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My Government will maintain its commitment to social justice and legislate to increase the rights of disabled people.

My Government will continue its reform of the National Health Service, offering more information, power and choice to patients, with equal access for all and free at the point of delivery.

My Government will continue with legislation to provide a statutory framework for dealing with the financial, health and welfare decisions of those people who might lack capacity through mental illness or disability.

Measures to reform the law on mental health will continue to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny.

My Government believes that the welfare of children is paramount. Draft legislation will be published to safeguard the welfare of children in circumstances of parental separation and inter-country adoption.

Consumer credit law will be updated to provide greater protection from unfair lending practices and create a fairer and more competitive credit market.

My Government will also introduce a Bill to improve standards of animal welfare and increase the penalties for abuse.

My Government will continue to modernise the constitution and institutions of our country to ensure they are equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Legislation will be brought forward to provide a modern and comprehensive framework for statutory inquiries into matters of public concern.

My Government will continue to take forward in this session the constitutional legislation introduced last year.

A Bill will be introduced to give effect to the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, subject to a referendum.

My Government is committed to reducing bureaucracy and the costs of Government, and to promoting efficiency. A Bill will be introduced to integrate the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.

My Government recognises the importance of modern, effective and safe transport to meet the needs of the public and the wider economy.

Legislation will be introduced to streamline the organisation of the national rail system to improve performance.

A Bill will be brought forward to authorise the construction of Crossrail.

The Government will continue to legislate to allow local authorities to provide innovative and safe school transport.

My Government believes that the voluntary sector is a great strength of this country. Charity law will be modernised so that a vibrant, diverse and independent charitable sector can continue to flourish with public confidence.
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My Government will introduce legislation to consolidate the distribution of lottery money to good causes.

Proposals will be published to protect the nation's rural heritage, through draft legislation to modernise the management of common land, and to create new arrangements to deliver rural policy.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the Public Services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, and will work to bring about the conditions necessary for the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland.

Legislation will be introduced to provide the Welsh Assembly with a range of transport related powers.

Other measures will be laid before you.

The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Canada. We look forward to receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Korea and receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of Italy. To mark the centenary of Norway's independence, we also look forward to receiving Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway.

My Government will assume the Presidency of the European Union in July and will use this opportunity to work towards building an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe.

In addition to the European Union Presidency, my Government will hold the G8 Presidency in 2005, which will include working on the important issues of Africa and climate change.

My Government will continue to work with partners around the world to prevent terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the problems of drug smuggling and international crime.

My Government will work to strengthen commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to the transatlantic relationship and to the continued effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and will work with the international community to strengthen the United Nations.

My Government will continue to support the Government of Iraq to provide security and stability and ensure that elections can be held in January.

My Government will continue to support efforts to build peace in the Middle East, to promote democratic reform and reduce conflict and extremism.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
23 Nov 2004 : Column 7

Debate on the Address

[First Day]

Mr. Speaker: It may be helpful if I announce to the House that the proposed pattern of debate for the remaining days of the debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows: Wednesday 24 November—foreign affairs and defence; Thursday 25 November—environment and transport, and local and devolved government affairs; Monday 29 November—home affairs; Tuesday 30 November—health and education; Wednesday 1 December—economic affairs.

I call on Mr. George Howarth to move the Address, and Ms Meg Munn to second it.

2.36 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I beg to move,

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Howarth: And I meant it, Mr. Speaker.

I am filled with pride at being given the opportunity to move the Address, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn). It is a great honour both personally and for my constituency.

I was elected to the House in a by-election 18 years ago, almost to the day, and I am especially proud that my constituency is such a diverse and interesting place to represent. At the southern end of the constituency, in Knowsley, we have the estate of the Earl of Derby, which incorporates Knowsley safari park, which is, of course, particularly noted for its lions. On one occasion, residents living in the vicinity were asked what would happen if one of the lions escaped. "The lions will have to look after themselves, like the rest of us," they said.

The heart of the constituency is the town of Kirkby, built mainly in the 1960s to accommodate people displaced by slum clearance programmes in Liverpool. I have had a lifelong love affair with the town since I was a student at the technical college many years ago. Kirkby went through hard times in the 1980s and early 1990s, with unemployment levels as high as 60 per cent. in some parts. However, I am pleased to say that thanks to the sound economic stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Interruption.] Wait for it. The town is now recovering dramatically.

I also have the eastern corner of Sefton in my constituency, which includes Maghull, Lydiate, Melling and Aintree. Aintree, of course, is the home of the grand national, and we are particularly proud that we host such a world famous event.
23 Nov 2004 : Column 8

The House may be surprised to learn that a large part of my constituency is rural farmland. At a recent meeting in one village, I was asked what was going to happen about the problem of foxes causing a nuisance. I pointed out that, despite the Hunting Bill, in such circumstances landowners would still be able to shoot them. Another constituent then rose to his feet and said, "Well, that's fine for the foxes, but does it apply to the Jacksons?"

My constituency is not in Liverpool, but most of us who live there are of Liverpool and happily answer to the description, "scousers". As the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will no doubt confirm, if any Conservative Members have an issue with that, they should be warned: the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and I have a little arrangement.

