Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Lembit Öpik : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Llwyd: No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has not contributed to the debate, but has merely intervened twice already. I am sorry, but other people wish to speak. If he were prepared to sit through a whole debate, I might be prepared to take an intervention.

To return to my theme, the National Assembly is in favour of an anti-smoking Bill, but it wants to make
17 May 2005 : Column 114
regulations and to decide which places can waive the need for it. The Bill will say that it is possible to exempt certain places from the general law. By the end of 2007, all enclosed public places and workplaces will be smoke free, except some licensed premises. The National Assembly for Wales is unanimous in wanting the right to decide where those places should be. As things stand, my understanding—more importantly, the Assembly's understanding and that of the Chairs of the appropriate Committees and all the political parties—is that that will be done here. That undermines the whole devolution process, and I ask Ministers to respond on that important point.

There are things to commend in the Queen's Speech, but there are also matters of considerable concern, and I believe that they will give rise to huge debate in the coming weeks and months.

8 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who has obviously given some thought to his speech. I have to say, however, that I did not agree with much of it, because I do not think that the mandate received by the Government supports his position. Of course, I respect his right to continue to challenge the Government's position, but it is important to note where we have come from.

Before he slips out of the Chamber, I am pleased to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), on his well deserved promotion. The fact that he is therefore no longer my Whip will mean that he is not on my back all the time, which is very helpful. We may again strike up the friendly relationship we used to have before he went to the Whips Office.

I have been interested in many contributions today and have enjoyed being in the Chamber for them. I would like to hire the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and to take him round all the constituencies in Scotland to prove two things. First, even when I am in my loud tie phase, when I go out jazzing, I do not wear ties as bad as his. Secondly, if he keeps up as he did today, we will be returned with a massively increased majority at the next election. His was the best speech, and I shall take it away to frighten every member of my electorate who did not vote against the Conservatives at the election. The Conservatives came fourth in my new constituency, for the first time. They were put there by the Liberal Democrats, who came third.

In my constituency, we had debates on the hustings, and the general tenor was respectful and humorous. At the end of the day, we all felt our opponents had not dropped into the positions that some of the national leaders of the parties did as they conducted the election. Our electorate appreciated that. The question is: how we did it. Even the Conservative candidate had been against the Iraq war in the public prints for a number of years, so everyone on our platform was against the war and we all had things to say about it. I am sure I shall have things to say about it here in future. In Linlithgow and East Falkirk, I took over 75 per cent. of the
17 May 2005 : Column 115
constituency of the former Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, and added it to 65 per cent. of my own old constituency. In fact, Labour won there: despite what people may have thought about his particular fixations on certain topics, the spirit of Tam Dalyell was in fact the true spirit of Labour. I am sure that that was helped by the fact that he is married to Kathleen Wheatley, Lord Wheatley's daughter. They are very much at the centre of what people who vote Labour wanted in the constituency. The notional majority was 11,500, and I held it with 11,200. That shows that there is a clear commitment to a Labour vote in the area. People are looking for certain things from the Labour Government, and I hope that we can deliver for them.

I echo concerns expressed about turnout. I repeat something I have said ever since I was elected: we have to bring in compulsory voting in the United Kingdom. Some 10 years ago, I went with a Select Committee to Australia to talk to its election commission, and I was impressed by its universal system under which anyone can vote at any point in the country some weeks ahead of the election and then be registered as having voted back in their home constituency. My son lives in Brisbane now, and he took advantage of that at the last election. Although victory went to the Liberals, he still felt he had participated.

People have the choice in that system to say, "None of the above". They do not have to vote for one of the parties, but they do have to use their democratic right to vote. We should look seriously at that, and I do not know why people are afraid of it. Perhaps it is because everyone can, as they have done today, stand up and say, "Although you got more votes than us, we won", or "Although we got more votes than you, we didn't win", or "We did really well compared with where we were before", as the Liberal Democrats always say. The reality is, though, that they are not the Government, and if the system were based on everyone having to vote, everyone could see that the result was the will of the people, which we can never quite be sure about in our electoral system at the moment.

So, how did we do? We have a third successive Labour Government, and a monumental task and a tremendous challenge and opportunity lie ahead for that Government, with many mandates. We put a concise document to the public, but one packed with promises and commitments. People chose those commitments. I was struck by the number of times elderly people came up to me in the constituency and said, on pensions, "I have never been better off." That happened again and again. I originally wanted pensions linked to earnings, but it is clear that what we did, using pension credit and the minimum income guarantee, has lifted a vast number of pensioners out of hardship and given a brightness to their future that they did not expect.

