Before I call the mover and seconder, I shall announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address:
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 and 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.
Mr. Speaker— [Interruption.] That is the formalities over with. Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure, after some 24 years as a Member of this House, to have been invited to move the Loyal Address. It is also nice to address a full Chamber— [Interruption.] —or a nearly full Chamber, to be correct. The last time I addressed a full Chamber, I was standing at the Dispatch Box; I was recommending the casino advisory panel's— [Interruption.]. That was neither the pinnacle of my parliamentary career, nor one of my most productive speeches. I hope that the House will accept my contribution today with a little more sympathy than it did on that occasion. A few weeks ago, I thought I would be riding off into the sunset of my political career rather than moving the Loyal Address. How wrong people can be. I think it was Harold Wilson who said that seven days in politics is like a lifetime. That is probably true.
There are many reasons why it is a privilege and a pleasure to move the Loyal Address, and I should like to refer to a couple of them. First, I must mention my family, and particularly my mum. She is 91—and, thanks to the NHS, she has just had a little knee replacement operation. She is still a very active member of the Co-op guild and party and a strong Methodist, and she is also strong on temperance—her son has not quite copied her in that respect. The Methodist minister keeps sending me messages via my mum about the legislation I was recently involved in putting on the statute book: liquor licensing, 24-hour opening and modernisation of gambling—we would have needed only to chuck sex on to that list to have cracked it. The young Methodist minister keeps asking, "What's gone wrong with his Methodist upbringing?" I have, however, sent the message back to him that I have every confidence in the Methodist mission to combat and control those perceived evils—I do say perceived evils. It is a good job that he did not find out that I also had horse racing and greyhound racing in my portfolio of ministerial responsibilities.
The second reason why it is a privilege and a pleasure to move the Loyal Address is my constituency of Sheffield, Central—the constituency I was born in, educated in, and where I worked until I was elected as an MEP in 1979. I am fiercely proud of the city of Sheffield. I left school at the age of 15 and, like many of my contemporaries, I went into an engineering apprenticeship, of which I was very proud. I did not go to university, but spent three nights a week at night school before moving on to day release in further education and then to a technical college—Sheffield polytechnic, which is now the fantastic Sheffield Hallam university. Apprenticeships served us well, and I am pleased that apprenticeship reform is a part of the Queen's Speech. I welcome that; it will serve the nation well, too. I genuinely hope, Mr. Speaker, that people like you and me, with our backgrounds, will always have a place here. If this House ever becomes stuffed full of professional politicians, it will be a sad day for the House and the nation. [ Interruption. ] There is an old saying, "If the cap fits, wear it."
Sheffield, Central has a great industrial history. It has played a role for this nation in war and peace, particularly during the first and second world wars. Even when Hitler tried to rip the industrial heart out of our city, it continued to support our forces with the armaments they needed to fight for freedom and democracy, and against fascism. Its industrial contribution in peacetime has been considerable. For example, it gave stainless steel to the world when Brearley produced the first molt in 1913. It made a contribution to the aerospace industry when it helped Rolls-Royce to put the most advanced aerospace engine into the skies—the RB211—from which the Trent engine derived. It was a decade ahead of its competitors. The city also played a role in getting Concorde into the skies. Without Sheffield's forging and casting, exploration for North sea oil would not have been as successful. The energy industry benefited considerably from Sheffield's engineering and materials development, whether in the field of oil, gas, renewables or the nuclear sector.
The challenges of climate change are rightly referred to in the Queen's Speech, and I believe that security of energy supply and a sound energy policy are absolutely crucial to our future. I believe that we have to bite the bullet sooner rather than later in acknowledging the role of nuclear power in the energy portfolio, not just here in the UK but around the world.
Many hon. Members will know that Sheffield is a great city of sport. It has the oldest football team in the world, Sheffield FC, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Indeed, the Prime Minister sent a very kind letter to a dinner that the club held a few weeks ago. Sheffield has been named the first city of sport and, along with the English Institute of Sport, it boasts some of the finest sports facilities anywhere in the country. It also has the Mecca of football: Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United. My right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett may not like this, but the city boasts two professional teams: Sheffield United and Sheffield United reserves.
As the Prime Minister knows, we have our differences on football. He is a great Raith Rovers fan, so obviously, like me, he always supports an underdog such as Sheffield United. When we were at Wembley the other day for the Germany match against England I was ribbing him about a great defeat that took place at Wembley a few years ago—Scotland 3, England 9 in 1961. I reminded my right hon. Friend, and yes he did smile, even on that day.
During the last 10 years Sheffield has been transformed. I would like to acknowledge the work of the Labour leader of our city council, Jan Wilson, and its chief executive, Sir Bob Kerslake. In the dark days of 1997, Sheffield had high unemployment, crumbling schools and second-rate housing. The social fabric of the city was under severe pressure, and families were experiencing second and third-generation unemployment.
I want to tell a little story—and this is a true story. In 1997, I was proud to become a Minister in a Labour Government and I was given the regeneration portfolio. I called a meeting in Sheffield, in the Manor estate, in the middle of my constituency. That estate had been condemned in the national press as one of the worst in the country. Civil servants from the region and representing national portfolios were at the meeting. It was progressing in this church on a wet Wednesday afternoon, when all of a sudden the big oak door of the church creaked open, and a little snotty-nosed kid put his head round the door and shouted, "Anybody want to buy a microwave?" I said, "Come here!" The civil servant from the Treasury said, "What was all that, Minister?" I said, "That is the redistribution of wealth that stands in for the taxation system. It's called crime, and if we do not do something about it, it will happen in many inner cities, and it will get worse not better."
I am pleased to say that Sheffield is a city of opportunity. It is a modern university city with two great universities and teaching and children's hospitals that I believe to be among the best in the world. It is a city of opportunity, but for that little lad who put his head round the door, it is also a city of hope, thanks to what has been done over the past few years.
In fact, Sheffield has been so successful that it has brought many people in, and I have a new political neighbour in Sheffield, Hallam. He has been there only two years but he has been so filled with confidence that he has decided to make a bid for the leadership of the Lib Dems. If Mr. Clegg wants some advice, I am a little bit of an expert, having run a few election campaigns for my right hon. Friend Mr. Prescott. It took JP three attempts to get to the deputy leadership of the Labour party—I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can wait that long, but I wish him well in his leadership bid. [Interruption.] I gather that that sentiment does not gain universal acceptance.
In the past 20 years, I have had opportunities to serve on many Committees, perhaps none so challenging and rewarding as chairing the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in the early 1990s. Its reports in that period are still cited in many publications as authoritative and well presented. I want to put it on record that the servants of the House, especially the Clerks to the Committees, are the most talented and conscientious and have the utmost integrity. We should always respect and appreciate their services. Serving as a Minister for 10 years has taught me the dedication, value and quality of our civil servants. In the adversarial system in which politics operates in this country, we should appreciate, respect and be proud of public service.
It is a great honour to propose the first Loyal Address under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have worked with him since I was elected to the House in 1983. We worked together on the Opposition Front Bench in the 1980s and developed many policies such as regionalisation, in which he and I have a great interest. He was also an active supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. Indeed, in those heady days of the 1980s and 1990s, working with my right hon. Friend was like riding a rollercoaster. His office was the most untidy that I have ever seen. His coffee cups were not washed for days on end and I used to say, "Gordon, for goodness' sake, wash the coffee cups out." He was always demanding. [Interruption.] Someone behind me asks, "Didn't he say, 'Get on with it, Richard'?" My right hon. Friend is always driving forward. When he offered me a post, which I was proud to accept, as ambassador for the World cup 2018, he said, "Richard, it's a great job; you've got the credentials, the telephone book and the zeal to go out there. Oh, by the way, there's no salary." In his thrifty style, my right hon. Friend yet again got the old trade union official to work for nowt.
Many people have commented on my right hon. Friend's character and style but the words of P. G. Wodehouse sum it up:
"It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."
That little ray of sunshine comes through in the most hard-working, conscientious person whom I have worked with over the years that I have been here. I hope that the Loyal Address will be the first of many under his premiership.
The Queen's Speech refers to the health of the nation. I believe that that and climate change are the two biggest issues that face our nation and many others. As Sports Minister, one of my proudest achievements was delivering, through the school sports partnerships, an increase of more than 60 per cent. in sport and physical activity in our schools in the past six years. That means that nearly 4 million hours a week more of sport and physical activity are undertaken every week in our schools now than happened in 2001. That, coupled with more playing fields being opened than closed in the past two years, is starting to change the culture of our nation in the right direction.
In the past six years, it has been very pleasing to be part of a team that brought the 2012 Olympics to London. It was great to see the nation get behind the bid and when, in July 2005, the result was London, we saw the nation rejoice in a way which, I think, we had not seen before.
I have two little stories of how that bid was won. The first involved David Beckham. London 2012 came to me and said, "Can you get David Beckham to go to Singapore? It'd be great—remember when the 50 kids walked in and Beckham was with them?" It was absolutely great to set up that part of the bidding process. I said, "Fine". I talked to Sven—he was then the manager of the England team and very close to David, who was the captain of the England team. He was very generous and came in to see me. We discussed whether David could go—it was David's wedding anniversary on the Monday and we made the bid on the Wednesday. Sven said that he would do what he could, but by the way, could I meet Nancy to talk about her charity, Truce International—so, there was a quid pro quo. The rest is history. Beckham went to Singapore and did a fantastic job, along with Tony Blair, Seb Coe, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics and many of that team, both then and before that. I pay tribute to what Sven did in delivering that part of the bargain, and I delivered my part, as well.
The other person who supported us and was helpful in giving us kind words of encouragement—I hope hon. Members will listen to this, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, because what I am going to say is important in terms of what we did for our bid and how people can return—was Nelson Mandela. As I travelled down to South Africa to see Nelson Mandela, I reflected on 20 or so years in the House and on my association with the anti-apartheid movement and with Nelson Mandela. It was remarkable that he was denounced by prominent people in the House as a terrorist, for being part of the leadership of the African National Congress. I say this genuinely: we should always be careful to distinguish between terrorists and freedom fighters.
Before one of Mandela's first visits to this country in the 1990s, after serving 27 years on Robben island, I was told by the secretary of the all-party South Africa group that it would not be advisable for him to visit the House of Commons. However, as a good trade union official—as you know, Mr. Speaker—I did not take no for an answer. We negotiated and we got a compromise, which saw him enter via the back door of Westminster Hall and after that attend a meeting in the Grand Committee Room—it was a fantastic meeting, but the conditions were no TV, no cameras. What was remarkable on that day was that six Caribbean lasses who worked in the Members' Tea Room wanted so desperately to meet Nelson Mandela that as he left—yes, through the back door of Westminster Hall—they formed a line of honour and he hugged and kissed every one of them. They will remember that for the rest of their lives.
To roll the clock forward six years, what happened on Mandela's first visit was a far cry from
I finish on this message. It is a message that Mandela gave to me after signing the flag. He said, "Richard, I really want to thank you and the British Government for something that we believed would never happen in Africa." That a single Government could make such a difference to a continent—the African continent. What the current Prime Minister did when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, alongside the Blair African mission, was to persuade international financial institutions that the restructuring and rescheduling of debt is a key to relieving African poverty. Mandela said that thousands of people are alive today because of that action, that countries such as Zambia are becoming more economically viable and that the future for Africa is considerably brighter than it was a decade ago.
In government, we can make a difference, and we will make a difference in this country. Let us always remember: we can make a difference throughout the world, as well.
It is an honour and a privilege, not only for me but for my constituents in Brent, that I have been asked to second the Loyal Address. I must admit that, when I got the message to call the Chief Whip, my first reaction was, "Uh-oh, what have I done now? He's caught me." Then, when I was told that this honour was to be bestowed upon me, I thought, "Uh-oh, he has caught me!" However, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has such a nice way of putting things that, even if he asked me to sit on the Crossrail Bill, I would probably be inclined to say yes— [ Laughter. ] Oh dear! I fear that I have made a rod for my own back.
It is truly an honour to be asked to speak today. It is also an honour to follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn. Like me, he is a former trade union official, and we have an awful lot in common. We have also shared great moments cheering and shouting at football matches at the amazing new Butler stadium, also known on the streets as Wembley stadium. One of my most surreal moments was when I was travelling on the Jubilee line from Westminster to Wembley with him and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. When we got on to the train, I was so caught up in my own excitement that I thought everyone was looking at me. This really cute guy started to walk towards me, and my heart started to beat a little faster. Then he pushed me to one side and asked for the PM's autograph.
Many hon. Members may know that Brent has one of the new modern wonders of the world. It is not Dollis Hill house, which is used as a hospital for world war one and world war two soldiers; nor is it the largest temple outside India, which is also in my constituency, or the multicultural mosque, or even the house where Bob Marley used to live. Amazing though all those buildings are, it is, in fact, Butler stadium. Hon. Members might want to visit my constituency to see the many wonders that are scattered all around, and I hope that they will do so—but please do not ask me for football tickets, as refusal often offends. For anybody wanting football tickets, their best bet is probably to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central—he is our ambassador for the 2018 World Cup, after all. I am sure that he will have fond memories of the times that we shared at Wembley, and that he shares my hope that someone in my constituency will help to bring football home for GB—the country and the Prime Minister.
I like to think that I am a fairly modern chick, so when the opportunity arose to sit on the Modernisation Committee, I jumped at the chance. I am not quite sure whether the Committee helps with modernisation that much, but it has helped me to understand some universal truths: men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and some Members of Parliament are from a planet not yet discovered. The modernisation measures set out in the Queen's Speech have given me new hope. The Queen often awards OBEs and MBEs regardless of colour, creed, religion or class. As we are on the theme of modernising, perhaps we could have a word change. "Order of British Excellence" or "Merit of British Excellence" would sum up the people around the country and in my constituency beautifully.
Brent, South is one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, and, although I might have some of the poorest wards in the country, I can testify that the constituency is full of richness and ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things every day. I am glad that the Queen has acknowledged in her speech the rising aspirations of the many, and not the few, through the education and skills Bill and the new housing and regeneration Bill.
I was elected to the House in 2005, and it was one of the proudest moments for me and my family. I promised, at my first meeting in the school hall, that I would be the voice of young people and that, when I stood in this place, I would make sure that their voices were heard. That is why I am really proud that the Government have announced that unclaimed assets can be used to improve young people's services across the UK. More than 700 places will be created—more than one for every constituency—so we shall all have something to look forward to. That will ensure that young people in every constituency will have a place to go and something to do.
I remember addressing a group of young people, and one of them saying to me, "Why are you so interested in youth issues?" Before I could answer, a young guy jumped up and said, "Because she used to be young once." I think it was at that same school that I wore a bright orange suit, and a young girl with tears in her eyes said, "Miss, do all MPs have to dress like that?" I might have been offended—after all, it was quite an expensive suit—but it is time that we stopped demonising young people.
There is constant talk about gangs. I witnessed a gang mentality just a month ago, when a group of mainly white men heckled and jeered—at times in unison—and its leader started stabbing his middle finger in the direction of the other side. He went on angrily to goad the other side, which duly responded with insults and jeers to match. I felt inclined to join in: after all, this was Prime Minister's questions! We should be careful how we label people. Youth week, as outlined in "Aim high for young people: a ten year strategy", will help the media, the public and politicians to gain greater understanding of young people and their culture.
We need people to understand that politics matters. When our Prime Minister took action to secure debt relief, it was a question not of some figures on a balance sheet but of shifting the balance on the scales of justice. He moved the balance in favour of the poorest, but some debt cannot so easily be written off. One such debt is the enslavement of 13 million Africans. As we approach the end of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade legislation, I know that our legacy will be to teach an objective history as part of the curriculum. I hope that we will commemorate slavery each year, as we do the holocaust.
The national armed forces memorial in Staffordshire, which the Prime Minister visited to pay his respects to all who lost their lives in past and present wars, makes this year's remembrance very special. I wear my poppy with pride, as all hon. Members do.
We must also remember all our young people who have needlessly lost their lives to gun and knife crime. The proposals outlined today will have an impact and help to make our communities safer. I have seen the youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund work in Brent. I have seen the difference that they make and I believe that my constituents would want me to take this opportunity to bring to the House's attention the energy and creativity of Brent's young people. I have seen the work commitment, the dedication and the pride on young people's faces when their projects have been completed.
I have spoken to many kids on the streets, who say that they want things to do, places to go and an education that will give them a good job. Imagine my surprise when the Youth Parliament, which I helped to set up, came to Westminster and voted to stay on at school beyond 16. When I was at school, it was not so much me wanting to leave as the teachers hoping that I would! They could not think of a profession for someone so mouthy and argumentative. Well, here I am!
For the first time, we have had a pre-legislative draft, which has helped us to prepare for today. It means that we can quickly progress to implementation of the health and social care Bill; it means that we can commit to continued investment in the NHS, which is 60 next year; and it shows that we have real belief in the aspirations of all the people of this country.
We have so much to do and we must not shy away from the great work that Labour has done for our country. We have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty—19,700 of them in Brent alone. The minimum wage now stands at more than £5 an hour, the winter fuel benefit in Brent is £11,600—and I could go on and on. [Interruption.] Tempting as it is to go on, I would like to end.
Ten years ago, as a trade union official, I had colleagues who travelled in car boots just to get here to speak to Members and to recruit new ones. I witnessed first hand how a Labour Government changed people's lives for the better. We stopped riding in car boots and finally walked in through the front door. It is a memory that will stay with me for ever. My members, some of whom were earning only £2.50 an hour, felt empowered by having their trade union official by their side. I was a young idealistic activist trying to change the world. Although I hope I have not changed that much in 10 years—beyond a few grey hairs and a dodgy orange suit, perhaps—I am very grateful that this country has changed.
I am one of the youngest Members in the House and I hope that young people watching our proceedings today are inspired not just by our democracy, but by the sense that they, too, can be part of it. If anyone hearing our speeches today or reading about them tomorrow questions whether politics works or whether it matters, I say to them that cynicism did not create the welfare state, indifference did not introduce the minimum wage or bring peace to Northern Ireland, and apathy did not end debt slavery for the world's poorest people or give our most valuable pensioners dignity in their retirement. It was politics that did all that. That is the difference that politics makes. The strength of self-belief, the dignity of truth and the engagement of politics can turn slaves into free people. I dedicate this speech to my ancestors and all those who gave their tomorrows for our todays. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Let me start by paying tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the tragedy in Warwickshire on Friday evening. It was a reminder of the great risks that our emergency services take on our behalf all the time. The thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with their families.
I congratulate the proposer and the seconder of the Loyal Address. Mr. Caborn; his speech did not feel like a century—spoke powerfully about his constituency and the city that he loves. When he made the case against professional politicians, he united the whole House against both Front Benches, which was a great achievement.
The right hon. Gentleman was a popular and successful Minister for Sport, but things did not start quite that well. Few of us will forget—I hope that he will not mind too much if I remind hon. Members—the Radio 5 Live quiz with which he launched his career. For greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy. He was asked,
"Can you name the four players in today's semi-finals of the Stella Artois?"
"um...errr...Henman. I can't, no."
He was asked,
"Can you name three jockeys who will be riding at Royal Ascot this week?"
"No. I know nothing about horse racing at all."
Then he was asked:
"Can you name three European golfers playing in the US Open?"
At this stage, the transcript says, there was an "audible sigh". Then he said,
"uummm, uurrrr...No. I haven't been watching the golf at all."
Next he was asked:
"Who is the captain of the British Lions?"
"Don't know that one either. I'm terrible this morning."
The Daily Mail—charitable, as we all know—ran a quiz the next day entitled, "Are you dumb enough to be Sports Minister?" To his great credit, however, the right hon. Gentleman brushed all that aside and persevered. He is a shining example of how there are times when one has to ignore the press and just get on with the job.
As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, he will also be remembered for launching and continually relaunching the career of another much-loved national political figure. He ran his deputy leadership campaign in 1992, his leadership campaign in 1994 and his deputy leadership campaign in the same year. I refer, of course, to Mr. Prescott. The right hon. Gentleman's determination to stick with unfashionable causes does him a huge amount of credit. No doubt that is why the Prime Minister asked him to propose the Loyal Address today, but he did a superb job.
Ms Butler made an excellent speech. It was not just witty and incisive—it did not just put the Modernisation Committee firmly on the map—but passionate, and I think that she will be and is a great ambassador for this place, in spite of our political differences. She might not welcome this, but we do have something in common. She has spoken positively about young people—she did so again today—and has told us to listen
"to the voice behind the hood".
I am not sure that she needs any advice from me after that speech, but following my experience with the H-word, "hoodie", my advice would be, in all candour, "leave it there".
Her predecessor as Member of Parliament for Brent, South, Paul Boateng, famously said on the night of his election,
"today, Brent South—tomorrow, Soweto."
I understand that her ambitions are slightly different: she is in a fight to the death with her Liberal Democrat neighbour for the new Brent seat being created by boundary changes. So, for her, it is more a case of "today, Brent South—tomorrow, Brent Central." Many of us have fought Liberal Democrats and know the appalling depths to which they will stoop—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] As she has just found out, she will have support on both sides of the House as she continues her fight.
The proposer and the seconder upheld the best traditions of the House, and I congratulate them on their speeches.
I pay tribute to Piara Khabra, who died earlier this year. He led an extraordinary life. Born in the Punjab in the 1920s, he fought in the second world war against the Japanese. He marched for Gandhi and Nehru, taking part in the great struggle for Indian independence. Having come to Britain, he was elected to the House as a pensioner. Piara Khabra served his constituents and his country well, and he will, I believe, be remembered fondly on both sides of the House.
Another Member of the House left us recently. I refer, of course, to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I thought I had better mention him in case the current Prime Minister omitted to do so in his speech.
Although Tony Blair achieved great mastery of this place, he could not wait to get out of here. Many have asked "What was the hurry?" I think I have found the answer. There is a new book—I am sure it will be available in the Library—by Dr. Anthony Seldon. On page 330—
Yes, I got that far. I did not have to read aloud, either.
Page 330 tells us that Tony Blair
"was worried about Gordon's character and personality, the dark side of his nature, his paranoia and his inability to collaborate."
No wonder he decided to opt for the comparative safety of east Jerusalem.
As we meet at the start of this Parliament, it is right that we should pay tribute to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This goes beyond party. All Members of the House, whether or not they supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, know that our troops are a huge source of pride to everyone in the country. If the Government propose measures to improve our troops' welfare during this Parliament, they will have our complete and full support.
As we draw down troops in Iraq, the focus on our mission in Afghanistan should, we believe, intensify. I have been to Helmand twice to see the work that our troops are doing, and I know the Prime Minister agrees that they are fulfilling their mission with bravery and professionalism. We may be winning the battle in a tactical, short-term and military sense, but I believe that we need to make more progress in a long-term strategic and political sense. I hope that, when he speaks to us today, the Prime Minister will update us on his work in encouraging President Karzai to make further progress, including progress in tackling corruption.
I hope the Prime Minister will be able to tell us about progress in the unifying of the several overlapping military commands in that country, which I believe make it more difficult to achieve the necessary progress. I also hope he will be able to comment on the proposal—which we very much support—that one person should co-ordinate the civilian, political and humanitarian efforts of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Such co-ordination is necessary to ensure that we do not fail in Afghanistan.
In this Parliament, I hope we can avoid a gap opening between the facts on the ground and the information supplied by the Government to the House of Commons. I hope that when the Prime Minister speaks, he will give us a guarantee that there will be full quarterly reports to Parliament on the progress being made in Afghanistan. I am sure that the House would also welcome an update on Pakistan, and on the pressure we are bringing to bear to ensure that the much-needed elections take place.
Let me now turn to the legislative proposals in the Gracious Speech. There are Bills that we support, not least because we proposed them in the first place. We very much welcome the climate change Bill, just as we welcomed it last year—and no doubt we will come back next year and welcome it all over again. It is not the only measure that has been recycled. There is also the Bill on unclaimed assets, which the Prime Minister has announced twice before, and there is the Crossrail Bill, which has been announced 11 times before.
We will welcome the draft constitutional renewal Bill. We support giving Parliament the right to vote on war, and the strengthening of Select Committees. Those are our ideas, and we will back them in the Bill; but we believe that it is time to go further. We want to see abolition of the routine guillotining of Bills, and the House of Commons being given more control of its timetable. That would be a real package for the strengthening of Parliament.
My constituents are treated in hospitals in Liverpool, Manchester and Cheshire. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in opposing proposals to take away my right to hold Ministers to account in demanding answers from them about my constituents' care?
The hon. Gentleman needs a Conservative Administration in Wales to improve the hospital, so that his constituents do not have to cross the boundaries. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] We support having English votes for English laws, so that when purely English matters are discussed in the House it is Members of Parliament sitting for English seats who have the decisive say—if the Government would like to put that in their constitutional renewal Bill, they will have our support.
The counter-terrorism Bill takes up our proposal to make it possible to interview suspects after they have been charged. We think that that is important and we welcome it. We will press the Government to go further and to include the use of intercept evidence in court and the introduction of a proper border police force, not just the border force that the Prime Minister has spoken about.
The Gracious Speech includes proposals on party funding. In our view, there can be no justification for more state funding of political parties unless a tough cap on donations applies to individuals, businesses and trade unions. That is the difference. We are prepared to accept that cap, but the Prime Minister and the Labour party are not prepared to divorce themselves from the trade unions. So far, Labour has not been able to back that cap, and I fear that we are likely to see a one-sided Bill. People will conclude, if that happens, that, having tried to put off the election once, the Prime Minister is now trying to fix its outcome.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures. He will find that trade unions spent more in marginal seats before the last election than the Conservative party. However, all the money in the world will not save him in High Peak. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
On the subject of our democracy, we look forward to debating the European reform treaty. We will propose many amendments, but one in particular is to give the British people the referendum that they were promised at the last election.
The Gracious Speech talks about the importance of economic stability and we welcome the Bill on deposit insurance, but let us be clear that the problems go much further than that. We have the largest budget deficit in Europe and our competitiveness is in decline. In these times of uncertainty, we need a competitive tax system, yet the Chancellor seems hellbent on increasing tax on enterprise by 80 per cent. Since it is obvious that the Chancellor does not run the Treasury any more, when the Prime Minister stands up, I hope that he will do a U-turn on capital gains tax, as he has on so many other things this week.
The real problem with the Queen's Speech is simple. It is the same as the problem with this Prime Minister. Whether it is on housing, immigration or youth unemployment, it is all short-term tricks instead of long-term problem solving. Let me take just one example: the Prime Minister's pledge to "deep clean" our hospitals. Here is the headline from one newspaper—it is just what he wanted:
When we look at it more closely, it certainly is amazing. The Prime Minister said that "deep cleaning" would happen in "every hospital", but listen to what the Department of Health said:
"There are no plans to centrally monitor the deep cleaning of hospitals. Arrangements for the programme are entirely a matter for local determination".
[Interruption.] Wait. The Department of Health went on:
"Undertaking deep-clean is just one of a number of approaches trusts may take in tackling healthcare infections."
It gets worse. The Prime Minister said that deep cleaning would happen "over the next year", but the Department of Health said that
"no specific date has been set for either the commencement or completion of the deep-clean programme."
The Prime Minister said deep cleaning would be repeated "every 18 months", but the Department of Health said:
"The success of the first programme of deep cleaning will be fully evaluated before a decision is made about whether to repeat."
Then it said:
"There are also no plans to assess the effectiveness of deep-cleaning."
Therefore, all the things that the Prime Minister told us—that it would happen in every hospital, start immediately and be repeated every 18 months—turned out not to be true.
What a complete shambles. People are worried about going to hospital and catching a disease that might kill them, and all they get from the Government are short-term tricks. I will tell you, Mr Speaker, what needs a deep clean: the culture of spin, deceit and half-truth that we get from the Government.
The Queen's Speech does not, and the Prime Minister does not, represent any real change. The Prime Minister knows how to talk about change, but the trouble is he cannot deliver change. That is what the whole country discovered this autumn. Yes, he can do the gestures. He can wear the blue tie, speak in front of a blue background and even get Lady Thatcher round for tea. But when it comes to real, substantive change, this Prime Minister is not capable of offering anything new.
On education, the Government are going backwards. Instead of taking on the establishment and standing up for rigour and standards, they are caving in and abolishing the A-level. Instead of developing the programme of city technology colleges and city academies, they are slamming on the brakes and putting local education authorities back in charge. The Prime Minister talks about a culture change in education, but all we get is more top-down, centralising targets.
It is more of the same on welfare. We have millions on benefit and youth unemployment is higher than when the Government came to power, but still they will not introduce the sort of welfare reform that has worked everywhere else in the world. It was recommended by his own welfare adviser, but the Prime Minister rejected it.
This Prime Minister cannot be the change that Britain needs. That is why people are beginning to wonder, what is the point of this Government? Just where is the Prime Minister's vision for Britain? We were told that he would use this year's Budget to
"flesh out the vision for his planned premiership."
But when we got the Budget, there was a tax cut that turned out to be a tax con. Then they said that his vision would be in his party conference speech—and there was a vision in his speech; the only problem was that it was not his. He had borrowed it from an American. It was John Kerry's vision, and it did not work for him either. [ Interruption. ] After the disappointment of a conference speech that everyone can now see was just a laundry list of populist gimmicks, they said, "Don't worry— [ Interruption. ]
Order. The House must come to order. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to his say. The Prime Minister will be entitled to his say too, and I will expect the Opposition to behave themselves. I ask Government Back Benchers to behave. That includes you, Mr. Sheerman. You have been throwing in your tuppence worth too often.
They said, "Don't worry about the vision not being in the conference speech; you'll get it in the comprehensive spending review and the pre-Budget report." Then we had flight tax, inheritance tax and non-dom tax; it was our vision, not his. Finally, they said we will see it in the Queen's Speech. Yet again, people are asking, "Is that it?" Yet another relaunch, yet another rehash of short-term gimmicks and the same old thinking: top-down targets, central control and a hyperactive state to try to run everybody's lives. The truth from this Queen's Speech is that the Prime Minister has nothing new to offer.
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about change. I wonder whether I can encourage him to change one of his positions. He voted four times against legislation that introduced a new offence of incitement to religious hatred. The Government have given in to calls from hon. Members on both sides of the House for a new offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. Will he support that?
What the hon. Gentleman will find is that— [ Interruption. ] Let me answer; it is a very serious point. We will table an amendment to make sure that any such approach is about stopping people inciting violence and is not an infringement of free speech. On incitement to religious hatred, we got the Government to compromise and produce something that was not against free speech. The hon. Gentleman is not the best person to bring about change. After all, he was the person who tried to have the coup to get rid of Tony Blair that collapsed in complete ignominy. That is the sort of change that he tries to bring about.
The truth about this Queen's Speech is that there is nothing new to offer.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman had to do his own Budget proposals on the back of an envelope, but now that he has had time to reflect will he tell the House how he would fill the gap of billions of pounds in his own proposals?
