Before I call the mover and seconder, I want to announce the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address: Thursday 16 November—health and education; Monday 20 November—communities and local government, and environment, food and rural affairs; Wednesday 22 November—foreign affairs and defence; Thursday 23 November—home affairs and transport; Monday 27 November—Treasury, and work and pensions.
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.
I share this privilege with my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna). Her constituency makes Cardiff, South and Penarth sound curt, so I expect her to refer to the fact that my father’s family hails from Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant, that my mother was brought up in Ty’n y Felin near Llanfachraeth and that I was born in Bryngwran.
After years as a Minister speaking to an empty Chamber, it restores my confidence to have the enthusiastic attendance of so many colleagues and the rapt attention of those on both Front Benches. When I last spoke to an overflowing Chamber, both sides said that we were spending too much time on something that was not a priority for anyone. But they still poured in hour after hour, day after day, to debate the Hunting Bill. Thank goodness hunting has lost its political potency after most hunts discovered that they could have a good day’s sport without needing to chase a wild animal.
Speaking today is a particular pleasure at the start of a Session in which we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Co-operative party—the fourth largest party in the Chamber. It will be a forward-looking celebration because the co-operative ideal is a political principle whose time has come, and that is my theme today. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was very far-sighted when he embedded co-operative principles in Labour’s new clause IV, and they run like a golden thread through today’s Queen’s Speech. Global warming, international terrorism, globalisation, the pervasive presence of the internet and converged technology are political drivers that make co-operation—internationally, nationally and locally—the only alternative to chaos.
Today, I am especially conscious of standing in the shoes of Cledwyn Hughes, one of my predecessors as Secretary of State for Wales, who moved the Loyal Address in 1978 for my predecessor, Jim Callaghan. As a new Member of Parliament in 1987, the first note I received was from Cledwyn. It read:
“Croeso i bachgen arall o Ynys Mon! Tyrd I gael paned.”
Welcome to another boy from Anglesey! Come and have a cup of tea.
As a boy, Cledwyn travelled to school by bus with my Uncle Bob, who used to say that both of them made it to the House of Commons—Cledwyn inside as Secretary of State for Wales, and Uncle Bob outside as the policeman on St. Stephen’s entrance. Cledwyn was a lovely wise man, steeped in his local community, a passionate Welshman and above all a fighter for education, jobs and opportunity for “his” island. He was deeply proud when my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who shares those characteristics, won the seat in 2001.
Cledwyn would have applauded the fact that this Queen’s Speech promises partnership with the Welsh Assembly, and to devolve power to local communities—a radical development of the way in which have devolved power to Scotland, Wales and London. I mention Wales, with a population of less than 3 million, and London, with a population of more than 7 million, because devolution is not about nationalism or the break-up of the United Kingdom, but about good governance, delivery and engagement. Working with my constituency’s excellent Assembly Member, Lorraine Barrett, does not diminish my work as an MP. I can tell my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that together we achieve more than we could achieve alone.
At the Department of Trade and Industry, I worked closely with Rhodri Morgan to win six more years of European funding for Wales—delivered when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved agreement on the EU budget last December. They said that it could not be done. Our co-operation on objective 1 has enabled Wales to outperform many parts of the UK in recent economic growth.
On Saturday, at Welsh Labour’s conference, we agreed a vision for the future—radical, ambitious, confident and practical. What a contrast to the alternative: Conservatives, who opposed devolution, jumping into bed with nationalists who drag the Assembly down in pursuit of separatism. That is a marriage of inconvenience. Nothing unites them except hatred of Labour’s success in inspiring progress for the people of Wales.
However, the greatest privilege today is to be the 10th successive Labour MP to move this motion—the 10th successive warm-up act for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. By the way, my diary is currently free, so I can offer to do the same for the next Prime Minister, in 2016.
I hope that the Queen’s Speech will not be talked down by those on the Opposition Benches. The public are more impressed when the Opposition give credit where it is due, and a lot of credit is due. Since 1997, we have had a golden age of radical domestic legislation: the minimum wage—delivered after 100 years of campaigning—laws promoting social inclusion, education, enterprise, justice, child welfare and much, much more.
In my constituency, under the Conservatives a generation of young people were denied hope and opportunity, but since 1997, unemployment and long-term youth unemployment have both more than halved. Behind those statistics are individual young people standing tall, able to use their talents, able to be enterprising, able to have ambition.
I remember my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visiting Cardiff during the Labour leadership election in 1994. On the banks of Cardiff bay, I explained how the Cardiff bay barrage would transform the city. He looked puzzled, and said, “How can anybody oppose this?” Now Cardiff is exciting and as confident as any city in Europe. It is good to celebrate that success today, in enterprise week.
I also welcome the clear focus of the Queen’s Speech on cutting crime and disorder in local communities. We should ignore the media nonsense about an antisocial behaviour order being seen as a badge of pride. For me, it is a badge of pride to have invented ASBOs. They work, so the Opposition, who oppose them nationally, fall over themselves to claim credit locally.
The ASBO is a simple concept that addresses the fact that laws often fail to prevent what they forbid. Our courts may be good at deciding who stabbed the butler in the billiard room, but they fail to deal with a moving picture of disorder and petty crime, which destroys communities. So, on the civil burden of proof, we can now show that nuisance exists. We give the offender an ASBO saying, “Just stop it. Breach it, and the punishment will be swift and sure. But behave yourself and you’ll hear no more.” There is no conviction to reduce employment chances, and less nuisance for the neighbours. All it needs is the application of common sense by everyone.
This process works, as long as everybody plays their part in following up ASBO breaches briskly, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to put the Crown Prosecution Service in charge of the whole process, so that the benefits are delivered consistently everywhere.
The Queen’s Speech promises to protect victims, and I hope that the courts are listening, because since 2003 the Attorney-General has referred 341 lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. In 231 of those cases, the sentence was increased. That is a 68 per cent. success rate, when it had to be shown that the sentence was not just “unduly lenient”, but “unreasonably” so. That is not a politician’s criticism of the judiciary; that is appeal judges saying that the sentences were not acceptable.
In other cases, I want the courts to make more use of the community sentences that the Government have provided. In one project, I saw young women having drug treatment and bringing their babies with them, breaking the cycle of despair and drugs and prostitution. Common sense is—[Interruption.]
Order. I read out a statement saying that hon. Members—in this case, a right hon. Member—should be heard. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) should be heard. There is an awful lot of conversation going on, and that is unfair.
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
Common sense is needed to complement the co-operative approach that is at the heart of crime reduction partnerships, in order to deliver the genuine and long-held determination of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
The new challenge is e-crime. The UK has led the way in cutting dramatically the child abuse sites hosted in this country, through a co-operative approach involving business, police, children’s charities and Government. We now need a fresh approach to e-crime in general, and I urge the Prime Minister to use the expertise among Members of Parliament as a resource to tackle those issues.
The other side of that coin is information. I hope that both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will accelerate the work of Directgov, which is now seen internationally as a model. People do not seek information in departmental silos, and we can go further, linking in the StartHere model to create a single democratic access point to information from Government, local services and the third sector, even for the digitally challenged. That sort of co-operation is essential to promote civil society.
I am confident that the Government are on the right lines, and that I am pushing at an open door. I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to exploring the potential of co-operation and the wider third sector, ahead of the spending review. An excellent Treasury team is pursuing those issues. The real challenge is to embed an understanding of the third sector in the warp and weave of the whole Government machine.
That is why I applaud the Prime Minister’s decision to create the Office of the Third Sector. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) has made a great start. He has shown respect to the independence of the third sector, and the sector has responded. I chair the Third Sector Network, which has brought together umbrella organisations from across social enterprise, voluntary and community organisations, trusts and the co-operative movement to work to identify common values. That builds on the pioneering work launched by the Prime Minister back in 1994. All those umbrella organisations will now have to carry back the debate to their memberships across the country.
I am proud of what the Government have achieved. Working for this Prime Minister has been a privilege. The Queen’s Speech shows that our determination to continue improving the lives of people in this country is undiminished. In today’s Queen’s Speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gives us a clear mandate, which I would summarise as follows: be bold, be radical, be inclusive, be co-operative.
It is an honour and a privilege, not only for me but for my constituency, to be asked to second the Loyal Address. I must admit that it is a bit of a surprise. My understanding was that an experienced Back Bencher moved the motion and a young, up-and-coming MP seconded it. I have been called many things in this Chamber, some of them even complimentary, but “young” and “up-and-coming” were certainly not among them.
I know that 60 is the new 30, but I did not think that that applied here. There is only a two-year gap between my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and me, and I would prefer not to say which way the gap lies. I have been assured that asking me to second the Loyal Address is nothing to do with the recent legislation outlawing age discrimination, and that it was simply time for a change. Whatever the reason, I am incredibly honoured.
It is also an honour to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the House. We share a Celtic background. We both came to Parliament having been councillors in local government. He has five children and I have four, so the two of us, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, are doing our bit to fund future pensions. We also share a belief in giving the people of Wales and Scotland a greater say in their own decisions within a strong United Kingdom. That has been one of this Government’s most far-reaching and radical successful reforms.
My family, I believe, is typical of the British family today. I had an Irish father and a Scottish mother. I have a brother-in-law of Italian origin. I have two English daughters-in-law, and I have three English grandchildren. They, and the families that came to make up the mix, are of the United Kingdom today. I believe that most people have no problem with saying that they are British, and Welsh, and Scottish, and English, and Irish—and I believe that the parties that want to separate us artificially have got it completely wrong.
On the basis of my experience in Cumbernauld, I know that people want Members of Parliament, and politicians generally, who work hard and listen to them, and do not simply indulge in gesture politics. I joined the Labour party in 1967, when I moved from Glasgow—a city that I still love—and discovered that there was no child care provision. Within a few years, another young woman moved to the constituency and became active locally. We eventually went on to become chair and secretary of the constituency party. In 1979, Labour took what was then the parliamentary seat from the Scottish National party. Norman Hogg was elected, and later his successor. I went on to become leader and provost of the council, and the other young woman went on to a distinguished career in the voluntary sector. To our great delight, we were elected to Parliament together on the same day in 1997. I refer, of course, to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire). Some Members find it difficult to tell the two of us apart, which we find highly amusing. We can only put it down to the fact that we are both wee, somewhat round, Scottish feisty women. If we include my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), we can cause real chaos.
It is a special honour for me to speak today, on the occasion of the Prime Minister’s last Queen's Speech. Like many others here, I was elected on the day that he led our party to a landslide victory, and have benefited from his leadership in two elections. He has been the most successful leader of our party, and I believe that he will go on to be considered one of the most successful Prime Ministers we have ever had.
One of the privileges of maturity is not being regarded as one of the “Gie’s a job” tendency. I was amazed to find myself christened one of Blair’s babes—although I must admit that I am not sure that that would survive the challenge of the Trade Descriptions Act, let alone the tough consumer protection legislation being introduced this year.
Throughout my political life I have campaigned for equality of opportunity for all, high-quality affordable child care for working families and improved representation for women in politics. I am proud that in all those areas our Government have delivered. Any legislature must look like the people whom it represents. That was one of the reasons I was delighted to be elected in 1997, when action by the Labour party gave us more black and ethnic minority Members, and more than 100 women in Parliament. Indeed, it is a fact that the very first achievement of this Labour Government was to install a coin-operated tights machine. Now, that—as I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, as an occasional tights-wearer—is progress.
Today, of course, is an honour not just for me but for the constituency of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East. It is right in the heart of Scotland and it is made up of the villages that run along the Campsie hills—Banton, Croy, Queenzieburn, Twechar, Lennoxtown and Milton of Campsie—as well as part of the town of Kirkintilloch, which I share with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the town of Kilsyth and the new town of Cumbernauld. I see a bit of panic above me, so perhaps now would be a good time to assure the Hansard writers that my notes are to hand.
It is a constituency of contrasts, visually and culturally: the traditional villages and towns with their mining backgrounds, fiercely proud, with the beautiful backdrop of the hills, and the new town on the opposite hill, with its modern architecture, which is not always beautiful—but it is looking forward with great pride to the 50th anniversary of its creation next year.
One of our new claims to fame is football. We have, of course, many different sporting successes in boxing—in which we have had world and European champions—gymnastics and wrestling, to name but three. At one end in Cumbernauld, we have the home of Clyde, whose exciting young team just failed to win the Challenge cup on penalties on Sunday. At the other end of the constituency at Lennoxtown, there is the new Celtic training ground, and in Twechar it is hoped to establish a football facility with that other great Glasgow team—Partick Thistle.
I am immensely proud to represent all that. It is a constituency full of decent, hard-working families. It is the people and their sense of community that I see in every area, and that make it a great place to live and to work. I am proud that the Labour Government have played such a big role in improving life for my constituents and thousands like them through a stable economy, tax credits, full employment and superb education, delivered through the Labour-led Scottish Executive as well as North Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire councils. There is hope for the future, where nine years ago there was deep resentment, lack of opportunity, widespread poverty and unemployment.
I am particularly pleased that the Queen’s Speech contains measures to continue repaying our debt to the older generation, and perhaps as a pensioner I suppose I had better declare an interest here. I believe that the Bill to overhaul and to modernise the pension system, and especially to ensure a fairer deal for women, will be welcomed across the land. It will also re-establish the link with earnings; I am just old enough to remember the last time that was fashionable. It is another indication of how the Government are working hard to extend security, prosperity and opportunity for all. It was with the hope that I might deliver such solid improvements that that I joined the Labour party 39 years ago.
I doubt that our new young women MPs would encounter the kind of prejudice that those of us who came here in 1997 and before did. In my maiden speech, I told the House this true story: three new Scottish MPs went to view a flat and hailed a taxi to bring us back to the House of Commons—and the driver asked us, “Are you all the wives of MPs then?” He got his answer—and I doubt that he asked the question again. Even better, I doubt that anyone would ask that question today, and that in itself is a sign of progress.
I am honoured to commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
Before I go on to comment on the proposer and seconder of the Gracious Speech, I wish to pay tribute to the four service men and women who were killed in Basra on Sunday, Lee Hopkins, Sharron Elliott, Ben Nowak and Jason Hylton. I also pay tribute to Jamie Hancock, who was killed in Basra last week. Our thoughts are with their families. They died serving our country and we honour their memory.
I also pay tribute to those Members of the House who have left us since the last Gracious Speech. Patsy Calton lost her courageous fight with cancer shortly after the general election last year. In spite of her illness, she came back to the House to continue her work and none of us will forget her bravery in doing so. Rachel Squire will be sorely missed by Members on both sides of the House and by her constituents. I believe the whole House will miss Peter Law. As a Labour man for decades, he will be fondly remembered on the Government side of the House; for overturning one of the biggest Labour majorities in the whole country, in the seat of Michael Foot and Nye Bevan, he will be fondly remembered on this side.
Since the last Gracious Speech, the House has lost two of its greatest champions in Eric Forth and Robin Cook. It was a measure of Robin Cook’s effectiveness that, on this side, we can still remember his brilliant attack on the arms to Iraq issue, and who on the Government side of the House can forget his withering criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq?
My first job in Parliament was as Eric Forth’s deputy. I remember being summoned to his office to find that while he was not there, a life-size cut-out of Elvis Presley was. One never knew quite what to expect with Eric. Once again, both sides of the House have cause to remember him. He had complete scorn for everything done by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and only a little bit less than complete scorn for everything done by me. We will all miss him.
Let me congratulate the proposer and the seconder of the Loyal Address on their speeches. I thought that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) demonstrated some wonderful pronunciation that I will not even attempt to follow. He told us about the Co-operative party. The right hon. Gentleman will not have seen it, but at that moment the Prime Minister turned to look at him but his gaze fell on the Chancellor. I am not sure that the word “co-operative” was the first thing that came into the Prime Minister’s head.
Some have said, unfairly, that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth lacks charisma. After his speech today, I say that I profoundly disagree. He may not actually look like it, but the right hon. Gentleman is the Labour party’s answer to Tom Cruise; he is always being sent on mission impossible. The Prime Minister sent him to Wales as the Downing street choice for First Minister. Nobody told him that the job would self-destruct in about ten seconds. I think he was the first Minister in history whose resignation was announced by the Leader of the Opposition during Prime Minister’s questions.
No sooner had the right hon. Gentleman stepped free from the wreckage than he was sent on mission impossible II. As the countryside rose in revolt and anger and as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, he was made Minister for Rural Affairs. The right hon. Gentleman should take heart. He has always been called for when the Government have faced a crisis; I think, today, his career opportunities must be almost limitless.
I also congratulate the seconder of the Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna). It was an excellent and witty speech, and an important one about the role of a Member of Parliament. It also passed two vital tests for me and the Prime Minister; it was on-message and it spoke about his legacy. The only trouble was that the message was that it was time for a change, with which I wholly agree, and the legacy was that we now have a tights machine in the House of Commons.
I have done my research. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East is a staunch Blairite and I gather that her favourite album is “Saturday Night Fever”. When the Chancellor takes over, for staunch Blairites like her “Staying Alive” will not just be a song on their iPod; it will be a daily challenge. [Interruption.] It is good to see the Prime Minister and the Chancellor talking together; a good moment.
The proposer and the seconder have upheld the traditions of the House and I congratulate them both.
There are things in this Gracious Speech that we very much welcome; in fact, we proposed some of them. I am delighted that the Government are going to link the basic state pension to earnings; we had that in our last manifesto. The Treasury has finally been forced to make the provision of statistics independent—again, a Conservative proposal. There is also the Climate Change Bill; that has been proposed over and again by the Conservatives, and opposed by the Prime Minister. I am delighted that it is in the Queen’s Speech. I hope that it will be a proper Bill, and not a watered-down Bill. Government have got to give a lead by setting a proper framework; that must mean an independent body with annual targets and an annual report from Government on its progress.
Let me turn to foreign policy. I welcome the specific mention of Darfur in the Gracious Speech; the Prime Minister will be acutely aware that what is happening there is a political crisis and a humanitarian disaster, which is now crossing international borders. Much of our discussion on the Gracious Speech will inevitably be on Iraq and Afghanistan. I supported both actions, I support both democratically elected Governments, and I support the troops and the work that they are doing. What matters now is that, with our allies, we take the right actions to maximise the chances for stability and progress in both countries.
Having been to Afghanistan, I have seen for myself the extraordinary work that our troops are doing as part of a NATO operation—now involving 37 countries—that is backing a democratically elected Government, entrenching stability, ensuring development and thwarting the Taliban. Those are legitimate British interests, and I hope that the Prime Minister will tell the House in his speech today how those efforts will be better equipped and, with our allies, strategically reinforced.
We have a profound interest in preventing Iraq from sliding further into bloodshed, and so does the wider world. The options are stark. Simply cutting and running would cause mayhem, but the prospect of an open-ended commitment serves neither Iraq’s interests nor our own—and, anyway, it is simply not practical. There are no easy options. Militarily, we must do all we can to build up the Iraqi army, and, diplomatically, we need to involve the regional powers.
While there is merit in contact with Syria and Iran—after all, the whole point of diplomacy is to talk to countries well beyond the sphere of our traditional friends—it is on the moderate Arab Governments that our efforts should concentrate. Their support for stability in Iraq is what we most need, and the key to securing that support is a fresh and unremitting push to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I hope that the Prime Minister will press President Bush to use America’s influence to the full to achieve that, as well as enlisting the support of Europe. Taking those steps and maximising stability is the right background for bringing our troops home, but we should not set an artificial timetable. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to tell us today how he hopes to make progress towards achieving those goals.
I also hope that, during the course of the coming Session, the Government will think again about how we can best ensure that the lessons are learned from that conflict. After the Falklands war, a committee of privy counsellors carried out that task in the Franks report; the same should happen again.
On Northern Ireland, we back the efforts to restore power sharing and devolution. We are clear that if that is going to succeed, Sinn Fein must support the police, the courts and the rule of law—and it can start by telling its supporters to co-operate with the police investigation into the brutal murder of Robert McCartney. When people look back at the Prime Minister’s time in office, they will give him enormous credit for his unstinting efforts to bring peace in Northern Ireland.
This will be the Prime Minister’s last Gracious Speech; indeed, it will be the 13th time that the Prime Minister has taken part in a Queen’s Speech debate as either Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister. Many members of his party are, I know, relieved that he is going, but they are not half as relieved as we are. I have to say to the Prime Minister that I did check that he was going before I applied for the job.
A couple of days ago, the Prime Minister and I were talking about his first response to a Gracious Speech of 12 years ago—yes, the Chancellor has been sitting where he is sitting now, scowling and waiting, for that long. I have read that speech from 1994, and so should the Prime Minister, because back then, when he was Leader of the Opposition, he said:
“Millions of people are desperate for changes in the Child Support Agency”,
yet today, under his Government, that situation is more chaotic than ever. Twelve years ago, as Leader of the Opposition, he said that the pension system was a scandal, yet it is his Government who have taken from every pension fund in the country. Twelve years ago, as Leader of the Opposition, he said that the Government
“are so riven by faction…that they cannot address the interests of the country”.—[Official Report, 16 November 1994; Vol. 250, c.14-15.]
What better description could there be of our Government today?
The tragedy of this Prime Minister is that he promised so much, and yet has delivered so little. The tragedy of this Queen’s Speech is that all that his successor offers is more of the same: more laws on crime, yet violent crime is up; more laws on health, yet hospitals have closed; more laws on immigration, yet our borders are still completely out of control. Every year, the same promises; every year, the same failures.
The paradox of new Labour is that, 12 years on, the Prime Minister is still desperately looking for his legacy. Three massive majorities, a decade in power, 10 Gracious Speeches and 370 pieces of legislation, and the question that they have to answer is: why has so little been achieved? It is because they have put headlines above delivery; they believe in centralised power, not social responsibility; and all too often, they pass laws just to make political points, rather than to deliver real change.
This Queen’s Speech is no different. It is so repetitive and hollow that people feel they have heard it all before, and it is so depressing that they might think that the Chancellor had already taken over. The Labour party gave the game away when it said that it is all about smoking out the Opposition. That is what it said—it is not about keeping hospitals open or keeping the streets safe; it is about trying to keep a tired and discredited Labour party in power, and the truth is that it has failed to deliver.
Nowhere is this failure to deliver more clear than in the two vital areas of health and crime. Nine years ago, the Prime Minister claimed that there were 24 hours to save the NHS, yet today, 20,000 jobs are being cut in the health service. The Government never had a clue how to reform the health service. They scrapped GP fundholding; now, they are bringing it back. They abolished the internal market; now, they are bringing it back. [Interruption.] The Health Secretary shakes her head, but she is the one who said that the health service had had its best ever year. We have had 16 Acts and nine reorganisations. Health authorities that were abolished are being brought back again. Community health councils were scrapped and patients forums were brought in; barely are they up and running when they are all being abolished.
Morale has been sapped and money wasted, and deficits are at record levels. The chief medical officer tells us that in public health there are
“declining numbers and inadequate recruitment, and budgets being raided to solve financial deficits”.
The Royal College of Nursing says that staff are being placed under intolerable and unsustainable pressure, and the chairman of the British Medical Association says that he is dismayed by what he calls the
“incoherence of current Government policies”.
So much for 24 hours to save the NHS! All over the country, we are seeing departments closed, hospitals threatened and staff being sacked. To paraphrase a former leader of the Labour party, we have ended up with the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government—a Labour Government—scuttling around the country handing out redundancy notices to their own NHS staff. No wonder they are not trusted any more on the NHS.
Failure on health is matched by failure on crime. After nine years, every part of our criminal justice system is in a shambles. The chairman of the Youth Justice Board—let us listen to him—says that the juvenile system is in danger of meltdown. The chief inspector of prisons says that the system is approaching breaking point. The Lord Chancellor—the man in charge of the whole legal system—says that there is “general chaos”. Even the Home Secretary says that the probation service is poor and mediocre, the immigration service is dysfunctional; and the Home Office is not fit for purpose. Just today, we have found that Islamic extremists are apparently working in the immigration department. Hizb ut-Tahrir are banned Egypt; in Britain, they seem to be running our immigration policy. Now, we have the extraordinary sight of the Chancellor and the Home Secretary squabbling about how best to make this the election-winning issue for Labour at the next election. If they think that they can win an election on this record, let us get on with it.
We have had 50 Home Office Bills, some of which were completely contradictory. Let us take just one Act—the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. Six years on, 110 provisions are not in force. Seventeen were repealed even before the Act was brought in, and another 39 have been repealed subsequently. The Government like to talk tough, but they have just been acting dumb. That is the story of this Government.
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s party’s voting record in Parliament in the past nine years on criminal measures and his being soft on crime, may I suggest that he take Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” off his iPod and instead put on Bob Dylan’s—he is a fan of Bob Dylan—“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”?
As the Prime Minister might have said, the hon. Gentleman has been practising that one in the mirror for a little too long.
Look at the mess today—there are paedophiles in bail hostels, dangerous criminals in open prisons and 1,000 criminals released from prison who should have been deported. The Chancellor now tells us that he will guarantee security in a dangerous world. He told us that he would freeze the assets of terrorists, but he cannot even stop Abu Hamza from playing the property market, with public money, when he is sitting in Belmarsh prison. The Government talk about security, but it is their bungling incompetence that has made people feel so insecure.
