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Lembit Opik: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his party on what, by any objective analysis, was an impressive performance in Northern Ireland. However, in the spirit of the Queen's Speech, I am sure that he, like everyone else, wants a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Does he accept that it would be right in principle to have an operational devolved Assembly? If that is the case, is he willing to commit his party to seeking negotiations to see if we can find an accommodation with the key players, accepting the very reasonable point that he made about the unacceptable level of underlying violence that still pertains in the Northern Ireland community?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Before the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) replies, I hope that the length of that question will not set a standard for this Parliament.
Rev. Ian Paisley: The answer is simple. These IRA-Sinn Feiners have had that opportunity over and over again. I said at Leeds castle that my party did not, and will not, talk to terrorists, whether they are on the loyalist or Roman Catholic side of the fence, or are from a Unionist or nationalist background. However, while we were talking with the Prime Minister to try to find a way through, and he was negotiating with them, they were planning the bank robbery. Not only were they planning that but, according to the chief of police, they were carrying out recruitments, were writing up a list of men to be shot, and were planning a series of murders and incendiary attacks. They have had their day. This is not a time for talking, and for more lists of deaths, bombings and burnings. It is a day for action. I dispute with my friend, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Opik), the idea that the people of Northern Ireland want negotiations. When I made my last speech in the previous Parliament he condemned me for not speaking to the IRA. The people have spoken, and they have said, "No more talks. They had their chance, and they didn't take it. Right, let's have democracy." I pray that democracy will prevail, and that the House will go back to basics, saying that democracy will prevail everywhere in the United Kingdom.
I say that with the backing not only of Protestant voters, but of Roman Catholic voters and also voters who want a united Ireland eventually but do not want the IRA-Sinn Fein. The IRA-Sinn Fein have been taken on and soundly dealt with by the people of Northern Ireland, and we must move forward without them. They are locking themselves out of the talks, not us. They made the choice. They said, "It's terrorism for us. We're holding on to our guns." We say democracy must and will prevail.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing an intervention. I am an observer. I do not live in Northern Ireland, although I have some relatives there. We talk about democracy. When another party wins a number of seatsSinn Fein
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has won a number of seats, as minority parties in other parts of the United Kingdom have won seatsthere must clearly be some role for them in the democratic process. I do not talk to Sinn Fein for the same reason as the hon. Gentleman does notone cannot have militarism and democracy side by side. But at what point in the democratic debate will the hon. Gentleman talk to Sinn Fein?
Rev. Ian Paisley: Let me make it clear that IRA members come to the Assembly. I debate in that Assembly. They do not drive me out of the Assembly. If they came to the House, we would not all leave. We would debate. However, there is a difference between debate and taking people into government. The hon. Gentleman would not take the Tories into his Government, and the Tories are good, respectable, law-abiding citizens. The Labour Members of the Government are good citizens as well. I am giving an illustration; I do not want to be misquoted. The hon. Gentleman would not take the Liberals into government, and I would not blame him. All I can say is, "You get me those who are democrats." There are democrats on the nationalist side. We would share power with them. That has always been our position. We have made that clear. We invited the Social Democratic and Labour party to join us in a voluntary coalition to get the Assembly up and running again.
Our position is clear: no terrorists or terrorist organisations. The Prime Minister has told us that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably related. Those are not my words; they are his. The people in the south of Ireland have been telling us. The Minister for Justice has been telling us that the IRA are a lot of vagabonds, rascals and murderers. Then we are asked to share power with them. I will not be sharing power or talking with them. I have nothing to say to them but "Get rid of your guns. Stop your murdering. Prove that you are fit for office before you grab office and force the fact upon us."
I hope that in this Parliament my colleagues will put these matters before the House time and again. I may not see the next Parliament. I might be in a better place, looking down from a higher place, or I might even creep in. I trust that this Parliament will mark the establishment of democracy throughout Northern Ireland in which everyone, whether he be a Jew or a gentile, whether he be a Roman Catholic or a Protestant, whether he be an Orangeman or an Hibernian, will be able to say, "This is our Parliament and our country and we are ruling it within the United Kingdom." That is what I wish for my people.