I wondered how long we would go before we got to the Whips' read-out question. I have to say to anyone else contemplating the Whips' read-out question that there is only one black hole in British politics, and that is the gap where the Prime Minister's credibility used to be.
We have been briefed—[Hon. Members: "More."] Anyone?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the question of change, if this House and the other place pass the European reform treaty, will he—if there ever is a future Conservative Government —put that to a referendum?
We want a referendum now, and the hon. Gentleman can help us. He and every one of his colleagues at the last election promised a referendum. If he can stick to his promise and vote with us in the Division Lobby, we can have the referendum that he promised his constituents.
We have been told—the Prime Minister, having said that he would not brief the media, has briefed the media—that the one thing that would be in the Prime Minister's speech today was the right for anyone with children to request flexible working. Yet again, that is something that we announced, at our conference last year. Yet again, we are leading and they are following. A member of the Prime Minister's own Cabinet said the other week:
"We've had Downing Street on the phone asking us to do statements when we haven't really got anything to say."
No wonder the Prime Minister did not want an election. Listen to what a Labour party spokesman said recently:
"The manifesto was thin. The Labour 'war book' for the election was empty. The truth is, we have no new policies...The fact is that if we had called the election, we were intellectually as well as financially bankrupt."
One cannot put it better than the Prime Minister's good friend and old Cabinet colleague, Lord Falconer. He said that if this Government do not
"set out...our vision for the future of the UK...then we will be offering drift not leadership, and the past not the future."
I could not have put it better myself. No wonder he is not getting his pension.
We now see a Prime Minister bereft of vision, bending with the wind, buffeted by events. There is day after day of dithering. One minute, school surpluses are going to be confiscated; then, they are not. One minute, bins are going to be taxed; then, they are not—then again, perhaps they are. Entrepreneurs are going to pay capital gains tax; no, they are not. Look at the small print—they still are going to pay capital gains tax. Then, the biggest U-turn of all, with the Prime Minister inviting a hand-picked journalist into the bunker of No. 10 Downing street to tell the nation that the general election that he had planned for, prepared for and paid for was off. Say what you like about Tony Blair—at least he was decisive. Has not the only change been to swap a strong Prime Minister for a weak one?
This lack of vision, this weakness, would not matter so much if the Government were halfway competent, but this is a Government who are letting 2,000 prisoners out of jail early every month. This is a Government who allowed 8,000 people to die from hospital infections. This is a Government who somehow lost track of 300,000 migrants inside a week, so we were all pretty astonished to read from one of the Prime Minister's spin doctors in a Sunday paper:
"We've established our competence at running the country".
Hold on a minute—these are the people whose own laboratory caused the outbreak of foot and mouth. These are the people who have seen the first run on a British bank for 140 years. These are the people who cannot tell us from one day to the next how many migrant workers there are in the UK.
If we want just one example of the absolute bankruptcy of this Government, let us take the slogan that the Prime Minister wheels out every week: British jobs for British workers. Yes, if only he could see how embarrassed his Labour MPs are, how they shudder when he utters those words. I have done a bit of work on this little slogan of the Prime Minister's. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told us that there should be no doubt. It is, he said,
"explicitly a British jobs for British people campaign".
We asked the House of Commons Library, and it said:
"There is apparently nothing in the detail of the proposals to suggest that foreign nationals will be excluded from any of the initiatives if they happen to live in the area where the locally based schemes operate."
So there we have it: the reality is that the Prime Minister has no intention of providing British jobs for British workers, because he knows that it would be illegal under EU law. His proposals will not help British people working in Britain any more than they will help Italian people working in Britain or Polish people working in Britain. That is the truth about British jobs for British workers. I did a bit more research to find out where he got his slogans from: he borrowed one off the National Front; he borrowed another off the British National party. Where was his moral compass when he was doing that?
I will tell the House what should have been in the Queen's Speech. In this new age of freedom, we need to give people more opportunity and power over their lives. That means a supply-side revolution in our schools; cutting stamp duty to help people on to the housing ladder; and more power for local government. In this age of unease, we need to strengthen families and make our society more responsible. That means ending the couple penalty in the benefits system; backing marriage in the tax system; and radical welfare to get people off benefits and into work. In this age of new insecurity, we need to make our country safer and greener. That means proper prison reform; it means real police reform. That is what Britain needs: solving long-term problems, not short-term political tricks; a clear vision for the future, instead of a tired and cynical Prime Minister who has forgotten what he is trying to achieve; and consistent, strong leadership, instead of a weak Prime Minister who cannot stick to anything for longer than five minutes. That is the change that people want, and that is the change that our party will deliver.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to send, as the Leader of the Opposition did, our condolences to the families and friends of the four firemen who tragically lost their lives over the weekend. Being in the fire service means that they never know what moment they will be called upon for extraordinary and heroic action, and the British people are privileged to have been served by firemen who showed such courage and dedication.
Let us also remember all those who serve our country as members of our armed forces in every theatre around the world and thank them for their dedication, service and courage, too.
It has become a noble tradition to remember Members who have served the House and who have died during the year, and I am sure that all Members will also want to join the Leader of the Opposition in remembering Piara Khabra. He was Member of Parliament for Ealing, Southall from 1992 until his death, and his life was an extraordinary journey that began in abject poverty in India, led him as a young man to enlist in the fight against fascism, volunteering in the Indian army, then to work as a teacher in London and then as a councillor and to live on to become the oldest Member of the House of Commons. It was his experience of poverty in India that made it his lifelong work to fight injustice wherever and whenever he found it.
For too many Members on both sides of the House these days, a large public meeting tends to be in single figures of attendees. Indeed, I recollect, with embarrassment and some humility, my first public meeting as an MP in 1983. I had just one attendee and a chairman who wanted to go off to another meeting. But such was the measure of Piara's popularity and organisation that when Piara Khabra invited someone to his constituency to address a meeting, hundreds—indeed, on one occasion, thousands—turned out. He was a good man. He served his community and his country well. He graced the House with his presence. His life was a life well lived in the service of others. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
I want also to thank the proposer and seconder of the motion today. It was said of Lord Roseberry, when he was a member of the Government in the 19th century, that when a Cabinet meeting clashed with a race meeting, he always chose the race meeting. My right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn has managed to find a better way of enjoying both sport and politics, as he served as Sports Minister and is now the ambassador to the 2018 World cup.
The Leader of the Opposition reminded the House of the less than auspicious start of my right hon. Friend when he was asked five questions on Radio 5 in 2001. In fact, in the same month in 2001, he was joined in another less than auspicious start: that of the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. He went out on that occasion to address the press after his first European Council, and he started his press conference by saying how pleased he was to be in Brussels. It was pointed out to him that he was actually in Luxembourg. Both Ministers went on to enjoy long and distinguished service and continue to do so. It just shows that a few difficult headlines in a new job can be safely overcome.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central and I have a great deal in common, though we are from different parts of the country. We have teetotal temperance and Presbyterian families. We also share a love of football. He rightly reminded me of England beating Scotland 9-3 in 1961. That result was so humiliating for the Scottish people that the Scottish goalkeeper emigrated to Australia. Even 30 years later, when he asked whether it was safe to come home to Scotland, he was told "No." He ended his career as a cabaret singer down under. Let me thank my right hon. Friend for his tireless work, together with Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend Tessa Jowell, to secure the Olympics for Britain, and for the work that he is now doing to ensure that the next decade can be one of the great sporting decades for our country. There is not just the Olympics in 2012, but possibly the Commonwealth games in 2014, the Rugby world cup in 2015, and the football World cup in 2018. We will owe him a great debt of gratitude for his work in achieving those great sporting events.
Having heard my hon. Friend Ms Butler speak, I can understand why she was described in one journal as the most promising feminist under 35. I understand that she organised her first sit-in at the age of 11. She set up a homework club, which she ran, in her teens. She also ran an after-school club from her father's van. Her popularity and success is built on her effectiveness as an organiser and as a constituency MP, and not least on her passion, which she talked about today, for building better youth facilities for teenagers. I believe that she has that rare gift of empathy and approachability that makes politics more accessible and attractive to the young people whom she talked about. Her very success, not only here today but in her career, explains why we must continue in the ongoing struggle to make this House truly reflect all the people whom we represent. Having heard her speech, I was struck by how much further we still have to go. This morning, I asked someone in Downing street to check this, and my memory was right: when I was elected in 1983, there were 59 male Members of Parliament named John, 30 male MPs called David, and only 23 women MPs. Even now, we have a long way to go to improve representation and improve the facilities here for parents and children. She spoke with passion today, and I am confident, on the basis of what she has said, that she has a great deal to contribute, not just to our future debates, but to the future of our country.
I will deal with all the specific issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition as I go through the legislative programme, but I must say that he may have been good on jokes, but he was pretty bad on policy. When he tried to claim credit for flexible working being his idea, I quickly checked up on the facts. He voted against maternity leave, he voted against paternity pay, and initially he voted against the first right to flexible working in this House.
The Queen's Speech refers to the Climate Change Bill, which makes us the first Government in the world to impose legally binding targets for a sustainable environment. The Leader of the Opposition wishes to say that the measures in the Queen's Speech are simply short-term. The Climate Change Bill is a transformatory act, and we are the first country in the world that will legislate in that way. On energy, housing, pensions, education, work-life balance, citizenship and anti-terrorism measures, the central purpose of the legislative programme is to make the right long-term changes to prepare and equip our country for the future, and to meet the rising aspirations of the British people. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the point of what we are doing, and the point of the Government. To ensure that all our young people have the skills that we need to compete in the global marketplace, we are proposing the first legislative Bill in 60 years to raise the education leaving age in this country. Two million teenagers a year will benefit, and I hope that all parties will share that ambition with us when it comes to the votes.
That proposal, like many others in the Queen's Speech, is an English-only matter. Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is completely iniquitous that although English MPs are not able to decide on matters in Scotland, Scottish MPs from the UK parties vote on matters that affect only England? Why does he not join the Scottish National party in abstaining on such issues?
I just want to remind the hon. Gentleman that only a third of the people of Scotland voted for separation or for a separative party. There is no support for his position, and I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that he now supported English votes for English laws. Indeed, his tutor at university has just written an article saying how ludicrous a constitutional proposition that is. Some time, the Conservative party must realise that there can be only one Chamber to which the Executive is responsible. It can be either a Grand Committee or the Chamber of the House of Commons, but we cannot have two sources of authority in a legislature if it is to survive. Both the Scottish National party's policies of separation and the anti-unionist sentiment of what used to be the Conservative and Unionist party are something that people in the country do not wish to support.
May I ask the Prime Minister to follow up his comment about young people's aspirations? One of the things to which most young people—and, indeed, most families—aspire is a home of their own at a price they can afford. After 10 years of singular failure to deliver affordable housing—and almost no council housing—will the Prime Minister's housing Bill make sure that every council in England can build the amount of council housing that it wants to build?
There are 1.5 million more home owners in this country as a result of what we have done. Millions of houses have been repaired and renovated as a result of the money that we have spent. Yes, I want more home ownership and more social housing. The hon. Gentleman will see in the later part of my speech that we will build 50 per cent. more social homes in the next few years. That is something that we can afford, as against the Liberal party's totally unaffordable policies. We agree with the Liberal party about the importance of home ownership, but I was surprised to read the statement made only a few months ago by Grant Shapps, a Conservative spokesman on housing, that we cannot build our way out of our housing problems. A housing spokesman who says that we should not build houses is a contradiction in terms, and I hope that when we come to that part of the debate, the leader of the Conservative party can explain his position.
To give adults a second chance to acquire skills, we will legislate for a universal right, free of charge, to learn basic and intermediate skills. This is the first time ever that a Government have legislated to do so, so that those who want a second chance can have one for the first time. To ensure that all employers meet their obligation to the work force, we will legislate—again, for the first time in this country—to provide a pension for every employee with a matching contribution from their employer. I hope that there will be all-party support and consensus on this, as it is something that many people regard as essential that we should decide together for our future.
I was very interested to hear about that proposal, but will the right hon. Gentleman clarify something? If someone has a corner shop, and employs a shop assistant, will the proprietor be obliged to set up a pension scheme for that shop assistant?
There will be special arrangements for small businesses, but the principle behind the provision is, first, the automatic enrolment of people in pension schemes and, secondly, the requirement for employers to make a contribution. I hope that the Conservative party, which said a year ago that it supported the pensions legislation, will not resile, as it has suggested in the newspapers today, from supporting it in future. Again, the Leader of the Opposition was virtually silent on the future of pensions.
To help families who work hard to meet their responsibilities to young children in a world where two parents going to work should not mean the sacrifice of family life, we will build on paternity and maternity leave. We will set up a review to determine how to extend the right to request flexible working, not just to the parents of younger children but to the parents of older children as well. To increase protection for vulnerable workers, we will legislate to strengthen the enforcement of the national minimum wage and sanctions against failure to pay it so that every employer meets their obligations to provide decent pay, as we tackle exploitation of the work force.
Public transport matters to millions of people. To improve bus services, which remain a lifeline in many communities, we will legislate to end the free-for-all that left the passenger and the public behind. We will give local authorities more control over the availability, frequency and reliability of bus services. Alongside that, for the first time there will be free national bus travel for pensioners and the disabled from April 2008.
We have already talked about the needs of young people in our communities. To ensure that young people in our communities have somewhere to go, for the first time we will legislate to enable the transfer of unclaimed assets of financial institutions to pay for youth centres, among other improvements, in every community in the country.
We will match the Climate Change Bill, with an energy Bill. We will also legislate to ensure sustainable and secure energy for the long-term future of our country.
The first duty of the Government is stability, security and the defence of the country, so the anti-terrorism Bill contained within this programme will address the continuing threat of extremists in a way that continues the measured response that we have taken to the terrorist events of June last year. We will publish a national security strategy and, reflecting the statement of the director general of MI5 yesterday and the broad consensus that a security response alone is not sufficient to meet those threats, we will publish new proposals for winning the battle of hearts and minds.
Whether in relation to terrorism, immigration or the continuing evolution of the rights and responsibilities of the individual, the need to define British citizenship more clearly is evident. The importance of that is such that in advance of publishing our draft citizenship Bill, we will make a prior statement setting out our proposals for consultation and debate.
Foreign and defence affairs will be the subject of later debate on this Queen's Speech, but ahead of that I can confirm to the House—the Leader of the Opposition asked me about this—that as our forces move to an overwatch role, provincial Iraqi control will be established in the Basra provinces in the next month.
In the coming weeks, I will make a statement to the House about Afghanistan, about our 8,000 troops who are there, about the efforts at reconciliation and conflict resolution and about our proposals for development, which the Leader of the Opposition rightly mentioned—we are discussing those issues at the moment. As I have said, our troops and our armed forces continue to serve the country with distinction and with courage.
As recent events have unfolded in Pakistan, we have strongly urged the restoration of constitutional order and a commitment from the Government of Pakistan that elections will be held on schedule in January. We have also called, as I believe that all hon. Members want us to do, for the release of political prisoners and for the freedom of the media to be respected.
We continue to support further sanctions against Iran—again, I was asked that question—if the regime does not comply with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.
We should not lose sight of an historic opportunity in the coming weeks—the challenge for the international community at the Bali conference to begin the process of establishing a post-2012 international agreement, which could make the difference between our ability to tackle climate change internationally and a failure to do so. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will argue for common but differentiated responsibilities in which every country and every continent must play their part. Our success in advocating action on the international stage depends also on action at home, so we will be the first country to put legal limits on carbon emissions. We will ask the new independent committee on climate change to advise us whether the proposed 60 per cent. reduction by 2050, which is—
Order. There are so many private conversations going on in the Chamber. That is clearly unfair, and it is not the proper thing to do in the Chamber.
I understand who wants to listen to the discussion about the serious issues facing our country.
As part of meeting our target on renewables, I can announce that today we have granted consent for a 450 MW wind farm in the Irish sea. That brings our new capacity offshore to 2.5 GW authorised in only 12 months. We have already announced a feasibility assessment of the Severn barrage, which could provide almost 5 per cent. of current UK electricity demand.
Our draft marine Bill will balance the needs of the environment with the development of the coastline. For all their warm words on the environment, let us not forget that the Conservatives opposed the climate change levy and the renewable obligation, and they oppose wind turbine projects all around the country.
I also have announcements to make about measures that arise from the housing and planning Bills. I can confirm that we plan to build the first new towns for nearly half a century, and we will require their design to reflect both the needs of the residents and the need for environmental sustainability. Right across the country, more than 50 applications for such towns have now been received; we will select 10, with a potential for 100,000 new homes.
A consensus is growing that we should build 240,000 houses by 2016, and in the decade to follow 1 million carbon-free homes. Today we are publishing the updated list of 170 organisations—including the CBI, major house builders, planners, local authorities, charities and environmental groups—that have signed up to this goal, which I hope will soon have all-party support. Some 78 local authorities have already applied to be designated as new growth points for housing; they have the potential to deliver 450,000 new homes. We are now assessing more than 900 public sector sites to deliver 200,000 homes on public sector land. Our aim is that half the homes on surplus public sector sites will be designated for social rent, for first-time buyers and for key workers. By raising spending on affordable homes to at least £8 billion between now and 2011, we will deliver 180,000 new affordable homes—25,000 a year with shared equity and at least 45,000 new social homes a year. As I said, that is a 50 per cent. increase in building.
The Conservative party should face up to its responsibilities on housing. I quoted the Conservative party's shadow housing spokesman, who said:
"You cannot build your way out of"
housing problems. Then the shadow culture spokesman, an Oxfordshire MP, did an interview on housing in his constituency. He said:
"I'm not opposed to housing per se but...I want all the housing to go into Andrew Smith's constituency in Oxford East".
Then, of course, there is the Leader of the Opposition:
"We must be on the side of the next generation. If we are to be the party of aspiration, we must be on the side of aspiration and that means building more houses and flats for young people"—
"We need to change the planning rules so that...fewer homes designed for young single people"
are built. Confused, contradictory and not thought through—that is the policy of the Leader of the Opposition on housing.
With regard to social housing, will the Prime Minister sanction the release of capital receipts to local authorities?
I have to say that the change in the process of capital receipts happened in 1997 or 1998. I know that the hon. Gentleman spends a great deal of time out of the House, but I wonder where he has been. We will continue to provide the funds for local authorities and others to be involved in improving houses, and we are going to bring local authorities, with others, into the process of building.
I want to talk about the raising of the education leaving age, following the raising of the school leaving age, on which the last piece of legislation was the Education Act 1944, supported by all parties. That raised the leaving age to 15 and then to 16. Now we propose that we raise the education leaving age—that includes part-time as well as full-time education and training—and that education and training should be available free from the age of three to 18.
As skills demands go even higher, I believe that our country needs those academic and vocational skills. I believe that we need to give every young person a path to a career. To those who say that more will inevitably mean worse, let us reply that other countries, including America, Australia, Korea and Taiwan, are already moving beyond 50 per cent. in higher education. In Britain, only 14 per cent. from low-income backgrounds are in higher education today. We must make sure that we now remove all the barriers, in the interests of the global economy, to opportunity in our society. So we are establishing the right of parents to request one-to-one help for any child falling behind in reading and writing; we are establishing the right for secondary pupils to have a tutor of studies; we are changing the grants system and giving equivalent help to apprentices. That is on top of the 39,000 more teachers, the 170,000 more support staff, the 100,000 more teaching assistants and the thousands of schools repaired and modernised since 1997.
Again, I have to ask: where are the Opposition on this? The Leader of the Opposition said little about education. In June, the then shadow Education Secretary said that he was sceptical about the principle of free universal education. At no point have the Opposition committed to our ambition of half of young people having the opportunity to attend university. At no point, under the new shadow Children Minister, have they supported our academic and vocational diplomas, dismissing them last week as "fantasy qualifications" and as "undermining academic excellence". Why can they not support diplomas in the way that the CBI, universities, employers and businesses all over the country are wanting to build them up?
Why can the Opposition not support the right to full-time training or education up to the age of 18? Why did the shadow Children Minister say yesterday that raising the education leaving age was "a stunt", when the principle was supported by the CBI, the Engineering Employers Federation, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses and the chambers of commerce? Why can the Opposition not give full support to a minimum one day a week of training for 16 to 18-year-olds in work? Why can they not give support to education maintenance allowances for young people to stay on at school? Why can they not support the doubling of apprenticeships and 50 per cent. of young people going to university?
It is no surprise that the Opposition cannot do it, because the Leader of the Opposition flunked the test when it came to his clause IV moment on grammar schools. When his education spokesman said that "serious reform" was needed so that thousands of children could do better, he did not support his spokesman and change the party—he sacked his spokesman and gave in to the party and rejected reform. Why can the Conservative party not support education for all instead of education for a few?
The Leader of the Opposition said little about law and order. Let me say that drugs destroy communities; that is why, alongside the extension of neighbourhood policing to every community, and alongside the consideration now being given to reclassifying cannabis, we will strengthen in the legislation the policies to act against the dealing of drugs. There will be new powers to close crack houses and tackle premises at the centre of disorder, and we will publish a new drugs strategy at the beginning of the year. We have focused action, since the events of last summer, on the four cities where two thirds of deaths that arise from gun crime occur. We have put in place additional police patrols, extensive undercover work, more use of stop and search, weapon detection equipment, and getting more young people out of gangs. At the same time, we will legislate new orders against violent offenders, and we stand ready to introduce legislation as a result of the Flanagan review.
We are going to improve the framework for the sentencing of young people and strengthen provisions on antisocial behaviour. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South said, part of the mistrust that still afflicts communities reflects the fact that many of these communities lack places for teenagers to go. We have created 1,500 children's centres and rebuilt 1,100 schools, but many of us will know from our own constituency experience that we must use the unclaimed assets to provide appropriate facilities and activities for teenagers in our constituencies, and we will consult young people on those facilities.
Because crime is down by 30 per cent., burglary is down by 50 per cent., and there are more police officers in our communities than ever before. If we had taken the advice of the No Turning Back group, we would be cutting £30 billion out of public expenditure to pay for tax cuts, and we would be having to cut the police forces in our country.
I want to say something about the economic situation. In the face of continuing financial turbulence around the world, the legislative programme also includes measures to ensure that we maintain economic stability. We will act to replace the current savers' compensation scheme that has been in place since 1982. It used to guarantee only 90 per cent. of bank deposits up to £35,000; we are now consulting on guaranteeing, for the first time, up to 100 per cent. of the deposits of individual savers in banks and building societies, up to a specified limit, as we build on measures that have brought us 10 years of growth, free of recession—something never achieved by the Conservative party.
We have had the longest period of economic growth and stability in British history, and inflation has been brought down to 1.8 per cent—within our target of 2 per cent. Just as we have had to deal with turbulence after the Asian crisis, the IT bubble, the US recession and the trebling of oil prices, so our strong economic framework is designed to continue to maintain stability and growth now and in the future. We are determined never to return to the old days of the early 1990s: unaffordable tax cuts, spending promises that could not be met, resultant inflation, 15 per cent. interest rates and the worst recession since the war. The Leader of the Opposition may remember that. He was pictured side by side with Lord Lamont on Black Wednesday. Even on that day—the worst day in financial history since the war—he could not resist a photo opportunity.
I listened to the Leader of the Opposition and I heard very little policy on the big issues. [ Interruption. ] Is it not remarkable that the Opposition put an advert in the paper last Thursday setting out the policies that they would follow in government? We checked up, and four of the so-called new policies came from their 2005 manifesto, under Mr. Howard, who was the leader of the party then, and five of them came from the 2001 manifesto. We knew that the Leader of the Opposition took his jokes from Mr. Hague; he now takes his policies from him.
Where are the Conservatives on the big issues? Have they thought them through?
Ah! He has. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman. Are the Conservatives for a referendum after ratification of the European treaty—yes or no? He said in the advert last week that the Conservatives are committed to a referendum. We know that 47 Tory MPs have demanded a post-ratification referendum, two shadow Ministers have called for one, and of course nine of his shadow Cabinet Ministers voted against a referendum when the question came before Parliament before. Where is he on Europe? Is he for a post-ratification referendum or not? Did he not say in a letter that has been sent out:
"Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become Prime Minister, a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty—No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum"?
Why does he not say that he is in favour of a post-ratification referendum? Is the answer yes or no? I am happy to give way. [Hon. Members: "Come on!"] He cannot give an answer.
On the energy Bill, where do the Conservatives stand on the big choices on nuclear? Are they for it or against it? They cannot tell us. Their policy is confused, contradictory and not thought through. What do they tell us on health? In their advert, they say that they would stop all closures, even medically agreed ones. But at the same time, they say they want no centrally imposed decisions. What sort of policy is that? It is confused, contradictory and not thought through. They have a housing spokesman who does not want to build houses. What sort of policy is that? They have an education spokesman who is not in favour of opportunity being extended to young people. [ Interruption. ] Their education spokesman has not committed himself to the education leaving age being raised to 18. He has not said that he supports 50 per cent. of young people going to university, or that he supports the new diplomas in any positive way, even though business throughout the country is doing so.
However, does the Conservatives' tax policy not show their real priority? The difference between their inheritance tax policy and ours— [ Interruption. ] They should listen to this. Under their policy, every single year— [ Interruption. ]
The difference between their policy and ours is that under their policy, just over 3,000 of the richest estates in Britain will each get an extra £280,000. That is 3,000 of the richest estates getting £280,000—a modern miracle, the Conservatives' feeding of the 3,000.
I will give way for the right hon. Gentleman to answer this question: is it not true that the difference between our policy and his on inheritance tax is that, under his policy, 3,000 of the richest estates in the country would get a benefit totalling £1 billion? That is an average of five people in each constituency taking the £1 billion that could employ 25,000 teachers and nurses. Is it his policy that 3,000 of the richest people get £1 billion?
The difference between our policy and the Prime Minister's is that we thought of it and he stole it. While we are on a mission in pursuit of the truth, let us try another one on the Prime Minister. Will he look across the Dispatch Box and tell us that he was not looking at the polls when he cancelled the general election?
Is it not amazing that, when it comes to real policy and discussing the long-term future of this country, the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position even to join the debate?
Think of it, Mr. Speaker: a modern miracle—the Conservatives' feeding of the 3,000 richest estates in the country £1 billion. Every week, we will ask them why they would spend £1 billion on the 3,000 richest estates in the country every year thus, if the policy went ahead, depriving the country of the chance to employ 25,000 teachers and nurses. What does that tell us about the Conservative party? It is more interested in tax cuts for a very few than in helping millions of people in this country. What does it tell us about the Conservatives' economic competence that they are promising £6 billion in tax cuts with only £500 million of revenue to pay for it? Unaffordable tax cuts, spending promises that cannot be met, risks to stability—the same mistakes they made when they were in government.
On every major issue—Europe, tax, spending, education for a few—the Leader of the Opposition has failed to face up to the big challenges ahead. He is not really for opportunity for all and he is failing to meet the stability test. The Conservatives' unaffordable tax cuts and their threat to stability are too big a risk to this country.
The first law in the world to curb carbon emissions; the biggest educational reform for 60 years; the first universal right for adults to study free of charge; the first new towns for 40 years; building 3 million more homes by 2020; youth centres for every area of the country; progress on health, social care, transport and energy—this is a legislative programme that takes the next step forward for a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking down the barriers to opportunity, meeting the rising aspirations of the British people and ensuring security for all. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
I start by paying tribute to the dead firemen. Firefighters put their lives on the line every time they go about their duty. The same is true of our servicemen and women, to whom we shall pay proper tribute on Remembrance day this weekend.
May I add my tribute to Piara Khabra? He was not only the first Sikh Member of Parliament but the last Member of the House who served in our forces during the second world war.
I thank the promoter and seconder of the Loyal Address. Mr. Caborn is the ambassador—the tsar—for the 2018 World cup. If he is looking for venues, he need look no further than my constituency of Twickenham. My local football club, Hampton and Richmond, has a regular attendance of 250, but on Saturday it reached the heady heights of the first round of the FA cup. At the team's current rate of progress, it will match Chelsea and Arsenal in 10 years.
May I also thank Ms Butler? [Hon. Members: "Where is she?"] She is not here. She is clearly enjoying her stay in Parliament, but I fear that it will be a short one, because she will soon encounter my hon. Friend Sarah Teather—soon to become my formidable and popular colleague for Brent, Central—after which she can resume her no doubt valuable career as a trade union official. I also note from her website that the hon. Member for Brent, South describes herself as a spokesman for youth. It is rather nice to feel that somebody is speaking for me.
The Queen's Speech has been long in anticipation. The Prime Minister has been waiting for it for 10 years. He has had a 35-year political career distilling many of the ideas that have come forward today. He postponed the election in order to inject more vision, but the sense of anticlimax is deafening. We have heard little new, no ideas and little vision. Is that really what we were waiting for? I fear that the Prime Minister now cuts a rather sad figure. He was introduced to us a few months ago by his predecessor as the great clunking fist, but the boxing story has gone completely awry. Like a great boxing champion, as he once was, he has somehow made himself unconscious falling over his own bootlaces and is now staggering around the ring, semi-conscious and lost, and hanging on to the ropes. What is certainly absent is any forward movement or new ideas.
Buried in the Queen's Speech is the germ of a big new idea—a grand coalition of ideas between the Conservatives and Labour on policy. The Prime Minister was the author of the Red Book, to which I contributed, and has now written the Queen's Speech in the bluest ink. There are wide areas of policy on which Labour and the Conservatives have exactly the same position. They advocate the same tax policies with the same indifference to widening inequality; they are in the same love affair with the discredited council tax; they are both bidding for the anti-immigrant vote; they are both trying to prove how tough they are on crime by packing prisons with petty criminals, the mentally ill and people with addiction problems; they have both signed up to an energy policy that is centralised and depends on new nuclear power; they are both willing to sacrifice the environment for new airport development; they are both willing to load student tuition fees and top-up fees on to highly indebted students; they both have an obsequious relationship with the Bush Administration, which has led them to support the war in Iraq and new initiatives, such as the star wars programme; and they both sign up to a fundamentally unethical, cynical foreign policy that led them to get together at the beginning of last week for that little jamboree celebrating three decades of corrupt arms dealing with one of the most unsavoury regimes in the world.
I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman's lambasting the Labour and Conservative parties, considering the summit that the Liberal Democrats attended in Edinburgh yesterday with those very parties in order to carve up the future of Scotland. Why does one come to this Chamber and say one thing, but say something completely different in Edinburgh?
The hon. Gentleman will find that it is the Liberal Democrats who are leading the debate on devolution, as we are on all the issues that I have mentioned and many others, on which we are wholly distinct from those other two parties.
This debate gives us an opportunity to reflect on where the Conservatives are coming from. We heard some perfunctory references to state schools and health in the response to the Queen's Speech, but the Conservatives keep coming back, over and over, to this cluster of issues: Europe, immigration, Scottish Members of Parliament and the politics of identity. Unfortunately, these days, nationalism has to be dressed up in politically correct language, but we all know the message that the Conservatives are trying to get across. We can all hear the dog whistle.