At the beginning of his time in office, the Prime Minister offered the country hope that he would tackle the causes of crime, but as we look at the measures placed before the House today, all we can see is a complete betrayal and debasement of that vital agenda. There is nothing about family breakdown or addiction and dependency. The Prime Minister has simply given up on the causes of crime. All we are offered is a set of eye-catching initiatives that last about as long as a news bulletin. We have had night courts, weekend prisons and even ASBOs for unborn children—all launched in a great blaze of publicity, and all scrapped.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor started out wanting to save the NHS and tackle the causes of crime, but they ended up closing hospitals and closing their minds on crime. They started with hope, now there is just fear; they started with ambition, now there is just a poverty of vision.
The Prime Minister is going to introduce the Queen’s Speech, but he will not be around to see it through. There is going to be a new—[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister will not be around to see this Queen’s Speech through. There is going to be a new power in the land. We have been lucky to have a unique insight—I think that the Home Secretary will enjoy this—from one of Britain’s leading character actors, Keith Allen, about what to expect. [Hon. Members: “Who?”] The House should wait and find out. Keith Allen is playing the sheriff of Nottingham in the BBC’s new drama “Robin Hood”. He describes his character as having a calculating political mind that will stop at nothing:
“The sheriff is a sociopath…he sees himself as a future dictator of England…I’ve based him on Gordon Brown”.
The Chancellor should not be upset. He got booed at the music awards last night, but what is worse than that is that people were chanting, “Bring back Tony!” We should not expect anything different from the Chancellor. If the problem with the Government is short-term gimmicks, politically motivated laws and failed centralisation, the Chancellor is not the solution—he is the biggest part of the problem. [Interruption.] Whatever happened to British day, when we were meant to put flagpoles on our lawns? It disappeared without a trace. What happened to the Chancellor’s e-university, which was meant to link communities together? No one uses it. What happened to his national tour, which was launched with such fanfare? It never happened.
Last December, the Chancellor promised us a comprehensive report on the financing of terror. I would have thought that Government Members would be interested in a report on the financing of terror. Almost a year later, nothing has happened. All those examples are typical hallmarks of the Chancellor. When it comes to centralisation, it is the Chancellor and the Treasury that have complicated the tax system, confused the benefits system and virtually bankrupted the pensions system.
Today, the Government are promising action on immigration. We have now had 10 Gracious Speeches from the Government, and this is the fourth time that they have promised to tackled immigration, the fifth time that they have promised to tackle antisocial behaviour and the seventh time that they have promised to reform the House of Lords. All they are offering is more of the same, but nothing ever happens. People have heard it all before and they do not believe it any more. All that we will get from the Chancellor is a darker shade of fail.
The hon. Gentleman should be patient. As I have said, the only good ideas in the Queen’s Speech are our ideas. The Climate Change Bill, the point system on immigration, using proper methods for teaching children how to read—those were all Conservative proposals, and they are all being implemented by Labour. The Queen’s Speech should have been about the long term, the national interest, and about trusting people and not centralising power. We need an NHS independence Bill that gives responsibility to professionals in the health service. We need a communities Bill that gives local people control over money spent in their area. We need to build a stronger economy by trusting business, with cuts in regulation and simple taxes. Action on climate change, backing Britain’s families, real improvements in the health service and real standards in our schools—the Conservative party is leading the debate in all those areas.
Today, there is a new dividing line in British politics between hope and fear. This was the Prime Minister’s last chance to offer hope for a better society, but instead he chose fear, to try to cover up his failures. It is the politics of fear from a Government of failure. In place of this exhausted Labour Government, we need a fresh Conservative party and a Conservative Government who offer change, optimism and hope.
Mr. Speaker, before I come to my speech, let me just say to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who talked about 12 years ago, that I remember 12 years ago; our economy had just been through two recessions caused by the Conservative Government. Today we have the strongest economy, the lowest unemployment, the lowest inflation and the lowest interest rates. I remember that, 12 years ago, we had thousands of people waiting 18 months, and that was just on an in-patient list. Now, we are on the way to an 18-week maximum target for in and out-patients. I remember that 12 years ago we had kids being taught in crumbling school buildings. I remember, 12 years ago, a Conservative Government who had doubled crime. He is talking about hope, but let me just tell him something about hope. Hope is not built on talking about sunshine, any more than antisocial behaviour is combated by “love”. Hope is what a strong economy gives us; hope is what investment in the NHS and schools gives us. Hope means proper measures to tackle the long-term challenges. Hope, true hope, is about tough decision making, and the right hon. Gentleman has never taken a tough decision in his life. Now for my speech—[Interruption.] I may be going out, but on that performance, he is not coming in.
Before I begin, and after that little interlude, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending—as the right hon. Gentleman did, very properly, at the beginning of his speech—our condolences to the families and friends of the five service personnel killed in Iraq in recent weeks: Kingsman Jamie Hancock, Warrant Officer Lee Hopkins, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, Corporal Ben Nowak and Marine Jason Hylton. Our thoughts are also with the families of the three servicemen who were injured in Sunday’s attack. They were doing an essential job for the security of Iraq and the wider world, and we owe them a profound debt of gratitude. Remembrance Sunday took on a special significance for the country at this time, in respect of our losses in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers are not just with the families of those who have fallen, but with all those who serve in our armed forces in difficult fields of conflict today.
Obviously, I will join fully in the tributes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), but before I do so, let me pay tribute to those Members of Parliament of all parties who have passed away since the last Queen’s Speech, and I fully join in and endorse the tributes of the right hon. Member for Witney. Patsy Calton, Robin Cook, Rachel Squire, Peter Law and Eric Forth may not have had much in common in their political views, or indeed in their length of service in the House, but what they did all have in common was the high regard in which they were held, both by their constituents and by colleagues on all sides of the House.
The House will, I hope, understand if I single out Robin Cook, however. Whatever our disagreements over Iraq, he was an extraordinary talent, a brilliant debater, a fearless and determined advocate of progressive causes and perhaps the greatest parliamentarian of his generation. He is still sorely missed.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East for proposing and seconding the Queen’s Speech. I think the Leader of the Opposition is right: there are probably few people to whom I owe more than my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, having given him one hospital pass after another in the course of his very distinguished career. Indeed, given some of the tasks that he has been asked to perform on my behalf, if when the call came through from No. 10 he had refused to take it, it would have been understandable.
First, my right hon. Friend did a difficult job in very difficult circumstances in respect of Wales. I pay tribute, too, to the tremendous skill, patience and, at times, personal courage with which he tried to find a way through the various difficulties in respect of the hunting ban, not least trying to persuade the Countryside Alliance that it would be not so bad. In addition, he did something that is really worth remembering—he mentioned it in his speech. I remember very well the occasion when he took me down to Cardiff bay and showed me the possibilities there. It was thanks to his vision and due to his work that Cardiff bay was developed in that way. The development has brought in hundreds of millions of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs, and he deserves tremendous credit for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East is, by comparison with my right hon. Friend, a relative newcomer to the House, but there is nothing recent about her record of fighting for Scotland and for devolution, which she has done throughout her political life. It was fitting that she made her maiden speech in the House during the debate on the Bill on referendums for a Scottish Parliament and a National Assembly for Wales, but as she rightly said, she has been equally determined about the representation of women in politics. I am sorry that she had to go through the indignity of being designated one of the Blair babes, but the other day I had a look at the photograph of us all in 1997 and if it is any consolation to her she has aged considerably better than me.
The theme of the Queen’s Speech is taking the long-term decisions necessary to give us security and opportunity in a rapidly changing world. Such pace of change is transforming the nature of the challenges we face—challenges for our economy through globalisation, for our environment through climate change, in respect of our security through terrorism and mass migration, and of our demography through an ageing population, which in a few years will have more people over the age of 64 than under the age of 16 for the first time in the country’s history. This is also of course against the background of our continuing involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let me say on both those issues that the situation is obviously very difficult. There are immense challenges in both countries, but I believe that it is important that we hold firm, that we show strength, that we stand up to the forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq that are trying to prevent those countries from getting the democracy their people so obviously want.
In respect of Iraq, it is important that we make sure there is a broad-based and non-sectarian Government and, as I explained the other night at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, it is also important that we fill the gaps that there still are in the equipping, training and capability of the Iraqi armed forces. At present in Basra, for all the difficulties, an operation is going on that the British armed forces are supporting—the bomb the other day was designed to stop that operation working. The operation is being led by the Iraqi forces and they are doing it well, and it is of vital importance that our forces remain in support so that the proper authorities in Basra are in full control of the city.
Whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, there are exactly the same issues in both countries: on one side, they are countries where after years of failed and brutally oppressive Governments they are trying to put a democracy on its feet; and on the other side, there are those who by terrorism are trying to destroy that possibility. As I have said on many occasions, our task is to stand firm with the democrats against the terrorists.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the reason opinion is moving away from our continued position in Iraq is that there seems to be no progress on security whatever? There is a feeling that next year, the year after or in many years to come, the position will remain the same as it is now. Is not there a case for an urgent reassessment of our position in that country, given the number of people who are being slaughtered daily and given that the occupation in no way prevents either that or the killing of our own armed forces personnel?
I think that the best answer to that was given the other day by the Iraqi Prime Minister, who said that the Iraqi capability was building the entire time. For example, people will remember that a couple of weeks ago, in Alamara, the police and the armed forces of Iraq were at first overrun by Shi’a extremists, but within the next 48 hours the Iraqi forces—admittedly with the British in reserve support—retook the city. Actually, throughout the south of the country, we can see how, progressively, we are able to withdraw from our forward positions as the Iraqi capability takes on greater significance and greater capacity.
I have to say to my hon. Friend that I think at the moment it would be very damaging—this is why it is so important and so helpful for the House to send out as united a position as possible. The single most important thing is not to send any signal to the enemy that we are fighting that our will or determination will be undermined by the difficulties that we face.
On that point, in response to the Prime Minister's video contribution to the Baker commission reassessing American strategy in Iraq, the White House said that the Prime Minister’s strategy was not new and was similar to President Bush’s policy. Is it not new, is it similar to President Bush’s policy, and is there any exit strategy at all?
The strategy is to go when our job is done. That job is important because if we end up in a situation where we allow those people—the same elements that are fuelling extremism right around the region—to have victory, through terrorism, in Iraq or Afghanistan it is not just a tragedy for those two countries but a tragedy for the security of the world, including this country. September 11 came out of Afghanistan, exactly the same elements that are in Iraq today fuelling the terrorism—[Interruption.] I have to educate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Al-Qaeda is in Iraq, carrying out suicide missions and I believe that our task is to stand up to those terrorists—not, as he would, give in to them. I also, incidentally, fully agree with what the right hon. Member for Witney said about the wider middle east, and of course it is important that we take that seriously.
Before the Prime Minister moves on from terrorism, if the head of the security forces is right that there are so many people in this country that represent a potential threat, why is evidence not collected and why are they not brought to trial?
Of course we collect evidence and we do bring them to trial. But for the very reason that we introduced stronger measures on terrorism—at a time when, if I remember, I was accused of scaremongering when I said that this was a severe problem in the country—we have to consider measures again now, precisely because of that threat. I hope that we can put together measures that will be based on the advice of the police and the security services, and that if we do bring forward those measures, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will support them this time.
I thank the Prime Minister for his generosity. I think most of us would accept, with regard to policy on Iraq, that it would be wrong to cut and run and that that would only compound the original error, but does he not accept that it is not a sign of weakness or division for this House properly to debate the future of Iraq at a time when we are getting different messages from different policy makers, whether it is splitting the country up into three by the Foreign Secretary, enforcing a national compact by the President, or involving Iran and Syria? Will the Prime Minister now grant this House a full debate about the future of Iraq?
First, let me make it clear—we do not want there to be any danger of people misunderstanding the Government’s policy—Government policy is not to partition Iraq into three; that would be quite disastrous and the Foreign Secretary certainly did not say that. Secondly, let me just tell the hon. Gentleman that although he may regard removing Saddam Hussein as an error, I do not.
In relation to climate change, the Stern review removed any lingering doubts about the threat that we face. It also added a new dimension: the costs of not intervening now vastly outweigh the costs of action. But we know that the only solution is, ultimately, through international action. That is why the G8 plus five initiative begun at Gleneagles is so pivotal in getting a strong and effective post-2012, post-Kyoto agreement soon. It is why the European trading system and co-operation in the European Union is also essential. The groundbreaking agreement that the United Kingdom has recently pioneered with the state of California shows that around the world—particularly, indeed, in the United States—the mood is shifting towards more radical action. It is right that we reflect that shift here.
We are one of the few countries in the world to meet—in fact, to double—our Kyoto targets, and our leadership position on the issue is clear. We must retain it, but I have to say to the right hon. Member for Witney that we need to retain it while acting sensibly. After all, the UK is responsible for only 2 per cent. of total global emissions. If we shut down the whole of the UK’s emissions—shut off all our electricity tomorrow—the growth in just China’s emissions would eliminate the effect in less then two years. Without an international agreement, we will never make proper progress on this issue.
The Bill that we propose will put in legislation a long-term UK target for emissions and it will establish, as we have said, an independent body, the carbon Committee, to work with the Government, and it will take further powers to implement the energy review. It will also include interim targets, but not annual targets. Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman why we are against the prospect of annual targets, but that is not the only reason it is important. It is important because climate change is not the only issue shaping energy policy. We also need energy security, and for Britain in future that will be essential.
In 15 years we will move from a position of being about 80 or 90 per cent. self-supportive and not reliant on imports on account of our own self-sufficiency in oil and gas, to one in which we are importing 80 or 90 per cent. In those circumstances, and when we also lose about 15 per cent. of our electricity capability through the phasing out of nuclear power stations, I must tell the House that, in common with countries around the world, we need to put nuclear power back on the agenda and at least replace the nuclear energy that we will lose. Without it, we will not be able to meet either our objectives on climate change or our objectives on energy security.
These are difficult and controversial decisions, but they are absolutely necessary. I have looked carefully at what the right hon. Member for Witney and his team have been suggesting on this issue. First, they suggested that we needed 3 per cent. annual targets. The shadow energy Minister said:
“If the climate change Bill is to have teeth and be workable, it must be measurable. Unless we say that we want to achieve a 3 per cent. reduction in emissions year on year, the outcome will not be measurable.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2006; Vol. 451, c. 76.]
Then the right hon. Member for Witney walked away from that and his shadow environment spokesman is apparently saying that what he actually wants is a “rolling programme of targets”, which
“would be adjusted mathematically according to the progress or otherwise we make”.
Let me explain it to the right hon. Gentleman. If we end up with an annual target—let us say of 3 per cent.—we could have a colder than usual winter, which would mean that emissions would go up. We would then be in a position where we simply could not meet the target, yet the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the target should have statutory authority so that the Government are obliged to carry it out. Let us suppose that the fuel price fell and that we had an increase in emissions as a result. Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that we put back on the fuel duty escalator and raise the fuel duty? I doubt it.
Let me go through the various positions that the right hon. Member for Witney has adopted on nuclear power. His industry spokesman said that from about “the age of 12”, he had an “instinctive hostility” to “nuclear power”. His shadow Chancellor said that he would be
“happy to see nuclear power”.
The right hon. Gentleman himself said:
“I’m neither dogmatically in favour of nuclear power, nor dogmatically against”.
[Interruption.] What is my position? I am in favour of it. Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of it? The right hon. Member for Witney asks me what my position is and I have said that I am in favour of it. What, then, is the right hon. Gentleman’s position? [Interruption.] It actually gets better. Let me read his position, which he gave just the other day in an interview in Green Futures. He said:
“I want to give every opportunity for green sources of energy to come through. If they do, well and good, if they don’t, and we have to keep the lights on, then nuclear might come into the picture.”
So what is he going to do? He is the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary comes in and says, “I am afraid the renewables haven’t generated as much as we want. I am afraid we won’t be able to keep the lights on.” So what is the right hon. Gentleman going to say—“Rustle me up a nuclear power station”?
Wait; I have one more.
In case we have not had enough changes of policy, another of the Leader of the Opposition’s shadow Ministers—this is the latest, hot off the press on their so-called binding targets that are going to be rigorous—said this morning that
“it might well be that you don’t necessarily meet an annual target”.
So we have four different policy positions and the right hon. Gentleman sitting on the fence.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. When John Wakeham and I privatised the electricity industry, the original intention had been to privatise the nuclear power industry, but we could not find anyone in the City of London who was prepared to meet the contingent liabilities of decommissioning nuclear power stations. If the Prime Minister is in favour of nuclear power, is he saying to the House that the Treasury will always meet the costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations? The City has made it very clear that the private sector will never do that.
The decommissioning costs have to be met in any event. [Interruption.] We have nuclear power stations now, so we will have nuclear waste that we have to decommission. The point is that when, over the next few years, our nuclear power stations are closed, are we at least going to replace them? I say yes. What does the Leader of the Opposition say? We do not know.
Likewise, the other important long-term challenge is on pensions reform. The Turner report provides us with a good framework on pensions reform and we should implement it. In addition, by removing more people off benefit and into work, we are able to provide better welfare measures for our citizens.
In addition to those measures of reform—I will come to law and order in a moment—there are, for example, the measures on bus travel. There will be free, off-peak local bus travel for all pensioners and disabled people. There will also be proposals to speed up and simplify the planning process, measures to facilitate greater flexibility and decision making in local government, measures on redress for consumers and, of course, measures on Northern Ireland. On Northern Ireland, I hope very much that we will be able to make the progress necessary to see the institutions up and running again.
I would like to focus for a moment on those measures that relate to crime, migration and security. Again, the reason for further action is clear: the nature of crime is changing—antisocial behaviour, organised crime and terrorism. The traditional view of liberty and security, in our judgment, has to change. The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech—indeed, this is commonly said by those on the Opposition Front Bench—that laws are not the answer. Laws are not the whole answer, but I am afraid that they are part of the answer. The fact is that without antisocial behaviour legislation, we would never have been able to tackle the blight of antisocial behaviour in our constituencies. [Hon. Members: “You haven’t.”] Go a few miles from here to King’s Cross and see the changes that have been made or visit the inner-city suburb in east Manchester that I saw the other day. We can go anywhere in the country where these powers are being used, where they are closing down the houses of crack dealers, putting antisocial behaviour orders on people and making sure that the new powers that the police have are used properly. If the Conservatives keep setting their face against antisocial behaviour legislation, they are completely out of touch with the needs of people in this country.
In addition, there is the shifting of the emphasis from the offence to the offender. Again, through the additional legislation, we are able to take further the measures in relation to that, including the measures specifically on violent crime. There will be new ways of managing offenders through the National Offender Management Service, changes in sentencing and changes in the powers that we need to deal with organised crime.
In relation to terrorism, the right hon. Gentleman again suggested that somehow we should be talking the language of hope and not fear, but there is no point in being unrealistic. We have a genuine, serious terrorist threat. This country faces it; other countries face it. We are not talking the politics of fear here. We are talking the politics of a realistic assessment of threat and the measures necessary to meet it. I hope that, this time, when we draw up the measures that are necessary to tackle this we get the support of the whole House. I am happy to work with him and his colleagues on this. It really would be the best message that we could send out to those who are engaged in inciting terrorism in our country.
The Prime Minister will be aware that it has been reported that a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir is working as a senior official in the immigration and nationality directorate. Can the Prime Minister explain how that has come to pass and why he has not honoured his promise to proscribe that organisation?
The rules on proscription, of course, are one of the changes that we made. There is a process that has to be gone through and that process is being gone through. In relation to the particular newspaper story, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tells me that he is looking at the circumstances and the facts. [Interruption.] I do not think that it would be right to do anything else, given that there is a particular individual concerned.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
As regards terrorism, written answers from the Home Office have revealed that neither the Home Office nor the Metropolitan Police Service has any statistics on what day during detention terror suspects have been either released or charged. If it is the Government’s intention to increase the period of detention, will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that he will produce proper evidence, not just soundbites and rhetoric, to justify an increase in detention periods?
This—[Interruption.] I think that that is a very poor point for the reason that I will give. The hon. Gentleman says that the only justification that we put forward for the 90 days was soundbites and rhetoric, but the justification was a written submission—[Interruption.] The evidence we put forward was a written submission from the head of the anti-terrorist police force. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not a politician’s soundbite. It is evidence from the person who is actually charged with dealing with terrorism in this country. I had hoped that in the intervening period the Conservative party had slightly come to its senses about this, but his intervention does not give me a great deal of hope. The fact of the matter is—[Interruption.] With the greatest respect, that is an answer to the point. In respect of the time that it takes for each terror suspect to be questioned and at what point they are then either charged or released, my understanding certainly is that the figures have been given for that.
First, I do not know that that particular figure is correct, but, in any event, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that we use the full range of the law to seize assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It is only as a result of the measures that we have taken that we are able to do that at all. Since he says that we want tough measures on terrorism, I hope that, if we bring forward such tough measures on terrorism, this time he and his hon. Friends will support them.
Over the past few years, we have introduced a stronger economy, investment and reform in our health service and our schools, and record numbers of police—actually, according to the British crime survey, crime is down—but not just that: we have introduced Sure Start, the new deal, expanded child care, better maternity pay, better maternity leave and a whole host of things for the benefit of this country. Today, we introduce measures on climate change, pensions, welfare and on tackling this country’s long-term problems relating to crime, immigration and security that give us the best chance of defeating those challenges and meeting them in the right way.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what the country will believe. The country will believe that when I first entered the House, I had 40 per cent. unemployment in parts of my constituency; now unemployment there is below the national average. The Government the hon. Gentleman used to support left people literally waiting and dying for their heart operations. The Government he used to support had people working for £1.50 an hour before we introduced the minimum wage. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to remind people of that.
What the Leader of the Opposition did today shows the difficulties that he has. When it is a question of attack, he can make the attack, but when it is a question of giving the alternative, he has no alternative to give. The truth of the matter is that he spends most of his time avoiding difficult decisions, but when he is forced to decide, he decides wrongly. Let us look, for example, at what he says about tax and spending, since that goes right to the heart of whether we run an effective economy.
It used to be clear. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had a new fiscal rule that would “share the proceeds of growth”, so there would be less spending than under the Labour Government. But I have been through the spending commitments that the right hon. Gentleman has made and I find that he has called for more spending on prisons, more on housing, more on schools, more on occupational therapy, more on drug rehabilitation, more on police, more on the intelligence services, more on charities, more nurses and health visitors, more for child care for parents, more for child care for grandparents, and more on post offices—billions more. Then comes the Tory tax commission that proposes £21 billion-worth of tax cuts. How does he make everything add up? He has his fiscal rule—[Interruption.]
Let me give an example. Here is a quote from the Tory NHS campaign pack—how is this for clarity of policy? The question is:
“Are you guaranteeing increased spending on the NHS?”
The first line of the reply is:
“We are not calling for further, immediate increases on NHS spending”.
Fair enough. The second line is:
“We have made an unambiguous commitment to increase spending”,
and the third line is
“We have made it clear that we will share the proceeds of growth between increased spending…and reducing tax”.
The fact is that trying to cut taxes and spend more with the same money is not sharing the proceeds of growth; it is sharing out the disaster of the recession that this country will face.
No, I have given up on that.
It does not matter what the area of policy is, from the right hon. Gentleman’s bizarre idea that youngsters should go on a booze course to find out whether they are fit to booze, to his opposition to ID cards. Is it still his policy to withdraw from the European People’s party? We simply do not know. That from a Leader of the Opposition who said that the hallmark of his leadership would be consistency and sticking to his guns.
The fact of the matter is that, as the right hon. Gentleman demonstrated again today, in the end, because he has no interest in the substance of policy, he can neither understand the long-term challenges facing this country, nor meet them. The next election will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. However much the right hon. Gentleman may dance around the ring beforehand, at some point, he will come within the reach of a big clunking fist, and you know what, he will be out on his feet, carried out of the ring—the fifth Tory leader to be carried out, and a fourth term Labour Government still standing.
I begin, as is all too often necessary on these parliamentary occasions, by joining the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) in expressing sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of those who have most recently died or been injured in Iraq. In the week after Remembrance Sunday, it is surely right for us all to take the opportunity to express our admiration for the men and women of our armed services, wherever they might be serving.
I also join the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Members who have died since the last Queen’s Speech. As has already been said, they all made a unique contribution to the work of the House. Peter Law was a man who was independent of party, and Eric Forth was a man of independent spirit and lancing wit, as I know only too well, to my own cost. Rachel Squire, who was my neighbour in Fife, was a diligent Member for Dunfermline and West Fife and was loved and respected by her constituents. I, too, would like to make special mention of Robin Cook, for the progressive politics that were the basis of his successful career in Parliament and Cabinet and his dignified departure from Cabinet. Patsy Calton was a brave and valued member of our Liberal Democrat team. She is greatly missed by her colleagues on these Benches. We will never forget your kindness, Mr. Speaker, on the day that she courageously took the Oath, when she knew that she had not long to live.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) on their speeches. One of them is from Wales and the other is from Scotland: a happy coincidence, or perhaps a recognition of the importance to the Labour party of the elections to be held in Scotland and Wales next May? However, they both deserved the honour in their own right because of their significant contributions to Welsh and Scottish devolution.
It was no surprise that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made such an assured contribution. A man who helps to create the Welsh Assembly and then copes with the Countryside Alliance has a rare talent.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East also made an excellent contribution. It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to describe oneself as a wee, round, Scottish, feisty woman. She has a formidable political reputation in Scotland, which, I suspect, is part of the tradition of powerful Labour women such as Jennie Lee, Alice Cullen, Jean Mann and others.
