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Mr. Kevan Jones : I am sad to hear that Southend has been passed by. County Durham has been given an extra 100 police officers and an extra 25 community support officers since 1997, and crime in my constituency has fallen by 50 per cent. What is unique about Southend?
Mr. Amess: I am delighted to hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and extremely jealous. As his constituency is doing so well in crime reduction, perhaps he will be magnanimous and encourage some of those extra 100 police officers to relocate to Southend. We are losing officers to the Met because they are paid £6,000 a year more than they would receive in our area. We have a terrible problem. Our policewomen and policemen are working hard to control the situation, but they do not have the numbers to deal with it properly. That is the biggest complaint that we hear from the public.
Given that the Prime Minister made his name with "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", it is about time he did something rather than continuing with these gimmicks. We have seen the introduction of curfews for children, for goodness' sake. I do not think one has ever been imposed anywhereand it seems that we are to have yet more gimmicks. I ask the Government to do at least one sensible thing, and introduce identity cards.
The Prime Minister quoted an Ofsted report. Of course things are marvellous now, but the Government did not retain the last chief inspector of schools because he did not have so many good things to say about the Prime Minister. I am not in the least confident that the Government would appoint independent people to the House of Lords.
I am sorry that the House of Lords was sabotaged in the first place. The idea that there was always a Conservative majority there is nonsense. During 18 years of Conservative government, the House of Lords rejected Bills time after time. As the Labour Government have introduced more and more of their own appointees to the Lords, more and more have resisted their Bills. It has done the Government no good at all.
Mr. Amess: I was going to make the same point about the nearness of a mast to properties. The situation whereby planning matters involving mobile phones are pushed from local authorities to the Government, backwards and forwards, is ridiculous. We have had many public meetings in Southend on the issue, but we have been told:
Mobile phones are overused and what is happening is out of all proportion. I welcome the Government criminalising people using mobile phones as they drive along in cars. That will be unlawful from this month, and I look forward to the Government enforcing it.
I am disappointed that there is no animal welfare Bill in the Queen's Speechwe had expected one. I introduced a ten-minute Bill on stray animals, which is a matter on which the Canine Defence League feels strongly as it tries to re-home animals. Later, when the so-called owner turns up, there could be civil litigation. I am also disappointed that there is no mental health Bill. The number of people who feel helpless because they cannot get the support they require for their mental health difficulties is a serious matter.
Mr. Amess: I simply say that, for seven years, we have had a failing Government. I look forward to the time when I will be able to make a speech in favour of the Gracious Speech, but I feel that that will not happen until we have a Conservative Government re-elected. Judging by today's performance by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, the Conservatives are coming home and we will once again have a Conservative Government.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): An academic article is due to be printed soon entitled "Sheep that bark". It is about rebel Labour MPs, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am included in that list. I intend to bleat and woof about various measures in the Queen's Speech that I would like amended. I hope that my suggestions are constructive. I also have some opposition to particular items.
I want to say something about higher education, but I shall not deal with the problem of top-up fees as people know where I stand on that. The Queen's Speech refers to a new office for fair access to assist people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have considerable interest in that proposal, as I am a product of the liberal education tradition. I went to Ruskin college without any formal qualifications and was there from 1960 to 1962. From 1966 to 1987, I taught at Sheffield university extra-mural department, which then became the division of continuing education. Through industrial day release, many trade unionists went to places such as Ruskin college, Fircroft, Coleg Harlech and the Northern college. I also ran access courses for people who had no formal qualifications but who then found their way into colleges and universities. There are many late developers, and many people need a second chance.
I am worried that the trend in education is for testing in schools and elsewhere, and for modular provisions. People are expected to attain a certain standard before they move on. That overlooks the separate culture of the liberal adult education tradition. That tradition has been strong in the Workers Educational Association, and we should nurture it and make use of it for the office for fair access. When the proposals are introduced, if that area is missing or has been downgraded by too much stress being placed on testing and modules, I shall seek to amend the legislation.
A number of hon. Members have stressed the importance of the proposals on company and individual pensions. A White Paper was published, and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made a statement in the House on 11 June. There have been many encouraging proposals to protect pension funds.
Coalite in Bolsover, where a number of my constituents work, went into receivership and their pension fund was hit. UEF Chesterfield Cylinders went into administration and was taken over by Apolda GmbH, and the pension fund was hit. Demaglass in Chesterfield was similarly hit. There is also the Equitable Life problem, and we are waiting for Penrose in that connection.
I urge hon. Members to consider the arguments that were used across the House when the Secretary of State made that statement. Ideas of how to deal with this difficult problem have been suggested. Finding the funding is problematic, and there is no simple answer that would solve the difficulties. I am an advocate of progressive taxation, but I am in danger of proposing it as a solution to all problems. I know that it is not, and that there must be priorities. Nye Bevan said that socialism was the language of priorities, and we must decide what we do at every stage.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), mentioned the disability provisions contained in the Gracious Speech. There has been a considerable battle in this House to advance the civil rights of disabled persons. In 1991, when he was in this House, Lord Morris of Manchester proposed a wide-ranging Bill on civil rights for disabled people. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) picked up the Bill in 1993, and I did so in 1994 in competition with a Government Bill.