One of those issues, Europe, will be at the centre of the legislative programme. We believe that there should be a referendum on the issue of British membership of the European Union. The details of the treaty are important, but more important is the cumulative effect of three decades of widening and deepening the EU, and the fact that nobody under 50 has had an opportunity to express a view on Europe through the ballot box. We can have as much legislative scrutiny as we wish, but the fact is that, unless the British public are persuaded of the need to sign up to the European project, this issue will continue to poison British politics. That is why we want to go out and campaign for the European Union, and we want the Government to do the same in the context of a referendum.
Is the hon. Gentleman as surprised as I am that we have yet to hear any condemnation from the Leader of the Opposition of the comments about Enoch Powell from the Conservative candidate for Halesowen?
I thought that the Conservatives put forward their views in very polite language, but I am afraid that, deep down, the prejudices are all too plain.
The proposed counter-terrorism Bill will be an important piece of legislation. I think that it is the Government's eighth counter-terrorism Bill, which suggests either that the previous seven were not very successful or that the Government are using legislation as a cover for inaction. There is a big, sensitive issue involved here—namely, pre-charge detention. We recognise that there is a delicate balance to be struck between individual civil liberties and collective security. Because this is a delicate issue, it is important that decisions should be driven by evidence and facts. The fact is that, when the Home Secretary recently appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, she acknowledged that no recent case would have been helped by extending the detention period beyond 28 days. If the Government persist with their proposed policy, it will be not merely unnecessary but counter-productive. As we have heard from the noble Lord West in the past few days, people are still actively recruiting to terrorist organisations, and they must not be encouraged. The same argument applies to identity cards, whose introduction the Government are persisting with. They are unnecessary, counter-productive and massively expensive, and they should be abandoned.
We see merit in some of the Government's constitutional proposals. They are rather minor, and they do not address the big constitutional anomaly presented by the first-past-the-post voting system. That is a far bigger constitutional anomaly than the West Lothian question or, for that matter, the Lords question.
A large number of people in England think that the big constitutional anomaly is the poor treatment of England. What is the hon. Gentleman's party going to do about that, given that bogus regionalism in England is extremely unpopular and makes English people feel even less well represented?
We recognise that there is a constitutional anomaly, and that it must be dealt with properly and carefully, and in the context of finance. We are the only party, as far as I am aware, that wants to open up the issue of the Barnett formula and to reconsider whether resources can be better distributed on the basis of need.
We note that the Government have flunked the issue of legislation on party funding. We believe, as do the public, that there must be limits on the amounts of money spent on party politics by political parties between and within election periods. There must be a cap on individual donations, whether from rich individuals or from trade unions, and that must be dealt with on an even-handed basis.
There are other areas in which we have common ground with the Government. We welcome the principle behind the Climate Change Bill. We believe that it could be greatly strengthened by introducing annual targets, and the fact that the Government have recently been backsliding on targets for renewables reinforces the need for that policy to be firmly anchored in legislation.
We are more concerned about the planning Bill, which has the potential to transfer a great deal of power from elected representatives to an unelected quango. Of course, the purpose behind it is to drive through new nuclear power and airport developments—very little to do with planning—and it threatens to undermine completely the checks and balances that have held the planning system together for many years.
The same centralising instincts seem to lie behind the new education Bill—this rather naive belief that we can fundamentally change the behaviour of grown people through compulsion. We are heading now for an absurd situation in which large numbers of adults are clamouring for more education and more retraining, but cannot get it because their local colleges are having their funding taken away, while at the same time the Government are trying to force young people into courses at local colleges that they do not want to attend and are completely unsuited to their circumstances.
The Government's reputation—and particularly the Prime Minister's reputation—ultimately hinges on what happens to the economy. The Prime Minister is quite right that we have had a decade of stable growth. However, as I have warned over several years, that growth is seriously unbalanced by growing private debt linked to an inflated bubble in the housing market. Not just me, but many other people are starting to warn of the dangers. The International Monetary Fund is so warning, as is the chief economist of the Bank of England. Last week, we saw alarming evidence of the rapid rise of repossessions, which is what happens when we have a combination of excessive debt and a slowdown in the economy.
The Government are providing new legislation on the specific issue of deposit protection—the aftermath of the Northern Rock affair. That is a reaction to what happened, but what we now need is some forward thinking about the new threats to the economy. When the Prime Minister first came in as Chancellor, he introduced some visionary legislation—the Bank of England Bill. It served this country very well; I gave my maiden speech in support of it. But the world is now a very different place and we need mechanisms to deal with inflation and deflation in the housing market and to deal with the looming problem of large numbers of people who cannot maintain their mortgages, facing the risk of losing their homes. We need mechanisms to ensure that the Chancellor's homilies about responsible and old-fashioned lending are translated into practice. We are not going to get this while the Government simply hang on, waiting for good news. We need vision, new ideas and fresh thinking, which are totally absent from this Queen's Speech. That is why we shall oppose it.
I want to make a few comments about the Gracious Speech. I note the Government's intention to increase the availability of affordable housing, which is one of their priorities. I want to express encouragement in that laudable objective, but also some concern. As MP for Thurrock, I was persuaded that the Government were charged and seized with the idea of building up the Thames Gateway, regenerating brown, fallow and derelict land in that area and producing new affordable homes to rent and to buy, which they saw as a great prize. The emphasis was on planned growth of essential public services commensurate with the increase in housing units.
At the last general election, I was prepared for and, indeed, enthusiastic about the ideas behind the Thames Gateway regeneration and I was proud that the Government had created a Thurrock urban development corporation. However, after some years, I have to tell the Government that there is very little to show for the legislation and policy that they put forward. I am justifiably very irritated. I am irritated because a plethora of Ministers have had some responsibility for this. We have seen numerous quangos with "Thames Gateway" or similar terms in their title. Every week I am invited to what I can refer to only as "junkets"—though they are also called receptions and dinners—by people who claim to be involved in part of the regeneration. I spurn them—there are far too many junkets and receptions in this place anyway—but I am also concerned that such people seem to see receptions, dinners, exhibitions and conferences as a substitute for bricks and mortar. It is not good enough.
The Minister in charge is now on test. The Thames Gateway needs housing units, and it also needs appropriate demonstrable growth in essential public services to meet the increase in housing units. There has been no indication of that happening. If we look at the age profile of my general practitioners, we see that many are old and in single practices. A lot of people were put on quangos—some of whom I did not commend to the Government, but my advice was ignored—who have not been able to produce much. I am getting frustrated, and I will not put up with it.
The Government need to show some dispatch. Ministers have all these buzz words—gateways, stepping-stones, blue-skies policies and so on—and one of them is joined-up government. Their performance in this area is the opposite of joined-up government. The Department has within it—I forget what it is called now—what I used to call the ministry of housing and local government; I am a bit conservative about such things. Whatever the Department is called now—communities or whatever—part of it wants to build up the Thames Gateway with regeneration and so on, while a junior Minister in another part of it is holding things up. Apparently, he or she is in charge of approving something called the spatial strategy, the approval of which keeps being pushed back.
I have never coveted being at the Dispatch Box, but I have to say that I could do a better job than some of those who have been doing it for some time. It is now time for a bit of candid speaking. I have never asked to see a Prime Minister before, but I shall ask to see the new Prime Minister if there is not appreciable movement, a reduction in junkets, receptions and dinners and, instead, a manifest regeneration in the Thames Gateway. I have now got that off my chest.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this malaise affects the entire country? Although the matter is in part devolved to the Welsh Assembly, does he agree that we must have a joined-up strategy across the United Kingdom? At the moment, many young families are forced to live in appalling conditions while trying to raise a family, often living in their parents' front room. Is he saying, as I hope he is, that at this point we do not have the luxury of delay? Until we achieve this, we will not fulfil the Government's affordable housing targets.
The hon. Gentleman's point is correct, but it also draws attention to one of the problems of our political system—its adversarial, gladiatorial nature. Let us be candid: people in all parties peddle in their own environment resistance to house building, while at the same time deprecating the inadequate housing supply, particularly for young first-time buyers or for rent. Over the years I have mellowed, and I think that our adversarial political system is wrong. It is particularly flawed in this area, and a settlement ought to be reached.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is not so much adversarial politics as local communities having lost control over the planning system? Does he agree that if local communities could determine the type of housing, where it should be, what products should be used and what is the right mix, resistance would be much less?
The hon. Gentleman's point has some validity. That is why I shall look critically at the Government's proposed planning legislation. I am all for expedition in planning decisions; I am not for cutting out the little man and woman who want to resist the big battalions that have access to this place, such as the British Airports Authority. I remember causing some levity in the Chamber a few years ago when I said that when BAA gets terminal 5 it will want a runway to match it, and then a new terminal to match the runway, and so it goes on; and of course it is true. The big battalions such as BAA are very influential, and get very angry about having to go through planning inquiries. I think that we should safeguard jealously the right of the small pressure group, the cussed, the bloody-minded and the awkward—of whom I hope I am one—to frustrate the big battalions.
That brings me to the question of the border police. Ever since I came to the House to represent a port constituency, I have argued that there should be a proper border police force. I did so long before that view was fashionable, and long before it was adopted by the principal Opposition party. Indeed, I remember one of the party's many leaders opposing the idea when he was a Home Office Minister, although later he changed his mind.
To be candid, I did not hear the Queen's Speech, because I find it somewhat unnerving and disquieting when people say certain things about the monarchical system and then rush to Buckingham Palace when they are invited there. What they say depends on their audience. I, however, am consistent: I believe in an elected Head of State.
But I digress. As I was saying, I represent a port constituency. The fact is that we need to have— [Interruption.] I want to develop my point about the border police, because I think it is important and should at least be put on the record. The case has now been accepted by the Government—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the monitors in the Palace be checked? I cannot believe that they are working properly, given that not a single Labour Member of Parliament is present other than Andrew Mackinlay. I cannot recall another occasion on which not a single Back-Bench Labour Member has been present other than the Member who is speaking. How on earth do the Government think they can sustain the debate until 10 pm when no one is here?
I could get the Whips in here pretty quickly if I mentioned West Lothian, but I shall hold that in my strategic armoury—my box of weapons—for another time. I want to develop my point about the border police force. What we have not been told is how it will be funded. At present, the principal airports run by BAA are called designated airports, and the chief constables or police authorities where they are situated determine the level of policing and the bill that is presented to BAA. The position is perverse, in that the good council tax payers of Bedfordshire—whom I do not represent—must meet the full bill for the policing of Luton airport. Moreover, I believe that there is a disparity between the cost of police services for Cardiff and one or two other not insignificant airports, and the cost of such services for BAA airports.
Clearly some people have noticed that, and I think we need early disclosure of what will be the role and responsibility of the border police, not just in the seaports—which is extremely important to me—but in the airports. What will be their interface with the airports? Will they be in addition to or instead of the territorial police forces, and what will be the funding arrangements? There should be parity of police funding throughout the airports and a comparable tariff in the seaports, paid by the port authority or, perhaps, based on the number of container units going through each seaport. In any event, the funding regime needs to be discussed and disclosed at an early stage. BAA has shown that there is a disparity.
It comes back to the use of this place. Lord Stevens, for whom I have the highest regard, is a former commissioner of the Metropolitan police and a distinguished member of the other place. He is chairing the taskforce on the border police, but an invitation to a reception this week that I and other hon. Members received says that he is also now on the board of BAA. I think that there is a potential conflict of interest, and people do not see that. BAA is meeting an enormous policing bill at present and one of its directors is chairing the taskforce.
I remember that when my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett was the Home Secretary, some Home Secretaries ago, I went on to him about the question of border police. He arranged for me to meet the Home Office police adviser, a delightful man, but a man who was an ex-policeman—he was not from the British Transport police or the Ministry of Defence police; he was from one of the territorial constabularies. Of course, their whole culture is one of opposing specialised police forces. Therefore, we have this bias built into the Home Office in terms of its police advisers, and Lord Stevens, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, is a director of BAA and advising the Home Secretary.
I think that there should be greater consultation with Members of Parliament, including those who represent seaports and airports, at an earlier stage. During the summer, I wrote to the Government asking whether I could have access to the people who were drawing up the Bill and I have not had a reply, which I think is damn discourteous, but it is not unusual.
Then there is the whole business of the European treaty. Those hon. Members who have a copy of the Gracious Speech before them may have noticed that the Queen said:
"Legislation will be brought forward to enable Parliament to approve the European Union Reform Treaty."
Words are important and I think that this will be the first occasion, if the Government really meant that when they were briefing the Queen on what to say this morning, that there will be a Bill that says that this House approves a treaty. All the other legislation hitherto, including the long and tortuous Maastricht legislation, was legislation not to approve a treaty but to give effect in English law to the consequences of a treaty that had already been ratified, which was done under royal prerogative. I wonder whether Her Majesty has got it wrong. I hope that it is not breaking any traditions to say that, but she did say—as we were told, Mr. Speaker got a copy to double check—that there will be legislation to enable Parliament to approve the European reform treaty. I hope that she and the Government are held to that commitment because it will be a parliamentary innovation. In any event, we have been told by the Prime Minister that we will have that, because he wants to strengthen the relationship between the Government, Parliament and people.
Then there will be a necessity for two Bills: one to approve the treaty, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and another to put the consequences into English law.
That may be so. I just welcome the fact that we are going to have a strengthened relationship between Government, Parliament and people. We are told that that may be done by a variety of methods, including Select Committees. I hope that, in good time, before the next Parliament is elected at the next general election, we shall have put in place procedures to ensure that the membership of Select Committees and, more importantly, the appointment of the Chairmen will be far removed from the hand and influence of Ministers. Although people have made noises about that in the past, there has been no indication of any serious movement to this end. However, I hope that that is what is implied both in the Queen's Speech and in what has been said inside and outside this place on other occasions recently.
Does the hon. Gentleman not see a certain irony in the fact that the proposal to strengthen the relationship between Government, Parliament and the people comes at the same time that the Prime Minister is resolutely refusing to allow the people to decide on one of the most important constitutional changes, namely, the EU treaty?
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I say that as someone who is unashamedly not just pro-European, but an enthusiast for the European Union, which I believe has been and is a force for good in terms of commerce, politics, the economy and conflict resolution and minimisation. I also believe that we have to take Parliament and people together. Successive Governments have failed to do that in relation to the EU and its development from the Community and the common market.
There is a case for a referendum on the reaffirmation of our membership of the EU. In my view, the time and the vehicle for that is not now and in respect of the treaty—an amending treaty, as were the others—but between now and say 2012. I am sure that my advice will not be taken unless the arithmetic of this place makes it inevitable. It would focus the minds of men and women, rather like a hanging. It would be make your mind up time. I say this not in a facetious, spiteful or taunting way, but the leader of the Conservative party in particular, as well as his Foreign Affairs spokesman, would then have to say that they supported the UK's membership of the EU for the reasons that I have given: that it is, overall, a net force for good in the world and our membership is in the UK's best interests.
The hon. Gentleman says that the EU has been good for conflict resolution. That has never been the case in the Conservative party, and I suspect he will find the same in his own party. The constitutional treaty is 96 per cent. the same as the constitution, which was rejected by the French and the Dutch. Also, a referendum was part of the manifesto on which Labour and the Prime Minister fought the 2005 election. To say to the British people "We've changed our minds" is simply not good enough. The hon. Gentleman must agree with that.
The hon. Member for Thurrock did not say that. I remember a Liberal Democrat Supply day when the Conservatives were in office and Paddy Ashdown was the leader. The issue discussed was so important to the House that the place was like the Mary Celeste: nobody was around. The Liberal Democrat motion was that there should be a referendum confirming our membership of the European Union. Like a stick of rock, if you cut me in half, I have "Labour" going right through me, but I sometimes recognise that other parties have a legitimate point of view. I can disclose to the House that there was a one-line Whip. Hardly any Conservative or Labour Members were about and the Liberals were here because they were promoting the debate. I was here as well.
The then Labour Chief Whip, Derek Foster, heard that I was going to support the motion. I told him that I was, as it was a good idea that would get us over a problem. He looked me in the eye and said "Mackinlay, there will be no promotion for you." I said "Come off it, I never supposed that there would be. But if that is the price, so be it." For me, that was a seminal moment in my time in the House.
I am still slightly confused about the hon. Gentleman's position on the treaty. At Foreign Office questions on
I have yet to make up my mind. The hon. Gentleman's question relates to the question from Sammy Wilson, which was a very good one. If the Leader of the Conservative party were by some miracle made Prime Minister this weekend, held a referendum to confirm the treaty and that referendum was then defeated, what would happen? There would be paralysis for a little while in the European Union and an awful lot of bad blood. Things would be said, but eventually, grudgingly, there would be some form of renegotiation. I suspect—I cannot prove it—that there would be some extra opt-outs and a fig leaf here and there. Prime Minister Cameron would come back and say, "I've done well." Harold Wilson once said—his words were a bit bogus, looking back—"We've had a fundamental renegotiation of our terms of Common Market entry," and Prime Minister Cameron would say the same thing. He would say, "Haven't I done well?", and many people on his side would say, "Yes, you have, but you've got to put the new treaty to a referendum." He would reply, "Come off it. I've done well; I've negotiated. I cannot do that". Of course, the purists would say that there would have to be a referendum.
I invite the House to consider how illogical and absurd this situation is. We could go on having referendum after referendum on a treaty, which is not the way forward. The way forward is to get this treaty, which was intended to deal with the running of the European Union, out of the way, and then to have a reaffirmation referendum in a couple of years' time. Of course, the proposal in question was part of Labour's manifesto. Alas, my fingerprints are not on that manifesto, and I do not recall ever putting such a proposal in my personal manifesto. However, I recognise that the point being made is a legitimate one, and I and others will need to reflect on it in the coming weeks.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we Conservatives are doing our bit for non-adversarial politics by helping him to deal with the fact that he and one other Back Bencher are the only Government Back-Bench representatives present for this debate. His argument against a referendum on the treaty seems to be that, if it went the "wrong" way, the pro-European treaty people would keep coming back with new treaties for more and more referendums, but that, if it went the "right" way, that would be the end of the matter. Surely there is a certain imbalance in the acceptance or rejection of the result of the people's verdict in this matter.
Perhaps because of my inadequacy in describing the situation, the hon. Gentleman has missed the point that I was trying to make. Let me excite him by inviting him to daydream that the current Leader of the Opposition is transposed into the role of Prime Minister, and that, as I said, he fulfils his commitment to holding a referendum on the treaty. If the treaty was rejected, what would happen? Things could not simply be left up in the air. After a period, there would be some further negotiations, and Prime Minister Cameron would come back waving a bit of paper, saying, "I succeeded." However, many of his colleagues would say, "No, you haven't. You've got to put that new agreement to a referendum." That process could go on and on. The way to deal with this logically is to resolve this treaty and then have a vote reaffirming the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, enshrining in statute that such a vote will take place in the next four to five years.
I got on to this track because of the intervention of my good friend the hon. Member for East Antrim, whose presence reminds me of one other aspect of the Queen's Speech that I want to trespass on: our citizenship legislation. He has a privilege that does not extend to me. He is a citizen of the United Kingdom and has exercised his rights in that regard, but he could, if he so wished, be a citizen of the Irish Republic. [ Interruption. ] I emphasise the word "could". That option is open to him because he was born in Ireland. Mr. Campbell put forward a proposition that I have some sympathy for, and which I want to raise in the citizenship debate. Those born in the Irish Republic after 1949 cannot be British citizens, but those born in Northern Ireland can be citizens of the Irish Republic. I think that that is wrong.
A very few people in the Irish Republic would like to deem themselves British. Given the whole theme and purpose of parity of treatment is now the vogue in relation to Ireland, that should be acknowledged by the Irish Republic and we should enshrine it in our legislation too. I have noticed how a lot of people like to be given knighthoods and honours by the Queen, and some of them come from the Irish Republic and some of them wrongly describe themselves as "Sir" when their title is just honorary. Some of them are quite rich; some of them sing perhaps. When it comes to patronage, power and titles, they would give their right arms to be British. I do not go along with titles, honours and so on, but that illustrates the absurdity of the situation. If, as increasingly happens, someone is given a title or honour and was born in the Irish Republic after 1949, it is an honorary title. I understand that they do not get the full works in terms of the rubric of the award being given to them.
Will the hon. Gentleman also please acknowledge, which I do not think has been done of the Floor of the House, that there is another distinction for citizens of the Irish Republic? Like Commonwealth members, they are entitled to serve in Her Majesty's armed forces. Regrettably, in current operations, an Irish Republic citizen was killed on operations, fighting for the British Army, and we saw the spectacle of a full British military funeral in Dublin. Although the loss of any member of the armed forces is regrettable, it was nevertheless noticeable that the Irish Government and the Irish people turned out in considerable numbers to respect the death of that very brave young man in his service for this country.
Yes, of course. I recognise that absolutely. I did not want to go down this road, but I fully acknowledge both what the hon. Gentleman says and the generosity of the people of the Irish Republic in that case and the change of attitude that prevails in the Irish Republic, demonstrated by the refurbishment of the wonderful memorial at Islandbridge, supported and funded by the Government of the Irish Republic and the recognition of the sacrifice, particularly at this time, made by Irish men and women who served in the British armed forces in the two world wars, all of whom were volunteers. I do not want to trespass too much into that, but I want to make it absolutely clear how the Irish Republic is now approaching these issues and its generosity of spirit.
On the other question of citizenship, I asked a parliamentary question to find out how many voters on the United Kingdom electoral roll are Commonwealth citizens, and I could not be told. This goes back to 1948 and 1949. At the time of the declaration of the Irish Republic, the Attlee Government rightly decided that it would be impractical, unfair, unnecessarily offensive and an administrative nightmare to stop citizens of the new Irish Republic being on the electoral register. I think that we all agree that that was extremely sensible. Then India came into the Commonwealth as a republic. After a small amount of immigration, it was decided that Commonwealth citizens should be able to vote in the United Kingdom and to stand for Parliament. Indeed, they have done so, and as we heard earlier today, they have been distinguished Members of Parliament. In considering citizenship laws, while always encouraging and facilitating dual membership, perhaps we should extend United Kingdom citizenship to people who are here lawfully and have been here for many decades—some of them were born here—but who are Commonwealth citizens. Thereafter we could have an electoral roll, as we go through the decades, that is made up of United Kingdom citizens. That would be sensible.
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument, but can he tell us exactly what problem he is trying to correct by saying that all those Commonwealth citizens should become UK citizens? Can he tell what the difficulty is?
There is no difficulty; I do not want to be misunderstood on that point. However, I invite people to consider the fact that there are not many other countries in the world in which a high proportion of people on the electoral roll are not, strictly speaking, citizens. There is nothing wrong with that, but if people pause and think about it, it probably is a good idea to change the situation. In any event, the Government could not tell me how many people on the electoral roll were in that category.
For clarity's sake, and to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, let me say that I am not in any way suggesting that people who currently vote should be precluded from doing so. I am not suggesting that anyone should lose citizenship of a Commonwealth country of which they are justifiably proud. I am just saying that as we are to have a citizenship review, there is a powerful case for saying that such people should be given British citizenship within a certain period. Thereafter, that would be part of the package that we work with—part of the citizenship package for Commonwealth citizens who come here. There is a degree of logic to that, and I invite the House to reflect on that point. I emphasise the fact that I do not want to take away any existing rights or citizenships; those should endure. I am just conscious of the fact that a review is under way, although the Queen's Speech was regrettably rather barren on detail.
I now come to my final point. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has embarked, to some extent at my prompting, on a review of our overseas territories. I think that the House has abdicated its responsibilities to the few thousand people peppered around the globe in the very small, residual, United Kingdom territories. People say, "Well, they have their own legislative councils." Indeed they do, but their Parliament is this Parliament. If our country goes to war, the people of Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Falkland Islands do not sit it out; they are committed by the actions taken by our Government and Parliament.
There is great disparity in the wealth of our overseas territories. Some are demonstrably wealthy and self-sufficient, although the distribution of that wealth leaves an awful lot to be desired in some places; there are great disparities within those territories. Other territories are dependent on funding from London, and their people are in what you and I would consider to be poverty, Madam Deputy Speaker. They are out of sight and out of mind. The House should put aside some time for the subject, and there should probably be an institutional committee with ongoing oversight of the conduct, stewardship and governance of our overseas territories. At present we are signally failing. That is in contrast to other countries: the United States, France, Spain and the Netherlands have the equivalent of overseas territories, but they give them some limited representation in their national legislatures. We are not fulfilling our moral obligations to people in our overseas territories, and it is time that the House did so.
It is a great pity that on today of all days we have lost a sense of occasion. That may be because it is the first time that the Queen's Speech was delivered by the Prime Minister several weeks before Her Majesty gave the speech. It may be because at 11.19 this morning I—and, I think, all right hon. and hon. Members—received a definitive text of the Queen's Speech from a news service, some 12 minutes before Her Majesty started to read it to the Members of the Lords and Commons assembled in the other place. It also reflects the fact that over the past two or three days, Ministers of the Crown have entered into an active debate in the media and in the pages of the newspapers on much of the contents of the Queen's Speech. As a result, right hon. and hon. Members know that to participate today, on the first day of the Queen's Speech debate, is to participate at the end of a rather long debate in the media, conducted while Parliament was not in Session by Ministers, commentators and others. Other right hon. and hon. Members have found it difficult to get into that debate. I hope that the authorities and the Government will reflect on that for the future.
If the Government are serious—and I hope that they are—about wanting to make Parliament the fulcrum of our national political life and the centrepiece of our debate, surely the Chamber is the place where the first clash of argument should take place over the nature of the Queen's Speech, and whether it is wide-ranging enough or deep and profound enough. If that were the case, more Labour Back Benchers would wish to stay for the rest of the debate. For the Hansard record, only two Labour Back Benchers spoke in the debate after the speeches by Front-Bench Members, so it can probably be argued that they do not support the speech enough to come here and speak in favour of it, although, doubtless, they will vote for it. It implies, too, that they believe that the debate has already taken place.
Is it not a rather sad spectacle that Members such as Stephen Pound should be driven in by the Whips and handed a Whips' brief as they arrive in the Chamber? [I nterruption. ] Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is the Whips' lackey. Doubtless, we will see Government Members driven in one by one to keep the debate running. It is a very sad situation.
It is sad for parliamentary democracy, because one would hope that by and large Government Members support the speech and do so sufficiently to want to speak in favour of it. If the House returned to the notion that the Queen's Speech should remain confidential until the Queen delivered it, that would be a courtesy to Her Majesty, and it might encourage more right hon. and hon. Members to take the debate seriously.
On the issue of the Hansard record, is it not noteworthy that there is not a single Scottish Labour MP in the Chamber? Many measures in the Queen's Speech pertain only to England. Labour Members are not prepared to listen to the debate, yet they are prepared to vote for measures that will impact on English constituencies, which is a very odd state of affairs, is it not?
That is another good point, and it prefigures something that I was going to say. Her Majesty began the Gracious Speech with some extremely good sentences crafted by the Government about the way in which the Government intend to give more power to Parliament and to people. I would find that more credible if the Government had something sensible to say both about engaging people in the question of the European treaty and about Government representation of England. Many Conservative Members believe that the European constitutional treaty is almost identical to the document that was rejected in referendums in countries freer than our own that allowed plebiscites on the issue. I know that the Government disagree—they argue like a rather expensive but not entirely convincing lawyer over a few words at the beginning of the document, although the rest of the words bear a remarkable resemblance to the original document—but it is not just Opposition parties that believe that it is more or less the same document. It is the settled view of most Governments of the European Union, and it is the view of most independent commentators with no party political axe to grind.
The House was elected in 2005, which is not very long ago. Practically every Member in the Chamber was elected on a party manifesto pledge, often backed by a personal manifesto pledge, to vote for a referendum should something like the constitutional treaty reappear. Why, therefore, are the Government shy about putting the issue to the people? They say that they have a great case, and that this is an entirely harmless set of proposals, which will be good for Britain, so why will they not put that case to the British people to show that they are serious? They know that 80 per cent. of the British people think that they ought to have a vote on the matter.
I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman's mellifluous flow, but may I assure him that what we said in our election statements in 2005 was not that there would be a referendum if there was "something like" a constitution but that there would if there was a constitutional treaty? What we face is a reform treaty—it is not a new constitution. I rest my case.
May I just finish this point, and then I will be happy to receive my right hon. Friend's support and encouragement?
The Government do themselves a great disservice. No one outside the House believes them when they claim that it is an entirely different document. That is why there is so little trust in politics and in government.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend and Stephen Pound will have heard that great statesman, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, when he said that the constitution and the treaty are the same thing. Je repose ma valise.
In view of the falling standards in foreign languages, and the falling interest in them, that is extremely wise guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, which will allow people outside this House to understand my right hon. Friend, who spoke in elegant French as one would expect—although perhaps not in this House.
Before my right hon. Friend goes off that point, does he remember the Queen's Speech on
"A Bill will be introduced to give effect to the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, subject to a referendum."?—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 23 November 2004; Vol. 667, c. 3.]
That was just three years ago.
I think that that was a much better Queen's Speech remark than the Government's position today, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House about it.
My first recommendation on the Queen's Speech is to amend it to include a referendum Bill, because that is the way both to give power to the people on an issue on which they want a voice and to settle the European issue. If the Government are so confident about their position, they should put it to the electoral test, which is the way to start to restore confidence in politics and politicians. Confidence in politics and politicians is damaged by all sorts of things, but it is certainly damaged by the impression formed by many people outside this House that they were offered a referendum that has now been taken from them.
The second big constitutional problem that the Queen's Speech does not address under the excellent rubric of giving power to Parliament and the people is the lack of proper representation of the people of England. There is now devolved government in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that is capable of making decisions over a range of issues on which English MPs can pass no comment or have no influence, whereas Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish MPs can come here to settle our affairs, which form a lot of the substance of this Queen's Speech. This Queen's Speech is partly a programme for the Union—it includes areas such as foreign affairs and benefits, which run across the whole Union—and it is partly for the people of England, where it deals with issues such as planning, housing and education.
We desperately need a solution to the problem of England. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made the perfectly good suggestion of moving towards more decision making in this House by the body of English MPs, so whatever is settled for Scotland in the Scottish Parliament would be settled here in Westminster by the English MPs of the Westminster Parliament exercising their jurisdiction as English MPs.
Is it not fair to acknowledge that the current situation falls far short of the most elegant solution, which is, of course, independence for Scotland and independence for England? In the short term at least, Scottish MPs should do what Scottish National party MPs do at Westminster, which is to abstain on matters that are solely English. That would not answer all the challenges in the long term, but it would address the core anomaly, which unfortunately arises when Scottish Labour MPs vote through matters in England when those matters have no relevance to Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman has made a moderate and sensible point. That is good advice, but I do not think that the Government are about to take it, because the truth is that they often need their Scottish MPs to vote against the interests of England to drive through policies that the body of English MPs on their own would never dream of accepting for our country.
