholeheartedly congratulate the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) on his splendid maiden speech. I remember making my maiden speech to a packed House, because at that time it used to be a great occasion and the Chamber was often full. I made my maiden speech on the rate-capping measure. I followed the former right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Strangely enough, the right hon. Gentleman was not in favour of rate capping—I took a different view. It was noticeable that the hon. Member for Yeovil was entirely in tune with his predecessor in that constituency and was right to pay a warm tribute to him.
The hon. Member for Yeovil impressed the House with the command of his understanding of issues in his constituency. I certainly was extremely impressed that he used no notes. I shall not try to kid anyone that I am that clever—I have bits of paper all over the show in case I forget what I am saying.
The hon. Member for Yeovil made this a special occasion. No doubt, the Whips will be telling the 96 or 97 new Members to make their maiden speech quickly. That is bad advice. The only time that the House will 112 really listen to what hon. Members say is when they make their maiden speech, so I am not in favour of throwing that opportunity away when there is no one to listen to it. I say to the hon. Gentleman, "Well done!"
If we had fought the general election campaign on the basis of today's Gracious Speech, God help us all. In every sense, there is an awful programme before us and I shall deal with it in detail in a moment. However, I want to talk about the general election campaign. It was a rotten campaign in every sense.
1 shall share my personal experiences with the House. In my former constituency, I was used to fighting the Labour party—this is not a dig at the two Liberal Members in the Chamber—but in my present constituency, I found it a new experience to be fighting the Liberal party. Four years ago, when I spoke on the Gracious Speech, I felt somewhat discomfited because I had been sitting on the Government Benches and when one suddenly finds oneself in opposition it can be somewhat discomfiting. I do not feel like that today. I have got used to being on the Opposition Benches although I do not enjoy it and I very much want my party to return to government.
I have also got used to the way in which the Liberal party fights general election campaigns. In particular, I have got used to the little charts that they put through letter boxes; I have got used to the Focus newspaper and being told not to let dogs mess on the footpaths and not to drop litter. I have become very used to the Liberal style of campaigning.
During the general election campaign, the hon. Member for Southend, West was. told that he should find another job, because it was, apparently, a two-horse race and I did not figure in it at all. It was a straight fight between the Liberal candidate and the Labour candidate. I have found out that the Liberal organisation wrote to all declared Labour supporters telling them to vote tactically in Southend, West. As the Liberals saw it, there was a straight fight and they were in pole position to take the seat.
I can say only that that backfired spectacularly on the dear Liberal party. Not only did the Liberals lose votes—more than 6,000 votes— but they are no longer even in second place; they are in third place. The Labour candidate at least had the good grace to say at the declaration that he deplored the technique of tactical voting. He said loudly that if one stands for a political party one jolly well votes for it. This place will improve when hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen have convictions and tell the general public what they believe in. I applauded the Labour candidate who deplored tactical voting. I suspect that the Liberal charts and claims about two-horse races will no longer happen.
I found myself in a state of shock at the count because I had obtained the largest majority ever during my time in politics. We managed to treble our vote. If any of my Conservative colleagues are feeling depressed about the general election result, let them come to Essex! The tide has turned for the Conservative party in Essex. I may bait the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) to join me and to share his views on the situation. In Essex, we achieved splendid results. In Southend, it was quite clear that the general public wanted no more of this rotten Labour Government supported by the Liberals; they wanted a Conservative Government, so both Southend Members were elected with substantial majorities.
113 It gets better. We had the council elections. The Labour and Liberal parties did not fare at all well in those elections. The Liberals used to be the main opposition in Southend— but no longer. The Conservatives were elected with a huge majority. As for Essex county council, there was an interesting technique at presidential questions: a Labour member would bowl gentle balls to the leader of the Labour party about how badly Conservative-controlled Essex county council were administering education, transport, and other matters. That obviously did not work, because Essex county council is no longer a hung council in which the chairman has the casting vote; there is now a substantial Conservative majority. So my right hon. and hon. Friends need not feel too gloomy about how the Conservative party did in the general election, because we did very well in Southend.
The only thing that was troubling me when I went to my count was the knowledge that, at the start of the general election campaign, I had recklessly agreed to do a charity abseil down the side of the Cliffs pavilion. I am told that the abseil has attracted a record number of subscribers, on the basis that any number of people are keen to see the hon. Member for Southend, West break his neck. I do not intend to break my neck on Sunday and create the need for a by-election.
I shall now consider the Gracious Speech. We heard that the Government's central objectives wereeconomic stability…investment and reform in public services, leading to a more prosperous and inclusive society.I did not hear the leader of the Labour party tell the House what that inclusive society was all about, but I can tell him that the people who are not included in the Labour party project are the working classes. Labour despise the working classes now. One has to be posh to be a member of the Labour party these days. If the Government are serious about creating a more inclusive society, the first people that they need to include are the working classes in the United Kingdom who did not vote.
It is a disgrace that this rotten Government were elected by only one in four of the general public. Why are people not voting? A person from the media asked me what I thought the low turnout was all about. This is the media asking Members of Parliament why we have a low turnout! Elements of the media have undoubtedly denigrated Members of Parliament, lowering their standing in public esteem.
I, for one, wholeheartedly blame the Labour Government, especially their leader, for what has happened in this country. They have tried to americanise our politics. They have announced outside the House things that should have been announced on the Floor of the House. They have trivialised our proceedings. They have turned their own Back Benchers into a crowd of lemmings. However, as a result of the reshuffle that has taken place, we may hear increasingly from Labour Members of Parliament how they feel about the 20 Bills on which the House will be deliberating over the next 18 months.
It is a disgrace that we have followed the United States of America, and voter apathy is the winner. We are the mother of Parliaments. People from all over the world admire the standing of this place, and yet it has been reduced to a second-rate Chamber. I am disgusted about that. I hope that Members of Parliament will be honest with themselves and that we shall all quietly reflect on the matter, and then not just talk but do something about it.
114 We were told in the Gracious Speech that theGovernment's main priorities for the forthcoming Session will be reform in education, health, crime and welfare.Have they just suddenly become interested in crime, welfare, health and reform of public services'? What on earth has been going on for the past four years? This is drivel.
We are told by the Labour Government that it took four years to sort out the public finances. That is codswallop. There was nothing wrong with the public finances when Labour won in 1997. The truth is that they did not have a clue what to do when they became the Government. They did not know how to run the health service. They did not know how to run education. They did not know how to deal with crime and disorder. Yes, they talked about an integrated transport system, but they certainly have not delivered one. It has been a disaster, and as Members have knocked on people's doors during the election campaign they have learned at first hand the general public's perception of all these issues.
We were told in the Gracious Speech that theGovernment will introduce legislation to reform education.How many Members of Parliament who spoke to teachers on the doorstep were told, "David, I am glad that you are here. The Government are doing a fantastic job in reforming education. The 1,099 circulars really are the answer to education, education, education"? No, teachers did not say that. They said. "David, our morale is at rock bottom because we have a nannying Government who haven't a clue about what they want to do in education other than interfere." So when I read details about how the Government are going to reform education in this country, I think, God help the teachers who work, day in, day out, trying to inspire our children to get involved.
I wonder how many hon. Members went to mock general elections in schools. Even that was not on the agenda this time. I started in politics by standing in the mock elections in 1964 and 1970.
§ Mr. Amess
For the Conservative party, of course. That was in Newham.
It is a joke for this rotten Government to suggest that they are going to reform education. That is not what I wanted to hear. What about all the youngsters who do not go to school? Where is the solution from the great person who leads the Labour party? What about all those 14, 15 and 16-year-olds who are not in school? What will the Labour party do to encourage them to return to the classroom?
I think of Government circular No. 1099, which destroyed the Labour support in a local secondary school. A headmaster expelled two youngsters because they were caught taking drugs, but this ridiculous Government's circular says that a pupil cannot be expelled unless they are caught selling drugs. Can you imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government actually allowed a circular such as that to be taken as a panacea for our educational ills? The past four years has destroyed morale in education and I hope that morale will not be destroyed any further.
We are told that theGovernment will introduce legislation to reform health services.115 That must be the biggest joke ever. Two right hon. Members have had a go at reforming the health service, and it is an absolute disgrace. In Southend at the moment, we have just one consultant psychiatrist, thanks to this rotten Labour Government, and when I knocked on one or two doors I could see that there were a few problems there. We have closed our two local mental health centres, in Westcliff and Shoebury.
During the general election campaign— as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said—very interestingly, the increase in waiting list figures was not announced until the Friday, and this rotten Government, the day after the election, say, "We shall not have waiting lists any more. It is all going to be about waiting times." My goodness, I cannot wait. I will volunteer to serve on the Committee that considers the health Bill. I opted out of the last one, but I cannot wait to get cracking on this one. We can read in Hansard all the quotes by Labour Ministers, saying that we should take no notice of waiting times because it is all about waiting lists.
I heard the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), who has left the Chamber, say how arrogant the Conservative Government were. Well, my goodness, what about the arrogance of this Government? This Government have taken no notice of the medical profession, and my fax machine is already full of the letters from the British Medical Association. When Labour Members were in opposition, they used to pray in aid the BMA. Well, the BMA now says:The major obstacles in the path of better care for patients do not require legislation, they require investment in the training and employment of more clinical staff and a commitment to modern, fair contracts for consultants and GPs.First, this crazy Government upset the consultants by imposing on them a six-year contract, with an option of an extra year, which will not work. Those consultants are needed to run our health service, but the Government have completely alienated them, and they have now turned on the doctors and the general practitioners. For the first time ever, GPs in this country are going on strike in July. The Conservatives cannot be blamed for that; it is what four years of this rotten Government have done.