And Helen Liddell, too. I suppose one had better say that in case one finds oneself needing consular assistance in Australia.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East showed an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish football to such an extent that I wondered whether she was going to argue for the resuscitation of Third Lanark.
If I may say so, this is not an occasion for sectarianism.
This is a remarkable parliamentary occasion because the Prime Minister is introducing a programme of legislation that he will not be in place to complete. I cannot remember any instance of that in recent history. This is truly power without responsibility.
There are plans for an 11th education Bill, a 12th health and social care Bill, an eighth terrorism Bill and a 24th criminal justice Bill since the Prime Minister took office in 1997. That leads to the conclusion that after nearly 10 years in office the Government and the Prime Minister are still chasing the same elusive goals and headlines. This is a rush from judgment towards legislation. The Prime Minister is trying to legislate his way into history.
The Government and the Prime Minister suffer from a statutory addiction. Since 1997, the Government have passed 365 Acts of Parliament and more than 32,000 statutory instruments. The legislation runs to more than 114,000 pages. Before the Prime Minister was elected, he told us that his priority was “education, education, education”. Since he was elected, his priority has been legislation, legislation, legislation.
Everyone knows that by legislating less Governments can legislate better. By devoting time, resources and scrutiny to complex issues such as antisocial behaviour they can be much more effectively addressed. In the case of antisocial behaviour, they can be more effectively addressed by one piece of legislation rather than the four already passed and the one proposed in the Gracious Speech.
We need a regular and effective system to repeal legislation that has served its purpose. That is why we have proposed a freedom Bill, designed to facilitate the systematic removal from the statute book of laws that are no longer required. Since 1997, the Government have created 3,000 new criminal offences—to the profit of the lawyers and the bewilderment of the citizens. We need to repeal outdated, unworkable and unnecessary legislation.
The BBC website—it might have been inaccurate, of course—when it reported this so-called freedom Bill, said that among the other Acts that would be repealed was the one requiring suspects to give DNA samples. Is that one of the proposals of the Liberal Democrats?
It would appear so. There is no opposition to suspects being obliged to give DNA samples, just as those of us who have some familiarity with those matters know that they are obliged to give samples of hair and of blood, and of semen in some circumstances. But the issue is the maintaining of DNA information in the central register of people who have never been charged and of the DNA details of the 25,000 children on the central register. We say that that is wholly inappropriate in a free society; we say that that is why the register should be reviewed.
However, Parliament has a duty—
Parliament has a duty to consider every proposal in the Queen’s Speech on its own merits. Where the Government’s proposals promote freedom and fairness, and promote the environment, we shall support them, but where they do not we will oppose them.
We should remember that Lloyd George played a certain part in the gestation of that Act, but we do not claim that as a particular achievement. If I may say so, I think that legislation of that kind is entirely appropriate, but I would not wish to comment on a continuing investigation.
The proposed terrorism Bill will be central to the Government’s legislative programme. As I understand the Prime Minister, he is anxious to ensure that he can receive unanimous support from the whole House. However, I want to suggest to him the test that hon. Members have to apply in these circumstances. Let me express it by referring to Hansard:
“I hope that no hon. Member will say that we do not have the right to challenge powers to make sure that they are in accordance with the civil liberties of our country.”—[Official Report, 10 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 974.]
That statement was made from the Opposition Front Bench by the then shadow Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. We shall take that principle with us into consideration of any and all the legislation that his Government might introduce.
We all accept that terrorism threatens liberal democracies in the physical damage and human suffering that it causes, but it also threatens liberal democracies in the political and legal responses it may provoke. In totalitarian countries, terrorism and the threat of it are used to justify repression and the extinction of human rights, but in liberal democracies terrorism provides a more subtle temptation for draconian legislation. However, we should hold to the presumption that individual liberty and personal freedom will always be maintained unless there is overwhelming evidence that they need to be restricted because the very existence of the state is threatened.
In discussing those issues, we should remember that such freedoms were not handed out by benevolent monarchs or generous Governments but had to be won, often against apparently insuperable opposition. If they are taken away, they will have to be fought for once again before they can be re-established. When the Government cannot provide conclusive evidence that their proposals are essential for the security of our citizens, my colleagues and I will not support the erosion of those liberties.
We will listen to and assess the contributions of the head of MI5 and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. We should remember, however, that they are advocates, not arbiters. The ultimate responsibility for legislation rests among those of us who are elected to the House. We are elected for our judgment in such matters.
I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman because, from time to time, we get flashes of that intellectual ability for which he has a justifiable reputation. If I may say so, however, he has a remarkable capacity for not taking the opportunities offered to him. [Hon. Members: “Are you paying the money back?”] We will open our books for public scrutiny if the Conservatives do the same—[Interruption.]
The Government’s previous proposals on detention without charge were rejected by Parliament, as was the proposal to remove the right to trial by jury in fraud trials, and yet both are to reappear. Unless there are new and persuasive arguments, they should be rejected again. If the Government wish to pursue an effective way of combating terrorist activity—and some reports suggest that they may be rethinking on this matter—I hope that they will change their position on phone intercepts. By allowing the admissibility of information obtained from intercepts, the police and the prosecution would be given a powerful weapon.
We also read that the Government intend to proceed with the development of ID cards. We remain firmly opposed to the introduction of mandatory identity cards. They are an expensive and unwanted intrusion into the private life of the British people, and there is no conclusive evidence that they would prevent terrorist activity in this country.
We shall also consider carefully our response to the detailed proposals of the criminal justice Bill when it comes before the House. In the light of our experience, however, we will find it difficult to avoid scepticism. Of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, 52 sections and five schedules have still not been brought into force. Two sections were repealed without ever being brought into force, and a further three were brought into force and then repealed. That is no way to legislate when the liberty of the individual is at stake.
Extraordinarily, last weekend, following the British National party trial, Ministers argued that it was necessary to amend a law that had yet to come into force, because of a failed prosecution in a trial that proceeded on another law entirely. Even Kafka would have found it difficult to invent such a proposition.
We are pleased, of course, that the Government have decided to include a climate change Bill in their programme, but we wonder why it is so limited in scope, given the general acceptance of the terms of the Stern report. A legislative framework and an independent review body are welcome proposals. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister’s argument against annual targets, but if we do not have annual targets, how will it be possible to measure progress? Of course, targets alone are not enough; if they were, Britain would be the best run country in the world. We must hear more about proposals for achieving them.
We have set out our stall on the relationship between taxation and environmental considerations. We are opposed to nuclear energy, as we have made clear, on both cost and environmental grounds. The costs of commissioning and of decommissioning are enormous—and, of course, private industry wants the taxpayer to be responsible for commissioning and decommissioning, and to be allowed to make a profit in between. I doubt that that is a good bargain.
Finally, let me say something about foreign affairs. On the opening day of the Queen's Speech debate, rarely has much time been devoted to foreign affairs, but today has been and, in truth, should be an exception. For behind the bland words in the Gracious Speech—
“to support the new Iraqi Government in its efforts to build an enduring constitutional settlement”,
which falls a long way short of some of the rhetoric that we have heard before—lies still the historical fact of the flawed prospectus on which military action was taken, the continuing cost in lives and resources, the feeling of drift and hopelessness among so many members of the public about our continuing presence in Iraq, and indeed the anxiety demonstrated a moment or two ago in an intervention by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick).
When Britain’s most senior soldier questions our presence in language that we all understand—I leave aside the propriety of his doing so publicly—it is surely the responsibility of Government and all of us to respond. My complaint is against the absence of a British strategy based on British priorities, and the apparently uncritical acceptance of a United States strategy that has self-evidently failed and no longer commands the support of the American people or domestic support in the United States. My complaint, too, is against the use of clichés such as, “We will not cut and run”, “We will stay the course”, and “We will stay for as long as the Iraqi Government want us to”. Those are meaningless expressions when judged against the complexity of the circumstances in Iraq, and they do not convey the degree of sophistication and intellectual rigour that is necessary to the establishment of a proper position for the United Kingdom.
I acknowledged, as did my right hon. and hon. Friends, a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, although on 18 March 2003 we voted against military action. But we have a moral obligation to our young men and women as well. We have no right to ask them to risk their lives if there is no realistic chance of success, and we have no right to ask them to risk their lives if British interests are not being served. That is why I now believe that the only strategy available to us is a phased withdrawal, and that it should take place—to echo General Dannatt—sooner rather than later.
No. I want to make some progress.
Efforts to engage Syria and Iran, yes; efforts to give the United Nations a greater role in the stalled reconstruction programme, yes; efforts to persuade moderate Arab nations to contribute forces for internal and external stability, yes. But those things cannot take place against the background of an open-ended commitment. The Iraqi people must take responsibility for themselves, and that is why all those efforts must be undertaken against the stated inevitability of withdrawal.
At the heart of this, as the Prime Minister acknowledged today and yesterday, is an overwhelming need to find a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The first President George Bush knew that. He and James Baker were the architects of the Madrid conference that produced the Oslo agreement, which so nearly succeeded. There can be no chance of long-term stability in the middle east until there is a settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Today marks the Prime Minister’s last appearance on this annual occasion. There have been many glad confident mornings in the past, but there is none today. This is a sombre occasion, in truth. For all his achievements, Suez defined Anthony Eden; for all his achievements, Iraq will define this Prime Minister.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who is the leader of the Liberal party. Last year, I followed his predecessor, who was kind enough to talk a little while on Europe. I note that on this occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned Europe. Instead, he mentioned nuclear energy and his party’s opposition to that. The one way to frighten any audience is to tell them that, in 20 years, when they put their hand out to turn on a light, there will be no electricity. One may also tell them that, if they wish to display a museum piece, they may show their car in the garage.
As the Prime Minister said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, it is no use waiting until our energy supplies, either home grown or from abroad, are no longer there to start looking at nuclear energy. Every industrial country is now looking at returning to nuclear energy. Seventy per cent. of France’s energy is nuclear. We will have to come to that debate and to make a decision that is based on the national interest. I hope that, when that time comes, both the official Opposition and the Liberal party will look at their position again in the interests of all our people in the future.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned foreign affairs, which I expected him to do, and he was somewhat critical of the Prime Minister’s foreign affairs policy. I am sure that he read the Prime Minister’s speech in Los Angeles in July and his speech at Mansion house. He was clear on what the foreign policy of this country should be and it is referred to in the Queen's Speech: an alliance between the United States of America and the European Union, an alliance of peoples from the Pacific ocean to, broadly, the Urals, an alliance of people who share values, have a shared democracy and value democracy.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about Iraq, I am sure that he will not forget that 12 million people voted in the Iraqi elections. There have been elections in the Congo and in Palestine. There is a movement in the Gulf towards democracy, and that principle of democracy should be the principle that links the United States of America and the European Union. I would like to see that link strengthened, as is mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
When the leader of the Liberal party talks about Iraq, he never talks about the no-fly zones. He never talks about our pilots who risked their lives day in, day out to defend the Kurds in the north and Shi’ites in the south. He never talks about the Marsh Arabs who lost their homes when the marshes were drained. He never talks about the 2 million people—at least—who lost their lives under Saddam Hussein in a war with Iran. He never talks about the daily executions that went on within that regime, and he does not say what the British Government should have done. He voted against the war but what was his solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf? He did not have a solution then and he does not have one now. He talks of drift and hopelessness. He never talks of the two provinces in the south that we have given back to the Iraqis. He does not talk about the professionalism of the British Army in the south or the job that we are doing.
I will allow the hon. Gentleman his attacks on my position, but I will not allow him to undermine the suggestion on my part of nothing less than complete admiration for the men and women of our armed services. I have no direct experience of the armed services, but a distinguished member of my family did. I am well aware of the sacrifices that have to be made and of the fact that when we ask our young men and women to put their lives at stake, we should have very good reasons for doing so.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that clarification. He also talks about the moral obligation that we have to the Army. How does he square that moral obligation with his support for troops in the field? He says that he admires them and he gives them support but at the same time he queries what they are doing there. How does he feel that affects the soldier in the field?
The hon. Gentleman says “Ask the soldiers.” I do ask the soldiers. I see them. My soldiers in my constituency have joined the Army for their country. They are prepared to fight for their country and, as we know, tragically, some are required to die for their country.
I have been to Iraq four times now and have spoken first hand to troops on the ground, for whom I have a great admiration. Does my hon. Friend agree that the constant sniping from Liberal Democrats and other opponents is undermining the job that they are trying to do?
I have not served in the Army, not even during military service. However, were I in the Army and listening on the radio to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and some of his colleagues, I would not feel happy or in concert with their views. These young men are in the field of battle in the interests of this country and in accordance with decisions fully and freely made by this House on the basis of the facts that we had at the time.
I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like the use of certain words and phrases when it comes to Iraq. Why does not he use the word scuttle? He wants us to scuttle; to abandon the Iraqi people, Iraq, the Gulf and the national interests of this country.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has been to Iraq in the run-up to the war or since. I visited our troops in the run-up to the war in Iraq and on three occasions since. May I tell him that soldiers have approached me in the sergeant’s quarters in Basra to support the issues that my party raised before the war; its legality, the production of equipment and the way in which the House should debate the war? If the hon. Gentleman doubts that, he should be aware that this House debates conflicts, as we did in Norway—
As they would say in a court of law, the hon. Gentleman wishes me to answer several questions at the same time. I have been to Kuwait and my daughter was a Reuters correspondent, who followed the war from Kuwait to Baghdad and spent a year in Baghdad as a newspaper reporter. I know from her first-hand information how our troops felt in that battle. [Hon. Members: “What about this war.”] I am talking about this war, the war that took us to Baghdad; the Iraqi war, as you would describe it, Mr. Speaker.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a constitutional outrage that the Prime Minister is prepared to take part by video link in a US congressional inquiry into the war but will not support a similar inquiry here before this House and the people of this country on the Iraq war?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to answer that point, which was touched on last week by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who criticised the Prime Minister for not participating in the assessment in the United States. He made a perfectly valid and pertinent point with which I agree. [Interruption.] He did so on the Floor of the House; the hon. Gentleman can look it up in Hansard. The point is this: it would be very odd if the Baker commission was having an assessment of future policy in Iraq and our Prime Minister sat waiting to hear what was said and did not participate in the debate.
There is a world of difference—the Leader of the Opposition touched on it today when he talked about the inquiry that was held after the Falkland Islands war—between a parliamentary inquiry after the event, when our troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and it is in a stable condition, and participating in an assessment. What the Prime Minister said in that video link—he repeated it today, and the Foreign Secretary has said it—is that it would not be the right approach to go for the partition of Iraq. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in his place; the partition in Ireland led to 80 years of dispute and violence, and that is what would happen in Iraq. It is quite right for the Prime Minister to advise the commission that this ought not to take place.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife also mentioned Israel and Palestine, and the Oslo agreement. When that agreement was signed, I moved a motion at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Delhi, congratulating the parties on that and on trying to create a two-state solution in respect of Palestine. Unfortunately, that did not come about. It is worth working for, and as the Prime Minister and the Queen’s Speech have suggested that we should be working with the United States and Europe, it would be useful as a platform to have those two democracies—the European Union and the United States—coming together in an effort to create a two-state situation in Palestine and Israel.
Having responded to the points of the Liberal leader in as emollient a tone as I could manage, I now wish to refer to the Loyal Address of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael). He mentioned in the first instance an idea whose time has come; that was a quote from Victor Hugo—I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend is present. He also mentioned the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, and he almost forgot—which I did not—that I served on the Committee that pushed that Bill through, against great opposition. I was amused when the Prime Minister—who was the Leader of the Opposition at the time—asked my right hon. Friend how anyone could oppose it; as my right hon. Friend will remember, there was so much opposition that we had to have two inquiries to bring it about. I flew over it when Middlesbrough won the League Cup—as that competition was then called—at Cardiff. When I saw my work, I knew that it was worth while. One of my greatest achievements in this House was to help to see that the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill made it on to the statute book.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) had a sip of water when she seconded the motion, which reminded me of when Disraeli introduced a Budget. Disraeli had a glass or a bottle next to him from which he drank steadily throughout his Budget speech, and no one quite knew at the beginning whether it was water or gin, but they certainly knew by the end of his speech. That did not happen in the case of my hon. Friend.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the late Eric Forth. He sat on the Finance and Services Committee with me, and also on the House of Commons Commission with me, and he played an exemplary role on both of them. He was a true parliamentarian, and we all regret the loss of him.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned Darfur, and the major struggle in the south of Sudan. I visited Algeria in September; it can play, and is playing, a key role in seeking a solution to the problems in that part of the world. The solution has to come out of Africa, and out of the United Nations. We all wish the various parties well in seeking a solution.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned Afghanistan, and there was a reference to NATO. I am sure that all Members wish NATO to play a major role in Afghanistan, and other nation states to contribute to that. He also mentioned moderate Governments in the Gulf. Often when I visit the Gulf, I see it as a stable area that is surrounded by volatility, which might be coming from Iraq or Iran. The way in which we use the influence of those moderate Gulf states in relation to Palestine and Israel and the problems that arise in respect of Iraq or Iran is very important and significant.
The right hon. Member for North Antrim is still in his place. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned Sinn Fein, and that support for the police and the courts must be forthcoming. There is an opportunity, which I know that the right hon. Gentleman is taking extraordinarily seriously, to have a final breakthrough on the problems of Ireland that have been with us for centuries, and certainly since 1921-22.
The Prime Minister talked about energy security, and the fact that we will be importing between 80 and 90 per cent. of our energy in the years to come. Ten per cent. of that energy will come from liquefied natural gas from Qatar, in the Gulf, and another 5 per cent. will come from Algeria. They are very significant strategic partners—one in Africa and the other in the Gulf—and as such we should cultivate those two nation states, not only to ensure our energy supplies but to support the democracy in Algeria and the developing nation state of Qatar.
Her Majesty mentioned a visit that she will make to the United States of America next year, which will bring about a stronger partnership for this country with the United States. The Gracious Speech also referred to a stable economy being the foundation of a fair and prosperous society—an issue that the Prime Minister touched on when he responded to the Leader of the Opposition. The Government are not only providing a stable economy as the foundation of a fair and prosperous society; they are maintaining low inflation, sound public finances and high employment. I might add that there is also a link with record investment in public services and with the record numbers of children and pensioners being lifted out of poverty.
The hon. Gentleman mentions pensioners, and he will have noticed that the Prime Minister made very little reference to the promise of long-term pension reform. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that the destruction of the private final pension scheme, and the refusal to honour such schemes and to make good the plight of pensioners who lost all their pensions when their private companies went bankrupt, was a disgrace? Or does he agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that was a great move toward social justice?
As someone who lost half his pension requirement through Equitable Life, I have every sympathy with the points made on the Floor of this House about pensions. This issue has been mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and there will be debates on it. A local government pension lobby will attend the House next Wednesday, and I look forward to seeing the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) there, in addition to his listening to my reply today.
The Gracious Speech also referred to the fact that strong, secure and stable communities are at the heart of the Government’s programme. Although it made no specific reference to a White Paper on communities, we expect one on city regions to be presented before Christmas. Such regions will add to the concept of stable communities. City regions and regional development agencies are not mutually exclusive, as the Economic Secretary will tell us. The concept of a Tees valley city region has great attractions for Teesside.
In this respect, I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who has taken up her Front-Bench position for this debate. This week, she launched a £750,000 state-of-the-art channel pilot vessel called the Greatham, in the presence of the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). Teesport has a £300 million deep-sea container terminal plan—a plan that is currently absent from the Government’s controversial draft national port strategy. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar mentioned that last year when seconding the motion, so she will remember that. We will continue this project with patience and perseverance, with the help of the Transport Minister and others.
We also have plans for a Tees valley metro stretching from Darlington to Saltburn, with the potential for a future phase reaching Hartlepool and Nunthorpe, in Middlesbrough. It has the approval of five Tees valley local authorities, and it would cost £140 million and could be operating within 10 years. These are major projects for the public sector, but we have a strong private sector that is seeking to regenerate Teesside, building on our strong petrochemical industry. We are building a biofuel industry on the production of renewable energy products. We have Biofuels at Seal Sands and D1 Oils in Middlesbrough, with two more plants in the pipeline. We have a wood-burning power station that is due to come online in 2007 and Petroplus Refining, and we shall have Ensus, which is a further plant producing biofuel.
Although production of biofuel feedstock crops, such as rape seed for biodiesel, offers UK agriculture an excellent market opportunity, domestic production cannot meet the future demand that will be necessary under the European Commission’s 5 per cent. renewable transport fuels obligation, especially if the Government move to a higher target of 10 per cent. of biofuels. The Government should consider how the import of feedstock from new sustainable crops from the developing world, such as jatropha, can play a role in meeting our energy needs, benefiting both ourselves and some of the poorest countries on earth.
Urban regeneration goes hand in hand with industrial regeneration, linking up with the call in the Gracious Speech for stable communities. We need urban regeneration on Teesside to meet the housing demand that flows from industrial regeneration. We need new homes in the hearts of our towns to ease the pressure on North Yorkshire. We need to provide homes for those who will sustain our strong petrochemical industry, which has 12,000 workers, and the new industries of chemical manufacturing, research and development into renewable energy, advanced engineering and logistics. We need a clear plan for home ownership in the north, especially on Teesside.
Urban regeneration will be the base of the stable communities to which the Gracious Speech referred. To be sure, urban regeneration will take time—some 10 years, with appropriate levels of investment. That investment may be Government led, but the private sector will lever in funds to the tune of some £450 million. For that to happen, our single housing investment pot should rise to £30 million a year, to give us the 10-year building space. So far, £32 million has been made available over two years. That is obviously £16 million a year, but there is doubt in Government circles over the second year commitment. We are seeking to achieve a golden dawn of industrial regeneration and urban regeneration on Teesside.
A great deal will be made of the Prime Minister’s last address on the Gracious Speech, which will be compared with his first. One thing that I remember is that in 1997 the first act of the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), was to authorise the private finance building of the James Cook university hospital, which is now one of the finest hospitals in the country. I met a constituent at the Middlesbrough cenotaph on Sunday who had returned to the constituency because her ailing husband needed the best treatment that he could receive, which she knew would be at the James Cook university hospital. Many have written to me to say that the hospital is patient centred, family centred and community centred.
Of all the legacies that our Prime Minister will leave us from his tenure in office, he can be proud of what he has done for our patients, those who attend the health service and those who have benefited from it. That will be one of his finest legacies.
I should like to begin by making three observations about the Prime Minister’s speech. First, together with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), he claimed credit for the redevelopment of Cardiff bay. The redevelopment of Cardiff bay had started and been under way for some considerable time well before 1997. It is a measure of the extent to which the Prime Minister has withdrawn into a world of fantasy that he takes credit for achievements that are not his.
My second observation is about the extent to which evidence was available when the House last considered the period of detention during which terrorist suspects could be held without charge. The Prime Minister suggested that there was evidence to justify a period of 90 days, but there was no such evidence. At the time, I had some responsibility for the attitude of Her Majesty’s Opposition. I asked the Prime Minister what evidence existed and I was shown it, such as it was. There was no evidence, at that time, to justify a longer period of detention than the 28 days on which the House agreed. Since then, further evidence may have become available, but if so it has not been made available to the House. I hope that it will be made available without delay to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), who asked for it, and to my right hon. Friends the shadow Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition.
Thirdly, I shall respond to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that it is wrong to subject our strategy in Iraq to continuing assessment, lest we give signals that somehow give comfort to our enemies. I entirely repudiate the observations of the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) and for North Durham (Mr. Jones), to the effect that the morale of our troops is undermined if we keep that strategy under review. In my judgment, nothing would do more to undermine morale than the perception that the only reassessment of the strategy is the one under way in Washington and the House lacks either the interest or the robustness necessary to make its own assessment of where we are.
That leads me to the subject of Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not intend to talk about the past; I want to talk about the present and the future. Just three days ago, virtually every Member of the House attended services to commemorate the sacrifices made on our behalf in two world wars. On that same day, four more members of our armed forces made the supreme sacrifice in Iraq. So far, we have lost 125 men and women in Iraq and 41 in Afghanistan—and, alas, there are certain to be more such losses. The House has a duty to face up to the question of whether we are asking our servicemen and women to risk, and perhaps give, their lives in a cause that is not only just, but attainable.
The Government’s objective in Iraq was to establish a situation in which Iraq became a prosperous, democratic and stable state—a “beacon”, in the Prime Minister’s word, for the rest of the region. That is a noble objective, but the question that we cannot shirk is whether that is still achievable. Apparently, the Government now seek to co-opt Syria and Iran in their efforts to deal with the crisis that we face. I am all for talking to Syria and Iran, and it is a great pity that the United States, in particular, spurned the opportunity to talk to Iran before its current President came to office. By all means, let us talk to those countries, but do we really think that Syria and Iran want a democratic Iraq that is a beacon for the rest of the region? Those are the very countries to which Iraq was supposed to become a beacon.
What can we offer Syria and Iran to persuade them to co-operate with us in achieving our objective? Will we tell Syria that we will try to call off the attempts to bring the Syrian Administration to account for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon? Will we give it the green light to resume its policy of intervention in Lebanon? What will we offer Iran—will we give it the green light to continue its nuclear programme?