We must move forward. I certainly support the idea that everyone in future should be compelled to pay into a pension scheme at their place of work. The firm should pay in, and the employee should pay in. Anyone who argues against that from the business side is trying to find a way out of paying people a decent wage so that they can afford to make a compulsory contribution to their future when they retire. I hope that the Government will look seriously at that.
17 May 2005 : Column 116

There is a mandate for ID cards, despite what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said. I put ID cards on the pledge card that I put out in my own name and with my photograph on it. I took it up every single time at the hustings. We talked about it seriously in sensible discussions, and about 75 per cent. of people saw no problem with it. It does not matter whether ID cards are just about combating terrorism. It is sensible that people should be able to produce an identity card containing a biometric statement, and as we said in the manifesto:

The manifesto also says the scheme will be rolled out initially on a voluntary basis, but it should eventually be compulsory. It should substitute for a passport when we go around the European Union. It should be capable of being put through a scanner so that people can be identified.

I see fraud all the time in my constituency. People I know came as visitors, then sent their passports back to their country of origin where they were stamped for a fee by a corrupt official. They remain in this country. There is no way of challenging that, except by using sleuths to find those people out. If they had to prove who they were and what right they had to be here, it would stop fraud.

I have twice had parts of my identity stolen. Once, a bank did not even check the electoral register and gave someone of a different name a credit card at my address. I had to stop that myself. I do not know whether the person was ever prosecuted. It is easy to steal people's identity, but more difficult to do so if there is a proper chip system in an identity card. It is time we brought that in.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, East (Mr. Marshall) mentioned our commitment to the Post Office. Our manifesto commitment is that we

But the manifesto also says:

I am fed up with two things. One is Ministers saying, "It's not my responsibility, guv. It is the regulator's". The other is the regulator saying that he does not have to take into account the concerns of the consumer, just the concerns of the Competition Commission. Services are about people, especially public services. The private sector has to face up to the fact that it does not answer to people, as in the financial sector which has been ripping people off in this country for at least the last decade and probably for longer through the use of hedge funds and other dodges it gets up to. It is ripping off the investor, as Equitable Life did, and we need to stop that by making Ministers, rather than some second-hand regulator, responsible for how services run.

It has not been said in the House—but it should be—that the major Opposition party in the election had a scurrilous, shameful tone to its campaign on immigration that deeply damaged our communities, whether they have few people with other ethnic origins or many. People now live in fear of persecution, and it was a shameful thing to do. It was a parallel of what happened in Australia, which my son explained in some detail to me. The Aboriginals were scapegoated, as were people from Asia, who had provided tremendous
17 May 2005 : Column 117
benefits to Australia. That scaremongering worked in Australia, but through the good grace of the British people it did not work here. Instead, it damaged the Conservative party, which will not live it down for a long time—at least, for as long as I can stand up and remind them of the shameful behaviour of its leader and other party members during the election.

We must now stabilise the situation. We are committed to introducing a Bill on immigration, and it is important—as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said—to distinguish between immigration and asylum. Illegal immigration, and the trafficking and smuggling of people, is now more lucrative than smuggling drugs for the cartels that run such operations. We are a target for their activities, as are many other countries that may provide a better economic future. Some people are trafficked to be abused or for prostitution, but many volunteer to be trafficked. Their families use all their wealth to buy a passage, by a clandestine route, to this or some other country. We have to work out how to stop that, because it must be our target, not the few individuals who drift in for a wedding, stay on and then eventually get caught and sent home.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said, we also have to calm the fears of the people who live in large ethnic minority communities and have contributed greatly to this country, but who now feel the target—a legitimate target, according to some—of a form of xenophobia and racism that has always underlain the English personality. England has never decided what sort of country it is, and that is where the problems arise most often.

We must prevent exploitation of immigrants. Illegal immigrants—Chinese and other Asians—are exploited regularly, but so are legal immigrant groups, such as Lithuanians, Poles and Indian graduates. The latter are being treated appallingly in some areas. They are paid very poorly and forced to live in crowded circumstances while working in hotel chains in Scotland. We must give those people the same wages and rights as other workers in this country; otherwise, our workers will complain about jobs being taken by people who undercut them and we will also have immigrants to this country being abused.

I hope that the Government will find a way to prevent immigrant families with children from being incarcerated. We have fought a campaign in Scotland and now families with children are put into Dungavel detention centre, the former prison, for only a few days. That should be repeated throughout the country. I hope that we will prevent abuse and, at the same time, encourage and applaud those legal immigrants who come to our country.

My second major topic is incapacity benefit reform. We made it clear in the manifesto that we would do something about that. The tone was at times not acceptable to me, but it was in the manifesto and we have won a mandate on it. We said:

My worry is that we will reform incapacity benefit before we create the pathways. I made the point before the election that the yellow brick road has not reached
17 May 2005 : Column 118
my constituency yet. However, we have had the proposal to shut down the job centre in the hardest hit area of my constituency. That does not make any sense. We cannot on the one hand take away people's access and on the other promise to find them a way back into work. Everyone deserves the dignity of work and an adequate reward for that work.

