|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Andrew Mackinlay: It would. At the back of my mind is the Herald of Free Enterprise. The people who ran that ship were trying to maximise profits and turnaround time with blatant disregard for the safety of passengers and crew. The individuals who were pilloried and received most of the penalties and the blame were not the directors but people who were low on the scale of responsibilities. Earlier, it was suggested that we should not oppose for opposition's sake. I certainly do not do so, but there are some things that we ought to embrace. I hope that all the parties embrace that proposal.
On the question of identity cards, when the Identity Cards Bill received its Second Reading in the last Session, David Trimble, the previous leader of the Ulster Unionist party and I challenged the Minister in charge to explain how he would deal with the common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. I remember the occasion, because it rankles with me that we were brushed aside as if that problem were irrelevant. It has still not been addressed. I am not opposed to identity cards, but I believe that legislation should have great clarity, precision and effectiveness. We have not been told, however, how the Government will deal with people who commute from the Irish Republic to the United Kingdom. We have a common land border, and many people also commute from the Irish Republic to London on Mondays and go home at weekends. Once identity card legislation is in force, everyone will have either an identity card or a passport in Londonexcept for people from the Irish Republic. I am not criticising the Government, but I am alerting them to the fact that the arrangements have not been thought through. There is a common travel area, but, quite rightly, we cannot legislate for the Irish Republicthat would be a monumental cheek. Bearing in mind that I raised the matter some months ago, I invite the Minister to tell me tonight how the Government intend to remedy it.
According to the Gracious Speech, we are to have a fair and flexible system in relation to immigration and asylum. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is no longer present. I thought he did a wonderful job of clarifying the position and challenging the Conservatives to say how and to what extent they would have reduced immigration. There is controlled immigration to this country already.
17 May 2005 : Column 102
I was frustrated by the fact that members of the Government Front-Bench team did not challenge the Conservatives more on this during the election.
There has been a conflationthat is the buzz word, I thinkof asylum and immigration, which are two separate issues. I challenge those on the Conservative Front Bench to explain to us this evening through which categories of people immigration would be reduced. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East pointed out, immigration is strictly controlled. I deprecate the fact that the Conservatives use the term without spelling out the consequences and where there is scope for reduced immigrationeven assuming that that is necessarily a desirable objective, which I do not accept.
On asylum, which is a quite separate matter, the problem has been in the administration of the applications, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East pointed out. We have a proud record under successive Governments of allowing people who suffer persecution to come to the United Kingdom. Like hon. Members in all parts of the House, I have seen in my surgeries people who have endured the most terrible atrocities against themselves, their families and their loved ones. Sometimes, commentators and some of our constituents do not fully understand what such people have suffered.
Reference was made to public meetings. I remember one public meeting that I had with representatives of the Churches in my constituency during the election. Although by and large the mood of the meeting was with me, I thought it important to remind those attending the meeting that 2,000 years ago there was a little boy who fled persecution in Palestine with his mummy and daddy. The new testament does not tell us whether the people of Egypt said, "All these Jewish carpenters are economic migrants, coming to take our jobs". It is interesting that Christ was a refugee from persecution. Sometimes I wonder whether we have moved on enormously in our understanding and compassion. It is fair to remind everyone of our obligations and duties and to give examples from 2,000 years ago to illustrate our commitments to our brethren.
The Conservatives made a big issue of hygiene in our hospitals. Over a long period some of us Members on the Labour Benches have also made an issue of MRSA, as it is commonly known. The hon. Member for Salisbury generously said that on many such issues it is difficult to apportion blame. It is now acknowledged that there is a real problem. My own view, which I want to share with the House, is that part of the problem was not with Conservative or Labour Ministers, but with Ministers who do not stand up to officials.
On 19 March 1997, I held an Adjournment debate in the House, to which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) replied. He is a decent man, but he worked off a brief and basically said that the hon. Member for Thurrock was exaggerating and that there was no problemthe matter was under control. I challenged him, saying that figures were not being kept for infection rates in our hospitals, but the hon. Gentleman said that that was wrong. Baroness Cumberlege, who was a Conservative health Minister, said the same thing in the other place. Instead of challenging officials, Ministers often accept what they say and dismiss what Back Benchers, who have their ear to the ground, are
17 May 2005 : Column 103
asserting in the House of Commons. I hope Ministers will start listening to Back Benchers earlier, regardless of party, if they have a point.
I cannot help feeling that if people like meI say this with some humility, uncharacteristicallyand Lord Fitt, who raised the matter in the House of Lords in 1997, had been listened to, we may well have been on top of the problem of MRSA earlier. We would have understood that hospitals had a vested interest in covering up their deficiencies. The absence of corporate liability and the existence of star points for hospitals and a competitive environment led to a conspiracy of silence from the lowest level in the health service right up to the top, and reluctance to admit that there is a problem and that it should be tackled.
