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13 Nov 2002 : Column 33—continued

Mr. Dalyell : I find these elements of behaviour of the hawks rather surprising because, after all, it was Mr. Rumsfeld who went to Iraq to negotiate on behalf of his firm and on oil interests in 1983, and it was Mr. Cheney whose firm, Halliburton, had the most intimate connections with Iraq as late as 1994. Is it not a bit strange?

Mr. Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman, as Father of the House, is something of a parliamentary deity, but I read with considerable interest a recent article in The Daily Telegraph by the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury which touched on some of these matters. There is a growing perception at a senior level in different walks of life that some of the decisions being made and some of the attitudes being espoused cannot be divorced from some of the economic and business background of recent decades.

I turn, finally, to immediate issues. The Prime Minister's remarks about the firefighters' dispute were correct, and the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union

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must recognise that it should have contributed properly to the Bain inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), within whose constituency the FBU national headquarters is located, made a submission to the inquiry on behalf of our party.

We certainly share the view that there has to be restructuring, and that it can accompany the additional salary increases that are on the table. The Chancellor should be willing to recognise his obligation to help local authorities to make that package possible. The Government have slightly hidden behind the argument that there are savings to be achieved in the provision of a fire service, and that those could somehow be transferred to assist in the payment of additional salaries. That is not so, at least in the short term, because some of the savings will accrue several years further on, as is so often the way with restructuring. It will cost more in the short term to save more in the longer term, and the Government must recognise that.

My final reflection on the matter concerns the Conservatives' contribution. The leader of the party returned to the issue about which he was asking the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, but on BBC television last night one of his shadow Cabinet colleagues, who speaks for the party on defence, said, of what is already a difficult situation:


How immature and how inflammatory. I hope that the leader of the Conservative party will distance himself from such discussion.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): While we are talking about inflammatory and infantile contributions, does the right hon. Gentleman care to retract his remark at the Liberal Democrat party conference, when he said, regarding what America has had to face over the past year, that there is more than a hint of imperialism in America's actions in respect of Iraq? Does he stand by that, or does he withdraw it?

Mr. Kennedy: I certainly did say that there was more than a hint of imperialism, because my speech was delivered the day after Mr. Rumsfeld made a speech in which he referred to the Xdecapitation" of Iraq. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is the sort of language that the US Defence Secretary should be using in such a dangerous situation, but some of us involved in politics in this country believe that we are right to point out the dangers of that approach.

Moving on to the other details of the Queen's Speech, it is welcome that there is to be more pre-legislative scrutiny. All would agree that that has worked well in the Scottish Parliament. We will examine aspects of housing policy, management of nuclear liabilities and the laws on corruption. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a good innovation, and we would like to see more of it.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Does the leader of the Liberal Democrats think that the Government propose to spend enough on health and education to deliver high-quality services, or does he recommend more spending and higher taxes?

Mr. Kennedy: First, we voted with the Government for the extra expenditure that will now be made.

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That fundamentally distinguishes our position from that of the Conservatives, because they voted against that extra investment. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will remind the public of that at hourly intervals between now and any future elections.

Secondly, having supported that investment, we have advanced specific arguments in respect of health expenditure. In addition to the investment that has been announced, welcome though it is, we want greater decentralisation—in both health and education—than the Government are proposing in the Queen's Speech, because we think that the money could be more efficiently deployed. On health in particular, at our conference this autumn we proposed that national insurance contributions should be earmarked specifically for the health service—our argument in favour of that being that, unlike the short, time-limited commitment that the Chancellor is able to give, national insurance contributions go on year after year and could provide a rolling fund for ongoing additional health service investment.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) for their interest. In their constituencies, the Liberal Democrats need a swing of less than 5 and 7 per cent. respectively to win the seat at the next election.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): On the issue of funding for public services, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify his party's position? The Liberal Democrats, as part of the Scottish Executive, have approved a public-private partnership private finance initiative bid from Inverclyde council for #80 million to improve our schools, yet the Liberal Democrats on Inverclyde council have opposed the bid and said that they will not take the money in any circumstances. Will he say which bit of Liberal Democrat policy he supports—the policy in Edinburgh, or the policy in Greenock—lest he leave the impression that his party has two wholly different policies on the same issue?

Mr. Kennedy: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman—and I think that the Prime Minister will support me on this—is, welcome to the devolution politics of Britain today. The Labour party and its leader find themselves defending one Labour policy on university funding in Scotland and a different policy in England and Wales. That is the truth of the matter.

The hon. Gentleman should talk with Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister in the coalition Administration in Edinburgh, and with the Scottish Trades Union Congress, whose representatives say that they find the general Liberal Democrat approach to the private finance initiative more sympathetic to their concerns than the approach for which the Labour party has been arguing. That, too, is the truth of the matter. He should talk to the STUC—he might find it educational.

Mr. Salmond: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: Ah, Alex!

Mr. Salmond: He might not say that afterwards.

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Never mind the PFI—can the right hon. Gentleman explain why Mr. Jim Wallace was in favour of a full-scale privatisation of the prison service in Scotland, and even now proposes an extension of privatisation, while his colleagues here argue that there has been over-privatisation south of the border?

Mr. Kennedy: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, a former Member of the Scottish Parliament and leader of the Scottish National party who curiously decided to stay at Westminster rather than Edinburgh does not understand the way in which the Scottish Parliament works. Unlike at Westminster, consultation means something there. When the Executive consult and Parliament has a vote, lo and behold, Ministers must pay attention. Would that not be a novel approach here? The hon. Gentleman's facts are therefore simply wrong.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose—

Mr. Kennedy: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I cannot let down someone who has displayed such magnificent adherence to principle recently.

Despite the draft legislation introduced in June, the absence of a mental health Bill is a serious omission. The Government are culpable, because it is their fault that the Green Paper and the draft legislation introduced after consultation angered many professionals and people involved in patient rights, not least in the community. That is a pity because, while we would have opposed many of the measures in such a Bill, there was all-party agreement on many other good components, which have been lost. I therefore hope that in this Session the Government listen more carefully. If they had done so during consultation, we would have a Bill with broad-based all-party support and progress would have been made.

Mr. Bercow: Advances in medical science on the one hand, and the inevitable limits on the availability of public resources on the other, mean that whenever we create a new cure in this country we also create a new queue. Would the right hon. Gentleman say something more about the precise structural reform of the national health service that would enable his party more effectively to translate care from a word into a deed?


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