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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): First, I should like to say how much I enjoyed both the maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) made a thought-provoking, non-partisan and excellent speech, and I also agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) that the whole idea of choice in education has to be predicated on winners and losers. I could not agree with him more about that.
We have heard a fairly vague, but longish Queen's Speech today and we are promised some 46 Bills in 18 months. If anyone believes that, they should go and lie down. I believe that it will go the same way as the last Queen's Speech. It is packed full of goodies and baddies and packed full of stuff to make us think that Labour is now hitting the ground running. If we reflect on what is contained in it, hitting the ground running is a barely credible notion; indeed, it seems to me that the Queen's Speech is hardly even reaching the ground.
Before I get into a lather of criticism, I should like to mention one or two parts of the particular egg that may be palatable. The charities Bill is one, because I agree that charity law needs reforming. I approve of the Bills on common land and on consumer credit, though the
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devil is always in the detail. I also agree that the corporate manslaughter Bill will recommend itself to the House. The child contact and inter-country adoption Bill and some other measures may be welcome.
There are also, Madam Deputy Speaker, some pretty awful measures in the Queen's Speech; in particular the incapacity benefit Bill. We are not journalists but mere politicians, so we do not know much about what will appear in that Bill. However, we do know from what the Secretary of State has already publicly said that he wants to move 1 million people from the incapacity benefit list on to something else. In other words, he wants to bring 1 million people into work. Like others in the House, I have no objection to people going to work when they should be working. I have no truck with that at all, but the carefully manufactured leaks over the weekend talk about "curbing" the payments to people receiving such benefits.
I feel somewhat worked up about this matter because a friend of mine, the late Mr. Gwyn Jones, received a letter on 11 March whose contents I shall explain. Mr. Jones lived in my village and was therefore my constituent. He had been terribly ill for 10 years, and in need of heart, lung and liver replacements. He varied from being extremely ill to being merely ill, and it was patently obvious that he would never work again. The letter was from Mr. Jones's "personal adviser" who was writing to arrange a meeting. It explained that the records showed that he had recently passed "a personal capability assessment", and went on to put pressure on Mr. Jones to attend the Dolgellau job centre the following Friday. Mr. Jones was on his deathbed when he received this letter, and passed away a few days later.
Needless to say, I am angry about that. If that is how payments are to be "curbed", I am more than just angryI am disgusted. I hope that a Minister will tell the House what the Government's real intentions are. The soundbites give the impression that money will be taken off those who are the most vulnerable in society.
As I said, I do not object to people not being paid when they do not deserve it, but I want to repeat a point that I have made before. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have conducted hundreds of tribunal appeals on behalf of people turned down for incapacity benefit. Between 90 and 95 per cent. of those appeals succeeded. I am a barrister by profession and I like to think that I am a reasonable advocate, but I am not that good. The figure that I have quoted suggests to me that those applicants should not have been turned down in the first place.
Under the present system, general practitioners have to fill in a form on behalf of applicants. One young lad had been invalided out of the Royal Air Force after losing both a shoulder and a leg. Even so, the doctor involved in his case said that the lad could walk 100 m in a matter of seconds. That is an example of abuse, and if time permitted I could give many more examples. However, my point is that GPswho are paid £125 or £130 for the few minutes that it takes them to fill in a formoften say that people are fit for work when it is clear that they are not. I do not care about the amount that the GPs are paid, but the system needs to be reformed.
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To be fair to them, the Government have changed the basic form involved. A slightly more user-friendly version has been piloted in Glasgow, and I am pleased about that, but abuse by medical officers engaged by the Department is still widespread.
On the previous occasions that I have mentioned the problem, I expected to receive letters saying that I was ignorant and that I misunderstood the system. This is the third time that I have mentioned the matter on the Floor of the House, and not one GP has told me that I am wrong. To my way of thinking, that underlines that a real problem exists.
One of the big issues in Wales has to do with affordable housing. Real steps need to be taken to provide that, and a leak over the weekend suggested that some assistance would be extended to first-time buyers. I can see no such provision in the list of proposed Bills, but I hope that I am wrong. Housing is a major issue in Wales and the UK as a whole. We need to enable young people in particular to get on the housing ladder. That can be done through the use of part-ownership schemes, community land trusts, planning controls, the provision of social housing or the cheap sale by local authorities of land to community land trusts. It grieves me that young people in many parts of Wales never have a chance to live in their own community. That can never be right, but I am sure that the same problem is replicated throughout England and Scotland.
The House will shortly debate the ID cards Bill again. I have never been convinced that ID cards are a good idea. A strange climate of fear was engendered last time the matter came up, which was intended to soften up opposition to the original Bill. That opposition was very strong in this House, and I believe that it will be so again.
We have been told that there are two main justifications for ID cardsthat they will help in the fight against terrorism, and that they will contribute to the reduction of benefit and other fraud. The Government are at pains to stress that ID cards will be voluntary at first, but how will that assist in the apprehension of terrorists? The awful individuals who perpetrated the 9/11 atrocity and the Madrid bombings carried ID cards, so what justification for them can there be?
The first sentence of the initial Government consultation issued last year said that ID cards would not become compulsory. I believe that there has been a change since then and that, once introduced, such cards will inevitably become compulsory within a few years. Furthermore, if ID cards are so necessary in the fight against terrorism and if they are such a useful tool, what will happen in the 10 years or so that it will take to implement the legislation in full? The ID card system will cost billions of pounds, but could that money not be used more efficiently by putting more police officers on the street?
In addition, an ID card system will require a national database. How confident can we be that the necessary IT will be up to the job? I am sorry to say that the Government's record on IT is lamentable given the
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serial failures of the Child Support Agency systems and a similar failure at the Department for Work and Pensions. Are we not heading for another costly and damaging IT disaster, and to what purpose?
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one consequence of a failure of technology in respect of ID cards would be that innocent people would be held to ransom, not guilty people?
Mr. Llwyd: I agree. Terrorists are very sophisticated, and will manufacture everything that they need. Moreover, Government figures show that it is expected that ID cards will save only 5 per cent. of benefit fraud in any given year, so that justification is a non-starter as well.
In 1996, the report from the Scarman Centre looked at the use of ID cards in Europe. It found that in Germany, the Netherlands and France, people from ethnic minority groups were stopped for card inspections disproportionately often. Are we therefore looking at the reintroduction of a form of the sus law in this country? I certainly hope not.
In conclusion, my party believes that ID cards are illiberal, irrelevant, expensive and unproven, and that they have no place in our society. We will be happy to campaign against the proposal alongside all other parties that feel the same way.
The Queen's Speech contains a reference to a government of Wales Bill. We do not know what that Bill proposes, so I shall reserve judgment. However, I wager that it does not contain any provision to establish a Parliament for Wales, which is what my party wants. The commission chaired by the eminent Labour peer Lord Richard QC sat for 18 months and recently reported. All political parties were represented on the commission, and many of the participants began as agnostics on the matter. Even so, the commission unanimously stated that the National Assembly for Wales was not working. It made it clear that the only way forward was to give it the full legislative powers that are enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament.
A White Paper is to be issued later this summer and it is vital that it implements the Richard commission proposals in full. It would be wrong to withhold law-making powers from the people of Wales simply because a handful of Labour Back-Bench Members were afraid of losing their seats.
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