As a staunch Unionist, I find that argument rather disturbing. Although devolution did not apply to Northern Ireland for many years, part of the contract of the Union was that decisions about Northern Ireland were made in this House by people who often represented parties that did not even organise in Northern Ireland. In the absence of devolution in England, does that contract not also apply to people in England in the sense that all hon. Members should make decisions about what happens in this part of the United Kingdom?
The point is that the constitutional argument is moving on. The idea driving Scottish nationalism is to radicalise English voters so that they, too, become Scottish nationalists—by proxy. That is what the Scottish nationalist strategy is all about.
As an English MP who has always in the past defended the Union, I am conscious that the political mood in my country of England is moving rapidly in exactly the direction that the Scottish nationalist party wishes for, as it tries to turn England into a battering ram against the Union. As a result, my right hon. and hon. Friends have reached the point of thinking that unless the problem of Englishness receives some recognition that goes some way towards matching the devolution offered to Scotland and other parts of the Union, that problem will get far worse, and the Scottish nationalists are more likely to get their way. The people of England will, effectively, become advocates of Scottish independence because they will want English independence. That is the process on which we are now embarked.
My advice to the Government, who still claim that they want to save the Union, is that they must do a much better job of that now that Scottish nationalists are radicalising English voters. At the very least, the Government should understand that splitting England up, balkanising it into a set of artificial euro-regions, is the very opposite of what is required to deal with the problem of Englishness. Far from making English people happy, some kind of second-best devolved Government in bogus regions—such as, in my case, the south-east, which we cannot define and do not wish to—will make them far angrier. They will say that such changes are a deliberate ploy to stop them being English, and they will be made more English and more anti-Union than if the Government had not gone down the route of trying to split the country up and pretending that creating artificial regions with unsatisfactory degrees of devolved power was some substitute for tackling the problem of England.
So I welcome the proposal of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron of English votes for English issues, although I would go a little further, because the movement is rapid and Englishness is on the rise. I certainly like the idea of creating an English structure within the Westminster Parliament; I feel that, because of history, it is the English Parliament as well as the Union Parliament.
My colleagues and I are happy to do both jobs for the same money. I do not want the development of an English movement that wants a large and expensive English Parliament, which would be in other buildings, with other politicians and bureaucrats, producing nothing of value at enormous cost to taxpayers. We can happily do both jobs; we have the plant, the building and the staff. A lot of the business now being conducted by the Union Parliament relates to England; we are saying that there needs to be a different way of handling that business to deal with the problem of England. Otherwise, the Scottish nationalists will win and the Government will look silly. They will discover that in creating a Parliament in Scotland to provide a platform for the Scottish nationalists, they have radicalised not only some Scottish voters, but an awful lot of English voters, and that that will start to pull the Union apart in exactly the way that they said would not happen.
As someone who was sceptical about the devolution proposals when the Government first put them forward, I find that completely unsurprising. I wrote a book entitled "The Death of Britain?", which put forward my view that the Government's constitutional approaches of more powers for Europe, trying to balkanise England into artificial regions and giving lopsided devolution to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales combined to make up the best possible way to start pulling the Union apart. It was almost as if the Government were on the payroll of the Scottish nationalist party, because they were doing its work.
I stand corrected by the hon. Gentleman, who names his party correctly.
I hope that the Government listen carefully to Members from England, who love the Union and our own country as well. I hope that the Government understand that we now need something better to prevent the split of the Union.
I hear what Mr. Redwood is saying. I should say—it may already have been said—that all but three of the Bills in today's Queen's Speech will have an impact north of the border, in Scotland. What kind of commitment do the right hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues have to retaining the Union? If he goes down the road that he has discussed, he will play into the nationalists' hands. In his party's view, political expediency may be the best thing and that might be in favour of an independent Scotland. Is that the case?
I have already set out my case. I have always been a Unionist—I still think that the Union has a lot to offer the peoples of the United Kingdom—but I am warning the Government that they are losing control of the debate because they have set up a lopsided system of devolution which does not suit the people of England. As an English MP, I will have to give voice to the very reasonable concerns of my constituents. I can still do so within the framework of a rebalanced Union, but if the Government ignore all those pleas, that will get more difficult. If they go in exactly the wrong direction and try to force bogus European regions on England, they will accelerate the process of splitting up the Union and make the problem that much worse. I hope that they are listening and understand the force of the argument. After all, they have some English MPs themselves. They do not get quite as many English votes as the Conservative party does, but they get quite a lot, and they will need a lot if they are to have any chance of staying as a large party in the House of Commons. I therefore trust that they will consider it very carefully.
The Government have tried to use this Queen's Speech in the usual crude way that we have come to expect of this new Administration—not so new when one looks at their members, but perhaps new in style. They see their list of proposed legislative measures as a cross between a press release whereby they legislate merely to get an effect or create a story—which means that sometimes they do not bother to put all the legislation through or repeal it before it has even come into effect—and a means of trying to expose differences between themselves and the Opposition which they think will place them in a favourable light. I have a piece of advice for the Prime Minister. He has spent all his life trying to get this job, and I would quite like him to do it well, because it is my country too, and he is my Prime Minister as well as the Labour party's Prime Minister. However, a good Prime Minister does not spend all their time in office thinking about how they can trip up or expose their opponents—they should spend most of it thinking about how they can solve the nation's problems, identifying them correctly and taking the action that only they and their Government colleagues can take. Obviously, Opposition Members can speak but cannot act; we share the frustrations that Labour Members will remember from their time in opposition. We can have good ideas, but unless the Government adopt them, they do not happen.
Of course, the Government live in a political world, and from time to time they have to give the Opposition a kicking, or try to—that is part of the life of this place, and I am not saying that we should be immune from criticism. However, they would be a better Government, and thought to be so, if they spent a bit more of their time worrying about the problems of the country and how their policies might work in effect and rather less time worrying about what the Opposition's position is on things. The Prime Minister spent quite a lot of his speech trying to find out what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition thought or said about a number of interesting issues instead of spending time developing the detail behind the Queen's Speech, which he and his colleagues had written, in order to satisfy the House that it would be different from the 10 Queen's Speeches written by his predecessor and would really make a difference to the problems of the country.
Let us look at some of those problems. The Prime Minister says that affordable housing is a very big problem. It is obviously true that a lot of people would like to buy a property but are fairly young or do not have the incomes or savings that enable them to do so as easily as they would like. We notice that under this Government more and more young people live with their parents for rather longer. While I am sure that family life is a wonderful thing, I suspect that it is mainly because of economics—they cannot afford to get a property of their own at the stage in life when their parents or grandparents took it for granted that they would leave the family home and find their own property.
The Government refuse to answer one very simple question. They say that they want more affordable housing, but when I ask Ministers by how much they want house prices to fall for them to then regard housing as being affordable, they will not answer, because they realise that telling all the existing home owners that they are trying to engineer a house price fall would not be very popular. However, if they are not trying to engineer a house price fall, it is difficult to see what they mean when they say that they want housing to be more affordable. It just does not make any sense. We know that there are lots of properties for sale, and it is possible to buy a property if, of course, one has the money.
The difficulty is that the Government's analysis is economically illiterate. They believe that the determinant of house prices is how many new houses are built. Unlike the market for most goods and services, the housing market is mainly driven by second-hand homes. Most of the homes that are bought and sold each year are houses that were built quite a long time ago, and only a marginal amount is made up of new homes that are constructed. It has been a very marginal amount under this Government because not that many homes have been constructed. The Government say that if only they could make a quantum increase in the number of new homes built, they could create a hugely disproportionate effect on the market, leading house prices to fall enough to be affordable. I just do not think they have done the maths. They do not understand the balance between second-hand homes and new ones.
More important, the Government clearly have not understood the first fundamental of how a housing market works in a free enterprise society with a big banking sector, such as the United Kingdom. Thanks to the work of the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor, we have lived through a credit boom and bust. We had several years of massive boom because interest rates were kept extremely low, inviting banks to lend huge sums of money against property, bidding the prices up. In the last three months, we have had a credit bust, which was very visible with a run on a leading mortgage bank, and people now have great difficulty in getting access to the mortgages they might need.
If the Government are serious about wanting people to be able to buy homes, they must first of all look at their lurch from boom to bust in the credit market, and they have to get the credit and mortgage markets going again. Through the Chancellor, they need to have conversations with the Bank of England about why there was such a catastrophe in Britain—worse than anywhere else in the world—over the summer, and about how they can secure sufficient liquidity for the banking system again, with an interest rate structure that makes sense.
During that period, the famous, so-called independent Bank of England has turned out not to be independent at all, as some of us always suspected. It turns out to be part of a tripartite arrangement with the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority. We now know that most of the crucial decisions taken during the summer were either actively taken by the Chancellor and the Treasury, or were heavily influenced or cleared through the Chancellor and the Treasury, illustrating that the Bank was not truly independent.
What do the Government need to do from here? There should be a Bill in the Queen's Speech to introduce proper independence for the Bank of England so that we can pursue a more sensible monetary policy. I am not sure that the Chancellor's interventions during the past few weeks have been at all helpful. It would be good if the Bank of England were to re-establish control over interest rates in the money markets.
All the attention is focused on the monthly deliberations of the Monetary Policy Committee. During the past couple of months, its deliberations have been academic seminars. It has fixed a rate, but it is not the rate at which transactions are taking place. The rate at which transactions are taking place has shot up considerably above the rate recommended by the committee because the Bank has not been doing the other part of its job. It has not been using open market operations, supplying liquidity or getting the banknote issue and the supply and trading of bills right in order to ensure that market rates are in line with Monetary Policy Committee rates. If the Government want to continue to believe in the Monetary Policy Committee, they must learn how monetary policy works so that the committee can once again be the main driving force for interest rates in the economy, not an academic spectator making interesting observations about it.
The Government have to learn that if they want to price people back into the property market, they have to do something about money supply, credit and their mismanagement of the banking system. Promising, or threatening, some increase in the rate of new house building in two, three, five or 10 years' time will not have an impact on the current situation. The numbers are too small in relation to the total number of homes in the economy, and the delay will be such that it will have no immediate impact on the state of the property market today.
I welcome the Government's belief in aspiration. I have always believed that home ownership is the best form of tenure. It is the preferred form—around half the people who do not own their home would like to do so. It is not the other way round: half the people who own their home would not rather rent. People who were in that position could, of course, easily sell their home and rent instead; that would not be a difficulty. I wish the Government well, but I hope they will study carefully what I and others are saying because they are not embarking on a policy in the Queen's Speech that will remedy the lack of affordable housing and the current crisis in the mortgage and housing market.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government may inadvertently be exacerbating the problem by setting the artificial 50 per cent. limit for subsidised housing that we have in London under Mayor Livingstone, and that de facto it will reduce the amount of market housing in the supply, which will surely only drive up prices still further?
I agree. Such an artificial target or limit is foolish. I remind the Government that the true aspiration is to own. If one way to promote ownership is encouraging part ownership as a bridging point, so be it; but let us remember that that is not the preferred outcome for people. The preferred outcome is to own the whole thing.
When I was a Minister and trying to switch some homes from rentals in the social sector to shared ownership in docklands, the housing professionals advised me that there was no demand for such things and that people wanted the rented accommodation. However, I insisted and some such properties were constructed. I went to see them when they had been sold; I knocked on the first door, completely at random. A charming lady answered and I asked, "Did you have any problems? Was buying a shared ownership home something you wanted to do?" She replied, "Yes, it's really what I wanted to do. I'm very grateful, but I had a problem—they didn't let me buy a big enough share." That was a wonderful response from my point of view because all the housing experts were with me and, if looks could kill, that poor lady would have been dead. She was a star because she spoke for the community in docklands, which had exactly the same aspirations as my community in Wokingham, and it was good to play a small part in trying to make those dreams come true.
I am sure that the Government want more such dreams to come true, but they must examine housing finance and stop playing silly politics with planning, in the hope of tripping up the Conservatives. They should sort out the existing housing market in a way that satisfies more dreams and ambitions.
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is not speaking ex cathedra, but, in his response to Mr. Hands on social housing as a proportion of new build in London, thanks to our enlightened Mayor, was he dissociating himself, if not his party, from the policy of including a social housing element in planning, which is the best way—and in many cases the only option that my constituents have—of getting on the housing ladder? Is the right hon. Gentleman for or against that social housing element?
Like my hon. Friend Mr. Hands, I do not welcome a blanket overall percentage that has to apply to all developments over a certain size. That is neither appropriate nor helpful for getting more housing built and more people into the sort of housing that they want. Within the social component, we need to strengthen the element that gives people a ladder of opportunity to ownership. Part ownership is always better than renting, given people's preferences.
The Gracious Speech tells us that the Government wish to raise the school leaving age to 18. Indeed, the Prime Minister started to say that but corrected himself and said the "education leaving age" because he realised that "school leaving age" would put off an awful lot of 16 to 18-year-olds. Many 16 to 18-year-olds would dread having to spend another two years at school. It is difficult to persuade many 14 to 16-year-olds that school is the right place for them. They do not find it relevant, interesting, exciting or worth while. If young people do not believe that something is interesting, relevant, exciting or worth while, they will not do it well and perhaps they will not do it at all. That is the reason for quite high truancy rates and poor performance in some schools in several places in the country. School is not firing young peoples' imagination and it is not what they want. I believe that the Government will rue the day that they took the line of compulsion—telling 16 to 18-year-olds what to do.
I do not normally praise the BBC because I do not often have reason to do that. However, there was a cracking good programme before the Queen's Speech, which gave us the debate that it would have been nice to have here first. A 22-year-old man who left school at 16 had been invited into the studio. From memory, I think that the programme said he had already sold his first business for a large sum of money. He was invited to comment on whether it would have helped him to be told at 16 that instead of leaving school and setting up a business he had to stay on at school, or that he could set up a business but that he would need to go on a training scheme at the same time which would take him away from his business at a critical point in its fortunes. He was wonderful and said, "No, of course it would have been absolutely disastrous."
That young man said that between 14 and 16 he chose to take business studies at school because he always knew that he wanted to be entrepreneurial. He said that those two years of business studies were off-putting, because all he was taught was how to fill in a VAT form and how to comply with all the regulations that the Government have imposed. He wanted to know about buying and selling, serving customers, providing new products and offering new services, because he was genuinely entrepreneurial. It was all right for that young man, because he was talented and energetic and he broke free. It would be more difficult for people like him if they had to comply with regulations that said they could not concentrate on their businesses entirely but had to do other things in those two formative years between 16 and 18.
That young man's testimony should also lead the Government to ask themselves whether they could improve what is currently on offer in the schools. He is but one, but I have met many young people who do not find the diet served up from 14 to 18 in schools interesting, challenging, exciting or relevant in a way that it needs to be if we are to motivate them and offer them a good future and a good career. Compulsion is not the way. The problem is that the courses do not suit, the style of teaching does not suit and the formal education does not suit.
As someone who did perfectly well out of exams in my youth, I think that there are too many exams. Every summer term is written off by the need to revise, to do the exams and to relax afterwards. There are too many teachers who teach for a test, because they are under the cosh of centralised targets. They know that they have to ensure that the children and the students pass, so they teach only for the test. They no longer educate the children because there is no time for that, because they have to teach exam technique and the minimum number of things that the student needs to get through the test. Because teaching is done in that spirit, the students get wise at loading up the information before the test, downloading it in the test and, when they leave the test room, saying, "That's done; we don't need to know that anymore. Now we go on to the next year's test."
That is not education as it should be understood; it is a testing system based on targets and centralisation, the very thing that dogs the Government in everything that they try to do. They have to let go a bit, trust the teaching profession and the schools more, let people have more choice of school and let 16 to 18-year-olds have more choice. The Government should of course promote apprenticeships and promote the idea that going to university can make sense, but they should not force people to go and they should not set artificial targets.
The Labour party will obviously want to tease out the Conservative position on whether 50 per cent. of all students should go to university. I have a simple answer to that. I would welcome it if 50 per cent. of all school students reached university level. Then I would of course want them to have a university place; but it would be stupid just to say that the top 50 per cent. are going to university anyway, whether they are prepared for it or not. There used to be a rough tariff, whereby if a student could not get two A-levels, they did not go to university. It was not that demanding a tariff—in some cases two grade Es would do it. If there is no longer any general tariff, people can turn up at a university not having mastered level 3 and so not having the intellectual equipment or knowledge that one would expect an undergraduate to have to make a success of university.
I am not speaking as someone being academically picky, but as someone who cares very much about those young people, because the way to make young people unhappy is to put them into something that they are not equipped to do well at. That is why, even with well below 50 per cent. going to university, we already have such a high drop-out rate in some of our universities.
On that point, is it not the case that, when some of our young people are going to university ill equipped for courses that are of no interest to them or that they are not suitable for, we have drop-out rates of 30 to 40 per cent. and that they are dropping out with a £6,000 debt millstone round their necks?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the tragedy: these proposals are not good for young people and not good for the system. They have been put forward just to satisfy some stupid ministerial target. People will say, "Haven't we done well, getting this extra number of people to go to university?" The Government will not have done well unless all those people really get something out of going to university and end up with a qualification that they are proud of and, more important, a qualification that will enable them to command a better salary in the market.
Of course, at the top and middle levels of the university system, that still happens. A degree can give people cachet, knowledge and habits of mind that employers find worth while. However, the more that young people are invited into universities without having met that minimum level 3 requirement, the more difficult it will be for the universities to teach them to the required degree standard, and the less value those degrees will have. As my right hon. Friend David Maclean said, more people will then drop out with a debt round their neck and absolutely nothing to show for it.
I hope that the Government will understand that they cannot simply legislate to make everyone a graduate. They have to work away at it, and that will require reform in our schools and in our education system generally. I hope that they will be successful in that, because I would like to live in a world in which many more people have the opportunity to gain a high level of education as well as to buy a home and to get a decent job. Those things are, of course, all related in this expensive, complex and technical world.
The problems for health are exactly the same as those for education, including top-down targets and Ministers desperately wanting to do the right thing but ending up doing the wrong thing. The central irony in the Queen's Speech is that the Queen, on advice from the Government, has told us that we are going to have cleaner hospitals. How many times have we heard Ministers promise cleaner hospitals? The Gracious Speech tells us that we shall achieve that by having a new, tougher and more impressive regulator to regulate the hospitals to make sure that they are clean. If the problem at the moment is that standards are not high enough and not being policed enough, why do we need to wait a year for another piece of legislation, a new quango, a new chief executive, a new logo and a new set of management consultancy papers? Why can these steps not be taken now? Nobody in the House would mind if the Government just got on with introducing the required standards through the existing mechanisms and making sure that they were met.
The Government have desperately been trying to do that in a top-down way for many months now, and it simply is not working. Perhaps they should ask themselves whether that is the way to run a large national health service, or whether what my right hon. and hon. Friends have been saying about devolving more power, responsibility and authority to hospitals and to clinical and other staff at local level might not make more sense.
I cannot believe that the Government wish to preside over a national health service in which 6,000 people a year die and have a hospital-acquired infection on their death certificate. I have to keep pinching myself to remind myself that that has actually happened. I cannot believe that Ministers find it satisfactory to have to make statements to the House about a hospital group in which 90 people died as a result of hospital-acquired infections. Somehow, because nobody could believe that 90 people could die in the same place in a relatively short space of time, that case has been treated more seriously than the hundreds and thousands of people who are dying month by month and year by year and who are being ignored.
I am sure no one in the House wants such things to happen. We do not want this to be a party political football; we want the problem to be solved. All our constituents need it to be solved. They are now getting worried about even being admitted to an NHS hospital when they are in need or in danger. They are worried that getting something quite moderate sorted out will result in their getting something far worse. There must be a solution, and it does not involve legislation or a new quango. Among the most worrying aspects of the Queen's Speech are the chilling phrases that imply that the problem can wait 15 or 18 months—or however long it takes to get the new legislation through and to set up the new quango—and the Government's naive belief that the new quango will have the magic solution that has so far escaped all the quangos and all the Ministers who have looked at the problem. This is extremely worrying and it sums up exactly what is wrong with the state of the Government today.
I will vote against the Queen's Speech because I see nothing in it to solve the main problems facing the country. I will vote against it because it does not strengthen our democracy; it undermines it further. I will vote against it because it does not tackle the lack of trust in politics; it accentuates it by not offering us a referendum or sorting out the English problem. I will vote against it because I do not think that it contains solutions to the problems in our large public services, and because I do not believe that it truly meets the aspirations of the British people. If the Government believe that they can play silly party political games with those aspirations, they will fail.
I pay tribute to Mr. Redwood, who makes a significant contribution whenever he speaks. I seldom agree with him, but it is important to have parliamentarians like him in the House. He gave an excellent and comprehensive speech, even though I did not agree with much of the content.
It is traditional at the start of debate on the Queen's Speech to pay tribute to Members who passed away in the previous year, as well as to talk a little about our armed forces. I would like to break only slightly with that tradition by paying tribute to two local councillors in my area who passed away during the last year. Peggie Harrison passed away in the last few weeks. She was an excellent leader of education on Telford and Wrekin council. She did a great deal to modernise education in the area and was well respected right across the political spectrum. She is a great loss to our community. Councillor Jim Hicks also died a few weeks ago. Jim was a man who served on the county council and the West Mercia police authority. He made a very significant contribution to public life in Telford. I am very sad that we have lost both those councillors.
I also pay tribute to our armed forces. A few weeks ago, I visited a family living in Aqueduct in my constituency. They were supported by an organisation that had provided a dog to help one of their children with hearing and other problems. When I visited the family, I saw a terrible situation. The child had been knocked over and terribly injured on the road. As I talked to the family, I found out that the other son was serving in Iraq. The family has faced enormous pressure over recent months, thinking about their son and having to cope with caring for another family member as well.
I want to pay tribute to every serviceman and woman in the Telford area who is serving our country in Iraq or Afghanistan. I have to say that I did not vote in favour of the Iraq war, but I believe that our service personnel are doing an outstanding job out there and that we now have to stay the course. We cannot set an arbitrary date for withdrawal. We need to ensure that there is stability in the country before we withdraw: pulling out on a single arbitrary date would be wrong; we have to see the job through.
Next Sunday morning on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, virtually every Member will be at their local war memorial. Does my hon. Friend feel as I do that it would have been good to have within the Queen's Speech some explicit comment about honouring the military covenant? Is he as confident as many in the House that financial stability, underpinned by the Queen's Speech and the Government's actions, provides the best possible avenue for honouring and meeting that military covenant—the debt of honour that we owe to our armed forces?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the Government are supporting the armed forces. It is important to invest heavily in accommodation for the forces and we should also remember that many civilian communities provide support across the country. There is a very significant civilian military presence in Shropshire and I am hoping for some positive news about moving the regiments back from Germany, preferably into a super-garrison within the county. Shropshire has a strong history of supporting the military and I hope that we continue in that vein over the coming years. I am lucky to have had relatives who served in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. I have long believed it important to protect the title of some of those old regiments. I am not one who likes the combination of regiments, although the new Mercian Regiment has done some sterling work abroad for our nation in recent months.
It is particularly important to pay tribute to members of the armed forces who are working so hard in Afghanistan. I have been watching the TV series about commando training. Indeed, I was involved in the armed forces parliamentary scheme with the Royal Marines a few years ago. They are doing an amazing job out in Afghanistan, and it is important that we support them in their efforts to bring peace, democracy and security to Afghanistan in the long term. Unfortunately, it is likely to be quite a long term, and I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister said today that he would come to the House and make a statement on Afghanistan in the next week or so, which will allow us to understand exactly how to cope with the pressures out there.
One of the issues of major concern is the permeability of the border between Afghanistan, its provinces and Pakistan. As there is greater instability in Pakistan at present, and greater uncertainty among the international community about the direction of the Pakistan Government, the permeability of its border with Afghanistan might impact on our troops fighting out there. The situation in Pakistan must be resolved, and stability brought back to that country, as that is important for our effort to stabilise and improve the situation in Afghanistan.
I want to touch on a number of areas covered by the Queen's Speech. In particular, I want to refer to affordable housing, and to the opportunities that we need to provide for ordinary hard-working families to secure affordable housing. I was interested in the comments of the right hon. Member for Wokingham on quotas and targets for affordable housing. Having worked for 13 years in housing and regeneration, let me say that target setting is crucial. I welcome the fact that the Government are bringing in concrete targets to develop up to 240,000 homes a year over the next few years. It is extremely important that we do that. I also welcome the attention given in regional spatial strategies to the allocation of new homes to particular constituencies.
I was born in Telford, and I would argue that it is one of the more successful new towns. If we are going to protect areas such as Shropshire, and the broader open space, green space and greenfield sites across it, we must consider more growth and development in towns such as Telford. It is significant that the Queen's Speech contained proposals for new eco-towns and a return to the principle of the garden cities of today and tomorrow—the great post-war achievement of a Labour Government, setting in place a strategy to provide new towns and communities.
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, whose contribution to local government housing was recognised for many years in his soubriquet of Demolition Dave. As I understand it, he blew up most of the '60s housing in his area. Anyone who is an admirer of Ebenezer Howard, as I am, will be swift to remind him, however, that new towns started more than 100 years ago; they are not just a post-war achievement.
My hon. Friend is right, but most of the enabling legislation to bring in new towns was an achievement of the post-war era. I am proud to say that I was involved in demolishing a significant number of properties in the west midlands that were, in my view, inappropriate for the future needs of communities, and my nickname was Demolition Dave. It is important that we consider an overall approach to taking out system-built properties, which are unsustainable in the long term, and that we redevelop and regenerate communities in a sustainable manner for the future.
I welcome the eco-towns commitment, and look forward to the announcement on where those towns will be. I hope that they will be allied to some existing growth points. I also hope that we will see rapid moves to secure zero-carbon homes. Clearly, the Government have set out an objective to ensure that new housing is built to zero-carbon standards. The eco-town projects give us a real opportunity to see that in action at an early point, and I welcome that move.
The Gracious Speech also proposed a housing and regeneration Bill to aid the delivery of the new homes needed by 2020, and to bring together land and housing through a new homes and communities agency. I have seen the impact that regeneration agencies sponsored by the Government can have in communities. Clearly, the development of Telford was a significant achievement of the development corporation, and we have had significant engagement by English Partnerships over the last few years in providing development sites across the town where mixed development has taken place.
I suggest to the right hon. Member for Wokingham that we need to develop mixed communities containing housing built for rent, sale and shared ownership. Over the last 20 years, the allocation of affordable housing to development sites as a proportion of the overall scheme has often relegated such social housing to a corner of the scheme. We need a system under which rented and shared-ownership housing is built together with housing for sale, so that when we walk down the street we cannot tell the difference between a rented home, an affordable home and a home for sale. Tenure-blind development, as it is called in the trade, enables communities to hold together more successfully.
Improved infrastructure is of key importance. Some of our most positive schemes in Telford, on English Partnerships land and in partnership with the local authority, are in Lightmoor, Lawley and Ketley millennium village, where there are proposals for new schools, restaurants, facilities for communities and centres for leisure and entertainment. We need whole new communities rather than out-of-town peripheral estates. I live on a housing estate that was built in the early 1990s, comprising about 2,000 homes. We have an extensive range of facilities—a post box, a bus stop and a telephone box—which were provided by the outgoing Commission for the New Towns. I hope we do not repeat some of those housing and development mistakes over the coming years. We need to build sustainable communities with a cohesive tenure base.
We must also establish targets to which local authorities can sign up. We have an opportunity, within the regional spatial strategy structure, to debate the amount of new housing that each local authority area should provide, but it is no good for the Conservatives to say that they will not set an overall target for development. If we are to deliver the homes that families throughout the country need, we require such a target. Over the weekend I discussed the issue with the Opposition's housing spokesman on Radio 4, who was unwilling to place on record his party's target for new house building in England and Wales. We cannot allow that trend to continue. We must hear figures from the Conservatives. I hope they will produce them during the passage of the housing Bill, and as we continue to debate housing.
The Queen's Speech also included education proposals. I believe that we should view education in a different way from the way in which we have viewed it over the past 40 or 50 years. The 14-to-18 agenda is particularly important. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham that we should restructure the school curriculum to engage 14-year-olds. Many young people do not want to sit in a formal classroom environment; they want to be in the local college. I am proud to say that Telford has one of the most successful further education colleges in the country, with a superb principal, Doug Boynton. The college is recognised across the board as an outstanding institution. We have a good partnership with local schools, enabling pupils as young as 14 to enter the college and take courses related to engineering and science. It is important that we continue to promote that arrangement in the coming months and years.
For the last two or three years in my constituency, students aged 14 or 15 who become disenchanted with what goes on in the classroom, and who yearn for the day when they can leave school and enter employment have been able to go to the local college to gain first-hand experience of what that would be like. When the time comes for them to leave school at 16, they can progress through the college system far more quickly with the benefit of the hands-on experience that they have gained over a period of 18 to 24 months.
That is an excellent example of the way in which we can restructure the curriculum to enable those who tend to detach themselves from a formal classroom setting to be re-energised by experience of further education colleges. I do not think we talk enough about FE colleges in this country. They are often omitted from debate, although they make a significant contribution to our education system.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is particularly acute for boys? The gender gap is very great when boys are 16, although it has narrowed or disappeared by the time they reach the final degree stage. It seems that the 14-to-16 curriculum is especially off-putting for boys.
I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I think it important, when we do agree, for us to agree across the Chamber. I agree that the 14-to-16 curriculum is a particularly important issue for young boys, and that there is a "switch-off" in that boys tend to achieve more at a later point in their education than girls. That should be accepted in the system. I am not suggesting that we should write off academic achievement for boys aged between 14 and 16, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that either, but we need a mixed curriculum and a range of opportunities.
The hon. Gentleman is waxing lyrical about further education. If it is so important, why have the Government not yet worked out which Department is responsible for it? Neither the Department for Children, Schools and Families nor the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is taking responsibility. Both recently sent me identical letters saying that they were consulting on which should be the lead Department. It does not say much for the amount of care that the Prime Minister devoted to reorganising Whitehall that further education was completely forgotten.
I have met the principal of my local college, who is keen to engage with the Government over the next few months in determining our overall further education strategy.
We should pay tribute to those who work in the sector, and who see further education as an area of growth. Millions of pounds have been invested in the college, which is in the constituency of The Wrekin. We have a sports dome there, and a partnership with the local football club brings young people in and ensures maximum use of education facilities. The football club has a learning centre alongside the pitch, which is run in partnership with the college and with schools. It takes kids out of the school environment when they are aged between 14 and 16 and younger, and inspires them by placing them in a different setting and showing them the opportunities that they can take.
That ties in with the agenda for providing more activity for young people before and after school. Telford has a £200 million Building Schools for the Future programme, which will completely change school premises stock throughout the town. We will have new schools across the secondary sector, many new schools in the primary sector, and some refurbishments of primary and secondary schools. That is particularly important, because it offers us an opportunity to extend school hours beyond 4 or 4.30 pm. When young people feel switched off from activity in their communities, we can use those schools as a resource that we have not had in the past.
