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8.46 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): The Gracious Speech represents the seventh year of failure of this dreadful Government—seven years of their failure to deliver on their promises or to improve public services. On Sunday, when the Leader of the House was interviewed on BBC 1's "Politics Show", he said:

I for one am not excited by the 23 Bills and seven draft measures. In fact, I am deeply depressed because we have heard it all before.

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When the House listened to the Prime Minister, whose performance today was abysmal, I wondered for a moment which world he is living in. He took the American President to his constituency last week, but of course, he did not allow him to meet the real people. As ever, that visit was stage-managed. The real people in every constituency have a completely different experience of this dreadful Government's performance over the past seven years.

I note that the Government's annual report has vanished. In 1997, when the Government came to power telling everyone that things can only get better—yes, we will all remember that record—they decided that an annual report would be published every year. I asked at the Vote Office today for last year's annual report. Surprisingly, there was not one; nor was there one the year before. I have asked parliamentary questions on matter. Exactly who paid £2.99 to purchase that garbage?

The reality is that the Government no longer issue an annual report because the general public realise that everything that the Government tell us is completely fictitious, but I make an offer to the Minister: if the Government feel that they can no longer raise the cash to publish an annual report, I should very much like to be given the job of issuing an annual report on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and I promise the House that I will be absolutely fair.

Tom Levitt: As I recall it, for the first two or three years after the 1997 election, Opposition Members had nothing better to do than argue from time to time that the annual report should be scrapped. Surely the hon. Gentleman should welcome the fact that a listening Government are engaging so positively with the Opposition.

Mr. Amess: For goodness' sake, does the hon. Gentleman think that that will wash? He knows only too well that Government Members do not listen to, or act on, anything that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition say or do. If only it were different. The Government have dumped their annual report very quietly but some of us will not let them forget that that report, which we were told was crucial, has disappeared. I repeat my offer to write an annual report on the Government. I would be only too delighted.

Brian White: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons for the Government ending the annual report was the action taken by the Select Committee on Public Administration? It suggested to the Government that there were better ways of dealing with such issues.

Mr. Amess: I am delighted to hear that that is the reason, but I am surprised that the Prime Minister has not made a statement to the House to apologise to the House and the country for the waste of taxpayers' money. If it is true that the report was scrapped because of the Public Administration Committee's report, I will be only too happy to remind the Prime Minister of that fact should I be lucky enough to have an opportunity to do so.

The idea that the Prime Minister and the Government are again embarking on a nationwide consultation is crazy. Does he honestly think that the general public will

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be taken in yet again by one more consultation exercise? The idea that the Government consult and listen if they receive an answer that they do not like does not reflect what happens. He should save the Government a great deal of money by abandoning the consultation, because the British people will tell him that, over the past seven years, the Government have absolutely failed to deliver on their promises. The gut feeling of the British people is that they have no confidence whatever in anything that the Government do or say. Fundamental to that is the issue of law and order, to which I will come shortly.

The Gracious Speech tells us:

We all agree with that, but all hon. Members know from their visits to schools that teachers complain endlessly about the extra burdens of regulation and administration. Teachers can no longer do that which they are best at—teaching—because of the constant interference from this dreadful Government.

Two weeks ago, I and others met the Minister for School Standards. Among the group was Councillor Sally Carr, the chairman of the Southend education committee, and we had a good meeting in which we discussed in detail the authority's financial settlement. However, the next settlement has been announced and it will simply not provide enough money to offer the education that the children who live in Southend deserve.

Tuition fees, on which my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition brilliantly chided the Government, are fundamental to this issue.

The Gracious Speech tells us:

Labour Members will groan at this, but I am what is described as a working-class Conservative. I come from an entirely working-class background in the east end of London and was born within hearing of Bow bells. The reason why I am a Conservative is that, unlike Labour Members, who are so good at describing poverty and dreadful living conditions but doing nothing about them, it is the Conservatives who believe that every woman and man, regardless of race, creed and finances, should be given the opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents.