The definition of disability needs to be put right. We have a medical and restricted definition at the moment, but a social definition, directed towards the discriminators, which says that one can never use disability as a ground for excluding people from a particular area, needs to be put forward.
I urge the Government to go back to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, although they have proposed a number of related measures, particularly the setting up of the Disability Rights Commission, which was contained in the Bill and is advancing matters considerably. In my version of the Bill, I added the issue of access to polling stations, which is not dealt with properly now. Limited measures were contained in recent representation of the people legislation, and the arguments developed by Scope need to be taken on board.
My next point concerns identity cards. Fruitful amendments can be tabled on this issue and some socially useful items could be proposed in connection with ID cards. I have a suggestion that ties in with my interest in electoral registration and people exercising their franchise rights. I would advocate votes at 16, with the time that voters were registered and identity cards established being the last year of school as pupils approached 16. They would then be on registers and would have an ID card. It should then be possible to get them on to new registers, instead of the present situation in which masses of people are still missing from electoral registers. We attempted to tackle that with the rolling register introduced in 2001.
I wish to refer now to the reform of the House of Lords. Some Members have suggested that there are too many Members in this House. I would remind them that if we had fewer Members in this place, the power of the Front Benches would be proportionately greater. We should watch out for that. Front-Bench Members could be sent along to the other place, as was almost suggested in a pamphlet in the 1950s by a chap who was then called Anthony Wedgwood Benn. He argued that the second Chamber should be occupied by the Privy Council, which would account for most Front Benchers. Perhaps if Back Benchers ran the affairs of the Commons, it would be of interest.
Abolition of the Lords should be one option to consider, as its scrutiny functions could be undertaken in this House. The best bit of this House is often what takes place in Select Committees, which break down some of the rigid yah-boo party games of the Chamber. If we do not achieve that, there is the possibility of indirect election. Trade unions, voluntary organisations and professional bodies should have a say, although I am not so sure about the CBI and industry, which seem to run things already; however, perhaps they could have a minority representation. If we fail in that regard, the final democratic resort is direct election to the other body, despite the fact that that may create certain problems.
The Queen's Speech also contains a section on Europe. I have always been in favour of referendums where major treaty changes are involved. What happens automatically in the Republic of Ireland under its constitutional provisions should happen here. I say that despite the fact that if we had a referendum on constitutional matters, I could well campaign in favour of the measure in question and not against it, depending on the final package. In this case, I am not arguing for a referendum on the basis of what I think the likely outcome will be.
The Queen's Speech also refers to planning and to "greater community participation" in it. One thing that could be done is to strengthen section 70(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Under it, the planning authority can kick into touch repeat applications that have been refused through the system, on the ground that they are too similar to previous representations. However, that provision is not currently used because it is very narrow; it needs to be rather broader. In this regard there is a relevant case involving Barnes farm, in Dronfield, which is in my constituency. I should point out that I do not own Barnes farmit has nothing to do with me. In fact, I own very little. Two planning applications by Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. have been rejected by the district council and rejected on appeal; a third application is currently going through the relevant procedures. Making it easier for the district council to reject the application would be of considerable advantage. In addition, perhaps the inspectors themselves should have the right to kick such applications into touch if they feel that an unnecessary number are being made in particular areas.
There are several other issues that I would have liked to mention, but as I want to accommodate those Members who have yet to speak, I shall finish by dealing with the section at the beginning of the Queen's Speech that refers to continuing
"to focus on greater opportunity and social justice",
I have been dealing with the vaccine damage case of another constituent of mine ever since I entered the House. In fact, my predecessor, who was the MP for my constituency before 1987, also dealt with this problem. There are aspects of vaccine damage that we need to return to; we should not worry about the vast problems associated with furthering legislation that is regarded as retrospective.
My final point is about the need for the Government to tackle legal professional privilege. They should move towards ending it as far as many of their own operations are concerned. Ministers invariably seek to uphold legal advice received from their Departments or Treasury counsel under the blanket of the provision of legal professional privilege. That applies even where the draft legislation or regulations are designed to protect the public for unfair treatment. The end of the use of legal professional privilege over measures intended to protect the public interest would facilitate the fuller understanding of the implications of legislative and regulatory proposals so that more relevant amendments could be tabled. Such an approach would be in keeping with the general intentions of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the code of practice for access to Government information.
It is important to have opportunities to attach amendments to particular measures in the Queen's Speech or to look to other avenues such as ten-minute Bills in order to advance various parts of my agenda for the coming Session.