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2.56 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): As the first English-based Member of Parliament to address the House in the new Session, and since my constituency includes Kingsholm—the home of rugby and of the cherry-and-whites, Gloucester rugby football club—I must congratulate the local boys, Andy Gomarsall, Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman, and join my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) in congratulating the other 27 players of Clive Woodward's squad, the new world champions, England.

I do not wish to be partisan—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Oh, go on.

Mr. Dhanda: Well, just for a moment and to please my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I believe it was Harold Wilson who said that we only win world cups under a Labour Government. I have got that out of my system now.

The House will be aware of the campaign in the run-up to Saturday's final, urging us to "do the Jonny" as a gesture of good luck to the England No. 10. I do not have the space to demonstrate the Jonny here, but at the

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weekend I assured a group of my constituents that I would seek to emulate "Jonny." They did not realise that I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, who, as well as sharing his namesake's dapper build and winning smile, has demonstrated that he, too, is at the top of his particular field as a parliamentarian. I am delighted to pay tribute to him. I hope that he forgives the comparison with a Sassenach rugby player; I hope I pronounced that correctly.

The honour of commending Her Majesty's speech is an honour not just for me, but for the people of Gloucester, and one that, if I might say so, is long overdue—although not because of me, I hasten to add. There is no recorded history of a Member for Gloucester playing a role in this unique parliamentary occasion, either as proposer or as seconder—ever.

In Gloucester, we have a theory, Mr Speaker; you might say it is something of a conspiracy theory. If anyone was ever worthy of the honour, surely it was my predecessor Lieutenant Colonel Edward Massey, who, in 1642, fought—literally—for the parliamentary cause at the siege of Gloucester. The honour never befell Massey. Instead, he had to settle for being knighted and becoming governor of Jamaica. Some people have all the luck.

On many a long evening in Gloucester's New Inn, the England's Glory and the Linden Tree, Gloucesterians have wondered aloud as to how they have been overlooked when Her Majesty has made her speech to Parliament. Perhaps it was all Massey's fault, they say, for fighting the parliamentary cause in 1642, rather than the royal one.

So I resolved to change all this. I had to make friends in high places: I needed to undo my predecessor's work and to get in with the royals. So, as many of my colleagues will be aware, I headed to Buckingham Palace last November. As the copy of The Guardian that I am holding shows, it was the day the Conservative party had to unite or die. Well, it did not unite, but as the front page of that paper also shows, there was the far more important story of my trip to Buckingham Palace to make new friends and influence people. That night, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and I had a chat. We talked about what each of us had done before our current roles in life. In the light of his time in the Navy during the war, and of my time as a student—doing not a lot—we struck up a real rapport. I would go so far as to say that we got on like a house on fire, regardless of what it said in The Guardian—and in the Daily Mail. And in Private Eye. And in Corriere della Sera. And in a Bolivian publication that I cannot quite pronounce. That goes to show that we really do live in a world of wall-to-wall media coverage.

Little did I know that so favourable was the impression that I left on His Royal Highness that he must have felt compelled to ring my Chief Whip himself to request that for this royal occasion, his old pal from Gloucester act as seconder—I stress, seconder—for the Queen's Speech. I hope that that clears up any confusion. I owe him a debt of gratitude for breaking Massey's curse for ever.

In making this speech, it is traditional to talk about one's constituency. But it is my constituents who make Gloucester what it is today, and it was for them that I

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said in my maiden speech that I wished to deliver a city fit for the 21st century. All Members of this House—on both sides—rightly consider their constituencies to be the best thing since sliced bread, but mine has been the hub of an unprecedented scale of investment in the past two years. A £30 million private finance initiative rebuild of the Gloucestershire royal hospital has allowed me to become the first Gloucester MP in a generation to open wards in Gloucester, rather than presiding over ward closures. But Gloucester has also received new money for a university campus, and we are working towards a new police headquarters, new road infrastructure and the best leisure centre in the region. In all, that is more than £100 million of capital investment in Gloucester, and more than 100 million reasons for me to be proud of the city that I represent.

