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Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Gill) on his maiden speech, which is a great occasion for any hon. Member. I made mine on the rate-capping Bill, and I followed Sir Edward Heath, so the House was packed. Sadly, the House is seldom packed these days. As I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech, I felt jealous when he said that he now represents the area in which he was born. I was born in West Ham, and fought that seat in 1979. If I had won then, that would have been the end of the Labour party. Although that may be a nice thought for me, I am sad to say that it did not happen.
Like many hon. Members, I visited Leicester, South during the by-election campaign. I know that the hon. Member for Leicester, South faces a number of challenges locally and I wish him well with them. He spoke with great knowledge and fluency today about his constituency, and I wish him well as a Member of this House.
A naive observer might say that today's Gracious Speech was wonderful, and that it was going to cure all the country's ills. However, not all of us are so naive. Today's Gracious Speech was not delivered after a Government election victory. We are now in the eighth year of this rotten Government. In that time, crime has become completely out of control, our hospitals are not as clean as we would want them, our immigration system is a shambles, school discipline has broken down, taxes have gone up 66 times, and people are not getting value for money.
The Prime Minister has said that he wants to make the country more secure, yet a missile was thrown at him in this very Chamber and people have run on to the Floor of the House. That never happened before, but it has happened under a Government who say that they want to make the country more secure.
The Prime Minister made his name as shadow Home Secretary by telling everyone that he would be tough on crime, yet there are a million violent crimes a year now. He said that he would save the NHS, but 5,000 people die in hospital from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. He did not forecast that when he was running for election in 1997.
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The Prime Minister said that he would make sure that the immigration system was firm and fair, but it is an absolute shambles. He has also said that our armed forces are a vital part of Britain's standing in the world, but he wants to cut their number. I do not understand how he thinks that that will make the country more secure.
Labour said that it would be tough on crime and its causes, but police officers spend almost half their time at their desks filling in forms. They have to fill in even more forms when they actually stop someone. They spend more time filling in forms than they do fighting crime on the streets.
The Government said that they were going to control immigration and that the policy would be fairer, faster and firmer. However, only one failed asylum seeker in five is removed from the country these days.
The Prime Minister said that he would improve the NHS. However, he did not tell people that they would be in danger, while they were waiting in hospital for an operation, of contracting an illness that would kill them. That happened to 5,000 people last year.
Finally, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to make the country more secure by building up our armed forces. How on earth can he stand at the Dispatch Box, as he did earlier today, when 2,500 infantry personnel are to be cut and six warships are to be lost from the Royal Navy? In addition, the number of ready-to-go fast jet aircraft is to be cut to only 84. People should examine the Gracious Speech very closely, as it is a sham, and mere gesture politics.
The Government have let it be known that there will be an election in May, so we need not have bothered with a Queen's Speech today. The House will adjourn in April, so there will not be time to get any of the 32 Bills that have been announced on to the statute book, even if the Opposition supported them.
Nothing that the Government have done convinces me that they are capable of reforming public services in a way that will provide more security and opportunity for anyone. The speech goes on to say that the Government
Like all Conservatives, I believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to make the most of his or her God-given talents. Under this Government, parental choice has gone out of the windowparents cannot send their children to the school of their choice. How can the Government square their aim of giving opportunity to all with their introduction of tuition fees? They said that they were not going to introduce those fees, but they will be a chain around students' necks for decades to come.
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We are told that the Government will introduce legislation to increase security for all, and I wish them well with that. I do not know what the answer to terrorism is. The climate today is that a person is willing to sacrifice his or her own life in order to kill others. What is the deterrent against that? Again, and in the light of what they have done since 1997, I say that I have absolutely no faith that the Government have any clue about how to deal with security.
On identity cards, I was the first Member of this House to introduce a ten-minute Bill on this matter, and I am sick to death of just talking about it. Everyone has a birth certificate and a death certificate, so why should we not have a life certificate? It is absolute nonsense to say that such cards are a threat to our human rights. The sooner identity cards are introduced, the better. We should get on with it and not just talk about it.
The Gracious Speech also says that the powers of the police and others to fight crime will be strengthened. For goodness' sake! We are to have eight Home Office Bills. When the Conservatives came to power in 1979, police morale was rock bottom, and the very first thing we did was to introduce the Edmund-Davies report, which restored morale. It is a waste of time introducing more laws that will not be enforced. The problem is one of management. Far too many excellent officers take early retirement because they are stressed or for other reasons. That leaves us a police force that simply does not have the experience it needs. It is no good all officers being young. We are all on life's journey, and we need a mix of ages, common sense and proper training for the police. Having special constables walking around in exactly the same uniforms as properly trained police officers, pretending to the general public that they are the same, is absolutely ridiculous. The management of our police force needs to be dealt with, and we need to restore morale.
