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Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend is on to a good point. Does he agree that one way of improving scrutiny would be to give the House of Lords more power and that the only way to do that legitimately is to introduce an elected element?

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I very much agree with him and I am happy to say that that is our party's policy, as he knows. We are the champions of democracy in this case, while the
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Government apparently want to resist any move towards democratisation of our parliamentary process, especially in the upper House. We shall not get that in the foreseeable future, because the Prime Minister does not want it. He wants to continue to appoint his cronies to the House of Lords, thus single-handedly giving the Government greater and greater influence and voting power in the House of Lords in what is becoming a scandalous way. Sadly, some of the more recent elevations to the peerage demonstrate that yet again.

One of the great strengths of their lordships' House is not only that the Government do not have a majority there, but that they cannot control the timetable of proceedings, so a more worrying development in the short term is that, hidden behind the rather bland and meaningless words of the Queen's Speech is the thought that the Government want to get a grip on the House of Lords as they have successively done over the past few years on this House.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): My right hon. Friend may not yet have had access to the 190-page briefing supplied to the press, although not to the House, as background to the Queen's Speech. It states:

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is right. I do not have access to that document, which raises a point that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Mr. Speaker may want to look into: how is it that Members of Parliament receive from the Government only a flimsy document containing meaningless phrases of the kind that I have just identified whereas, as my hon. Friend points out, members of the press were apparently at the same time issued with a briefing of—how many pages?

Mr. Fallon: Two hundred.

Mr. Forth: A 200-page document giving much more detail about what the Government intend to do. Mr. Deputy Speaker, it must worry you and Mr. Speaker that Members of the House are yet again being treated with contempt by the Government. Typically, the press knows much more about the Government's intentions than we do, which is something that should be looked into and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing it out. If the phrase that he quoted is correct, my suspicions are fully justified: the Government will go ahead and try, finally, to reduce the House of Lords to the same obsequious position in which we find ourselves in this place. They will thus be able to process all the Bills in the Queen's Speech in a way that guarantees that they receive almost no scrutiny.

I urge my colleagues to consider whether the principles that I have outlined commend themselves and to use them as guidelines for the development of our policies, which need not be very different from those on which we won more votes in England than the Labour party in the recent election. I urge my colleagues to resist any move, such as those I have outlined, to reduce the role of this Parliament vis-à-vis this Government.

5.48 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bromley
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and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). He is known as one of Parliament's plain speakers. He is also known for his choice of tie—today it looks very multicultural and I congratulate him on his choice.

I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your re-election as Chairman of Ways and Means and I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) on her maiden speech. I am convinced that she will be just as good at promoting the interests of her constituents as her predecessor, Ivor Caplin, who I remember with great fondness. As Minister with responsibility for veterans, he came to my constituency, strolled down Belgrave road and visited a senior citizens club where he received a great reception.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst spoke of a victory for the Conservative party in England and Wales.

Mr. Evans : Only in England.

Keith Vaz: Well, the Conservatives did not win in Leicester. I am happy to say that the electors of Leicester, East returned me with an increased majority of 2,500 and a swing to Labour of 2.69 per cent. We also managed to win back Leicester, South, a constituency that was held by the Liberal Democrats for about 10 months, so Leicester has returned three Labour MPs. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Patricia Hewitt) is now Secretary of State for Health, so we look forward to massive investment in our health service in Leicester and in other parts of the country.

We got our result because we followed mainstream Labour party policies. We put before the electors of Leicester, East the Government's record over the past eight years, and we gave them the choice between what we were putting forward and that of the Conservative party candidate, who was a mainstream candidate pursuing the policies of the Conservative party.

Mr. Forth: Will the hon. Gentleman be able to impress us as much if he tells us the turnout in Leicester? He is giving great praise to the good people of Leicester for re-electing him and his colleagues, but perhaps he could tell us how many of them bothered to turn out to do so.

Keith Vaz: The figure was 63 per cent.—up on the previous general election—and the postal vote turnout was about 74 per cent., although it is impossible to say how many of those who received postal votes actually voted. Turnout affects us all in our constituencies and we would like as many people to vote as possible. I favour compulsory voting at elections because turnout would be very high indeed.

