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It has been a time for dishing out rewards and settling scores, but the Prime Minister would be most unwise if he did not realise that it is a time for delivery, because delivery has been put off for so long. The Government succeeded in persuading the British people to give them a second chance to deliver. The argument that they needed more time worked, but it will not work again. People will demand delivery.
During the general election, the Prime Minister promised the country 20,000 more nurses, 10,000 more doctors, 6,000 extra police recruits and an extra 10,000 teachers. But the public know, as he knows, that he cannot at the moment even keep the doctors, nurses, teachers and police that we already have. He has said that Britain will boast world-class public services by the next election, but he will find that urgent task all the more difficult if he has no public servants to run them.
It will not work to turn the Government into the head teacher of every school, the manager of every hospital or the superintendent of every police station. It will not work to make promises about inputs into public services when people want outputs; they need to see results.
It will not work to make claims that things are getting better if people's daily experience is that they are getting worse. It will not work to keep shifting targets and measures so as to make it harder to judge them. That applies right across the public services. Let us take the national health service as an example.
It seems that I was not the only person who had to face up to bad statistics on the morning of Friday 8 June; there were bad statistics in the NHS as well. An increase of 16,000 people on the waiting list was announced on the day after the election. I know how hard the Government must have worked to compile those figures quicker, and how disappointed they must have been that it proved possible to issue them only just a few hours after the polls had closed--so disappointed that they have decided to abandon the entire waiting-list initiative.
The pledge to cut waiting lists appeared on all those posters, mugs and credit cards at the previous election. Achieving it adorned speech after speech in this House from Government Members. Time and again, we pressed on the Government the fact that the target was distorting clinical priorities and should be abandoned. Time and again, the Health Secretary said that he would not do so, but within a few days of the election the initiative has been abandoned. At the 1997 election, we were told that we had 24 hours to save the NHS by introducing a waiting-list initiative, but in 2001 it took 24 hours to abolish it.
Unfortunately, it seems that the real lessons of that initiative have not been learned. The Government have replaced one set of targets with another. Maximum waiting-time targets are better chosen than their predecessor, but still substitute political priorities and headlines for clinical decisions. They will still distort clinical behaviour.
The Government should be warned not to fall into the trap of believing that passing legislation on public services is the same as improving those services. They should not be fooled into thinking that administrative changes in Whitehall alone bring about a greater chance of delivery. That delivery is in the hands of countless thousands of men and women who joined the public services to serve the public. They want to be allowed to get on with their jobs.
The Government have announced in the Queen's Speech a Bill to help the police fight crime and to reform the criminal courts. If that results in the police being able to spend more time detecting and preventing crime, patrolling our streets and catching criminals, it will deserve widespread support in the House. If, on the other hand, it means more targets, rules and regulations, and even more paperwork, the Government will have learned nothing from what police officers have said to them in recent times.
The Queen's Speech promises more freedom for successful teachers and governors, and more diversity in schools. Given that the Government have spent the past four years abolishing grant-maintained schools, threatening grammar schools with ballots over their very existence and weighing down teachers with a directive a day since the beginning of last year, they will forgive us a little scepticism. If they are now genuine about rolling back uniformity, bureaucracy and centralised control, that will help a great deal. If, however, that means laying down in ever more detail what every teacher should be doing with every hour of every working day, the Government will not succeed in attracting and retaining the teachers that the country needs.
The same argument applies to the economy as a whole. The Queen's Speech commits the Government to economic stability and a more prosperous society. In The Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Chancellor said:
The Chancellor did not stand for an enterprise culture then, and he has not stood for it yet. He has run Britain's businesses ragged with rules and regulations. The British Chambers of Commerce says that
Now, the Chancellor says that he wants to make British businesses more competitive. If he really means to reverse the regulatory burden on business, genuinely wants to remove stealth taxes and is serious about giving up pathological meddling in the affairs of businesses, we Conservatives will support the measures that he introduces, but until that happens we are entitled to remain sceptical that his conversion to our cause is in any way genuine.