I worry about some reports we heard before the election that Ministers, even the Prime Minister, intended to end people's ability to lounge on benefits. Well, I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, East describe the effect on some wards in his constituency with unemployment rates of more than 50 per cent. There is a cloud over communities in areas hit by economic inactivity, such as those in West Lothian, outside Livingston. Job losses started under the Conservatives and continued under our Government. The people's lifestyles are debilitated, because they have to live on benefits or very poor pay. In the communities that I have inherited in West Lothian, unemployment has fallen by only 27 per cent., but it has fallen by 37 per cent. in communities around Livingston and 39 per cent. in my former constituency. I phoned the enterprise company the day after the election, after about four hours' sleep, to ask what we could do. I was told that there was no problem, because the area had the same average unemployment as Edinburgh's, at 2 per cent. I do not know what planet that company lives on, but it does not know the communities in Armadale and Whitburn. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, East said, it is economic inactivity that is the problem—how many people have not got jobs but are not on the register. They are not registered so they do not count in the eyes of the enterprise companies. Those people can be written off, and that was done by the Thatcher and Major Governments. We have to solve that problem. After all, the Labour party is pledged to support working people. The first posters for the Keir Hardie Government said that the Labour party was the party for all who work—I have the centenary banner—and that is what we should still be. The pathway must come to every community before the benefits are cut. We should use a carrot, not a stick. It will not be Back Benchers who rebel—the Government have a mandate for the Bill and we will not know how it will affect people until it rolls out—but the communities I represent. They will march on the job centres and take on the Government, and they will not vote for us at the next election, when we should win an historic fourth term.

When it comes to the European Union, we should be better at scrutiny. In the last Parliament, the CBI criticised us for letting too many matters through without proper scrutiny. I have sat on the European Scrutiny Committee for the past seven years, but we were not the problem. The problem, the chief executive of the CBI said, was other Members who did not take the process seriously. He was right. That is why we ended up having to fight a rearguard action on REACH—the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals—which could have destroyed the chemical industry in this country and probably throughout the whole of Europe. We have to fight many battles after the event, because Parliament does not pay attention to what is happening in the Council of Ministers and does not scrutinise what comes out of Europe properly. I hope that that will be improved in this Parliament.
17 May 2005 : Column 119

Should France vote yes—I hope that it will—we will have a massive opportunity to repair some of the damage done in the election by the tone of the talk about immigrants. The treaty is for 25 countries, 10 of which were recently behind the wall of a dominant communist regime. Those countries want to be a full part of the European Union and if we do not have this treaty, we will have to guddle along with the wrong weighting of votes. The new countries would not be able to mould a new system that suits them as well as us. I agreed with the leader of the Liberal Democrats when he said that we should work together. As he pointed out, 58 per cent. of people were in favour of the treaty and wanted us to move back to the centre of Europe. I hope that the Prime Minister sees the chance to underpin his legacy by taking us back to the centre of Europe through a new treaty that provides a working model that will keep the European Union stable for the next 10 years.

Bulgaria is probably ready for membership, although I am not so sure about Romania, which we visited just before the election. I know that deals have been done so that it can join in 2007 at the latest, but it has a long way to go and we must press it hard to make itself fit for membership. I hope their Government will take that seriously and that the process is not about giving America—rather than the UN—a base in Romania, rather than bringing Romania into an enlarged EU for a sensible reason.

There are two personal campaigns that I hope will be taken forward during the Government's next term. I am the chairman of the all-party group on haemophilia and I am concerned about the payments given to people suffering from hepatitis C. The bereaved families of people with hepatitis C who died after receiving contaminated blood products should be included in the scheme. They are not at present. The Government give ex gratia payments—they do not call it compensation—of £20,000 for people with hepatitis C and £25,000 if the person has cancer of the liver or another serious complication, but it was a shameful decision not to give those payments to the families of those who died after contracting hepatitis C from contaminated blood products. That was unsustainable and immoral. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Government should not have been buying contaminated blood from US blood banks that took supplies from drug addicts and people in jail. In the other place, Lord Morris described that as the single greatest medical blunder of the century of any Government. That is true. The plasma was extracted from those products and given to people in this country causing HIV and hepatitis C. Recently, people have been infected with CJD prions from the same contaminated products. It would cost only a small amount to deal with that shameful omission, and I hope that the Government will do so.

Finally, I want the Government to take action on Palestine. A wall is being thrown around people; it does not just go around the green line but into Palestinian enclaves. In my constituency, we have the Antonine wall and we have just twinned with the town of Jayous, which is cut in half by a wall. The inhabitants are not allowed to leave by gate 25, which is permanently locked. Lemons are falling to the ground and rotting. The Israeli Government are denying people their livelihood. If we want a settlement, there must be real autonomy for two nations—the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.
17 May 2005 : Column 120
We must stop the Israelis from preventing British Gas developing Gaza gas, an offshore field that would bring money to the Palestinian people in Gaza and help them to rebuild their economy.

I hope all those things can be carried through by the Government. It was a splendid Queen's Speech, and we were elected on an excellent manifesto.

8.22 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page