The Government tell us that they are going to deal with drug abuse. Yet they are the Government who say it is all right to take cannabis. All Member of Parliament have people come to their constituency surgeries to tell them their problems, and I have at least half a dozen constituents who have been completely messed up and who suffer severe mental health problems from taking cannabis. It is absolutely ridiculous for any Member of Parliament to say that it is all right to take cannabis and that it does not damage health. It is a disgrace, and when we have a Conservative Government I hope that they will change all that.
We are told that the Government will tackle the disorder and violence that can arise from the abuse of alcohol. Yet they are the same Government who are making it so easy to have alcohol. It is served everywhere. They are the same Government who have changed the licensing laws, yet they have the brass-necked cheek, in their gesture politics, to tell us they are going to be tough on alcohol abuse.
I am delighted that there will be a Bill to help to reduce further the number of those killed or injured on the roads. However, Essex Members of Parliament know that out of all the country's constabulary areas, ours has raised the most from speed cameras. It is all
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very well the Government legislating further, but a 19-year-old constituent of mine, Jo Martinson, was killed when driving her car. Her parents will never get over it. The person responsible for the accident had one eye and was driving a vehicle with no insurance, no MOT and faulty tyres. Because of a complete mess-up with the timing of the prosecution, by one week, the only thing that has been done to that person is the imposition of a £60 fine. I do not think that the life of a 19-year-old is worth only £60. It is all very well the Government telling us they will introduce road safety measures, but my experience in Southend, West has been somewhat disappointing.
I am delighted that the Government will introduce measures to deal with consumer credit. What goes on now is an absolute rip-off, given the amount of interest that the credit card companies charge. I welcome the Government's proposals and will support them in all their endeavours to deal with that unfair market.
I would have been delighted to see something in the Gracious Speech about our airlines. I was a Member of this House when we privatised British Airways under the leadership of Lord King. That was one of the finest things we ever did, but anyone who travels on British Airways now will find it an absolute joke. It is a cross between Easyjet and Ryanair. Services in British Airways, which has a monopoly, have gone down and down. I hope the Government will address that.
We are told that the Government will introduce a Bill to improve standards of animal welfare and increase the penalties for abuse. I have a consistent record of supporting animal welfare legislation, and I certainly support the Government's endeavours in that regard. No doubt as we rush towards the general election we will be able to get all-party agreement. I will be introducing a 10-minute Bill, inspired by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to amend the Fireworks Act 2003, because the noise from fireworks this year was frankly out of control and resulted in the deaths of any number of animals.
I am disappointed that the Gracious Speech contained nothing to do with mobile telephones, given that all Members make speeches about them and say that the current policy on masts is shocking. I introduced a 10-minute Bill, the Telecommunications Masts (Need and Safety) Bill, which would have put the onus on operators to prove that there was no danger to health and a need for a mast to be put in place. I was given the impression that the Government would legislate on that, but there was absolutely nothing in the Queen's Speech.
While we are talking about mobile phones, and gesture politics, I should say that it is a criminal offence to use a mobile phone while driving. Yet, right now, thousands and thousands of cars will contain people on their mobile phones. Nothing at all is done to enforce that law.
We are told that health is a priority for the Government, but unless I missed it, there is not one health Bill in the Queen's Speech. Following the Government's White Paper, the very least we expected was a public health Bill. The report of the Select Committee on Health on obesity was excellent, but treating that is not a short-term project. We are into that for 20 years. It will be all very well messing about with
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the Olympic bid for 2012, when everyone will be running, jumping and hopping, and there will be more physical activity. People do not die if they do not engage in physical recreation, but they do die if they do not eat and drink. We must tackle the fat, sugar and salt put into what we eat and drink.
There will be legislation concerning lotteries. Wow! That is excellent news in Southend, West. I was one of those who very much supported the Conservative Government who introduced the national lottery. Yet in the last 10 years, my constituency has received a total of £1,480,442, which puts us third from bottom among the 659 parliamentary constituencies. We certainly are not the third wealthiest constituency in the country. When I raise the point, I am told that there are not enough bids and the quality is not what it should be. I do not believe that for a moment.
I note from the Gracious Speech that the Government will reduce bureaucracy. That is laughable. The Deputy Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box last week, with no grace at all, to talk about the referendum that had been held. Some 80 per cent. voted no, and 20 per cent. voted yes. That referendum cost the British people £10 million. Did the Deputy Prime Minister say he would stop all that nonsense? He did not. The East of England regional assembly was awarded £2,974,000 so that that absolute nonsense can continue.
I also note that the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise will be joined together. I hope to goodness that the Government do not intend to affect the jobs of people working at Portcullis house in Southend. That is the biggest employer in the town, and the people do an absolutely magnificent job. Under no circumstances do I want any jobs cut there.
I will do everything I can to secure the election of a Conservative Government, a Government who will restore decency to this country, a Government who will put this country back together, and a Government who will make Britain great again.
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