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Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Howard: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. While he is on his feet, I hope that he will tell us where he stands on top-up fees. Is he in favour of the manifesto proposal or is he in favour of the proposal in the Queen's Speech? Is he in favour of the Chancellor's policy or the Prime Minister's policy? I hope he will deal with that.

Mr. Gardiner: The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government had achieved not a lot. What does he consider the 91 per cent. drop in unemployment in his constituency to be? Is that not a lot?

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Mr. Howard: I am very, very sorry that the hon. Gentleman was unable to enlighten us about his position on top-up fees—[Interruption.] I was only trying to help the Chief Whip; she needs to know the numbers.

Since the Government came to office, we have had five transport Acts. Yet we have more congestion, and twice as many trains running late as before. We have had 18 Acts from the Department of Health—18—but none will be of any comfort to the million people languishing on waiting lists. We have had no fewer than 30 pieces of legislation from the Home Office, yet crime is up by 800,000, gun crime has doubled and we have the highest level of violent crime ever.

Are the major Bills in this year's speech likely to be any different? The asylum Bill—the third immigration and asylum Bill—is merely the latest chapter in the sorry story of incompetence and irresponsibility that has marked the Government's attempts to deal with the problem. Almost five years ago, the then Home Secretary said that he was legislating to

Whatever happened to that?

The Government have wasted—

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Howard: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that in order to help the Chief Whip he will tell us what his position on top-up fees is.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. What the Chamber would like to know, in view of his comments on the asylum Bill, is will he and his party oppose the Bill?

Mr. Howard: I promise that I shall deal with that. This Government have wasted the past six and a half years reversing the measures brought in by the previous Government, and then reintroducing them.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: No, I am about to answer the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). This time, the Government have gone further than any civilised Government should go. Earlier this week, we read in our newspapers that the Government propose to use the children of asylum seekers as pawns to cover up their failure to get a grip on their asylum chaos. Children of asylum seekers are to be taken into care in order to force their parents to leave the country. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. We shall oppose any legislative provision that seeks to give effect to this despicable proposal. I have no doubt that when we do so we shall be joined in the Lobbies by the many Labour Members who, unlike the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, retain their self-respect.

Now, what about pensions? The pensions Bill will do nothing to tackle the main causes of the pension crisis. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary needs to contain

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himself. If he briefs newspapers so that they carry headlines such as we saw last week, he has only himself to blame for the furore that follows.

I repeat that the pensions Bill will do nothing to tackle the main causes of the pensions crisis. Without reform of the state pension and a reversal of the spread of means testing, that crisis will continue to get worse. Without new incentives to save, pension provision will continue to shrink.

What of the pledge in the 1997 Labour manifesto to make the House of Lords more democratic? We now know exactly what the Prime Minister means by democracy—one flatmate, one vote. While we are talking about manifestos, what happened to the pledge made in 2001, just two years ago? "We will not introduce top-up fees," it said—and there was more: the manifesto boasted that Labour had "legislated to prevent them."

When the Prime Minister gets up, perhaps he will say what exactly happened there. Was it a misprint? Was it the intention to say that the Government would legislate to introduce top-up fees, or did the Prime Minister simply miss that line altogether? Was it perhaps sneaked in by the Chancellor at the last minute? Is that why the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has been brought back in to oversee the manifesto—to keep an eye on any last-minute changes by the Chancellor? Is it not extraordinary? It does not matter how many times that right hon. Gentleman is sacked from the Cabinet and forced to leave Downing street by the front door: the Prime Minister will always find a way to smuggle him back in through the back door.

Today, there was no mention of the phrase "top-up fees" in the Queen's speech. It is the tax that dare not speak its name.

Government plans for regional assemblies will take the number of referendums held by the Government to 37. However, the Queen's speech also refers to a Bill about a referendum that the Government dare not hold—the draft Bill for a referendum on the euro. There is one thing, surely, on which we can all agree. Since no one believes that the Government will call a euro referendum before the next general election, why on earth are we wasting any time on it?

On regional assemblies, we are being given referendums that we do not want. On the euro, we are being given a referendum that will not be called, but on the new constitution for Europe—a measure of the utmost importance—we are being given no referendum at all.

No one could say that the late Hugo Young was a Eurosceptic. Indeed, the Prime Minister recently paid a handsome and well-deserved tribute to him; but the Prime Minister would do well to listen carefully to Mr. Young's wise words. He wrote in July that

There is now total confusion at the heart of the Government. The Prime Minister said that the European constitution is good for Britain. The Chancellor says that it is bad for Britain. The Prime

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Minister has told us that the constitution is essential for enlargement. The Foreign Secretary has now said that it is not. That is why the Prime Minister will not hold a referendum, and why he will not even try to persuade the British people that the constitution is either good or essential. He cannot even persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary, so it is no wonder that he will not allow the country a say. After all, it is not as though the Government are against consultation. This evening, the Prime Minister will launch what he pretentiously describes as a conversation with the nation. It will not come as much of a surprise to the nation to learn that that conversation will be rather one-sided.

On Sunday, the Leader of the House was asked by Jeremy Vine what would happen if the people said, in the course of that conversation, that they did not want top-up fees. In reply, the Leader of the House said,

That is all clear, then. What is the conversation with the nation about? Again, the Leader of the House was crystal clear. He said:

So it was not anything to do with reform.

We all know the real conversation that the Prime Minister needs to have. He needs to have a conversation with his next-door neighbour. The current situation makes one wonder who is the leader and who is being led. Real Prime Ministers lead their Chancellors: he follows his. What is the Prime Minister's response? He cannot get his way on policy. He cannot get his way on strategy. All he can do is deny his Chancellor a seat on the national executive.

The Prime Minister may strut his stuff on the world stage, but when it comes to domestic policy, never in recent history has a Prime Minister been so weak, so feeble and so utterly unable to do what he wants, even though he has a huge majority in the House of Commons. How utterly humiliating for him—and how very damaging for our country. He has been "outmanoeuvred" by a "politically obsessed Chancellor". Those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, who is probably the world's leading authority on their 10-year feud.

Is it any wonder that the Government have given up on delivery? The House need not take my word for it. We have it on no less an authority than the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am happy to see her in her place.

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