Debate on the Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 6th December 2000.

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Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 9:15 pm, 6th December 2000

I have looked forward to contributing to this debate because the Queen's Speech contains four matters on which I have campaigned for some time. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) addressed some of the issues on leasehold and commonhold and was right to focus on people who have bought flats and houses from the public sector. That is a major issue. The Bill will be a step forward and will be welcomed, especially by my constituents.

The international criminal court is long overdue. The Government can take great pride in leading the way on that. As for the draft Bill on export controls, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington): if it means dealing with the recommendations of the Scott inquiry, I am all for it.

I also welcome the hunting Bill. It is a case not of whether hunting is right or wrong but of whether we fulfil the trust that the British people have placed in us to abolish it. It is crucial that we deliver on the perceived promise to abolish hunting with hounds. Many people are looking to us to do that. The Bill must not be shunted off into a Committee to die. It must make quick progress through the House in this Session.

Much has been made about the economy and how successful it is. My hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) talked about their constituencies, which are run down and have high unemployment, and the need for a stable economy. In Milton Keynes, we have low unemployment and high investment, but we also need a stable economy. The Government's economic policies are as important in a high-tech area with high employment as they are in areas such as Barnsley and Clydebank. There are training and skills shortages. The 15-year-olds who go into work with no qualifications need to be educated throughout their lives. We cannot assume that education stops at 16.

I hope that the Bill on special educational needs will address the fact that help for such people needs to go beyond the age of 16. Kids who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia need to be picked up much quicker in the system. I hope that the proposed Bill will tackle that.

There has been much talk about crime. In an area such as Milton Keynes, which has a high rate of stolen cars, the vehicle Bill will be a major step forward. I hope that it will begin to solve the problem. However, it is not just stolen cars that should concern us; we should also be worried about abandoned cars. We shall return to that crucial subject when the Bill is introduced.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Beckenham about the regulatory reform Bill. It is crucial that it is successful. It will introduce important and sensible ways to deal with regulation. I remember the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) promising to burn red tape in the previous Government, but instead they produced more regulations. Every time the Conservatives have proposed regulatory reform, which is shorthand for removing workers' rights and safety measures, they have delivered more regulation, not less. I do not want the Bill to be about deregulation; instead, I hope that it changes the nature of regulation so that it is understandable and simple. We have a fascination with dotting every i and crossing every t, from which I hope we can move away. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which considers about 3,000 measures each year—about the same number as under the previous Government—most of which are unintelligible. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who sits on the Committee with me, nods in agreement. The regulatory reform Bill will give us the opportunity to start the process of transforming regulations so that they are understandable.

We will be able to provide the light touch that will be needed as the economy changes. It is noticeable that the Government recognise that the economy is changing and that the days of heavy industry are over. We must move forward, and a light-touch regulatory approach is the right way forward. One of the key Bills to which I look forward is the regulatory reform Bill.

I welcome the fact that there will be a homes Bill. The word "crisis" trips off the tongue of some Conservative Members. I enjoyed the performance of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I did not agree with one word of it, but his performance was entertaining. The word "crisis" also trips off the tongues of editors of certain newspapers. There is a real crisis in housing. People are homeless and the Bill that the Government are proposing will be a major step forward. However, it will require the Government to recognise that major investment in public housing is necessary.

I welcome the proposed seller's pack. As someone who supported for a long time the idea of a housing log, I regret that it is not part of the proposals. The seller's pack and the issues that surround it—the state of houses and surveys to ensure that people know what they are buying—are important. That leads me on to ask what is to be done with houses that are in a state of disrepair. There are many houses, both new and old, in that condition. The issue is one that we neglect at our peril.

Like many others, I regret the fact that some Bills are not included in the Queen's Speech. I should have liked consumer legislation to be in it. I know that the Government will be doing quite a bit through secondary legislation, but I urge them to recognise that consumer legislation is critical and that we need to return to it.

We have been promised a communications White Paper, and I hope that there will be sufficient time for us to debate it. It will be about the changing economy, and it is important that we address the issues. Other issues include civil service reform, regional government and how we equip people for success in the new economy.

I suspect that we shall return to the rural issue after the general election. It should be remembered that all the things that we recognise as the legacy of the Thatcher years and most of the key Bills for which they are remembered came about in the second and third terms. In our second term, key legislative proposals will be introduced and I hope that some of the measures that I have mentioned, especially consumer legislation, will be at the heart of them.

I welcome the partnership approach, which is part of the social care proposals. It is not easy to operate partnerships and they are not a panacea for arriving at solutions. However, they can be used to try to break down the Berlin wall between social services and hospital trusts. It is important that we recognise that they need to work together to achieve that.

Like many Members, I am concerned about the future of community health councils. I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns that have been expressed and ensure that the Bill is amended accordingly. Many proposals in the social care Bill, such as direct payments and free nursing care, are to be welcomed. They will be of major benefit to my constituents and to the people of this country generally.