Both Conservative Ministers and the early Labour Administration fell into that chasm, listening to officials rather than to Members of Parliament. However, credit is due to the former Secretary of State for Health, now the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) and others, who recently started to address the problem. I wish that had been done earlier, not just by my Government, but by Conservative Ministers, too.
We heard in the Gracious Speech that there is to be legislation to protect the natural environment. For me, that flagged up the green belt. During the election my opponent suggested that the Deputy Prime Minister personally was going to build 16,500 houses in one of the most beautiful areas in my constituency. There was not a scintilla of truth in that, but I want it stated and underlined that the green belt is sacrosanct. There is a good reason why that should be so. In my constituency and in the constituencies of many other hon. Members, there is a rich reservoir of derelict landbrown landredundant industrial land, the development of which would be in the interests of environmental improvement. There is no need to encroach upon the green belt in my area and elsewhere.
Perhaps that needs to be restated. Let me be generousperhaps there has been a misunderstanding. The green belt concept, which was created by a Labour Government, should be sacrosanct and we should be proud of it, as we are of the national health service. I hope that will be borne in mind. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the Deputy Prime Minister this very evening what I have said and urged.
I referred to new Members who made their maiden speech. I made my maiden speech on the first day of the Session in 1992 and I was pleased to get it over. I revisited it to see what I had said then and what had come to pass. One thing I said was that the existing electoral system was indefensible. Secondly, I argued that we should be doing all we could to bring the countries of central EuropePoland, Hungary and the Czech Republicinto the European Union, and we have done that. In fairness, John Major started that process, but when history comes to be written, the present Prime Minister will be entitled to claim considerable credit and take considerable pride in the enlargement of the European Union. In today's Queen's Speech, it is anticipated that we will bring in Romania and Bulgaria, which I welcome. For me, the enlargement of the EU is an economic, commercial and political matter, but there is also a moral aspect. Those of us who have been able to enjoy parliamentary
17 May 2005 : Column 104
democracy since 1945 cannot deny those other countries the opportunities that come from membership of that democratic club. We should all embrace and encourage that where we can.
The third issue was Select Committees. I said that I had heard it rumouredthis was in 1992that the Government might go slow in setting up Select Committees. I want a reassurance that there is no prospect whatever that that will happen this summer. It is extremely important that the Government are scrutinised by the Select Committee system, which has moved on considerably since 1992. It is important that one should refer to one's maiden speech from time to time.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke about his party's endorsement in the Northern Ireland elections. I do not want to trespass into that, but the Government should ensure that there is proper scrutiny of legislation that relates to Northern Ireland, rather than dealing with it in an hour and a half in a Committee upstairs, with no opportunity of amending it. In addition, the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is costing a large sum of money, must be brought into force. Even if the Executive cannot be up and running, the Assembly needs to scrutinise measures endorsed by this House. That would be the appropriate democratic procedure and in the best interests of government.
With respect, no reference has been made in the House to the events in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, where the situation is grave. Elsewhere in the Queen's speech there is the theme of promoting democracy and human rights. There should be an early statement on Uzbekistan, because our policy, our stewardship and our representation in Uzbekistan needs to be discussed. I see the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) acknowledging that. The Foreign Affairs Committee, when I was a member and previously, tried to argue with the Foreign Office that there should be an embassy in Kyrgyzstan. There is not one. It had a velvet revolution six weeks ago and there was no British representation there. Refugees are now crossing the border from Uzbekistan to the very small republic and fragile state of Kyrgyzstan, and so far as I am aware there is no British embassy there even today. That is a serious failure. I do not entirely blame Ministers; I blame Sir Michael Jay who runs the Foreign Office. He has been told time and again by the Foreign Affairs Committee that we should have an embassy and an ambassador in Kyrgyzstan, and he has refused. Our representation in Uzbekistan has been seriously flawed. There are some issues in Uzbekistan, unrelated to Craig Murray, concerning what has gone on in the embassy, which require serious examination. Two articles in The Guardian and The Observer have alluded to that. It is now time for a statement on the region. The Select Committees with appropriate jurisdiction should examine what has happened there and why there has been neglect in that area, and ensure that there is an early improvement in our representation in that region, which is critical in terms of its geopolitics, energy and human rights. I regret that that has not been done.
17 May 2005 : Column 105
Members groaned when I started to make this point, but I hope that they will agree that that was an original point, which it is valid to raise in the House. I thank the House for its patience, but I hope that those points will be picked up by the Minister when he replies.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|