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13 Nov 2002 : Column 100—continued

8.37 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): It is becoming something of a tradition in the House for me to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). It has happened time and again. The points that he made about legislation on policing illustrate the theme that I want to develop. The Queen's Speech contains 10 little words:

The hon. Gentleman and I are members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is interested in such matters. We might be able to make some reasonable guesses as to what is being proposed, but we do not know anything beyond those few words, and that is a problem that we have generally in debating the Queen's Speech. We never quite know what will result from the proposals in it. We may have a good idea because some measures have been trailed or leaked, but the speech itself is a thinly worded document and some of the details will not start to emerge until tomorrow. Even then, when we debate specific subjects, we will not have the legislation before us.

I for one am not clear about which items in the Queen's Speech I will be supporting, which I shall give critical support to, and which go too far and I would like the Government to pull back on—items that I need to start warning the Whips about, in respect of which I may receive a letter because I cannot go along with them.

I want to illustrate my remarks with an example from last year's Queen Speech:

Perhaps I should be more careful about words. I should have realised that the word Xenterprise" might present some problems for a democratic socialist. However, it was not until much later, when the legislation was before the House, that I began to be worried about aspects of the Enterprise Bill. In particular, I was concerned about the fact that the Government were virtually getting rid of references made on grounds of public interest, including job losses, exports and so on, in relation to a takeover. Indeed, there are no longer serious possibilities of references to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading or the Department of Trade and Industry. That led me to fight for a place on the Committee considering the Bill and to raise the issue on a number of occasions, causing a couple of rebellions on the Labour Benches against the Government's position. Obviously, I eventually lost out, as my strength is not as great as that of the Whips.

What does the Queen's Speech contain that might bother me as much in future? Perhaps I should consider the wording a little more carefully. There is a great deal on which I will support the Government in the Lobby and in what I say. As I am here a great deal, apart from the occasions on which I go to Northern Ireland, I can claim to vote as much for the Government as anybody, even if there is sometimes rebellion. There is much in the Queen's Speech that I find very acceptable. What it says about the Belfast agreement—and what I understand needs to be made clear for it to survive—is that the ball is very much in Sinn Fein's court. Sinn Fein needs to respond and to detach itself from paramilitary

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involvement, or it will not be possible readily to establish the future of the Northern Ireland Executive. At last, we also have a measure in connection with hunting with dogs, which is very welcome.

I shall therefore concentrate on the aspects that might cause me problems, rather than those on which I will solidly support the Government. I can do so as I am not seeking office anywhere. If I spell out some of my difficulties, someone might listen and take them into account.

The Queen's Speech contained these three little words: Xconstructive foreign policy", but the fact that the Government are in favour of such a policy does not tell us anything. Woodrow Wilson and Mussolini could have claimed at the same time to favour constructive foreign policies that were entirely different and conflicting. The aspect of foreign policy that worries me tremendously is the situation regarding Iraq and the likely direction in which we seem to be moving. The possibility that the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) does not make progress, and that action is taken, worries me a great deal.

I spent two years' national service in Iraq, way back in 1954 to 1956, and came to know the Iraqi people well. I have taken a great interest in what has since occurred in the country, which has been through many difficult periods. The problems under Saddam Hussein have been massive and people have suffered tremendously. Should those same people suffer now from bombardment and invasion, and what will we get at the end of it? We might finish up with a substitute Saddam Hussein who is more acceptable to western powers, but treats his population in a similar way. That concerns me. I want us to be constructive, although perhaps in a different way from that in which the Government see it.

The Queen's Speech went on to talk about two issues together that represent something like the new Labour philosophy. It links sound public finance and secure high employment, and goes on to link them with investment in public services. The problem is that we want to be prudent and careful and allow the market to operate, and also deliver many public provisions. As long as the system works well under such arrangements, resources exist to make the provisions. As a democratic socialist, I believe that one has to intervene more in economies' operation, without overloading them, to ensure justice in taxation and other provisions that create, for example, high employment and the required investment in public services.