The Royal College of Nursing was always used in support by Labour party activists, but today it has said thatthe key issue for the NHS is the urgent need to recruit and retain more nurses. The Government has set a highly ambitious target of 20,000 extra nurses. This will only be achieved if there is real sustained action not only to recruit nurses but to ensure that those in the profession stay.Nothing that the Government have done in the past four years will restore morale in the health service, and all hon. Members know, from knocking on doors, that morale is absolutely rock bottom.
We are told in the Gracious Speech thatLegislation will be brought forward to help the police fight crime".This Government helping the police fight crime! My goodness, we heard at first hand during the election campaign what a high regard the police have for this rotten Government. Again, as a result of the Government's mismanagement during the past four years, pay and conditions are the biggest police morale issues. In 1979, when the Labour party was thrown out of office 116 and the Conservatives had to sort out a terrible mess, we immediately implemented the Edmond Davies report, restoring morale to the police force. Yet again, this arrogant Government have not listened to anything, but they say that they will help the police.
§ Mr. David Taylor
The hon. Gentleman talks of sorting out the mess, hut does he include—or pray in aid, as he would say in his overblown rhetoric—the rotten doubling of crime under the Conservative party when in office?
§ Mr. Amess
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about the Conservatives' doubling crime. He should reflect on the fact that fighting crime in this country is not helped by the Government releasing half the criminals early. Can hon. Members imagine anything more stupid than going through all the expense of court cases when those found guilty go to prison for increasingly short times?
We are told in the Gracious Speech thatA draft Bill to create a single regulator for the media and communications industries and reform the broadcasting and telecommunications regulations will be published.It is not modern or popular for people to cast themselves as Christians, but all hon. Members are only too well aware of the campaign to provide a dedicated channel for Premier Christian broadcasting. We are all aware of the letters that we have received from Ministers, basically saying that we cannot have such a dedicated channel.
§ Mr. Amess
The hon. Gentleman says that, but we have had a rotten Labour Government for four years, so it is about time that we heard about Labour legislation if the Conservatives were so wrong. I have no influence with the Government, but, as a matter of urgency, I ask those Labour Members who now feel freer than they did during the previous Parliament—perhaps they have some influence—to press for a Christian radio broadcasting frequency.
We are told in the Gracious Speech thatFollowing consultation, [the] Government will introduce legislation to implement the second phase of House of Lords reform.That shows how crazy the Government are. They are telling us in the Gracious Speech that a Bill will be introduced to outlaw foxhunting. I shall share a secret about the Government's game with my recently elected hon. Friends. We shall debate foxhunting, and I am one of a small minority of my colleagues who vote differently from the rest, but there will be a huge majority in favour of banning foxhunting. The Bill will then go to the House of Lords, and all the Labour Members will say, "Well, what can you expect of the House of Lords? It's a complete anachronism. It's stuffed full of Conservatives." That will not wash any more, because the House of Lords is stuffed full of Labour cronies, and I can name one or two of them who are totally pro-foxhunting, so it is nonsense to suggest that we cannot deal with foxhunting without reforming the House of Lords, and I will not buy it.
117 We are told in the Gracious Speech that there will be legislationto allow political parties to make positive moves to increase the representation of women in public life.Well, was not it a wonderful spectacle when a Labour Minister deigned to open her mouth at a press conference during the general election campaign? The media had asked where the Labour women were in the general election campaign. Of course, none of them was to be seen, and two of them were immediately slapped down when they tried to say something during a press conference. I have never met a lady who needed men to fight on her behalf. When we had a woman as leader of the Conservative party and as Prime Minister, this country had its finest hours. I have no problem with more women being elected to the House and having them as leaders, but we need no help from this rotten Government to get women back into Parliament.
However, I agree with one of the measures in the Gracious Speech—that on adoption. I had a few words to say on the previous Bill. It will be a splendid measure. It is crazy that a huge number of babies and children cannot be adopted because of all the bureaucracy involved. I speak only for myself, and certainly not for my party, but I hope that we back the Government on that issue so that the measure quickly reaches the statute book.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Yeovil on his maiden speech, which seems a long time ago now. My colleagues should not be downhearted about the result of the election campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) is now in his seat, and we had a splendid result in Essex, and I include you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as your constituency is in Essex. Once again, Essex will lead the Conservative party back to victory and on to the Benches opposite.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
A key theme of the Queen's Speech—indeed, it was the dominant theme of the general election—is the need to create high-quality, world-class public services. It is clear that the electorate rejected the Conservatives' approach to public service, and it is not difficult to understand why. Teachers and pupils had a long recollection of the year-on-year cuts in school budgets, and patients, carers and those who use the transport system knew only too well the consequences of privatisation. Everyone rumbled the fact that tax cuts, however unspecified—£8 billion, £16 billion, £20 billion or £30 billion—would lead to cuts in public services.
It is also clear that people have high expectations of the new Labour Government. I looked with interest at the commitments on public services in our manifesto, which says thatwe seek to achieve a renaissance of status and quality for public services and their staff.It goes on to say that we will create a Britainwhere investment is now pouring into public services".We must deliver on those promises and build on the good start that we made in our first term.
Over the past three years, the budget of Nottingham health authority rose by about 5 per cent. in real terms. Since the last year of the Conservative Government, its budget has increased by £185 million to £462 million this year. School budgets have also increased in 118 Nottinghamshire. Compared with last year's budget, this year's has increased by 6.1 per cent. School budgets have increased every year since the 1997 general election. What is more, we have a sound economic platform for greater investment in public services—in hospitals and schools—over the next three years.
There can be no alibi for failure in our second term. We will have been in power for eight or nine years and we must make a difference to the public services that have been mentioned tonight. However, there is a curious paradox, which has interested me for many years, before and during my time on the Government Front Bench. We are investing more in public services, but the people who work in them have, by and large, low morale. I have heard that denied, but my experience in surgeries, hospitals and schools and with the police force suggests that there is a crisis with regard to the people who work in the front line of public services. Unless we can improve morale, enthuse and involve front-line staff and make them real stakeholders in the provision of services, the rhetoric of creating high-quality, world-class public services will be just that—rhetoric.
I want to examine how we got to this position and, more importantly, what we should do about it. The first problem is the danger that the large sums of money that are being put into public services have been overinflated and have raised the public's expectations. Hon. Members will remember that in our first spending round an extra £40 billion was made available for health and education. However, when worked out on a year-on-year basis, that gave growth of just 3 per cent. Over the next three years we are promising to put a third extra into the national health service—the biggest cash increase that it has ever received. However, there are many different priorities and we need to be clear that we might raise the expectations of consumers and, more particularly, raise too greatly the expectations of the people who work in our public services.
We have had a decade of under-investment in public service. In the previous Parliament, the Government increased the money available, but that is like a sponge mopping up water; it takes time to turn things around. Let me give a classic example. The number of police officers fell for eight years under both Governments, but it began to grow for the first time last autumn. We are in a position to invest 5 to 6 per cent. more, year on year, in public services. We need to ensure that that is translated into service improvements on the front line.
The second problem is that when we came into power in 1997 after 18 years out of government, we were keen to do so much that we concentrated on quantity rather than quality. For example, one of the key spending Departments in the previous Administration had 50 top priorities. Clearly, it was impossible to deliver them all. One message for our second term is that we must focus our priorities and concentrate on quality rather than quantity. if we can deliver services well, with our stakeholders, it is clear that morale will increase and we will have made real improvements.
A third aim, which is an absolute priority, is to involve the work force in our public services so that they help to set targets and timetables. After all, people who come into public services are like politicians; they want to make a difference, to serve the people in their community and to make services better for their kids and their children's children. Unless we involve the providers of public 119 services—the people who are close to the consumer—there is a danger that our initiatives will be out of touch with the needs of the customer or consumer. When that has been achieved, it has been a tremendous success. When the cheque for school standards money goes directly to head teachers, it is most welcome. I have talked to ward sisters who have a budget of their own and feel more in touch with their destiny. We should do more of that and translate the rhetoric of the devolution of finance and decision making into reality.
There will be consequences. Although we might set targets from the centre, if we trust people on the ground to deliver, they will find different ways to resolve issues. They will find different local solutions to a shared problem. Things will happen differently in Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Nuneaton and Newcastle. Instead of being anxious about that, we should celebrate it. There is a belief that all public services have to be delivered in the same way, but that is clearly a fallacy. We must ensure that public services meet the needs of local communities and when, as a consequence, a local solution is different from what the Government want, we must be mature enough to accept that.
Mistakes occur in all large organisations. It is a fact of life that things go wrong. Public services have been disabled by the fact that when that has happened we have far too often been critical rather than supportive. Politicians have a tendency to call for a public inquiry when there is a problem, but we must consider the facts and learn lessons. We must also acknowledge that the people working in those public services have been doing their best. As a Government and as management, far too much of our focus has been on failure. The other side of the coin is the need to identify and promote success. There is a lot to be proud of in our public services. We have not achieved our aim of using education and health action zones, where interesting changes are taking place, to inform public services throughout the country.
If I am right to argue that the focus has been on failure and that we ought to concentrate on the positive and to reward success, that has implications for our inspection and regulatory bodies, such as Ofsted, the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. I have always argued that the Audit Commission ought to be called the "Quality Commission". Instead of number crunching and looking at the nuts and bolts, it should identify good practice and use those practitioners to roll out good practice throughout the country.