We have often said that people should visit youth clubs or community centres in the evenings, and I have always thought it a waste for high-quality school buildings featuring gymnasiums and classroom facilities to be locked up at 4 or 5 pm. We should use those facilities, and the extended school hours, to engage with young people in communities. I hope that one important result of Building Schools for the Future will be schools opening their doors out of hours so that young people have access to learning, leisure and entertainment in a school setting after 4 or 5 pm.
I want to say a little about the climate change legislation. On Friday night I was at an extremely well-attended meeting of Friends of the Earth, along with 30-odd other people. There was real consensus among the people who were present that the Government are taking significant action in relation to climate change. There was recognition that they are the first Government to attempt to put such legislation on the statute book. Clearly, Friends of the Earth has concerns about how we produce targets. I suggest that, as a minimum, the Executive should report to the House each year on their progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but there are some challenges for the Conservative party. What is its view generally on nuclear power? Is it going to support the extension of the nuclear power programme? I generally do support an increase in nuclear power and the building of a new phase of nuclear power stations as a mechanism to reduce carbon emissions. What is the position of the Conservative party? I think that we need a mix of energy supply—a mix of renewables and nuclear power. I think that we can and should achieve that as a nation.
I notice that within the Gracious Speech there is a proposal to look again at the regulation of bus services. That is a Bill that people will be particularly keen to examine. I attended a meeting with the pensioners forum in Telford last week. Those pensioners were particularly keen for us to regulate the bus service sector better. They were pleased, of course, that they are going to get free off-peak nationwide bus travel. We are proud of that. [Interruption.]
Pensioners in Telford are keen to see an extension of the scheme. They like the off-peak travel scheme that has been introduced across Telford. Significant improvements to bus services in Telford have been put in place by the private sector in partnership with the council. If the private sector is doing a good job in partnership with local authorities, it should be left to get on with that. A large proportion of the buses that are running on routes across Telford are new. We have a red line, blue line and green line service, just to keep the official Opposition and other parties happy. We have a mix of routes. We have a tube-style bus service where people know that a bus will turn up within 10, 12 or 15 minutes on particular routes. That is a good scheme. We are trying to put more support into peripheral routes, particularly in rural areas.
Where local authorities are making a good job of local transport planning and there are quality contracts in place with the private sector, we should allow those contracts to flourish and local authorities to get on. Where that is not being delivered in local areas, we should bring in legislation that forces better regulation in terms of quality contracts for bus services, so that we can move people out of their cars and into buses and improved public transport.
The Queen's Speech encompasses a series of Bills and proposals that will improve family life for people in Telford. We have proposals to increase the amount of affordable housing that is available for families in Telford. We have 5,000 people on the waiting list for rented housing in Telford. We need to see partnership schemes that deliver affordable housing and rented housing in Telford. We have proposals for an extensive modernisation of the school stock, allied with elements that will extend educational opportunities for those aged up to 18. That is significant. We have opportunities to extend school hours—opportunities for schools to stay open beyond 4 or 5 o'clock to engage young people, take them off the streets and replace and replenish youth services that have been run down in the past 20 or so years in our community. Therefore, there are real opportunities for local people to improve their housing, their education and their skills base. I commend the Queen's Speech to the House.
Coming in the wake of the rather fanciful circumstances that led to the general election that never was, this is without doubt the Queen's Speech of a rather chastened Prime Minister, and deservedly so. For those of us who have participated in these debates over the years and indeed over the decades, the lack of a sense of occasion is in part a reflection of that fact.
There is no doubt that this is a rather curious Queen's Speech. It is curious for the governing party because it might well have been the Queen's Speech that was never delivered. One can only speculate. The general election could have been held last week. Let us suppose that the governing party were returned, with a smaller, an equivalent or, who knows, even a larger majority. What kind of Queen's Speech might we have been looking at today, or whenever it would have been delivered? There is that slight sense of unreality about the Executive at the moment, given recent events. That permeates rather a lot of the measures that appear—and in certain circumstances, do not appear—in the Queen's Speech today.
I want to refer to two broad points and then make a couple of quick constituency points. First, although one subject has not been greatly discussed today, it continues to cast its shadow across our society and the international stage. Let us look at the context and the wording of the Queen's Speech. Now, thankfully—it is a cause for celebration—Northern Ireland no longer appears in a specific category of its own towards the end. It is now grouped with the Parliaments and Assemblies within the UK. In a sense, it is normal politics at last, thank goodness. However, for Northern Ireland, now read Iraq. I wonder how many more Queen's Speeches will feature the word "Iraq" in the way that this one does.
This week, many of us from all parties will be in our areas with our communities at Remembrance day events, paying tribute to those who have made that ultimate sacrifice. I wonder how many more will lose their lives as the dreadful state of affairs that we have got ourselves into in Iraq persists. Of course, it continues to feed so much of the legislative programme of this Government. Today is not the occasion to get yet again into an argument about the extent to which this country is more at risk from, or is experiencing directly to a greater extent than might otherwise have been the case, international or domestically grown terrorism following our actions on the international stage, but, whether there is a direct causal link between the one and the other, it cannot be denied, as Select Committees and the Joint Intelligence Committee themselves have observed, that the way in which we chose to act with the United States Government, without the backing of the United Nations, was bound to hasten the degree of danger for this country. Now terrorism legislation is back before us. The 28 days issue will be back before the House again.
I was much involved, as leader of my party at the time, when the Government first tried to make progress on that matter. As we all recall, it became a cause célèbre. There was talk of the House of Lords having to sit all weekend to try to get some agreement. In his usual rather Houdini-like fashion, the then Prime Minister, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, was able to cobble together a degree of compromise with the then leader of the Conservative party and the issue was put off for another day.
Many of us involved in those discussions, from prime ministerial level downwards, in all parties, felt that there was an awful lot of party political posturing on the issue at that point. The Government are now bringing the matter back and they are saying this time that, although they have indicated an intention and a preference to extend the period of detention without charge, they genuinely want all-party discussions. It cuts both ways. If the Government are genuine about that, equally, Opposition parties that have been critical, our own included, have to say that, if the facts change, they are prepared to change their minds. However, it has to be said—both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives alike are saying this with one voice at the moment—that we have yet to be presented with persuasive facts that would lead either party to change its mind. I hope therefore that, if the Government do feel that they are in possession of those facts, they will go about it on a much more constructive basis and take a more rational approach than they did a year or two ago.
Secondly, I should like to pick up on some of the remarks made by Mr. Redwood. We will have lots of opportunity during this Parliament—as every week goes by, it looks as if it will be a longer, rather than a shorter, Parliament—to debate Europe and more domestic UK concerns, not least the position and role of Scottish Members within the UK Parliament post-devolution.
I was my party's spokesman on Europe at the time of Maastricht, when almost a year of my life—a night without end—was spent in this place. I recall the Conservative night-watchmen of the period: Jonathan Aitken, Teddy Taylor, Mr. Cash, Mr. Duncan Smith. The roll of honour goes on and on, as did the nights without end. I always compare it to the passage of the seasons. We began in mid-winter and there was brilliant summer sunshine when the then Prime Minister imposed the three-line Whip to get the legislation through.
I argued at that point for a referendum on Maastricht. Leaving aside the other details, I, as a pro-European, thought that if we were changing the status of Her Majesty the Queen from the sovereign and monarch to a citizen of the European Union, it must have constitutional implications for the country. That should have been put to the vote. Of course it was not.
I have never seen the present constitutional or amending treaty as commanding that kind of necessity. I am critical of the Government for missing the opportunity, under a previous leadership, when they had the ball at their feet; it remains to be seen what the present leadership will do. But they have not gone out and made the case convincingly and persuasively for Europe. Too much of the sceptical, negative case has been allowed to predominate. That is a criticism of those of us on the pro-European side. I am not critical of those who are willing to engage and argue until the cows come home as to their opposition, scepticism and criticism of all things European; that is what democracy is all about. But there has not been a proper counterbalancing argument.
The issue is not really this constitutional treaty any more than it was the Nice treaty or Maastricht. The Government of the country can never satisfy Euro-sceptical ambitions and paranoia; that is what John Major found out, to his immense cost. He fed the monster and the monster kept coming back and eventually devoured him. We are arguing for a root and branch referendum campaign to settle, for another political generation, our relations and involvement with Europe. That is long overdue and this Queen's Speech and amendments that Liberal Democrats will move to it gives us that opportunity.
The right hon. Gentleman was keen on a referendum on Maastricht—like him, I remember those long, bitter nights and I still have the scars on my back—but he was right and I was wrong. The important thing about this constitutional treaty is not whether there is a two-and-a-half year revolving presidency or whether we have, in effect, a Foreign Secretary for the whole of Europe. The fact is that the British people were promised in a manifesto in 2005 that they would have a vote in a referendum. All the major European leaders, who think that it is the right thing to say to their peoples, say that 96 per cent. or more of the treaty is exactly the same as the one rejected by the French and the Dutch.
The hon. Gentleman and I are not particularly at odds over the need at some stage for a proper plebiscite of the British people and, whether on this measure—against which the Government have turned their face—or on the broader front, that engagement will have to take place. When in the privacy of my living room I listen to the leader of the Conservative party on television calling for a referendum, I think to myself that he is calling for the referendum on Europe in much the same way as he called for a general election: demand it, demand it and say one's prayers at night that the Government do not actually concede.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that at Maastricht the then Government got an absolutely watertight opt-out from the main point, the single currency? We know that that opt-out works because even this Government have very wisely taken advantage of it. However, this Government do not have an equivalent opt-out from the unpleasant things in the constitutional treaty. The protocols and the emergency brakes will not work and some 60 vetoes will be given away. That is why we think a referendum is needed.
Given that a lot of time will be spent on the Floor of the House over the coming months on the details of this matter, I do not want to get drawn too much into the argument. The right hon. Gentleman talks about opt-outs and his concern over the revised treaty. The biggest opt-out on this occasion—it has never appeared before—is the right for an individual member state of the European Union to withdraw and to put in process the mechanisms that would lead to disengagement. Political institutions are only a reflection of the human beings that shape them and there may come a point, for whatever reasons unimaginable now, that what the European Union was pursuing was so inimical or unacceptable to Britain that even people such as me would be saying that it was time to view the exit door. I welcome the fact that that option is there and it should act as a reassurance to those with a more sceptical approach.
The second point concerns the issue of Scottish MPs. I was one of the generation of Scottish MPs who came in in 1983 when Mrs. Thatcher was reigning supreme, the Opposition were divided and disputatious amongst themselves and, on 40 per cent. of the vote, the Conservatives kept winning with three-figure majorities here. Any semblance of devolution for Scotland, Wales or wherever seemed a forlorn hope.
One of those who benefited most from the Conservative ascendancy of those days became Scottish Secretary, fulfilled his ambitions by becoming Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary and had a glittering career at the top of his party and of Government. The only problem was that the base for that career dissolved beneath his feet and he now represents Kensington and Chelsea. He now makes this singular contribution to improving our constitutional procedures having set his face against anything similar in the years when he was in a position to do something about it. That was despite his earlier resignation from the Conservative Front Bench when he took a rather principled stand when Mrs. Thatcher changed the policy from Ted Heath's days to say no to any devolutionary impulses.
The unwritten British constitution is a bit like a water mattress. If one starts to press down on one bit, there will be an instantaneous but somewhat unpredictable reaction elsewhere. That is where we are at the moment. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, aided and abetted by a few others in the supposedly Conservative and Unionist party in unholy alliance with the Scottish National party—how the two can be wedded together in a coherent intellectual force is beyond me, but it is for these purposes—is offering a short-term, expedient approach to the issue. It is not the correct approach.
The House should seek—the Office of the Speaker has an important role to play here—a broadly based constitutional convention that looks at the rights and responsibilities of all United Kingdom MPs, because there are anomalies right across the board, rather than short-term, opportunistic devices that will weaken the very fabric that we are here to maintain and to improve.
Finally, I want to make two brief local points. The Government are giving a great deal of emphasis in the Queen's Speech to housing policy. Obviously, in the Scottish context housing policy is devolved, but the sheer extent of the debt currently attached to housing stock is not. It remains a UK Treasury concern—and a concern for many of us at a constituency level. As we know, many local authorities are often unable to invest to the extent necessary to tackle fuel poverty in older housing stock. Where existing housing debt, on both sides of the border, has not been properly addressed—particularly in rural areas, where it is an especially sensitive issue—a plea is going out to the Treasury to wipe out much of that debt. That way, money could be released for maintenance and for investment in energy efficiency, as well as for new houses. I and a group of Liberal Democrat colleagues from the north of Scotland have been seeking a meeting with the Chancellor and the relevant Minister to talk about housing debt in the UK context, as it pertains to the Treasury, to see whether something can be done. If something is not done, the very situation that some of the measures and good intentions behind the Government's approach to housing seek to address will get worse.
Finally, there is something missing from today's Queen's Speech—a marine Bill. That is a disappointment, and if we cannot return to that issue during this Session, I hope that we will return to it later in this Parliament, depending on how long it runs. Marine conservation issues are obviously very important, and as those of us who live in my part of the country know, the amount of oil tanker traffic—north and south—within the Minch is increasing. There have been terrible examples of spillages over the years, but the threat and danger remains live. Without properly designated channels within the Minches for fully laden oil tankers, the potential for a major environmental catastrophe is very strong. I first took an interest in this issue, which the European Commission, the British Government and successive Transport Ministers have looked at, back in 1983. However, we have never really made the tangible progress that has been sought. I hope that the absence of a marine Bill in this Queen's Speech does not indicate a lack of continuing application on the part of the Government to this crucial long-term issue.
I remind the House of the interests recorded in the register. This is a 10th anniversary Queen's Speech and 10 years on, it is quite a good time to weigh up the progress made by the previous 10 Queen's Speeches. On education, fewer than half of our 15 and 16-year-olds get good GCSEs. A quarter leave school without basic literacy or numeracy, and last week the Prime Minister sadly reflected that only 10 per cent. of those whose parents are unskilled progress to higher education. On crime, even in relatively safe areas such as west Kent, violent crime has doubled, and our town centres and villages are overwhelmed with vandalism and petty crime. On immigration, Ministers clearly have no idea just how many people have come into this country. There is complete confusion regarding estimates of population, the issuing of national insurance numbers and the count of those entering or exiting our country. On the national health service, instead of curing the patients entrusted to its care, my local acute NHS trust appears to have helped kill at least 90 of them with the outbreak of clostridium difficile. The economy is almost totally unbalanced. Record numbers are in debt or filing for bankruptcy, the housing market is unstable and there has been the first serious run on a bank since that on the City of Glasgow bank in 1878. So the issue for the House today is: does this Queen's Speech start finally to meet these challenges? My answer is clear: it does not.
Let us look at some of the detail. On education, the Prime Minister must be right to identify failure of aspiration as one of the key problems besetting the British education system. Aspiration is choked off in our system—it disappears in some "Bermuda triangle" between local education authorities, ministerial initiatives and the teaching unions themselves. Declaring war on failing schools is not quite enough; we have to ask why failing schools are failing, and why they have been tolerated for so many years by the LEAs running them. In fact, we would not have known about failing schools had it not been for the initiative of the last Conservative Government. Conservative Ministers established Ofsted and league tables, and of course, we need to remind ourselves that league tables were bitterly opposed not simply by the teaching establishment, but by the Labour party. We would not know which of our schools are the failing ones that the Prime Minister wishes to tackle, had we listened then to the advice of Labour Members.
Rather than the tinkering proposed in this Queen's Speech, we need a proper education Bill that gives head teachers the freedom to employ their staff and the power to expel disruptive pupils, without the endless appeals that we have at the moment. LEAs have clearly failed time and again in inner-city areas. We need to give parents in inner-city areas where there is sufficient public transport the benefit of a voucher that will enable them to cross inner-city borough borders, and we need to encourage new providers into the market.
We have in this Queen's Speech yet another Bill
"to reform the criminal justice system".
It will create yet more offences, procedures and paperwork, instead of empowering local police commanders and repealing those parts of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—I know that it was a Conservative Act, but it was enacted some 25 years ago and it needs modernising—that actually prevent them from taking the action necessary in our town centres and villages; instead of giving local magistrates the power to impose longer custodial sentences; and instead of reopening the many local cells that have been closed, so that they can hold overnight the hooligans and vandals who disrupt the quality of life of everybody else.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a thoughtful person and he is making a thoughtful speech, but does he not see a connection between his strategy of pitching children out of schools by giving teachers the right to throw them out on to the streets, and the problem that then occurs on those streets, which requires his remedies of hard policing and more imprisonment? What is he going to do about the people who are being failed by society, and who find that school has nothing to offer them?
I accept the spirit in which that intervention is made, but the problem is that there is no serious disincentive for those who are not interested in school and who simply will not turn up, or who want to disrupt lessons for the majority. There is no serious sanction against them. They can be expelled, but they appeal, the governors are overturned and they come back into the class. We have to find more serious sanctions. I do not see the connection that the hon. Gentleman makes between expelling the very small minority who impinge on the right of the rest of the class to get the education that they deserve, and the hooligan group who might later terrorise town centres.
On immigration, the Government have only themselves to blame for losing control of the numbers. People now simply have no confidence in the official statistics: they come from different sources; they are quoted by different Ministers. Clearly, no one believes in an authoritative Government source for how many people are coming to this country, are leaving it or are here. We do not have a proper system of controls. On the contrary, we have far too many categories of people who are here under different programmes and initiatives. The different types of status, such as "highly skilled" or "leave to remain", mean that we do not simply know how many people are here. Nothing in the Queen's Speech gives me any confidence that we will know more accurately in a year's time exactly what the numbers are.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood has referred to the unbalanced economy. Nothing in the Queen's Speech shows us that Ministers have really learned the lessons from Northern Rock. We are promised some reform to
"ensure confidence in the banking system."
We have a banking system of supervision in which there is total confusion. We have two bodies—the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority—that seem to be responsible for different aspects of liquidity: the Bank, for overall liquidity; and the FSA, for the liquidity of individual institutions. The Bank of England is theoretically the lender of last resort, but it has been unable to mount such an operation covertly, because of various restrictions and regulations that the Government have put in place.
If any Labour Member still believes in the sanctity of the tripartite system, which was put in place by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor back in 1987, they should consider the fact that, on
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange for the Chancellor to make periodic speeches and to give periodic interviews to condemn the practices of the banks that he regulates, when we might have thought that, as the chief regulator, he would have continuing private conversations to sort out the problem, rather than undermining the City's reputation?
Yes, the Chancellor has been too keen to blame the banks for reckless lending, when his system is responsible for supervising the work of the banks and when his performance since the middle of August has failed us. We learned today that he was told long before the fatal weekend that the system of depositor protection was too weak and that the Governor wanted it improved. He failed the Governor, and he has further questions to answer.
I had the pleasure of studying financial institutions when I studied for my degree, and there were great debates about the regulation of the financial system and whether flexibility and allowing the markets to expand and be self-regulated was the way to go or whether there should be more regulation. Is not the root cause of the present problem in the banking system the fact that the banks were taking risks by giving credit to people who clearly could not pay it back? With people getting mortgages of five times their joint salaries, we are in danger of running into the same problem in this country if we do not regulate and discipline the banks, so that they lend only when there is clearly a possibility of sound financial practice by those who are borrowing.
The hon. Gentleman must be right: there has been loose lending and loose borrowing by the banks in the wholesale markets. Of course, the directors of those banks—Northern Rock, in particular—cannot escape their own responsibility for ensuring that their banks were liquid as well as solvent. Equally, there is a supervisory system, which the Labour Government put in place in 1997, and it has clearly failed. There was confusion. When I asked the Governor during a sitting of the Treasury Committee who was in charge of the tripartite system, he famously replied, "Define what you mean by in charge." That tells us all that we need to know about why people were queuing around the block to take out their money.
I want to turn finally to the national health service. If there is a single document that sums up the Blair-Brown years, it is the Healthcare Commission report on the tragedy that affected the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust in my constituency. The report should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the destructive tension in place between clinicians and managers, between senior managers and the board and between the trust and Ministers in Whitehall.
The Healthcare Commission, of course, identified the gaps in cleanliness, nursing and so on, but it also identified the culture of targets—not simply clinical targets, but financial targets—that the trust was fixated on having to meet. Of course, it is true that the trust was poorly led—it was incompetently managed; it did not have the calibre of senior management to cope—but it is also true that that trust was under enormous pressure from Whitehall to clear a huge deficit, year after year.
If hon. Members read the report, they will see that the reluctance to employ extra staff, to change the various practices and to tackle some of the deep-seated problems at the three hospitals the trust is in charge of sprang very largely from the financial constraints imposed on the trust by Ministers in Whitehall. As a result, 90 people in west Kent sadly lost their lives, with C. difficile at least a contributory factor. That was not a private company. Those were not contractors. It was an acute NHS trust in the front line of patient care, running three hospitals. The answer that the Prime Minister gave was to set up yet another regulatory body. That will not deal with the problem; we need a better run, more accountable national health service in which local communities can have real confidence.
The Government have had 10 years to start to tackle those problems and get these things right. The reform that has been endlessly paraded in front of us has not been real reform. Billions of pounds have been wasted. We end up, 10 years later, with an education system that fails half of our children, with a criminal justice system where criminals cannot be sent to jail because the Government have failed to build enough prison places, with a Government who have not a clue how many immigrants are here, whether or not they are taking British jobs, and with a national health service that is killing the very patients for whom it is supposed to care. There has to be a better way.
I wish to begin my remarks tonight by paying tribute to the four firemen who tragically lost their lives a few days ago. I commend the valued efforts of their colleagues and others in searching for the bodies, so that their loved ones may at last have closure. I pay tribute to them—I hope that the House will not misunderstand my remarks—because I wish to draw attention to their exemplary courage, which seems to have gone against the grain of other examples that we have seen in the past few years or months, when other public servants have not acted with sheer indifference to risk and their own lives.
I am thinking of the police community support officers who, apparently, would not go into a pond to save a drowning boy because they had not been trained in the correct way to do so, or because of our health and safety culture. I am thinking of the ambulance men I read about at the weekend who would not run along a sandy beach in case they tripped—again, because it might have been against their own health and safety rules. I am thinking of many other examples over the past few years of local councils imposing arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on people's fun, whether on bonfire night, at conker matches or at street parties. There have been restrictions on other activities, too, including on the Royal British Legion being able to collect in its normal way. Too many such incidents have happened, and in many ways that has curtailed people's ability to take risks and do things.
The firemen were unique—well, no, they were not unique because others have taken risks of that sort, but they are unique in my mind because they stand out as having gone against the grain in the past few months. I hope that they will be remembered for many years. Their families should bear in mind the fact that they did not die in vain; apparently they arrived at the scene and charged in, thinking that there might be people in the building who could be saved. No doubt there will be an investigation and no doubt we will all say that it must not happen again, but in some ways—I hope that the House will not misunderstand this either—I hope that it does happen again; I hope that some time in the future, human beings, wishing to save the lives of other human beings, take risks that are against the rules and against our health and safety culture. In so doing, I hope that they live, but if they do die trying to save the lives of others, they will not die in vain.
I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to curtail the excesses of the Health and Safety Executive and to reduce the litigiousness of our society. I have my criticisms of Sir Ian Blair—I think it is time that he stepped down for the mistakes that the Met made—but it is an absolute farce that the Metropolitan police were tried for the de Menezes shooting by the Health and Safety Executive in a health and safety trial. If the Met had to answer questions on the matter—and there were very serious questions to answer—that should have taken place under the auspices of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is the proper body to operate police complaints procedures and to make judgments on the suitability of the commissioner, or the culpability of any other officers concerned.
Until this country does something about the constant litigation that prevents schoolteachers from taking children on proper trips, and until the Government bring forward legislation that enables us once again to become a risk-taking society—within sensible limits—rather than a risk-averse society, we will not be the economically successful nation that we aspire to be. We heard wonderful speeches today on why children are not performing well at school, or want to leave school, or are fed up with school. In schools, we see part of that pervasive culture: we avoid children taking risks, we avoid judging them, and we do not challenge them too hard. We have to get back to being a risk-taking society.
I am disappointed that there is no Bill to give teeth to the Competition Commission or the Office of Fair Trading. After 18 months of intense investigation, the OFT came to the conclusion that when it came to milk, our supermarkets were screwing farmers ruthlessly: the supermarkets give farmers about 18p a litre for milk and sell it for 54p, and 18p in the middle disappears somewhere. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered that two or three years ago, after a few months' investigation. Now that we discover, through the OFT's big inquiry, that supermarkets are doing what we have known about for some time, what is to happen next? Of course farmers have had a few pence more per litre in the past few months, but that is not because the supermarkets have suddenly developed a guilty conscience. It is not because they have decided that they must pay the primary producer more. It is thanks to India and China buying up vast supplies of dry powder and milk on the world market. If farmers in our country are one day to receive a proper, decent price for milk, it will not be because of any action taken by the Competition Commission or the OFT; it will be because of China and India and their insatiable demand for dairy products.
Nothing in the Queen's Speech gives the OFT power to take action when it finds problems. There is nothing to deal with the outrageous, unfair banking practices that our consumers are faced with. There may have been some unwise lending by the banks, but we know how they will claw back some of the money: through unfair bank charges, unfair credit card charges and unfair payment protection insurance. Recently a constituent recommended a wonderful website to me called moneysavingexpert.com. I must practise what it preaches more often. All parties in the House are concerned about the massive amount of private debt. That excellent website is geared towards consumers. It tells them how they can save money and deal with some of the malpractices of the banks.
We can appreciate the size of the debt problem if we consider the fact that the website has had 4.3 million downloads by consumers of a document on how to reclaim unfair bank charges. There is a template letter written by the excellent Martin Lewis, who runs the website. There have been 107,000 downloads of information on the payment protection insurance scam operated by banks, and 35,000 downloads of the template on how to reclaim unfair credit card charges. There is a huge problem out there, and I see nothing in the Queen's Speech to deal with the aspects of it that I have mentioned.
I urge the Government, through the Lord Chancellor, to remind judges not to close down current legal cases against banks in which customers are reclaiming unfair credit card charges. On
My final point on banking is that at least the chief executive of Citibank had the decency to resign when the problem hit the fan. There were no such resignations from chief executives in Northern Rock; they were no doubt sustained by their friends on the Government Benches.
I regret that there was no Bill to simplify recycling in the Queen's Speech. I am passionate about doing my recycling. I find it more difficult, with dodgy legs, to carry all my different boxes, bottles, glass and papers to the recycling heaps in Eden or Carlisle in my constituency. In the Westminster area, we are blessed with multi-recycling: one bin takes all, apart from polystyrene and garbage. I encourage other councils to do likewise. It makes it simple. Westminster boasts that it has an 80 per cent. recycling rate. Admittedly, a large part of what is collected is burned for fuel and power in electricity stations, but I might take into account the extra hot water and Fairy liquid that I use when washing all my little bottles and plastic jars to make sure that I have practically sterilised my rubbish that is going into the recycling tips. As for other people doing the same, when I see the Liberals driving to the recycling bins in their Volvos, I wonder whether we have got the economics of the matter right. However, I believe in recycling. I also believe in cutting waste and in ensuring much more home insulation. We must do all of those things, as well as recycling.
It is grossly unfair of councils to impose charges on people for not putting out the correct bins on the correct day with the correct boxes and bags, and to refuse to take some of the things that we are given, such as Tetra Paks. If they will not recycle Tetra Paks, what are we supposed to do with them? What am I supposed to do with the polystyrene that was wrapped around my last computer monitor, if the councils refuse to take it? Rather than the Government encouraging councils to impose penalty charges on people who put a chip wrapper in the wrong box, they should say to councils, "You have a three-year deadline in which to allow the public to put all recyclable material into multi-purpose bins." Perhaps they should say to supermarkets and goods suppliers, "You also have three years to make your packaging materials easily recyclable." That would mean no composites—no more Tetra Paks of cardboard, plastic and foil stuck together, which cannot be recycled. Suppliers should not sell products in polystyrene if no one will recycle it.
The burden has been passed on to the innocent. I started off as a highly ignorant consumer; I thought that all plastic was plastic was plastic, but now I discover that in the areas covered by my local councils there are about 20 different kinds of plastic. I have to run around popping it in different holes in different bins on different days of the week.
If I try to do so to obey the law—and I am certainly not an anorak—no wonder thousands of my constituents give up, save it all up, stick it in the back of their estate car and dump it in the commercial refuse site, instead of going through the hassle of recycling. If the Government want to meet their Kyoto targets, they should make it simple for consumers to recycle. I may introduce a Bill myself to do so.
I believe in recycling and in reducing the amount of power that we consume. We must have better home insulation. I believe in renewables, but I believe, too, that it is time to push the nuclear button—as far as domestic energy consumption is concerned. That is the view of people in Cumbria, where we are rather good at the nuclear industry. I accept my party's view that nuclear must be the last resort, but I believe that we are at that stage. If my constituents and I thought that by sticking giant wind turbines on every beautiful hill in the Lake district we could solve our energy crisis and save the planet then, God help us, we would do so. However, if we stuck 50,000 of those 300 ft-high giant steel tubes on the finest landscape in the country, comparable to the Scottish highlands, we would still not close a single power station. We would still need 10 nuclear power stations, or the lights would go out.
I am glad that the Prime Minister could boast that today he was giving the go-ahead to a 300 MW or GW—whatever it is—thing in the Irish sea. Good: I am happy to have some more turbines in the Irish sea, and I am happy for the Severn barrage to be exploited. However, I caution the Government against meeting their renewables targets by destroying England's backyard by sticking those turbines on the Lake district hills or any other hills and mountains where it is scenically inappropriate to do so.
As for the housing and planning Bill, we have been gagging for housing in Carlisle, in Penrith, and in the Eden area in Cumbria for the past five, six, seven or eight years. We are constrained by the policy invented by the previous deputy leader of the Labour party, Mr. Prescott, who decided that no new houses should be built in Cumbria until the north-west region had disposed of the 10,000 surplus houses which, apparently, are to be found in Manchester and Liverpool. I know that there are big arguments about whether some of those wonderful terraced houses should be destroyed, but in the name of God we cannot say that we should not build houses 150 miles away in Carlisle because there are surplus homes in Manchester and Liverpool. That is the policy that we have had. In Penrith, in the Eden valley, we are allowed 100 homes per annum. I have been told that that may be increased to 200, and we may even be allowed 300 per annum in future. That is nonsense: I do not know how many we need, the planners do not know and the councillors do not know. It is probably 400 or 500 per annum, but the market should decide.