If there is a solution to the crisis in Iraq—I very much hope that there is—it must largely come from within Iraq. The one critical step that must be taken is to bring under proper constitutional and democratic control the armed militias that appear to be the source of so much of the lawlessness that afflicts the country at present. Indeed, there are worrying signs—as recent events make clear—that the police themselves need to be brought under proper constitutional and democratic control. As long as those armed militias continue to owe their allegiance to political parties, individual Cabinet Ministers or other leaders, and as long as they are permitted to exist, we will never reach the objective that the Prime Minister has set.
I do not pretend that dealing with those militias will be an easy task—I am sure that it has become much more difficult since I first made that point more than a year ago—but unless it is addressed I am afraid that there is no hope that the Prime Minister’s objective can be achieved. This is the hardest of the hard choices that face Prime Minister al-Maliki. If he needs help to do what must be done, as he undoubtedly will, he should be given it; but if he will not, or cannot, confront the threat that the militias pose to the achievement of a prosperous and stable Iraq, we should recognise the hopelessness of the mission and act accordingly.
Somewhat similar considerations apply in Afghanistan. There, as anecdotal reports abundantly demonstrate, the problem is corruption. Apparently, it is now impossible to travel along a main road in Afghanistan without being stopped at official checkpoints and asked for money. That corruption is at least one of the causes of the resurgence of the Taliban and it must be tackled by President Karzai. Again, I do not pretend that the task is easy and if he needs help he should be given it, but again if he cannot, or will not, tackle that challenge we should recognise the consequences for our mission in that country and act accordingly.
One of the constant criticisms that has been made of the Prime Minister is that—to put it mildly—he has failed to make the most of the influence that he has at various times possessed with our allies, especially the United States. I believe that criticism is justified, but the Prime Minister now has a final opportunity to use whatever influence he still possesses. By virtue of the presence of our troops, that influence in Iraq and Afghanistan remains considerable. By persuading the Government of Iraq to tackle the militias and the Government of Afghanistan to tackle corruption, the Prime Minister may yet, despite all the mistakes that have been made, rescue the international missions for which he is most likely to be remembered.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I think that this is the first Queen’s Speech since he announced his decision to stand down at the next election, and I want to pay tribute to him. Despite having held the highest possible offices in this country, he remains an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, and since giving up the leadership of the Conservative party he has contributed fully as a Back Bencher to debates in the House, unlike some others who have held high office. I am sure that he will be missed. However, although the Leader of the Opposition has demanded a general election immediately—as is the wont of most Leaders of the Opposition—I am sure that before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves this place he will participate in other Queen’s Speech debates in the years to come.
I shall not talk about Iraq, even though that has been the flavour of a number of the speeches so far. I want to congratulate both the proposer and the seconder of the Queen’s Speech debate. I entered the House at the same time as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael). He sat on my first Committee in 1987; it was on an immigration Bill—there will be another one this year.
I do not know who is responsible for the Cardiff bay success, but I think we should award joint credit to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe and my right hon. Friend, because I think that none of us would want to see it go—it being so successful and making such a great contribution to the economy of Wales.
It is also right that the Government, in the Gracious Speech, have put home affairs issues and security issues at the centre of their legislative programme. On security issues I am a great loyalist. I accept virtually everything that I am told by Home Secretaries, especially of my party. I also accept it when I am told that very senior figures in the security services tell us that there are real problems and that there are conspiracies. I think that the Home Secretary, on Radio 4 this morning, said that there were 30 separate plots or conspiracies, at various stages, in existence. I accept it when he says that because I—and, I think, most Members, unless they are privy to the special information that is given—do not know any different. Therefore, the need for tough measures to deal with those who wish to undermine our country and cause death and destruction to our people is a serious issue, and I accept that the Government have a responsibility to legislate. However, there is also a responsibility to ensure that proper evidence is put before the House when the case is being made, and I hope that in the rush for legislation—I take the point that it is urgent and important—we pause and consider people's responsibilities and their civil liberties. I hope that that will be the case in the measures that will be brought forward by the Government in this Queen’s Speech.
The second point that I want to make is about the proposals to reform the Home Office. We have a former Home Secretary in the House this afternoon. He will recall that when he was Home Secretary I challenged him on many occasions from the Back Benches about the never-ending problems in the Home Office. I do not think that we should criticise the present Home Secretary for saying that the Home Office is not fit for purpose; it was tremendously refreshing. Some of us who have had to deal with immigration cases over the past 20 years fundamentally believe that to be the case, not just because of our very wide case load in that area, but because there seems to be no change in the way in which the Home Office has been administered.
I know that the Government say of the former Home Secretary that he signed a contract that brought in a new computer system that did not work, and that is a fact. It is also a fact that the backlog of cases at the immigration and nationality directorate has decreased enormously in the past 10 years. However, it still remains a fact that the backlog is 220,000 cases, and that is far too big a backlog for my constituents. Week after week they come to my surgery, as they do to the surgeries of other. Members, and complain about the time that it takes to get an answer from the Home Office.
The Home Office issues target letters. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) has seen the most recent letter, saying that within three weeks 70 per cent. of postal applications will be dealt with. I know that that does not happen. I am sure that the leading members of the IND know that that does not happen, but they still issue those letters. My fear is that in one of these Bills the operation of IND will be handed over to an outside agency. If it makes it more efficient, I have no problem, but I think it odd that we should have to hand the administration of IND to an outside agency. What does that say about the ability of our officials—and our Ministers—to run this system?
This is an observation from an outsider to some of these issues. In the past 10 years there have been 57 pieces of new legislation affecting the Home Office, piloted through the House by Home Office Ministers. Is it not just possible that if they had spent a bit less time legislating and a bit more time administrating, the Department might have been in better shape?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. Obviously, there is a place for legislation, which is why we are here. Otherwise, we would just be conducting debates and chats without conclusion. We have to legislate; otherwise what is the point of Parliament? However, legislating to the extent that we end up with 57 pieces of Home Office legislation without the system getting any better can lead to real problems and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to pinpoint that.
I say that if we are to have an outside agency, it has to be coupled with making the system more efficient. It should not mean just seconding everyone who currently works for IND to work for the new agency. It also means that there has to be responsibility on the part of Ministers. If hon. Members have constituency cases, they need to be able to see Ministers in order to get the problems resolved. That has certainly been the case for the past 20 years, and I would be loth to support any legislation if it meant that I could not go to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality with a fundamental case and say, “Your officials have got this wrong. You have the discretion and I want to ensure that you consider this matter on the merits of the case rather than on the file sent up by your officials.” If we legislate again, as we are, on Home Office issues, we need to ensure that the system gets better. That means taking administrative action and not doing what Ministers have done over the past few weeks—give large bonuses to IND officials because they hit their targets. If the targets are hit and the system is still bad, those officials should not, in my view, get those bonuses. I look forward to the Bill, but hope that the House will ensure that it is scrutinised carefully.
I welcome the legal services Bill and I see in her place the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). No doubt she will have a role in that Bill and, indeed, the new Bill proposed for tribunals. We took note of the Lord Chancellor’s statement that he thought that the criminal justice system was in chaos—a very odd thing for the Lord Chancellor to say. I know that the Lord Chancellor—I served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary for a year—is very up front and honest. If he thinks that something is going wrong with the system, he says so clearly. I hope that the Bill will bring about a more efficient system and that we do not simply change senior officials from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to the Court Service. We need a more efficient system, especially at a time when the Government have, because of the Carter reviews, effectively capped legal aid. We need a system that ensures that legal aid is properly targeted.
I hope that the proposed courts and tribunals Bill will make our tribunals system easier to understand for our citizens, who do not get legal aid for going to first instance tribunals. They have to do a lot of the work themselves or rely on solicitors that happen to be members of trade unions. It is vital that citizens be given proper assistance and support with respect to how our system operates.
Given that 60 per cent. of adult offenders are reconvicted within two years of their release from prison, and that two Select Committee reports have called for a dramatic improvement in the quality of prison education and training, does the hon. Gentleman think that the absence of any Government proposals to that end is, at the very least, disconcerting?
I do think that that is an important issue, but there is the catch-all phrase at the end of the Queen’s Speech—to the effect that “other measures” may be laid before Parliament—so perhaps that is a way of fulfilling the ambitions of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) to secure a Bill on that particular subject.
While on the subject of other measures, I would have liked two further measures to be included. The first is the coroners Bill—it existed in draft form—that we were promised by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. A great deal of work has been done by its Minister of State, but we are not to have a coroners Bill. I know that consumers of the coroner service would want such a Bill as soon as possible. Secondly, I have pressed for new legislation to deal with violent video games, how they are reviewed and how they are labelled. I had hoped that the Government would use the opportunity of the Queen’s Speech to introduce such a Bill.
If I am lucky enough to win a place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, I want to introduce a Bill that would improve the workings of the Insolvency Service. I have campaigned for 15 years for the victims of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International and sat through some of the litigation that was initiated by the liquidators against the Bank of England at huge costs to the victims of BCCI, so I think that it is important that we look at the way in which the Insolvency Service operates. Legislation along those lines would be welcome.
I wish to make two final points. I am glad that we are not having a health service Bill. As with immigration Bills, we have had enough health service Bills. We cannot modernise and reshape the health service any further through legislation, but instead should consolidate the gains that we have made. A huge amount of resources has gone into the health service—although, in Leicester, we will be slightly short-changed in the money that we were promised for our three new hospitals. Instead of £900 million, we will get £700 million. It obviously helps that the Secretary of State for Health is one of the Leicester Members, but she still took £200 million away from us.
However, my right hon. Friend is giving us a new diabetes centre of excellence, which I welcome greatly as someone who, like some other Members, suffers from type 2 diabetes. Diabetes screening is extremely important and I discovered that I had type 2 diabetes only after I opened a diabetes screening centre two years ago. I was screened and then rung up the next day to be told that I had diabetes. Members should be careful in what they open, just in case something comes up.
My very last point concerns foreign affairs—not Iraq, but Europe. I am very disappointed that no more mention was made of Europe other than the usual comments about working with our European partners. There is no legislation on enlargement on the horizon this Session, but Romania and Bulgaria will join the European Union on 1 January next year.
My right hon. Friend intervened on me when I spoke on Europe in last year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, so will he confirm that next year is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Rome? Would that not provide an opportunity for us all to debate again the future of Europe, its constitutional arrangements and how we should move the agenda forward?
That would be an excellent opportunity and I am sure that my hon. Friend would be very much part of that debate. I know that he takes a great interest in these matters. The House should not be afraid of the European issue. After all, the House keeps saying that we should scrutinise and legislate to ensure that Brussels does not take the lead. However, we never want to discuss Europe. There are complaints that we never want to discuss Iraq, but Europe is a vital issue for us.
On 1 January, Romania and Bulgaria will join, although we will put restrictions on the freedom of movement of the people from those countries. As I have said before in the House, the proposed system will be totally unworkable because it will be impossible to tell a Romanian from a Pole, Czech or anyone else and we will need the police and inspectors to go out to find who is and who is not working. It is sad that our record on enlargement has been sullied in this way. We should allow people from Romania and Bulgaria to come in without restrictions.
We need firm leadership and direction on European Union issues and the Prime Minister has provided such a lead. I am sorry that this is his last Queen’s Speech debate. He has been a terrific Prime Minister and his legacy is very apparent in legislation and the work that he has done. He deserves the thanks of the House.
Mention has also been made of Members who have passed away, and this is only the second Queen’s Speech debate in which Robin Cook has not participated. I worked for him at the Foreign Office as his Minister for Europe and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was his Parliamentary Private Secretary. The tributes paid to Robin Cook by the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and others were full, and rightly so. When a Member dies, his constituency is handed on to a new Member and it is only at times like this that we remember the legacy of someone such as Robin Cook. It is right that the House has done so. Robin Cook would have been pleased with the work that has been done in respect of the European Union. He would also have been pleased with the progress that has been made over the past 10 years under this Government.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and I look forward to participating robustly in the debates.
I identify myself and my colleagues on this Bench with the sympathy that has been expressed to those who have died serving their Queen, their country and the people of our nation. That sympathy comes from all parts of the House. Northern Ireland is, of course, the smallest part of the United Kingdom, but the people have the same sympathy and they too have passed through their own trials and troubles.
I have every sympathy with the families of former Members of the House who cannot be with us because they have been called to the great eternity that lies before us all. As a Christian minister, I know that, at certain times of the year—at times such as these—it comes back forcefully just how touched by that they are. We all feel for them and our pious prayers are with them.
I am going to speak for only a few minutes. I am sure that people will be glad of that. I could not let this occasion go by because very serious legislation will come before the House in a few days’ time to restore devolution in Northern Ireland. I cannot prophesy—and I would not attempt to do so—what that legislation will be. Even if I did know something, I would not, as a Privy Councillor, be permitted to say anything about it. However, I have sat in the House for a long time. The House failed miserably to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. I am not going to go into the background of that. It is a fact.
I have in my study in the Stormont Parliament photographs of 301 gallant policemen who gave their lives in that struggle. If we put that into United Kingdom terms—by percentages—that would be about 6,000 policemen. The figures stagger us. Of all the Members from Northern Ireland, I have been at more funerals than any other public representative, for the simple reason that I not only represent Northern Ireland from North Antrim, but, for 25 years, was a Member of the European Parliament, representing all of Northern Ireland as one constituency. So, I know something of the deep sorrows.
The legislation coming forth, however, must deal with the issue that no one can be in government in Northern Ireland, or any part of the United Kingdom, unless they uphold the police and the rule of law, and support and help the official agents of Government in dealing with crime and seeing that the law is faithfully observed. This is a day of decision for Northern Ireland. If Northern Ireland is going to take another road to peace and prosperity, it must have the rock-solid foundation that anyone serving in government must be a loyal subject of the security forces, the forces of the Crown, the police and those who adjudicate justice in the court system.
What alarms me is that the joint leaders of Sinn Fein recently had meetings in the United States of America; they included Mr. Adams, who is the Member of Parliament for Belfast, West, although he does not attend. He had been let back in to America only after a long delay. At one of those meetings he said, “Ian Paisley says that I am not for law and I am not for order. He is therefore demanding that we all take a pledge to support the police and the adjudication of the courts of the land.” He said, “I want to make a statement here tonight.” This was his statement. He said, “I want to tell this audience and America that I am for law and I am for order, but I am opposed—totally—to the law of Britain and I am opposed totally to the Orange Order.” Here is a man who tells us that he will support the police—although the pledge is yet to be seen and heard or subscribed to—but who then goes out of the country and says that he does not support British rule, British order or the British way of life. I and the majority of people, both nationalists and Protestants, look upon that as almost a redeclaration of war against us.
I trust that everyone here will be at the debates and that the House will say, on the first occasion that it has had such an opportunity, “Right, if you obey the law, if you support the Crown forces, if you support the police, you can be in government—provided, of course, that you are voted into government.” That should be the message from this House. If we do that, I believe that we will deliver ourselves from the darkness of the past and come to a light that will be a light indeed to the people and the children of Northern Ireland.
Again, we hear the central theme that the Queen’s Speech contains too much legislation, or not enough legislation, or U-turns on legislation—anything but the right legislation. But 10 days after bonfire night, I am still hearing via my postbag, my telephone and my doorstep about the noise, the nuisance, the problems and the scared pets resulting from enormous fireworks displays, not organised on a community basis, but put on in people’s back gardens. The size of the rockets going off is staggering. We are still finding rockets in our garden now, and I am still hearing a barrage of complaints that we passed fireworks legislation, but it has done no good because the police are not able to enforce it.
If any of the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech offers an opportunity to ensure that we can control the types of fireworks sold in this country, hundreds of thousands of our constituents will urge us to take that opportunity. I know that I speak for many in my constituency who face 20 or 30 days of fireworks displays. Diwali is followed by bonfire night, and very soon it will be Christmas and new year when the celebrations start again. We have to do something to cut the noise that some fireworks make—they sound like cannons going off.
Is the hon. Gentleman not illustrating a point that has been made time and again during this debate: legislation goes through this House because it grabs a headline for a day, but nothing happens afterwards because it has no substance and no powers are made available for it to be exercised?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The problem with the 2003 Act was not the Act itself, but the fact that the regulations made under it were not strong enough. Bill Tynan, the former Member for Hamilton, South, who introduced the private Member’s Bill, tabled an early-day motion calling for the regulations to be withdrawn because he felt that after all that work, the regulations that the Government came up with were not strong enough to deal with the menace.
I am pleased for my hon. Friend and his constituents, and I wish I could say the same for mine. Newspapers have run such competitions. Nowhere in the Queen’s Speech, however, do I see a reference to fireworks. Rest assured that such a measure would be extremely welcome in my constituency.
I add my voice to the voices of those who have paid tribute to all the hon. Members who have died since the last Queen’s Speech. If I may, I should like to make a special reference to my dear friend Robin Cook. I had the privilege of being his friend for 20 years and of working for him in this place both in opposition and in government. Robin was an extraordinary character who held this House in the palm of his hand, no more so than at the time of the Scott report, to which reference has been made. I promise not to mention Iraq again, except in this context.
Hon. Members will recall that performance. I recall sitting on the Opposition Benches when Robin Cook was at the Dispatch Box as though it were yesterday. It was an amazing performance. Hon. Members will also recall that he was supposedly given very little time to read the Scott report, yet was able to quote it almost chapter and verse. I found that interesting because, as part of Robin’s team, I knew that members of his staff attended virtually every session of the Scott report and that copious notes were taken, points made and understandings gained.
The weekend following that amazing speech, the New Statesman printed a cartoon showing a door portal and Margaret Cook saying, “Robin, your dinner will be ready in five minutes”. His reply was, “Thank you, dear. Just time to read ‘War and Peace’.”
I was a Trade and Industry Minister at that time. Without commenting on what the Scott report did and did not say, I must point out that it certainly did not have an executive summary. I think we managed to provide Robin Cook with three hours, locked in a room, to read the 28 volumes, and we thought he came to the House with a pretty forensic display that afternoon.
Might I remind the hon. Gentleman that he would not even let Robin have a pencil? None the less, that was an extraordinary parliamentary performance, and I am privileged to be able to stand here and mention it today, following his regrettable death. My thoughts and sympathies are also with the families of other Members who have departed during that period.
There is, however, much in the Queen’s Speech that I can welcome, certainly the reshuffle on child support. What a dreadful experience that has been for us all. More can be done on offender management and, of course, let us do what we can in the circumstances on concessionary bus travel. How many times must we revisit the issue of border and immigration controls? I suspect that we will still be talking about it in 20 years. It seems that in a world with 10 million refugees, the west will for ever be subject to people wishing to join our prosperity. I make no political point there, but the prosperity of the north and the west in particular attracts people who are striving to do better for themselves and for their families.
Some of my constituents complain that Wolverhampton has been subject to wave after wave of immigration—including the Windrush people, but starting before that. I am proud to say that Wolverhampton was home to many Poles and Ukrainians who came here immediately at the end of the war, and as a schoolboy I was able to make friends with many of them. Wave after wave have come to Wolverhampton, and by and large we have managed to rub along together to create a community and a city that is well worth living in.
People from our small island, over the centuries, have peopled almost every corner of the world. I like to believe that, by and large, that has been to the advantage of the world and of Britain. Long may it be the case that young people move freely around the world to find what they believe are the best opportunities for them.
While I understand that Home Office Ministers are under pressure and unable to deal with the number of people coming to Britain, I say that when the day comes that we allow bigots, small-minded people and others of that ilk to determine our immigration policy, that will be a sad day not just for Britain, but for Europe and the world. None the less, we have to give the issue a fair wind to achieve some satisfaction for people who understand the dangers inherent there as well.
I want to refer to the local government Bill. We have already had the White Paper, which was pretty unsatisfactory. For a couple of minutes, I want to describe to Members what I believe has been the social policy failure not just of this Government, but of a succession of Governments. We love to talk about cursively divining social policy—joined-up working—but I want to give the House an illustration of how that has not worked.
That failure is not based on the fact that Mrs. Thatcher decided to sell council homes. I own my own home, as do most people in the Chamber, and I have no objection to anyone else owning their own home and no problem with the sale of council houses—I want to make that clear—at a proper discount for sitting tenants. The detail is not that important, but what is important is the fact that successive Governments seem unable to understand the value of allowing local authorities, or councils, to build more homes.
Always in the post-war era, local government has built homes of a good standard and they have made the major contribution to public health in this country—more so than the national health service itself, in so far as they have created sanitary conditions in which people can raise their families while working and paying an affordable rent that allows them to work and keep the children. It seems, if I may say so, that the Government have a mental block in that they fail to see the massive success of council house building the length and breadth of this country in any way other than saying, “Oh well, it’s to do with the council.” We must change that.
Let me give an illustration. My constituency, like many others, has council estates where people have bought former council homes, saved a bob or two and then moved out into the private sector proper, having left their council house in the hands of an agent who rents it out for them. The rent officer then offers a market rent, which is almost invariably at least twice as much as that which the council can charge, due to its 20,000 to 30,000 houses, pooling of historic costs, subsidies and other elements of housing finance. Ordinary people doing ordinary jobs on average pay simply cannot afford to pay that rent without assistance. In my constituency and, I suspect, others, it is usually a single mother with two or three children—sometimes fewer and sometimes more—on 100 per cent. rent rebate who can afford to live there. Not always, but often, the children in that home have more problems than they should be expected to cope with at such a tender age. They go to the local school, are sometimes not well nourished, sometimes tired, sometimes not well looked after, and, guess what, standards at that school start to waver and then to tumble. What do we politicians say? We say that the teachers are responsible, but they are not. The failure is one of social policy, in so far as it is intellectually incoherent—it does not join up, to use the vernacular phrase.
In terms of joining up policy on immigration and housing, we need to address the huge problem, to which my hon. Friend might be about to refer, whereby this country builds 200,000 housing units a year, whereas we should, like France, which has a similar-sized population, build at least 300,000 units a year. That would remove many of the pressures to which he refers.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, to which I was going to refer briefly. Another aspect of the failure to build council houses is that we have created unnecessary shortages. A report has shown that the midlands is now 30,000 houses a year short of meeting the demand that he mentions. The Birmingham Post drew attention to that, I think, yesterday. There is a lot to be gained from a sensible, needs-related council house building programme, with rents set at affordable levels through pooling historic costs—
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concerns about the system for sale of land? If one demolishes a council property and sells the land, one can spend all of the money raised. But if one does not demolish the property, and sells it while it is extant, one can only spend 25 per cent. of the money; in fact, 75 per cent. must go to the Government to pay off the debt. Would not it be sensible to allow 100 per cent. of the revenue to be spent on additional housing?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. Tony Crosland once described housing finance as, I think, a granny’s breakfast—for whatever reason—rather than a dog’s breakfast. I wonder how much change has been made to that. There are still considerable, unnecessary complexities.
The other day, I read a paper from my local authority’s treasurer—I think that they are called directors of finance now—and after two pages, I needed to go to a darkened room to lie down. It is becoming so difficult to understand the subsidies and cross-subsidies. At the bottom of it all is the dreadful legacy from the previous Conservative Government, which my Government have done nothing to change, whereby cross-subsidies between councils end up with the relatively less-well-off people paying for the poorest people in our communities. In my opinion, that is not what a Labour Government should be doing. We should be trying to put housing on a footing that is relatively easy to understand, and on which people can pay the rent that they are charged.
I hope that the local government Bill will contain major changes to what appeared in the White Paper. I hope that it will place more emphasis on practice. The White Paper speaks of structural changes—of giving more power to mayors and to city regions. We need to get the basic services right, get them joined up, and ensure that they serve the people. If we do that, I think that we will make real progress.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase).
I, too, pay tribute to colleagues who are no longer in the House with us. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to single out my old friend and colleague, Eric Forth. Eric participated on the first day of the Queen's Speech debates in the last Parliament, when in a noble speech—and one of the briefest that he made—he set out nine criteria on which Bills should be judged to establish whether they passed the Eric Forth quality test. They were noble criteria. I would not hope to emulate anything like that today—my speech will deal with more parochial and Penrithean matters, rather than great matters of state—but I cannot let one comment pass. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was concerned about the Fireworks Act 2003. I seem to remember assisting Mr. Forth on one occasion—briefly, as his sidekick—when he delayed that Bill for two or three Sessions because he thought it over-regulatory.
My concern is that the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech do not include a Bill to deal with rural discrimination, which we desperately need. When I look at measure after measure introduced by this Government, I see that rural areas are being ignored and neglected, and that when the Government do focus on them, it is in order to discriminate against them. Let us take the “bus pass” Bill. How could anyone oppose that seemingly wonderful measure? How will it affect my constituents? It will not do them the slightest bit of good, because we have no buses; but they will be paying, in increased taxes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for more bus subsidisation in inner-city areas.
I think that if the hon. Gentleman bothered to look at what DEFRA has been doing in the last 12 months—leaving aside the wicked, incompetent destruction of farmers during the foot and mouth debacle—he would not make any comment about farmers having been overpaid subsidies.
We should look at what Europe does, and at what Scotland and Wales do. They manage to pay their farmers in time. It is only in England that the incompetent DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency fail to make payments to British farmers. Every other country in Europe, including the other countries of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—is able to pay up on time.