I wish every one of the people of Northern Ireland the very best. They have done a great thing for me. I came to the House as a lone voice 35 years ago. I did not surrender my principles. I stood by them. I had good elections, I had bad elections, but now we have had the best election ever. There are eight more men and one woman to come after me. We have done excellently, but the work is before us. We must deliver the goods, and I hope the House will help the Ulster people to get the goods that they want. We want the same privileges, the same sort of government and the same democracy as other citizens have, and we are entitled to that as members of this great United Kingdom that we love.
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Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your reappointment as Chairman of Ways and Means. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on winning an historic third successive general election. I should like, too, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) on an excellent maiden speech, and I hope that she will be with us for many years to come representing the people of the Hove constituency.
I consider myself privileged to have been elected as the first Member of Parliament for the new Glasgow, East constituency, following the substantial boundary changes that took place in Scotland at this election when we saw our representation reduced from 72 seats to 59. I should like to place on record my appreciation of the people of Glasgow for their support for me over a number of years, because I was first elected to the House in 1979 for the Shettleston constituency, which is no longer a parliamentary constituency. I should also like to thank all the party members and others who worked so tirelessly on behalf of the Labour party and myself in the election campaign.
During the last eight years, the east end of Glasgow has undergone a renaissance. There have been tremendous improvements in that part of the city, yet one of the most annoying and distressing aspects of all is the fact that the media, or some parts of it, still portray the area in negative terms, which is depressing for local people and unfair to the area. It would be much better if the media were to concentrate on the positive aspects of the east end to encourage its regeneration and to assist Glasgow as a whole.
No one would deny that there are problems, but the good things overwhelmingly outnumber the bad. A youth organisation that I visited in the greater Easterhouse area, staffed entirely by volunteers, has 500 young people passing through its doors every week. It is sad that so many people engaged in voluntary organisations, who are the salt of the earth, should get kicked in the teeth by negative comments in the media about the area. I am sure that that applies in other cities in the UK.
As one would expect from a traditional working-class area, the main issues raised with me during the election campaign were bread-and-butter ones: law and order and the national health service, both devolved to the Scottish Parliament; jobs; pensions; tax credits, which are very popular, especially with people on lower incomes; the taxation of low incomes and pensions; the future of the new deal if Labour were to lose the election; and moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia and cloning, which came up at all the hustings meetings and the various other meetings held throughout the campaign. However, the No. 1 concern of people in the east of Glasgow was the economy. People remember only too well what life was like for 18 years under the Tory Government, when the Queen's Speech was something to be afraid of and dreaded.
By contrast, there is much in today's Gracious Speech that will meet with universal approval. I welcome the proposal to introduce an offence of corporate manslaughter, and I hope that the legislation will not be
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delayed, as this is a long-overdue measure. Companies and their directors should be held responsible for their actions.
I welcome legislation to reduce casualties on the roads, but I hope that that will not be merely a breeding programme for more speed cameras. The proliferation of such cameras is one of the reasons why public-police relations are deteriorating, which is to be regretted. People lose their licences and their jobs, and they feel aggrieved. I am sorry to have to say that many people feel that the police would be far better engaged chasing burglars and other criminals than harassing motorists.
I welcome new consumer credit law to provide greater protection for consumers and to create a fairer credit market. There should be a limit on the rate of interest that banks, companies, stores and anyone lending money can charge. Some people need protecting from themselves. It is far too easy for them to get into debt by obtaining credit that they have no hope of ever repaying. We need to take steps to prevent that.
I welcome measures to give the police and local communities new powers to tackle violence related to knives, guns and alcohol. I regret, however, that no specific mention is made in the Queen's Speech of air guns. Sadly, just before the election campaign started, a terrible tragedy occurred in my constituency when a two-year-old toddler was killed by an air gun pellet. While I appreciate that legislation will not prevent some people from committing crimes, urgent action needs to be taken to tackle the problems caused by the misuse of air guns. I understand that the Home Secretary will consult the Scottish Executive on introducing proposals on this issue later this summer. I hope that that will happen sooner, rather than later.
On crime, I feel sorry for the police. I give them my full support and they do splendid work, but much of what they do is to some extent negated by the courts, which let down the law-abiding citizens of this country and its police force. If the courts were to make an example of some criminals, particularly those who commit acts of violence, crime would rapidly decrease. I cite an example from 40 or 50 years ago, which some Members may remember. Lord Carmont sentenced a few razor-slashers in Glasgow to 20 years' imprisonment, at a time when 20 years' imprisonment meant precisely that. Overnight, razor-slashing ceased. One way to deal with law and order issues in society is for the courts to take tougher action on criminals.
