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Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I congratulate the Prime Minister on his party's re-election. I want to ask him about another area of public investment. He supports choice and diversity in policy on health and education. Will he apply the same approach to local councils and local council housing so that councils that want to keep council housing can do so and council tenants who want to stay council tenants can choose to do so too?
The Prime Minister: Surely, the whole point is that we are allowing the tenants themselves to choose. Some of them have chosen to make the changes because they think that they will receive a better service.
As for child care, there will be a duty on local authorities to provide extended child care between 8 am and 6 pm for children aged three to 14. Sure Start will be expanded. Let us remember that, when we came to office, child benefit had been frozen, there was no working families tax credit, maternity pay was £55 a week and paid maternity leave was only 14 weeks. Now, child benefit is up by 25 per cent. in real terms, the child tax credit benefits millions of families in this country and maternity pay is more than double what it was. Maternity leave is 26 weeks, it will be increased to nine months and, in time, to one year. That is a Labour Government delivering for the people of this country.
There is, however, a need to make further reforms to our welfare system. A total of 1.2 million people have been helped through the new deal, including lone parents, young people and disabled people. I believe that the new deal has worked well for the people of this country. I remember that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley and I were first campaigning, people used to talk about skivvy schemes. They used to talk about young people being taken off the dole, given a programme for a short period and then being put back on the dole. No one describes the new deal like that, and I urge both Opposition parties to drop their rejection of it. It is a good programme delivering real opportunities to people who need them, and it should have received our wholehearted support in the House.
Reform of the public services and the welfare state is one theme of the Queen's Speech. Another focus is on continuing to cut crime, the fear of crime and, in particular, antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour measures have been built up over several years and, in many cases, work well. I remind the House that there have been over 90,000 fixed penalty notices and 4,000 antisocial behaviour orders. Hundreds of houses used by drug dealers have been shut and millions of pounds of their assets have been seized. There are an extra 13,000 police and 5,000 community support officers. The new legislation will crack down on imitation firearms and target knife crime and binge drinking. It will tighten antisocial behaviour laws and give the police new powers to tackle drug dealing. In addition to the record numbers of police, there will be a
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further 20,000 community support officers. When we first introduced CSOs, they were a bone of contention in the House and were opposed by many hon. Members. Again, I hope that all parties now accept the contribution that they make and will support them.
The Prime Minister: We have asked for advice from the misuse of drugs professional panel, and we expect to receive it in the next couple of weeks. If it advises us to change that decision, we will do so. If it does not, we will obviously have to consider that. However, I believe that the most important thing that we can do is to support the measures that we have already introduced on crime and drugs and the measures that we are going to introduce on violent crime. I hope that we will receive the support of people such as the hon. Gentleman and, for once, the Liberal Democrats on tough measures to deal with crime.
In addition, we will continue to invest in our young people, who need places to go and things to do. We will expand the youth service, sport in schools, Sure Start and the inner city new deal. Let us be clear, howeverwe can, and will, put a visible uniformed presence back on our streets. People want that visible uniformed presence on our streets. We can and will give the police new powers. We can invest more in our young people, but bringing a proper sense of respect and responsibility to others is not the job of Government and Parliament alone. Parents, local communities and local people must join law makers and law enforcers to make a difference. I believe that we all know what we want in the House. It is completely unacceptable that law-abiding people should be in fear of a lawless minority. It is time to reclaim the streets for the decent majority, and all of us in Parliament and in the country should work to that end.
Today's asylum figures show how much progress has been made in sorting out the system. The number of monthly applications is now at its lowest level since March 1997, but there is much more to do. New immigration laws will strengthen our protection against abuse while protecting our country's deserved reputation as a place of tolerance and help for those in need. Measures taken alreadyfor example, in respect of bogus marriages and non-existent student collegesare yielding results. The points system for working and tougher penalties for illegal trafficking in people will also help. However, I reject quotas for asylum or immigration. In the case of asylum, they are unfair. In the case of immigration, they are unworkable. Not once during the election campaign could the Conservatives properly explain how they would work.
Long term, the solution is identity cards. By 2008, we will need to have biometric passports because of the United States and the European Union moving towards biometric visa requirements. In addition, we need ID cards as soon as possible for foreign nationals entering Britain on more than a short-term visa. Any ID card scheme will take time to set up. It is essential that we begin now. It is a manifesto commitment and we will honour it. I urge other parties to think carefully before opposing what is necessary for our security, to combat
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fraud and to tackle illegal immigration, and a measure that the new technology makes the obvious policy for security in the times in which we live.
This is a busy legislative programme focused absolutely on the priorities set by the British people. Other issues include reform of the fraud laws, measures to combat the compensation culture, a Bill outlawing incitement to religious hatred in the same way as racial hatred is dealt with, regulatory reform, the new EU accession Bill and the new equality commission. Of course, if we are successful in our bid to host the 2012 Olympics, a Bill to ensure that that happens will be brought before the House, and I am sure that it will have the support of the whole House.