There is more to rural areas than farm payments, however. I have mentioned the lack of buses. More bus subsidy will go to pensioners, of whom most will be in city areas. My constituency is under a massive onslaught from the Government. Four of my community hospitals are threatened with closure. One of the problems is the funding formula, which does not include a rural sparsity factor: it, too, discriminates against rural areas. The police funding formula, which does include a rural sparsity factor, happens to be one that I incorporated in 1996, and I pay tribute to the Government for retaining it. The rest of the local government funding formula takes some account of rural sparsity, but not the NHS formula.
One way of determining whether an area is poor in health terms is to establish whether it contains cars or buses. As city areas have more buses, it is concluded that people must be slightly poorer. My area is discriminated against because more people have cars. The Government’s formula assumes that an area where people have cars must be a wealthy middle-class area, and we are therefore given less money for health. In Cumbria, if people do not have a car, they go nowhere. We have rural poverty in Cumbria and in other rural areas, but it is not in clusters that one might spot more easily in inner-city areas. We have rural poverty worse than in some cities but it is scattered and sporadic. It is individual houses among plush-looking countryside. It is not noticed but, goodness me, it exists.
We need an anti-discrimination Bill for rural areas to save our post offices. The latest survey shows that the Penrith and The Border constituency, one of many rural constituencies, is top of the hit list for removal of our rural post offices. Is it any co-incidence that the areas that are most likely to lose their post offices, bus services and hospitals in the latest hit list happen to be in the constituencies of Conservative Members of Parliament? There is a deliberate, two-phased attack on those areas—Conservative areas and rural areas—by this Government. Where the Government are not deliberately attacking them, by neglect, ignorance and inadvertence, they are letting our services fall.
The Government talk about social inclusion. Many of my rural constituents feel terribly excluded.
Is it not illogical and invidious that the Government fail even adequately to provide for the infrastructure of a rural area such as mine in Aylesbury vale, which is expected to accommodate an additional 1,000 houses every year for the next 20 years? Would not it be a good idea if the Department of Health talked to the Department for Education and Skills, which in turn had the decency to talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government?
My hon. Friend is right. I will give him the other side of that equation. In the town of Penrith, we are allowed to build about 100 homes per annum. That was set by the Deputy Prime Minister and his Department a few years ago. We need about 400. The Carlisle area is allowed to build about 200 to 300 homes. It needs 1,000 per annum. We are desperately short of housing at all levels in my constituency and in Cumbria. There is the myth of starter homes. The average salary is £15,000. A starter home is £120,000. It is nonsense to talk about starter homes. We are short of houses at the £200,000 level. Two-bedroom bungalows are selling at £300,000 in my constituency, and they are not in the heart of the Lake district or the plush areas.
Why are we in that situation? The Deputy Prime Minister concluded in his wisdom that Cumbria is part of the north-west. Apparently, somewhere in the north-west—is it in Manchester or Liverpool?—thousands of houses are surplus to requirements and must be demolished. The Deputy Prime Minister will not allow us to build houses 120 miles to the north of Manchester and Liverpool until their homes are demolished and the surplus is balanced. It is nonsense, it is madness. Some of my constituents in rural areas do not have the capacity to travel five miles to work, let alone commute from Manchester and Liverpool to Cumbria. However, I do not want to be led down that route because I want to concentrate on measures that are in the Queen's Speech and on some that are not in the speech.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) mentioned the lack of a coroners Bill. I, too, would like to see a coroners Bill because I would be able to make the point that, despite the fact that Cumbria is a big rural county, the Government have ordered our county council to get rid of one of our three coroners, with a huge loss of services. They have also decided that we have too many registration offices and that some of my rural constituents in Kirkby Stephen and Appleby should now be registering online on the website. That is all right for some, but 50 per cent. of my constituents are not online and they cannot access the website. That is why I say that a Bill to outlaw that sort of discrimination is long overdue.
I support what the Government are aiming to do on climate change. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say today that, if we closed the whole of British industry, it would make no difference to the expansion of China and, indeed, of the United States. Therefore, although I look forward to this country setting an example, it must not be an example that destroys our business and does not make the slightest difference to climate change in the world. I agree with the Prime Minister; we must have an international treaty to make sure that the biggest polluters in the world do their fair share.
I am listening with great care to the right hon. Gentleman and I sympathise greatly, representing a rural constituency myself. Given all the woes that are befalling Cumbria, might not it be better if it were under the administration of the Scottish Parliament, particularly one led by a new Executive, under bright new leadership, who care about rural areas?
I cannot resist commenting that of course we in Cumbria would like some of the benefits that the people of Scotland get from their Parliament. My constituents say, “We are paying for them. Why are they getting 25 per cent more spent on their roads, their houses and their education?” My rural agricultural constituents beg for the Scotland Executive’s Agriculture Department to run their payments rather than DEFRA.
I am not going to go down that route, except to say in all seriousness that I have the benefit of living in an area served by Border television, which serves south Scotland and the north of England. It is a superb cross-border facility that would never be invented these days—for nationalistic reasons north and south of the border, a mixture of Scottish and English television would never be created—but it works. We have a proud 600-year history in the borders; in Dumfries and Galloway, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland and Cumbria. If we had invented a borders economic development region 30 years ago, it might have been successful and improved relations between the Grahams and the other clans in the borders.
I shall get back to the main subject before I am led down a further ethnic route. I want to make a final point about rural areas. I served on a Committee that dealt with the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill in 2005. When will the Government get away from their obsession with wind farms? With declining agriculture, this country has tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of acres of land where docks, weeds and thistles grow at the moment. We should be growing fuels for biodiesel on that land.
Biodiesel is the future and yet the Government are trying to inflict massive wind farms on the Lake district, placing a steel noose around England’s finest national park. Yes, we want renewables; yes, we will have to go down the nuclear route and we must do more to save and conserve energy. But land-based wind farms that destroy our finest landscapes are not acceptable. We could take some hydropower, of which Scotland has the great benefit, but biofuels are the future for renewables, not land-based wind farms that destroy jobs and landscapes and only let some companies make a few grubby pounds.
The final point on rural areas is about milk. I am deeply concerned, as are many others in this House, about the decline of the British dairy farming industry. It is not just men and women with 50 to 100 cows who are going out of business. When huge and efficient dairy farms with 300 or 400 cows are going out of business because it is uneconomical, that is a serious threat to this country and a serious warning that we must take on board.
I make no apology for once again attacking the big supermarkets and I pay tribute to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which has identified the missing 18p. Our farmers are paid 14p or 15p a litre; the supermarkets are all, by happy coincidence, selling at 54p or 55p each. However, there is not a cartel, say our regulators; they cannot prove it. But where is the money in between going? We must look at the power of the supermarkets relating to milk. We must encourage milk farmer and producer co-ops with more muscle, selling directly to the supermarket.
The penultimate point I wish to make is on Farepak. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) for her excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week. Nothing, apart from the way in which DEFRA handled foot and mouth, has angered me more than Farepak’s treatment of its customers. As I get letter after letter from constituents describing their plight, I am getting very angry about it indeed. It is despicable. The hon. Member for South Swindon named the Farepak directors. She was right to do so, because their behaviour has been tantamount to that of the scum of the earth.
The situation might be worse, however, because Farepak’s holding company, European Home Retail, has, it seems to me, been guilty of money laundering—if not in the technical sense, certainly in the moral sense. It knew for some time that its investments were duff. It bought a company for £35 million, which did not prosper, and sold it for £4 million, and I understand that it has been raiding the Farepak account. That is money laundering. It siphoned money out of Farepak, which was an okay company that was not going broke or bust.
If I could find the names of European Home Retail’s directors, I would name them, too. But if we publish on the internet their other subsidiary companies, I hope that no one will do business with them ever again.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. They lead me into my next line, as I was about to say that I hope that the investigation will also look into the role of HBOS and NatWest bank. I understand that they were owed huge sums—loans totalling about £35 million—by European Home Retail. HBOS has made a generous offer of £2 million to the new charitable fund that has been set up. If, however, HBOS has pulled the rug from under the European Home Retail holding company and asked for its £35 million back—or £10 million or £15 million; we do not know how much the sum is—it is as guilty of grubby, dirty, underhand behaviour as are Farepak and European Home Retail, and an offer of £2 million is not sufficient for the distress that they have caused and the wrong that they have done. If neither HBOS nor NatWest has done that, I give them my apology in advance, but I would like to know whether that is the case; I would love to get a note tomorrow from the managing directors of those banks putting me right on that.
The issue that particularly concerns me about Farepak is that the deposited money should have been on trust. If it were a firm of solicitors—or one of the many financial institutions that are regulated in this way—the money would be held on trust, and would be deemed to be a different type of money from the ordinary assets of the company. The banks would therefore be in error in taking the money to settle other debts. Therefore, I share the concern that has been expressed.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There might be scope to attach some form of amendment to deal with that in the consumer Bill that will be presented to the House later. However, I am unsure whether new regulation of this type of industry is necessary, and I do not think that we should rush down that route if it is not necessary. An amendment to the criminal law might be what is required to deal with this, or amendments to Acts on company directors.
I do not disagree with anything that the right hon. Gentleman says on Farepak; many of my constituents are involved. However, we cannot forget the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry for regulation. There are clear indications from the collapse in share prices of the companies concerned that something was seriously amiss many months before the collapse happened. During those months, my constituents and the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents were still putting money into Farepak.
The hon. Gentleman makes another valid point. That matter should be investigated. However, as the DTI is investigating Farepak or European Home Retail, I am not sure who will investigate its role. That could be a job for a Select Committee of this House.
What happened is obvious to everyone. The public were paying their money in, and the last cheque was cashed 15 minutes before Farepak went into liquidation. There was deliberate siphoning of money—money laundering. I hope that the criminal law of this country is sufficient to deal with that. If not, I would prefer to deal with it by making amendments to the criminal law in this Session of Parliament, rather than by taking up some of the other suggestions.
I wish now to turn to my final point, and I shall choose my words very carefully. Yesterday, I attended a briefing by the excellent organisation, Policy Exchange, which looked at, among other things, radical Islamism. I make a clear distinction between Muslim fundamentalist clerics who may feel about, and hold, the tenets of their faith passionately and strongly, and the political creed of radical Islamism, which wishes to see the destruction of all secular society, the imposition of sharia law and the imposition of the Islamic creed across the world. A clear distinction must be made between political agitators and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt 30 or 40 years ago, and those who just have strong religious beliefs.
There are many points that can be made about this issue, and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), who raised this issue in a very thoughtful way—much more thoughtfully than I ever could—last week. However, there is just one remaining small point that I wish to share with the House. I heard an excellent speech yesterday by Mr. Ali, a Labour councillor in, I think, Tower Hamlets; I apologise if I have got his London district wrong. He made the point that he, as an elected councillor of many years’ standing, has been sidelined by all Governments because we now listen to faith communities instead.
Mr. Ali said that, although it might be easier to do so, it is wrong for parliamentarians and for Governments to talk to faith communities, instead of dealing with the problem in question by talking to the Bangladeshi, Indian or Sikh community. It is much easier to lump them together and say, “We’ll talk to the faith community. That prevents us from making mistakes: from perhaps saying the wrong thing and getting into deep trouble by incorrectly attributing certain attitudes or views to a certain sector of society.” He said, “Can we please get back to dealing with the individual ethnic communities in my constituency, because the problems that we face in those communities cannot all be lumped together under the heading of a faith community?” Crucially, he said that, once we start talking to faith communities, we give credence to the “mad mullahs” of this world—those are my words, not his—and to the religious leaders, rather than to we, the elected politicians. That was probably one of the best speeches that I have heard in many years. What that Labour councillor had to say was a revelation.
I share that with the House because it highlights a very good point that we need to address. As we look at vitally important terrorism legislation in the next few months, we need to bear it in mind that we have got to get back in touch with the hearts and minds of those communities. If we are to influence the hearts and minds of youngsters who may be tempted, for whatever reason, to become radicals and to destroy themselves and others—if we are to get at them—we must not sideline the political and other leaders of such communities by talking only to the so-called faith leaders, many of whom are self-appointed. Let us not sideline those local politicians; let us deal with them and give them the status that they deserve in their own communities, because they have been elected. That could be a start in winning the hearts and minds of some of the young radicals who may be the terrorists of the future.
On looking at the Queen’s Speech, the first thought that goes through my mind is, “Is all this legislation necessary, and how will these Bills help my constituents?” Notwithstanding what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) had to say, I doubt whether we really need yet another local government Bill. Hardly a year goes by without further changes being foisted on local councils, which then find that they are spending more and more time dealing with change, rather than concentrating on delivering front-line services.
The local government Bill in the Queen’s Speech was preceded by a White Paper that suggests more devolution to the localities, although—to echo the point just made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean)—not necessarily to local government; however, it still prescribes the changes in local government structure and management that can be made. Despite the lack of demand and the experience so far, it appears that there is to be yet another attempt to manoeuvre local authorities in the direction of elected mayors.
How can we accept that more power is to be devolved from the centre, when the centre is being so prescriptive in the direction that change should take? Surely the essence of local government is that councillors should be able to develop systems that suit their area. That may result in different systems in different localities, but so what? Local government should develop by learning from the experiences of others and, where appropriate, by adapting what it learns to its own areas and circumstances. I hope that the local government Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech will recognise the valuable contribution our locally elected representatives make to our society and the value of diversity and choice, and show a little more flexibility than has hitherto been shown.
There is also to be yet another attempt to complete the modernisation and reform of the House of Lords. In answering a question from me on this issue in 2003, the Prime Minister said, among other things:
“I personally think that a hybrid between the two”—
an elected and an appointed House—
“is wrong and will not work.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877.]
Yet the Leader of the House is suggesting that just such a proposal will be brought to the House early in the new Session. Of course, the Labour party manifesto promised the completion of reform and to produce a more representative second Chamber, but that can be achieved without the introduction of elected Members, as I hope Parliament will see.
However, if the reforms as outlined so far by the Leader of the House are pursued, I hope that the people will be given the chance to vote on them in a referendum. After all, if referendums were right for Scotland, Wales and the devolved regional assemblies, such a major constitutional change, as outlined by the Leader of the House, should also be decided by the people. The question then would be, “Will people vote for another 500 or so paid politicians, with their expenses, secretaries, researchers and so on?” That was the simplistic argument that, among other things, defeated the attempt to introduce regional government to the north-east. In my view, that defeat was bad news for the north-east, but it will have been very good news if it prevents the disaster of an elected second Chamber.
We have recently had some good news in the north-east. According to the UK competitiveness index, the north-east’s competitiveness rose by 3.1 per cent. during 2005-06, which should be compared with a fall of 4.1 per cent. in the south-east. According to the report’s authors, that is
“a sign that the government’s policies on regional development and devolution are beginning to impact”.
However, the north-east is still at the bottom of the table, so a lot remains to be done. In particular, we need further to encourage the growth of businesses and jobs in the region. To a large degree, that will depend on good transport links throughout the region and on our links with other regions. We have been running a “go for jobs” campaign, which has the support of all the partners in the north-east. The impetus for that campaign was the Highways Agency’s hampering of progress by restricting development, on the ground of increased congestion—the infamous “article 14 orders”.
There is no doubt that congestion is a problem, and it is particularly acute on the A1-Gateshead western bypass, where the road often resembles a car park, rather than a motorway. Of major concern in our region is the fact that, while the Highways Agency argues that it has a responsibility to relieve and to avoid congested roads, it has done precious little to improve our roads over too many years. Indeed, I first raised this issue with the then Conservative transport Minister, the late John Watts, back in the 1980s, and have been banging on about it ever since.
The Queen’s Speech refers to a Bill to tackle road congestion and to improve public transport, and the north-east looks to that Bill to address seriously, at last, the very serious problems that we face. While it is true to say that we cannot build our way out of congestion, it needs to be recognised that road transport will nevertheless be a major feature of our country’s social and economic activity for the foreseeable future.
The nation’s motorway network should constitute a proper and fully integrated system of free-flowing arteries for social activity and economic development. At the moment, the north-east remains cut off, with no continuous motorway links north, south or west to the rest of the system. Indeed, there is not a single mile of three-lane motorway anywhere in the region. It is grossly unfair and discriminatory that we should be so deprived, and this problem must be resolved if our region is to make more rapid progress economically and socially.
One way further to reduce the north-south divide is to reduce journey times between the regions, and in this regard high-speed rail is vital.
I am listening very carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say about the north-east, but does he agree that his suggestions regarding the development of transport will be hampered by the ludicrous proposal coming out in the new year called the regional spatial strategy, which has more in common with Soviet Russia than with modern-day Britain?
My hon. Friend makes his point well.
I cannot believe that by the end of the 21st century high-speed inter-city links will still consist of hundreds of tonnes of metal trundling along on steel rails. As an electrical engineering apprentice in the 1960s, I learned about the linear motor. It is a concept that was invented in Britain and, in simple terms, involves cutting open an electric motor and laying it flat, so that instead of a rotor going round and round, a flat panel moves along horizontally, supported and propelled by magnetism. Maglev was born.
The introduction of maglev in the UK is way past its time. It could have formed an ultra-modern rapid transport system for the UK, had any Government been brave and futuristic enough to bite the bullet. Such a system of high-speed travel, with trains travelling at speeds of up to 300 mph, would be a major contribution to reducing regional disparities, bringing prosperity to the north and cooling the overheated and congested south. A Government for the 21st century will surely take up the challenge. I want that to be a Labour Government.
In the meantime, we are led to believe that the way forward is to discourage motorists from using their cars so much. Local authorities are to be given the power and incentive to introduce road pricing as a way of relieving congestion and tackling global warming. However, people still have to get around their local areas. Without a viable, attractive and affordable public transport alternative, road pricing will merely end up as another unpopular tax. Encouraging indications are coming from Ministers. They are finally accepting that local transport has been decimated by the privatisation of bus services and that without some form of local control over buses, the system of local transport that is needed to attract motorists out of their cars will not exist.
We are given to understand that Ministers may take powers in the proposed Bill to run a number of pilot schemes to test alternative systems. I should like to volunteer Tyne and Wear for a franchising system that would put the power to decide the routes on which buses will run in the hands of local transport authorities. Our case is built on two facts. First, we have the metro, which needs a properly integrated system to operate to its full efficiency and provide the comprehensive services that people in the area need and deserve. Secondly, our major industrial and commercial areas are badly in need of the kind of congestion relief with which a good public transport service can help.
I notice a line in the Queen’s Speech that says:
“Legislation will provide for free off-peak local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people.”
That is of course the national rolling out of the local scheme, which currently restricts travel to local authority boundaries. I welcome that, but the scheme that the Government introduced last year has cost Tyne and Wear dear, with £7 million of cuts, and is in danger of costing us £2 million to £3 million in cuts this year. My question to the Government, which I shall ask when the Bill comes before the House and throughout its passage, is: may we have our money back?
Another area in urgent need of review is reform of the welfare system, to which the Queen’s Speech also referred. I should like to pay tribute to the huge contribution made to our society by those who care for people who are less fortunate than others. Our Government have a good record on that, the best example of which is perhaps the introduction of the minimum wage. However, a huge anomaly has arisen as a result of the latest—and welcome—increase in the minimum hourly rate. Many of our fellow citizens, whose incomes are suppressed because they care for a disabled, elderly or terminally ill relative, are in receipt of carer’s allowance. However, that allowance is paid only if income is less than £84 a week. Because the increase in the minimum wage has taken some carers marginally over £84—sometimes by as little as a few pence—they have lost the whole of the £46 a week allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions is looking into the issue, and I am hopeful of a successful outcome, but it highlights the kind of anomaly that can arise when a well-meaning policy does not keep pace with the rest of the system. Without the millions of carers up and down the country who look after sick, disabled and elderly people, the NHS and social services would have to step in, and what would the cost be then? Something must be done in this new Session to correct the system. Carer’s allowance should be reduced gradually, in direct proportion to the amount by which the earnings limit is breached, and the limit itself should be increased to take into account wage inflation and increases in the minimum wage.
I welcome the proposal to introduce a climate change Bill. The issue must take priority over all others, as it threatens our very survival, but we cannot resolve it alone, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. Climate change recognises no national boundaries. Crucially, there is little sign that countries such as India and China, with their fast growing economies, are keen to co-operate. It is difficult to argue the case with those countries when the United States, which is responsible for between one quarter and one fifth of global emissions, is still reluctant fully to join the fight, although I hope that we might see some progress there, with the political changes of recent weeks.
Whatever we might think about our Government’s performance and no matter how good we are at doing our bit in the UK, without international agreements and serious action by developed and emerging economies alike, the problem cannot be resolved. In the meantime, major steps in tackling climate change here must be energy efficiency and energy conservation, waste management and waste avoidance, in Government, industry and the home.
In that regard, we need more initiatives such as the Newcastle and Gateshead warm zones, which help to insulate homes and introduce energy conservation, while keeping people warm. There should be less packaging and more biodegradable products. I hope that the climate change Bill will not only move us further towards playing our full part in the struggle for the future of our planet, but do so in a way that takes all our people with us, on the basis of a proper understanding of the problem and why each and every one of us has our part to play. I should like to commend Gateshead council in that regard, on winning a prize at the UK Fleet Heroes awards, after reducing carbon emissions by 300 tonnes last year.
Science must play a major part in finding less polluting alternatives and more efficient energy sources. It is no good telling people that they can no longer travel and expecting that to be an acceptable long-term solution. New, cleaner and more efficient sources of energy must form a large part of the answer. Much more research and development is needed to find and develop them.
Other welcome proposals in the Queen’s Speech include those to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. I hope that when we do so we shall give proper recognition to the contributions made by the voluntary victim support units up and down the country.
Finally, I welcome the Government’s determination to find a lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine problem and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. There can be no doubt that a lasting settlement that brings peace between the peoples of Israel and Palestine will be a major step forward in bringing about peace across the middle east and, I hope, the wider world.
I am pleased to participate in this debate on the Queen’s Speech, the contents of which were rather mixed and represent a missed opportunity, given what it did and did not contain. For some of us, the Queen’s Speech was therefore a disappointment—no new ideas, merely a recycling of previous measures and approaches. To me and others in my party, those measures looked like those of a tired Government who have run out of steam. The speech seemed to contain more illusion than reality. After nine years of activity and legislation, there are still so many problems that the Government have either not dealt with or dealt with so badly that they have made them worse.
I am delighted to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), who spoke about post office closures. Closures in suburban constituencies such as mine are just as important as they are in rural areas, because post offices are centres of the community. Pensioners, families, mothers with young children and businesses need the facilities that post offices supply in their localities, but nothing in today’s measures highlights the problems of the communities in the suburbs, where post offices are also being closed. We also heard nothing about cuts in NHS provision in community services and hospitals in Bexley. That will be a sore omission for my constituents and for people in neighbouring constituencies in the borough.
Antisocial behaviour is a serious problem in our area, but the Government have not been able to deal with it. There is the usual comment in the speech about Government dealing with antisocial behaviour, but they have had endless attempts and the problem seems to be becoming worse. In addition, skills shortages, concerns about standards in education, the stealth taxes that the Government have imposed on my constituents, and many transport issues are not addressed in the Queen’s Speech.
I welcome some measures in the speech, however, particularly the proposal to restore the link between pensions and earnings. In the last general election, many of us campaigned on introducing such a measure—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) has been up and down, intervening on quite a few Members this afternoon, and yes, there was a mistake, but one that we looked to rectify in the general election. The Government have only just taken that on board. We have to accept that policy mistakes were made in the past, but the important thing is to recognise when mistakes have been made, and to act accordingly. It has taken the Government a long time to see their mistake in not dealing with the matter earlier.
There are three subjects on which I want to concentrate: the environment, London and education. The environment is a tremendously important issue for all of us, and that fact was highlighted in other speeches this afternoon, including in the excellent speech made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We welcome the climate change Bill, as we need to address the issue for the future of our country and the world, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. However, the problem in my part of the world is that although the Government say that they want to be green and improve the environment, they are taking measures that have the opposite effect.
Recently, Government approval was given for a waste-to-energy incinerator in Belvedere, which is not in my constituency, although it is in the borough of Bexley. Many of us campaigned against it over the past 15 years, because we were concerned about pollution and the increase in transport that would result from waste being taken to the site. We were also concerned about the environment of the riverside, which we tried to clean up; we wanted improving, non-polluting industries there, yet the Government decided to approve the incinerator. That is not exactly environmentally friendly action on the part of a Government who profess concern for the environment.
Another issue is the proposed Thames Gateway bridge, which many of us are campaigning against vigorously. There was a public inquiry on the proposal, and I believe that the public inquiry inspector’s report is now with the Secretary of State for Transport, or will be shortly. The Government seemed agnostic on the subject, but I hope that they will oppose the plan when they have studied the inspector’s report. Locally, all political parties and community groups are against having a crossing point at that part of the Thames. That is not only because of the environmental consequences of pollution—our part of south-east London already has poor air quality, because of history, location and air direction—but, more importantly, because it would increase the traffic in suburban areas of Bexley.
I hope that the Government will take on board the issues raised in the public inquiry, and by community groups and campaigners. If they approve the proposal, their professions of interest in green issues and the environment will be proved to be shallow. I hope that the Government will stick firmly to what they say about being green when it comes to policies in our area. I should like to mention overdevelopment, too. We in the south-east are concerned about the increase in building, which is taking place on every open space, and about losing greenfield and brownfield sites that we very much value. I hope that the Government will look again at those issues.
On London, the Queen’s Speech says that
“Bills will provide for reform of local government and enhanced powers for the Mayor and Assembly for London.”