Until recently, Ofsted has been an absolute disaster. If one body has had a destabilising and dysfunctional effect on public services, it is Ofsted. It is now under new management, with a regime that has a lighter touch, and I hope that we can make progress. The lesson that all Governments need to learn from the Ofsted experience is that naming and shaming is dysfunctional and destructive, and the way to improve public services is to be proud, positive and rewarding. High-quality, world-class public services will be achieved only if we use all the resources at our disposal.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), I see nothing wrong in principle in using the private sector, but the issue is why and how we will do it. There are strong arguments to be had about that. We must be careful to get away from the old Thatcherite 120 legacy of "private sector good, public sector bad". We know that if we look for good and bad management, we will find examples of both in the public sector and in the private sector. Bringing in private sector management, allegedly to reform our failing public sector schools and hospitals, could prove to be more dysfunctional than it is worth. We need to be clear that the role of bodies such as Ofsted and central Departments is to look for and promote good practice.
It makes sense to strengthen central Government and to reinforce the Cabinet Office. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) is right that we need to set targets, but the process by which people reach those targets is a matter for a more local level. We can be absolutely certain that change in public services will not be delivered by central Government—by people in the Cabinet Office. Substantial, meaningful change that will affect our constituents will occur only if the people who work on the front line are involved and enthused.
I have not set out a prescription for the health of the NHS, and I am not giving lessons about investment in education. I am keen to stress a straightforward management point, a truism. If we are determined to make change, the people who can make the change—the change agents—are the doctors, nurses, teachers and head teachers, and the police officers on our streets. If we cannot excite and enthuse them, and make them part of our crusade to adapt and improve public services, we face real dangers and the possibility of failure.
I am conscious that this is work in progress and that unless we involve the work force we will not make progress. Unless the stakeholders really are involved, our commitment and desire to create world-class, high-quality public services will be in doubt. The challenge before us is to make the change to ensure that the people who work for us and our communities are fully engaged and supported in the task.
§ Norman Baker (Lewes)
I put on record my congratulations to my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) on his very good maiden speech. He will undoubtedly be a useful Member. His speech was relatively short—the shortest of the debate so far—and that might be one reason why it was particularly good in comparison with those of Members who have been in the House longer, including myself, who have a tendency to ramble on at some length. [Interruption.] One is not heckled during one's maiden speech, but that courtesy does not of course apply to what might be called my second maiden speech.
I congratulate the Government on their re-election and on the considerable achievement, to which the Prime Minister referred earlier, of a full second term for a Labour Government Historically, we should recognise that as a significant achievement. Concern has been expressed by Members of all parties that it was secured on a vote of only 25 per cent. of the population. We can trade figures about how few votes the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats received, but it is of genuine concern that the vote was down. Undoubtedly, one reason was that we were told by the media that Labour would win, and therefore there was no point in voting, as the election had already been decided.
121 A second factor is the way in which we conduct ourselves in this place. We have a Modernisation Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has turned up on cue for my mention of it—but we did not modernise far or fast enough in the previous Parliament. I hope that we will get a move on in this new Parliament. One reason why we have to legislate to introduce more women MPs is that, with debates continuing long into the evening, this place remains very unfriendly to them—as it does to all of us with families.
Another way of increasing turnout would be to introduce proportional representation—a fair voting system, so that votes count. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who made not perhaps a rotten, but certainly an eccentric speech, denounced tactical voting. Tactical voting would not be necessary if we had a fair voting system. It becomes necessary because people cannot make their vote count for the party of their choice. They have to vote for a second best in some cases. That happened in 1997 and again in the most recent general election. If we had PR, tactical voting would disappear overnight. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to a commitment to a fair voting system.
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, a great addition to the House. I remember going round the London Eye with him not long ago. We started at the bottom, went round in a big circle and ended up where we started. Perhaps that is a metaphor for his political career as well as for mine.
Although voting at the election was down. I am particularly pleased that the turnout in my constituency was 68 per cent. That is not nearly enough—only two thirds of voters—but a lot better than in many seats, where turnout was less than 50 per cent. Although my speech cannot really be a second maiden speech, I hope that the House will indulge me when I say, first, how privileged I am to be back in this place and, secondly, how privileged I am to represent a constituency of the beauty and diversity of Lewes. It is a fantastic constituency.
The issues that my constituents want me to deal with are predominantly local. Members have not referred to local issues much in this debate. National issues are, of course, important, but we all have our base in our constituency, which we forget at our peril. Local issues are of key importance.
Issues important to my constituents include, for example, making sure that the Government deliver proper flood defences and provide money to ensure that Lewes will not again be subject to the terrible flooding that occurred in the county town last year; making sure that plans for an incinerator at Newhaven are stopped, and that the investment that has been taking place in Newhaven port continues so that it becomes one of the premier ports of the 21st century; and making sure that the new rail franchise operator, Go Via, does a better job than Connex, and that we get decent services and, cheap rail travel.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood): we will not get people out of their cars and on to public transport until we have a decent public transport system. We have not achieved anything like that in the past four years, nor have moves been made to achieve it; instead, there has been a continuation of the failed privatisation of the rail industry, with Railtrack apparently wanting ever more Government money. I, for one, object to handing out lots of taxpayers' money to a private company for, in effect, no return—but that is what 122 has been happening for the past four years. I shall go off-message, and say that if we are to hand out lots of money to the railways, the industry should be under some sort of public control, instead of in its current position.
What are the Government going to do with their big mandate? Labour had a big mandate in the previous Parliament, but did not do as much with it as some of us would have liked. If I have one major criticism of the Government of the past four years, it is that they were too timid. They had that mandate, but appeared to suffer from a lack of intellectual confidence in their policies. After 18 years in opposition, during which time the Tories had seized the agenda and done lots of things that were quite popular—for example, selling council houses and dealing with the unions, as in Mrs. Thatcher's early years in power—there was genuine uncertainly about how far a Labour Government could go in their first four years while continuing to command public support. After all, the 1997 vote was not for Labour or for the Liberal Democrats; it was a vote against the Conservative Government, whose time had expired and who had to be removed at all costs. The result was that the previous Labour Government were timid and lacked intellectual confidence. In consequence, they adopted far too much of the Tory agenda and far too many Tory policies that should have been ditched or binned because they were time-expired.
In his eloquent speech, the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) said how important it was that local government be returned to local government. I agree that councils, too, have mandates and that we need to make progress in regionalisation, but the fact is that we now have a continuation of the flawed policy of Whitehall control, standard spending assessments and the arrangement whereby Ministers hand out money to local government bodies only if they jump through the correct hoops at the right time. I am sorry that that is still going on, and that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech that gives me confidence that the policy will change. That part of the Tory agenda should have been ditched, and it still needs to be ditched.
Notwithstanding the comments of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), with whom I largely agreed, it should be said that there remains a residue of the school of thought that holds that the private sector can automatically do things better than the public sector. I do not share that view. In the 1980s, Mrs. Thatcher said "Private good, public bad," and I think that that thought runs through the current Prime Minister's mind. Let us think about the notion that improvements in the health service and the education system can be achieved only by bringing in private money and private management, and adopting the private finance initiative route. I am not saying that such a policy is necessarily wrong—perhaps it will work—but it is not the only solution.
We have good people in the public sector, and we should ask those people what their solutions are before we give in and bring in people from outside. To be frank, the outsiders we have brought into other sectors have not been a great success—just take a look at Railtrack. What a disaster that has been. We were told that only the private sector could run the railway system and that British Rail was a disaster. In fact, the bottom line that has emerged over the past four years is that British Rail was less of a disaster than Railtrack has been, so we should not draw such conclusions.
123 There has been timidity, but I hope that, having achieved a second term and so overcoming an important mental hurdle, the Government will be less timid and truer to their beliefs. They have the mandate and the majority. I hope that they will use them to do some of the things in which they believe, rather than continue to hang on to the policies pursued by the Conservatives during their 18 years in power.
There is a more insidious problem. It is the job of government to do the best for every citizen of the United Kingdom. It is especially the job of government, as the primary representation of democracy, to ensure that centres of vested interests and power outside the democratic system work, so far as possible, in the interests of the citizen. Government should put pressure upon them wherever possible, and work alongside them to achieve the right result. Laws should be introduced to curtail them if necessary. Government should stand up for the individual against large vested interests where those interests do not work for the individual, and generally they do not.
That is where the Government go wrong. I do not know whether that is because intellectually they do not agree with my argument, or because they are too timid to take on large vested interests that should be tackled. Too often the Government duck the issue.
For example, President Bush is behaving outrageously, and in a way that most right hon. and hon. Members would find reprehensible. We are not sure whether he wants to pollute the planet to death or to bomb it to death. Either way, we should be saying, "I'm sorry, we do not agree with you, for the following reasons. You are wrong." I hope that the Government are taking that approach behind the scenes, but I am not convinced that they are. They should be saying to the United States Government, "We shall stand four-square with our European Union partners on Kyoto. That is where we shall stay. We don't buy this. We shall not follow you just because you have sold out to your oil interests." That should be said firmly.
We should be saying to President Bush, "Be very careful about national missile defence. Be careful before you untie all these treaties, before you destabilise Russia, before you invite adverse comments from China and before you throw everything up in the air and see where it lands. Because you have sold out to your defence interests, we should not sell out as well."
We have a real opportunity to control the issue, because the Americans need to use bases in the United Kingdom. They have to use Menwith Hill and Fylingdales. We can stop the use of our bases if we have the courage to do so.
