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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): It is my pleasant duty as well to commence by paying tribute to the first two speakers of this afternoon's debate. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) entertained us with comments on his illustrious predecessors from his neck of the woodswell, some of them were illustrious. The one who was not was the one whom I used to sit beside on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench not that many years ago, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows whom I am referring to.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East recounted Harold Wilson's ability to deal with the awkward question. My favourite in that department is the time when The Daily Express was characteristically giving the Labour Government a hard time of it and Jean Rook, the self-styled first lady of Fleet street, was sent round to No. 10 for an early-evening dram with Harold. He poured her a drink, got the pipe out and said, "In your own time, Jean." She said, "Prime Minister Wilson, is it true that whenever you are asked a tough, awkward or difficult question that puts you on the spot and you don't want to answer, you always respond by means of a question?" Wilson thought, took the pipe out of his mouth and said, "Now who told you that, Jean?"
As these exchanges will not be televised until after the watershed, I can say that we found the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) a fascinating lifting of the veil over the workings of the Labour Whips Office. If that is not an incentive for many of us to aspire all the more to the trappings of office, I do not know what is.
It is a sad task to pay tribute to a colleague who, alas, is no longer with us. He was a friend and somebody I very much liked and respecteda good European and a good internationalist, the late Jim Marshall. We shall miss him a lot, not least given the debates that have been so predominant since his passing, and the many European debates that lie ahead, to which the Queen's Speech refers. In that context, I know that Jim's
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successor in Leicester, South is anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later this afternoon. My parliamentary colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Gill), may hope to contribute to this debate in his maiden speech.
The other two parliamentary by-elections that have taken place since the previous Queen's Speech were thankfully not due to bereavement. Terry Davis is going to the Council of Europe, where we wish him well in his new office and responsibilities. Peter Mandelson has moved on to the EU Commission, and we wish him well also. In respect of a Queen's Speech that is dominated by Home Office concerns and law and order, both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has, alas, left the Chamber, and the constabulary generally would describe Peter's departure, given his weekend interviews and subsequent comments, as a classic case of "He's gone to Europe, but by God, he has not gone quietly." It does not look as though he will remain quiet on these matters either, which will keep many of us outside the Labour party entertained, even given his further distance.
The Clerks in the Table Office have advised us that an amendment that we have tabled, but which will be moved more formally next week, is in order. I shall allude to it, if I may, by way of a description for the House, since it will not appear in printed form until tomorrow. Our reasoned amendment refers to the factit is unusual in this respectthat the Gracious Speech
"contains no commitment to introduce legislation to clarify the responsibility of the Prime Minister to Parliament, particularly in relation to prerogative powers and the role of Parliament in matters of war and peace, and calls for a special Select Committee of the House to consider these matters."
I am not revisiting all the background and arguments that lie behind this issue, which we have been over many times before. We want the House to have an opportunity to vote, as it will next week, for a Select Committee to look at that matter.
The reason for making this somewhat unusual move and for drawing attention to it at the outset is that that vote will be a genuine opportunity to invite cross-party support in the Division Lobby next week because of the remarkable series of Parliament-orientated events arising from Iraq that have coloured our proceedings regarding the role of Prime Minister and the relationship to the House of Commons. From within the House, there have been the reports from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Select Committee on Public Accounts and the National Audit Office. We have also had Hutton and Butler, and more recently, the Iraq survey group.
On Butler and his highlighting of the methods of prime ministerial and Cabinet working and the review that is now in place, to which the Prime Minister referred at the beginning the speech that he made when we debated Butler before the summer recessit deals with working practices and how they could be improved or altered, and their role in the procedures and Committees of this Housewe feel that a genuine issue arises here that Parliament would want to look at for its own good. That is the nub of the reasoned and considered view that we are putting on to the Order Paper, and I hope that it will find broad-based sympathy and can be taken further in this new Session of Parliament, however long it runs.
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The Prime Minister referred in his opening remarks to the continuing heroic work that is being carried out by the British armed forces in Iraq. We certainly pay tribute to that. We have all expressed very grave concerns about some of the images that we have seen coming out of Falluja and about the reality behind them. Perhaps tomorrow's instalment of the Queen's Speech debate will be a more appropriate occasion for more detailed exchanges on these matters. With regard to the announcement of the 30 January scheduled elections, which is welcome, we would like to see to what extent the conduct of what happened in Falluja and the implications that flow from it will be assessed in terms of the processing and moving forward of that democratic ballot.
I am not sure whose opportunity the drafters of that sentence had in mind. It reads like one of thosewe can all suffer from themthat has been through too many committees and has lost the je ne sais quoi that was sought at the outset. Nevertheless, as we have seen since yesterday evening's reports of the thwarted attack planned against Canary wharf, this is a serious issue that requires a serious response. We must always bear it in mind that the security services have to get it right every time, but the terrorist has only to get lucky once. That has to be weighed in the balance every time.
I do not share the scepticism that some have expressed at the coincidence of that report's coming into the public domain at the same time as today's Queen's Speech. However, it is interesting to note that, because of all that has gone before, the instinctive response of many members of the public to what the Government tell them about such matters is somewhat sceptical, to say the least. In this case, I regret that, because I do not, for a whole variety of reasons, believe that the Government orchestrated this in any way. The public response is indicative of the problem that will underlie many of the debates on such fundamental matters of life and death that will take place on the Queen's Speech and subsequently, presumably, into a general election.
The real danger is that terrorism and security measures are being conflated in the public's mind with issues of domestic crime and disorder. Indeed, there are those who for their own, rather disreputable ends would be only too eager and happy for asylum and immigration to be mixed into that elixir as well. As we know, asylum and immigration are themselves distinct issues that get conflated, but when they are poured with domestic law and order issues into the turmoil that can be created in the public's mind by those with an agenda of their own involving international insecurities, the debate can become very febrile and damaging for the fabric of society as a whole. Those of us in Parliament, as well as the political combatants if the debate plays into a general election, must to try to keep above those arguments and to resist such temptations.
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I want to explain the Liberal Democrats' approach, in terms of broad principle, to the Queen's Speech, with the proviso that we will not yet see certain measures relating to matters that are still before the courtsfor example, the continuing appeals concerning the Belmarsh detainees, the outcome of which will have a significant and fundamental influence on what the Home Secretary may decide into next year.
We will make the case, vigorously and on several fronts, against the introduction of identity cards. First, there is the question of cost. If asked, the public would say that they would prefer the £3 billion that has been allocated to be given to the priority of ensuring more visible policing on the streets of their communities.
Secondly, as we heard during last week's exchanges in Prime Minister's questions, terrible complexities have recently been experienced in the computerisation of the Child Support Agency. For that, in days gone by, read the Department of Health and the Inland Revenueand so it goes on. The public have little confidenceand we do not share the Government's confidencethat a computerisation of the complexity that would be required for a national ID system could, if it bears any relation to the haphazard and hellish track record on these matters, in any sense be relied on.
Thirdly, of course, we must remember that identity cards did not prevent depraved individuals from carrying out terrorist assaults in Madrid and New York. We should not, therefore, allow the argument to develop that ID cards would be a fundamental failsafe against such an attack, particularly a suicide attack. A further issue is that, even according to the Home Secretary's own interpretation, these proposals would not kick in during this Parliament, even if it were to run for its entire five-year length.
Those are the practical and principled objections that we shall make to the introduction of identity cards on a voluntary, then a compulsory, basis. We shall work not only with our own party colleagues but, I hope, with colleagues in other political parties in this House and the House of Lords, and I still hope that we shall be able to thwart the proposed legislation.
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