I welcome long-term reform to provide sustainable income for those in retirement. In addition, no tax should be levied on small occupational pensions, nor on small pensions for widows. In addition, we should consider reducing the age at which pensioners qualify for a free TV licence from 75 to 70. A TV licence is a substantial part of a pensioner's income, just as it is for people who are unemployed or on low incomes. Whether the TV licence is good value is a separate matter, but many of my constituents struggle to find the money to pay for it.
I also welcome measures to offer greater support for working families, such as extending maternity benefit and improving child care provision, along with reform of the welfare state in order to reduce poverty and offer greater equality. However, I am concerned about measures to reform the benefit system. Benefit fraud
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must of course be tackled, but so must tax avoidance and evasion by mega-rich companies and individuals, which must cost the country a lot more than benefit fraud does. Most people on benefits are not there by choice. They do not get rich, and although there might be the odd such case that the media can highlight, it is only "the odd case". The vast majority of people on benefits merely survive. They cannot afford the same lifestyle as that enjoyed by those in employment.
Many people are genuinely unfit for work, or do not have the necessary skills to find jobs in their area or the resources to move elsewhere. They cannot just get on their bikes and go somewhere else. In some areas, jobs are not available in sufficient numbers, so this issue has to be handled carefully, especially in Scotland, if the approach taken is to command universal support. For example, in my city of Glasgow 100,000 peopleone in three of the available work forceis classified as economically inactive, whatever that means. Most of the constituencies in Glasgowthere are now only sevenhave higher-than-average levels of unemployment and numbers of pensioners. They have people who are caught in the poverty trap, problems with child poverty, lower-than-average adult male life expectancyit is substantially lower than in prosperous areas elsewhere in Scotland or in the south of England; indeed, it is lower by as much as 14 to 17 yearsand people surviving on benefits.
There is a crime and a drug problem in Glasgow as, sadly, there is in many of our towns and cities today. But part of Glasgow's problem is its former industrial heritage, which has affected the health of many people such as miners, steel workers and others who worked in heavy industry. Their lungs were badly damaged by dust, and they have had to live on benefits since retiring or being made redundant, which many were; indeed, they never worked again when Mrs. Thatcher was in power.
Glasgow is Scotland's only metropolitan area and it attracts people to work and playleisure, as well as work. It does not always attract people to live there, as many do not want to pay the city's council tax, choosing to live on the perimeter estates and commute. When people in Glasgow get a good job, one of the first things that they do is to move outside to somewhere that they perceive, for one reason or another, to be different. Conversely, if people have problems with alcohol or drugs, or their marriages break up, they tend to drift into the city, so we have a continual turn-around, which creates problems in many constituencies and many parts of the city.
I have said several times in the House that Glasgow alone cannot solve the city's problems, which must be dealt with and resolved. Glasgow used to contain about a quarter of the Scottish population, but the figure is now much lower. I should have liked to hear something in the Queen's Speech about dealing with the problems of cities such as Glasgow. It is not unique, as other cities in the UK have similar problems. What we need is perhaps some special taskforce with a senior Minister in chargesomeone who can accelerate the necessary action to combat the problems and work with all the
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other organisations in the area, such as devolved Administrations, local government departments, and the private, public and voluntary sectors.
There is a need to speed things up, but it is not just a matter of consultation. The GEARGlasgow eastern area renewalproject, which started in 1976 and was wound up by the Conservatives in 1987 when it was only half way through its task, was a classic. Much time was spent in consultation and the writing of reports, but what is needed to tackle the problems of sub-standard housing, crime and litter and to create prosperity for the city is action. I would favour some sort of pilot project that, if successful in a city like Glasgow, could be adopted to tackle problems in other cities.
I welcome the Scottish Executive's recent decision to overrule the public inquiry and to complete the M74, which I hope will bring thousands of jobs to the city, lead to an improved environment, develop derelict land and divert much of the traffic that currently goes through residential areas on to the new road.
I continue to have concerns about identity cards and will await the specific proposals with interest. Another of my concerns is the reform of public services. I believe that public services are best carried out by public sector workers themselves. They frequently fail to get appropriate recognition for the job that they do. They do not deserve to be privatised or have their pension scheme altered after years of service. New entrants may have to be treated differently from existing staff, but that is another matter.
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