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13 Nov 2002 : Column 5—continued

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to paying a visit to Belgium next spring and to receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of Russia next summer.

My Government will work for rapid progress on enlargement of the European Union, notably at next month's European Council meeting in Copenhagen. Legislation will be introduced to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Accession Treaty with prospective member states.

My Government will make a decision on whether to recommend entry into the single currency on the basis of the assessment of the Five Economic Tests to be completed by next June.

The forthcoming NATO Summit in Prague will emphasise the Alliance's continuing role as the cornerstone of Britain's national security. My Government will continue work for an enlarged and even more effective NATO, enjoying a close partnership with Russia.

My Government will continue to play a leading role in combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which are among the most serious threats to the security of the United Kingdom and our allies. My Government will continue to work with the international community to ensure the implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

My Government will work for rapid and effective implementation of the agreements reached at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and will focus on tackling climate change and finding new ways to meet our energy needs.

My Government will continue to work for a more effective global effort to reduce poverty, building on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and on progress achieved at the recent Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development. Britain's aid budget will be increased and we will work to implement the Africa Action Plan in response to the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

My Government will work for a successful outcome to the current round of world trade negotiations that benefits industrialised and developing countries alike.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

13 Nov 2002 : Column 6

Debate on the Address

[First Day]

Mr. Speaker: It may be helpful if I announce to the House that the proposed pattern of debate for the remaining days of debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows: Thursday 14 November—health and pensions; Friday 15 November—education, culture, media and sport; Monday 18 November—economy and trade and industry; Tuesday 19 November—regional and local government, transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Wednesday 20 November—home affairs.

I now call on Mr. George Foulkes to move the Address, and Ms Oona King will second it.

2.36 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I beg to move,


It is a great privilege and a real pleasure for me to be asked to move the Address together with my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). To be honest, I wondered XWhy me?" My good friend and fellow seventy-niner, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), mischievously suggested that the answer could be traced back to August 1999. That was when my daughter, Jenny, gave birth to a son and made me a very proud grandfather for the first time. I did not say, XWe are a grandfather", but the parents were in a quandary about what first name to give him.

Bob Russell (Colchester): Tony.

Mr. Foulkes: Wait for it. Eventually, Jenny came to tell me the decision and she was disconcerted that I burst out laughing when she told me the name. My grandson was to be called Blair. [Laughter.] I assure the House that I had no influence whatever over the decision—well, consciously. Blair is a popular first name in Scotland—honestly—but it does have interesting consequences.

On the Sunday after the election—a day when Ministers and aspiring Ministers and their telephones are almost inseparable—the phone rang at my home in Ayr. It was someone from The Scotsman, and Jenny answered. She said, XI am sorry. He's not here; he's with Blair all afternoon. Can you phone back this evening?" I was already imagining The Scotsman sub-editor drafting the headline, XFoulkes for Foreign Secretary". [Hon. Members: XHear, hear."] Unfortunately that cheer came from Conservative Members. The Scotsman phoned back that evening and said with some awe, XWe hear that you have been with Blair all afternoon." I said, XYes, I took him for a walk." The penny dropped.

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Thankfully, the phone rang again the next day and this time it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I was back not as Foreign Secretary, but as No. 2 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) in the Department for International Development, where I belonged.

That brings me to what must be the real reason that I am now on my feet. It goes back over 23 years, to 22 May 1979, when I made my maiden speech in the Queen's Speech debate. This is a reward—or is it a punishment?—for surviving that long. The Defence Secretary rather ungallantly told me that I had got the old codger's spot today—[Interruption.] But that was untypical of him.

When thinking of what to say, I received an unusually helpful suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). He suggested that I check who was the last Scottish Member to propose such a motion, as opposed to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Dr. Clark), who seconded them so eloquently. I was delighted to find out that George Younger in 1990 was the last. For 13 years, George was my neighbouring MP and, notwithstanding our political differences, we co-operated very closely on local issues. Other Scots Members described us as the Ayrshire mafia, probably rightly. He was known locally as Gentleman George—why do I never get called that? Anyway, he deserved it.

Once, I met a delegation of protesting councillors coming out of a meeting with him at St. Andrew's house when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. They said that it had been an excellent meeting, but when I asked them whether he had agreed to their demands they said, XOh no, but he was very nice." Sometimes, being a gentleman can be politically useful as well.

George mentioned in that speech in 1990 that the most important constituency issue that he faced was the future of Prestwick airport, which had then declined to the point where it had almost no passenger traffic. He and I soon afterwards persuaded BAA to sell it and George became chair of the company that bought it—I do not know why they did not think of me—and the airport never looked back. My hon. Friend the current Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) has assiduously followed in his footsteps and now it is the fastest growing airport in Britain. Two new air links were announced from the airport in the last two weeks. Sadly, George Younger is unwell and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would wish George to know that our thoughts are with him today.

In my maiden speech, as tradition suggests, I spoke about my constituency. I just want to add a few remarks today because this is an honour for the constituency as well as for me. My constituency is the cradle of the Labour party. Keir Hardie, the founder of our party, made it his home from 1880 until his death in 1915 and he returned there even when he represented West Ham and Merthyr here in the Commons. Keir Hardie's first manifesto included three key aims: home rule, a minimum wage and temperance. It has taken this Labour Government to achieve two of those three—and, may I say it, the right two.

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My constituency has, since the time when Keir Hardie was secretary of the Ayrshire miners, had a proud coal mining tradition, yet it is also one of the most beautiful in the country. It contains the birthplace of Scotland's bard, Robert Burns, and many of the places mentioned in his magnificent works, so it is a great honour for me to have represented it for the past 23 years, although the effects of all those Burns suppers have taken their toll.

I searched the poems and songs of Robert Burns to find a suitable verse for this occasion. Fortunately, no song seemed appropriate. I was going to suggest that


could now be an ode to the Leader of the Opposition, but I am not a cruel person, so I will not. Instead, I chose the lines


Robert Burns was ahead of his time: he thought of focus groups even before new Labour.

In that Queen's Speech debate in 1979, the Leader of the Opposition, Jim Callaghan—I, like almost everyone, if not everyone here, have always had a great respect and deep affection for him—sought a guarantee from the new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, whom I cannot say the same about, that overseas aid would be exempt from her planned cuts in expenditure. She refused to give such an undertaking. Sadly, she was true to her word and spending on aid halved in 18 years. In contrast, by the end of this Parliament, spending on development will have more than doubled since 1997, and it is moving steadily towards the United Nations target; and there is much more.

The new Department for International Development and our whole Government are leading the world in securing both debt relief and trade preferences for the poorest countries of the world, and the reaffirmation in the Queen's Speech is particularly welcome. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and particularly the Secretary of State for International Development deserve our huge praise for that. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not a prophet without honour in her own country, I know from my four years as her deputy that she is also held in even higher regard by world leaders, including the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, and the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan. We should be really proud of her.

My only sadness is that that is one of the many achievements of our Labour Government that is too often taken for granted. It reminds me of XMonty Python's Life of Brian". I think that Eric Idle, the leader of the Judean People's Front—


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