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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence

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will reply to the debate, but I shall ask the Foreign Office to provide the fullest reply to the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for that. I look forward to his reply and I hope that a good response will be forthcoming and that Britain will continue to support the efforts to obtain a peaceful solution.

I visited the refugee camps and I went to the Polisario Front's 11th congress, which was held in a disused Spanish fort hundreds of miles into the desert in what is termed liberated Western Sahara. The sense of anger, frustration and outrage of people and their families can boil over at any time, although no one wants it to. One sees anger there, among young people in Palestine and in other parts of the world, and we have a duty and responsibility to try to bring about a peaceful resolution of those conflicts, otherwise the alternative is war, conflict, death and destruction.

We have been told that it is important for us to maintain close links with the United States, and that that underpins our foreign policy. I just wonder whether our message to the world is not a bit skewed when we are spending increased amounts on defence when we should be cutting it, when we have signed up for national missile defence, and when we are apparently prepared to countenance the use of nuclear weapons and the continued holding of nuclear weapons while condemning other countries for doing the same thing.

The real issues facing the world are the facts that a quarter of the world's population is living in desperate poverty, that we have a trade system that is skewed against the poorest people in the poorest countries, and that we are increasingly trying to look after the interests of western Europe and north America at the expense of the rest of the world. That is why the Cancun summit broke down.

We have a responsibility to take a more global view, and one of redistribution and sharing of wealth and resources, because at the end of the day it is instability, poverty, greed and the grabbing of natural resources that bring about war and conflict, and unless we change our attitudes in those respects, the war on Iraq will, unfortunately, not be the last of these gruesome conflicts and all the deaths, misery and destruction that go with them.

3.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), not least because, as well as being a constituent of his in the past, I had the privilege of being the chairman of the Islington North Conservative Association. On the strength of his contribution today, I think that he is probably held in higher esteem among some of his constituents like me than he is by his own Front-Bench colleagues. He has always shown an admirable consistency.

We have had a number of truly excellent speeches in this debate and I have no doubt at all that the comments today of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) will have sent a shiver round the occupants of No. 10 Downing street, and a warning of battles that are to come. The

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hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), who made such an admirable maiden speech and told us about her constituency, will clearly make a big contribution in the House.

I start by referring to what the Foreign Secretary described rather grandiloquently as the Foreign Office's 10-year strategy for the world, which is to be published shortly. I have no doubt whatever that right at the top of his agenda must be the war on terror. We have only to hear the words of the lady who is responsible for our security services and of the chief of police of the Met to understand that the war on terror is critical to our future. Terrorism is a direct threat to all our constituents, and I emphasise today that combating it is our first objective.

The middle east peace process, on which a number of speakers today have commented, must also be right at the top of the Foreign Office's agenda and our national agenda. Quite often, we hear the Prime Minister's honeyed words—I do not doubt his commitment—but it is essential, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) said, that we see more third-party intervention in the middle east peace process in order to bolster support and take forward this critically important endeavour for our own security and for the security of the world. The Gracious Speech refers to tackling the underling causes of conflict and extremism, and in those two specific areas nothing could be more important.

The Gracious Speech contains quite a few measures of which I and my constituents will strongly approve. In Sutton Coldfield, we will be particularly pleased to see that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill has been recommitted because there are a number of protections that we urgently need from the planning process. I am very pleased that seven Bills have been published in draft and that there is a tremendous increase in the amount of pre-legislative scrutiny that is taking place. Nothing could be more important for the respect with which the processes of the House are viewed from outside than that expert bodies on which we seek to legislate should feel that they are properly consulted and their advice taken before legislation is framed and passes through the House.

I approve of the provision for child trusts. Had the last Conservative Government come up with such a proposal, Labour Members would have laughed at it as arch-Thatcherite. However, the proposal is welcome; it is a minor matter and will no doubt pass rapidly through the House.

I am pleased that child protection legislation is envisaged and that the post of children's commissioner will be established. Of course, it is easy to come up with such structural proposals, but it is vital that we prioritise far more than we have in the past legislation to protect our children.

I have previously raised in the House something that saddens me greatly: the tremendous risks to children in Birmingham. The social services inspectorate recently reported that social services in Birmingham are among the worst in the country. The inspectorate expressed serious concerns about vulnerable children and remains uncertain of the authority's capacity for

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improvement. Health Ministers must be put on notice that we expect provision for the care of children in the Birmingham area to be massively improved. Their urgent attention to that issue is required.

The reaction in Sutton Coldfield to the speech in general will be that the Government should spend more time sorting out the problems that they have failed to solve so far, rather than embarking on new legislation, worthy though some of it may be. The problem with the Government's approach to public services is that although they frequently will the ends, they do not will the means. Nothing demonstrates that more eloquently than what happened to foundation hospitals. They are a good idea and they would genuinely improve the quality of health services for my constituents, but the measure has been so filleted, in order for it to be accepted by Labour Members and the House of Commons, that it is meaningless. The original proposals made by the Prime Minister and the modernisers around him deserved support, but alas they have been so destroyed by pressure from Labour Back Benchers that they are relatively worthless.