My constituency, in its various shapes and sizes, has in the past been represented by William Ewart Gladstone, between 1865 and 1868—[Interruption.] It was a long time ago. It was represented for many years by Harold Wilson, and my immediate predecessor was Robert Kilroy-Silk, who is now a Member of the European Parliament. They are all difficult acts to follow. Until I stood in the by-election following the resignation of the matinee idol, Robert Kilroy-Silk, I had blithely gone through life thinking that I bore a strong physical resemblance to Robert Redford. It came as quite a surprise to be described in one national newspaper as

For a while, I consoled myself with the thought that I was just not photogenic. However, when I suggested that theory to my wife, she would not hear of it. "No, dear", she said, "you just look like that." [Laughter.]

I am afraid that I have no direct experience of Gladstone, but when I first became politically active as a teenager, our local MP was Harold Wilson. In 1966, as a reward for putting thousands of leaflets through letterboxes, I was invited to Harold's eve-of-poll public meeting, which was held in what was then called Prescot grammar school. At the end of the speech, as was his custom, Harold took questions in threes, which basically meant that if he did not like the sound of one he could answer the other two and hope that the third was forgotten. The first questioner asked, appropriately, about grammar schools. "Mr Wilson", he said, "you said in 1964 that they would abolish the grammar schools over your dead body, and now it's in your manifesto to abolish them. What have you got to say about that?" Harold duly answered the second and third questions, conveniently overlooking the first. A little later, the chairman—I never quite knew whether out of malice or myopia—called the same man again. He repeated the question, by this time purple with indignation. Harold stood up, took a long draw on his pipe and replied, "Friend, you're showing a morbid curiosity with in my corpse."

It is a particular pleasure to move this Address since so much of it is relevant to the issues that concern my constituents. Whatever divisions exist in my constituency, as elsewhere, about Iraq, we are as conscious and anxious as everybody else about the security threats that we face in the modern world.
23 Nov 2004 : Column 9
We know that one grievance that fuels terrorism is the fate of the Palestinians in the middle east. My constituents will fully support my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in their efforts to work with other world leaders to bring about a just settlement to that corrosive problem. As a former Northern Ireland Minister, I know at first hand the focus and skill that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has at his command, and I am sure that the whole House wishes him well in his efforts to bring peace and stability to the middle east.

One of the major concerns in my constituency is law and order, and my constituents will welcome the measures in the Address to tackle crime, disorder and organised crime. As a former Home Office Minister, I know that a great deal has already been done to give the police and other law enforcement agencies the power and resources that they need, but that remains work in progress. I certainly welcome the proposed introduction of identity cards, which I strongly believe will help in the fight against crime and in combating terrorism.My constituents are impatient that those who are intent on creating havoc and misery in our communities should be either brought under control or, if that fails, removed from the community altogether. We have already lost patience with those in the courts and elsewhere who confuse human rights and civil liberties with having a licence to deal in drugs and keep hold of the profits. Such behaviour rightly causes outrage in decent, hard-working people.

Another commitment that my constituents will welcome is the further reform of the national health service to offer more information, power and choice to patients, with equal access for all, free at the point of delivery. I know that when my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster utter the words "reform" and "choice", nervous twitches break out on the Labour Benches. I would simply point out, however, that it is perfectly reasonable in the 21st century for people to have some choice and control over how services are provided. Surely it is a measure of progress that people now expect services to be delivered to suit the way that they live their lives, and it is fitting that a Government of the left should adopt such a progressive approach.

My constituents are particularly looking forward to improved public transport, including the Railways Bill, which I hope will help Merseyrail to extend the electrification of our local network. The proposed tram link between Kirkby and Liverpool city centre will also be of enormous benefit to the travelling public. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) is sitting next to me, and we are both also looking forward to the second Mersey crossing.

Many of my constituents work in hazardous occupations, and some have died or been injured as a result of inadequate health and safety in the workplace. Tragically, members of the public have also lost their lives or been injured as a result of the negligence of those responsible for their safety. For those reasons, I am very pleased that the Government are to introduce a Bill to create a new offence of corporate manslaughter.
23 Nov 2004 : Column 10

Road safety is an important issue, and I am particularly pleased that the Road Safety Bill has been proposed in the Queen's Speech, especially as my daughter, Siân, passed her driving test this morning. I shall leave hon. Members to imagine what that could mean.

I hope that as much as possible of this ambitious programme can be put in place before the general election. For my own part, I am anxious to avoid repeating a mistake I made in a previous general election campaign. On the Saturday evening before polling day, I unwisely agreed to go on a tour of the many social clubs in my constituency, arriving at the piano bar of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos club as my last port of call. I was asked by the club compere to take the stage and sing a song. Emboldened by several pints of bitter, I thought, "Why not?" Unaccountably, I decided to give a rendition of "Some Enchanted Evening". Having managed to get through it, I proudly headed to the back of the club where my agent, Mike Murphy, was standing. I approached him, poised to receive his admiring congratulations. "That," he said, "was worth a thousand votes—but not for you." On the basis of the measures in this Address, however, I confidently expect to have a better song to sing at the next general election, and I warmly commend the Queen's Speech to the House.

2.49 pm

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