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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 Members—400 of whom have voted to ban fox hunting in the past—a 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 (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): On the domestic agenda—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

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 office—significantly 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 Prime Minister: We have actually put billions of pounds extra into social housing. The largest social-housing programme for many years is currently under way in this country.

It is no use the hon. Gentleman's lecturing me about never-never land. He is the person who represents the party of never-never land.

Mr. Gordon Prentice : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

The Prime Minister: No. Sorry. [Hon. Members: "Give way!"] I am sorry, but I must make progress.

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 It means that we must change outdated planning laws, introduce still further measures on asylum and push

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forward the development of a British identity card. The second—fairness—makes us tackle domestic violence, protect children, help the poorest pensioners, give our work force new employment rights and bring an end to discrimination. Both—the future and fairness—mean our finally ending, once and for all, the absurdity of hereditary peers in our House of Lords and establishing an independent statutory appointments commission. If the Conservatives wish to challenge us, let them try and win a general election, rather than using the House of Lords as an unelected weapon to frustrate the business of a Government who were elected.

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.

4.4 pm

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 educationist—a teacher, and a senior one at that—and 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 is—not least for the parliamentary Labour party, never mind the rest of us—the most controversial issue in the Queen's Speech. The publication Red Pepper offered him the ultimate accolade when it described him as

That must single him out in the ranks of the parliamentary Labour party; indeed, these days it might even single him out in the ranks of the Cabinet. We

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congratulate him on his speech. It was a fine contribution and it was much appreciated in all quarters of the House.

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 feeling—that mentality—that many people share in this country.

Indeed, it was reported a number of years ago—I do not know whether it is true, but it had the ring of truth about it—that 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 avoided—one politician listening to another—but 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.

In the Prime Minister's first address to Labour MPs the day he was elected, he said:

Those words may have a more and more telling prescience. The international scene has overshadowed events inside and outside Parliament over the past 12 months or so, and the servant-master relationship that is necessary between an elected Government and a parliamentary democracy such as ours has become skewed.

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.

I remind the House of the Joint Intelligence Committee's assessment at the time, before the war was launched. It was revealed during the Hutton inquiry.

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The war has helped the terrorist cells of al-Qaeda and others to recruit new misguided terrorists into their ranks. It has also been unhelpful because, as we have seen again with the welcome visit of the French President this week, it has caused difficulties with those who should be our main European allies. If we do not pull together, Europe's capacity to conduct its important role in the fight against terrorism will be impaired.

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 Government—the 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

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ties up younger officers in local police stations. That should be a priority, rather than the type of issues that are being proposed.

That leads me to the emotive issue of asylum seekers—one 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 him—we enjoy a friendly relationship, and I congratulate him on his election—that 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.

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