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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has covered a lot of issues, but he has not mentioned a ban on fox hunting. Will he give the House, and in particular Labour Members400 of whom have voted to ban fox hunting in the pasta guarantee that we are going to get rid of it before the next general election, possibly in the current parliamentary year, and certainly before the Tories appoint another new supply leader?
The Prime Minister: I have nothing to add to what the Leader of the House has already said. We have said that we will resolve the issue during this Parliament, and so we will resolve the issue during this Parliament.
Simon Hughes: On the domestic agenda, the one issue that the Prime Minister has not mentioned is housing. Are the Government committed to doing what they have not done in any of the years during which they have been in officesignificantly increasing the amount of affordable housing in this city and elsewhere, so that the present housing crisis can be dealt with not in never-never land but in the immediate future?
The Queen's Speech will allow us to put in legislation the outcome of the intergovernmental conference in a few days' time. I assure the House that in that negotiation we will rigorously protect Britain's vital interests, while playing our full part in shaping Britain's future in Europe. Let me say also that we will continue to work for peace, stability and democracy in Iraq, and that we will stay there until that job is properly done.
Two themes run through the Queen's Speech, the future and fairness. The first means that we must continue the reform programme in the health service and schools, and extend it to universities and skills. It means that we must change outdated planning laws, introduce still further measures on asylum and push
The future and fairness: let us contrast that with the negative destruction campaign waged by the Conservative party. The Conservative party is desperate to return to the past, and desperate to conceal it. There is a new driver, but it is the same old clapped-out Tory banger.
This country is better than it was six and a half years ago, after 18 years of Conservative government. A future of rising prosperity, quality personal services and high levels of education and skills, open to the many not the few: that is what the Queen's Speech provides, and that is what I commend to the House.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): It is a pleasure to join in the deserved compliments that have been paid to the hon. Members for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) for their highly successful speeches in moving and seconding the Loyal Address. As one Scot to another, I say to the hon. Member for Dumbarton that, in days gone by, and he alluded to this, he was affectionately known as the unilateralist MP for Trident. It is quite an achievement to square such a circle.
Professionally, the hon. Gentleman has been an educationista teacher, and a senior one at thatand he remains a devoted educationist. Given the education content of the Queen's Speech and the controversy that we all know is heading inexorably in the House's direction over coming months, perhaps it was brave of the Government to allow him out to express his views this afternoon.
Talking of brave choices, it is appropriate that the hon. Gentleman is here, as he served in Northern Ireland. A brave choice is being made there today, and I know that he would be among the first in the House to say that, whatever the outcome of that democratic process, let us all hope that the peace process and the work of the Assembly can be re-established and put back on track.
The hon. Member for Gloucester did not refer to what isnot least for the parliamentary Labour party, never mind the rest of usthe most controversial issue in the Queen's Speech. The publication Red Pepper offered him the ultimate accolade when it described him as
At the last general election, it is fair to say that many of us experienced, not just at the outcome, a sense of disappointment that had taken hold after four years of a Labour Government who had a benign economic inheritance and who were bolstered by a big, three-figure parliamentary majority. Many of us would have been more ambitious over those four years had we been swept to power in such circumstances.
Since then, the sense of disappointment felt by those who hitherto have been Labour supporters, never mind those of a different political persuasion, be they Conservative, Liberal Democrat, nationalist or otherwise, has increasingly turned to one of despair. The Queen's Speech offered little to reverse that feelingthat mentalitythat many people share in this country.
Indeed, it was reported a number of years agoI do not know whether it is true, but it had the ring of truth about itthat former President Clinton once remarked to our Prime Minister that, whatever else he did, he should not make the mistake that President Clinton had made, which was to squander[Interruption.] In world affairs there is perhaps more than one mistake that should always be avoidedone politician listening to anotherbut the mistake in question was the squandering of his second term. We are far enough into this second term for the Government, again bolstered by a big parliamentary majority, to say on what vital issues of the day, such as domestic public services and the international situation, they have delivered. An awful lot in the Gracious Speech will pass the vast majority of citizens by.
There were sincerely held differences of view on that big issue among Conservative and Labour Members, such as the former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), with whom many Liberal Democrats made common cause. I thought that mutual respect was a feature of the House of Commons throughout that difficult period of strongly held differences of view on the war, but there is now an insidious attempt in certain quarters to try to cast those of us who opposed the decision to engage in war as soft on the international scourge of terrorism. That is unworthy.
In a few months or weeks, we will hear the outcome of the Hutton inquiry. There is no need for any of us to prejudge that now. If there is substantial criticism of the Government's behaviour at any level, we should expect the doctrine of collective responsibility to apply. That will be a test of the Prime Minister's view of integrity in public life.
Alternatively, if Lord Hutton interprets his remit, which was set by the Government, to inquire into the circumstances of Dr. Kelly's death narrowly and strictly, many important questions may remain unanswered, and more than a few of us in the House will demand, as we did earlier in the year, a fully independent judicial inquiry into the events leading up to the war.
On the specifics of the Queen's Speech, Liberal Democrats would obviously be expected to say that they would have liked it to contain a dose of liberalism. There is a danger that, on certain issues, the Government are displaying even more instinctive illiberalism than did their Conservative predecessors, which is a sad irony indeed.
In the previous Session, civil liberties were threatened by the proposals on jury trials. In the forthcoming Session, there are several new threats to civil liberties that, as a House, we must resist. As a party, we are determined to do so as strongly as we can.
There is one measure for which I give credit to the Governmentthe proposed Bill on civil partnerships, which is overdue but very welcome. We take a particular pride in the fact that it is modelled on a Bill drafted and proposed in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat senior judicial peer, Lord Lester. I am glad to see Anthony Lester's work finding fruition in the content of the Queen's Speech today.
Other proposals are extremely disappointing. Clearly, crime is a huge worry to some people. It is rising, and rising in tandem with the prison population, which is heading for record levels. We do not seem to be making sufficient progress on either front. Surely at some point we have to stand back and ask ourselves whether there is a better way of going about things.
First and foremost, people want a greater police presence on their streets and in their communities. All of us know from our dealings with the police locally that they would be delighted to deliver that, but they are bogged down by paperwork, bureaucracy and performing their day-to-day tasks. A lot more imagination could be applied; for example, people who have served in the police and who do not necessarily want to retire could be used. They might not be physically capable any longer of carrying out community policing, but their experience could be brought to bear in doing some of the work that currently
That leads me to the emotive issue of asylum seekersone of the central issues of the Queen's Speech. There is more than a hint of cheap populism here. I agree entirely with the sentiments of the leader of the Conservative party, who pointed out that it would be quite wrong for the children of potential or actual asylum seekers to be used somehow as bargaining chips. However, I never thought that I would see the right hon. and learned Gentleman suddenly emerge as the friend of the asylum seeker, let alone of the children of asylum seekers. I say gently to himwe enjoy a friendly relationship, and I congratulate him on his electionthat I am aware that the identity of the island in the Conservative proposals remains unclear. I represent the Isle of Skye, and he need not look in that direction.