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9.21 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition opened the debate on the Gracious Speech on 6 December. Nothing that we have heard from Ministers in the past week has in any way altered our first impression that the Queen's Speech is all spin and no delivery.

The Government are clearing the decks for an early election. Like the Titanic, new and big, new Labour is now sinking on its maiden voyage. All our major public services are in crisis; in rural areas, farm income is at the lowest level since the 1930s; White Papers are catalogued on both urban and rural problems; but nothing appears in the Gracious Speech. The speech is as interesting for what it omits as for what has been prioritised.

Under errors and omissions, we must look at the dear, departed Bills that are a ghost of Government promises, such as the promised consumer Bill. The Government published a White Paper entitled "Modern Markets: Confident Consumers" in July 1999. Launching it, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said:

However, there is no consumer Bill in the Queen's Speech. Labour published a White Paper on licensing reform on 10 April this year, an advance copy of which was briefed to The Times on 13 March, where it appeared as the lead front page story. Again, no legislation was introduced. On urban renewal, there is clearly no sign of a Bill to introduce the policies in the urban White Paper.

What happened to the voting systems? Before the election, the Prime Minister said:

That was in the Financial Times in February 1997, but there is not a word about it in what is likely to be the last Session of this Parliament.

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There is no Bill on housing. The Government published a Green Paper on housing in April 2000 but, again, they have failed to deliver on their promises. The House will therefore not be surprised that we are somewhat sceptical of the papers that the Government produce in the hope that people will read them and be encouraged to take action. The Government print them, but they do not take any action.

Interestingly, something which we might have expected because it would undoubtedly not have taken up much time in the House, almost certainly having cross-party support, would have been a law on vaccine damage payments. On 27 June 2000, the Secretary of State for Social Security said:

Again, that is a glaring omission from the Gracious Speech.

With regard to the rights of victims, new Labour, on page 23 of their document "Because Britain Deserves Better"--that has a somewhat hollow ring four years later--states:

The Prime Minister, in his conference speech this year, said:

Promises, promises. Unfortunately for new Labour, that second term looks less likely than it might have done four years ago.

Throughout the debate on the Queen's Speech, not just Conservative Members but Labour Members have expressed disappointment at the errors and omissions. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was disappointed that the civil service had no statutory code under which to operate. The right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) pleaded with the Government on behalf of the steel industry, but his pleas, too, have been ignored by the Government.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said:

If this had been a Conservative Queen's Speech, there would have been a jolly big bonfire of quangos and agencies.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) said:

[Interruption.] Labour Members seem to regard the words of their colleagues as a joke. I am quoting from Hansard.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) said:

In other words, there is great disappointment among those on the Government Benches as well as in the country at the Government's omissions. Those expressions of

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disappointment from Labour Members come simply from the first day of the debate on the Queen's Speech. Had I ploughed through Hansard I could doubtless have found four or five more pages of such expressions of disappointment, but I think that we have the message from Labour Members. They are disappointed by the Gracious Speech, but, however disappointed they are, they are not half as disappointed as those outside the House are with the Government.

I could talk about many Bills, but I will not do so tonight. However, it is worth mentioning those in the Gracious Speech which are recycled, not least a regulatory reform Bill, one of our little regulars which pops up in each Queen's Speech and nothing is done about it, but here it is again this year. It would be interesting to see whether, in the confines of what we anticipate will be rather a short Session, the Bill will have sufficient priority to complete all its stages before the general election.

The Government flagged up law and order in the Queen's Speech as an important issue. They pledged to introduce a Bill to tackle anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related crime by giving the police power to impose fixed penalty fines. That is yet another pledge that will not be met. The Government said that they would tackle anti-social behaviour and youth crime, but young people are still committing large numbers of criminal offences and communities are terrorised by persistent young offenders. Again, it is all spin and no delivery.

We have seen in previous Sessions of this Parliament the Government's rather paltry attempts to act on that matter, about which there is great concern throughout the country, but under the Government crime rose last year by 190,000 offences, the first rise in six years. In addition, there was a large increase in the number of robberies, despite the Government's promise to reduce them, and the pledge to be tough on crime has been nothing but spin.

The Government have done nothing to increase the number of police officers on the street. There are now 3,000 fewer police officers than when they came to office in 1997. How hollow it seems to say that police officers will apprehend criminals if they are not around when the pubs turn out to deal with the people causing problems.

As I said, we are discussing a recycled issue. Curfew orders were introduced in January 1999, although none have been issued. Only 130 anti-social behaviour orders have been issued. It was interesting to hear one hon. Member say that nine orders had been issued in his constituency. I am sure that he is grateful for that, but the level of crime and people's anxieties warrant more than merely the 130 anti-social behaviour orders that have been issued. The Government have not given the police the support that they deserve. Not only have police numbers been reduced, special constables are also down by 10,000, which puts more strain on people in regular service.

My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor opened today's debate on the economy, which is an appropriate subject with which to conclude consideration of the Queen's Speech. We have demonstrated clearly that the Government are all spin and no delivery. They have no vision for the next Parliament and can campaign only on their record, which is poor. As we have heard--I know that Labour Members do not like to be reminded of this--the Prime Minister said that he had

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The Government also say that they are committed to increasing spending during the next three years at a much faster rate than the growth of the economy. My hon. Friends have referred to that commitment during today's debate, but it does not seem to matter to the Government, especially the Chancellor, who seems to think that the Government can fall in behind the spin that they have put on our national economy, and believe their own figures.

Additional taxes have been imposed on business, as well a greater burden through the cost of red tape. In today's debate, many hon. Members from all parties have spoken about the economy, different sectors of manufacturing industry and businesses throughout the country. It is, therefore, interesting that Labour Members merely dismiss the extra regulatory and taxation burden that has been imposed on business and its consequences--of course, there are, ultimately, consequences.

The savings ratio is now 3 per cent., which is its lowest level since 1963. I should point out something for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard), who said that the savings ratio is not much talked about in the pubs in his constituency. His constituents should know, even if he does not, that when the savings ratio drops, it means that they have lost all incentive to put money aside for a rainy day, retirement or ill health. That has an effect on their day-to-day lives.

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