Will we have the courage to take an approach that will mean a rough ride for the Government because we upset one of our allies, or will we take the easy option and go along with it, and pretend that that is all right? I hope that the Government will take the rough option, which is the right option.
Will the Government take the rough option with the big petrol and oil companies? Members may have seen the story in The Sunday Times about an MI6 offshoot effectively being used to spy on Greenpeace at the behest of Shell and BP. I do not know whether the Government 124 knew about that. I hope that they did not. If they did, that is outrageous. It is something that needs to be stopped and reined in. Greenpeace has a right to stand up for what it believes in, in a lawful way, and Government agencies should not be used in such a way.
Many Members have received representations from independent petrol retailers, many of which are being driven out of business disgracefully by the big oil companies, which have vertical integration. They sell themselves petrol to sell on the forecourt more cheaply than the independent stations can buy it. Independent retailers have to buy petrol at a higher price than it is being sold at by the big companies, such as Esso, on their forecourts. The objective is to drive the independents out of business.
The Government are committed to competition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made great play of that earlier this week. If he is genuinely keen on competition, let him take the rough road and take on the oil companies. Let us protect the independent petrol retail sector—or will the Chancellor take the easier road and let it disappear?
Will the Chancellor take on big business and take the rough road in other ways? The House will be aware that 75 per cent. of groceries are sold by four supermarket chains. That is far too high a percentage, and is out of line with the rest of the developed world. Only 20 buyers, representing the largest food manufacturers, determine how 25,000 farmers will farm, and what they will produce. Only a handful of biotech companies—most of them not British, but American—are determining that GM crops should be grown in this country and placed on shelves.
Will the Government take the rough road and challenge these things in the interests of the individual, or will they give in, take the easy route and say, "Forget about it and turn a blind eye, because that way we'll have less trouble with the electorate and the media"? Is the Chancellor going to take the rough road with people such as Bernie Ecclestone and introduce legislation to ban cigarette advertising, or will he forget about it and hope that nobody notices? Most of all, will he take the rough road with Rupert Murdoch and follow the words of the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who is now out of a job, and who recently said:If the only people the government listen to are big business, that's a problem".We have heard about the communications White Paper. There has been a delay, and only a draft Bill will be published. That is very serious—the Government need to get a move on.
Will the Chancellor take the rough road and tell Mr. Murdoch, "The Government are interested in the issue of cross-media ownership and want diversity in the media. I am sorry. you've got too many newspapers"? Or will he say, "If you give us a nice easy ride on the euro, Rupert, we won't do anything to your newspaper holdings"? Will the Chancellor take the rough road and challenge Mr. Murdoch, or will he take the easy road and let him cop out?
The Government need to help the individual by taking on those vested interests; they must take them on when they have to. That pays. Mrs. Thatcher took on the unions when she was Prime Minister, and everybody—or nearly everybody—in the House will agree that in the 1970s and 125 1980s, the unions had excessive control, their vested interests were not helpful and their power needed to be trimmed. Whatever people think of Mrs. Thatcher, most think that she was right to do that. I therefore hope that the Government will take the rough road, which is in the country's interests. If they do, they will get support in the longer term. It may be difficult for them in the short term, but it will be better in the longer term.
What is our role? The role of individual MPs is important for our democracy. As individual MPs, we must make sure that, first, we represent our constituents and deal with constituency issues to the best of our ability. Secondly, we must hold the Government to account: that applies not simply to Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members, but to Labour Members, who are not Lobby fodder, but are elected to hold the Government to account, as Opposition Members are. I very much hope that they will do that. Like all of us, they must judge the Government on their actions and respond accordingly. We do not want people to be corralled by the Whips Offices into taking a position with which they may not agree—that is another reason for making the House more reasonable and accountable to people out there. We want a bit more independence in the House; that applies to all parties.
I am sorry that Martin Bell is not back, regardless of which seat, in Essex or elsewhere, he contested. I am glad that we have an MP for Wyre Forest who has a different perspective on life. I have no idea what the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) will be like, but he is a new MP with a different perspective. That is great; that is diversity. We do not want just three opinions representative of the three parties expressed regularly and monotonously in the House. We need an independent streak, and must make sure that people are free to speak their minds. We must make sure that they are free to speak against their party when they feel that it is important to do so, even if that means that they upset their party and suffer as a consequence.
I disagree fundamentally with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who seemed to elevate loyalty to a religion with his suggestion that people should be loyal to the Labour Government. That is an outrageous suggestion, especially from someone who has as much experience of doe House as he does. Especially with a big Government majority, the onus is on Labour Back Benchers to make sure that the Government are humble and listen. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) was right to make exactly that point in his speech.
In my view, in the past four years, Labour Back Benchers, with notable exceptions—including the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who is sitting opposite me—did not hold the Government to account in that way and did not take risks. They were much too prepared to vote for things in which they did not believe, and went into the Lobby to vote for legislation that, as they told me and others afterwards, they thought was wrong. However, they still went through the Lobby; if they are to avoid voting against the Government, they have got to find a way of stopping legislation getting to that stage. That is the way it has to be done.
Back Benchers and all Members of Parliament need to be courageous. We must avoid having as Members people who are time servers and people who make speeches and 126 ask questions because they want a job. We must make sure that the bumpy road is taken by the Government, and by individual Members in the House.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)
I was intrigued to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), because as he spoke I realised that we had something in common. Like him, my sister used to live in Basildon, and I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) has just walked in.
In rising to make my first contribution in the House, I am keenly aware that I am only the fourth individual since the second world war to have had the privilege to do so as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. The first of those four rose to national prominence as Secretary of State for Wales and then as the occupant of your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when he became the first Speaker in history to be broadcast. Although it was at first in sound only, his distinctive Welsh voice became for a while the vocal emblem of the House. He was, of course the late George Thomas, subsequently Viscount Tonypandy.
There then followed a brief historical blip in the history of Cardiff, West when the voters returned a Conservative Member, Stefan Terlezki, between 1983 and 1987, in an election that, given the current state of the main Opposition party, seems a long time ago.
My immediate predecessor, however, was Rhodri Morgan, who served on the Front Bench for much of Labour's period in opposition, notably as shadow Minister for Welsh Affairs during the development of Labour's devolution policy. He also holds the distinction of helping to make the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill the most debated measure in the House's 800-year history, eclipsing even the debates on the corn laws. That included one contribution that lasted two hours 40 minutes. Hon. Members can rest easy in the knowledge that that is one thing that I do not intend to match in following him in the House.
After the 1997 general election, Rhodri Morgan served the House as Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, where he enhanced his reputation as a man of principle and courage in pursuit of the truth. Hon. Members may not be aware of the Welsh saying, tri chynnig i Gymro—three tries for a Welshman. That does not refer to Scott Quinnell's efforts for the Lions rugby team in one of the recent tour matches in Australia, but it certainly was true in relation to my predecessor's campaign to become Labour's First Secretary in the National Assembly for Wales, a position that he holds today with distinction.
Rhodri Morgan was known in this House for his verbal dexterity, Welsh wit and skilful debating talents, and is credited as one of the few politicians to have ever left Jeremy Paxman lost for words when he was asked on "Newsnight" if he would stand for the leadership of the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly and he repliedDoes a one-legged duck swim in a circle?Rhodri Morgan will be an extremely difficult act to follow, not least because he is so relentlessly tall, an unusual trait in a Welshman and one that I am sure hon. Members will have observed that I do not share. At well over 6 ft, with added inches for his trademark hair, he represents a towering political figure in the most literal sense, and the Welsh Assembly's gain is this House's loss.
127 My constituency of Cardiff, West is the area of our Welsh capital city bounded roughly by the River Taff to the east, the London to Swansea main railway line to the south, the Cardiff bay link road to the west and the M4 to the north.
It could be tempting to follow the precedent of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) who, in his maiden speech at the beginning of the previous Parliament, described how many points of interest lay just outside his constituency, since from within my constituency there are magnificent views of the new Millennium stadium located just the wrong side of the river Taff in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), and there are fine views of Castell Coch, the beautiful fairytale castle creation of William Burgess situated just the other side of the M4 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan). In addition, there are views to the new developments in Cardiff bay, south of the railway line in the constituency of the Minister for Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael).
Fortunately, I do not have to follow that precedent. Cardiff, West contains its own jewels, including three sports stadiums—Sophia gardens, which I am told you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be certain to know is the home of Glamorgan county cricket club—Leckwith athletic stadium and Ninian park, the home of the sleeping giants of British football, Cardiff City. Sadly, they have been sleeping giants since 1927—talk of the dead—when they won the FA cup. These days, Cardiff holds the FA cup once again, but only in the sense of having the final in the Millennium stadium.
There is also Llandaff cathedral, the ancient seat of Christianity in south Wales, the Chapter arts centre, one of Britain's foremost centres for the contemporary arts, and St. Fagans museum of Welsh life, Wales's top tourist attraction. The museum was recently boosted further by the very wise concession on VAT made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The concession has enabled the Labour-led National Assembly for Wales to introduce free admission at all Wales's national museums.
We are proudly cosmopolitan in Cardiff, West, just as Cardiff itself has long been a cosmopolitan city, built on its role as the world's largest coal-exporting port at the end of the 19th century. Thus, many languages can be heard in Cardiff. West, including Welsh, Urdu, Bengali, Gujerati, Somali and even the language that is usually spelt "Kairdiff"—the distinctive local dialect of Cardiffians, which some say has Irish inflections mixed with the musicality of the Welsh.