That is why what this dreadful Labour Government are now going to do about tuition fees is so hypocritical. When I was given the opportunity to go on to higher education, my parents did not earn enough to make any contribution to the grant. I was one of those lucky individuals on a full grant. [Interruption.] There is no doubt—this is why Labour Members are embarrassed—that once the tuition fees kick in, they will definitely be a penalty against children of working-

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class parents who want to go into higher education. [Interruption.] It is no good Labour Members shaking their heads. That is what will happen.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that keeping up a running commentary from a sedentary position is not assisting the debate.

Mr. Amess: I have five children. Although some Members of Parliament say that we are not particularly well paid, by and large, we are pretty well paid in comparison with the rest of the population. I am now experiencing trying to pay for some of my children to enjoy higher education. I tell the Government now that burdening youngsters later with high debt, in the very early years of their working careers, will be an absolute disaster.

The reason why I find the Prime Minister's position completely untenable is that he leads the party that grew out of Keir Hardie, in whose seat, which was a working-class area, I fought my first parliamentary election in 1979. He is now betraying the many Labour Members who, in their heart of hearts, are still working class and want to support working-class people. I hope that, when it comes to the vote on that dreadful measure, they will do the right thing and vote against it.

The Gracious Speech tells us:

I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, an excellent Committee led by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who is a very fair-minded Chairman. There is no doubt that the Health Committee has found wanting the Government's policies, which they tell us are intended to give

All the arguments from academics that we read in our papers and journals say that the Government's obsession with sticking to targets is undermining clinical priorities. As long as they continue with that obsession, our wonderful national health service will continue to struggle.

There was a moment when the Prime Minister shook his head in despair at the Leader of the Opposition because he did not like what my right hon. and learned Friend said about asylum seekers, especially their children. We will have to see what eventually happens but it would be shameful if Government Members, who believe in their heart of hearts that it would be dreadful for asylum seekers' children to be taken into care, stood by and did nothing. Many Labour Members know that when the Government say, "Oh, this is stuff that the media have got wrong", that is not the case. The Conservative party intends to watch the measure on asylum seekers' children carefully.

I draw hon. Members' attention to early-day motion 1695, which the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) and I tabled in the previous Session. It called on

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the Government to allow asylum seekers to work while their applications were being considered. My views on the subject are well known. The Prime Minister and the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer have had some amusement about asylum seekers, who, I believe, should be in secure units while their applications are being processed. As they are not, it behoves the House to seek an alternative, and allowing them to work is an obvious solution.

The Gracious Speech stated that the Government wanted to

and that they would

I introduced a ten-minute Bill on 12 May 1993 for voluntary personal security cards. It was the first time that a Bill, albeit a ten-minute measure, went unopposed. My supporters were Mr. Jacques Arnold, Mr. David Ashby, Mr. Roy Beggs, Mr. James Hill, Lady Olga Maitland, Dame Jill Knight, Sir John Hunt, Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Angela Knight, Mr. Ralph Howell and Sir John Wheeler. Apart from me, only one remains a Member of Parliament. I hope that we shall both be here when we do not simply talk about identity cards but do something about them. A lot of nonsense is spoken in resisting the change. Every human being has a birth certificate and when we die, a death certificate. Why does the bit in the middle—our lives—have to be a secret? I am not bothered about whether the Home Secretary has fallen out with another member of the Cabinet. The British people want identity cards and if the Government are serious about law and order, they should introduce them.

We hear yet again that there will be more antisocial behaviour orders, that the laws on domestic violence will be modernised and that a commissioner will be established to speak for the interests of victims and witnesses. The British people are sick and tired of Government gimmicks on law and order. Since the Home Secretary was appointed, there have been 30 Acts. We all know that despite the wonderful technology that is available today, there are not enough policewomen and policemen. There might be in the rest of the country, but that does not apply to Southend or Essex where the numbers are way down. All Members of Parliament know that the general public's first concern is law and order. They say, "Oh David, there's no point in reporting crime anymore. You can't get through to the call centre." When police eventually come along and take the details of whatever has been stolen, they simply shrug their shoulders and nothing is done. "But", they add, "you might get caught by a speed camera."

People see the unfairness of that. Law-abiding citizens who do a wonderful job in their communities can be criminalised for driving at 32 mph, while the big criminals get away with everything scot-free because there are not enough policewomen and policemen.

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