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Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is painting a very bleak picture of what some of our emergency services have to deal with, and to a certain extent I agree with him. I know only too well of instances of ambulances arriving at a public house where there has been an incident and of ambulance officers being attacked by people on the licensed premises. There seems to have been a breakdown in society. Can the hon. Gentleman point to a time when he believes that that breakdown began? Has it occurred in the past two or three years, or over the past 10, 15 or 20 years?
Chris Grayling: I know what the hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to say. I could pick 1997 as an obvious time when the decline started. He would no doubt try to claim that it began in 1979. I think that it has been a trend over the past 40 or 50 years, and it is accelerating. The level of respect in our society is decreasing and the likelihood of people stepping outside conventional, legal, law-abiding behaviour is increasing as time goes by, and we must address that.
Hon. Members who have talked about the need for a broad range of solutions and for different agencies to work together to bring different ideas to bear on the problem are all absolutely right. There is no single solution, but if we do not deliver proper policing and stop people in their tracks when they commit illegal acts, acts of disorder and antisocial behaviour, they will realise that there is no sanction and they will offend and reoffend. That must stop.
Let us take the example of Manchester. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that there has been much coverage about the lack of officers available in
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Manchester city centre on a Saturday night. There are perhaps a dozen trying to control all the pubs and clubs in central Manchester, and that cannot be right. We must get more officers on the streets, tackling the issues up front. We must be tougher and not let people get away with such behaviour.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman makes a point about lack of police officers, but does he not believe that there is a duty on licensees to do something about the activities on their premises? I am not about to condemn young people en masse, but I hope that he and other hon. Members agree that in today's society young people go out with the sole intentionperhaps this should not come from a Scotof drinking until they fall down. What enjoyment there is in that I do not know, but that is the society in which we are living and, as today's Queen's Speech says, something must be done.
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is right. As I said a moment ago, the problem does not have a single solution. Active and proactive participation from all those involved is required; licensees clearly have a role to play in reducing antisocial behaviour. None the less, where there is trouble, illegality and disorder, the police are too often unable to do anything about it. A couple of years ago, there was a large illegal rave involving 2,000 or 3,000 people just outside my constituency. As the event started to build, 12 officers were available in the local station in Kingston. They said that there was nothing that they could do, so the event built up and became a major public order problem. We simply do not have enough officers to deal with problems when they arise.
None of these problems will be solved by a raft of new legislation or increased bureaucracyby Metropolitan police officers having to fill in forms every time they stop someone on the streets. I wait patiently, but probably fruitlessly, for the Government to realise that we will reduce crime only if we put the police back into pole positionif we give them real power again, trust them with the job and get them out of police stations and back on to the streets to do the job that we need them to do: fair but tough policing of such problems.
If ever there were a symbol of a Government whose transport policy has been in chaos, continues to be in chaos and will be in chaos until we can finally get rid of them, it is the railways Bill. To hear all the noises that the Government have made in recent months, one would think that the Strategic Rail Authority was a Tory creation. It was the Government's great answer to the problems of the railways. "The terrible Tories", they said, "have privatised the railways and caused chaos. Our Strategic Rail Authority will solve the problem." Three or four years later, the Government have discovered that it does not work. Sadly, I have no confidence that the alternative announced today will do any better. We are seeing the creeping renationalisation of the railways. Many responsibilities for the management of the network are being passed to Network Rail, which is a creature of Government. The remainder are being passed back to the Department for Transport. Step by step, the Government are taking back control of the railways.
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Sadly, all of that misses the point. What is wrong with our rail network is that it is over-congested. There are more passengers on our railways today than before the Beeching cuts were made to a much larger rail network. I travel into Waterloo in the mornings, and it would not matter who owned or controlled the railways, because there are too many trains chasing too few slots, too few platforms and too little space at key junctions. It is not about ownership or control, but about measures to alleviate congestion.
One tragedy of the past few years was that the SRA produced a clear strategy to address some of the pinch points on the network, including on the routes through my constituency, but within a few months of those ideas being put forward the Government shelved them all. All around the country there are opportunities to ease congestion that this Government have passed by. That is a great loss. When Labour loses office, people will look back on transport policy as one of its great failings.
That really means that the Government will charge substantially higher fees to those in our colleges who study at level 3 and above and who are over the age of 19. That is top-up fees mark II. If one reads the documentation behind the proposed measure, one sees great commonality between what the Government said about top-up fees and what they are now saying about the new proposal. They are saying that people who get higher qualifications earn a premium in their professional and working lives, so they should contribute more to the education that they receive. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who is no longer in his place, talked about his experience of coming to qualifications slightly later in life than many people. Somebody who leaves school at 16 having failed in their exams, goes back to college immediately to try again and works their way through level 1 and level 2 qualifications will probably be 19 before they set about obtaining a level 3 qualification. Such a person will now be charged a 50 per cent. higher fee.
