Sir Stuart Bell: I am reluctant to intervene in my hon. Friend's excellent speech on the issues facing Glasgow. He mentioned his doubts about identity cards and I would like to assure him that, when I lived in France for 20 years, I carried my identity card with me at all times and had no difficulties. I believe that it will reduce fraud by at least a half and is one of the finest measures that we could possibly introduce. Is my hon. Friend open to persuasion at some time in the future?
Mr. Marshall: I am always open to persuasion, but I remain concerned about the compulsory nature of the scheme and the cost. People living on benefits are genuinely poor and are unlikely to be able to afford the costs of the ID card. There are other important issues involved, too, so I will wait to see exactly what is proposed before taking any decision.
I am also concerned about the future of the Royal Mail and the Post Office, and I shall certainly not vote for any proposals to privatise them. I am pleased that postal workers will be paid a bonus for their excellent efforts over the last year and I would like to congratulate all the postal workers who delivered all five candidates' electoral addresses in my constituency so well in the recent campaign. There are often complaints about deliveries of election literature, but I did not receive a single complaint this time. An excellent job was done.
: I have a close association with the Communication Workers Union. My hon. Friend may have noted that Royal Mail management is still trying to press the Government to hold a share flotation, even though there is a commitment, under the Warwick deal, to keeping the service fully publicly owned. I hope that
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he will join me in expressing concern to the Government that such a share flotation is not the way forward, given the mandate that we received at the election.
Mr. Marshall: As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I assure him that I shall be happy to express my concerns on that matter. I believe in the universality of the postal service and postal rates. Moreover, I deplore the obscene bonuses and payments being paid to senior executives in the Royal Mail. They are only doing what they are already paid very well to do. I do not see why they should get a bonus for doing a good job, although I do understand why they should get the sack if they do not do a good job.
I am pleased that the Government will use their presidency of the G8 to make progress in tackling poverty in Africa, and climate change. I agree that Africa has to be a priority, but I hope that other needy areas of the world will not be forgotten. I am chairman of the executive committee of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Last year, I had the pleasure of leading a delegation to the Pacific. We visited Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, two of the poorest countries in the world. However, although those countries may be poor, they are very rich in their populations. The people are wonderful, and the children are beautiful: words fail me when it comes to describing the welcome received by people from the UK.
Most Pacific islanders are very pro-British, but many are also very poor. Some people live on much less than £1 a day. Global warming is a big threat to Kiribati and other small islands in the area, where the highest point is often only a few feet above sea level. Poverty is a huge problem. The delegation saw at first hand how even very small aid projects can make a substantial difference to the people who live on those small islands. I therefore make the plea that we must not forget or reduce our aid to the poorest countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean, or in other areas of the Commonwealth or the world.
I hope that the G8 countries, and the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, will make substantial progress in reducing debt for the most heavily indebted nations, by making trade fair, controlling arms trading, extending education to the world's children and making poverty history.
In conclusion, I am proud to be a Member of this House in a period when we have had three terms of Labour Government. My Government have their priorities right and are doing a great deal to tackle poverty and help poor people, both at home and abroad.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
I have been rather intrigued by many of the responses to the results of the election, not least by those who have claimed that the Conservative party was out of touch and received no response from the electorate. They have made out that we got it all wrong, but that is a little odd, given that the Conservative party got more votes in England than Labour did. In the overall total of votes, we ended up only two or three points adrift of the Labour party.
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That does not suggest to me that we were that much out of touch with the voters, so I want to resist suggestions that we should go back to the drawing board, rethink our direction and alter it completely. I want to offer a template that might be of use to all parties in assessing the relevance of the Queen's Speech and determining the way forward. I shall suggest a number of key elements, to which I hope most hon. Members will sign up. Those factors can be used as a measure of policy proposals, in the Queen's Speech and elsewhere.
The element at the top of my list is nationhood, which is directly relevant to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell). Too often, we forget that ours is a very proud nation, and that most people in this country want this country to remain just thata nation. They are proud of our identity and wish to retain it, and our ability to control our affairs and destiny. At the head of my list of material criteria, I put nationhood. Any development, in the European Union or elsewhere, should be measured against that, and if it threatens our nationhood, it should be resisted.
My second criterion is freedom, although I qualify that by saying that it should be freedom for responsible individuals, guaranteed by the rule of law, administered by an independent judiciary and with minimal state activity. Freedom is surely something that we all treasure and want to protect at all costs, but it must be a freedom regulated as I have suggested and defended by the proper institutions of the Government and the judiciary.