Many of us are extremely concerned about that. We believe in localism, and we believe that local communities should make decisions that affect the locality. We do not want a Mayor—regardless of political persuasion—with increasing powers, who sits in the centre of London, making decisions on a wide range of issues that affect the suburbs. The current Mayor has visited my borough only once since he came to office, yet the Government want to give him more powers to make more decisions about events in, and policies for, Bexley.
Bexley is fortunate to have a new Conservative council, elected last May. It is led by Councillor Ian Clement who, together with his team, is doing a tremendous job after four years of a profligate and inefficient Labour council. To take power away from that team and give it to the centre—to the London Mayor—would be a terrible mistake, and the idea is not popular in my area.
While we are talking about unpopular measures that communities in London face, the Olympic levy is of great concern. Although we were all supportive of holding the Olympics in London, we believe that the Olympics are a national, and not just a London, event. Why should Londoners pay an additional levy, not knowing how long it will apply, and how much it will be, for the pleasure of having the Olympics in London?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it adds insult to injury that those in London must deal with that issue, on top of paying a levy for the privilege of holding the Olympics. In my area, pensioners are particularly exercised about the subject, and I share their view that London should not be penalised with an Olympic levy.
I should like to highlight the importance of regeneration in London, but the majority of the regeneration that will result from the Olympics will take place north of the Thames. Worth while as that may be, it means that the people of Bexley will pay for the Olympics and get precious little for their money, because neither events nor regeneration will take place in Bexley. There is real concern about that, but the Government do not seem terribly fussed or concerned about the issue, either in the Queen’s Speech or elsewhere, although they ought to be.
My third point is on education. We all remember the Prime Minister saying that education would be all-important to his Government when he came into power in 1997, yet there are still tremendous problems to do with education and its provision, as well as skills shortages. Bexley has very good education provision, because we have diversity. There are church schools, grammar schools, technical schools and some excellent comprehensive schools. However, across the country, and even in Bexley, there is still a shortage of skilled labour. The number of pupils leaving school with few qualifications and poor basic skills is quite alarming given that the Government, over the years, said that education was their top priority.
Behaviour, discipline and truancy are all issues that still need to be addressed, and the suggestion made in the Queen’s Speech that the Government
“will continue to raise standards”
has rather a hollow ring to those of us who were teachers, and to parents, people working with businesses, and school governors, such as me. We are concerned about what is happening.
Employers who speak to me feel that in general qualifications are easier to obtain than they were in the past and that there are far too many top grades at GCSE and A-level. That is a concern. Although we welcome the contributions of our tremendous teachers and schools, something is going wrong and the Queen’s Speech does not address the underlying problems in our education system.
Of course, we need more emphasis on training, skills and job-related opportunities. It is a tremendous problem for our society that we do not have enough plumbers, carpenters and skilled tradespeople. I look with interest to the further education Bill highlighted in the Queen’s Speech to show us how exactly the Government plan to overcome the skills shortage.
My constituents will be extremely disappointed with most of the Queen’s Speech. More power for the London Mayor, the failure to address the Olympic levy and the costs of the Olympics to London council tax payers, the failure to come to grips with health service cuts and the problems of antisocial behaviour are real issues confronted daily by my constituents and in London. The generalities of the Queen’s Speech will not do. My constituents think that after nine years the Government should have done better. We all feel that the speech goes only a limited way towards improving the quality of life of our constituents, so we are rather sceptical that it will actually achieve what we think needs to be done.
The Queen’s Speech contains a few good points but a lot is not being said or dealt with, so the Opposition are extremely concerned about how the real problems will be addressed. Many of us feel that it will certainly not be under this Government or their successor; it will be only when we have had a general election that we will actually get down to dealing with the problems that concern the vast majority of our constituents. The Government keep talking about the problems but they do not succeed in solving them.
I join others in paying tribute to the former Members of the House who are no longer with us. I join, too, in the compliments made to the proposer and seconder of the Queen’s Speech, but I shall not try to join in the debate on the conception and gestation of the Cardiff bay development project.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and the Bills outlined in it, which address the big issues that confront us: security, climate change and pensions. It is a Queen’s Speech for a Government who are looking to the future, prepared to spell out hard facts, face up to difficulties and introduce legislation to address them.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the proposed climate change Bill, but first I want to say one or two things about security and the war on terror, which have exercised a number of Members. Any country at war has a dilemma in striking the appropriate balance between security at home and the civil liberties that it is fighting to protect. That dilemma is far more difficult now than in any previous wartime situation. Most previous wars have been against a defined enemy operating from a defined geographical base, but now we are fighting a completely different war, against opponents who may, in day-to-day activity, be indistinguishable from friends and working colleagues. None the less, the vision of the society that they are trying to bring about is medieval and theocratic and denies people basic human rights and equality of opportunity.
Striking a legislative balance that enables us to identify and put away such people while protecting the civil liberties that enable them to thrive is extremely difficult. At present, the judicial system and, possibly, a media lobby seem to concentrate on protecting the civil liberties of a group of people who are hellbent on destroying ours. They do not have the balance right, but the Government’s proposals on identity cards and, perhaps, on the extension of the 28-day detention period are appropriate as part of the balance of provisions that are necessary in our judicial system to address the scale of the security problem that we face.
In common with many other MPs, I spent 20 days with the West Midlands police during the summer as part of the police and parliamentary scheme. I regularly asked whether identity cards would help the police in their everyday professional duties. Across the board, in all departments, the answer was yes. Opposition Members cannot disregard and reject such consistent advice from a body of people who are engaged day to day in dealing with the problems. I also spent some time with the high-tech group, looking at internet security issues and at how the police trace internet and paedophile crime.
We have a real problem in respect of security, because although the people we are trying to counter have the most simplistic vision of society, they use the most high-tech, skilled methods to convey their message and to operate within the community. From my conversations with the police and civilian staff who daily try to decipher internet codes and encryptions to locate the criminals who use the internet and mobile phone technology to promote their activities, it became obvious that 28 days is insufficient for the police to carry out inquiries on the scale necessary to deal with such criminal activity, whether terrorist or not.
We can argue about other crimes, but nobody would deny that the modern terrorist operating with highly sophisticated means has a potential for destruction that we have never faced in the past from more conventional enemies. We need to look at a different legislative framework, in particular the extension of the 28-day period, so that our police have the tools available to undertake the highly complex investigations necessary to identify those people and bring them to judgment. That is part and parcel of an appropriate and correct balance in our judicial system between freedom and security.
Part of the difficulty the police face in respect of the dilemma of 28 days in contradistinction to 90 days is that however many resources the UK police put into an investigation—for example, in trying to retrieve encrypted material from a computer—they may have to obtain mobile phone records from another country that has such a chaotic system that it may take two weeks for the records to arrive. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that it can never simply be a question of the amount of resources devoted by this country, and that that has a bearing on how long the period should be?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The use of mobile phones, the constant changing of mobile phones, and their interaction with mobile phones abroad present a big challenge to the police and reinforce the need for them to have greater time to carry out the necessary searches. Mobile phones also pose a range of other problems, which I shall not try to pursue because I have other points to raise.
On the climate change Bill, the Stern report was authoritative and spelled out in stark terms the consequences of inaction. It is simplistic and evades the issue to say that because we are a relatively small part of the problem of CO2 emissions, it is not our responsibility. Stern demolished that argument. It is not only a humanitarian problem that would have an impact on the world economy, and the western nations in particular, but potentially a security problem. The threat posed to security if huge segments of populations are deprived of their homes and livelihoods, or if the many borders or rivers between countries disappear, is, frankly, incalculable.
Britain is more advanced on climate change than any other country in reaching its Kyoto targets and it has a degree of moral authority in taking a lead on it that other countries do not have. Our history gives us avenues of influence that, again, others do not have. Britain is better placed strategically than any other country in taking a lead. The challenge is simple: how does Britain, a country responsible for just 2 per cent. of total carbon emissions, play a role in changing consumer and producer habits across the world in a way that enables other countries to develop their economies and raise their standards of living without causing further damage to the environment?
Although I recognise that cut-throat international trade rarely respects traditional political and diplomatic alliances, we must take a lead. Our traditional role in Europe, and now our position of playing a lead role in Europe, give us an area of influence. Although often derided by some hon. Members, our historical alliance with the United States also gives us an avenue of influence. Add to that our contact with the Commonwealth counties, some of which—India, for instance—will be major players on climate change, and the efforts that we have made to engage with China, and we realise that Britain is strategically placed to have a diplomatic role that is essential to underpin the policies that we are adopting to deal with climate change.
If I turn from the global strategic position to my constituency, it is because in many ways it is a microcosm of the threats and opportunities presented by international climate change. It is a traditional manufacturing constituency and has more foundries than any other constituency. If the Government take the right decisions on climate change, my constituents will have more jobs and live in a cleaner and more energy efficient environment.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government will have a responsibility for keeping the public on-side on environmental issues and that any taxation tools that are used must not be a smokescreen for stealth taxes, but be for a purpose, which is to ensure that we do what we can to tackle global warming?
I shall at least touch on that, but essentially I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If taxation is related to the environment, it must be designed to deal with environmental problems. I do not think that there is much difference between us on that.
If the Government make the wrong decisions, foundries in my constituency will have higher costs and jobs could be lost to companies abroad that have higher carbon emissions, but which are at a competitive advantage because their overall costs are lower. The Bill will create a new domestic legal framework for emission reductions and provide a long-term certainty and incentive for business to invest in low-carbon technology. We are assured of that. It will also help with the development of international policy. If that is so, and I think that it will be, it provides the opportunity to preserve our steel and foundry industries, to promote lower-carbon technology within them, and to export that technology abroad.
Traditionally, steel production and cast metal production have been regarded as dirty industries because the processes they use are carbon intensive. Ironically, the products—steel and cast metal—are relatively environmentally friendly because they are durable, which means that they last a long time and do not need to be replaced. Above all, however, they are recyclable in a way that many substitute products are not.
We have to face the reality that the world demand for those products will escalate, possibly dramatically. The world market for steel is 1.1 billion tonnes this year. It will increase to 1.2 billion tonnes next year and so on for the foreseeable future. In China alone, just 1 per cent. of the population own a car. If it gets anywhere near to the western equivalent of about 50 per cent., the implications for the use of steel and carbon emissions are breathtaking. However, as a nation that enjoys all those advantages, we cannot stand aside and lecture China, demanding that it does not progress in that way. We must find a cheaper method of producing steel and metal in a greener and more energy efficient way, and ensure that that technology and the processes are exported.
Key to our success will be the development of the international emissions trading scheme. I welcome moves to set European-wide emissions targets of a 30 per cent. reduction by 2020 and a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. However, for those to be effective and to have a substantial impact on future emissions, they must be international. The current emissions trading scheme needs to be refined to meet that challenge. The system estimates future levels of production and allocates carbon credits accordingly. Any production above that has to involve purchasing carbon credits from under-users. It is quite possible for a company to invest to increase its production, albeit by cleaner methods, but to have to buy carbon credits to accommodate that increased production. That involves a double cost—first, for the new investment, and secondly, for the additional carbon credits to accommodate the additional production. In addition, no incentive is built into the system for companies that keep within their production targets to reinvest to ensure that their processes become cleaner.
The bottom line is that companies in this country could be penalised for expanding their production to meet rising world demand, while companies in other countries with higher levels of carbon emissions expand their production to meet the shortfall. The perverse consequences of that would be the loss of production here coupled with an overall increase in the level of carbon emissions internationally.
I want to suggest a solution, which I know the industry is putting to the Minister and which involves adopting a sectoral approach. It would not penalise investment or increase production, but it would relate carbon credits to energy efficiency. In steel, it would mean that a series of CO2 emission factors could be calculated and then averaged according to the type of process used. At the end of the accounting period, each company would have its actual emissions assessed against its baseline figures and multiplied by the volume of steel produced. If a company’s performance was worse than the baseline, it would have to buy allowances, and if its performance was better than the baseline it would receive allowances for sale, thereby incentivising companies to reduce emissions and to increase profits. Furthermore, by recalculating the baseline downwards after each accounting period, the target would get tougher, which would provide a long-term drive for greater energy efficiency and a model that would enable companies from other countries to join.
I welcome the current dialogue between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and business to develop a unified position for phase 3 of the emissions trading scheme by 2012. I hope that he will take my remarks and argument on board as the most coherent way to make an international impact on carbon emissions.
On the role of environmental technology and renewable energy in reducing carbon emissions, given the inevitability of global manufacturing expansion to meet the demands of developing economies, it is essential that we offset the increased carbon emissions from industry by reductions through environmental technology and consumer behaviour. There is a danger that environmentally friendly lifestyles will become synonymous with a reduced quality of life. People want to fly and travel, and although improvements in public transport can help, it is ultimately changes in technology that will assist lower carbon emissions without dramatic changes in people’s quality of life. Education in more environmentally friendly lifestyles is necessary, but provision within the climate change Bill must go with the grain of people’s aspirations and not frustrate them.
My region, which is known as the black country, has been synonymous with heavy dirty industry, but it is now intent on driving the development of new environmental technologies. The Black Country chamber of commerce is holding an environmental technology summit in the new year with the intention of making the region a world leader in the field. Although research and development are vital to develop new products to reach those goals, there is a whole range of other Government functions that need to be changed to assist the process.
A company in my constituency, Forkers Ltd, is in the vanguard of geothermal technology and heat pump products. The earth is a huge battery of energy that could be used to fuel new buildings. Amazingly, the use of geothermal energy in this country is very low at the moment, especially in comparison with Scandinavia and countries such as Iceland. Given the difficulties in developing wind farms and other forms of renewable energy, the Government need to concentrate on geothermal energy. We need to work with planners and developers and examine building regulations to ensure that where the technological potential exists, new buildings use geothermal energy to conserve energy from other sources.
RegenCo, the vehicle for the regeneration of the black country, has ambitious plans for an environmental technology park near West Bromwich, but it needs cash and a commitment from local planners to prepare the site for development and to line up companies that are pioneering environmentally friendly and recyclable products. I trust that the Government will ensure that the regional development agency, working with the local agency, will develop that resource and play its part in changing the image of the black country from an area with traditional industries to one that is in the vanguard of new technologies.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on both commissioning the Stern report and responding to it. Climate change legislation must reflect the scale of the challenge and cut across all Departments, because the matter is not only DEFRA’s responsibility. We need investment in new technologies, education on changes in lifestyle and changes in planning priorities and, possibly, in tax priorities, too. It is for Departments to take a lead and, above all, it is for Britain to be a driver of change in both Europe and the rest of the world.
I will address some of the points made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) on carbon abatement, but first I want to express on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru our condolences to the service families who have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Our thoughts are with those families and all those who have experienced recent losses in the current conflict.
Our thoughts are also with the families of all right hon. and hon. Members who have died since the previous Queen’s Speech, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I mention just three of them. First, Rachel Squire was an outstanding Member of Parliament. I never heard her in or outwith this place make a cheap political point in any political discussion—that can be said of few of us in our political careers—which was remarkable. Secondly, I had many conversations with Robin Cook about horse racing, and I wish that I had had more conversations with him about other matters. Thirdly, I think that I disagreed with every single thing that Eric Forth ever said politically, but I find myself missing all those comments that I disagreed with. We offer our condolences to all those families.
Some have looked for the mark of Brown—the influence of the Chancellor—in this year’s Queen’s Speech. It is difficult to detect in most of the legislation, some of which seems familiar—the Government are going round and round in a “Groundhog Day” process. However, I detected the hand of the Chancellor in the two opening speeches of this debate. The first speech was made by a Welsh Member, who had a lot to say and who bemoaned Plaid Cymru and all its works—he did not like the Conservative party either. The second speech was made by a Scottish Member, who bemoaned the SNP and all its works, so it seems to me that there was an element of Brown management in the Queen’s Speech debate.
The speech by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) had the virtue of being humorous, and it was successful for that. However, I was puzzled by her point that she has relatives in England, Wales and Ireland, which she claimed is an argument for the United Kingdom. As I understand it, her relatives are in the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent country, but I do not think that the hon. Lady’s contact with those relatives has been inhibited as a result of Irish independence.
A few years ago, the Prime Minister addressed the Dail, where he pointed out that Ireland is an outstanding example of a small nation that leads Europe in so many ways. He received a standing ovation, which he is unlikely to receive ever again—at least in this House. I have often wondered why the Prime Minister cannot see his way to making the same point about Scotland’s potential as a small European nation. In so many things, there is one rule for Ireland and another for Scotland.
I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about his proposal for a freedom Bill—I call it the “Braveheart” Bill—that the Liberals intend to introduce. I am sure that I will avidly support that Liberal initiative, which I might take in directions not suspected by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife.
There is no absolutely pleasant way to say this, so I shall say it anyway: I want to defend the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife against the attack made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell). For those hon. Members were not present at the time, the suggestion was that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife was lessening support for service families because he was arguing a case against the war in Iraq. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present to hear this directly. I doubt that there is a family in Scotland—even more so perhaps than in many other parts of this kingdom—and certainly not my family or that of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, who have not had immediate relatives killed in action or indeed serving in the armed forces. The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s family member may be known to many of us, because he was played by Sir Sean Connery in “A Bridge Too Far”; that was his father-in-law. The reason some of us are so hostile to what we regard as avoidable conflict is that very many of us see the consequences of such conflict.
One of the proudest moments in my recent life occurred during the play “Black Watch”, which took this year’s Edinburgh festival by storm. It was the huge success of the festival, performed in a drill hall in Edinburgh. It was a squaddie's-eye view of the history of the regiment, throughout the conflicts of previous generations right back to the foundation of the regiment. It was an outstanding production by the National Theatre of Scotland. The company was kind enough in that production to show an extract from a parliamentary debate, from one of the speeches that I made about the war in Iraq. Those of us who argue that position really need no lectures from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough about our support for service people and service families, or our support for troops in action. And if people cannot argue a position in favour of a conflict without recourse to that sort of cheap argument, they would be better not to argue their position, against the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife or anyone else.
In my opinion, one of the outstanding television moments of the 1980s was the confrontation between John Nott, as he was then, and Sir Robin Day on the Falklands conflict. Sir Robin asked why anybody should believe the then Defence Secretary because he was going to be a “here today, gone tomorrow” Defence Secretary. I remember it perhaps because John Nott, who was about to retire from politics, in a live interview flung off the microphone, said “I have had enough of this” and stomped out of the television studio. As I watched the here today, gone tomorrow Prime Minister during today’s debate, I was dying for him suddenly to say, “I have had enough of this” and march out of the Commons. But no such luck. Chance would be a fine thing. He is clinging on by his fingernails, but we are in an unprecedented situation. As far as I know, never before in the history of this place or politics has a Prime Minister introduced a Queen’s Speech when everyone knows that he will not be around to see the legislative programme through.
There is a variety of opinions about how soon that departure should be. The Scottish First Minister revealed to the Financial Times, and indeed on television at the weekend, that his preference was now for the Prime Minister to stay in office. I am sure that the Prime Minister will take that submission carefully into account when he decides his time scale for leaving either before or after the Scottish elections. Despite my best efforts to accelerate the departure in recent weeks, it looks as though the Prime Minister is clinging on there. So we are on unprecedented ground.
We are also in uncharted waters because, as I understand it, the current position of the Prime Minister is that when he is interviewed, perhaps under caution, by the Metropolitan police he still intends to stay in office in Downing street—no doubt on the grounds that everybody must be innocent until proven guilty. If things come to such a pretty pass I think that Opposition Members will insist on a jury trial, because a jury is an essential defence of people’s rights, even up to the Prime Minister. We are in unprecedented times and in uncharted waters, but no one can underrate the Prime Minister’s determination to stay in office. Of course he could claim that these things illustrate that he has not lost his appetite for constitutional innovation; certainly it is innovative constitutionally for a Prime Minister to stay in office under these circumstances.
As I promised, I shall say a little about my hopes for the climate change Bill. It is remarkable that, on a measure that I thought would attract consensus across the House and given the scale of the challenge that is faced, the front page of today’s The Independent should point out that all the political parties in these islands are on one side and the Prime Minister is standing on the other, shoulder to shoulder with the United Kingdom Independence party, in opposing an annual register of the impacts of carbon emissions. I am not certain why the Prime Minister is so adamant about that; no doubt we shall find out during the passage of the Bill.
May I gently correct the hon. Gentleman on his use of language? The front page of The Independent was about whether there should be annual targets; it is that which the Government have said that they do not support. Annual reporting was specifically mentioned in the speeches today. The Government support annual reporting, in contradistinction to annual targets.
That is an excellent point. Aha!
I think my main point stands, in terms of that dramatic front page in The Independent. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister has chosen to isolate himself on this point on a measure on which, presumably, he is trying to generate cross-party consensus given its importance. Certainly that has been the rhetoric. I am interested to see whether the rhetoric on this will match that on other policy issues and the Government's attitude to other matters.
Let us take for example globalisation, for which the Prime Minister is a huge enthusiast, as is the Chancellor. I have here a press cutting that describes what is happening at present in Annan in south-west Scotland. Young's Seafood is cutting 120 jobs in a processing plant. It processes Scottish langoustines—prawns to the uninitiated. We are now calling them Scottish langoustines because they command a substantial premium in the French and Spanish markets. The proposal is to send 600 tonnes of langoustine each year to Thailand, where they will be processed, and then sent back to Scotland for packaging and sent to France or Spain and other lucrative markets. That is the impact of globalisation and the fact that people in Thailand are paid 25p an hour. The carbon impact of what seems a crazy policy is that 47,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide are produced by each shipment that goes across the planet and back again to be re-exported.
I have this question for the Government. In their enthusiasm for globalisation, it should be accepted that some aspects of globalisation will conflict with carbon emissions targets aimed at saving the planet. And in a market that is created—[Interruption.] I can hear another correction coming from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). And in a market that is created in these matters, the Government must have some kind of—in the Prime Minister's old phrase—joined-up government.
I want to offer a couple of additional illustrations of this point. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West spoke about the carbon market and carbon abatement. At present there is the potential for the north-east of Scotland, and indeed the north-east of England, to lead technology on carbon capture and carbon abatement. At Peterhead we have a billion-dollar project that is just awaiting the signal on how carbon reduction will be treated within the climate change or other legislation. That is a project for the separation of methane and carbon dioxide into hydrogen, with a hydrogen clean-burn power station—not a hydrogen nuclear station but a hydrogen gas station: the onset of the hydrogen economy. The carbon dioxide would then be put back into an oilfield in the North sea, getting 20 million barrels of extra oil out of the oilfield. It is a billion-dollar investment that would impress even the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. That project is available, awaiting a signal. It is world-leading; and perhaps, because carbon capture offers immediately huge substantial gains in terms of carbon reduction, it might even be planet-saving.
I just hope that the policy of climate change is carried through into all aspects of Government policy. For example, Ofgem charges for electricity connections to the grid—we are not talking about transport costs—at the rate of £20 or more a kilowatt in the north of Scotland where the opportunities for alternative renewables and carbon capture technology are huge. In inner London, where the opportunities for windmills and other alternative energies might exist but are much fewer, there is a £6 a kilowatt subsidy because Ofgem is keen to encourage new power stations in inner London, despite the fact that resource economics tell us that vast opportunities lie elsewhere. It is another example to show that, if we want to seize the opportunities, Government policies must be connected or wired up properly.
The hon. Gentleman is raising some interesting points that too often get forgetten—I am sorry, I have been waiting too long to speak and I mean get forgotten—in the debate on climate change. Carbon sequestration is an absolutely fascinating technology and it is viable, but it has not had the attention it deserves. The problem of integrating renewables into the national grid, however, is a very serious one. It is extremely complex and it cannot happen in only one direction. Wind farms have to be working all around the country; otherwise, it causes serious technical problems with the grid itself. Those problems have not been adequately discussed.
But that is not the reason for the locational charging of Ofgem. The reason is that it has calculated where it wants power stations to be and is sending out market signals. A former Member of the House, David Ricardo, arguably the greatest economist England ever produced, developed a theory of comparative advantage and put it forward here. Ofgem economists seem never to have read David Ricardo, as if he wasted his time in developing his economic work. Ofgem argues that it is entitled to send out market signals so that it can dictate where power stations should or should not be. That is nonsense. Transportation costs across the grid are not acceptable, but Ofgem is trying to influence where power stations should be located. It is a disastrous policy. According to Talisman Energy, which is developing a gigawatt—1,000 MW—deep offshore wind farm in the Moray Firth, that policy is the single greatest impediment to the commercial viability of its project. It is a daft policy, which conflicts with other policies and needs to be changed.
Does my hon. Friend recall that he and I went to visit Ofgem to put those very points to it? We specifically asked whether it supported the Government’s proposals for renewable energy, but it would not answer. It is obsessed wholly with its own idea of the market rather than having any good ideas about how to further renewables or find other ways of tackling climate change.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The cock crowed three times for Ofgem economists, who three times refused to acknowledge that the Government’s own targets for renewable energy should, when it came to decisions such as locational charging, play any part in their framework. That is nonsensical, as I have said. Hon. Members have been waiting for some time. I see that there is plenty of time left on the clock, but I have only a couple of further brief points before I come to my final main point.