House prices have gone through the roof in my area, and we have a huge problem with first-time buyers who cannot afford housing. We do not need Government controls to try to release Government land so that we can try to build a so-called affordable house—we just need to free up all the possible land on which housing can be built. We should not build giant estates in my constituency but a house here and there. Two houses could be built in one village, five in another, and 50 in Penrith. We can solve the housing problems in my constituency by letting district councillors, whether Tory, Liberal Democrat or independent, decide the issue for themselves.
I represent a north-west constituency, and suffer from those insane housing policies. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that an unintended consequence is that even brownfield sites such as Barker's nursery in my constituency are unkempt, overgrown and unsightly? The nursery is at the entrance to Clitheroe, and while houses could happily be built there, unless they are social housing—clearly we want to include that in the mix—as dictated by the Government, the site will remain undeveloped.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we need more social and affordable housing. In my constituency, the average wage is £15,000 but starter homes cost £150,000. Even if they are stripped to the housing association bare minimum, with equipment supplied in a social home, prices are still way beyond what kids and young married people can achieve. We need more social housing, but the price of such housing has gone through the roof, just as the price of private housing at all levels has done. We have headmasters who cannot find a house for £200,000. We have business men who will not move in, because they cannot find a house for £400,000. A detached house in a little village outside Penrith is on sale for £500,000. That is the first time in our lives that such things have happened in the area. We can cut through the problems that the Government have created in housing by letting councils in my area decide housing applications for themselves. We should let them build what they need in the right style and design, and in the right place. They know best—I do not. They are the councillors and planners, so they should do it.
I am deeply sceptical about raising the age at which children can leave education. Those kids deserve the chance to do what Mr. Caborn talked about in his excellent speech, and get out and get a proper apprenticeship in a worthwhile industry. I commend the right hon. Gentleman on taking up engineering as his calling. It is a noble calling, but so are plumbing, carpentry and all the other technical trades and skills that we need. Unless the Government plan to push 16-year-olds into proper apprenticeships, I do not think that their proposal will work. I am not sure what my Front-Bench team's policy is on vocational education, as I have not studied it, but I cannot support any policy that keeps children in school until they are 18, letting them out for an apprenticeship or vocational training for just one day a week. That is not nearly enough—they will be bored and disillusioned—and the net result will be 18-year-old kids, totally bored, disillusioned and untrained. We may wonder why the 19-year-old Polish plumber has got the work instead, but in Poland, 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds are not sitting in school, with only one day's release to a further education college. Poland and the Czech Republic are turning out people—many hon. Members are worried that they have taken our jobs; I am not, because they give the country an excellent service—and we should emulate some of the things that they do. We should emulate the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central, who left school at 15, got a proper apprenticeship, became a skilled engineer, and then became a Member of Parliament.
I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but was he not a member of the Government who did away with the training board and the levy, which was imposed on industries that provided the apprenticeships that my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn and others took up? His Government replaced that arrangement with the complete nonsense called the TECS—all they produced was hairdressers.
The hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to hairdressers. The country depends on thousands of good hairdressers, and on others whom the training and enterprise councils turned out. The apprenticeship system had to be reformed—the hon. Gentleman knows that—and it was in decline before we looked at it. Apprenticeships were too long. People did not stick with them, and employers would not take on youngsters at the wages demanded for a five-year period, so the system had to be changed. Now, however, we have nothing. Doing away with the levy was not the problem, as it was sensible to do so. Companies became involved in the training of young people— [ Interruption. ] Let us wait and see what the Government introduce. I repeat my claim that if it is a system to keep kids in school four days a week until they are 18, with only one day on release for an apprenticeship, it is a waste of time. It is worthless, and the children will not do it.
I am disappointed—this has been commented on already, but it is my turn to say so, too—that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to deal with the constitutional outrage we face in the House whereby there are two classes of MP. It is not good enough for some Government Members to say that if Tory policies were enacted, there would be a second class of MP—we have that already, and it is called the Members who sit for England, whether they are Tory, Labour or Liberal. We are second-class citizens in this House. We have no say on Scottish matters—perhaps we do not want to have a say on Scottish matters—yet Members from Scotland can participate in today's debate and vote through measures that affect my constituents in England but do not affect their constituents in Scotland. This Parliament is unbalanced, because all of us in this Chamber should work under the principle of equal pain. If I vote through higher taxes, I should face my constituents, who can complain about it. If Members from Scotland vote through higher taxes in England, however, they do not have to face their constituents in Scotland.
I want to finish the point, then the hon. Gentleman, who is from Scotland, can have his say.
Members from Scotland can vote through measures in England on tuition fees or health reforms that do not apply in their own country. When they go back to their constituents, they do not have to explain or justify one iota why they have imposed penalties on people in Cumbria or London, and they are getting off scot-free.
The right hon. Gentleman can allow his blood pressure to come down while he listens. Is he really suggesting that I have less concern than him for the education of the children of my brother, who lives in the south of England, or less concern than him about health provision, when, for example, some of my constituents have to travel to London for specialist operations? Will he apologise for stating that taxes are levied in this House on the basis of England or Scotland, because, as we all know, they are levied across the whole of the United Kingdom? I was not elected in another country, because the United Kingdom is as much my country as it is his.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is concerned for friends, relatives and constituents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, just as I am concerned for my relatives in the north of Scotland. However, those people do not vote for me, whereas my constituents do, and my primary obligation is to my constituents, who do not have a say. My constituents have no say on health care at Raigmore hospital in Inverness or on what goes on in Dumfries and Galloway, but, by God, they are paying for it. Mr. Brown and Mr. Kennedy can determine health care in my constituency and that of Michael Connarty. They can determine the level of tuition fees for our constituents in England, but we have no say on those matters in Scotland.
I do not want to have a say on Scottish matters, which are up to the Scottish Parliament, but it is therefore utterly unfair for Scottish Members of Parliament to come here with additional rights to dictate terms and conditions on taxes to my constituents that they do not have to suffer themselves.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect in most circumstances, for giving way. Will he throw his mind back to the introduction of the community charge/poll tax, which was trialled in Scotland for a year before it was imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom? If the vote on that policy had involved only Scottish MPs, does he think that it would have gone ahead? Did English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs not impose something on Scotland that would not affect them in that particular period?
The point is that the poll tax was applied to England. It started in Scotland one year early because Scotland had revaluation one year early, but it applied to the whole of England. We are discussing measures that apply to England and not to Scotland at all, because the Scottish Parliament has the power not to impose them.
In this House, where we should all be equal, Scottish Members of Parliament are using their unequal privileges.
We are not equal in this House, because the hon. Gentleman has infinitely more rights than me—he can impose things on my constituents, which I cannot do to his. I think that I have made that point about Scotland, to which we will need to return again and again until we rebalance this House of Commons with equal rights for everyone.
Before someone says that I am in an unholy alliance with the nationalists, I must say that I despise, in the nicest possible way, what the nationalists stand for—I despise nationalism. I respect Angus Robertson, as I respect all other hon. Members, but I despise nationalism and separatism. Scotland and the Government are going down a very rocky route, which will lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
I started my speech by commending the firemen who died over the weekend, and I also pay tribute to our servicemen and women who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The whole nation—all of us—must do more to honour the commitment of our servicemen and women. Without going into the detail of the military covenant and criticising the Government where I think that they have broken it or not done enough, as a nation and on the media level, and perhaps at the Government, Opposition and prime ministerial level, we are failing to recognise the sacrifice that those men and women are making.
If the body of a dead serviceman that has been returned to Dublin can receive a full military funeral, why cannot I see such a funeral on our television? Perhaps parents and relatives do not want that, but we seem collectively to be playing down the commitment of those men and women, which we should not do. This is not a particular criticism of the Prime Minister, but the approach must be Government-led. The Government must show at the highest level that they are honouring the bodies coming back home and those who are still out there fighting, in which case the media would do more. We are not giving such matters enough public attention, and the media should do a lot more to show the commitment of those men and women, particularly those who have been killed.
Those servicemen and women who have been seriously injured should be taken care of properly and appropriately for the rest of their lives. Today, we have discussed the millions of new houses that the country needs, including affordable housing and social housing, and I happen to believe that our servicemen and women should have the finest housing that the state can provide.
Soldiers want to know two things before they go into battle. First, they want to know that there is good casualty evacuation to get them out if they are injured. They are willing to take the risks—you do not think that you will get shot, because you think it will be somebody else—but they always believe that the British Army will get them out and give them good casualty treatment, if they are injured. Secondly, they must believe that their wife and kids are being well taken care of and that their family back home will be okay if something happens. Rightly or wrongly, they do not have that confidence at the moment, which is not necessarily only the Government's fault.
Collectively, as a nation, we are turning a blind eye to Afghanistan, where we will have to remain for some time. We cannot cut and run from Afghanistan, because that problem will pursue us around the world if we do. We are there, and we must see it through properly for some time. We must also ensure that our forces are not overstretched and that we commit the necessary numbers.
This year's Queen's Speech is gravely disappointing. It does not include the measures that I want to see to tackle some of the problems in this country, and for that reason I will not support it.
We were told earlier in the summer what was going to be in the Queen's Speech, but we were not given an opportunity for a debate. Since then, we have had the pre-Budget report and the announcement of the comprehensive spending review for the next few years, but again we were given no opportunity to debate those matters. This debate is in reality the first opportunity seriously to examine the Government's performance since the Prime Minister moved into No. 10 Downing street and ceased to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister's first few months in office have shown him to be weak, ineffective and indecisive. He is desperate that we should all forget that he oversaw the nation's finances for 10 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is instructive to consider the strength in the economy now and compare it with the performance of the economy in 1997.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Fallon has said, the Government have been in office for 10 years. When my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, economic growth was 3.2 per cent.; today, 10 years later, it is down to 2.9 per cent. In 1997, central Government borrowing was 0.8 per cent. of GDP; today, after 10 years of this Government, it is up to 2.5 per cent. of GDP. In 1997, borrowing as a percentage of GDP was 0.7 per cent.; today, it is up to 2.4 per cent. In 1997, net borrowing was £6.1 billion, but today it is a staggering £34 billion. Public debt in 1997 was £352.9 billion, but under this Government it is predicted to be a staggering £638 billion in a couple of years' time. The proportion of national wealth in GDP taken by tax in 1997 was 34 per cent.; today, that is up to 36.8 per cent.
Particularly telling about what 10 years of Labour Governments have done is that in 1997, the UK economy was ninth in the International Monetary Fund yearbook ranking; today, it languishes at 20th place. Effectively, on average, every year for the past 10 years we have slipped behind yet another competitor country in the global economy. We are falling further and further behind as a consequence of the Government's policies; every single economic indicator is going in the wrong direction.
Incidentally, the statistics that I have mentioned are not mine, but the Treasury's. If anybody wants to check on how badly the UK Government are performing in respect of the economy that they inherited in 1997, that person has only to look at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/economicdataandtools/financespendingstatistics/pubsecfinance/psfstatistics.cfm—it is all there. The Government's own statistics tell them how badly they are doing.
Those Treasury statistics show that all is not well with the British economy. Real living standards are falling and disposable incomes are being squeezed. As a consequence of the Chancellor's recent pre-Budget report, families will pay some £2,600 more tax every year. To see that, one has only to look, again, at the Treasury's own figures. The total tax paid now by the country's 31.6 million taxpayers is £550 billion; according to Treasury figures, that bill will increase to £724 billion in five years, increasing the average family tax bill—in my constituency and everywhere else—by £2,600. Taxes are going up.
I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose attendance is usually assiduous. However, he is about the only Labour Back Bencher present, and he drifted in about 10 minutes ago in a slightly dilettante way. It is sad that there are more Ministers on the Treasury Bench than Back-Bench Labour MPs who have bothered to turn up for the whole of this opening day of the Queen's Speech debate. It is pretty pathetic that those on the Treasury Bench cannot succeed in getting more Labour Members of Parliament to take part in the first day of debate on the Gracious Speech; apart from anything else, it is rather insulting to Her Majesty.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's courtesy and compliments.
Why did the hon. Gentleman omit from his litany two crucial economic statistics that are perhaps more important than those that he cited? First, there is the proportion of aggregate debt relative to GDP in 1997 and 2007. Secondly, why did he not say that during the 11 and a half years of Mrs. Thatcher's Governments, the average tax-to-GDP ratio was 43.5 per cent., and that in the 10 years and a little of Mr. Tony Blair's Governments that ratio was 39 per cent.? Why does the hon. Gentleman not include those figures in his condemnation of the Government?
The hon. Gentleman's most ingenious special pleading will not persuade my constituents that taxes are not going up and services are not going down—they see rising taxes and declining services every day. They see that Government borrowing is going up. If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to come in earlier, he would have heard the excellent exposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, who sits on the Treasury Committee. There is absolute chaos; the Government cannot even manage the major economic factors and systems involved in running the Bank of England and managing our banks. Owing to the Government, we have had the first run on a national bank since—
Since 1878. So a little more humility from the hon. Gentleman would be appropriate.
To add to our woes, not only are the nation's finances out of control, but unemployment is also increasing; in the past year, it has risen faster in Britain than anywhere else in the western world. Real unemployment—the number of people out of work and on benefits—is now at more than 5 million. Last week, the Sapa group, one of the UK's biggest aluminium producers, announced that it is to close its plant in Banbury, with the loss of 337 jobs. That is a tragedy for every person who will lose their job; it is also a particularly sad time for Banbury, as the Alcan site has been part of the town's soul ever since the aldermen of the borough of Banbury raised the money to buy the original land to attract Northern Aluminium to the town early last century.
As companies such as Sapa struggle with increased competition from low-wage economies such as China and Malaysia, what is the Chancellor doing? He is adding to the burdens of business. After 15 years of global growth, we should be running a surplus; instead, we are entering what the Chancellor himself admits are difficult times—the Government's borrowing is out of control and they are having to raise ever more taxes.
Next year, the Chancellor wants to raise a further £2.5 billion in taxes. According to a rule of thumb, £1 billion is about equivalent to a penny in income tax. How is the Chancellor raising that extra tax? He is doing so by hammering businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, and by increasing council taxes. There is an effective 80 per cent. rise in capital gains tax for smaller business—it is little surprise that the Federation of Small Businesses said that the pre-Budget report was
"bad news for small business, adding to the tax burden. The chancellor's statement is a huge disappointment for most small businesses still reeling from the increase in corporation tax announced in the last budget."
The rise in CGT hits particularly hard the owners of the 4.5 million UK firms that employ fewer than 20 staff and contribute half the nation's GDP. It is little wonder that the Minister for Trade Promotion and Investment, Lord Jones of Birmingham— [Interruption.] David Taylor may scoff, but the Prime Minister brought Lord Jones into the Government's "big tent". I should be interested in running a sweepstake with the hon. Gentleman on how long Lord Jones remains a member of this Government. I wager that not many months into next year he will resign or find it difficult to keep up collective responsibility, given the Government's economic policies.
It is little wonder that Lord Jones acknowledged that companies regarded the new capital gains tax changes as terrible. He should know, because as the head of the CBI, he warned the Government; as a newspaper article headlined it, "CBI warns Brown: do not tax your way out of slump". However, that is exactly what the Government appear to be doing. What a pity that the Government did not take Lord Jones's advice, given all his experience of business.
Even the Chancellor now realises that he has cocked up on CGT and he is trying to think of ways to sweeten the pill. As Richard Lambert, the CBI director general, has observed:
"There are many other businesses and investors who need help as a result of these ill-thought out pre-budget changes."
The Government's changes to CGT attack business and enterprise. As the Institute of Chartered Accountants in its parliamentary briefing says:
"This change will create a considerable number of winners and losers. The losers are businesses...The winners appear to be holders of non-business assets, for example second homes, and particularly those who have held non-business assets for a short period".
So there is a crazy situation, in which the Government are hitting business and those who create jobs and employment and rewarding those who have held non-business assets for a short period. The businesses in my constituency being hit with more tax still have to cope with the ever-increasing burdens of pointless red tape. I hope that the Government will pay careful attention to the Public Accounts Committee's recent report, which demonstrates, for example, how ridiculous it is that owners of new businesses are badgered by numerous different parts of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs all wanting the same bits of information. It is not surprising that the rate of new business start-ups has fallen since 1997. What is the point in the Queen's Speech of the Government saying:
"A Bill will be introduced to reduce regulatory burdens on business",
when the Public Accounts Committee clearly shows in its report that they are stifling business with ever more red tape?
The other group hit by the Government in getting more taxes are council tax payers. This is all pretty cynical on the Government's part. In short, the Government give local councils less grant knowing that they will have to put up council taxes as a consequence; they then hope that local councils and councillors will be blamed, not them. I do not think that people will be conned—they will understand that their local council has been short-changed by the Treasury. Local government has had the worst settlement from the Government in a decade, and that is bound to lead to above-inflation increases in council tax bills.
I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that it was the worst local government settlement for a decade. Would he like to tell us which Government were in power when that last awful settlement happened?
The hon. Gentleman, who, like many others, has just wandered into the debate, would do rather better if, rather than making a point, he sought to identify with the many council tax payers throughout the country who, as a consequence of the Government's local government settlement, will have to pay considerably more of their disposable income in council tax, especially those on low and fixed incomes—but the Liberals do not seem to be particularly concerned about them. One of the interesting things about the opinion polls at present is that they suggest that we can hope to be spared that sort of cheap jibe from Liberal Members in the next Parliament, as we will have fewer of them. More seriously, I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who occasionally seems to take an interest in issues concerning the elderly, would concede that not only has local government been left with a terrible settlement but there is still a substantial hole in funding to care for the elderly—but perhaps he also finds that a matter of mirth.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.
Counties such as Oxfordshire are getting increasingly hacked off that we are paying an ever-increasing amount in taxes and getting an ever-decreasing level of support from the Government. On average, every one of my constituents in north Oxfordshire pays £2,000 more in taxes to the Treasury than the Government spend on providing services to people living in Oxfordshire. In short, we are paying more and getting less. One phrase in the Gracious Speech that my constituents will find particularly offensive in that regard is:
"My Government is committed to providing a healthcare system organised around the needs of the patient."
Horton general hospital in my constituency is facing the threat of a serious downgrading of services whereby, for example, consultant-led obstetric services are to be removed and taken to John Radcliffe hospital. We will no longer have a special care baby unit or 24/7 children's services, notwithstanding the fact that they were introduced following a public inquiry when Barbara Castle was Secretary of State. I do not see how the Government can possibly convince my constituents that a serious downgrading of services at the local general hospital is in some way an improvement in the NHS and a health care system organised around the needs of the patient.
It is also irksome when we see the Government wasting substantial sums of money locally. On Thursday, the National Audit Office, following a request by me, will publish its report on how the Home Office managed to waste, on its own figures, a phenomenal, staggering £36 million on the project to build an asylum centre at Bicester for 750 asylum seekers. This was always a crazy project condemned by every organisation interested in the welfare of refugees, and it is not surprising that eventually the Government came to their senses and scrapped it. What is surprising is that they squandered millions of pounds on this aborted project, where neither a single brick was ever laid nor a single sod ever turned. The Ministry of Defence site where the centre was going to be built is exactly the same now as it was before the Home Office acquired the land. How could it possibly have spent, and wasted, £36 million on doing no work at all? We will probably never know the full truth because, despite the NAO inquiry, it conveniently managed to lose several of the papers relating to where the money has gone, so the NAO was unable to examine them. Like most of the Government's immigration policy, it is a complete shambles. We could have done a considerable amount locally with £36 million. No one can any longer have any confidence in what the Government do on asylum and immigration; they simply have not got a grip. As Martin Wolf observed in The Financial Times at the weekend,
"the government seems to have little idea how many immigrants are in the country. It has just had to admit that the number of foreign born workers who arrived since 1997 was 1.5 million. Since 1997, foreigners also seem to have filled more than half of the additional jobs created since 1997".
How can the Government get the figures so wrong?
It was somewhat pathetic for the Prime Minister, at the Labour party conference, to bleat about British jobs for British workers. Rather than bleating such meaningless platitudes, he would be better advised to get a grip on skills provision in this country. The consequence of globalisation, as shown only too brutally last week in Banbury with the experience at what everyone locally still considers as Alcan, is that even skilled and experienced workers here are having to compete with Chinese or Malaysian workers, and low-skilled or unskilled workers can no longer find a job because their factory's production has effectively shifted to China.
The Leitch report on skills made devastating reading, yet the response of the Government and the Prime Minister has merely been confusion at the heart of Whitehall. In a constituency such as mine, much of the training for work is done by the local further education college, but following the Prime Minister's reorganisation of Whitehall, Oxford and Cherwell Valley college of further education remains uncertain as to where FE stands. Is it the responsibility of the Department for Children, Schools and Families or of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills? I wrote to both Departments asking them who is responsible for FE and received identical letters saying:
"We are consulting on this."
No one in Whitehall knows who is now responsible for further education. The situation is equally chaotic as regards the learning and skills councils, which fund post-16 education and training.
Next year, I intend to organise a skills summit in my constituency bringing together local employers and business leaders to ask them what skills they need in the M40 corridor between Oxford and Warwick as we go further into the 21st century. I hope that by next summer the machinery of government will have sorted itself out so that we know who in the Government is responsible for FE and skills training and we can invite them to the seminar. It is pointless having a Bill on educational opportunity to tackle the question of what are described as NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training—and cutting benefits to youngsters if the Government have no coherence on FE provision, post-16 funding and skills training provision.
I am not entirely sure as to the purpose of the Gracious Speech from the Throne in the other place when it was almost all trailed by the Prime Minister months before. It has always been clear that a large chunk of the parliamentary Session will be devoted to the consideration of the European treaty. I approach the Lisbon treaty as a pro-European. I want Europe to work. It is in all our interests that the European Union runs smoothly, and it is in all our interests that it is fit for purpose to tackle global challenges such as climate change, terrorism and illegal immigration. But—and this is a substantial but—we were promised a referendum and there should be one. Everyone knows that the new treaty is a constitution in all but name. The European Scrutiny Committee advised that only two of the 440 provisions in the treaty differ substantially from the original constitution. The Prime Minister is breaking a promise to put it to a vote, and I fear that people will see the fact that we are not going to have a referendum on the EU treaty as a further example of the Prime Minister's evasiveness.
The Government say that no referendum is necessary because they have secured a number of exemptions from the treaty that are now being described as red lines, but will those red lines hold? One of the red lines has it that the EU charter of fundamental rights will not affect UK legislation, but that exemption may not be worth the paper it is written on. A number of MEPs have vowed to challenge Britain's exemption in the European Court of Justice, arguing that it violates the principle that EU law must be applied uniformly to all member states. The ECJ has consistently championed the supremacy of EU law, and the new treaty gives it sweeping new powers to rule on cases concerning justice and home affairs.
The EU Scrutiny Committee has warned that the UK's current exemption from the European working time directive may be challenged in court by other member states. There is no guarantee in relation to the Prime Minister's so-called red lines. We should have a referendum because we were promised one, and as a pro-European I echo what was said by The Economist, which warned recently:
"The real danger is of Britain...not having a vote and watching the resentment feed into a movement to get out of the EU. Better to have a vote now.
I certainly endorse that sentiment.
We have known for a long time that we will be spending many hours during the Session considering the Climate Change Bill. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us all. It is a moral challenge. The Select Committee on International Development, which I chaired during the last Parliament, conducted an inquiry on the impact of climate change on developing countries. Our report concluded that its impact will be felt disproportionately by low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, because they are least able to manage the shocks of environmental change. This is a moral issue as well as a political one.
There are three issues at stake. First, although aviation is not the biggest contributor to carbon emissions at the moment, it is estimated that by 2020, carbon emissions from flights will double, especially with the growth of budget airlines. My party proposes the idea of a tax not on passengers but on airlines to encourage full flights, and I am glad to see that the Government adopted that proposal in the pre-Budget report.
Secondly, there is the need to monitor the reduction of carbon emissions. The Government say that the report on carbon emissions to see whether the UK is meeting its reduction targets should be with Parliament in 2012. That is far too far away. The only way actively reduce emissions is actively to assess what we are doing to reduce them. Progress reports to Parliament should be made annually, so that we can see where we are and what we need to do to make further progress.
Thirdly, on the Climate Change Bill specifically, we need annual targets to reduce emissions to meet the 2050 target for a 60 per cent. reduction. Everyone in this House knows that when we do not have annual targets, things simply drift, and the Bill will need to be clearer and bolder if we are to meet the agreed targets.
One of the few new announcements trailed in relation to the Queen's Speech is that the Government want to extend the time that they can hold suspects without charge to 56 days. It seems to me that the Government are trying to pick numbers out of a hat. It was only in 2005 that Parliament agreed to extend detention without charge to 28 days. They then wanted 90 days. I believe that our freedoms are very precious. They have been won over many years, from the time of Magna Carta, which enshrined the principle that no one should be detained without lawful authority; the concept of habeas corpus is central to our system of criminal jurisprudence.
We should not allow those who may threaten our security to corrupt our freedom and basic rights. If we do that, they have, in a sense, won something. They will have taken something precious from us. No persuasive evidence has been put to Parliament that we should curb our civil liberties—liberties that have been won over years, and which so many fought and died to defend. Allowing the state to hold people for ever-longer periods of time without charge would mean losing a freedom, which in itself would be something of a victory for those who wish to undermine our freedoms. We should not allow that. Given the introduction of a constitutional reform Bill to pave the way for a new Bill of Rights and responsibilities, it is similarly pointless for the Government to be busy undermining existing hard-won rights and freedoms.
That brings me to my last point. I am proud to represent the garrison at Bicester. Men from the Royal Logistic Corps have been serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and we are very proud of them. There is understandable concern that the compact between the armed forces and Government is being undermined by poor pay and poor accommodation. Our armed forces are all too often overstretched, and recruitment and retention are being damaged. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, Parliament has to make sure that during the coming Session we spend time focusing on the importance of upholding the nation's military covenant with its service people past and present and their families.
After 10 years of this Government, the Gracious Speech is a particularly disappointing one. As has been said, it could have come after a general election, which the Prime Minister was hoping to have at one stage before he bottled out. Given that, it is a surprisingly weak and thin speech that does nothing to address the fundamental challenges facing this country. We now see a Government imposing greater and greater tax burdens on individuals, families and businesses, while failing to address the ever-growing issues of globalisation or the threats to the British economy. The Government are simply running out of steam and vision.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to take part in the Queen's Speech debate. Like other colleagues, I am somewhat surprised by the attendance on this first day of the debate. I suspect it reinforces the fact that we had heard much of the Queen's Speech well before the Queen graciously delivered it. After all, the Prime Minister had delivered it once, we read about it in the Sunday papers, and again on Monday and this morning, and full copies of it were made available 12 minutes before the Queen graciously delivered it in the other place. Had I been the monarch— [ Laughter. ] If we could just go there for a moment, I would have been tempted to say, "Well, you've heard it all before. I will lay other measures before you, and by the way I'm off to Uganda." And that would have been it. We had seen the contents of the Queen's Speech well in advance. Had the Queen delivered the Gracious Speech in the way I described, it would have had the virtue of being concise and 100 per cent. accurate. It is disappointing. Like others who are present, I have been a Member of Parliament for a fair few years—[Hon. Members: "Too long."] "Not long enough", I hear people cry. At £5.15, the Queen's Speech probably represents the worst value in Britain. People will not be queuing outside the best bookshops to buy copies tomorrow because it is thin in content, as we all knew it would be.
One of many problems is the matters that the Queen's Speech does not properly address. Other hon. Members have mentioned devolution. I think that Tony Blair once said that the best thing to do with the West Lothian question was not to ask it. Of course, people, certainly in my constituency, are increasingly asking it. We have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Ireland Assembly. It is good to see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his place. However, when discussing the national health service, people in Ribble Valley get frustrated when drugs are made available north of the border but not in my constituency or other parts of England. They get frustrated when Scottish Members of Parliament—I accept that Scottish National party Members do not vote on English-only legislation—vote on issues that do not affect their constituencies but clearly affect mine. That is a genuine problem, which needs to be tackled at some stage. I hope that it will be taken on board in any constitutional review that the Prime Minister considers. There must come a time when we stop the double dipping of Scottish Members of Parliament who vote on issues that affect my constituency, while we are denied the opportunity of voting on matters that affect theirs.
The hon. Gentleman is a kind and reasonable man. Has he ever thought that we, the Scottish Members of Parliament, do not have a full mandate? We have given up the right, through the Scotland Act 1998, to people who are elected to deal only with Scotland, to tackle education, health and other important matters in our constituencies. We have given that up in the interests of keeping the United Kingdom united. There was a clear problem: if we had not acceded to the needs—not only the aspirations—of the Scottish people to speak for themselves in those matters, the UK would have been broken up. That is important. We, not English Members, have lost a franchise. We try to aid and assist good legislation in the UK and in England, not deny the hon. Gentleman privileges that we have denied ourselves in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman is reasonable but a walking example of the double dipping to which I referred. He has given up responsibility in his area for health and education—he has transferred it to a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I cannot vote on such issues, yet the hon. Gentleman sits in this Parliament, voting on education and health in my constituency.
I know, but the hon. Gentleman is reasonable and will understand my argument. Let us consider what would happen were the position reversed. The example of the introduction of the poll tax a year early in Scotland was cited earlier. Everybody erupted and said that it was unjust.
We are now in a position whereby I cannot vote on issues that relate to Scottish constituencies yet Scottish Members of Parliament can vote on health and education in English constituencies. That is the West Lothian question, which needs to be tackled. [Interruption.] Michael Connarty says from a sedentary position that it has always existed, but when I was first elected in 1992— [Interruption.] There is a fly—where did that come from? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opened his wallet. It is still here—I do not know whether this has happened before, but I think that we are in new territory. I shall ignore it and hope that it goes away. If the West Lothian question is ignored, it will not go away.
When I was first elected in 1992, I could vote on all issues relating to the United Kingdom and so could the hon. Gentleman, but the position has changed. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is arguing for a reduction in salary, he is doing a good job. He cannot get away from the fact that the position has changed and an imbalance now exists in the constitution of the country. We need to do something about that.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can attend to the fly while I am intervening. I can still see it. Does he agree that, when the House discusses health and education, that has implications for the devolved Governments of Wales and Scotland? There are Barnett formula implications, and added expenditure in England is reflected in added expenditure in Wales and Scotland.
Thank you for your encouragement, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are flies on me.
I thank Mr. Williams for his intervention. Clearly there is an issue with the Barnett formula. Funding, financing and taxation are matters for the House. However, when we discuss how the money is spent in the Assembly or the Parliament, the devolved institutions must clearly determine that.
The Queen's Speech mentions health. We are considering better health for this country, yet MRSA and C. difficile are genuine problems in our hospitals. I spoke to a constituent the other day who mentioned the problem of patients at the Royal Preston hospital in my constituency crossing the road in their pyjamas, going to the local supermarket to buy things and then returning to the hospital. That will not help the hospital's hygiene; we must address the matter far more diligently to ensure that our hospitals are clean and kept clean 24 hours a day. Patients should not be allowed to wander into the streets, just as nurses or doctors should not leave the hospital environment and go back in again. That must be sorted out.