One need not dwell on democracy, except to say that it is surely sad that many people expressed doubt in the recent election about the integrity and validity of our electoral system. We have come to a stage where, as all Members and all candidates at the election must have heard from many voters, there is unhappiness about the fact that the electoral system can no longer be trusted in the way that we were all brought up to assume that it could. Democracy in this country must be defended in many ways, not least in that our voting system must be above suspicion and beyond fraud.
In that context, I do not subscribe to the trendy concept of what I think is known as multiculturalism, which I think threatens our sense of community. I believe in the melting pot theory of history rather than in multiculturalism. Those people whom we welcome into this country from other countries and cultures should be expected to blend into our communities and to accept our traditions and the things that we value, rather than expecting us to see them altering our society when they choose to come here.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that it is not possible to respect cultures from other countries and other religions while still preserving our own rich culture? Is he saying that that is impossible?
I am saying that that can cause unacceptable problems and difficulties. Where people
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who come freely to this country insist on maintaining their cultures, which are so different from ours, to the extent that it divides society, that is something that should be resisted. That is exactly what I am saying. Multiculturalism as a concept should be challenged rather than simply accepted without further explanation.
My next criterion is capitalism, which is by far the most historically effective method of wealth creation, and which, of course, is gender neutral, ethnicity neutral and class neutral. The beauty of capitalism and money is that they have no favourites and discriminate against no one.
Allied closely to that point, and, interestingly, reflected in a number of places in the Queen's Speech, is the criterion of choice. In fairness to the Government and the Prime Minister, I say that this is one regard in which they have moved very much in the direction for which we have always argued, which is to favour as much choice as possible in society, particularly within services provided by the state, be they health or education. As the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, where we see elements of the Queen's Speech that will be beneficial, we will be prepared to welcome and encourage them. Choice is one of those things. Choice is related closely to enterprise, the great generator of wealth and employment. It should be encouraged by low taxes and by my final criterion, deregulation.
I have not just dreamed up those criteria. I have not listed those things arbitrarily. They are in fact the principles of a wonderful organisation known as Conservative Way Forward, of which the chairman is my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Those principles were drawn up in 1998 and endorsed by none other than Baroness Thatcher herself. I am proud to list them and to recommend them to the House. If we are prepared to sign up to nationhood, freedom, democracy, security, community, capitalism, choice, enterprise and deregulation, we will not go far wrong. I say that not just as a measure of the Queen's Speech, but to reassure my right hon. and hon. Friends that we need not agonise, examine ourselves or go into contortions over what the party believes in. I should have thought that we could all sign up to that set of principles. We can cleave to those principles and go before the electorate with confidence, and we can also use them to develop our policies.
If we look at the Queen's Speech in relation to those principles, it is obvious that it contains far too many Bills and too little substance. For the Government to come to this Parliament, Commons and Lords, and say that they want this number of Bills to be processed in one legislative Session, even a long one, illustrates all too well and yet again their attitude to the parliamentary process. Their attitude is one of arrogance and indifference, and it suggests that they do not believe that any adequate scrutiny will be necessary because we will simply process the Bills uncritically and see them on to the statute book. Well, I hope that that will not happen. I can see no way in which a Queen's Speech containing so much material can be translated into legislation even in the time that we have available between now and November 2006.
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I do not believe that the matters outlined in the Queen's Speech can receive proper scrutiny in that time, never mind the fact that many of the phrases in it are completely vacuous. For example, it states that the Government will
Well, that is the sort of soundbite that one expects occasionally from politicians, but I do not expect to see it in a serious Queen's Speech, especially at a time when pass marks in our education system are being systematically lowered. I read just recently that it has now been recommended that spelling should no longer matter in English examinations. How can the Government talk about improving quality in education in the Queen's Speech but at the same time systematically reduce quality in education by fiddling the system to give everybody better and better results? That cannot be right and I hope that it will be resisted.
What does that mean? What are we supposed to make of such a promise? It suggests that the Queen's Speech is a wish list, not a seriously thought-out set of proposals to achieve the ends included in the list.
The problem is not that the police need new powers: it is enabling them to do the job that we expect them to do. Time and again, it has become obvious that an increase in police numbers or in the number of community officersthe Prime Minister mentioned themsimply is not enough, if we so constrain them with bureaucracy, red tape, and human rights and political correctness that they cannot do their job properly and we cannot have the confidence in them that we all desperately want to have. Once again, the Queen's Speech provides the wrong solution to a self-evident problem.
I have dark doubts that that means proper reform of the House of Lords, of the kind that we were led to believe might happen in the balmy days of 1996 and 1997, when we thought that the upper House would be given legitimacy and accountability. I suspect that the Government wish to reduce the effectiveness of the House of Lords, which it has demonstrated so well recently. They want to nobble the House of Lords and submit it to the same total control that they sadly now exercise over this House.