If anyone in the City had produced a prospectus on university fees that said, as the Queen's Speech did,

they would be guilty of misrepresentation and would be up before the Financial Services Authority. The language of those on the Labour Front Bench, as it appears in the Gracious Speech, shows that the Government have not renounced, as they said they would, their propensity for spinning everything.

I have no doubt that radical changes must be made to the funding system for university students, but it is clear that the Government's proposals will be unable to provide the required extra funding. I very much doubt that the measure will get through the House. Were it successful, it would massively increase the amount of debt hanging around the necks of students, which would be a serious mistake.

There is a flaw at the heart of the Government's proposals: a student from a poor family who became a lawyer, perhaps working for a City company such as Linklaters and Paines, where they could be earning hundreds of thousands of pounds quite soon after graduation, would pay nothing back; yet, if someone from a middle-class family in my constituency became a vicar, the level of their parents' earnings could be such that they would have to pay back the fees from their own relatively modest earnings. As far as I am aware, the Government have never addressed that important point.

The Government also will the ends but not the means on defence. We are told that there is to be a defence White Paper. I do not think that any defence White Paper since the Korean war has proposed an increase in spending. Such documents are always Treasury-driven, so they always look for spending cuts. I profoundly hope that that will not be the case on this occasion, although the omens, according to the leaks in the press, are not good. We face huge challenges on defence. On that area at least, in view of my opening remarks, I hope that the Government will will the means as well as the ends.

The Gracious Speech refers to a number of quality of life issues and I shall mention a couple of them. For the past six years the Government have told us that

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they will tackle crime. We have seen many gimmicks, but precious little reduction in crime. Since 2000, there has been a 15 per cent. increase in the use of guns in muggings here in London. According to the national crime statistics, in the past year we have seen a 19 per cent. increase in violence against persons, an 18 per cent. increase in sexual offences, a nearly 15 per cent. increase in robbery, an 8 per cent. increase in domestic burglary, an 8 per cent. increase in criminal damage and a 12.3 per cent. increase in drug offences. Labour Members are fond of saying that crime rose under the last Conservative Government, but they will also have noticed that during the tenure of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) as Home Secretary crime consistently went down. It is that record that they will have to match, but so far they have lamentably failed to do so.

Taxation is a quality of life issue. When the Government take huge sums through the 60 tax increases that they have imposed, my constituents have less choice in how they spend their money. It is an insult to hard-working families that the Government spend huge sums without much thought and certainly without achieving reform, waving and wafting money over all manner of different public service organisations. The Government will be found out. The case against the Government on taxation goes further than that. Many people, in particular elderly people, live in fear of council tax increases. That, too, is a quality of life issue.

Finally, the Government's approach to our constitution remains a complete dog's breakfast. The Prime Minister shows no respect for the conventions and constitution of our country. I shall raise two specific points. According to the Gracious Speech there is to be a Bill to make preparations for a referendum on the euro. We will undoubtedly look at that with great interest. It will not escape my hon. Friends that this proposition comes at the same time as the stability pact has been torn up by France and Germany. That will have a massive effect on opinion, particularly among the business community who are regularly asked to prepare for the euro in case Britain chooses to join. The evidence of this week alone and the reaction of the German and French Governments to the stability pact demonstrates, if evidence were needed, that the euro remains for them first and foremost a political construct, not an economic one. The best possible advice to British businessmen is to make sure that they do everything they can to ensure that we do not join the euro. It would not give them anything like the economic or financial guarantees that were inherent in the stability pact, but which are now laid bare as completely meaningless.

I shall pass over the fact that the Government set their face adamantly against a referendum on the European constitution, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) mentioned this afternoon. We now hear mixed messages from the briefing machine in Downing street that perhaps a referendum could be held. I would be delighted if that were the result, which would be excellent. The Government would be hard put to have any success in such an endeavour.

We have now seen the Government's proposed next stage in their shambolic reform of the House of Lords. I do not hold a particular candle for the hereditary

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peers, but the Government had an easy option open to them to make the 90 remaining hereditaries life peers. That seamless arrangement would have got the Government what they wanted but would not have insulted many of the most hard-working and effective Members of the House of Lords. The Government have again approached constitutional change with all the instincts of a vandal. [Interruption.] The Minister is showing some signs of chirpiness and life. Nor do I approve of his Government's proposal for an appointments commission. I cannot for the life of me see why we should hand the power to put people into the other place to a distinguished grandee who runs a building society, a political activist from Islington and a governor of the BBC. People should be appointed to the House of Lords through the Prime Minister and through the traditional channels in No. 10 used for such things—those are the correct conventions. Then, if Conservative Members do not like it, we can throw rocks at the Prime Minister, taunt him, tease him and hold him to account at the Dispatch Box for his decisions on who should go into the House of Lords. We are being given a piece of political correctness to appease that argument, but it does not deal with what is required.

In that respect, as well as in many others, the Queen's Speech is deeply defective. There are things that I look forward to supporting and that I think will genuinely help my constituents in Sutton Coldfield, some of which I have mentioned, but by and large it is, alas, as so often with the Government, a litany of missed opportunities and continued failure.

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