Obesity is a ticking time bomb. Many young people, some with parents who are obese, struggle with weight problems. One problem leads to the other. We need to ensure that the school curriculum leaves sufficient time for giving young people the information that they need about exercise and eating properly. That would have an impact on the conduct of the curriculum in England, if not in the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We should give youngsters and their parents the information that they need to ensure that they get a proper, balanced diet and do not over-eat or over-indulge. Better labelling of food would be a start. Some supermarkets now insist on their suppliers including calorific values on labels. That practice is beneficial and needs to be spread. I rather hope that that could also be made available on menus in restaurants, so that people would have at least a rough idea of the calorific value of the food they ordered. I do not think that is happening anywhere yet, but we should at least give people the information that they need.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the controversy and the debate among various sections of the food industry and retailers about the desirability of either guideline daily amounts or the so-called traffic light system? There seems to be a head-to-head approach, the only outcome of which is confusion for the consumer. Does he believe that the Government should give a stronger indication of which of those two options should be pursued?
I wish that there was a stronger lead, because confusion leads to people not being absolutely certain about their intake. The best thing is for the system to be as simple as possible but to give the most accurate information. Personally, I am quite surprised at how high the calorific level of some products on supermarket shelves happens to be, including even fruit. However, if we have the information, at least we can make a start.
A related issue is that of sport in schools. The Government have made £100 million available so that youngsters can have up to five hours of sport in schools. I stress "up to" five hours because I would prefer youngsters to have exactly five hours, which is an hour an day. They spend more than that in front of the television or the computer, on the couch doing nothing. If they had the one hour of sport a day in school, that structure would be perfect. I am sure that we are all involved with voluntary sporting organisations in our constituencies. They are great, but they are all self-selecting. Those youngsters will always be able to look after themselves, but there are some people who simply need the help through sport within a structure, which they can get in schools but nowhere else. I would ask the Government to consider again whether the £100 million, which is about £12 per pupil per school, is sufficient to spread the programme throughout the whole of the country.
Finally, on immigration—I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary is here—there are so many misleading statistics that it is worrying. Nobody really knows the level of illegal immigration. Nobody knows which people are coming in and which are going out, because neither is being properly checked. We all know that there is a problem with legal immigration, too. The statistics that the Government gave us early on said that when the 10 countries from eastern Europe joined the European Union, we would have about 13,000 immigrants. That figure then became 600,000, and now we have been told that it is more than a million. Such levels of immigration are unsustainable. The Government are talking about building 3 million extra homes. I suspect that some of them must be for the extra people in our population, which is now more than 60 million.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I want to put a question to him that has been ignored by those on both the Opposition and the Government Front Benches. If we reduce immigration, how do we select the jobs that will not be filled? The fact is that the labour market is absorbing immigrants. It is time that people were reminded that it is in the United Kingdom's best interests, particularly in reducing wage inflation, to meet the demands of the labour market. Who is going to pick the fruit in East Anglia, for instance? The hon. Gentleman and those on both Front Benches need to start answering that question.
What we need is an honest debate on the subject, which is what I am asking for and what the hon. Gentleman wants, too. Nobody is saying no to any immigration whatever; that would quite silly. We have always looked for the skills that we need, but we seem to have lost control over the past 10 years. That is why immigration into the United Kingdom is at its current level.
Also, when France and Germany decided not to allow people from the 10 countries to come into their countries to work, Britain was one of the few that said, "Yes, please come in." And surprise, surprise, that is exactly what happened. Rather a large number of people came into the United Kingdom, and that is where we are. That is why I am talking about the 3 million extra homes. Would we need them if the level—
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We would need to import the labour to build the houses in the first place. However, we see problems even with the current demand on infrastructure, such as schools and health care. Transport is also an issue. Anyone who travels on the tube in London between the hours of 8 and 9 in the morning will know how uncomfortable it is.
It is important that we have a serious debate about immigration, but one of the factors that the hon. Gentleman must put into the equation is the one that he has just mentioned. Other countries in Europe did not give immediate access to those from the accession countries in the A8—we can discount Malta and Cyprus, which will not send many—that came in before Romania and Bulgaria. The problem is that when those other countries open their doors to those people, they will not stay in the UK. The target for people from Poland will be Germany, while Italy will be used by many others, as will France. We will lose a lot of people and then be back in the same situation of relying on non-EU immigrants to fill posts that are currently filled by people legitimately. However, there has always been a demand for labour that is here for many reasons other than work, and which does indeed work, but off the tax rate and using the same facilities that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
Andrew Mackinlay made the point about those picking fruit. There are a lot of economically inactive people in this country anyway, as the Government say there are. There are those who are unemployed and still seeking work, and there is some role there. I am not exactly certain what the numbers are, because I am not sure whether I trust the statistics anymore. When people get it so badly wrong at the beginning—when they say that 13,000 will come in and the figure is well in excess of that—I wonder how accurate any predictions can be of what will happen when the labour markets open in France, Germany and other European Union countries.
That is why we need a full debate: to ensure that we at least have a properly structured immigration policy, which we would also need to discuss with other European Union countries. For instance, if I was Poland, I would be rather worried about the number of people leaving my country, particularly at the age at which they leave, because they are the economically active people. If some of them settle outside Poland, perhaps they will not return so quickly, which would hamper Poland's economic progress, too. I thought that part of the reason we wanted countries such as Poland to join the European Union was so that they could benefit economically. I hope that the Government will take that point on board.
On behalf of myself and the fly, I thank the House for being so tolerant under the circumstances.
It is right and proper in a debate on the Queen's Speech to pay tribute to those hon. Members who are no longer with us. As the former next-door neighbour of Piara Khabra—obviously not by constituency, but in Upper Committee Corridor North for the past six years—I should like to place on the record my fond memories of him. He was one of the cheeriest Members of the House and displayed the greatest of humanity whenever one spoke with him about the issues that he cared about.
In this week of Remembrance Sunday, I should also like to pay the deepest respect, as have others, to those serving in our name in our service community, whether we agree with the conflicts or not—my record on the subject of Iraq is well known. I should also like to recognise the great efforts being made by the Poppy appeals throughout these islands and charities such as Erskine, Combat Stress, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, and others.
It would also be right to congratulate the Prime Minister in this debate on his first Queen's Speech since taking office. He has waited a long time to govern and I genuinely wish him well. I am not sure that the Queen's Speech had the content of a vision honed over so many decades, but we will wait and see.
I should also like to pass on my best wishes to my right hon. Friend Mr. Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, who is currently in Sri Lanka as part of the Commonwealth games bid. We hope that he and Steven Purcell, the leader of Glasgow city council, and the delegation will come back having won that bid. That venture illustrates the fact that, where there is a will for bipartisanship in Scottish politics, progress can be made.
I am delighted to make this contribution to the Queen's Speech debate, my first since becoming leader of the Scottish National party in Westminster. I am mindful that this month is the 40th anniversary of the Hamilton by-election, which marked the start of 40 years of continuous representation by the SNP in this House. I was with Winnie Ewing, who won that important by-election in Scottish political history, last week, and she is still very energetic.
Unfortunately, it is what is not in the Queen's Speech, rather than what is in it, that causes me, and many others, the greatest disappointment. The proposed constitutional reform Bill is supposed to make government more open, transparent and accountable. However, it does not deal with the West Lothian question, which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. I do not agree with Michael Connarty, who discounts the discrimination felt in England. It is palpable; it exists; it is real. It is there, and all this dancing on a constitutional pinhead about the subject cannot get us away from the fact that there is a gross injustice to English Members in this House. When certain matters are now, rightly, discussed in the Scottish Parliament, English Members are rightly not allowed to take part in those discussions. However, Scottish MPs of all parties are able to cast their votes on matters that might be unpopular in England and might not even have majority support, and win arguments over matters that are devolved. That is an iniquitous situation. Of course, independence for Scotland—and, in consequence, independence for England—would be the most elegant, fair and equitable solution, but in the meantime it is right for the SNP to continue to abstain on English-only matters. I would urge Members of the UK Unionist parties to follow us in so doing.
The constitutional reform Bill misses a great opportunity to deal with the dispute over funding arrangements in the UK. Conservative Members have expressed a view that Scotland is being subsidised. Why, they ask, should the taxpayers of Penrith and The Border pay for expenditure in Scotland? I do not believe that that is happening. Scotland actually contributes more to the United Kingdom coffers than vice versa. It would be a sad indictment if, after 300 years of this Union, a UK Government had put Scotland in the economic position whereby, despite being the largest oil producer in the European Union, it was a subsidy junkie. Ironically, that is the argument being put forward by Labour and Conservative Members on this matter.
The elegant solution is independence, but short of that, there is no reason why we should not have fiscal autonomy within the UK. Let us end the debate. Let us end the argument. Let all taxes raised in Scotland be paid to a Scottish finance ministry and, if we remain part of the United Kingdom, let us arrange the level of contribution for shared UK services. That is what happens in the Basque country within the Spanish state. It is a workable model; why is it not being looked at?
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr. Kennedy, who is no longer in his place, referred to unholy alliances in the context of the constitutional future of these islands. I note with interest that a summit was held yesterday in Edinburgh involving Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. People might talk of unholy alliances, but that would be unfair. I hope that they are all taking part in the national conversation, which was launched by the Scottish Government and which is already the most successful consultation in Scottish Government history. I hope that they are working to put forward constructive suggestions that will result in more powers accruing to the Scottish Parliament.
The Labour party has now changed its position and joined the other two UK parties in agreeing that the constitutional settlement is not complete. I agree with that. I agree with the UK parties—shock, horror! Perhaps that will be the headline in some newspapers. I am pleased that the Scottish Government are prepared to give the people a choice. We hear a lot about that in this Chamber: let the people decide. On all the options—the status quo, more devolution, and independence—we should let the people decide. Unfortunately, however, this matter is not in the constitutional reform Bill, and that is sad. It is sad because the Labour Government have conceded that this is not a finished work; it is a work in progress. Even today, we have seen the Secretary of State for Wales confirm that more powers are being devolved to Wales in a series of policy areas. Of course, the Labour party is in coalition there with Plaid Cymru, the party for Wales, and perhaps Plaid Cymru's positive influence is helping that process. The UK Government must get to grips with these matters sooner rather than later, and not run away from them. The Queen's Speech has missed an opportunity to do that.
Sadly, we have not been given much detail of what will follow in the legislation, but I have looked through the Queen's Speech to try to work out which issues will be reserved and which will be devolved, and which might be of interest to Members of all parties in regard to what is happening here and what is happening further north. Many Members have mentioned housing today. I have not seen among the details that the Government have promoted whether they intend to freeze the right to buy council houses and to take immediate steps to remedy the housing shortage. I have not seen that in the Queen's Speech, but the Scottish Government have announced that that will happen north of the border. I think that that is a good thing, and I hope that UK Ministers will consider it here as well.
On health care, we have heard a pledge to meet cancer waiting time targets by the end of this year and to abolish hidden waiting lists. The Government have also announced the raising of the legal age for buying tobacco from 16 to 18 from October 2007. They have also announced a U-turn on the closure of many accident and emergency services. I am not sure whether these measures were in the Queen's Speech, but they are certainly being implemented in Scotland at the moment. Furthermore, NHS staff there are now seeing their full pay deal backdated and implemented, ahead of the rest of the UK.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I raise two points with him. First, I understand that it is the policy of the Scottish Government to ban the right to buy new council houses. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Midlothian council is building 1,000 new houses and that, under the present legislation, without any need for change, people will not be allowed to buy them. That provision was in place before any initiatives were taken by the Scottish Government. Secondly, he mentioned accident and emergency services. I noticed that his colleagues—MSPs and local councillors—campaigned to return accident and emergency and trauma services to St. John's hospital in West Lothian, which serves my constituency. I understand that that is not now going to happen, and that the Health Minister has said that the trauma facility will not be returned to St. John's.
The hon. Gentleman raises some important points, and no doubt he will take them up with the Scottish Government. He is right to say that the measures on the right to buy relate to new build council housing. I am not acquainted with the issue of St. John's hospital, but I would be happy to discuss it with him later.
Vulnerable children are discussed in the Queen's Speech, but I have seen nothing about how asylum seekers' children will be treated. I know that, in Scotland, they are to be given the same rights as other children in Scotland, in regard to tuition fees and free nursery provision. That is a good thing, and I should be interested to know what the UK Government are going to do.
I am glad that the Scottish Government have made a commitment to set a target to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050. That is a more ambitious target than the one adopted by the UK Government and I should be interested to know why they have not followed the lead of the Scottish Government in picking a more ambitious target.
There is a whole series of other matters within the ambit of the Queen's Speech where the Scottish Government have made tremendous strides forward. I hope that UK Ministers will look and learn from what is happening on energy matters and on congestion and road tolling, which has been got rid of for the Forth and Tay bridges. On education, the graduate endowment has been scrapped and an extra £100 million found for universities and colleges, not to mention the piloting of free school meals for years one to three in primary schools. I believe that those are positive measures, in respect of which the UK Government could learn from the SNP Government in Edinburgh.
Turning to deal with two particular matters in the Queen's Speech that relate to the whole of the UK, I first want to raise the serious issue of anti-terrorism legislation. I say to the Government Front Benchers that we are pleased with the ongoing talks between ourselves, including Plaid Cymru, and the Home Office. I was present at those meetings, which have taken place over the last two weeks. The Government are well aware of the difficulties that our parties have had over the extension of pre-charge detention beyond 28 days—unless appropriate safeguards are in place. I very much hope that the Government return with the supporting evidence to validate the case for detention beyond that time scale.
The second important matter is the European Union Bill. I see the esteemed Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I serve, in his place. Government Ministers have known for years that, from a Scottish perspective, there is a fundamental problem with the text in the original draft constitution, continuing now with the draft European reform treaty text. It concerns the exclusive competence of the EU over fisheries matters, and the entrenchment of the common fisheries policy within the treaty.
Anyone who knows anything about the existence of fishing communities since the start of the common fisheries policy knows that it has been the greatest disaster yet in European Union policy making. Yet the UK Government have agreed to the enshrining of the CFP as an exclusive competence within the reform treaty. It was signalled to the Government that unless changes were sought, that would have consequences for the SNP's position—and we should remember that the SNP is the most popular party in Scotland. Should there be a referendum, that matter would hold great weight with the voters of Scotland. That signal has been ignored. For that reason, at its recent conference, the SNP took the view that it would back measures in this House for a referendum. Having committed to it on the constitution, we were honour-bound to do so if the text was not changed on the reform treaty. I signal to the Government now that they have little time left to get changes to the text, which is what they must do if they want our position to change— [Interruption.] I note that the Minister for Science and Innovation is rolling his eyes; I do not know whether that is because he does not believe that the fishing industry is important or whether he is just bored with the subject.
Something that the Minister should not be bored with is the matter of political party funding. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was in his place earlier, is not here now, as an important element to this debate has not to my knowledge been raised thus far. It is well known that the Hayden Phillips inter-party talks have involved the three UK parties to the exclusion of the Northern Ireland parties, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. It became apparent only within recent weeks that the three UK parties were discussing a deal in respect of the state funding element that would see votes for the UK general election weighted at 50p a vote, while elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament would be weighted at 25p. It would be helpful if the UK parties clarified their position on whether they believe that that is fair or equitable. The result of instituting that sort of discrimination will, I think, come back to bite them. There are issues around trade union affiliation fees and how they would skew a package, but this issue of the state funding element certainly needs to be looked at.
I am mindful of colleagues who want to contribute. A number of us made commitments to speak at less length than previous colleagues, who all had excellent points to make. Let me conclude on the point that the Queen's Speech is, sadly, full of missed opportunities—opportunities that could have improved governance in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. From my perspective, representing my party, which always puts the interests of the people of Scotland first, the worst aspect is the omission of any measures to improve Scotland's governance and to give us the ability to accord the Scottish economy a competitive advantage in a globalising world. The absence of measures to achieve that at a time when the UK Government are considering the matter of variable corporation tax in Northern Ireland is beyond me. Those issues need to be and must be looked at.
The constitutional settlement in the UK is not a finished piece of work, not just because of iniquities in England—which there are—but because there is a demand in Scotland for further powers. There is an understanding in Wales that there have to be further powers for the Welsh National Assembly and its Government. The UK Government need to get their heads around these matters; if they do not, it is the likes of the Scottish Government who will put the matter to the people. If that happened, I believe that we would see an overwhelming vote for the Scottish Parliament to have more powers.
This is the Gracious Speech that should never have been. The reason I say that that, as we all know, there was going to be a general election. Frankly, having listened to the Gracious Speech, I wish that that general election had taken place.
I would like to make a number of points before going into the detail of the legislation. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party intervened twice in the Prime Minister's speech. On both occasions, his interventions could not have been more telling. He first asked the Prime Minister to look him straight in the eye and comment on inheritance tax and then again on the general election. The Prime Minister will live to regret his reaction on both those counts.
I had been looking forward to the end of the Blair years and to welcoming a new era. In a very short space of time, however, I have become somewhat disappointed. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister had intended to call a general election in 2009. I cannot understand how he listened to the advice of people who may not have been in politics for a great length of time, as that put him in a position that has destroyed any reputation that he might have had. As far as I am concerned, the dithering over the general election is the ERM—the exchange rate mechanism—moment for the Labour party. Labour will not be able to have the election in 2009, as originally intended: it will have to go on to the bitter end. The longer this rotten Labour Government go on, the more Labour Members will be concerned about their seats.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right when he said that the Prime Minister was treating the general public as if they had no intuition whatever as to what the Labour party was about. The Prime Minister has spun this Government as a new Government. For goodness' sake, the Prime Minister was elected to Parliament in 1983 and he has been running the Government since they were elected in 1997. There is nothing new about the deputy leader of the Labour party either: she was elected in 1982. The idea that this is a new Government is absolute nonsense.
There was a wonderful article about the Gracious Speech in one of our national newspapers. It was entitled "What is the point of all this legislation?" Andrew Mackinlay made some similar points earlier. The article stated that today marks "the final curtain" on "the Blair years". It continued:
"In 10 years, there have been 455 Acts of Parliament... and thousands of statutory instruments".
There have been
"reforms of health and education",
but they have been "piecemeal" and lacked any real "vision". There have been
"two dozen criminal justice Acts, aimed principally at tomorrow's headlines rather than making the streets safe, the legislative effort should have been expended on proper, lasting and effective reforms of public services. Last week's population figures showed how exposed we now are to our hospitals, schools and transport network being overwhelmed by a greater number of people than was ever planned for."
"Over the 10 years of Blairism, Labour has brought in six Acts on immigration, seven on terrorism, a dozen on education, 11 on health and social care, and 25 on criminal justice. It has created new crimes at a rate of nearly one a day and passed more than 32,000 statutory instruments."
That says everything about this Government.
The article went on:
"Cleaning hospitals is a laudable ambition, but...three years ago there was a health and improvement Bill, giving new priority to infection control in hospitals. Why did that not work? What is the point of all this legislation—
including that in the Gracious Speech—
"if it does not actually make any difference?...most of it is useless. There have been measures introduced in the past 10 years that were repealed before they even came into force."
This is a Government who have absolutely no direction.
I want to address eight points in the Gracious Speech in a little detail. First, I shall deal with the proposed constitutional reform Bill. The gap has certainly widened in the balance of power between the Government and Parliament over the past 10 years. Why? It is entirely the result of the former Prime Minister. A balanced working relationship between the two, built on mutual respect and accountability, has increasingly been eroded. Without any doubt, the driving force behind that was Mr. Blair. His presidential style and general disregard for the opinion of both Houses has created the need for a rebalancing of power. My goodness, could he not wait to get out of this place?
People are no longer keen to participate in democracy and distrust political decision makers. I blame that entirely on the Labour Government and the former Prime Minister. Their emphasis on soundbites and spin has done much to damage Parliament's standing. Having spoken on the first day of every Gracious Speech since 1983, I can say without hesitation that the attendance today is unfortunately an all-time low. Where are the Government Members to support the Queen's Speech? There are nearly double the number of Opposition Members here. The Whips cannot even organise enough Labour MPs to come in and say good things about the Gracious Speech.
The constitutional reform Bill might appear to some to be an attempt to correct the damage sustained by Parliament as a result of the previous 10 years of Labour Government. It is somewhat ironic, however, that the Bill is proposed by the current Prime Minister, as he served throughout the Blair years, and told Mr. Blair what to do half the time. The present Government wish increasingly to devolve power to local bodies; they should get on with it. They have had 10 years to do something about it, but over that time they have done everything possible to destroy local government. Southend, which I share with my hon. Friend James Duddridge, has been undermined by not having enough money to maintain services. If we wanted to put up the council tax, we would be capped.
Furthermore, I am surprised that the human fertilisation and embryology Bill has not been mentioned, as I am very concerned about it. I spoke during the passage of the 1990 Bill, and many of us who were concerned about allowing experimentation on human embryos up to 14 days have been proved right. The Minister for Science and Innovation shakes his head in disagreement, but the idea that we would put in place the wherewithal to police laboratories to allow experimentation on an embryo of 13 days old, but not on an embryo that is older, is a nonsense. The authority that came into being in 1990 has turned out to be shambolic.
All the promises made of cures found as a result of experimentation on human embryos have been proved wrong. To date, as Ministers have confirmed in reply to numerous questions that I have asked, extensive embryo research has produced no significant breakthroughs whatever, and nor has embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cell research, however, has been far more successful. Even at this late stage, therefore, the Government should reflect on the Bill.
We have a marvellous Freeview television now, on which I saw the Minister with responsibility for public health say to the Science and Technology Committee that there was no scientific evidence to show that Parliament should consider the present law whereby abortion is lawful up to 24 weeks. That was an incredible statement. Before the last general election, when the three then party leaders were asked their view on abortion, they said unanimously that their constituencies had special baby care units that now save babies at 23 and a half weeks, 23 weeks and some even at 22 and a half weeks. We know that those babies have lung development problems and so on, but for the Minister to say to that Select Committee that there were no grounds for reconsidering the matter was extraordinary. I salute my two colleagues who then decided to issue a minority report.
I pray in aid the words of the noble Lord Steel, the architect of the Abortion Act 1967, who said recently that abortion is being used as a form of contraception in Britain, and admitted that he never anticipated anything like the current number of terminations when leading the campaign for reform. I am therefore fearful of the Government's proposed Bill being used by some parliamentary colleagues to make having an abortion in this country even easier. I believe that if that does happen, a large number of hon. Members will fight, word by word and line by line, to ensure that the abortion laws in this country are not weakened further.
Then there is the criminal justice and immigration Bill, whose proposals read as a long list of Government failures. I believe strongly that over the last 10 years Britain has become a fundamentally unjust country. It is ridiculous: Home Office Ministers wake up in the morning and decide "We will make another law: we will make something else illegal", although we all know that it is up to chance whether any of those laws are enforced. The criminal justice system has been very badly damaged. Despite the introduction of more than 30 separate criminal justice Acts and the creation of more than 3,000 new criminal offences since Labour came to power in 1997, crime has continued to rise significantly.
The Government are behaving as if they were still in opposition. The truth about the Labour party is that it is no good in government; its expertise is in opposition. Labour Members are very good at moaning about everything, but what happens when they are given power? If anyone were to ask whether the country is any better today than it was in 1997, the answer would be "Absolutely not", and history will show that the last Prime Minister failed the country very badly.
Let me say a word about the police. We used to have the best police force in the world, and the best judicial system in the world. Now our police are just like those in the rest of the world, and our judicial system is just like that in the rest of the world. I am sick to death of being invited to go on all-night rides around the town watching what goes on among people who are committing crimes. I have done that. I have been there. I invite those police officers to spend a day with me, as a Conservative Member of Parliament. We know what the problems are, but the solutions are another matter, and I think the "Panorama" programme that we saw during the summer recess was very telling indeed.
Given the recent behaviour of the chief of the Met over the de Menezes case, his position is absolutely untenable. It is outrageous. If the man running the police force is giving this sort of lead, no wonder officers are in open rebellion. If there is one thing the Government have done that has been more damaging than anything else, it is the way in which they have ruined our criminal justice system.
Given that we have wasted all this money on the investigation into cash for honours—£1.5 million, we now discover—was it surprising that the Crown Prosecution Service did not proceed? The gentleman who runs the CPS is a staunch Labour supporter, for goodness' sake: he was never going to go ahead with the prosecution. I think that when there is a general election, Labour will be judged on that as well.
Throughout the long, tortuous business of cash for honours, I was desperate for someone to ask one question. Could someone explain how that man called Lord Black, from The Daily Telegraph, managed to get his peerage? He is a Canadian, and also, I understand, a Conservative peer—a Conservative peer who, even before he was in trouble, did not turn up at the House of Lords very often. By what divine intervention was he selected to become a Conservative peer? Presumably it would not be to do with anything as grubby as money, would it?
I have no knowledge of such matters, but I do intend to touch briefly on party political funding, and the hypocrisy surrounding that particular issue.
Over the last 10 years, it has become very plain that the Government do not have a clue about immigration. We no longer have controls over our borders, and the system is an absolute shambles. Anyone who has arrived at Heathrow airport recently will have been subjected to the queues that grow ever longer as the Government—presumably—begin to panic over the situation. A sensible and carefully considered immigration policy is clearly beyond their capability. In contrast, recent remarks by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the importance of a well-balanced immigration debate were praised by the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Mr. Trevor Phillips. I had never considered Mr. Phillips to be a known supporter of the Conservative party.
The Gracious Speech also features a counter-terrorism Bill. Every Member in the House knows that we face a huge security challenge. I do not have a solution to the situation where someone is prepared to take their own life so that others lose their lives. I cannot think of any sort of deterrent. All of us are struggling to come up with a solution but I say again that I will regret for ever more that I voted for the war with Iraq. I believe that it is now permissible for me to say that the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said things at the Dispatch Box that I believed, which is why I voted the way I did, and we now know those things not to be true. I much regret that I did not join my 18 colleagues and vote against that measure, but all of us will support the Government in trying to combat the threats that we face from terrorism. However, I certainly am not keen on extending the powers of detention beyond the present 28 days. That seems against the British spirit of common justice.
After those gloomy words, I am going to welcome two Bills in the Gracious Speech: the Climate Change Bill and the energy Bill. I and many hon. Members receive a huge amount of correspondence and campaign cards on those issues. Climate change is having and will have a huge impact on us all. Never has the need been so pressing to find effective ways of reducing carbon emissions and at the same time of ensuring that those efforts are not to the detriment of our economic growth and competitiveness. I am delighted that Mr. Gore has received his honour but when I look back on the Clinton- Gore years—the pair of them ran the United States of America for eight years—I am a little puzzled as to why, when it came to the point when they could have done something, it seemed that American business stopped them. Anyway, we all welcome sinners who repenteth.
I have long been an advocate of promoting energy efficiency as a means of reducing environmental impact. I am proud to say that I introduced what became the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 in order to alleviate fuel poverty by providing domestic insulation and other energy-efficiency measures. Of course I am not particularly pleased that the target year seems to be slipping, but there we are—that is the way of the Government these days.
The Bill that I piloted through effectively championed the benefits of maximising the energy produced by the burning of fuels for domestic heating. The Bill had as a central theme the enormous benefits that can result from efficient use of energy. Thousands of people throughout the United Kingdom have benefited from that private Member's Bill. I welcome the measures in the Bill proposed in the Gracious Speech that seek to reduce our carbon emissions and yet make provision for the need to maintain our overall economic performance. I believe, however, that to be a robust and effective piece of legislation the Climate Change Bill should include a genuinely independent body to set targets and not merely to monitor them. There should be provision for rolling year-on-year targets and an annual carbon budget report, with any new measures being subject to approval in Parliament.
I welcome the provisions in the local transport Bill in that they are designed to give local authorities the right mix of powers to improve the quality of local bus services, but my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East and I have a challenge as far as local buses are concerned because we do not have too many in Southend. The reason for that is that the Government—we have the former Deputy Prime Minister to thank for this—have starved Southend of money through the local government finance settlement. Local authorities must be empowered to make the decisions on local matters that they, and not central Government, have the background knowledge to make. Having long been in consultation with my local authority on public transport issues, I know precisely what Southend-on-Sea borough council would like to see in that Bill.
The Government have introduced a number of public transport initiatives, but they have often failed to support them with adequate funding. The national concessionary fares scheme is part-Government, part-local authority funded. However, Southend-on-Sea borough council is struggling to fund the local scheme, as the Government grant is simply not a significant enough contribution to enable us to take that measure forward. The Government must not leave councils to fund initiatives that they instigate. The Bill on this issue must address the funding inequalities that are undermining the concessionary fares scheme in Southend. It must ensure a level playing field for negotiations between local authorities and bus companies, and help local authorities to deal with unruly and intimidating behaviour on public transport. The public are often discouraged from using public transport, especially at night, as they fear the behaviour of certain individuals. Local authorities must be given help in order better to tackle antisocial behaviour on public transport, and help to ensure that such services are accessible to all.
I know that the Gracious Speech suggests that other Bills will be introduced, but I am very disappointed that there is no certainty about a marine Bill and a Bill on copyright and associated miscellaneous provisions, which would receive widespread support. I welcomed the introduction last year of a draft marine Bill, which was designed to offer protection to marine environments. However, it suffered severe delays to its progress during the last Session, and the Government appear to have failed to come forward with a new such Bill for the new parliamentary year. I recently participated in a wonderful campaign, organised by the Wildlife Trust—the local launch was at Chalkwell junior school—to lobby the Government to include a marine Bill in their list of priority Bills. Youngsters are particularly enthusiastic about such a Bill, and I urge the Government to rethink their commitment to this legislation.
Earlier this year, under the ten-minute rule, I introduced a Copyright (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which I understood the Government were very much in favour of. It was intended to tackle the growing problem of internet piracy that is costing the British music industry millions of pounds in lost revenues each year. Online copyright theft and its impact on the music industry and associated British artists is a seriously pressing issue, and I am rather disappointed that the Government have not introduced a measure to assist in that regard.
Andrew Mackinlay mentioned cash for peerages earlier, and it is suggested in the Gracious Speech that measures will be introduced to sort out political funding. I find this a disingenuous debate. I voted against the £10,000 that has been made available to all Members of Parliament to—let us be frank about this—promote themselves. Of course, it will help Members in marginal constituencies. Such things cannot be party political, so endless photographs will be taken of them and reference will be made to how wonderful they are; these will be all-singing, all-dancing affairs. Now that there will not be a general election until 2010, those Members will have three years in which to spend taxpayers' money making themselves more cuddly to constituents.
The Labour party has been angered by the fact that a Conservative peer is giving a little bit of money to various candidates throughout the country, so the Labour Government are introducing legislation on this issue. However, it is interesting to note that we have not heard any details about the trade union support of Labour Members. We all know that, frankly, many trade unionists are staunch Conservatives. It is very wrong if the Government intend to introduce legislation that does not deal with the Labour party funding of individual candidates in general elections.