We put forward our mainstream policies, we put forward the record of this Government, and the people returned a Labour Government. I know that it is possible to play with statistics. One might say that the Conservatives won in this or that region or in England, and that the Labour party won in Scotland and so on, but overall we have a Labour Government—a properly and duly elected Labour Government—and those who accept the results of 1979 have to accept the results of 2005.
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I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for leading us to an historic third election victory. I want him to serve a full term as Prime Minister, as he promised to do during the election campaign. It is very important that he fulfils that pledge because his work has not been completed—and judging by the number of Bills in the Queen's Speech the Government's legislative programme is very full indeed.

I want to make three quick points about three aspects of policy. The first concerns a subject that was mentioned by both the leader of the Liberal Democrats and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), namely, the Government's European policy. I welcome the number of Bills on Europe that are currently before the House. I welcome the fact that the Government are still committed to the enlargement of the European Union. They did not stop with the enlargement on 1 May 2004, which has brought huge benefits to our country. Some of my hon. Friends will remember the concerns expressed by Opposition Front Benchers about the number of eastern Europeans coming to the United Kingdom. They were all supposed to be applying for benefits and unemployment was going to go up. Of course, that has not happened. The arrival of the new members has benefited Britain enormously and contributed greatly to our economy.

It is right that we should introduce legislation that will allow Romania and Bulgaria to enter the European Union. It is right that the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, are the champions of enlargement, and are therefore pushing the case for Turkey. I would like us to look again at the block that we put on the entry of Croatia, for the reasons that have been outlined. It is important that we do not put a cap on membership of the European Union. We should ensure that it is as wide as possible, providing our country and Europe with great opportunities.

If we are to meet the targets of the Lisbon agenda we need to make absolutely certain that we can compete with the United States, and to do that we need the widest possible reform. That is why I hope that when we take over the presidency of the EU on 1 July we will push forward that reform agenda—an agenda that was set out clearly in the joint letter from the Prime Minister and Chancellor Schröder in 2002. They detailed a long list of reforms that they thought were essential for the progress of the European Union. We have not ticked all those boxes, but we have a golden opportunity from 1 July onwards to ensure that that agenda really is part of what we hope to achieve. We simply cannot accept a common agricultural policy that is so out of date that it does not actually benefit the agricultural agendas of this country and other European countries—apart, of course, from the French.

I look forward to hearing the new Minister for Europe when he addresses the House tomorrow. I understand that he will be opening the foreign affairs debate because the Foreign Secretary will be absent. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has decided that the Minister for Europe should attend Cabinet meetings. I have always felt that it is essential for the Government to give Europe a much higher priority. It is impossible for the British Foreign Secretary to give detailed attention to the European Union agenda. We
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have had seven Ministers for Europe over the past eight years, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) will last longer than some of the others. The fact remains that we need to have that expertise at that level to take us through the presidency and beyond.

I well remember my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) being extremely beastly to me when I was Minister for Europe, chiding me for not visiting the Balkans, despite the fact that as Minister for Europe I, like my predecessors and successors, had almost a third of the world as part of my portfolio. Indeed, when I was first appointed I was asked by the then Foreign Secretary whether I would take on entry clearance in addition to my European portfolio, and I was told by the permanent secretary that to do so would mean that I had to give up Russia.

It is impossible for a Minister to do his job effectively unless he is given the time and space to do it. I know that the Minister for Europe can only attend Cabinet meetings, but I see no reason why he should not permanently attend Cabinet—perhaps in a kind of Chief Secretary to the Treasury role—thereby enabling two Ministers to represent the Foreign Office. It will stop Select Committees and colleagues being horrible to Ministers by saying that they have not visited this or that country. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock is very keen for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to visit Poland—that was one of his great campaigns. I do not know whether Ministers have managed to do so, but this will enable that work load to be shared.

On the European constitution referendum, I take a different view from that advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough. If France votes no in its referendum at the end of the month, I do not see why we should have a referendum. If a major country like France rejects the European constitution in a referendum, what is the point of our having a referendum?

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