In my first two years in office, I have realised that if you don't ask, you don't get. But so many times when I have asked on my constituents' behalf, the Government have given. I thank them for that, but that does not mean that I am about to stop asking.

My constituents will welcome the Government's measures to ensure that our people do not have to be of working age to earn security. Introducing baby bonds will ensure that all young families can be assured of a new level of security in life. Combined with the new measures to protect pensions, that reminds me of a phrase that first brought me into Labour party politics—for this is a Queen's Speech that improves the quality of our constituents' lives from the cradle to the grave.

Given that all news is local, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be aware of a campaign that was initiated by my local newspaper and me, and which is supported by the cross-party consensus of the 61 Members of Parliament who signed early-day motion 1811. That early-day motion supports the steps that the Government have taken to ease pensioner poverty, and urges my right hon. Friend to consider appointing a Minister with responsibility for older people, who would have the power to work across Government Departments in the interests of all our senior citizens. That said, I can reassure him that I am not trying to create a job for myself. Honestly.

I believe the Government deserve particular praise for introducing measures that trade unionists everywhere will welcome, by building on the Employment Relations Act. When people like my mum and dad came to this country nearly 40 years ago, to clean hospital floors, like mum, or drive heavy goods vehicles, like dad, it was not the Government of the day they turned to for help and support.

They had a lot to contend with, with people accusing them of coming here to nick British jobs. But as mum often tells me, there was no queue of people at Ealing hospital lining up to clean the toilets—only migrant labourers, invariably women, doing their bit to build our NHS. I salute them for the work that they did, and I salute the trade unions for sending them on courses to teach them enough English to be able to represent themselves in the workplace. They helped to create a generation of workers with the self-respect and determination to push their own children to make the most of opportunities in life that they themselves could

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only have dreamed of. Trade unionists everywhere will welcome these new measures enhancing employment rights.

In 1997 my seat of Gloucester was the key seat. Labour needed to win it to achieve an overall majority in the House of just one. When my predecessor decided after one term that politics was not for her, my local party and the people of Gloucester took a chance. They took a chance on someone who did not look or sound like a typical Member of Parliament, someone who did not have the traditional background to be a Member of the House. I told my constituents that, if politics is about changing things—and I believe it is—in 2001, in the key seat, the barometer seat, the people of Gloucester had the chance to show the world that my party was changing people's attitudes for ever. Gloucester led the way that day.

After Labour's six years in office, the Gracious Speech demonstrates that the Prime Minister still believes that politics is about changing things for the better. I urge him to continue to do so, and I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

3.7 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to Paul Daisley, who came to the House with a formidable reputation as a reforming council leader. Tragically, his election to Parliament was overshadowed by the diagnosis of his cancer. Obviously in pain, but with an equally obvious pride in his constituency, many remember the courage that he showed when he delivered his maiden speech some eight months later. I am sure that hon. Members throughout the House will join me in expressing the hope that his spirit will live on after him through the work of the Paul Daisley trust. His spirit lives on in another way, too. Paul campaigned vigorously for his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, to be readmitted to the Labour party, and it rather looks as though he is going to have the last laugh. On both sides of the House, we will miss Paul Daisley.

I warmly congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) spoke with passion, great humour and great wit. He always does speak with passion. In common with the Prime Minister, he long had a passionate and principled devotion to the cause of unilateral nuclear disarmament—despite the fact that Faslane and Coulport employ hundreds of people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's constituency is undoubtedly one of the places in the world where even the Prime Minister could find weapons of mass destruction.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton also serves as the highly respected Chairman of the Treasury Committee, where he has a fearsome reputation. When he recently asked the Governor of the Bank of England the same question nine times, he was compared to Jeremy Paxman. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that nine times is easy. He should try 14; then he really could move to "Newsnight".