A major item in the Queen's Speech involves the criminal justice system. We will have many discussions in the House about that. I am worried about the plans to allow retrials of cases after acquittal. We must be very careful. However, the speech included welcome measures, such as tackling antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) mentioned the specific problem of fireworks.

Fireworks cause disastrous problems in my constituency and in those of many other hon. Members. I hope that antisocial behaviour orders and fixed penalties can begin to be directed towards people who disturb young children, elderly people, those who are infirm, those who suffer from mental problems and

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domestic pets. They are treated in an unacceptable way. We need legislation, but there may be scope for amendments when we tackle antisocial behaviour in the criminal justice measure.

The Gracious Speech also covered health, and devolving power and resources to front-line staff. We need to be aware of the big gap in democratic involvement and participation in running the health service. For example, we have had problems with policies on community health councils and the role of the trade unions. The consideration that unions should receive and the input that they should make into decisions should influence any measures in that category.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) has already mentioned some of the problems of raising educational standards. XChoice" is often used to cover selection and elitism. My hon. Friend talked about Plato without mentioning him by name. Plato distinguished between gold, silver and lead, and between individuals who are in different categories and operate in different ways. That should be anathema to those who believe in liberal education principles, releasing people's potential and acquiring the skills that are needed to run a democratic society as effectively as possible.

Let us consider the social security system and the work on that. The Government suffer from the problem that, although they have done much good work, for example, establishing arrangements such as Jobcentre Plus, the philosophy is one of Xoff benefits and into work"; of squeezing people off benefit to encourage them to get work. Many of us believe that the principle should operate the other way round, and that we should ensure that people have job opportunities and encourage them to take them up, thus leading to less need for benefits.

The next item is probably the major subject that we shall tackle: the modernisation of local government, including better financial management. I served on the Standing Committee in 1987—it was my first Standing Committee— that considered the measure that became the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which led to the poll tax. The poll tax has been changed to the council tax—essentially that is the only change—with some tweaking of the standard spending assessment and the arrangements that come from that. However, massive legislative changes are needed. There have already been some discussions on the Floor of the House. Many of us have responded to an important consultative document. If we do not overcome some of the injustices of the system that was set up as a result of the 1988 legislation, we shall be in for a disastrous period. Many hopes are riding on us at last getting fair systems established. I have already spoken about these matters, and there is an Adjournment debate tomorrow in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), when Derbyshire's problems will be debated and discussed.

Derbyshire has police funding problems. If it does not get 5 per cent. more of the resources that have been earmarked for it, it will not be able to sustain the level of services that it has been providing.

Different options have been set out. Extra money will be coming in in future years, and in the grid of different shire counties, there are five different options. We find

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that 87.7 per cent. of the relevant cases finish up worse off under the new funding arrangements. Funding within shire counties needs carefully to be taken into account. If the police, environmental health officials and trading standards officers who come under these funding arrangements are to do their job properly in terms of fireworks, for example, they will need the necessary resources.

I am worried about what has been said about the planning system. There is a move to push through planning decisions much more quickly without proper and adequate democratic debate and discussion. It seems that we should be moving much more in that direction rather than away from it.

I move on to the material at the back of the Queen's Speech about playing

and about improvements in terms of the third world. Tackling the problems of terrorism has been seen as two-sided. First, there is tackling weaponry within terrorism itself and its operation with al-Qaeda and other organisations. Secondly, we must tackle some of the causes that people can take hold of and develop. We must ensure that the third world does not have the destitution problems that now exist. That must be tackled seriously.

The Government have done much good work in the area of international development. They have taken a lead, for example, in dealing with third-world debt. I would like to see them take a lead also in terms of the resources that are available for tackling third-world poverty. Let us have an international tax and agreement about currency speculation. Tobin introduced the idea and War on Want now calls it the Robin Hood tax. It would be a popular tax among most people apart from the few who would have to pay it. It would dampen down some of the speculation that hammers economies throughout the world. It would assist greatly in ensuring that finance and resources that are desperately needed in the third world begin to be available to it. That will not necessarily be established readily and easily, but if we took a lead, I am sure that it would have a similar impact to the tackling of third world debt, even if more needs to be done on that issue. I may have several amendments to table or objections to make when the details are known, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

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