The Queen's Speech follows a remarkable election for the United Kingdom and also for Wales. I referred to the Lions rugby team in Australia. It is noticeable how readily the rugby fans of Wales have ardently shown their support for the Lions, despite the domination of the squad by players from England whose team is temporarily stronger than the Welsh one. That is the spirit in which Welsh voters, while intensely proud of their Welshness, rejected the narrow confines of Welsh nationalism at the ballot box. It is also the spirit in which I and, I am sure, the seven other new post-devolutionary Welsh Labour Members will operate in the House.
128 In overwhelmingly supporting the Labour party, the return of a Labour Government and the manifesto reflected in the Queen's Speech, Welsh voters also rejected the main opposition party. Prior to 1997, the Conservatives had returned Members for Welsh seats at every election since 1906. Now, for the second election in a row, there is not a single Conservative Member in the House who represents a Welsh constituency. The roots of that continuous, contiguous Conservative-Cymric cull lie in the contempt with which Wales was treated by the Conservative party when it was in power. Its current leader, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), was the last in a long line of Conservative Secretaries of State for Wales who did not represent Welsh seats. In my view, he was probably the best received of the bunch, because at least he learned the words of the Welsh national anthem, unlike the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who spoke earlier.
In the Queen's Speech, the Labour Government have set out their first steps for a second term. Time and again during the recent election campaign, I came across people who want to see this Government succeed. They want them to succeed in restoring quality public services—in Wales, that will be done in partnership with the Welsh Assembly—and they want them to succeed in helping pensioners, in the fight against crime and in providing investment and hope in estates such as Ely, in my constituency. They want the Government to succeed in their mission to promote social justice and prosperity as two parts of the same goal, and to restore together with the Assembly the national health service, which was created out of the instinctive pragmatic socialism of the people of south Wales. That is why I welcome the specific promise in the Queen's Speech of a draft Welsh Bill on health.
The voters whom I met want us to govern on the strong values of Labour: fair play, or chwarae teg, as we say in Wales; looking after one's neighbour; giving a fair chance in life to everyone; making sure that crime does not pay, but that work does pay for those who can work; and helping those who cannot help themselves. Those are the themes that the Government have outlined in the Queen's Speech.
I am the product of a mixed marriage between an Irishman from the green fields of west Cork and a miner's daughter from Nantyglo in the Gwent valleys. My father is a man of many sayings, two of which have come into mind since I entered the House. The first relates to the many opportunities for liquid relaxation that appear to be available to hon. Members in this place. My father always says in his Irish brogue, "Two is plenty; four is only half enough." I commend that advice to hon. Members. The second saying relates to the values that I hope to follow and that I am sure Labour will follow in setting out its vision for Britain in the next five years. My father's credo is this:
I shall endeavour to follow the advice that I first heard in my father's house during my time of service in this House.
- "Help the weak against the strong
- Love the old when you are young
- Own a fault when you are wrong
- When you're angry, hold your tongue."
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) displayed assurance, some articulacy, occasional alliteration and glimpses of poetry. He will be one of the stars of the Parliament. He has the sort of speaking talent that probably guarantees his joining the Whips Office and being shut up for a bit. I am sure that the tributes that he paid to his three predecessors in Cardiff. West will be much appreciated by the two who are alive and the families of all three. Hon. Members who remember George Thomas know that if the hon. Gentleman follows his lead as advocate for his constituency, he will create a reputation that means that those who follow him will pay the same tributes to his merit.
The last maiden speech that I followed was that of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I said that he had the talent to go on to lead his party. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, West will do that. Perhaps other new Members will challenge him for that role. I hope that he enjoys his time in the House. I am sure that his constituents will be pleased with the service that he provides here.
I want to deal with several issues. I shall begin not with the contents of the Queen's Speech, but with an urgent message that I received from one of my constituents. Her partner of five years has been in this country for approximately 10 years. He has reported to the police station every month for several years. Today, he was held without notice in Littlehampton police station. He was then taken to Worthing police station. He may have been moved elsewhere without being told the destination. The Home Office believes that it sent letters to him and his solicitor in September. I shall give the reference numbers of the case in case someone in the Home Office wants to look it up. The Home Office reference is S 804065; the court reference is CEU/98/392.
I do not know whether Mr. Gerard Santos had the right to be in this country. However, someone who reports month after month, year after year to a police station should not be held without notice even if the Home Office believes that it sent a letter nine months ago. Is it Home Office practice to send letters by recorded delivery? Does it know whether the letter arrived? Mr. Santos was known to have been in this country for some time. Hon. Members should acknowledge the Home Office's difficulty in managing people who may be here legitimately or are perhaps overstayers. There may be many reasons for the Home Office's actions. I do not know the details, but I am not satisfied that Mr. Santos and one or two other people in Worthing have received fair notice of what they were expected to do.
If Mr. Santos has as the right to remain in this country, it would be good to know that. If it is believed that he does not have that right, I should like to know what notice he has received. Does the Home Office believe that its procedures are working? Has there perhaps been a pile-up during the election campaign? Have people suddenly been told to produce figures to allow the Government to claim that they are being firm and fair about overstayers and people who apply for the right to remain in this country? I do not prejudge the facts, but it is unsatisfactory that a constituent has to contact me to say that a person whom she has accompanied to a police station month after month has suddenly disappeared into official hands.
130 I want to present the civil engineers' report card on the previous Parliament. We are often willing to talk about high politics, but not about independent assessments of the Government's rating in the past four years on, for example, railways, local roads and transport, trunk roads and motorways, water, flood defence, energy, urban regeneration and waste.
The Institution of Civil Engineers and New Civil Engineer magazine have produced a report card. Their gradings range from A to E; A is good and B is fair. Every rating for the categories that I outlined is below B—they are all Cs and Ds. The overall rating is C-minus. The card states:Four years of promises and consultation … have started to deliver infrastructure, But progress remains woefully slow.It outlines the various aspects that have led to that. It continues:The huge number of policies and plans must continue to be converted into action and cash for new and improved infrastructure.The new Government should now have the confidence to take bold action to help utilise the private sector's enthusiasm and available finance, particularly in rail and local transport".The House knows that one of my brothers-in-law runs a railway, but I am not making this point on his behalf; I am making it as a general one, and on behalf of the civil engineers. Their report goes on:Local authorities must be given clear incentives to set radical congestion busting policies. The industry must continue to invest in training to increase skills and efficiency. The UK still needs effective leadership to tackle growing waste and energy problems.I agree with that.
I do not want to get into party political bickering over infrastructure, but I found it slightly peculiar during the election to see the Prime Minister go to a hospital in my old constituency—the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich—to give himself a lot of praise for the private finance initiative. As I recall, the local Labour party opposed that hospital taking over from the Greenwich district hospital and the Brook hospital. It even opposed the use of the private finance initiative for a car park. To see Labour, some years later, showing that it has changed its view and that it understands how private sector finance can help in terms of infrastructure for public use is a charming turnabout.
As I have explained to some of my constituents, the Labour party has pinched many of the Conservatives' ideas over the past few years, and it is almost certain over the next three or four years to adopt those it opposed during this election. One set of ideas that I would commend to Labour Members relates to the Home Office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) proposed a number of ideas in January about supporting the victims of crime, so that they can be kept up to date with what is being done by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
On many occasions, my constituents—and, I suspect, those of other hon. Members—are left totally in the dark as to what is going on. Things can get very complicated in some cases. I was involved with one yesterday, in relation to the Justice for Jay Abatan campaign, in which someone is a victim, a witness and a member of the family of a victim. In such a case, it might be difficult for the police and the CPS to be as open as they would otherwise be.
131 In less-complicated cases, it is vital that the police and the CPS keep the victims in touch with what is going on. There could be much more movement to ensure that the victims and their families are kept separate from the accused during trials. I do not want to prejudge people's guilt, but as a matter of common courtesy and decency, people should not have to go through, or stay in, rooms in which they would be side by side with the accused or those closely associated with them.
I pay tribute to Sussex police, who held a meeting yesterday in the market hall in Hove, in Brighton. The Assistant Chief Constable, Nigel Yeo, ran the meeting—which was chaired by Lord Dholakia, the chairman of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and a well-known Sussex person—which allowed some of the issues involved in the Sussex police's approach to the Abatan case and the faults of the first investigation to be shared with the general public. That is a sign of confidence. There are other issues to do with the police that I shall take up when the opportunity allows.
I have tabled my first question to the Home Office, asking when the new Home Secretary plans to meet representatives of the National Black Police Association. There has been significant progress in the police's dealings with matters of race in the years since the Lawrence inquiry report, both with the general public and in the way in which they treat their own ethnic minority, black and Asian staff, but there is a long way to go. Some of the issues that I have picked up in relation to the Metropolitan police—and, perhaps, other police services as well—show a degree of failing to approach things in the right way, although "incompetence" is the wrong word to use.
The well-known case of Sergeant Gurpal Virdi illustrates that. A number of us tried to say to the Metropolitan police and the Home Office that things were not going right, without prejudging the issues. These are the same kinds of worries that I took to the then Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis over the Stephen Lawrence murder in the months following that case. There are concerns that are fairly easy to pick up and to which officialdom should pay attention.
Without going into too much detail, I plan to table a series of questions on the case of Superintendent Dr. Ali Dizaei. The investigation into his case has probably used more resources than those used in the investigation into the Jill Dando murder or the disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Payne in my constituency.
