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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?
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 Health18but 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 Billthe third immigration and asylum Billis 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
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.
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 democracyone 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 saidand 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 manifestoto 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.
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 holdthe 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 Europea measure of the utmost importancewe 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
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,
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 himand 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.