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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) on her maiden speech. Secondly, I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). The hon. Gentleman's predecessor was David Chidgey. I enjoyed his company immensely. He was a good companion of mine on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, Ivor Caplin, was a fine Minister. We owe him a great deal. He made a real job of the portfolio of a Minister for veterans. He did much to advance the awareness of and the interest in veterans and their dependants in Government. Although others held the portfolio, Ivor Caplin was the first Minister who really identified with the post, which is one that will now endure in Government. The post was long overdue. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he created the portfolio. Ivor Caplin distinguished himself in the stewardship of the office in a wonderful way. We should be grateful to him, as I have said.
There are many Members who have spoken in the debate who are now not in their places. I listened carefully to what they said and I shall make one or two comments. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) made a number of points and I shall refer to two of them. He referred to some concern, which is acknowledged and which we share, about the apparent lack of interest in politics. He set out some of the causes and solutions.
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We have not heard since the election about the matter of Howard Flight. His dismissal from the Opposition Front Bench was a matter for the Conservative party, but I was worried that a party leader can end a person's career
Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman asks from a sedentary position whether it is a matter to be raised in a debate on the Queen's Speech. I am responding to the right hon. Member for Wokingham. I am not making a partisan point. I have acknowledged that the issue is one for the Conservative party when it comes to whom it puts in to bat as chairmen or shadow Ministers. If we are seen as monolithic parties and if party leaders can stop people standing for Parliament, cynicism about this place will be reinforced. I see right hon. and hon. Members acknowledging that it is a valid point. We are seen in this place as being party men and women and never being able to express a critical point of view. It is time we addressed this position and recognised that a bad precedent was set.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham referred to tax. I rejoice that in the third paragraph of the Queen's Speech there is a reference to the fact that we will improve our essential public services. I do not know whether it is true or not, but the right hon. Gentleman alleged that £4 of every £10 of people's earnings is spent on tax. I rejoice, however, in the fact that we have people in employment who can pay tax. There is an increasing tax yield, so we can improve the quality of public services. That needs to be stated at a time when there is continuing criticism of our public expenditure policies and our priorities. One of the distinguishing features of the Queen's Speech is our belief that we can improve the quality and provision of essential public services because we have full employment, which was not the case when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were in government.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and others said that the Queen's Speech was extremely vague, and I have some sympathy with that view. If we introduce reform, it should not do away with the rubric and the ritual, which I can live with. Doing away with such things is not modernisation. Modernisation is about increasing the accountability, stewardship and transparency of government. Today's Queen's Speech, as gracious as it is, is nevertheless pretty empty. The House of Commons should have been presented with the detailed legislative programme that, apparently, was distributed to members of the Press Gallery. In my view, there should be a White Paper. The new ministry should be presented to the House of Commons, and it should be endorsed by a vote in the Commons. There are historical precedents for such a parliamentary procedure, which is deployed in other Westminster-style legislatures and should take place here some weeks after a general election.
As an aside, it is cruel that hon. Members, wherever they come from, are expected to decant their offices within hours when they lose their seat. New Members are homeless and lack an office. It would be much more sensible if the mandate of their predecessors continued to the end of the poll or beyond, as happens in many other legislatures. Of course, there would need to be
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ground rules about things that Members cannot do during an election period, such as use the equipment and facilities of the House, but they should remain Members of Parliament until the new ministry is endorsed by the House of Commons. That would be a sensible reform.
The Queen's Speech should be a detailed programme, and the Prime Minister should present his new ministry to the House of Commons two or three weeks after the general election. That would allow an orderly transfer of ministries. However, it is not just Governments who change at general elections. It is in the interests of their constituents that Members of Parliament should be able to depart with dignity and new Members should gradually assume their parliamentary duties. I hope that that suggestion will be taken on board.
I hope that when he concludes our debate today, my hon. Friend the Minister will help me with something. I have looked in vain in the Queen's Speech for mention of an extremely attractive issue that appeared in our party manifestothe promise that we would legislate to protect bank holidays, which would be additional to the minimum holiday entitlement. That electoral commitment would have a great effect on my constituency, which has a large retail sector in and around Lakeside. It is also important to people in the building and construction industry. I hope that the Minister will assure us that it will be legislated for in this Session. If that is the case, I would like to know why it did not appear in the Queen's Speech.
Mr. Robathan : Is the hon. Gentleman really surprised that what was in the Labour manifesto is not being legislated for? Recent Labour manifestos have included such things as an undertaking not to introduce top-up fees. I think that he might have rebelled on that one.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am drawing a line on that which is past. I shall start again. I hope that the Government will take advice and counselling from Back Benchers like me, stand by their manifesto commitments and reassure me that they will be fulfilled in this Session.
I listened intently to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), and much of what he said about science and our decisions about energy provision deserve serious consideration. However, when he said that people in Sellafield do not share other people's anxieties about the nuclear industry, two things occurred to me. First, throughout history, unfortunately it has been the case that people who have to work in a particular industry often have to convince themselves that it is safe. Those who worked at Chernobyl have been mentioned. I accept that there is a qualitative difference between standards in the old Soviet Union and standards in the British nuclear industry but, nevertheless, it is inevitable that people believe that their industry is safe, even though that is not always the case. Secondly, the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) was in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Salisbury was speaking. People living in Northern Ireland and around Dublin bay in the Irish Republic have grounds for grave concern about what has been produced at Sellafield, so the situation is not as simple as has been suggested.
I hope, however, that in view of his speech, the hon. Member for Salisbury will endorse measures in the Queen's Speech to legislate for corporate manslaughter,
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as they are long overdue. If corporate manslaughter is on the statute book, the sanction of serious penalties including imprisonment will help to focus the minds of managers and directors on the fact that they can no longer treat things in a cavalier fashion. When tragedies occur, they cannot blame the lowest people in the railway hierarchy, the maritime industry or the nuclear industry. They themselves must recognise that they will face criminal sanctions and severe penalties. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.
Robert Key: Does the hon. Gentleman remember the case of the MV Derbyshire, which sank in the China seas? We still do not know what happened and whether it was a design fault or an act of nature, so it may fall into the same category.
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