If the disciplinary charges that Dr. Ali Dizaei potentially faces are as minimal as they now appear to be, leaving aside any justification for such a charge, the level of resources approved at the highest level, which I assume was ministerial, as well as by the highest ranks of the Met, will require some justification after the event that perhaps should have been demanded at the beginning.
I shall not go further into that matter, but I wanted to set out the issue. Unless those of us who are white, male and middle class take up the issues of people who are black or Asian, women or disabled, we are effectively asking the victims to put things right. It is up to Members of this House, who are part of the establishment—with a big or a small "e"—to take those matters on.
132 Given our position, Members of Parliament have the might. If we know what is going on and are worried about it, it is our responsibility, both in public and in private, not to duck. We must not be afraid. That is the kind of advice that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West was talking about. We cannot always be confident that we are right, but if we do not act when we suspect that things are going wrong, we shall be left with a country in which some of our public services are besmirched.
I turn to one of the most important public services—the health service. I pay tribute, as I did in my speech in the debate on the previous Queen's Speech, to Worthing and District community health council and to its chief officer, Trevor Richards. He has kindly sent me a copy of the correspondence that he is having with West Sussex health authority, which has replied to him saying:You are quite correct in your analysis of the GP provision in Worthing when you describe it as requiring urgent attention. The situation at present is that there are no practices south of the railway line with an open list and as a result patients are being allocated on a rota system to practices in turn.The reasons for that are disparate, but some of them are that Worthing and District CHC has probably the highest proportion of retired people in the country. Moreover, in some GP practices, almost one person in 11 is over 85. Whereas the Government have paid attention to practices in which that proportion of people are over 75, Worthing is 10 years ahead. In effect, Worthing and District CHC shows what is likely to happen in the rest of the country over the next 10 or 20 years.
I believe that it is important that West Sussex health authority, the Department of Health and, for that matter, the NHS executive should ask Worthing to say what is necessary to meet family practitioner needs so that doctors do not break down and so that patients can be seen. While accept that more and more is being done, more and more could, should and must be done.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West referred to the concept of the national health service in the light of experiences in south Wales. I acknowledge what he said, but I do not believe that family doctor services in Worthing are acceptable. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley), my wife, says that in her area, of those waiting for in-patient treatment, one in 10 waits more than a year, whereas in the Prime Minister's health authority area the figure is one in 200. Such a contrast may exist for a reason, but it cannot be allowed to continue for any reason. We should try to make sure that people have not a national waiting service but a national health service. I could give a number of other examples.
Let me turn to party politics. I hope that Ministers will go beyond party polities as far as possible. I was present for the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), who, when a Minister, answered in an exemplary way a question that I had tabled. He sent back the first draft answer, asked for more information and then provided more information in public. If other Ministers can follow that example and be as helpful—understanding that Members usually ask a question for a reason, especially if it relates to a constituency issue or a constituent with a difficulty—they will serve this House and the country better. Good examples should be praised and bad ones identified.
We have had an election. One result—the Conservatives having to choose a new leader—may have been necessary. It is clear to me that the best candidate is 133 my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who has the qualities of a good party leader and a good Prime Minister. One of the things on which the media should be reflecting is how they have managed to hide some of that from some people. If my right hon. Friend will not stand, I would encourage the Conservative party chairman to do so. I have said that, if nominated, I would stand and that, if elected, I would serve, but I do not think that either is likely to happen.
The Conservative party needs to show that it can promote the ideas of self-reliance and liberty within reason, and the ideas of justice and social justice—as it has done in the past. Justice is not merely law and order—it goes far beyond that into the sort of inclusiveness about which more people are now talking. We should also be friendly. Being sharp-suited and sharp-tongued is not the way to gain the confidence of the majority of people in this country. We need an approach that is as attractive in the inner cities to many of the have-nots as it is to those on the south coast in constituencies such as Worthing, West, which I have the honour to represent.
Finally, we need to be able to show people that politics itself is inclusive. I hope never again to address a large church meeting of 200 people, none of whom had ever thought of standing for elected office, had ever encouraged a talented contemporary to stand or had been part of a selection group to decide, if more than one person was willing to be a ward, a county or a parliamentary candidate, who would do the job best. We must provide that sort of encouragement, and that will lead to greater participation in politics and voting.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) on their maiden speeches, which I enjoyed and on which I focused very much. I am sure that they will be an enormous and beneficial addition to the House and to its deliberations.
I had also hoped to welcome and wish well the new Leader of the House, but unfortunately he has not been in the Chamber for many hours. I certainly welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who has only recently been made a Minister and I wish her well. Frankly, there should have been a senior Cabinet Minister on the Treasury Bench. I say that for a good reason, to which I will return. As wonderful as my hon. Friend is, I do not think that she is qualified to respond to a question that I want the Government to answer this evening.
If the Leader of the House had been here, I would have told him that he has the opportunity in this Parliament to re-establish the very radical credentials that were certainly his hallmark for many years. I hope and believe that he can do so and that he will pursue some of the matters outlined in the Queen's Speech with vigour.
I wish to canvass two reforms that have not been mentioned during today's debate. The first is minor. As wonderful as the state opening is—I really enjoy it and I do not knock ceremonial at all—thete should be only one per Parliament. It is enormously costly and one must have regard for proportionality, and a Parliament should be a seamless robe rather than having Sessions. Of course, that 134 would require legislation because we would also want to protect the benefits of the Parliament Acts, which could be altered so that a Parliament is based not on Sessions but on calendar years—we must ensure that the Government can get their legislation through.
Secondly, I believe that we are unique among parliamentary democracies in that, when we have a general election—this was true in 1997, but it was also true even of this election—there is no period of transition. People should not cease to be Ministers in the early hours after a general election. Furthermore, people should remain Members of Parliament throughout the general election campaign. Of course, there should be ground rules as to what they can and cannot do.
When there is a crisis such as foot and mouth disease, for example, people should have a mandate to tackle Ministers and Ministries and civil servants should not be embarrassed in responding. There should be a week or so in which the new Ministry should be confirmed by an affirmative vote of the House. That should be the beginning of the mandates of the new Members and Ministers.
I raise that as a practical point because, as wonderful as the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is—he is a skilled and able man—I do not believe that he can have gone to the European conferences as Foreign Secretary fully and adequately briefed. It simply cannot be done. That diminishes our opportunities and interests. I know that it happened at other times in history. It happened when Clement Attlee had to go to Potsdam, but that does not make it right. Clement Attlee probably was not fully and adequately briefed for Potsdam, and there may have been some long-term disadvantages to the interests of the United Kingdom as a result.
We should think in terms of providing a transition period until the new Ministry is confirmed by the House of Commons. That would be democratically sound. It should not be just the next morning that the new Ministry comes into force and the new Members of Parliament have their mandate. I hope that the Leader of the House and others will think about that.
I also hope that the Leader of the House will pick up the idea that was canvassed in the Queen's Speech of looking again at House of Lords reform. We cannot be tremendously proud of what we did over the past four years. It is true that we diminished the hereditary element, but we have to face the fact that half of our Parliament is unelected.
I listened closely to the good speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), and I agreed with almost everything that he said. I prefer the idea of direct elections to the upper House. I do not see why it would necessarily diminish the effectiveness and supremacy of this Chamber. However, I would sign up to his proposition that Members of the upper House should be indirectly elected. The fact remains that at present half of the British Parliament has no mandate other than patronage, and some are Members by the abuse of patronage. It is now time that that was stopped.
One bit of business that was unfinished because the general election intervened is the nonsense of people's peers. The idea was not only one of the most silly put forward by the Labour Government but it was wrong. Let us go back a few weeks. We discovered that Sir Herman 135 Ouseley was a member of the panel that appointed Lord Stevenson of hairdresser to preside over the commission that would choose the people's peers. He then applied to Lord Stevenson of hairdresser and, surprise, surprise, he was nominated as a peer. By any stretch of the imagination, that is wholly unacceptable. It stinks. I hope that we do not return to the nonsense of people's peers next year. It is outrageous that that should have happened.
We should abandon the nonsense of people's peers and focus on making the other House accountable and elected in some way and on giving it some legitimacy. I was deeply disturbed and irritated by that nonsense of people's peers. As far as I can make out, it was never the subject of an affirmative vote on the Floor of the House of Commons. It was done purely by Executive decision, and it is indefensible.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who like other hon. Members referred to the disappointingly low turnout at the general election. I agree with him that we need to look at many of our practices. He referred to Prime Minister's Question Time. We must step back from the vacuous nonsense of Prime Minister's Question Time; the sterile debate and the synthetic anger.
Especially on the Government side, but not exclusively, we have to stop the industry of planted questions. I know that people say that it does not happen, but I deliberately use the word "industry". Questions are trotted round day after day. It is unfair to Members who are the architects of their own questions. We go into a raffle, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to put a question to a Minister. It is wholly wrong that people take questions off the acolytes of Ministers that are probably written by Ministers. It is simply wrong, and it is unfair to those who take the trouble to write their own lines. It is time that the whistle was blown on that.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
While I understand some of the arguments against the present system, does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there are two benefits to it? First, Members can raise any real issue in Parliament within three or four days, or a week in any case, and Ministers have to be aware of that. The other is that various Departments have to provide briefings to the Prime Minister on issues to which he might not otherwise give much attention.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I hope that the House will note that I did not say that Prime Minister's Question Time should be done away with; it should be more like the Canadian system where Members are called at the complete discretion of the Speaker and which is open to everyone—the whole Ministry attends and can respond. That would be good. Preparation and briefing are priceless jewels: it is the abuse—not only of Prime Minister's Question Time but of other Question Times—that we have to stop. It is essential that we maintain our Question Times—that is vital. However, we must stop the silliness and the abuse—it has not occurred merely in recent years but has been going on for a quarter of a century. It is time that we stopped it.
