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15 Nov 2002 : Column 313—continued

12.57 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) spoke for about 25 minutes on school sport, but he did not emphasise the key benefits of school sport, which are self-discipline, teamwork and self-esteem and the importance of working within an environment where there are rules.

Mr. Gardiner: That was the point of my speech.

Mr. Chope: If the hon. Gentleman intended to make that point, it is a pity that he did not also pay tribute to organisations such as the Rugby Football Union and all the parents and volunteers who work to provide sport for young people outside the school curriculum.

This is the 15th Queen's Speech to have been delivered since I have been a Member of Parliament and I think that it is the worst that I have heard. It may be written on vellum, but much of its language is an insult to the Queen's English. Whatever happened to plain speaking? I illustrate my point by quoting from one paragraph:

I think that means that the Government will decide whether to recommend to keep or scrap the pound and that the outcome of that will depend not on the XFive Economic Tests", which have now been given capital letters, but on whether the Government think that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the British electorate and win a referendum. It is a pity that they did not spell that out more clearly in the Queen's Speech.

Many of the legislative proposals owed more to the Government's need to be seen to be doing something than to the substance of the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made a telling point when he described the measures in the Queen's Speech as tough-sounding but hollow gimmicks.

The speech also contains an odd set of priorities. The Government identify the need to introduce a Bill to allow for the retrial of those acquitted of serious

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offences, but that is a specialised matter that might involve only one or two cases. When we consider the Bill in detail, we will realise that hard cases make bad law. We need to bring more offenders to trial in the first place. We are not dealing with double jeopardy because so few offenders and criminals are subject even to single jeopardy. Bringing them to trial should be our priority. We know that only nine out of every 100 recorded crimes result in a conviction. We need not more legislation to sort out that problem, but more determination by the Government to allow the police to operate effectively.

Last Sunday, the Prime Minister announced the Queen's Speech to readers of The Observer under the rather grandiose title, XMy vision for Britain". Probably much of the language in the speech results from the fact that it had to fit in with his rather odd use of language in the article. He said:

I have news for the Prime Minister. The issue is not only an issue in Labour areas, it affects places up and down the country. Criminal damage, threatening and insulting behaviour and vandalism erode communities everywhere and they destroy the quality of life and undermine people's self-confidence in their ability to go where they wish to go. It is the issue in Christchurch, which is not a traditional Labour area. However, it is very traditional area and, possibly, a traditional Conservative area, but it has just as much need of policemen as Sedgefield or any other Labour constituency.

I am worried by the implication in the Prime Minister's article that he is preoccupied with Labour areas and that he is intent on engaging in more pork-barrel politics by reducing the police grant in counties such as Dorset and forcing up the council tax burden on residents who already pay more for the costs of the police than those who live anywhere else in the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) will realise, even the ordinary citizens of London are not required to contribute as much towards the cost of the police as the people of Christchurch.

In the article, the Prime Minister recognised that the problem with the system is that the police are not

If that is the problem—I agree that it is—the Government can solve it without the need for yet more specific legislation. Why will they not let the police get on with their job? The police are bombarded with performance indicators and, as a retired senior police officer told me earlier this week, that is at the expense of performance. The Government are not interested in the overall performance and effectiveness of the police, but only in particular indicators.

Why should the police have to identify the race, colour and creed of the people they stop and search? Surely they should be given the responsibility to stop and search the people they believe to be suspects. Street crime should be tackled everywhere, not just in a few specified target areas. The street crime initiative has resulted in the relocation of crime rather than in its elimination.

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Yesterday evening, I was at a function that was addressed by a Minister who is a Member of the other place. I sat next to a gentleman who had that very day been robbed in Leicester square. The robber got away and the victim had to queue for three hours at the local police station to report the crime. Two points arise out of that. First, there is an enormous amount of street crime. That is why people have to queue for three hours at a police station—so many other people are reporting a crime. Secondly, the system contains a built-in inconvenience factor that discourages victims of crime from reporting it. I have encountered that: my car was vandalised—the window was broken—and I tried to report the incident by telephone, but it was impossible to do so. I had the repair done under my insurance policy. The only way I could have reported the incident so that it appeared in the statistics was if a police officer came to my house, or I queued up at the local police station. If the Government are as keen to

as the Queen's Speech says they are, they should allow victims to report crimes by e-mail, fax or telephone, 24 hours a day.

The Queen's Speech makes extensive reference to truancy, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, the Government have manifestly failed to meet their own targets in that respect. I was worried when the Secretary of State said this morning that there is to be a Government advertising campaign against truancy. Who will be the target of that campaign? Will it be the same target as for most Government campaigns—the middle classes, to make them feel confident that the Government are doing something?

I hope that the Government's campaign will provide better value for money than was got for the #49 million spent in one month—March—last year, just before the general election. That spending was a wholly ineffectual and improper use of taxpayers' money on Government propaganda, mainly relating to benefit fraud. If the Government have money to spend on an anti-truancy advertising campaign, why do they not instead give the money to local schools to spend as they see fit? If the schools want to spend it on advertising in local papers, they can do so. In any event, I doubt that the advertising will be targeted on truants; it will be targeted on the middle classes, who are worried about the Government's failure to deliver.

I was extremely disappointed by the Secretary of State's woolly response to my intervention about the right to learn. In September 2001—more than a year ago—figures provided by the National Union of Teachers showed that four out of every five teachers believed that behaviour in schools was getting worse. The number of assaults on teachers rose fourfold in the three years from 1998, yet the right hon. Gentleman made it appear that he was still thinking about what to do to give pupils in classrooms the right to learn without disruption from other pupils who are not interested in learning. I think that that is a much more important issue than truancy: I am more concerned about those who choose to attend school but then have their education disrupted by the badly behaved element than about those who wilfully do not go to school at all.

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The Queen's Speech states:

I submit that that legislation should abolish both the BBC as we know it and the television tax. In that way, we will secure proper, fair and equal competition. The BBC has abused the privileges given to it by Parliament and it should be brought to book. I am horrified that the Government will not even impose the burden of the regulator on the BBC.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope: No, because I am about to sit down and many others want to participate in the debate.

To conclude, this was an extremely disappointing Queen's Speech.

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