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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.

4 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway). I am not surprised that he praised the speech of the Leader of the Opposition because the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not have been there without the hon. Gentleman's help. I missed him, with his trim frame, from the nine o'clock news. He worries about being a glorified caseworker or social worker, but in the history of the Conservative party he will be remembered as a glorified king maker for what he has done for his party. Having left a tired Government, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, he is back to join a tired Opposition.

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I shall make a couple of points on a local matter before turning to the issue of the Home Office and constitutional affairs. I welcome the Queens' Speech and I shall vote for it enthusiastically in the Lobby tomorrow and the day after. I particularly welcome the Government's decision to press ahead with the new road traffic management Bill. Those of us who are avid readers of the Leicester Mercury—I see present the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), and we obviously get the newspaper daily—will know of the long-standing campaign by that newspaper to try to do something about the number of roadworks in Leicester. Leicester is the second most congested city in Britain, and I think that the proposed Bill will help us enormously as we seek to try to make it less congested and try to ease the burdens that are placed on householders.

Before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary left the Chamber, he said in answer to my intervention that he was upset that those of us who were criticising the new proposals on asylum and immigration did not give him credit for what he has done so far. I am the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he did last year in allowing British overseas citizens to have full citizenship. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), who was then a Back Bencher and a campaigner for that measure, was supportive of it. I supported what my right hon. Friend said in early October when he allowed an amnesty for 15,000 people who were already in this country. The problem is that they do not have the necessary letters and they do not know whether they will stay here.

My criticism of the proposed immigration and asylum legislation—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will listen to it and I hope also that the Government will react to it before we reach the end of the Session—is that it is designed to try to solve a problem that the Government have failed to solve over the past six years, and that is the complete failure of administration on the part of the immigration and nationality directorate. There is a huge backlog at the IND. Cases are processed far too slowly and there has been a lack of resources for dealing with cases efficiently.

I suppose that the situation is summed up by a case that I dealt with last Friday. Someone, who had originally come from Somalia, had made an application for asylum three years ago. In those three years he had had, with his wife, three children. He had finally received his final determination from the immigration appeal tribunal. He came to me to ask for my assistance, to see whether I would help him stay longer in the country. Obviously as a Member I stand in the shoes of my constituents, and I wrote to the Home Office. What surprised me was his attitude. Basically, he felt that it was the Government's fault. If his case had been dealt with properly, swiftly and efficiently three years ago, he would not have been in a position where he had stayed for three years while waiting a decision. Uprooting him and his wife and family now caused him the greatest difficulty.

That is the problem that we have, and that is the problem that has been handed from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is being

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asked to do the dirty washing for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is being asked to solve the problems caused by administrative failure, and as a result the proposals that will have to be taken forward by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will curtail people's rights of appeal. If we take away a tier of the immigration appeals system, we are curtailing people's rights. If, at the same time, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said, we reduce the resources available for legal aid, people who could get proper and effective legal aid at the start of the process are left trapped in a system that will end at the appeal tribunal, subject to judicial review. They will not even be able to make an application, because legal aid will not be available to them. People whom we ought to help will therefore be left in a vulnerable position. I hope that the Government will therefore reconsider the position of the immigration appeal tribunal, and introduce a much more effective package allowing us to support enthusiastically their immigration and asylum policies. We will not, however, accept the package of constitutional and court reform introduced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs unless the Home Office gets its act together.

As for the legislation that will abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and lead to the creation of a commission for judicial appointments, that major constitutional reform was proposed in the middle of a reshuffle and has not been handled particularly well. I pay tribute to the work of the previous Lord Chancellor, under whom I served when I was a Minister in his Department. His departure should have been handled much better, and he should have been given the plaudits that he deserved for the way in which he modernised his Department over the previous six years. However, even though we did not handle that particularly well, I am glad that we now have a Lord Chancellor who is committed to ensuring the modernisation of his Department and the justice agenda. My right hon. Friend Lord Falconer has the skills and ability not only to discuss these matters in Parliament with Members of the Commons and the Lords but to go out to the country to work with the judiciary and the professions. That will enable him and the Government to listen to people's concerns and help them to develop a package that will result in a more modern and diverse judiciary.

We surely all share that hope, but I am not convinced that we are going to meet the Government's timetable. I would be happy to keep the Lord Chancellor's role until the end of this Parliament, enabling us to think carefully about what will replace the present system. We are in favour of a commission for judicial appointments, but we want it to be truly reflective and representative of society as a whole. If that takes a little longer, we will have to delay the legislation and allow it to be carried over to the next Session, keeping the Lord Chancellor in post until the end of the Parliament. Let us get this right because the new arrangement will be with us for an extremely long time. However, I support the thrust of the reforms introduced by the Lord Chancellor.

Finally, I am delighted that the draft euro referendum Bill has been published, but I am extremely disappointed that we will not have a referendum this year. Although the Chancellor said that he will look at the tests next March when the Budget is published, I do

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not believe that we will have a referendum during this Parliament, and the Government and the Prime Minister have a duty to tell the people of Britain so. I think that it is grave mistake not to have a referendum—the issue should be put to the British people and we ought to allow them the opportunity to endorse the work that the Government have done in Europe over the past six years, being at the heart of Europe and controlling the agenda.

Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should have an early referendum on the euro, but, on the same day, ask a separate question and hold a referendum on the European constitution?

Keith Vaz: I do not think that it will happen that quickly. We did not have a referendum on Maastricht and there is no need to have a referendum on the European constitution—[Interruption.] Well, Opposition Members did not hold a referendum on Maastricht when they were in government.

In conclusion, we welcome the Queen's Speech, and I shall support it enthusiastically in the Division Lobby. However, I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take to heart the points that I have made.

4.9 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), although it is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) could not persuade him to go just that little bit further and ask for another referendum.

My hon. Friend and I have both noticed that the Prime Minister is offering us a conversation—a conversation with trumpets and fanfares. I think that the Prime Minister does not need those trumpets and fanfares. Indeed, if he held a real conversation with virtually anybody in this country today, he would be told that Labour's performance and delivery are considered inadequate on everything except raising taxes. I fear that the Gracious Speech does nothing to improve that performance or delivery. My own test for the Gracious Speech is whether it faces up to the problems that my constituents face, and whether it comes from the caring heart or the calibrating head.

The Prime Minister weekends in my neighbourhood, but he reveals no understanding of what people in the Chiltern hills are up against. The people whom I represent in Buckinghamshire are neither poor nor fabulously wealthy; they are just a part of the public whom public services are supposed to serve. They pay their rising taxes and hope that their needs in health, education, security and transport will be met. Under this Government, however, the vigorously rising curve of taxation finds no parallel in useful public service. There is a great gap between taxes paid and what the citizen is getting in return. One does not need to be a Marxist to talk about alienation in my constituency.

In Buckinghamshire, despite devoted health workers, we have a crisis in health care. The trusts are running out of money, hospitals and wards are threatened with closure, and services will face some intolerable choices. What the Government so amusingly call extra money

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has been swallowed up by extra national insurance costs, high agency nursing staff costs, the increasing cost of drugs and eternal Blairite targets forced on the NHS. If we have a flu epidemic this year in Buckinghamshire, I truly do not know how we will cope.

That is the rough-edged reality of which the Government seem to know nothing. Perhaps that is why we are receiving 18 per cent. less health care funding per head than the average spend in, say, the north of England. That is a type of political favouritism at the expense of my constituents. An excellent educational performance in Buckinghamshire brings in families who move to take advantage of schools staffed by incredibly talented teachers that equip youngsters to a very high standard, but they are being betrayed. Under the examination boards, school examinations are being marked incorrectly, blighting children's lives. Teachers have their skills called into question, and funds to repair buildings fail. Meanwhile, as I have seen with my own eyes, taking a class of children half a mile down the road to study at an environmental centre is, thanks to the paperwork, a challenge beyond bureaucracy.

The council tax goes up locally, but money flows to the north and the Labour seats, while the Government slap down the shires. Requests and even pleas for a reduction in bureaucratic control, inspections and so-called initiatives are ignored, and costs, and therefore taxes, continue to rise. In my constituency, pension increases cannot absorb those rises, so older people with years of work behind them now dread the thud of the bills that edge them towards poverty at the latest and cruellest moment. There is no peace in retirement for them.

Does the Queen's Speech help? No. What we have is some 30 Bills that will add to bureaucracy, increase the costs of administration, invigorate the means-testing industry and leave the citizen finely controlled, minutely managed and paying for it. There is an armed forces Bill that will leave pensioners worse off; a housing Bill giving the Government ever more control; a higher education Bill to mug our students; an immigration Bill that will snatch children; a European Union Bill that will hand over more decisions to remoter control; and a school transport Bill to get our children off the buses—just putting Tiny Tim on thinner gruel is not in it.

If that is not sufficient, the Queen's Speech contains a new tranche of bossy intrusions and regulations to keep all the extra officials busy. There is a charity Bill to threaten independent schools; an Employment Relations Bill and a companies Bill to harass and suffocate business; a Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that increases the powers of central Government; and, supremely, an identity cards Bill that will affect all our civil liberties. The litany of extra powers will make the Home Secretary into a true Minister for the interior.

So, we are faced with a plethora of legislation, and we confidently await guillotined timetables denying it sufficient time for proper consideration. A parliamentary guillotine working at Robespierre's rate is a malevolent and crippling assault from a Government who despise this House: they defeat the working of the democratic process and have regularly dumped in their basket inadequate legislation that is in constant need of correction by the courts or Parliament.

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I have a response. Very little of what really needs to be done requires any legislative action. I suggest that we take a leaf from the book of an American President whom we can all admire—Franklin Roosevelt. When he came to power in 1933, and faced a slump based partly on a bank crisis and panic, the first thing that he did was to declare a bank holiday—a pause from selling and running. To put it simply, why do not the Government pause and stop selling my constituents down the river? Why do not they revisit this Queen's Speech and extract only the absolutely essential Bills, which this House would then have time to scrutinise properly? Why not concentrate on making what we already have work properly—plain, practical things such as hospitals, schools, transport, police forces and courts? One does not need a big conversation to discover that that is what people want—just a cosy fireside chat. Nothing would serve Britain better or please its people more.


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