I revisited my maiden speech, given in 1992, as a checklist for the things I had pursued. I was pleased to see that many themes that I then raised continue through 136 my activities in the House of Commons. For instance, I welcomed John Major's announcement of his hope that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic would enter the European Union by the end of the decade. They have not yet done so, but that is not the fault of either the Conservative or the Labour Governments. One of the things of which the United Kingdom can be proud is that Governments have pursued the question of European enlargement. Ultimately, that is a moral issue, although it is also commercial, political and economic. Those countries are entitled to join this organisation of free, democratic states and would have done so but for the disfigurement of Europe by the Yalta conference more than half a century ago. I hope that Her Majesty's Government pursue that matter with the utmost vigour—it is one of right, as well as being in the interests both of the central European countries and ourselves.
In my maiden speech, I also referred to the problems for my constituents and for those in Basildon—now the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith)—caused by the closure of the accident and emergency department at Orsett hospital, which is just inside her constituency. As I then predicted, it has placed an enormous strain on the A and E department at Basildon hospital, which serves my constituents. It is time that the problem was revisited by the Department of Health. I do not know what machinery it has—the equivalent of an Ofsted or whatever. The fact is that the system is not working; there are intolerable and unacceptable pressures on the staff and facilities at Basildon hospital, which covers two urban areas. That is wholly inadequate and can no longer be tolerated. I am not prepared to acquiesce in the matter by holding back—it needs to be looked at. I think that is also the view of my colleague.
A further point is the poverty of the transportation system. I was pleased that, as the Under-Secretary at the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) visited the London, Tilbury, Southend line, now run by an outfit called c2c—Cancellation to Cancellation, as we call it. My constituents know that one of the consequences of the crackpot privatisation scheme was a significant diminution of what was already a parlous rail service in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (John Cryer) and for Basildon and for many people throughout Essex.
The service is wholly inadequate. I do not intend to let that outfit off the hook It is, I think, part of the National Express group. The franchise should be revisited, to consider whether the company should hold it. Indeed, there should be a review of whether the National Express group should be allowed to attract new franchises until it can fulfil both the letter and the spirit of the franchise it entered into for the LTS line.
In my maiden speech, on 6 May 1992, I said:I was concerned to read in the press that there could he some shilly-shallying or delay in setting up Select Committees." — [Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 108.]It so happens that nothing seems to have changed. Demonstrably, there is some discussion in the press about shilly-shallying in setting up Select Committees. I wish a senior Cabinet Minister was in the Chamber—either the Chief Whip or the Leader of the House, because I want to share with you what I believe is going on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that, if I do an injustice to the 137 Government—or the Opposition Front Bench—both or either of them will stand up and give me an assurance that I am wrong.
I tell you what the plot is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I listened very carefully to the Leader of the Opposition today. He mentioned Select Committees. I listened to every word with precision. However, he did not do his duty and tap and rap on the Dispatch Box and ask, "When will you set up the Select Committees? I demand that you set up the Select Committees." He did not do so because the Conservatives now do not want the Select Committees to be set up until the autumn, after the leadership election. It is perfectly right that they should hold their election, but it should not interfere with the parliamentary process of scrutiny and accountability.
The Conservatives do not want the Select Committees to be set up because some of those people are candidates who, if they cannot be leader of the party, would like to be Chairperson of a Select Committee. There are also people who will not serve on the shadow Cabinet if a particular Member is chosen as leader of the Conservative party. There are some who will not be acceptable to the successful new Leader of the Opposition, and they want the opportunity to parachute in to be a member of a Select Committee or—some of them are very grand—a Chairperson.
I invite the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) to get up—I shall invite the Minister to get up in a minute—and give a categoric assurance, on behalf of the Opposition, that here tonight he demands that the Select Committees are set up this side of the summer recess. I am prepared to give way. Can the hon. Gentleman get off his backside and make that declaration to the House on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition? Of course he cannot. Do you know why, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Because the problem with this place is the cosy consensus between the two Front Benches. Earlier, I referred to the synthetic anger at Question Time. The truth is that it is a carve-up between the two Front Benches. They do not care about scrutiny and accountability.
Now I come to the Government. The Government's plot is to blame the Conservatives. The unspoken, unwritten agreement is that both of them blame each other, but not very loudly. The Government have no excuse. There should be no halt, no hesitation, in bringing forward to the House the process to sit up the Committee of Selection and in setting up those Committees before the summer recess. Not to do so will be scandalous for the Government. Bearing in mind our very large parliamentary numbers and the fact that the Opposition are in such a parlous state, we have a duty—a moral responsibility—to provide scrutiny and accountability.
Members of the Fourth Estate know what is going on. Instead of writing acres of print about the boring Tory leadership election, they should he writing about the fact that the Conservative and Labour Front Benches are not setting up the Select Committees.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
As a result, hon. Members who want to be allowed to serve on a Select Committee will he on good behaviour until October. That is a very serious point. It also means six or seven months without scrutiny in this place. How 138 can we possibly defend that? We cannot do so. Even if the Select Committees are set up at the end of July, before we go on summer recess, they will not be able to do much, but they do have the right to sit during the summer recess and if a crisis occurred Committees could sit. The Committees can also prepare their plans for investigations in the autumn, and they will have a Chairperson. But if we kick everything into touch until October, the Select Committees probably will not be in operation until late November.
Is the Minister in a position to say from the Dispatch Box that the charges that I made are wholly wrong, wholly unsubstantiated and unfair to the Government?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)
As my hon. Friend knows, this is not a matter for the Front Bench; it is a matter for the usual channels.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I do not accept that. It is a matter for Back Benchers. It is a matter for Parliament. It is a matter of our rights and our obligations to the electorate. I hope that people will pick up on the fact that the Government are colluding with the Conservative Front Bench not to set up the Select Committees.
Finally, I believe that people who give evidence to Select Committees should do so under oath; it should be automatic. People come before Select Committees and do not give true testimony. I also believe that attempts to prevent people from appearing were made in the previous Parliament.
Earlier today, you read out the Sessional Orders, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There was some levity, which I can understand; I was amused about things such as access to Parliament and so on. However, the important point is that you said:if it shall appear that any person has been tampering with any witness, in respect of his evidence to be given to this House, or any Committee thereof, or directly or indirectly has endeavoured to deter or hinder any person from appearing or giving evidence, the same is declared to be a high crime and misdemeanour; and this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offender.If the House does not accept the need for oaths to be taken, the Sessional Orders should certainly be drawn to the attention of all witnesses in writing before they appear, and they should be so cautioned by the Chairman of the Select Committee. That would produce the sober realisation in witnesses—whether they are public servants, in commerce or Ministers—that they must tell Parliament the truth, that there should be no interference and that no impediment should be placed in their way or attempt made to dissuade them from appearing before Select Committees, as I think has happened in the past.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman is always listened to with great attention in the House, especially on constitutional and parliamentary matters, and, if I may say so, he is on particularly good form this evening. Would he do anything about the extraordinary system that pertains at present under which the Whips determine who serves on the Select Committees, so that, essentially, 139 the Government determine which hon. Members serve on the Select Committees that hold them to account? Is that not an incestuous system? Will he succeed in persuading the new Leader of the House and the rest of his colleagues, who have such an overwhelming majority in this Parliament, to do something about that extraordinary anomaly?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
First, I was one of the hon. Members who argued consistently about that in the previous Parliament. In fact, I gave the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), a lot of aggravation about her not implementing the Liaison Committee report, "Shifting the Balance". On one occasion, I taunted her about the fact that the Government would not set up the Select Committees before the summer recess, which she vehemently denied. Last week, when I tackled a high-up person in my party about whether the Select Committees would be set up before the parliamentary recess and reminded him of the undertaking that the former Leader of House had given, he said, "Ah, that was predicated on there being a May election." That was when I became alarmed about setting up the Select Committees.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman; will he now answer me on behalf of the Opposition? Is he prepared to tell the Government that, regardless of its leadership election, the Conservative party demands that the Select Committee machinery should be set up with vigour before the summer recess? Would the hon. Gentleman like to respond on behalf of his party? I take it that he does not. I have explained what is wrong with the House. We cannot get an undertaking from the Government or from the Opposition, so it is now time for Back Benchers to say, "Enough" and assert that the Government and the Opposition should be discredited for this cosy carve-up of what should be Parliament's role, duty and right.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a few brief comments. First, I should like to refer to the two excellent maiden speeches. They represent a simple ABC reminder to all hon. Members because they were appropriate, brief and competent. All hon. Members would do well to take note of the way in which they were delivered.
I want to refer to a few things briefly and then to concentrate on a couple of main issues. I welcome the fact that the Queen's Speech states that we shall reintroduce legislation on leasehold reform and international development. That is crucial. I am also glad that we shall do more about secondary education. I wish that we could do more to advise parents of their rights and about preferences, as opposed to choices, in selecting secondary schools for their children. Those two matters are not always the same. If parents state three reasonable preferences, I should like to work towards a position where all parents could be given one of them.
The Government have done an excellent job with the NHS and in education since 1997. I hope that we can carry with us the teachers and others who work in education and the NHS in the next four or five years because that is crucial.