There is nothing new about the Government. They are a failed Government. They are an incompetent Government. They are a rotten Government. If the Prime Minister is so confident, as he appeared to be at the Dispatch Box today, why did he not call a general election last month?
I want to pick up on a couple of the points that Mr. Amess has been talking about, particularly the last one about the arms race between political parties in terms of election expenditure and pre-election expenditure. Surely what we need is some form of cross-party consensus. Surely that is what the talks were trying to achieve. It seems a pity that those talks have foundered, rather than carrying on to try to find a way to reach some conclusions. It is an interesting use of the word "little" in respect of Lord Ashcroft's contribution of financial largesse to the Conservative party.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the sum is little relative to the large amounts that the trade unions present, not little in absolute terms?
I would agree that we have an arms race and that we should negotiate down spending, rather than spending even more. That is the problem with what the hon. Member for Southend, West is suggesting. Simply criticising those on one side of the argument does not really help; a consensus is required. I hope that the legislation that is introduced will provide us with a route through all this.
The reason I want to speak in the debate today is particularly to address one of the measures in the Queen's Speech. I will not cover the full range of measures that it sets out. The measure that I want to talk about partly reflects something that the hon. Gentleman was talking about: the fact that successive legislation has created a new architecture for aspects of health and social care regulation and inspection over the past 10 years. That has been done in a piecemeal way, and yet another piecemeal change to the system is proposed in the health and social care Bill that will shortly come before us.
In essence, the proposal is to bring together the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Healthcare Commission to form a new body, to be called the body for care quality. That may well be the right thing to do. Indeed, during the passage of the legislation that set up the two separate commissions, I argued very strongly that we should have a single commission that would be consistent in following the needs of people in different care settings as they went through their journey in the health and social care system, and ensure that good quality care standards were met wherever the person might be.
The danger now, however, is that we have already been through two sets of changes to the way in which we organise social care inspection and regulation. The National Care Standards Commission was set up only to discover on its first day of operation that it would be abolished and replaced with the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Now the Commission for Social Care Inspection will go the same way.
All reorganisations lead to managerial loss of focus. They almost inevitably result in people wondering and worrying about their own futures, perhaps more than about the people for whom they are meant to provide a service. The organisation that will be established under the Bill also runs the risk of a loss of focus on social care generally, because the focus tends to be the big relation—the health service. As a result, social care will become even more of a poor relation in the new organisation.
I am concerned about the Bill because it is a missed opportunity to get the regulation right and to deal with the abuse of older people in this country. Earlier this year, the Government funded a study, along with Comic Relief, that was undertaken by King's college London and the National Centre for Social Research. Quite rightly, the Government wanted to establish the true prevalence of the abuse of older people. It was the first time that such a study has been done, and the Government are to be applauded for funding it.
The study found, as a top line, that 342,000 people over the age of 66 are victims of one form of abuse or another. I am talking about things such as fraud or theft; psychological or emotional abuse; assault, including the use of restraint, ranging from physical restraint to the use of chemical restraints; and even rape. When we drill down into that figure of 342,000, we find that 105,000 people suffered 10 or more instances of neglect and that 42,500 people were the victims of sexual abuse. Furthermore, if we look at how the research was done, we see that it excludes everyone in care homes and anyone in the community with dementia. So although the figure is disturbing—342,000 people over the age of 66 suffer from abuse—it is not the complete picture. More of our fellow citizens suffer from abuse than the survey suggests. That is why there is an urgent need to move from a system of voluntary guidance to one in which there are legal protections for vulnerable older people.
The case that I am making is not new. That compelling case has been made for over a decade. It was made in 1995 in a Law Commission report, in 2004 by the Select Committee on Health, and this year by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I have a concern about the Bill in the Queen's Speech, but I hope that, even at this stage, we can use it to deal with three serious gaps. The first is a need to close the loophole in the Human Rights Act 1998 that means that private and voluntary sector-run care homes are outside the scope of the Act. Secondly, we need to give the new commission that is to be established under the legislation the power to investigate individual complaints; there is uncertainty about that. Thirdly, there should be an accessible and effective statutory procedure that protects vulnerable adults at risk of abuse.
To take the last of those three points first, the Law Commission made proposals to close the protection gap back in 1995. It said that it had no confidence in the adult protection procedures that existed at the time. The problem is that there has been no change since then. It also proposed that social services departments be given powers to protect vulnerable adults similar to those that exist for protecting children: a duty to investigate; powers for magistrates courts to issue entry warrants, temporary protection orders and removal orders; and an offence of obstructing officers acting on behalf of the court. I do not understand why, in 10 years, such sensible proposals by the Law Commission have not been enacted. The Court of Appeal acted to fill the vacuum. In 2000, the Court expressed grave concern about the obvious gap in the legal framework. Lord Justice Sedley said that the Court had to
"speak where Parliament, although the more appropriate forum, was silent".
That led to the creation of a new procedure for protecting vulnerable adults called the declaratory relief, but the courts did not intend it to be a substitute for action by Parliament. That is why the Queen's Speech disappoints; it is yet another Queen's Speech that misses the opportunity to act to close the gap.
It may seem odd that much clearer legislation should be needed to make it obvious that regulators of our care homes should investigate complaints about the services that they regulate, but it does appear that such legislation is needed. The Commission for Social Care Inspection said that it does not believe it has the power to investigate complaints, yet complaints are surely a critical part of ensuring compliance with standards through the system and of ensuring that we drive standards up, rather than accept standards below those for which the House has legislated. The Commission for Social Care Inspection is moving from a two-inspection-a-year system to a system in which there is self-assessment most of the time and in which most care homes will have an inspection once every three years.
The commission says that the responsibility for investigating individual complaints rests not with it but with local authorities. However, local authorities do not have the power to do the job that the commission says they should be doing. In particular, people who self-fund—those who pay for their care and are not funded by local authorities—seem to be excluded from any recourse.
The complaints gap leaves frail, vulnerable people with no one to turn to when things go wrong and they need to complain, except for the people who run the home. The Joint Committee on Human Rights was right to say that complaints should be investigated by an independent third party. That is what I hope the proposed legislation will ensure when it comes forward. That is one reason why I am so disappointed with the Queen's Speech.
Finally, there is a rights gap. It is absurd that vulnerable older people in private and voluntary sector-run care homes are not within the scope of the Human Rights Act. That gap was identified by the courts five, six or seven years ago. The Act should apply in all circumstances, but it does not. It applies to council-run care homes, but if the council pays for care in a private or voluntary sector-run home, the writ of the Human Rights Act does not run once someone has crossed the threshold.
Ten years after the Government came to power, and despite the compelling case for tackling the scandal of elder abuse, we do not have a legislative framework that is fit for purpose. The Government responded to the Climbié case, which convulsed and led to a change in the child protection system, but we should not have to wait for an older person to become a victim of the tragic circumstances that led to the convulsion of that system to achieve the necessary changes to protect our seniors. The reality is that someone who is the victim of abuse at the age of 80 will probably be dead before justice is done, which cannot be right. It is surely time that Parliament did what the Law Commission recommended 10 years ago, and legislated to provide the safeguards that older people need. I hope that that is what will happen when the Queen's Speech turns into legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry for pre-empting you.
We saw some extraordinary effrontery from the Prime Minister this afternoon in that great moment of theatre when he leaned across the Dispatch Box and demanded that the Leader of the Opposition intervene and answer his question. I shall paraphrase, because I have not had an opportunity to secure a copy of the report for greater accuracy: if the Leader of the Opposition came to power after the Prime Minister ratified the treaty, would he give the people of this country the referendum that the Prime Minister certainly would not give them before he ratified the treaty? Essentially, that was the question he asked, thus drawing attention to the great hole in the Queen's Speech: the missing referendum Bill that we were promised on the European treaty by every single political party—or the three main political parties—before the last general election.
The Prime Minister's question may have to be answered at some stage. We may have to cross that bridge if we come to it, but our focus must remain on the here and now—on the Queen's Speech and securing a referendum in this legislative programme—and not on answering a question about what might happen if we fail, thus introducing a note of defeatism and allowing the Prime Minister off the hook by concentrating on something that may never happen. The Prime Minister is deeply embarrassed about the fact that he is not going to hold a referendum, although he said that he would and he knows that many people want one.
That goes to the heart of our problem as a political caste. I was once a schoolmaster. Boys hung on my every word and gave me respect—their grades at A-level depended on it. I moved on and took up a career in banking. Rather more than is the case these days, people had some respect for bankers and their opinions—after all, their loans might depend on it. Now, as an elected representative and a member of the professional political class, I find that I am held in utter contempt by most people whose doors I happen to darken. They turn round and say, "You're all the same. It doesn't matter who gets in, you break all your promises." We cannot complain because we know that they are right to some extent. It is their perception that politicians promise all sorts of things that they have no intention of delivering, and that goes to the heart of their loss of faith in politicians. The people were promised a referendum, and now they will not have one.
In my view, a sacred principle is at stake. It was best enunciated by a former Member of this House, Tony Benn, who said that we do not dispose of power of our own in this Parliament but are merely stewards of the power of the people, which we should hand back to the people intact at the end of our sojourn. By introducing a treaty that hands over power that we cannot then return to the people of this country after we have disposed of it is to break that principle. When one contemplates breaking such a principle, it is absolutely necessary to seek the consent of the people in a referendum before doing so.
I respect many of the hon. Gentleman's views, but he is wrong on that point, as he would discover if he were to look at the treaty. One of the interesting and important things that the treaty does is expressly to allow for the first time the right of a signatory country to leave the European Union, which is exactly not what he is arguing. The treaty would allow power to be taken back, if a country were to decide to take that course.
Indeed, but at what cost? To use a simile, we are in the same position as the leaseholders of a small block of flats who think that they have a share of the freehold as well as being leaseholders but suddenly discover that, by whatever legal device or trickery, they do not have the freehold and the freeholder is about to sell the building. In that case, we might go to all sorts of lengths to announce our determination to buy back the freehold when we have the means, but that would depend on the freehold being for sale, which we cannot guarantee.
We cannot guarantee that we can reverse the provisions in the treaty, because it will require the unanimous agreement of the other members of the European Union. It is all very well saying, "There is a nuclear option. You can go," but the British people might not want to go—they might want the status quo ante, which is an option that should be offered to them and which was pledged to them in a referendum.
We had a debate earlier in the evening, when there were rather more of us. As an aside, a number of hon. Members looked across at the expanse of green leather on the Government Benches and said how shocking and awful it was that there was no one there to speak on the Queen's Speech, but then they went on at such great length that it might explain the expanse of green leather on the Government Benches.
Leaving that aside, when we debated the referendum Andrew Mackinlay agreed with the Liberal Democrat position and said that the matter should be properly addressed, not by the promised referendum on the treaty but by a referendum to reaffirm our commitment to and membership of the European Union. The argument was put that the decision to join was taken a generation ago and that no one who is currently under 50 had that opportunity. I recall having that opportunity—it was my first electoral experience—and campaigning and voting in the referendum. As it happens, I campaigned and voted to withdraw from what was then the Common Market, but I accepted the decision entirely.
My son is now 18, and it is perfectly possible that he wants to reaffirm those arrangements—we cannot bind generations that follow us—but I have not detected any great enthusiasm on his part or that of his generation to reopen that question. I receive a considerable number of letters demanding that the issue be reopened, but they do not tend to come from my son's generation—they come from rather older people who claim that they were robbed and that the whole thing has turned out to be something other than what was described. I am in the fortunate position of being able to reply that it has turned out pretty well as we said it would during that campaign.
A referendum on the whole European question poses a danger, because it takes the heat off this particular issue. We were promised a referendum on this treaty, and a referendum in which people are invited to reaffirm their commitment to the entire European enterprise is a very different thing. That presents a danger, because a vote for the European Union in such a referendum, which is the likely outcome, would be used to railroad all sorts of additional changes to European Union structures in the direction of ever greater union and the ever greater federalism of the European model that has developed in the past 30 years. I suggest that a much healthier check on that process would be to have a referendum on any new treaty and any increment to the arrangements.
Let us briefly examine the history of the referendum commitment that we were given. Until mid-2004, the Government insisted that the treaty was of such little consequence—only of administrative concern—that no referendum was required. Notwithstanding that, they had already negotiated the red lines; there is nothing new about the red lines. Abruptly, the Government changed their opinion, and I have no doubt that that was to take account of the likelihood of a general election in 2005 and to deny Opposition parties a campaign on the issue of the referendum.
So it was that we were promised a referendum. Of course, given the votes in the Netherlands and France, it became unnecessary because the whole process was, apparently, dead. Of course, it has turned out not to have been as dead as we had expected. Now the referendum pledge has been withdrawn because the new treaty is, apparently, so different from the previous one. We all know what Giscard d'Estaing and almost every European leader has said about the identity of the two treaties, but the Government argue that we do not need a referendum because the treaty is different for us and we have our red lines. However, the Government had their red lines when they offered us a referendum in the first place—they insisted then that the issues were not of great consequence and that they had guarantees in the form of red lines, but said that we could have a referendum anyway.
The arguments do not hold. The people of this country were promised a referendum at the last general election; now that the treaty has been negotiated, there should be a referendum Bill in the Queen's Speech. That there is not is a gross betrayal of trust.
I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the first day's debate on the Queen's Speech. A number of themes have run through the debate; one has been about the nature of devolution and the constitution.
There are worrying aspects to how the devolution settlement is working. I have worked for devolution for years, but only on the basis that it would sustain and strengthen the Union. However, as we look towards the north of the UK, we see a Government determined for independence and separation. I find that tendency dangerous; it would be damaging not only for Scotland, but for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In Wales, I see an appetite for further powers to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and I hope that they are. However, I see no appetite for independence. It will be interesting to see whether the discussions in Scotland show an appetite for independence.
The hon. Gentleman refers accurately to the appetite or lack of it for independence in the various regions of the United Kingdom. Does he accept that recent opinion polls indicate that although the political establishment in Scotland may be moving in a particular direction, the people of Scotland do not seem to be following that lead?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Opinion polls in Scotland and Wales show little desire or appetite for breaking up the United Kingdom.
I wish to say a few words reflecting our concerns about emissions. The Queen's Speech lacks a clear green vision for the United Kingdom and for Wales. For Welsh Liberal Democrats, it is also lacking in terms of action on social justice and devolving more powers to the Welsh Assembly. This Queen's Speech, arguably more than any other, should have been a green Queen's Speech, but it has all the hallmarks of a tired and faded Brown Queen's Speech. As the Government climb down on their existing renewables targets, the announcement of the draft Climate Change Bill, while welcome, is in danger of ringing hollow. A year ago, the Environment Secretary told us that the Government were committed to generating 20 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2020; now we are told that the real figure is likely to be between 10 and 15 per cent. When the Government treat their targets with such flippancy, how can we have faith in them to deliver a meaningful Climate Change Bill? The Bill proposes five-year targets which are not legally enforceable. That was criticised for not being tough enough by the Committees that reviewed it. If we are to see real action to reduce carbon emissions, the Bill must introduce measurable and tough annual targets, and Ministers must work with the Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to ensure that every nation and region of the UK can make its full contribution.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of tackling climate change, but in his comment about the renewables targets he confused two different things. The target for renewable generation of electricity is one thing, and our commitments on that stand, but he is talking about the likely proportion of all energy renewably generated, which is rather different.
I thank the Minister; I probably did not express it as eloquently as I could. However, it is still disappointing that the Government have reduced the target for the total amount of energy that will be generated by renewable sources.
We can have party political debates about these things, but out there in normal Britain, where people are concerned about these things, there is genuine disappointment and anger about that change of ambition. People who are environmentally conscious—not necessarily green activists but those who thought that there was a different mood—feel terribly let down by a Labour Government who have backed off from what was the right long-term strategic energy commitment.
Indeed. Citizens throughout the nation are intent on playing their part in contributing to the control of carbon emissions, and when they see the Government backing down on their targets they feel that they have been let down.
The Government have been forced by the High Court to consult twice on the energy White Paper, and environmental groups still have major concerns about the second consultation document, which has been accused of misleading the public over radioactive waste. By the time that the two Welsh nuclear power stations are fully decommissioned, they will have generated 150,000 cu m of radioactive waste in Wales alone—enough to fill 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Decisions will have to be made on where to store all that waste. Nuclear power is still unproven as regards waste disposal and whether it can be brought on quickly enough to combat climate change. It is a waste of money when compared with genuinely sustainable and clean forms of electricity generation. Putting millions of pounds into new nuclear power stations will stifle the growth of renewables, in which we need to see greater investment. We want an energy Bill that gives Wales a chance to say no to nuclear. The National Assembly should have the power to decide on new power projects and the Government should listen to the requests of the Assembly and have the courage to devolve that power to it. The Assembly should also have the power to put in place tougher building regulations in Wales to ensure that all new build must be built to higher levels of energy efficiency. I look forward to seeing such provisions in the Bill when it is published.
The Queen's Speech presented many other opportunities to devolve power to the National Assembly, but sadly it looks as though the Government plan to ignore them. The planning reform Bill is one such opportunity. As I understand it, the Bill will take planning decisions on major developments, such as new power stations and large-scale renewable energy developments, away from UK Ministers and put them in the hands of an infrastructure planning commission. The commission is likely to have two or three members from Wales, but decisions will still be made outside the country by an unelected, appointed body—a quango. Labour in Westminster has effectively ignored the request from the Assembly to devolve decisions on large energy projects. Where is Labour's commitment to devolution and local decision making?
Yet again, it is a major disappointment that there is no marine Bill in the Queen's Speech. We have been promised a Bill since 2002, and it was a manifesto commitment in 2005. Ministers finally published a White Paper in March, and progress is painfully slow. Labour has had plenty of time to get a Bill ready for the Queen's Speech, but it looks as though, yet again, we will see only a draft Bill, rather than the real thing. A marine Bill could devolve marine planning to the Assembly, creating a single spatial planning system so that Wales can make full use of its offshore energy potential and unique areas such as Cardigan bay get the environmental protection that they deserve.
While Ministers drag their heels on environmental issues, they rush to get more Home Office legislation on the statute book. The counter-terrorism Bill will be the 60th Home Office Bill since 1997, and so far new Labour has created more than 3,000 new offences. The contrast could not be more stark, and Ministers will have a tough task demonstrating that creating more criminal offences is a necessary and useful way to counter the terrorist threat.
The Prime Minister could have used his first Queen's Speech to make a dramatic statement on fairness in public spending throughout the UK by introducing legislation to reform the unfair Barnett formula. With the Assembly currently reviewing the formula, and given Lord Barnett's own public recognition that the formula is out of date, the time is right for a change. The crude population-based formula simply fails to take account of Wales's needs. On the key Government measure of poverty—gross value added—Wales performs more poorly than any other United Kingdom nation or region. We have a post-industrial legacy of ill health to cope with and a higher level of average mortality and cancer rates. Much of our population is spread over large rural areas with obvious consequences for public services on the cost of delivery.
Lord Barnett originally developed the formula as a temporary measure, but successive Governments have backed away from reviewing it as he envisaged and Wales has suffered the most from this unfair system. This new Government with a new Prime Minister have had over 130 days to review the formula and start consulting on change. If the Prime Minister believed in social justice, it should have been a priority for him to make a start on the process of reforming the formula as soon as he came to office, but we are still waiting.
On the theme of devolving further power and responsibility to Wales, several Bills could devolve framework powers to the Assembly to extend its competence in specific areas, such as the education and skills Bill, the health and social care Bill and the housing and regeneration Bill.
Last Session, the Further Education and Training Bill caused controversy when it failed to grant the Assembly the competence to give Welsh further education colleges the power to award foundation degrees. Many Welsh Members of Parliament were concerned that that was hidden in the Bill and that there was little time to debate the significant omission.
The Wales Office has now promised briefing sessions on future Bills that contain framework powers, and that is welcome. However, it would be helpful if it issued a written statement for each Bill that contains framework powers, giving details of the way in which the measure would extend the Assembly's competence. That would help us avoid the confusion that we experienced in the previous Session with the Further Education and Training Bill.
In this Session, the first legislative competence orders will come from the Assembly, but the protocol for the way in which Members of Parliament scrutinise the orders remains unclear. Any extension of the Assembly's powers is welcome but the process would have been far simpler if the Government had introduced a stronger Government of Wales Act in the first place, giving Wales the same powers as the Scottish Parliament rather than creating the current intricate and baffling system.
The Queen's Speech is silent on rural affairs. We recently had an adverse report from the Office of Fair Trading about the supermarkets' pricing of milk in 2001 to 2003. The Competition Commission's recent report advocated a consultation on establishing an ombudsman for the food trade. It would have been encouraging if the Government had mentioned in the Queen's Speech the possibility of setting up such a system, which would give more strength to the code to which supermarkets must adhere.
I want to speak briefly about two other important omissions from the Government's programme. A Liberal Government started the process of Lords reform in the Parliament Act 1911. In the previous Session, Members of Parliament overwhelmingly backed plans for an elected upper Chamber. The constitutional reform Bill must take forward the reform of the upper Chamber to make it fit for the 21st century.
The proposed pension Bill appears likely to stop short of taking the crucial step to reduce and end means-testing for the state pension. Wales's pensioners deserve a citizens pension, with a restored earnings link that guarantees a stable income for all and restores the incentive for people to save.
For those reasons and many others, I shall vote against the Queen's Speech.
It is important to remember that many of the men and women who stood on duty outside the House for the ceremony for the opening of Parliament today have just returned from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. Although the ceremony is rather ignored by the public, it is an important part of what we do. I pay tribute to the soldiers who made the ceremony what it was and performed to the highest professional standards.
Unfortunately, the Queen's Speech did not match those standards. I am always surprised to hear Her Majesty the Queen use a new Labour turn of phrase when she reads out the speech. It is getting better in her 10th year of reading it—she obviously likes phrases such as "inclusion", "step change" and "working in partnership". Doubtless it will be our privilege one day to ensure that her speech is of a slightly different tone.
I want to consider several Bills, which I believe to be important. The constitutional reform measure is clearly important, but the elephant in the room is the West Lothian question. I am a former Member of the Scottish Parliament and I therefore sat in a devolved Parliament at the beginning, in 1999. I am acutely aware of the constitutional settlement and that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I could discuss anything from hunting to education in my Parliament, as it was at the time. The people of Scotland had a choice—funnily enough, in a referendum, for which the Government provided—and more than 70 per cent. made the decision.
In this House, I am the second-class Member of Parliament; the second-class citizen. It is unfair of the Government to pretend that that is not the case. I cannot ask questions about hospital policy in Kirkcaldy, Paisley or anywhere else north of the border, but Members of this House who represent those constituencies can ask about hospital policy in my constituency. That democratic deficit and constitutional imbalance must be solved because I am a Unionist. I do not follow the end agenda of Angus Robertson and the Scottish National party. I do not want the United Kingdom to break up. I went into the Scottish Parliament as a Conservative and Unionist, to try to ensure that the United Kingdom was a stronger place.
I remember that the Government claimed that devolution would see off the nationalists. That was one of their main claims. The late Donald Dewar used to say that the nationalists would be finished with devolution. It is interesting that we have a First Minister in Scotland who is from the Scottish National party and that, if my understanding is correct, there is power sharing with a Welsh nationalist in the Welsh Assembly. The nationalists are certainly not dead; they are alive and kicking.
As the consequence of a vandalised constitution and an unfinished project, I see English nationalism on the rise, and I am not a nationalist; I am a Unionist. Unless we face those issues and try to find a solution, the Union will not last in its current form. To attack hysterically any offerings from the Opposition parties—from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives—as meaning the break-up of the Union is to raise the level of hysteria in a way that will only feed English nationalism and encourage the nationalists in Wales and Scotland to stoke it up. The Government need to be mature on the issue. There is a democratic deficit that must be put right, but the constitutional reform Bill simply skips that issue.
We do not know the details, although no doubt the Government will offer us regional grand committees as a sop, but that is not the solution. I implore the Government to be grown up about the debate in the next year. If they are not and if they are not prepared to discuss the whole United Kingdom, I fear that we will end up with a bodge job and we will be attacked for asking the West Lothian question. That is not surprising, because Scottish Labour, which I saw in action in the 1980s and 1990s, used to go round Scotland saying that everything from the Conservative Government was anti-Scottish. It did not say that the policies were against people from low-income backgrounds, or attack them on their merits or failings; it attacked them as anti-Scottish. Scottish Labour persuaded the Scottish people that anything that came out of Whitehall was, in the end, anti-Scottish. That is why the percentage voting for the Scottish National party is now about 30 per cent. Scottish Labour persuaded enough people in Scotland to think that perhaps independence is the right way to go.
Should the Conservative party come to power because we have more MPs in England, my fear is that the Scottish Labour party will resort to type and go back to its old ways, instead of saying, "Well, in the United Kingdom you take the rough with the smooth." In the 1970s the Wilson Government were, in effect, imposed on England by Labour MPs. Again today, the Labour majority is made up of Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs. We could easily spend our lives going round saying to the English, "It'd never happen, you know, if we just get rid of Scotland and Wales," but we do not say that. One has to take the rough with the smooth in the United Kingdom. The problem with the current devolution settlement is that it was peddled by saying, "You'd never get the Tories in Scotland if you had a Scottish Parliament," but the Government have not thought it through.
I hope that there are measures in the constitutional reform Bill to beef up pre-legislative scrutiny. One of the good things about the Scottish Parliament was that pre-legislative scrutiny was the de facto procedure. It was not in the hands of the Government to decide not to have it. I would like more of that. I would like a beefed-up Intelligence and Security Committee that has a power of investigation and is responsible to the House, not the Prime Minister. We will face more and more measures dealing with national security, so we need the confidence that the House has a handle on the security services and the agencies that will inevitably become ever more powerful. The Serious Organised Crime Agency is responsible to only one person, the Home Secretary, and is totally unaccountable to any democratic review. We must beef up the Intelligence and Security Committee.
This leads me to the proposed counter-terrorism Bill. It is amazing, given that the Government's proposals for longer detention without trial were rejected, that they have returned to the issue. They say that this is because more and more people say that they need to do so, but the evidence is not there yet. The Government have not presented any evidence that there are terrorists out there who need to be held for longer than 28 days without charge. We were told that control orders were going to be a great success, yet three of the 18 people being held under them have absconded, so they are not much cop. Why should we believe the Government this time if they could not get it right the first time?
I worked in counter-terrorism, and I can tell the House that locking people up without trial will lose the Government the consent of the community. Without that consent, they will not be able to recruit informers or to counter terrorism in the long run. Their proposals represent another short-term short cut, so that they can say that they are doing something about counter-terrorism. The United Kingdom already has the longest detention period without trial in the western world. We are the only ones doing this, so why do we want more? If the Government start to imprison people from the tight-knit Muslim communities in my constituency for longer periods, their sources will dry up. I have yet to see much evidence that suggests otherwise.
To be fair to the Government, they have not actually proposed a new time frame for such detention. The Home Affairs Select Committee is investigating this issue at the moment, and it is important that we should have a debate about it in the country before Parliament considers any new detention period.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing that out, but we have already had a debate, and the Government lost. A sizeable number of Members from his party voted against the Government. Nothing significant has changed since then. The county of Lancashire, which I represent, has a very high proportion of terrorist suspects and terrorist-traced individuals, but there is no evidence that the way to solve that problem in the long term, or even the medium term, is to start sweeping people into jail. I would be amazed to see a jury convict anyone on the strength of a confession or statement made after 90 days' detention without trial. I can just imagine a judge being told, "Well, your honour, after three months, he admitted it." I cannot see any jury convicting on that basis.
I will be interested to see the result of the Government's review of the admissibility of wire-taps as evidence. I know that there has also been a review of special branch, and of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which could certainly do with some fine-tuning.
The Government are proposing a Bill on the EU treaty. I am a European; I am pro-European Union. I was not old enough to vote on the issue the first time round—I was three, I think—but I certainly feel that we have now been promised a referendum. I remember attending the European convention on the treaty. I was a member of the Scottish Parliament's European Select Committee at the time. When the Labour Member who was on that convention says that she feels strongly that there should be a referendum, and that this is the same treaty by another name, it is important that the Government should honour that manifesto commitment.
What I find disingenuous is the nuclear option. The one thing that makes me a Eurosceptic is when people say, "Well, if you don't like it, you'll have to leave." We do not have to leave. We do not have to take what is on the table from the European Union. We can tell it to go back and think again, as the French and the Dutch did. If the treaty does not provide the policy solution that is right for the United Kingdom, we do not have to leave the European Union. We do not walk out of Parliament if we lose a vote on a Bill, saying that we are not coming back into the House of Commons again. The European Union is a forum in which member states should come together and agree on what they can agree on. It is trickery to treat the people of this country like fools and to say that it is all or nothing. It is not. The French and the Dutch knew that, and I am sure that the Irish and the Danish know it, because they often decide to send provisions back.
We should ensure that the Government honour their manifesto commitment. They made a promise to the people, which is important. I am a supporter of the European Union, so please do not insult my intelligence by making it the "all or nothing" option. My electorate will spot that; they will know that that is an insult; they already know that this is the same treaty. The only people who pretend that it is not are members of the Government.
Let me deal with something closer to home, which remains important. I hope that appropriate legislation will include measures to deal with it. I represent Lancaster and Wyre, which has the biggest concentration of residential park homes and holiday residences in the country. To give credit to the Government, they have been very supportive through their officials of my efforts to get at these rogue traders who run some of the parks. I have some excellent park homes in my constituency, but there are also some appalling ones. We need a licensing regime that is enforceable and can deal with the real crooks throughout the country who exploit vulnerable people by making them buy without proper contracts or by threatening to tow them off parks and so forth. Local authorities can be faced with one option: withdraw the licence and end up with 300 homeless people from those sites. Some of these individuals are real rogues and we need to deal with them. I had a summit, which Government officials attended, at Wyre borough council, but the gap in legislation is the problem. I hope that any Bill will include measures to say that this is an enforceable regime and that if rogue operators do not comply with it, their licences or livelihoods will be taken away.
Other manifesto commitments have still not been met. Generally, many speakers this evening have said that there is nothing new in the Queen's Speech. There is nothing exciting about it. For a Prime Minister who has spent 10, 12 or 15 years waiting for the day, it seems a rather boring programme. It is a programme brought to us by the Government's backroom boys, because the backroom boys of the past have now become the front-room boys: the Foreign Secretary, the Education Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development. They are wedded to the soundbite and the headline; they are not wedded to the delivery of policies. So much of what we have seen today is either a copy of other parties' policies or an attempt to put right their own policies without taking any of the bold steps that could or should be taken. There is not much new in any of this. If this is what the new Prime Minister bases his credibility on, I am afraid that it will be a pretty disappointing year for him—and even more disappointing at the polls.
Debate adjourned.— [Tony Cunningham.]
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.