The Government should not fall into the trap of thinking that passing legislation is the same as delivering, or that making administrative changes is a substitute for delivery. The creation of a new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not, of itself, begin to deal with the chronic crisis facing our countryside. Rural communities expect something more than a new nameplate on a Government building: they expect a change of direction from the Government.
Seven weeks after the Prime Minister told the country that we were on the home straight, it is clear that foot and mouth is not beaten: it is rife in my constituency and others, with many new cases reported in the past two weeks. I believe that the Government should be honest about the extent of the crisis. Official figures put the number of cases at about 1,800, but it could be twice as high owing to cases on farms where precautionary culling has taken place.
The case for a full and independent public inquiry into the causes of foot and mouth and the measures taken by the Government to tackle it is overwhelming. A Government who wasted no time establishing an inquiry into the previous Government's handling of BSE and even found time to apologise formally for the Irish potato famine of 1845 must see fit to commit themselves to having their own response to the foot and mouth crisis properly examined. The case for an inquiry is clear--let us have a full and independent public inquiry.
People living in rural areas will be outraged that the Queen's Speech contains no reference to the crisis in the countryside and the urgent need to adopt measures to help it to recover, and that the only mention of rural affairs is a free vote on the future of hunting with dogs. The Government should produce a strategy for the recovery of the countryside. We have made many suggestions. Those are the real priorities on which people who live in rural Britain expect the Government to concentrate. It is time to deliver, and on that delivery the Government will be judged.
In this country and the rest of the European Union there are growing signs that people feel disconnected from the political process. Those who spoke before me have mentioned that. If people see policies steamrollered through and are told that there is no alternative, they will take an increasingly cynical view of the democratic institutions that should be their proud inheritance. The Government, and all parties, would do well to reflect on that in the months and years ahead, but I see no immediate sign of that in today's Queen's Speech.
The speech makes it clear that the Government intend to introduce legislation to ratify the Nice treaty, but it does so against the background of a referendum in Ireland that decisively rejected ratification of the treaty by that country. The concerns expressed by Irish voters are more widely shared. One EU diplomat said last week:
It is not only on Europe that we need to consider the disconnection between political institutions and those whom they are intended to serve. In the Queen's Speech, the Government say that they will consult on stage 2 of reform of the Lords. We hope that that consultation will be widespread and genuine. However, respect for and participation in our democratic process will be enhanced only if we reform the relationship between government and Parliament, including, in particular, the House of Commons. Otherwise, the disconnection between politicians and the public that we saw in the general election promises to become even greater.
All of us in the House, in all parties, should be chastened by levels of voter apathy that resulted in the lowest turnout at a general election since 1918, with the number of voters staying at home exceeding the number who turned out to vote for the winning party. Elections to this place should be the cornerstone of democratic accountability in our country, yet millions of people are not sufficiently motivated to take part in them. The blunt truth is that people increasingly see politics and Parliament as remote from their lives. They do not think that they matter. They no longer see Parliament as a place in which they can get things done.
Why should any of this be surprising when many Governments, but especially that in the previous Parliament, have taken every opportunity to sideline, marginalise and bypass Parliament, with the consequence that its standing and reputation are lower than at any time in living memory? We face an urgent task to reform Parliament, to make it relevant to the people whom it is supposed to serve and to place it once again at the centre of our national life. Without a strong Parliament, democratic accountability in Britain ceases to exist.
I urge the Prime Minister to look again at proposals to reform the House. These include putting the parliamentary timetable in the hands of Committees, to make the publication of Bills in draft standard practice, to improve the scrutiny of secondary legislation and delegated instruments, to make substantial improvements to the
There are lessons for us all, on both sides of the House, in the election that has just passed. Party leaders and Prime Ministers may come and go--we certainly come and go--but our democracy must endure. The work of this place must mean something to those whose views we have been elected to represent. We need the Government to be honest and straightforward about what they are trying to achieve, about where they succeed and about where they fail. We need the Government to understand the value of being held genuinely and fully accountable to the British people through this place. We need also the Government to trust those who work in our public services and those who rely on them. A Government who do those things need not fear judgment at the ballot box in future. A Government who fail in those things risk losing something far more precious than power at the next election.