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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to Jim Marshall, who had a distinguished record as a Member of this House for almost 30 years. His sudden death last May shocked us all. Principled and independent-minded, he voted for what he believed in, and he did so without the fanfare of publicity. Honourable in every sense of the word, he was highly respected by friends and political opponents alike. Westminster is poorer for his absence. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
I warmly congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) has many claims to fame. He was once a Home Office Ministeralmost always a good sign. He is a racing manalways a good sign. Best of all, he is a keen supporter of Liverpool football club. I fought two elections in Liverpool, so between us we have fought seven and won fivea record that our football team would be pretty happy with just at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman is also an adviser to William Hill, so I hope that he can explain something that I found on its website today. Under "Political Bets" is a
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section headed "Peter Mandelson Specials". The bet is that Peter Mandelson will not last the full term. The odds are 4:1 and I am told that the Chancellor has filled his boots. [Laughter.] I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the characteristic warmth, eloquence and sincerity with which he addressed us today. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) spoke with the wit and humour that we have come to expect of her, despite her short time in Parliament. She demonstrates her commitment to Westminster not only with words but with action, as she reminded us this afternoon. She has not only completed a Westminster mile, run in aid of Sport Relief, but has been on the winning side in the ladies' tug of war. She has given us tantalising glimpses this afternoon of her exploits on the tennis court and elsewhere.
The hon. Lady has shown great loyalty to her party, as she pointed out. She has played her full part in Labour's big conversation and remains one of its most enthusiastic supporters. In fact, such is her commitment to the big conversation that she suggests on her website that it should now be renamed "Still talking". The hon. Lady has put her party's approach to politics in a nutshell, and I am sure that she has a very bright future.
Before I examine the Gracious Speech in detail, I shall deal with certain matters that do not fall directly within the remit of the Government's legislative programme. The next few days could determine whether devolved government is restored to Northern Ireland this side of the general election. Like the Prime Minister, I certainly hope that it will be, but we must establish some clear ground rules before political parties that have links to paramilitary organisations can take part in government. All paramilitary activity must stop. All illegal weapons must be decommissioned. All parties must give their support to the police and all sides must back the principle of consent.
The elections in Iraq, planned for January, will introduce the principle of consent in that country as well. Although they pose real challenges, we welcome them. I pay particular tribute to the courage and dedication of the many British servicemen and women serving with such great distinction in Iraq today.
Opposition Members support the principles behind some Bills in the Gracious Speech, though we will doubtless have constructive suggestions about how they can be improved. However, there are a number of omissions from the Gracious Speech. There will be a Bill to give effect to the constitutional treaty for the European Union. Apparently, it will provide for a referendum, but there is no date. The Prime Minister said that he would stand up for Britain's interests in Europe, but as his own former economic adviser has admitted, the Prime Minister's approach to the constitution has been "gutless". That adviser said of the British Government:
"First, it opposed a written constitution and then it put forward its own draft, which was treated with contempt. Then there was all that nonsense about 'tidying-up'. There was no strategic thinking."
The Prime Minister promised to give leadership in Europe, so why can he not give a lead? Why is he waiting for the rest of Europe? Why is he content simply to follow? Why can we not have a date for the referendum?
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"We have moved beyond the sterile debate between wholesale privatisation and old-style state control. There is a different way. A third way . . . That's what we're doing with the . . . Strategic Rail Authority."
by 2008. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) wanted to know how that was going, so he wrote to the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce, who everyone knows is a stickler for the truth. The Minister wrote back to say:
While we welcome some of the individual proposals in the Gracious Speech, the overall reaction to iteven, I suspect, on the Government sidewill be, "Haven't we heard it all before?" Today the Prime Minister says that he wants security and opportunity. Yet that same Prime Minister has already promised us "the decent society", "the creative economy", "a stakeholder economy", "a new age", "a new age of achievement", "the giving age" and "the age of challenge". No doubt he will soon be telling us that this is no time for soundbites. What the country wants to know is when he will deliver. The year 1998 was the post-euphoria, pre-delivery year and 1999 supposedly the year of delivery, but that clearly did not work because 2001 became the instruction to deliver year. That was not a great success either, so 2003 was christened the poised to deliver year. So what is it this year: is it the year of delivery, the year of achievement or are we just simply poised for the achievement of delivery?
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry can shed some light on that issue. After all, she was the one who criticised the Government last year for their lack of delivery. That was a bit rich coming from her. She spent last year lecturing people about the need to save energy. As she says, why pay more than we need to? Yet two nights ago, her Department was lit up like a Christmas tree. When asked why, her spokesman helpfully explained by saying that the lights were either on or off. He is clearly going to go far in this Government.
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Mr. Howard: Today, we can all predict what the tune will be: "Give me just a little more time". If it took Winston Churchill five years to win the second world war and Clement Attlee six years to build the welfare state, surely seven and a half years is more than enough for this Prime Minister to get a grip on the problems that face Britain today.
"In a year or so we're going to have an election . . . when people will say we've 'paid a lot of taxes but what has really been achieved with all that money?' . . . Too often a lot of money has been spent. But very little seems to have been achieved".
Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. So now it is official: even Ministers know that the Government have not delivered. They know that it is all talk.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): In my area, unemployment rose by some 20 per cent. when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a Minister. He has told us that he will sack Ministers who do not deliver. How would he react to his Employment Ministers putting a million on to the jobless figures? Would he sack them?
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