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I am sure I speak for the whole House when I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) on his speech. He spoke with the eloquence that we have come to expect from him. But he must have been rather surprised to be asked to second the motion today, for earlier this year he voted against the war. His website diary gives a fascinating account of his private meeting with the Prime Minister hours before the crucial vote; it is full of startling political insights. The Prime Minister, the hon. Gentleman said,

he said,

The Prime Minister was clearly at his most persuasive. He continued:

"A far from ideal position." I do not remember that phrase creeping into the Prime Minister's speech in the House that day. Could he just possibly have been saying one thing in public and another in private? Surely not. I hope that all this has not killed off the political prospects of the hon. Member for Gloucester, for on the basis of today's performance he has a great career ahead of him.

I, too, want to congratulate the English rugby team on their outstanding achievement in Australia; it is a great shame that the Minister for Sport was not there to see it. There are different accounts of his reaction when he was told to come back early. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said that that had always been planned, but the Minister's spokesman, when asked how he really felt, said, "I can't tell you. It's before the watershed." The Prime Minister was reported as being profoundly unimpressed by the Minister's reaction; indeed, a source close to the Prime Minister said of the Minister for Sport, "I think he may regret it." It may not be long before the Minister for Sport is proposing the Loyal Address.

Before I examine the Gracious Speech in detail, I shall mention certain matters that do not fall directly within the remit of the Government's programme. Today, the people of Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect a new Assembly. We support the Government in their efforts to re-establish devolution in the Province, and we hope that there will be a constructive and stable outcome to today's elections.

In Iraq, too, the Government are engaged in a commendable endeavour to replace tyranny and terror with peaceful democracy. The Prime Minister has shown political courage in standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies in America and elsewhere, and we support him. We must remember, in everything we say and do, that many British servicemen and women are demonstrating physical courage every day in Iraq. Their job is a dangerous one, and I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express my gratitude to them. In that context, I pay tribute to the two Members of the House whose duty as members of the reserve forces has taken them to Iraq—my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who, happily, has returned safely to rejoin us, and my hon. Friend the Member for

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New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who continues to serve our country in Nasiriyah.

Many of us have constituents who have suffered the tragic loss of close family members in Iraq, and we owe it to them to ensure that their loved ones did not die in vain. The House will also wish to pay tribute to the three British citizens, including the consul general, who died in the bombings in Istanbul, and to the many others who so tragically lost their lives there.

We welcome a number of the measures in the Gracious Speech. We regard them as constructive, and we shall support their passage. We are pleased to see the Government turn their attention to child protection and domestic violence. We will study the draft disabilities Bill when it is published, and we hope that it will live up to the billing that the Minister for Disabled People has given it.

We also support the principle of a civil contingencies Bill. Those recent terrorist atrocities in Turkey and elsewhere require us to do everything possible to protect British citizens and interests.

The civil partnerships Bill aims to address some genuine grievances that are acknowledged on both sides of the House. I believe that we all have a duty to recognise and respect the fact that people in our society choose to live their lives in many different ways. I also accept that there are a range of sincerely held opinions on how the law should reflect that. Conservative Members will have a free vote on the measure and I hope that will also be the position for Labour Members.

Although we welcome some of the individual proposals in the Gracious Speech, the overall reaction to it—even, I suspect, on the Labour Benches—will be disappointment. That sums up the general feeling of disillusionment that has built up over the last six and a half years. The Government were elected with great promise and a sweeping mandate. They had the world at their feet and a vast parliamentary army ready to carry forward whatever measures they proposed—and what has happened? In the words of Paul Daniels, "Not a lot." We are, after all, about to embark on the seventh parliamentary Session since the right hon. Member for Sedgefield became Prime Minister. He has been in office longer than Attlee—what has he got to show for it?

During that time, we have had seven education Acts. In 1998, the Government promised to cut truancy by a third. What has happened? Truancy has gone up by 15 per cent. overall and by 25 per cent. in our secondary schools. What hope is there for our future if so many of our young people are not even going to school at all?

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