I had an exchange earlier with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who was kind enough to say that he agreed that the Home Office was perhaps suffering from a surfeit of legislation and a lack of implementation. After a quick check, I found that out of 57 Home Office Bills over the last 10 years, only 36 applied to Scotland. We have missed out on 21 of those marvellous pieces of Home Office legislation. I have to say that I do not feel that Scotland is any less safe as a result of missing out on those legislative provisions.
I believe that the administrative “not fit for purpose” argument may have some relationship to the legislative flow, which must be committing huge amounts of Home Office administrative time in order to cope with what amounts to an average of five and a half pieces of legislation every year. The permanent revolution in legislative competence over those last 10 years cannot be contributing to the efficiency of the Department. There are many other issues, but that is certainly one of them and we hope that, at some stage, the Government will recognise it.
The question I ask is, who would want to be a judge? The law keeps changing dramatically in so many ways every year, so it must be extremely difficult for a sensible judge sitting in court in Scotland or in England to remember the changes in law in any particular year.
The Home Secretary is always in charge of anything he is doing. He may not be in charge for too long, as he has a habit of moving on, but whenever he is at the head of a Department, he is certainly in charge, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman should address his questions to that particular right hon. Member.
Finally, I want to deal with Iraq. Making the Loyal Address on 20 February 1923, a Mr. Lambert, speaking for the Liberal party, which was not the official Opposition at the time, moved an amendment to the effect that
“we humbly suggest there should be an immediate and drastic curtailment of British responsibilities in Mesopotamia.”
He spoke to his amendment, stating:
“In the last Parliament, thanks to the brilliant oratorical imagery of Mr. Winston Churchill, who conjured up visions of a new millennium, the resurrection of Nebuchadnezzar and the rebuilding of Nineveh, the facts were somewhat obscured. To-day I hope we shall come down from the soaring mists of imagination to solid earth. When an advance was made to Basra in 1914, it was a very proper precaution, and I suggest that it would be unwise if we now evacuated that port. But since then our advance into Mesopotamia has been one of long misfortune, mingled with some momentary and futile triumphs. The Mesopotamian policy throughout has been disastrous strategically and profligate financially.”—[Official Report, 20 February 1923; Vol. 160, c. 865.]
It should be said that it was less bloody than the current policy in Iraq.
On the subject of the lessons of history, it is clear that the Prime Minister does not have much time for the subject. He is always talking about the future, although as I listened to the Labour conference, I understood that he recognises that he is not the future for long. The lessons of history would have been very useful for the Prime Minister over the last few years. He would have benefited from looking at the lessons from our previous policy in Mesopotamia.
I find it extraordinary that the House should tolerate the position in which a Prime Minister considers it proper to give video evidence to a congressional commission in the United States of America, yet does not think it a requirement of a Prime Minister who has led this country into a disastrous conflict over a period of three years to state his strategy to Parliament or the people. That is truly extraordinary, regardless of the politics of whether people are for or against the war and regardless of a variety of notions about how to extract ourselves from the nightmare. It seems to me that those who have led us into this blood-soaked quagmire have something of a responsibility to tell the rest of us how they intend to extricate us from it.
In common with many hon. Members, I have received many representations on the issue. Today I received a phone call and subsequent e-mail from Dr. Kamal Ketuly, who is chairman of the committee for the release of hostages and detainees in Iraq and who has campaigned since 1980. He suffered grievously under the Saddam regime and opposed it as eloquently as he could both internationally and here in this country at a time when British Governments were rather friendly to that regime. Speaking as a Kurd about the present situation, he says that his views have been “sidelined”. He continues by saying that
“serious mistakes have been made in Iraq which has now led to the establishment of the Iraq study group to try to find a solution for the current escalation of violence and the disintegration of the country.”
I have never heard him more distressed or concerned about the current position. He has never been more convinced of the disastrous nature of the present strategy, particularly when there is no end game whatever, just a continuation of the present disaster.
Evidence from Carne Ross to the Foreign Affairs Committee last week is also revealing. If anyone doubts that the dossier was sexed up, I would advise them to read the evidence of that former high-ranking diplomat, who was closely involved in the preparation of the Foreign Office position. One particular point is worthy of repetition, so I shall quote from a BBC news report:
“In other evidence to the committee, Mr Ross said the Foreign Office’s official view before the build-up to war began was that an invasion would lead to ‘chaos’.”
That was the official Foreign Office view at the time. That forecast, which did not remain the official view, has unfortunately proved only too correct.
We have been told by the Prime Minister—this has been repeated by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and others and refuted in excellent terms by the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), even though I did not agree with his proposals—that it is somehow not possible for us to inquire, investigate and have a strategic rethink or assessment of the position in Iraq because that would send the wrong signals to our armed forces. In that case, how is it possible for America to have not one, but two current inquiries and assessments—the congressional one and now the White House one that was announced today—into the Iraqi policy? How is it possible that the nearly 200,000 American men in Iraq are not demoralised by the assessments going on in the United States but that our, by comparison, limited force will be demoralised by the thought that Parliament is investigating or demanding from the Executive a reassessment of strategy? The only thing that demoralises our forces in Iraq and elsewhere is the idea that their elected representatives have been reduced to mere ciphers who meekly accept any nonsense that comes forward and do not do their constitutional duty of demanding from the Government an account, rethink, strategic assessment and exit strategy from this appalling, bloody quagmire into which they have led us.
I see nothing in this Queen’s Speech that will be strong enough, big enough or firm enough to provide the legacy for which the Prime Minister is so obviously waiting. As the former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), once said, I believe that regardless of what the Prime Minister does, the one word carved on his political tombstone will be “Iraq”, and deservedly so.
I congratulate the mover and the seconder of the response to the Gracious Speech and associate myself with Members’ remarks about those who have recently died serving this country in Iraq.
I also pay tribute to the four Members who have died in the past year or so. In doing so, I wish to refer to the same three whom the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) mentioned. I had the privilege to serve with Rachel Squire on the Select Committee on Defence. She was not only a decent human being but a great parliamentarian who had amassed a great knowledge of defence. She not only defended the interests of her constituency but worked on the international stage by serving on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Throughout her work and her long and debilitating illness, she expressed her forthright views.
I also wish to refer to Eric Forth, with whom, politically, I had nothing in common. You might ask, Madam Deputy Speaker, how and why Eric Forth came to cross my path. It occurred in the previous Parliament on the last day of consideration of my private Member’s Bill—the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill. For some reason unknown to me, initially Eric was sympathetic to my Bill. I think that was more to do with the fact that if my Bill succeeded, which it did, it would stop the following Bill, which had been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).
As I got to know Eric, it became clear to me that the views he expressed in the Chamber and his public persona were completely different from how he was in private. He was a very genuine individual who cared deeply about his constituents and about the causes that he was passionate about. Someone asked me whether politics is getting boring these days and it certainly is with the passing of characters such as Eric Forth. I can sum up my view only by saying it is a bit like toothache. We miss it when it is gone. That is what I would say about Eric.
Robin Cook was a great parliamentarian and tributes have been paid to him by Members on both sides who recalled his contribution to the debates in the House and his opposition to the war in Iraq. My first recollection of him goes back to before I become a Member of Parliament. In 1991, Robin and I were campaigning in the Monmouth by-election when new Labour was unfortunately in its beginnings. We had a programme of campaigning set out for the day, but I hasten to add that we spent the afternoon at Chepstow races. We were all better off for that given the betting advice that we received from the former Member for Livingston.
I wish to concentrate on three aspects of the Queen’s Speech—the legal services Bill, the draft road transport Bill and the local government Bill. I welcome the introduction of a legal services Bill to set up a legal services board. For far too long, the legal profession has been left to regulate itself. The Law Society has been the best closed shop in the country. When the Conservatives—some would say rightly—outlawed the closed shop in the 1980s, they unfortunately left the legal profession to its own devices. I associate myself with the conclusions of the Clementi review, which said that the current framework was
“outdated, inflexible, over-complex and insufficiently accountable or transparent”.
My dealings over the past five and half years on behalf of constituents who have been claiming under the excellent Government scheme for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have given me countless examples in which consumers have received not only poor service from the legal profession, but in many cases have been ripped off by the very people who were supposed to act in my constituents’ best interests, but clearly did not.
Most people have, thank God, little contact with the legal profession. Unfortunately, most of them think that if they engage a solicitor or legal professional, they should somehow trust them. The COPD scheme involves people, including the elderly and the vulnerable, who are not used to dealing with solicitors. Numerous scams have been exposed under the scheme and I hope that the legal services board will be able to deal with them. I shall mention three.
The first scam is overcharging. Under the COPD scheme all the fees for solicitors’ work are met by the Government, but, not content with that, many greedy solicitors—including firms such as Mark Gilbert Morse, which I exposed in the Chamber two years ago—were then going to take another 25 per cent. in charges from individuals’ compensation. Many of the people involved were elderly constituents of mine or widows who had suffered long and hard for that compensation, and taking compensation off them was a clear rip-off. Thankfully, the Law Society took quite a tough line and I also congratulate the Government on the hard line that they took. However, I am not convinced that everyone has got their money back. One of the problems is that unless people complain, they do not get their money back. I shall refer to that later.
Another scam—I do not mind calling it that—is the relationship between firms of solicitors and third parties such as claims handlers. I congratulate the Government on the Compensation Bill that they introduced in the previous Session, which now regulates claims handlers. However, I want the legal services board to take some control over the relationships between solicitors and claims handlers.
I have an example from the north-east. A company in Newcastle, Watson Burton, worked in collusion with a claims handler, P and R Associates of Sunderland, to deduct £325,000 from victims’ compensation and pass it on to P and R Associates even though there was no need for the clients to use a third party. It is important that this sector is regulated and what solicitors can and cannot do and how they advise clients is made clear.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) has worked for Thompsons solicitors, but I condemn the firm for its relationship with the Durham National Union of Mineworkers. The firm took 7.5 per cent. of people’s compensation at the conclusion of their cases. This is an area where things need to be made quite clear.
Another issue is the inconsistent way in which claims and other matters are dealt with. Solicitors vary tremendously. Unfortunately, many people go to solicitors and think that they will get the same service across the board. That does not happen in different specialisms, but it also does not happen under the COPD scheme. One of the scandals is the under-settling of COPD claims. The solicitors range from Thompsons, who get the maximum compensation for people under the scheme—I have to give credit for that—to others such as Watson Burton, the solicitors in Newcastle. According to a written answer I received a few weeks ago, the average COPD claim is £4,978. For some unknown reason, Watson Burton’s average is only £4,123. I understand that my concentration on Watson Burton irritates those involved, but, as I said, I got the information from a written answer. Unfortunately, Northeast Press and, I am sad to say, even the The Journal seem to be timid about reporting any of that. I hope that it is not a threat from those solicitors—in relation to withdrawing advertising revenue and other things from the papers—that is gagging them and making sure that the information is not put into the public domain.
The COPD scheme has been a feeding frenzy for greedy solicitors. I hope that, when the legal services board is introduced, it can look back at some of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and I have raised of the way in which solicitors have handled claims, to see what can be done to protect the individual client. The legal services board needs to have at its heart not the solicitor but the consumer. It also has to set down a clear framework of what a solicitor will provide to a client or consumer. The language needs to be considered and the charges to the consumer should be spelled out.
It is also important that the legal services board concentrates on the relationship between solicitors and third parties. Earlier, I raised the issue of the relationship with claims handlers. The board needs to look at that, and at the messy and murky business of referral fees—fees that are paid to organisations, including, for example the Automobile Association, to refer people’s claims to certain firms of solicitors. Individuals under insurance policies should have the freedom to pick and choose their solicitors. There should not be bulk selling of legal claims to certain firms of solicitors, with organisations such as the AA and others receiving large amounts of money for doing that.
Another issue that needs to be looked at is how people get redress when they have problems with a firm of solicitors. At the moment, the Law Society will look at individual complaints. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw and I have made a record number of complaints to the Law Society. I think that he beat me last year, but I hope to beat him this year. It is frustrating for me and others that, time and again, it is the same complaint against the same solicitors, the same individual issues and the same solicitors defrauding people of money under the scheme. What is needed is a mechanism whereby the legal services board can not only react to individual complaints, but, if it finds that a firm of solicitors is continually doing the same thing, it can look across the board and make a judgment against that firm to repay the money. I hope that can be taken on board.
Last week, I received a letter from Alison Crawley, director of regulation compliance at the Law Society, who said that the society supports that. Her letter states:
“We have recently written to the DTI and the DCA to indicate that, primarily from our experience in miners’ compensation cases, we would wish to include a provision in the Legal Services Bill to enable restitutionary orders to be made in a disciplinary context…This would mean, for example, that if a firm were found to have made improper deductions it would not be necessary for all clients to complain in order for them to obtain redress”.
That is vital. There are still many people out there who have had money deducted by unscrupulous solicitors and have not got it back because they do not know that they have to make a claim. Under the Bill—I may even move an amendment if this provision is not included—that power of the legal services board should be retrospective, so that we can make sure that people are paid back the money that has already been deducted by firms such as Mark Gilbert Morse and others.
The consumer has to be at the heart of the Bill. The information for people going to solicitors has to be clear. The judgments in complaints made against solicitors have to be made public. At the moment, that does not have to happen, but it is vital that people know if complaints have been made against a firm of solicitors. There should be the power to close firms if malpractice that is defrauding clients is found. I am talking not just about the usual complaint relating to firms dipping into clients’ funds, but about some of the malpractice that has been exposed under the COPD scheme. More importantly, the legal services board has to be seen to be independent from the legal profession. I hope that if we can do that, we will have a new system of regulation that puts the consumer—not lawyers and the Law Society—at the heart of the relationship.
The second issue that I would like to raise relates to the draft road transport Bill and the problem of buses. In the 1980s—1986—the Conservative party believed in the free market economics that led to the nonsense that we unfortunately still see today. I am talking about the deregulation of buses outside London. The idea was possibly that competition would lead to more efficiency and better services, but in fact in North Durham it has led to a worse service. Two companies, Arriva and Go North East, have a monopoly not only in Durham, but across the north-east. People will be told that competition can be opened up, but in practice those two companies have a monopoly.
In rural constituencies such as mine that led to bus services being completely withdrawn. If someone in one of the rural villages in my constituency has not got a car, a bus is not a luxury—it is a necessity to get to work, or anywhere else. Time and again, Go North East and Arriva withdraw services and simply say to the county council, “Well, if you need to provide a bus service in that area, can you give us some subsidy?” Alas—I do not know whether the companies fear that regulation is going to be introduced—over the past few months there seems to have been a spate of Arriva and Go North East in Durham stripping out services and concentrating on the main routes in the area.
I attended a public meeting on Monday night in Great Lumley in my constituency. There were more than 70 people complaining about the withdrawal of the 21 bus from Great Lumley to Newcastle. That is in addition to other buses such as the 177 and 178 to Bournmoor. That has led to a poorer service. Whole areas have been left without buses, or with no direct bus routes to major towns. For example, the 720 has been withdrawn, which severely affects Beamish, West Pelton, East Stanley and Grange Villa. There is no direct bus from the city of Durham to one of the major tourist attractions in my constituency, Beamish open air museum. The response that we get all the time is that those routes are not profitable. It is quite clear that unless some type of regulation is put back in, the bus companies are not going to supply those communities.
Even worse, even in the urban areas in my constituency, the companies have stripped out buses that do not go on direct routes. For example, in Hilda Park and other parts of Great Lumley, buses that used to go round the estate and pick people up no long do so; they stay on the main road. An elderly person in one of those communities walking to catch a bus might as well be a million miles away from the nearest bus stop.
The attitude of Go North East has changed. At the public meeting on Monday night, Peter Huntley, the chief executive, was accused by the audience of being not honest, but I have to say that he was far too honest for my liking. He admitted that Go North East’s strategy now is to concentrate on profit and the routes that generate it, which marks a huge change from a few years ago, when Go North East had some sort of social conscience. Clearly the company does not have one today.
I understand that the Bill offers the potential for pilot schemes. May I stress that we do not need any more pilot schemes? What we need is action. We need regulation of buses and, more importantly, we need to ensure that local people have a say in their bus services. Go North East conducts sham consultations: it will accept umpteen petitions, but still go ahead with its plans. One example of that was its withdrawal of the 21A bus from Great Lumley. A well publicised meeting was held—
The hon. Gentleman says that, but I had to sit through the drivel uttered by one of his colleagues, so he will listen to mine.
The parts of the Bill that deal with consultation will be important in ensuring that local communities have their say. The Bill will also help to ensure that buses meet a certain standard. Low-floor buses tend to be concentrated in urban areas. I look forward to that Bill and to ensuring that my constituents have access to a service that is not a privilege, but vital to many rural communities.
Turning to the local government Bill—[Interruption.] I shall continue, despite the reaction of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). I had to sit there and listen to some long-winded speeches, and he is going to hear mine as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), who is no longer in his place, said that he did not welcome another local government Bill. Neither did I, at first, but I saw what is in it today. As one who served in local government for more than 10 years, I freely admit that we have dabbled in local government and in some respects made it worse, not better. I welcome the proposal to allow counties to become unitary authorities, as that will be vital to County Durham. The present system does not work: it is bureaucratic, misunderstood by local people, and costly. If we are to have strong local government in County Durham, it is important that we have a strong county tier of unitary authorities.
It is also important that we involve local people, so I welcome the proposal in the Bill that local people should have a direct say in how their local councils are run. In County Durham, I would support a unitary council with parish and town councils, which work well at local level doing the things that local people want done right, such as street cleaning and lighting.
I ask that the new county structure should have a strong scrutiny role. Proper scrutiny of local health care has been lacking for a long time. I hope that the new unitary authority will play a key role in ensuring that those bodies that spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in local health services are held accountable for what happens.
There are two matters missing from the local government Bill. First, it should deal with the regional spatial strategy. For County Durham the regional spatial strategy is a nightmare that will lead to inertia in housing development and in economic development. It should be resisted and, if possible, be abolished under the local government Bill. The strategy has more resonance with Soviet-style planning than with the modern day Britain in which we live.
Secondly, in dealing with the structures of local government in the north-east, we need to tackle the continued existence of the North East assembly, which is left over from the days before the referendum. I supported regional government and a yes vote in the referendum, but the people of the north-east had their say and there is no role, either now or in future, for the unelected regional assembly. It should be done away with, and if the local government Bill can be used to do that, we should do it and replace the assembly with bodies that are accountable, such as the Association of North East Councils and the chamber of commerce. That would be more cost-effective and more representative than what we have now. We are spending almost £2 million a year on a talking shop that has little support outside those people who have the vested interest of sitting on the assembly.
I welcome the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech. There are proposals that will improve the lives of my constituents. In particular, I look forward to seeing a legal services Act that has real teeth and that can ensure that my constituents are not continually ripped off by unscrupulous solicitors and other members of the legal profession.
I harbour no ill will toward the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), but listening to parts of his speech I found it easier to understand why the north-east rejected the regional assembly. Leaving that aside, I am sure that we can make up over a drink in the Members’ Bar.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made some telling points. He used the word “groundhog” and there is a sense of “Groundhog Day” about today. The Queen’s Speeches of the past few years have all had the same texture and the same feel. Here let me pay a genuine tribute to the Prime Minister: his enthusiasm every Session for what he must realise is a speech that, in a way, exists to repeat the failures of the previous Queen’s Speech is quite remarkable. His air of get up and go on the morning that we open the new Session of Parliament is probably the reason he has lasted so long—indeed, today I almost had the sense that he wants to continue. There was a frisson that suggested that this would not be his last Queen’s Speech after all.
I am about to come to that subject, on which the hon. Gentleman and I agree to a great extent. None the less, I simply wished to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Prime Minister did not appear to be a man who is about to give up. I am not sure that we have said farewell to him, and the Labour party had better sort out the matter fairly quickly. The Speaker’s ruling means that I cannot go deeper into that subject, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall not attempt to do so.
Iraq is the key issue. I was one of those Opposition Members who voted against going into Iraq. It is unfortunate when hon. Members spend their time saying, “I told you so,” but it is necessary to remind the House that those of us, such as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, myself and others, who before we went to war set out in the House why we should not do so find it difficult to hear people now say, “Oh, if we had only known what would happen, we would not have done it.” In February 2003, I asked the Prime Minister whether he had had talks with President Bush about the fact that
“the danger of quickly settling Saddam Hussein could unleash other terrorism as a result of the destabilisation in Iraq”.—[Official Report, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 31.]
In a later debate, I said that the Foreign Secretary needed to
“recognise that many of us believe that the United States, having looked for Osama bin Laden, has quickly focused on the tangible target of Saddam Hussein, and that the irony is that the person who will be most pleased in the next few days is Osama bin Laden because of the risk from terrorism”.—[Official Report, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 710.]
I shall not indulge myself by repeating speeches that I made before the war. I simply want to point out that the Prime Minister has put us in a position such that it is improbable that we will leave that country with a victory. We went in as an invading army. We did not go in as liberators, nor were we seen as such. Even the Prime Minister has redefined the cause of the war—he did so today when he said that he was proud that Saddam Hussein had been removed. However, none of us in the House admired Saddam Hussein. Before the war, when the Prime Minister said the same thing, I asked him in the House whether the reason for the war was to remove Saddam Hussein or because of the danger of weapons of mass destruction. He replied that the real reason was weapons of mass destruction. That is all in Hansard.
The tragedy for the Prime Minister is that he has never really faced up to the fact that we got in there for the wrong reasons. If we, as a country, made that admission, it might be possible to find a more realistic solution to the problem. As it happens, I am not one of those who is saying that we must pull our troops out now, come what may. My elder son was a young officer in Iraq at the end of the last year, and he is preparing to go to Afghanistan. I thus have a personal perspective, but I did not know that he was even thinking of joining the Army when I spoke before the war broke out.
It is likely that we cannot leave with self-respect. The danger is that our troops will be left in the firing line for some months while we work out how we can reasonably try to get them out and what justification we will give. That is my worry about the Iraq crisis. Let us not spend our time going back and working out why we went in. Our intellectual effort should be put into determining how we can get out while leaving the middle east as stable as possible. Unfortunately, the two cannot be disentangled. By entering in the way that we did, we have made the position in the middle east worse, and the crisis in Iraq today will reverberate.
It is interesting that we are now resorting to pleading with axis of evil countries— Syria and Iran—to see whether they can help to resolve the situation. The idea that Iran was a disinterested observer of the Iraqi situation is absurd. We armed Iraq in the 1980s because Iran was a threat. More than 1 million people were killed in the war at that time. The Shi’a were constantly suppressed so that they would not do a deal with Iran, so it is not surprising that one of the countries that we were apparently, according to the American President, putting on our hate list is now doing a deal with parts of a country that we have fragmented because of our efforts. The danger is that we will withdraw, leaving the Shi’a to do a deal with Iran, which would destabilise the rest of the Gulf states and, probably, Saudi Arabia. That would have untold consequences for energy.
Energy security is a vital issue. In my view, our energy supplies are now less secure because of the problems that we face in the middle east. One of our biggest energy suppliers is Russia. The way in which Putin is beginning to use energy as a political weapon should cause us considerable concern. It will be interesting to see whether G8 involvement and inviting Russia into an increasing number of the councils of the world leads to a more rational approach to energy policy in Russia. We need to consider what is happening to the oil majors through the various unilateral renegotiations of their contracts in the Russian territory, let alone the pipeline problems that are affecting Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and the surrounding region.
If the UK is to seek a long-term diversity of energy sources, and thus security, it is inconceivable that we should not regard nuclear power as one of the key players. We already have nuclear power. A constituent wrote to me saying that they would never use nuclear power in their house, but they are doing so. Indeed, we are importing such power from France anyway because of our energy shortage.
Nuclear power is not something that we will suddenly be able to decide is needed in a few years’ time if renewable energy supplies do not work properly. It involves a long-term programme, and calculations are made on the basis of a 15 to 20-year return on investment. There are all sorts of other problems, by the way. I learned only recently, during one of my visits to universities, that because of climate change, it is probable that coastal erosion will be such that it will not be safe to build on any of the existing nuclear sites on the east coast of Britain. That will cause planning problems, if we want to build nuclear sites elsewhere.
The Government courageously said in their energy policy that they would accelerate the planning process for nuclear power. Less courageously, they have said that the renewables obligation will not be available. They have also been very unclear about the carbon trading benefits that might come to nuclear power, bearing in mind that nuclear power is not only a source of energy, but has reduced emissions when measured in any comparable way against fossil fuels.
We must consider not only the cost of building nuclear power stations, but the cost of the contingent liability of decommissioning nuclear power stations at the end of their lives. Did my hon. Friend notice that the Prime Minister completely failed to answer a very simple question: who is going to pay for that? In the absence of any clarity, one must assume that the Government expect the taxpayer to pick up that bill. It has been made quite clear that the City of London and private investors simply will not invest in nuclear power if they will have to deal with the contingent liabilities of decommissioning nuclear power stations at the end of their lives.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. If we wish there to be investment in nuclear power, we cannot try to tell the market the conditions for such investment are such that will make it impossible for the investment to occur. That would be conflicting with oneself. If the Government believe that nuclear power is essential, they must find ways in which the private sector will invest. The private sector will not invest if it faces not only a possible 20-year return on capital, but a decommissioning cost. The Government must face up to that, as must my party, but that has not yet happened.