Across the further education sector, there will be examples of people who are trying to broaden their skills and to move themselves to the next stage professionally, but who will lose out significantly. Such people may be deterred by the measure, which is not about deferred fee payments in further education; it is about money up front, paid by the students, many of whom will turn away from education and training as a result. For all the Government's great words about commitment to broadening educational access to all, the measure is a retrograde step that they will come to regret.
That measure features in a Queen's Speech that is disappointing, will not make a difference but useful for the Government in generating headlines. Good
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government is actually about doing the right things, and not just about public relations spin to try to win elections. What is lacking in this Government is substance and action that deliver real results and change. I hope that, when we come to vote next year, the people of this country will understand that and vote for the change that they really needa change of Government.
The Government are very keen on warnings. There are new health warnings on cigarettes, and there are to be wealth warnings on credit card statements. I think that there should be a label displaying a clear warning at the bottom of Queen's Speeches. Today's speech was something of a deception. By my reckoning, at least two thirds of the Bills will never become Acts. Worse, there are phrases in the Queen's Speech that are a sham:
Let us be clear about that. The constitutional legislation introduced last year is not going on to the statute book this year, and I very much doubt that it will do so in any year. Even more disgracefully, we were told:
Those measures are updating legislation that is now 20 years old. More than four years ago, the then Secretary of State for Health promised me that it was a Government priority, but it is still at the stage of pre-legislative scrutiny. That is simply not good enough for a Government who were committed to introducing them.
There is always something to welcome in any Queen's Speech. I particularly welcome the measures on animal welfare and against animal welfare extremism, which are very important. I also welcome the Bill to merge the Inland Revenue and Customs. I do so on behalf of the Select Committee on the Treasury, which recommended such action almost five years ago. I have to tell the House that the Government then turned down our recommendation, and it is only now, some four and half years later and after the O'Donnell review, that it has finally been accepted.
The Treasury Committee reported on the O'Donnell review as well, and I hope that the Bill that is introduced to complete the merger takes account of our two major concerns. First, we were concerned that merging two very large organisations with very different cultures should not put at risk the collection of the revenue and the service that individual and business taxpayers deserve to receive. Secondly, confidentiality should be protected and indeed enhanced in statute. That is all the more important because the two departments and their policy-making arms are now being moved into the Treasury building itself, and the arm's length relationship that should exist between Treasury Ministers and Revenue officials may become all the more suspect when they are sharing the same corridor, building or cafeteria. I hope that those two reservations or concerns will be taken into account when the Bill is introduced.
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I also noticeit is possible that the Deputy Leader of the House can help me on thisno reference anywhere in the Queen's Speech to legislation to reform statistics. The way in which this Government have treated statistics is nothing short of disgraceful. First, they promised a statutory framework to make statistics truly independent of Government. Having spent four years producing the code of practice, they have welched on that responsibility and not introduced the necessary legislation. That is all the more important when national statistics and the national statistician are being dragged into the political arena because the Government have set themselves all these different targets and have then expected statistics to be thrown up to measure their achievement or otherwise.
It is all the more important that we put the Office for National Statistics on a basis that is truly independent of Government. At the moment, its staffing and resourcing, as well as, indeed, the staffing and resourcing of the body that supervises national statistics, the Statistics Commission, depend on the Treasury budget. The national statistician and the ONS are still responsible to a Treasury Minister. That is not good enough in a modern democracy, and we should legislate soon to give ourselves the independent department of statistics and independent office of the national statistician that other modern democracies have.
As some of my hon. Friends have said, the Government are still flailing around improving security and public behaviour. We spend weeks in this building debating banning smacking, smoking and hunting, and suddenly the Government wake up and realise that, with an election coming, they have to deal properly with terrorism and yob culture. If these terrorism Bills are now so necessary, why has it taken the Government three years after September 2001 to tighten our security? Was it that the original Bills were so badly drafted that new offences have suddenly proved necessary? Why, three years after that dreadful act, are the Government still flailing around trying to come up with the right legislative response? On antisocial behaviour, why is this now their third attempt to improve the legislation to give the police and local authorities the powers that they really need to crack down on such behaviour? I do not think that that is good enough.
My priorities for this Queen's Speech would have been very different indeed. If the Government really wanted to help communities such as the villages in Sevenoaks, I can tell the Deputy Leader of the House exactly what he should have been proposing. He should have been doing something about the planning rules that Travellers continually ride roughshod over in my villagesin West Kingsdown, Halstead, Crockenhill and Hextable. All we are promised is yet another review. Instead of another review, there should be action.
First, there should be a presumption against retrospective planning in the green belt or areas of outstanding natural beauty. Why should Travellers or those who act on their behalf for very distinct commercial purposes be allowed to apply for retrospective planning permission that they know should not be granted?
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