Previous SectionIndexHome Page


13 Nov 2002 : Column 60—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That intervention was too long.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I got the drift of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I agree with the first part; we have far too many quangos and unelected bodies.

Mr. Tyler: You set them up.

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman says that I set them up. He is mistaking history. He should know that, as Secretary of State for Wales, I transferred some powers from quangos to local government and wanted to do rather more, but other events transpired which took my interest at the time. He should also know that the present Government have become the king and queen of the quangos. It is they who have transferred to quangos huge areas that were previously accountable directly to this House. They have transferred a big chunk of our economic policy to the Bank of England. They have transferred our food safety policy to a new agency. They have transferred more powers over the environment to the Environment Agency. They have transferred most City regulation to the Financial Services Authority, whereas much of that was originally under Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury.

There has been a massive transfer. In each case, the Government have argued that technicians and professionals are better at doing those things than elected people. The ideal world for Labour Ministers is one where they have a completely empty Red Box and a very large salary, and can say on every matter that it is absolutely nothing to do with them, because they know a quango down the road that will carry the can.

In the regional area, to which the hon. Gentleman drew my attention, I would like to see the functions that are worth carrying out transferred to elected local government, and the others abolished. I would like my local council to have real planning powers, I would like it rather than the Environment Agency to deal with matters such as flood control, I would like it to deal with some aspects of law and order, and I would like to see the quangos in those areas abolished or given a thoroughly good haircut, so that they spend much less of our money and trouble us far less than they currently do.

If we in the House are serious about democracy, we should be saying to the Government, XYou have given away far too many powers. You set up too many quangos. You transferred far too many important functions outside democratic control. You have given away massive powers to the European Union. You are not serious, Government, about creating democratic accountability." Everything that Ministers do, as the Queen's Speech reveals, transfers matters away from probing, from the light of democracy, from challenge and from accountability in the Chamber. I would like to see a streamlined Government. I would like to see us curb the political classes. I would like us to have far

13 Nov 2002 : Column 61

fewer elected politicians, but I would like those whom we do have to be in serious Chambers, doing a serious job of work.

David Taylor: The right hon. Gentleman seems to be making an immensely powerful and persuasive case for democratic centralism, which as I remember did for Stalin. Would it do for the Conservative party as well?

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman has clearly been listening to a different debate. The main proposals that I have put forward are for true devolution. I want schools in every part of the country to be independent, to get their money because pupils go there on free places, and to choose how to spend that money. That would mean that they got far more money to spend on education than they currently get, because the huge educational quangos and the national Government machinery would be cut back, and the money would be better spent.

I want the Government to propose foundation hospital status for all hospitals and to give those hospitals real independence so that patients have choice, and I want those hospitals to have enough independence to be able to borrow and spend money so that they can provide the extra capacity that we so clearly need.

I want there to be bridges between the public and the private sectors. I do not want to live in a world like the one in which I was brought up where there was an apartheid whereby someone from a low income family like me simply could not go to the really smart hospitals and schools. I want everyone to be able to go to an independent school or hospital if they so choose, and I want the money to follow them out of taxpayers' revenues. That would be cheaper, better and fairer, and it would expand capacity and bring the joy of choice and free enterprise to public services. It would implement the Prime Minister's strange idea that he will break the monoliths of state provision. I only wish he would.

The Queen's Speech is a ragbag of hopeless ideas. It does not go nearly far enough. It will not give hospitals or schools independence; it will not give people choice; and it will not solve the shortages and the transport problem. My right hon. and hon. Friends are right to oppose it.

6 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I completely disagree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on devolution and good governance, but I also think that many of my hon. Friends understate the case for having real devolution throughout the United Kingdom. The fact is that this Parliament, of which I am proud, tries to do too much and does it badly. Moreover, the Government are overtasked. Comparable big democracies, whether in Canberra, Ottawa, Washington, Moscow, and certainly Berlin, have a legislature and a Government who are charged with defence, foreign affairs, broad macro-economic and social policy. We should be arguing not about whether there is a great desire for devolved government; we should be arguing for it positively on grounds of good governance. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meets President Putin, Prime Minister Chrétien, the Chancellor of Germany, or the

13 Nov 2002 : Column 62

President of the United States they deal with only broad macro-economic and social policy, defence and foreign affairs. They are not charged with or expected to be able to understand, pontificate and decide on all the other important matters that are sensibly dealt with by either the provincial premier, the governor of a particular state, the president of a Land, or the president of an oblast in the Russian Federation. It makes good sense to devolve down.

There should be constitutional symmetry. The same powers that exist for Scotland should also be devolved to the other units of the United Kingdom. I do not minimise the task. I realise that the south-east in particular has no natural boundaries. Nevertheless, many states tackle that and in my lifetime I want to see a federalised United Kingdom with a strong central legislature focusing on matters of most importance and for which we as a legislature can most effectively provide in statute and scrutiny. In truth, much of the scrutiny that we pretend to do is a charade.

I do not want to delay the House too long on that theme, but I remember being held here night after night on a two-line Whip on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. That is extremely important to the people of Wales, but the good people of Tilbury did not lie awake at night worrying about it. That is sensibly a matter for the people of Wales. Equally, my friends from Caithness and Sutherland should not be too exercised about London taxi Bills or London governance. Those are matters that should be dealt with at a much more local level.

Mr. Bercow rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: As the hon. Gentleman is a decent fellow, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Bercow: Given the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the decentralisation of power, can he name a single example of a directive or regulation that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality under the treaty of Amsterdam?

Andrew Mackinlay: No, this is not a quiz. I am for devolution and for subsidiarity to maximise that. I do not have the time to paint a great canvas on how I should like the United Kingdom's constitution to be substantially reformed. I shall do that on another occasion in the Chamber or sitting down with the hon. Gentleman.

I come now to the Queen's Speech and I want to get off my chest early on some of my concerns. I welcome much of its thrust and contents. However, with regard to the reform of the House of Lords, I am concerned by the reference to giving further consideration to the report of the Joint Committee. That is parliamentary speak for kicking into touch and I do not like it. We need to deal with the so-called second phase of the reform of the House of Lords. I favour a wholly elected House, but being a reasonable man I shall settle for a substantial wedge or slice of democratically elected members of the upper House because, as night follows day, in my lifetime it will be wholly elected because it would be unsustainable to have some people placed there by

13 Nov 2002 : Column 63

patronage with no mandate or legitimacy arguing against those who have the force, protection and authority of having been put there by the electorate.

Mr. Soley: As a member of the Joint Committee, I must place it on the record that there is no way that I or, I think, the majority of that Committee will ever allow the issue to be kicked into touch. We want it back here, we want it soon, and we want the reform to continue. I give my hon. Friend that assurance, certainly from my point of view.


Next Section

IndexHome Page