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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Abolish it.
Mr. Robathan: I hear from the Liberal Democrat Benches that we should abolish the state pension. I suspect that that was meant as a joke, so I shall treat it as suchand I should like to put that on the record.
Sir Robert Smith: I meant the council tax.
Mention is also made of a Bill to retain the current number of Members of the Scottish Parliament. The reason is that all MSPs want such a measure, as they have got their jobs and voted themselves a pay increase, and they now like the idea. However, we were promised in the devolution settlement that when the number of Westminster MPs was reduced, the number of MSPs would be reduced as well. Personally, I think that there are far too many politicians, and I would reduce the number of politicians in the House of Commons. I would not, as a turkey, vote for my own Christmas, but we should own up to the fact that there are too many MPs and reduce the number gradually to, say, 500 or 400. The people of Britain would appreciate such action as a statement from us. The process could be relatively painless for individuals. However, the matter is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, so I shall not go too far down that road.
Patrick Mercer: There should be fewer MPs in Leicester.
Mr. Robathan: It is as my hon. Friend says, and there should certainly be fewer around Newark as well.
The Queen's Speech also talks about implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Of course, the Prime Minister tells us that all is well in criminal justice, but that is not the experience of people on the streets of Blaby, London, Newcastle or wherever, who have seen a rise in violent crime and a dramatic rise in gun crime, and who are becoming more and more frightened.
There will be another Bill to establish a supreme court. That is an issue of the Government's own making, as most lawyers, including the Law Lords and others, and most people in the street, are not worried about the higher judiciary. They are not fed up with the Lord Chancellor and will not necessarily even understand the
Yet again, there is so-called reform of the House of Lords. The Opposition said in 1999 that the matter should be sorted out at once and that we should introduce proper reform, but the Government went ahead with phase 1. We asked what phase 2 would be, and we now know: it will be to get rid of the remaining hereditaries, and that will be it, as the rest will all be appointed. I voted for an elected House of Lords. Since we are changing these things, we should have a proper, elected, Senate-type organisation. As Labour Members know, we will end up with a bunch of Tony's cronies. I do not think that that is desirable in any circumstances. What was working relatively well is working less well. In my opinion, it will work even less well after getting rid of the remaining hereditaries. I shall not die in a ditch for the remaining hereditaries, although they contribute well to what happens in the House of Lords, and I pay tribute to them for it. None the less, if we are to have a second chamber, I think that we need to work out what sort of chamber it should be. It is no good the Government saying "It's got nothing to do with us; we'll just get rid of the hereditaries." We need a proper revising chamber and we should sort out how we wish it to be.
Various hon. Members referred to the child trust fund and said what a marvellous idea it is. I do not think that putting £250 in a fund for 18 years is that good an idea. As has been pointed out, it is the middle classes that will benefit. It is people such as me and other hon. Members who will understand how to operate the system and benefit from it. Things should be made a great deal easier. We should encourage a savings culturesomething that the Government have not done by introducing means-testingand not pile on yet further bureaucracy in respect of the child trust fund, which is an easy gimmick, but will not be popular. I understand that the fund will almost certainly come into operation the month before the next general election. Of course, it is cynical of me even to imagine that those two facts might be related.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) is present because we are also to have a defence White Paper that may lead, we understand, to the abolition of a further 10 infantry battalions or certainly a reduction in infantry numbers. I find that staggering when British troops are hugely overstretched. Today, while we sit here in the House of Commons, troops who have been deployed in Iraq are risking their lives for British interests. If it is true that there is to be such a reduction, it is a great worry.
I also noticed that this statement had been snuck away at the end of the Gracious Speech:
The Government are kicking loyal and brave public servants in the teeth. The Prime Minister has called upon them in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and elsewhere, and they are even now risking their lives in Iraq, where some have died. The fact that the Government are kicking those brave public servants in the teeth shows how undervalued they are by the Prime Minister.
I think that it was the Prime Minister himself who described the European constitution as a tidying-up measure, but it is probably the most significant measure that will be introduced during my time in Parliament and it will dramatically change the constitution of this country. Is it the end of the nation state? I do not know. On the continent, many people believe so and think that it seals a federal nation and union, which is what they want. The British people do not want legislation to implement the treaty, as mentioned in the Gracious Speech; they want the chance to vote on the treaty. The Foreign Secretary said at the weekend that we may veto the treaty. Few people know what it introduces, and I believe that we should hold a serious, grown-up, public debate on the provisions on defence and tax harmonisation and all other aspects and allow the people to vote in a referendum on how they want their country to be governed in the long term.
The Queen's Speech also mentions legislation for a referendum on the single currency. Why? The Prime Minister does not intend to hold a referendum at the moment because he knows full well that he would lose. When we witness France and Germany tearing up the stability pact, as they did yesterday, the eurozone hardly appears an attractive option. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer views it as unattractive.
Other hon. Members, especially Labour Members, have spoken about top-up fees and their opposition to them. Again, we need a more sensible discussion about funding higher education. When 40 per cent. of students drop out of some courses before the end, we need to consider the matter closely.
What is not in the Queen's Speech? Hunting is not included, except where Her Majesty had a slight trip and talked about the national hunt service. The newspapers report that Back Benchers were offered a bribe to compelI should say, "encourage"them to vote for foundation hospitals. We should know whether that is true. We also need to know the Government's position on the matter. Outside the House, there is no appetite for such a mean-minded and chippy measure, which, we now discover, may infringe the Human Rights Act 1998 if we do not offer compensation.
The Government need to deliver for the British people on law and order, on education, on health, and on delivering less bureaucracy, form-filling and regulation for business instead of delivering on the class envy of some Labour Back Benchers.
The Queen's Speech does not mention reform of the common agricultural policy. A so-called mid-term review has taken place. I declare an interest because I speak as a farmer who received an integrated
I support some items in the Queen's Speech. For example, I support encouragement for renewables in the energy Bill, working against the AIDS pandemic and rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq. The speech states that the Government
The Queen's Speech mentions development. I hope that the Government will move away from saying that the New Partnership for Africa's Development is a great thing. Most people realise that it is a fig leaf and an offering from some corrupt African leaders to the west to suggest that they will put their house in order. Actions speak louder than wordsthat will become apparent as matters develop. I trust that the Government will pile the pressure on Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, raise the matter at the UN Security Council, push South Africa further and take away President Mugabe's knighthood. The previous Conservative Government gave it to him in 1994, to little opposition from Labour Members. However, it is time we recognised that he is an evil tyrant to whom we should give no credence.
The speech is without a theme.