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18 Nov 2002 : Column 446—continued

8.15 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) in this interesting and important debate on the Queen's Speech. I was astonished that we heard yet again from my near neighbour in the east midlands, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who claimed to have been responsible for the economic success of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and followed that shortly after by denouncing those same policies and predicting doom and gloom for our country.

I would like to pass on my thanks on behalf of my constituents to the Chancellor for his wonderful stewardship of his office and for delivering the prosperity that our country has had over the last five years. As we have heard from many of my right hon. and

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hon. Friends, we have the lowest inflation, the lowest level of unemployment and the lowest interest rates for years. I want a continuation of those policies because it is only through that that we will be able to implement the promises that we made in our manifesto.

The Queen's Speech is a repetition of the radical and modernising agenda that we have put forward over the past five years. Unless we have a proper stewardship of the economy, we cannot spend the money wisely on our social programme. The Queen's Speech sets out a number of important areas of legislation, all of which merit attention and none of which could have been carried out but for the economic success that we have achieved over the past few years.

I want to mention the emphasis in the Queen's Speech on law and order, and fighting crime and the fear of crime. If one looks at the printed version of the speech, the whole of the front page deals with law and order legislation, the reform of the criminal justice system and putting victims at its centre.

A constituent came to me last week. She was a victim of crime who had been assaulted by an individual. She went to court and waited in the witness room for more than 12 hours before her case was called, only to be told that the charges against the person who had hit her had been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. I want to ensure that once the proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech is passed, the victim will be at the centre of the Government's attention.

I welcome the thrust of the Queen's Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) mentioned Europe and the euro. I know that she was depressed when she read the sports pages recently because like me she is a supporter of Leicester City football club. I can assure her that we are second in the league, that we are going up and that we will be in Europe in two years. In the meantime, it is important that the Government have re-emphasised our commitment to the EU. The Government are pro-euro and pro-Europe. We have made it clear that the five economic tests will have to be assessed in June next year.

My plea to the Economic Secretary and, through him, to the Chancellor, is that once the tests are met, we need to get on with a decision on the referendum as soon as possible. If we do not, this could be a saga even longer than the Eurovision song contest. People are waiting for the economic tests to be assessed and we are happy to accept the judgment of the Chancellor on this issue, as we have been happy to accept his judgment in the way in which he has been running the economy. It is important that we get on with the decision. We know the Government's formula. If the tests are met, there will be a meeting of the Cabinet, a decision by Parliament and then an all-singing, all-dancing referendum. I hope that that timetable will be stuck to very soon after the tests are assessed. Of course, if the tests are not met, we will not have a referendum—I understand that—but it is important that we move forward.

Enlargement is very much on the agenda of the Ministers' meeting in Brussels. A date for enlargement should be set at that meeting—1 May 2004. It is essential that we stick to that date because the entry of the 10 applicant countries is vital to the success of our

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economy and the economy of Europe. It will create the largest single market anywhere in the world—a single market of 500 million people—and provide the security and umbrella of co-operation that have been missing from Europe over the past few decades.

All the applicant countries want progress on enlargement. I am grateful to our Ministers for doing so much to ensure that the enlargement process has taken place. In his speech in Warsaw two years ago, the Prime Minister gave it a suitable boost.

I have just two final points to make because I know that many of my colleagues wish to speak, although it appears that not many Opposition Members do. That shows that the case advanced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unanswerable. There appear to be only two Back Benchers left on the Conservative side—

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Conservative Members are at dinner.

Keith Vaz: Oh, they are at dinner. Some of us have been here for the past few hours listening to the Chancellor and to the other speeches but I am not surprised that the Conservatives have run out of speakers.

I want to say something about regeneration because I see that the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness is on the Front Bench; the Department of Trade and Industry has responsibility for regeneration. I thank the Government for all the money and resources that they have given to the people of Leicester but I worry about our regeneration strategy. People do not understand when they hear the vast figures mentioned in relation to regeneration. They want to see regeneration on the ground. They want to be part of the regeneration process. We cannot have Canary wharf being built throughout the country. People can see flagship regeneration schemes. We must involve people in that regeneration process.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is not here. I pay tribute to her for her work as Secretary of State and her outstanding work as a constituency Member. We share Leicester with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), and she is assiduous in her constituency duties. She has been around a lot of the textile firms in our city and seen for herself the problems in the textile industry.

In 1981, there were 19,900 jobs in the industry in Leicester. Today, there are only about 7,700. I do not blame the Government for that but I ask the Secretary of State—I know that this matter is close to her heart—whether we can have some measures to help us to redress the balance—some assistance for the textile industry in Leicester. It has benefited from the economic policies of the Government but needs specific help, because many countries dump their goods within the EU area and many other EU countries do not stick to the EU's rules and guidelines. The textile industry in Leicester and throughout the country has been very good in sticking to the rules. We just want a level playing field.

If anyone can help us, the Secretary of State can. She will want to make a special initiative of that. I cannot invite her to visit Leicester because she is Member of

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Parliament for Leicester, West and visits every week. I just ask that, in her busy schedule, she remembers us in Leicester and the textile industry in particular.

I am happy to support every measure in this Queen's Speech. It is a radical and modernising Queen's Speech that Labour Members are proud to support in full.

8.24 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): We have had a number of speeches that related to the euro and I want to say only one thing about it. Increasingly, I find among businesses throughout the country a deep desire to end the uncertainty that means that they cannot put in the necessary decisive planning. People can put up reservations about when the right time will be, but it is infinitely more damaging to the country to have a Government who say in principle they want to join but cannot tell us when or under what circumstances. They are not allowing businesses to plan. The uncertainty is deeply damaging.

I echo the concerns expressed about the fragility of the British economy. If we go through each sector of the economy, it is difficult to find what constitutes the success that the Government are claiming. Manufacturing has been effectively in recession and jobs and investment are falling. Farming is in a disastrous plight. Tourism is in huge difficulty. Telecommunications is not exactly thriving and the stock market is at its worst level for many years. The only thing sustaining the economy is property prices and the borrowing against that. If those were to take a nosedive, the Government would be in deep and serious trouble. No one wants that to happen but we are all saying to the Government that they should resolve the uncertainty of the euro and remove that one fundamental problem—it exists whichever side of the argument one is on. There is an inability to plan ahead. Businesses have to deal with the consequences of being outside. The Government must recognise that the economy is so unbalanced that if we do not use the opportunity before we hit a crisis, we will have nothing to fall back on when we do.

I want to raise a number of specific matters arising out of my constituency concerns. I represent an area that is heavily dependent on farming and food processing. There is no doubt that they are suffering severely. The biggest single thing that they are suffering from is the adverse effect of the exchange rate.

My other industries include paper making. There is no doubt that it is a difficult industry to be in at the moment. It is important that the UK maintain a paper-making capacity.

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