140 I am glad that we will return to the issue of hunting with dogs. One young girl in my constituency echoed the views of the many thousands of people who find it incredible, given the public support for banning hunting and the large majority that that commands in the House, that an unelected, unaccountable House was able to block legislation on it. We should not let that happen again.
Although there are many international situations in which we must work towards peace, we need to play a leading role in Kashmir. However, we cannot solve the problem without the help of the people of Pakistan, India and Kashmir itself. The issue needs to be kept on the agenda and we must do what we can to find a solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) made an excellent speech. I agreed 100 per cent. with what he said about regional assemblies, so I shall not go into detail on those. I also agreed with the way in which he would form the second Chamber, whatever we want to call it—the House of Lords or the House of representatives. I advocated the same formula for representation in that Chamber.
Two other constitutional matters need our attention. First, if we move towards elected regional assemblies, we need unitary local government throughout the country. We need to get away from the ad hoc hybrid system that is left over from the procedure introduced by the previous Conservative Government. Secondly, as a member of the Modernisation Committee, I believe that we have a great deal to do on modernisation. We need to ensure that scrutiny of legislation is top of the agenda if we are to make more progress than we did in the previous Parliament.
I want to concentrate on two issues that have been touched on. The consultation on reform of local government finance needs to be advanced. Although I was not a candidate in the 1979 election—I was not elected until 1983—the Tories, who won, said that they wanted to set the town halls free, but instead they immediately shackled them by introducing legislation and cutting finance. We forget that the poll tax was accompanied by a cut in the national expenditure to fund local government. That trend has continued year after year. We need to ensure that local government can do the job that it is elected to perform.
Every authority—in my case, Lancashire county council—is squeezed for money for social services. More money is needed if those services are to be provided. Two thirds of Burnley's property is in council tax band A. That is too much and the banding widths need to be changed. However, that alone will not solve the problem. Burnley also inherited many assets, such as parks, museums and sports centres, that were donated by benefactors over many years. They ate supported by the public, but cost a lot of money to provide and we are in severe difficulty. Burnley district council, like many other local authorities, took part in painful exercises earlier this year to see how its budget could be used to provide essential services in the area. The limitation of the council tax benefit subsidy unfairly penalises many areas where there is a high rate of benefit dependency. We need to consider that problem.
Burnley has lost much as a result of the withdrawal of the revenue support grant from the council over the years. It is the only district in England with a standard spending assessment that is lower than it was when the poll tax ended in 1993. In 1992–93, the SSA was £11.7 million; it 141 now only £11.5 million, despite inflation of 27 per cent. over that period. If it had increased with inflation, council tax would be lower and we would be able to provide many more services. That is a tremendous problem for Burnley. I am sorry that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to say that we will follow up the consultation on local government finance. It is not a matter of tinkering at the edges; we need real reform. I have said several times that it is no good altering the area cost adjustment because that will benefit only some local authorities; others will lose out. We need major structural change.
I know from my work in the general election, from looking around the area and from meeting people at my advice surgery and reading their letters, that the biggest single problem for my local authority is the fact that it has 3,500 empty homes. That is a nightmare, as we can see from the dereliction and other problems that are created. An old lady of 87 came to me. She has lived in her house for over 50 years and she is absolutely terrified because every property in her block is now empty; there have been three fires in adjacent properties and there are drug addicts around. People have to pay council tax on properties that they cannot sell because, with 3,500 empty homes, the council cannot be flexible. It cannot admit that the situation is nonsense because nobody can sell or buy those homes.
East Lancashire has 225,000 privately owned properties, about half of which were built before 1919. A quarter of the whole stock, some 52,000 properties, is unfit for habitation, and a similar proportion is in serious disrepair. That is a major problem for areas such as mine. There is nobody to live in those houses. Nobody wants them. There is no value in them if they are demolished. People who are trying to sell such houses say that their best offer so far is £1,200 or perhaps. £4,000. One could buy almost a whole estate of empty houses in Burnley for the price of one property in London.
The current index of deprivation shows that, in housing, we have five of the worst 30 wards nationally. Four districts in east Lancashire are among the eight nationally with the most serious problems of low demand in private sector housing. It is estimated that £150 million of public money is spent on housing annually in east Lancashire, and two thirds of that is spent on housing benefit. We estimate that in Burnley alone we need £150 million, yet the capital expenditure for private housing is only £3 million. The problem is getting worse and we cannot solve it alone.
I accept that Burnley borough council must make difficult decisions. I say "difficult" because everybody who has been a councillor will know that as soon as clearance is mentioned, people protest and say that they want to save the nice houses tucked away in the midst of all the empty ones. However, clearance is the only way to solve the problem of surplus housing, and we must decide which houses should come down. We need Government help to do that. Burnley and east Lancashire have an excellent track record in delivering programmes for renewal areas, group repair and housing clearance, but we need more help not only in Burnley but in neighbouring authorities.
I call on the Government to increase the priority given to resources for private sector housing renewal and clearance, perhaps in the next comprehensive spending review, although that would be leaving it too long. We need to consider the case for designating special housing 142 market renewal areas where there is clear evidence of collapsed housing markets, as in much of east Lancashire. We need to issue guidance to the North West development agency saying that private sector housing renewal and clearance is an acceptable focus for its targeting of resources and programmes as part of the neighbourhood renewal agenda. We need to amend the public service agreement targets to include private sector housing as well as social housing.
I know that one of my colleagues wishes to speak, and I do not want to prevent him from doing so, so I shall make this point my last. Another colleague said that we need to introduce at an early date legislation on the licensing of private landlords, particularly in low-demand areas. I support that goal. Burnley and other towns need similar support and positive action from the Government, whom I strongly support.
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said that this was a bit like groundhog day, and he is right in the sense that no state opening day would be complete without him attacking a policy that was in his manifesto, as he did with the third generation mobile phone auction, which was included in the Conservative party manifesto. Equally, the day would not be the same without Members confusing long-winded speeches with scrutiny. I enjoyed the speech, and the performance, of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), and I agreed with him on one thing—the adoption Bill is a key one and I particularly welcome it.
The election threw up three key issues and disposed of some shibboleths. Some key groups that were highly vocal in the previous Parliament should be given no credence in this one. The Countryside Alliance has been shown to be a busted flush. We ought to get a Bill on hunting out of the way, and not let it become the big issue that it became in the previous Parliament. Lady Young's homophobic attacks, too, have been shown to have no support in the country. For the second time, a party has gone into an election attacking the European Union with anti-EU rhetoric. As we found out in 1983, and the Tories have found out in the most recent election, there is no support in the country for that.
As a person who has always fought politically in the Tory heartlands, I am delighted that the climate is now one of concentrating on public services. Many of the points that I was going to make have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). To a large extent, I agree with his analysis.
In their first term, the Government rightly put the emphasis on getting the economy right, but people now want much more than that. They want not just investment in public services but delivery of them. A number of people were disillusioned during the election campaign because of the language used. They did not connect, because they confused public-private partnerships with privatisation, job cuts and reduction of services.
The recent example of Middlesbrough striking a deal with the unions and with business is the kind of private finance initiative that we ought to be supporting. There are good examples around and we ought to be building on them. The PFI has delivered in some places, but it is not an universal solution.
143 The issue of the delivery of public services has caused much disappointment. A comment made recently by the e-envoy concerned me. He said that we would be able to "tick all the boxes". That tick-box mentality causes concern. The Treasury thinks that it has delivered because it has allocated the money in the comprehensive spending review. The Departments think that they have delivered because they have pushed legislation or regulation through the House. The agencies think that they have delivered because they have conducted a pilot scheme and have shown Ministers how it works. However, the people conducting the pilot schemes are then left trying to secure sustainable funding and keep the schemes going. Most of the country will not have seen the pilot scheme, because it will have been conducted in only one or two areas or for a limited time. That is part of the problem.
The Prime Minister rightly said that we should not renationalise Railtrack because it would waste two years, during which we could be securing investment to improve services. However, if that argument applies to renationalisation, it also applies to privatisation.
One thing that has concerned me is the way in which funding operates. In a number of areas, pilots receive project funding from a variety of sources, and people are spending their time trying to get funding for projects, going to different sources at different times and not delivering services.
There is the issue of how we deal with core funding. Very small amounts of core funding would go a long way in delivering the kinds of public services that people want and expect from us. We need to learn that lesson as we deliver services throughout this Parliament. We should 144 address the confusion over capital and revenue, and ensure that there is sustainable revenue funding for projects.
There are so many different audit requirements, too. Every time an issue arises, we add another set of them. I fear that what Lord Cullen is saying will add several more. I suggest to Ministers that they take seriously the performance and innovation unit report and the Public Administration Committee report on modernising government. They contain a number of crucial recommendations.
There is a range of welcome steps in connection with the proposed communications Bill. I welcome the fact that the Bill will be published in draft form, which will allow us to take on board the fact that technology is changing. I hope that the Government recognise that, and adapt the legislation as it happens.
I should mention one issue associated with communications.
§ Brian White
There are lots, but I have time to mention only one.
California receives about 25 per cent. of its income from sales tax, and it reckons that that will disappear in the next 10 years. We have not even started to address the issue of the loss of VAT revenues in this country. We need to do so.
The low voter turnout did not result from apathy. It was a clear political statement—one that we need to take on board and tackle. The Queens's Speech gives us the opportunity to do so, and I hope that we shall address that matter seriously in this Parliament.
§ Debate adjourned —[Angela Smith.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.