May I assist the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)? I am member of the Trade and Industry Committee. The Government published their response to our report, “New Nuclear? Examining the issues”, on 17 October 2006. They made it entirely clear that the costs of decommissioning and of disposing of the nuclear waste produced by a new generation of nuclear power stations would fall on the operators, not the taxpayer.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger precisely on the reason the Government are behaving so hypocritically. What he said was textually correct, but intellectual nonsense. I am astonished that a man as bright as him has put such a thing forward. In reality, if one cannot provide the conditions for investment to happen, it will not happen. However, if nuclear power is to be an essential component of diverse energy resources, we must make that happen. What he says is thus unacceptable.
I was not putting forward intellectual nonsense. The hon. Gentleman assumes, quite wrongly, that I am in favour of new nuclear power in the United Kingdom when it is uneconomic—he cites one of the reasons why. I do not regard it as an essential component of our energy mix in the United Kingdom. There is no intellectual mix-up on my part. He and I disagree on the issue of security of supply, as he might put it, but we agree on the finances. Nuclear power stations cannot be economic because otherwise people would be applying to build them today—there is no ban.
The hon. Gentleman forgets that the most uneconomic processes are renewable energies. I had some responsibility for the non-fossil fuel levy, as it used to be called in the dim and distant days of the Conservative Government. We deliberately subsidised uneconomic processes to determine which of them might one day experience a downwards trend in pricing towards the average price on the grid due to scale.
Nuclear did not work any less than renewables worked. Is the hon. Gentleman saying—I do not wish him to intervene again because I want to keep going, but he might think about this—that therefore this country should not have renewables either?
A point that I made to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is important: a lot of the business plans for wind farms are not economic because of the cost of interface with the grid and the fact that we cannot have wind farms in just one place. It may be, long term, that we come up with a viable solution—say, for wave power—but that is not yet viable. My point is that we cannot wait.
If it is in the interest of the Government and the nation to have diversified energy, nuclear must play a role and we must find a way to make it possible for it to do so. We could change carbon trading and make it available to the nuclear industry, we could ask the taxpayer to bear, wholly or in part, the decommissioning costs down the track—technology is improving the risk profile of that, by the way—or we could extend the renewables obligation.
The Government and their predecessors have invested in renewable energy. As I said, there was a non-fossil fuel levy, which covered all sorts of things from straw burning to chicken litter—goodness knows what else might have been possible—and in certain localised senses, all of them worked.
The problem of how this country adapts to renewable energy is not one that involves simply the statement that that is an objective. There is not enough land to provide a viable wind farm base, but wind farms play a part. A lot of money should be spent on ensuring that wave power can be viable, but at the moment it is a non-starter in terms of commercial viability. I am saying that nuclear has to play a role and we have to make the decision now. Renewables will also be part of that process.
My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge on this subject. He mentioned Government hypocrisy. Will he cast his mind back to the 2003 energy White Paper, which was published in the lead-up to a general election? The Government made no mention whatever of new need for nuclear power, although they now seem to be suddenly converted to it.
I shall not answer for the Government, but my hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I shall simply say that if this country is to face up to energy security, it needs diversity of resources. The idea that we can postpone a decision on nuclear power is foolhardy and dangerous. If we cannot postpone that decision, we must work again on what investment criteria would function in the City markets.
My final point is about education, and there is a higher education Bill promised. Recently, I have spent quite some time visiting universities as chairman of the Conservative policy taskforce on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. By and large, beneath the surface, there is a continuing crisis. I do not know what the education Bill will say in depth, but I hope it addresses some of the real problems.
First, universities are still severely underfunded. I can say that with some degree of self-respect, because I was one of two Members on this side of the House to support tuition fees. Then, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) was trying to process them through the House; now, they are, thankfully, the official policy of my party. At some point, however, we will have to lift the cap, and there is no point pretending otherwise. Interestingly, only last week the Higher Education Funding Council increased the funding for physics and chemistry subjects in universities. That is welcome, but they are still loss leaders.
The crisis in education is extremely serious in schools. I am talking about science subjects. A witness to my committee pointed out that
“at the end of 2004, 58 per cent. of teachers who were teaching maths to 11 to 18 year-olds were not maths graduates. Indeed, 24 per cent. had no post-A level qualifications in maths at all.”
The Government have done a very good thing, or rather, they have nearly done a very good thing. They have set up science learning centres, and one of them is at Keele university—not far from your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker. They have co-funded it with the Wellcome Trust, although they have promised money only through to 2008 while the Wellcome Trust has promised it until 2010, so there is a slight question mark there.
I say that the Government have almost done a good thing because, with the other hand, they have passed the whole continuous professional development budget for teachers down to head teachers. Not surprisingly, because schools have a bit of a financial problem too, the head teachers use that budget for other things.
The science learning centres are not giving enough of today’s teachers continuous professional development in the hard science subjects, which are crucial to this country’s well-being. We face a genuine skills shortage in relation to the graduates in the hard sciences of physics, maths and chemistry. That means either that companies in this country will move abroad or that we will have to attract graduates to address that shortage. Even with the expenditure that the Government have in their science programme for 10 years, we do not have enough indigenous graduates.
There is no point in us trying to go back to a target of 50 per cent. of youngsters going to university if only 25 per cent. of them get a decent A-level. We must focus hard on how, in our schools and universities, we can enable children and students to study the high-skilled subjects. That must happen quickly, which means not only that such things as the science learning centres must be given budgetary continuity, but that we must talk to head teachers and explain to them that continuous professional development for today’s teachers is absolutely critical.
If the Bill addresses any of those issues, I shall find myself, as was the case with the Bill that introduced tuition fees, sympathetic towards what the Government are attempting to do.
What a pleasure it is to follow that thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), although I disagree with quite a bit of what he said. To finish—from my side anyway—the exchange that he kindly allowed me on nuclear power, I suggest to him that nuclear power is dinosaur technology. It has been around for 50 years and it has been subsidised greatly all over the world. There is nowhere in the world where nuclear power has been installed without huge public subsidy, and after 50 years it cannot be made to work economically, nor do I think that that will be possible. As the hon. Gentleman posited, that might turn out to be the case with many renewables, but the jury is still out. As the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) said, if renewables had received anything like the subsidy that the nuclear industry has had, we would have had the answer to that question, and I think that it would have been a positive for renewables.
I must refer the hon. Member for Esher and Walton to an extremely important point that he did not touch on when he was, in a sense, trying to discover my position—conserving energy. I refer him also to an excellent paper by Dr. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain institute on the opportunity cost of nuclear power. Nuclear power, on many calculations, is bad for the environment and bad for climate change because the opportunity cost of spending the money that would need to be spent on new nuclear power stations could have greater effect in relation to cutting emissions were it put into renewables and, in particular, energy conservation.
On the Queen’s Speech itself, I wrote to the Leader of the House four or five weeks ago—in my usual inimitable style, I suppose—suggesting that, after nine and a half years of a Labour Government, who have passed many excellent pieces of legislation, some good ones and a few poor ones, there should be no legislation whatever in the Queen’s Speech this year and that the Government should concentrate on implementing the legislation and the changes that we have already introduced, which have thus far made a considerable improvement to life for many, if not everyone, in the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, and totally to my surprise, the Government did not accept that submission and we had a Queen’s Speech today with a large number of Bills included in it. If we have to have a Queen’s Speech—it seems that we do; it is the will of the Government to introduce yet more legislation—this is not a bad one. I want to focus on one aspect of climate change, adaptation, that never gets discussed in the House, and which, as some hon. Members present will know, is my bugbear. In one sense, I am building on remarks made by, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), and particularly by my near neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey). Of course, cutting emissions is important, but I will not spend much time on that because all hon. Members are at least aware of the issues involved, although they might have different views on how to tackle those and what measures would be desirable. However, it is worth bearing in mind what has already happened and what will almost inevitably happen.
Thus far, the United Kingdom has a great record on cutting emissions and on global leadership on the issue. Even in the UK, however, carbon dioxide emissions have risen in the past six years. The International Energy Agency predicts an increase in world energy demand of 60 per cent. by 2030, with an implicit 62 per cent. rise in emissions. The Prime Minister referred to China, saying that if we cut our emissions—2 per cent. of the world total—to zero tomorrow, that would be taken up, if the current trajectory of increase in Chinese emissions continued, in less than two years. In fact, the time frame is 15 months.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Chinese Government have perhaps finally begun to recognise the danger of climate change? They made a statement the other day recognising that they must do something about their emissions. Despite what was said earlier, China is investing heavily in wind power and clean coal technology. Mitsui Babcock from Scotland is installing clean coal technology in many of the new power stations being built in China, although I accept that many of the older ones are very polluting.
I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman, who, like me, is a member of the Trade and Industry Committee and takes a considerable interest in these matters. I was therefore careful to say that that point would apply only if China continued its current trajectory, which it might not, and I hope that it does not. I am in no way suggesting a counsel of despair, or saying that we are all doomed. Tackling climate change, however, requires a twin track approach—to deal with emissions, both domestically and in terms of world leadership, and to deal with adaptation to the climate change that has already happened and that will inevitably, in the short term, accelerate—in the medium and longer term, one hopes that it will lessen if we are successful in cutting global emissions.
For example, the Met Office published research in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, using the Palmer drought severity index, with which I am sure all hon. Members are familiar, indicating that extreme drought could increase from its current 3 per cent. to 30 per cent. by the end of this century. That is a frightening figure. It is estimated that if current trends continue, by the end of the century the earth’s average temperature could rise by approximately 3.5° C, and sea levels by 1 m. I will return to the question of sea levels. Over the next 1,000 years, the globe could warm up by 13° C, which is a huge increase in average temperature. I do not think that any Members will live for 1,000 years, although we might wish to do so, but such a temperature increase would lead, on current trends, to an 11 m rise in sea levels—about 36 ft—which is huge.
The evidence of climate change is already seen in Scotland, which has experienced a 72 per cent. increase in the ferocity of rainstorms over the past 40 years. Dr. Hayley Fowler, a senior research associate at the school of civil engineering and geosciences at Newcastle university, pointed out:
“Extreme rainfall has doubled over parts of the UK since the 1960s”.
There were widespread floods in southern England in October 2000, which affected 10,000 homes and caused £760 million of damage. All hon. Members will remember what happened two years ago in Boscastle, Cornwall, where 8 in of rain fell in four hours—worse than in the monsoon in Mumbai. Dr. Fowler also said:
“The observed pattern of change over the last 40 years is very similar to that predicted by climate models for the end of the 21st century.”
Climate change, which we are already experiencing, is accelerating. It will affect lives even more deeply than it currently does. For example, it will affect the National Trust, which will have a problem adapting the guttering of listed buildings for the sudden downpours that we will increasingly experience. The National Trust says that it has had an increase in pest problems in its properties in the past five to 10 years, exacerbated by damp and by mild winters. Barry Champion, who has been head gardener of Trelissick, a National Trust property, for 27 years, said:
“Every January for the past 15 years I have recorded the number of different plants in bloom. In 1991 there were 30 plants flowering in January—this has risen to 220 in 2004.”
That is a tremendous increase. The National Trust estimates that the growing season has lengthened by about a month in central England since 1900.
On one level, that is very nice for my hon. Friend; on another, it is distinctly and disturbingly worrying.
According to the National Trust, we have a particular problem with beech trees, which, it says, are at the edge of their tolerance. The 720-tree beech avenue at Kingston Lacy is susceptible to drought and, the National Trust notes,
“summer rainfall has reduced by 20 per cent. since 1990.”
The National Trust is an extremely important body in this regard. Not only does it have the sorts of properties to which I have referred, but it cares for one tenth of the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It notes,
“UK sea levels have risen by around 10 cm since 1990”
That is a huge rise. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs research indicates that about 10 per cent. of the population of England and Wales live within areas potentially at risk from flooding or coastal erosion, in properties valued at £220 billion. The Environment Agency’s budget for flood defences has increased by 35 per cent. in real terms. I will return to that point, however, because it is not doing enough. DEFRA has found that erosion of the north Norfolk coast has been five times worse than Government studies predicted 10 years ago. Climate change, which is already causing huge damage, is accelerating. The climate change Bill should address issues of adaptation as well as emissions, and deal with effects as well as causes.
The UK climate impacts programme—a group of, I think, 15 research scientists located in Oxford and funded by DEFRA—has come up with a model of a low emissions future and a high emissions future. The high emissions future looks pretty bleak. By 2080, sea levels in south-west Scotland will have risen by 50 to 60 cm, or 2 ft; in north-east England by 66 cm; on the rest of the east coast by 77 cm; in the south-east by 74 cm; and in Wales by 80 cm. The low emissions scenario projected is that by 2080 the sea will have risen by 20 cm, and in some places less than that, but there will still have been a considerable rise. As was adverted to earlier, that could put some current nuclear power station sites at risk.
In the Chamber, and I think it fair to say in the country, we still have a huge blind spot about adaptation—about dealing with effects. The CBI produced quite a good brief called “Delivering for business and the environment” in July this year. It contains six principles on climate change, all of which deal with causes rather than effects. That is the kind of blinkered mentality that we are seeing. We are seeing only half the equation.
I was delighted to receive recently from AXA Insurance a document entitled “Climate change and its effects on small businesses in the UK”. AXA has also produced quite a good pamphlet for small and medium-sized enterprises, which I do not have with me tonight, on dealing with the effects of climate change. Page 6 of “Climate change and its effects on small businesses in the UK” shows a graph of a survey of businesses. It asked them:
“How helpful or otherwise was each of the following when your business was affected by a severe weather event?”
I have to say that the findings do not make good reading for my Government. Admittedly, the document was produced by AXA, but according to the graph 66 per cent. of businesses thought that an insurance company had been helpful. The other percentages were 44 per cent. for the emergency services, 39 per cent. for a local utility company, 38 per cent. for the local council, 27 per cent. for the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and 12 per cent. for central Government.
The Government must do more by taking a leadership role, and they are starting to do so. “The UK Climate Change Programme”, published by DEFRA in March this year, is a step forward, but only 11 of its 193 pages deal with adaptation to climate change, although there are scattered references to it on one or two other pages.
I mentioned the climate impact programme research team in Oxford. The DEFRA document also mentions it. What we do not know from the research is whether we in the United Kingdom will end up with a Mediterranean climate, as I suspect many of our constituents fondly hope—particularly in southern England and the midlands, where my constituency is—or whether, as I suspect, although I am not a scientist, we will end up with what I call a Newfoundland climate. If the Gulf stream is diverted, we will have a Newfoundland climate. We will not be growing olives and grapes, as people are beginning to in the west midlands; we will be scratching out a living on root vegetables and so on.
I must say to the Government what I have said in the Chamber on several occasions—and they are starting to move; I give them credit for that—that I regard 11 pages out of 193 on adaptation to climate change as only half the equation, and not good enough. I believe that 45 of the 711 pages in the Stern report—I speak from memory—deal with the subject, a similar proportion to that in the DEFRA document published in March. Members will not be surprised to learn that I have not read all of the Stern report. The adaptation stuff is a step forward, but only a small step forward. I am glad that Stern took it up, but we need to take it up much more urgently.
It is all very well having a broad consensus in the House, as we do, on the need to do our bit in the United Kingdom to control the 2 per cent. of world emissions that we create. It is all very well having a broad consensus, as we do, on the need for the United Kingdom to have a leadership role and to build on the leadership that we have already displayed on the world stage. But we are missing half the equation, and it is the half—adaptation—over which the United Kingdom has total control. We cannot stop China, India or the United States spewing out emissions, although we can encourage and cajole them to do so. We can put our own emissions house in order, but we have no control over other countries. However, we have total control over adaptation in the United Kingdom.
As I walked into the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman happened to mention my constituency. We feel that we are in the front line of the impact of climate change in this country, as ours is a low-lying county with crumbling cliffs. At present the only adaptation to the impact of climate change that we see is in shoreline management plans that effectively propose the abandonment of sea defences, which means coastal communities being left with nothing and in a very vulnerable position. What does the hon. Gentleman feel about that? Does he feel that something must be done to protect those coastal communities through adaptation, or indeed to compensate them if they are to be lost to the sea?
As I have said in at least two speeches in the Chamber, referring specifically to Norfolk although not specifically to north Norfolk, what we need is polderisation, particularly in East Anglia and other low-lying areas in the United Kingdom. I am no expert, but I think that in some instances we shall need to adopt almost a military approach, and say “So much land is going to be lost. Let us fall back a bit and polderise 30 m inland rather than always chasing our own tails.” However, I suspect that no one knows—even some of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, who will know the area intimately—whether we should adopt that quasi-military fall-back strategy, or whether we should seek to polderise on the existing shoreline.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The coastline has a particular problem because it shifts naturally over time. In my area, we sometimes find that erecting sea defences merely moves the problem further down the coast. In many cases we have seen sand shifting back to where it was 60 years ago, and exposing tank traps from the second world war. It is a much more complex business than simply erecting defences to stop erosion.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. At the weekend I saw a television programme called “Coast”, which featured the west coast of Scotland. It made the same point, and also referred to old munitions plants originating from the world wars.
We need to adopt an holistic approach because of the way in which sea currents will be diverted. I have the impression that we, as a country, are nowhere near establishing from the kind of model to which the hon. Gentleman refers—some kind of computer model would presumably be necessary—what the effects of building a sea defence on a particular stretch of coast would be further down the shoreline. Expensive as it would be, I think that we shall have to adopt such an approach to the whole British coastline, which is very long given that ours is a relatively small island.
What I find even more frightening is that this year a report produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the United Kingdom was among the top five of its 30 member states—the 30 richest countries in the world—in terms of adaptation. We have done stuff on adaptation, but we have not done nearly enough. The July edition of the excellent “Postnote”—No. 267, provided by the Library—gives the example of new housing. It states:
“there are few incentives for developers to climate proof new buildings. Although insurance costs reflect flood protection, future climate resilience is not currently reflected in the price of a new home and there is little legislation that requires it.”
We need more of that legislation. I hope that the climate change Bill will be not simply a Climate Change (Causes) Bill, but a Climate Change (Causes and Effects) Bill.
I have mentioned, twice, the climate impact programme in Oxford. The Government have what they call an adaptation policy framework. Phase 1 was published only a year ago; I believe that phases 2 and 3 will not be completed until 2008. That is too far in the future. We need to speed up the process, and I hope that the climate change Bill will be broad enough to encompass that. I do not want to rehearse the whole debate about targets, and I do not think that this should be a target for primary legislation, but I do think that we need some pretty robust targets for completing and establishing an adaptation policy framework.
I am pleased that the Government contribute to the global environment facility. Quite a lot of the funds from that facility goes to assisting developing countries. There is a special climate change fund, a least-developed countries fund and an adaptation fund. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West referred to that in his speech. Crudely speaking, the richest countries have messed up the environment and continue to do so—and, as ever, it will be the poorest countries that suffer most. Christian Aid reckons that 182 million people will be displaced in Africa and that the chances of conflict will be much higher as people fight for resources, particularly water.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, although we are playing an international role, we are not doing enough. The National Flood Forum may have to close due to the Environment Agency cutting funds, losing three jobs. The centre is at the ironically named Snuff Mill warehouse in Bewdley. It may close next April. That may not be the end of the world, but closing flood centres at this time, with the problems we face with adaptation and flooding, seems to be going in the wrong direction.
I agree that that is most regrettable, and I will come to it in a moment.
The midlands Environment Agency is running a flood awareness campaign this year, as you may be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, as it is your region as well as mine. Floodline Warnings Direct is to be the UK’s first integrated multi-channel warning system, providing flood warnings and information to the public, professional partners and the media across England and Wales. That is the sort of thing that we need.
We are all aware of the tsunami in the far east today and the warning systems that are being set up there for a much more immediate disaster—with a tsunami 2 m high travelling at 1,000 km an hour across the Pacific ocean, it gets across it pretty quickly. Lives can be saved by having such awareness and warning systems. I am delighted that the midlands Environment Agency is doing that—would that it had happened a little while ago.
To return to the comments of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), it is regrettable that the flood defence budget has been cut this year. We need to put that in context. My understanding is that the budget is £428 million, that the cut has been £15 million this year and that that is on the back of a Government increase of 35 per cent. Therefore, generally, we have been going in the right direction. To try to put the £428 million into some perspective for hon. Members, we should all remember that when New Orleans faced Hurricane Katrina, it thought that its flood defences were going to hold—but they did not hold. There was a huge disaster there that cost tens of billions of dollars, let alone the loss of life and the disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods.
Hull has an ageing flood defence barrier that will cost an estimated £20 million to replace. It is big bucks. The national budget, which I think covers just England and Wales, is £428 million, and £20 million of it is just for Hull. Portsmouth is spending £150,000 a year on flood defences, understandably, given that it is, like Hull, a coastal city. It needs to spend £35 million on a new system. We are talking about big figures and a big commitment from any Government. I would rather we started fast now than waited until Hull faced catastrophic flooding, where the cost would certainly be more than £35 million. To do that we need to focus on the effects of climate change and the adaptation strategy.
I will finish with a quote from page 404 of the Stern report:
“Quantitative information on the costs and benefits of economy-wide adaptation is currently limited.”
I will make no comment on Stern and the rectitude of his report, but I find it absolutely shocking that even someone as eminent as Stern, who tried to look into the matter, cannot get quantitative information on how our country should be adapting to the greatest meteorological and climatic challenge that we face. Today, as far as I understand, we are to have a climate change Bill that looks to be very good on the causes of emissions, yet says nothing about effects and adaptation. Our children and grandchildren will rue the day that we focused so much on emissions, which are part of a global issue, and did not focus enough on something entirely in our hands—adaptation.
This has been a fascinating day. The conduct of the debate has convinced me, if ever I needed convincing, that the Opposition can win the next general election. Very few Labour Members were present for the opening speeches. The Whips have managed to muster only about six Labour Members to speak in the debate and those who have spoken have effectively conducted a filibuster. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) spoke for 24 minutes. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) and the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) spoke for 17 minutes each. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) spoke for 24 minutes. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) spoke for 24 minutes, too. He was so desperate to filibuster that he went around every single bus route in his constituency. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke for nearly half an hour. Not one of those Members practically has addressed any of the key issues of Afghanistan, Iraq and criminal justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) said, this is groundhog day. It is a Government party hollowing out.
This is going to be a strange parliamentary Session. We are all going to feel like characters in “Waiting for Gordo”. The Government are in limbo. Ministers are preoccupied with which of them will be the next Deputy Prime Minister. Junior Ministers are fretting as to their futures under the next dispensation, and permanent secretaries and officials are uncertain as to which policies it is worth taking forward, and what is going to be changed at the end of the year, or whenever by a new Prime Minister. All that is against the background of the multiple uncertainties of a comprehensive public spending review. That is no way to run a country.
I suspect that normal political life will not start again until the pre-Budget report and the spending review due next year, both of which will be the start of the Brown era. We are about to enter a gap year, a strange parliamentary vacuum, with the Government treading water. That has been clearly demonstrated by the conduct of the debate today.
Of course, until the Prime Minister goes, the Government and, more importantly, the Labour party are not able to discover what they are. The Prime Minister is said to have claimed:
“I have taken from my party everything they thought they believed in. I have stripped them of their core beliefs. What keeps it together is success and power”.
We still have another year of a governing party not knowing what it believes in, dithering and drift, and that is all the more disconcerting as there are clearly a number of important issues that require immediate attention.
On foreign policy, at a meeting of Members of both Houses in another place last week, his royal highness King Abdullah of Jordan observed that, in 2007, he saw the prospect of three civil wars in the middle east: in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. I was one of those on the Conservative Benches who voted against the war on Iraq because, as a lawyer, I believed the way in which the war was prosecuted to be contrary to international law. There has been no pleasure in seeing the situation in Iraq persistently deteriorate. According to a report in The Lancet, the death toll in Iraq since the coalition invasion is now over 655,000. That is one in 40 of the Iraqi population. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died at the hands of coalition troops, sectarian death squads and insurgent bombers. Our troops, through no fault of their own, are failing to stop the sectarian killing. Even the head of the British Army, Sir Richard Dannatt, believes that the presence of coalition troops, far from keeping a lid on the fighting, is making the security situation worse.
One of the epitaphs of the Government will be the Iraq war, an ill-judged invasion fought on misleading and wrong assumptions that gave way to a chaotic occupation. Little wonder that the Prime Minister does not wish to subject himself, and his Government’s policy on Iraq, to the scrutiny of an independent commission. It is bizarre that he is willing to share his thoughts on future policy on Iraq with the United States’ Iraq study group, but not willing to submit those ideas to the scrutiny of this House. The doctrine of unripe time prevails here, but seemingly not in the United States. It is all sadly indicative of the fact that the Prime Minister has allowed UK foreign policy to be determined all too often in Washington rather than here.
The Foreign Office has been emasculated; “inaudible, invisible, incompetent” was how one Foreign Office official described the Foreign Secretary recently. The reality is that Foreign Office Ministers have been reduced to the role of meeters and greeters and that Foreign Office officials are all too often ignored by the Prime Minister.
What is required is a reappraisal of policy towards the middle east as a whole. The Prime Minister was right in his Mansion house speech earlier this week to acknowledge that there needs to be a renewed effort to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict if there is to be any hope for wider peace in the middle east, including Iraq. The Government have also recognised the need to engage with Iran and Syria. The difficulty with treating countries as pariah states is that it simply encourages them to behave as pariah states. We should never disengage from countries in the world and we need to engage constructively with Iran and Syria.