The Queen's Speech protects traditional universal public services free at the point of use, but insists that with the extra investment must come the modernisation that today's patients, parents and pupils demand. It provides for a welfare state that helps those in need, but insists that those who can work do so. It takes forward the agenda on law and order that has seen antisocial behaviour legislation introduced and more police and community support officers and it sends a clear signal that we want a modern society in Britain free from the old prejudices, but with the rules, order and proper respect due to each other as equal citizens. It enables us to have the immigration that our economy needs, but properly controlled with a system that is fair and compassionate.
Compare Britain in 1997 and Britain in 2005our economy stronger and 2 million more jobs, our public services improving, crime falling, poverty cut and opportunity increased. If we use our presidency of the G8 in the right way, we can help to make poverty history in Africa. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe that we should always pay tribute to and support our armed forces wherever they are in the world and most particularly now in Iraq. There is a lot to do, but much progress has been made in the past eight years. The Queen's Speech shows the Government's renewed energy, purpose and ambition to build on the achievements so far and to move faster and further in the direction that the country wants, in our public services, in reform of our welfare state and in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour. That is what the country voted for, and I commend it to the House.
It is my pleasure to join in the congratulations to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). Together with the leader of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister, we both joined in the class of '83, and a very good intake it was that year, when we all look back. Through both personal and parliamentary acquaintance over the past 22 years, I know the integrity that the right
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hon. Gentleman has brought to politics. From the evidence that I submitted during the previous Parliament, I also know of his studious, sustained and important work as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I pay warm tribute to him.
In the course of his remarks, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned a new Conservative Member who had been a former opponent of his. It turns out that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who also spoke, was a former Labour opponent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Indeed, my right hon. Friend has pointed out to me that there are now four Members of the House who were former opponents of histwo Labour and two Conservative. We congratulate them. At this general election my right hon. Friend had the unique experience of one of his former Labour opponents from days gone by becoming his defeated Conservative opponent. If we are looking for a barometer of who may or may not move on, or who may move elsewhere completely and still not move on in British politics, Berwick-upon-Tweed is clearly that barometer.
As the Prime Minister made a humorous personal reference to his domestic circumstances, perhaps I might just be allowed one personal word of my own. I say thank you to the Prime Minister, to the Conservative party leader and to the many personal friends from all parties on both sides of the House who, during the course of the campaign, have been so kind and generous privately to my wife and myself with the arrival of our first born.
That was one arrival, but today marks another. This is the biggest intake at a general election in the Liberal tradition in British politics for over 80 yearsand what a welcome arrival it is. It will add to the health and quality of debate in the House in the Parliament ahead. When we look at the plethora of proposed legislation before us and remind ourselves that it was only a few short months ago that the previous comprehensive Queen's speech was introduced, with 37 possible items of legislationmany of which had to be cut short because of the likely date of the election that we had all anticipated, and which most of us knew would never reach the statute bookand also remember that the Government had a three-figure majority before this election, the experience of the past few months makes the case strongly for fixed-term Parliaments to ensure that so much legislative time is not squandered on legislation that then has to be reintroduced, which is exactly what is happening now.
There is another wider reflection that is not just for Liberal Democrats. It has already been a matter of some discussion within both the Labour party and the Conservative party, and quite rightly in the latter case as the party that out-polled the Government in England at this general election. The Government secured only 36 per cent. of the votes cast and a little over a quarter of those able to vote. Surely there is a lesson for us all here, because each and every party now must reflect on the fact that to greater or lesser extents we are competing minorities across the country.
That has one important implication. Since 1947, the House of Lords has operated the Salisbury convention, which recognises that back then, nearly 60 years ago, there was a majority Labour Government but an overwhelmingly Conservative hereditary-dominated
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House of Lords. Hence that convention to respect a mandate from a Government elected in this House, even though they could not command a majority in the other House. It is worth reminding ourselves that compared with this election, in those days the Labour majority in this House was 146, supported by 48 per cent. of the popular vote cast at that election. What a far cry from where we find ourselves today in this Housebut also what a far cry from the position that the Prime Minister has set up in the other House, because now, for the first time in history, Labour is the largest single party in the House of Lords and the hereditary element has rightly been largely eroded and may yet be completely withdrawn.
The Government should not, particularly on bitterly contentious items such as Lords reform and identity cards, fall back on such an inadequate basis of election here to force through that legislation and expect the House of Lords to be acquiescent. It is absolutely ridiculous that this Government should now fall back on a 60-year-old convention relating to absolutely different political circumstances in order to justify the contents of today's Queen's Speech.
The second and related issue is, of course, the voting system itself. I mentioned the experience in England of the Conservatives, but despite out-polling Labour in England they have no representation in any of the major English cities outside London. Is that healthy for the geographical representation of the body politic? The result of this election yet again underlines that first-past-the-post voting in this day and age is a redundant system that belongs to a redundant age of British politics. British society is more fluid and party allegiances are much less fixed, and our society as a whole is more aspirational as a result. Therefore, the time has surely come to revisitas the Prime Minister promised but reneged on when first elected Prime Ministerthe whole issue of voting reform in this country. It is no longer a question, as in days gone by, of just those in the Liberal tradition feeling particularly hard done by; there are now losers in every party and in every part of the country. That is why the duty is surely on us all to look at this issue afresh.
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