Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
I congratulate you on your re-appointment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate the three hon. Members who have made maiden speeches todaythe hon. Members for Hove
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(Ms Barlow) and for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). I reserve most of my praise for my hon. Friend. It is great to see an old colleague coming back after eight years. What took you so long, as we say?
Education's loss will be Parliament's gain, but my hon. Friend will see some changes since he left the House in 1997. The worst change is that we now occupy the Opposition Benches. I had hoped that we would return to the Government Benches. Another change is the new hours of the House, which I do not like at all. It is good that we have gone back to sitting until 10 pm on Tuesday, but it would have been better if we had got Wednesday and Thursday back to a later time as well.
We have talked about the lack of respect and how to engage people in the democratic process, and another matter that I find problematic which my hon. Friend will notice, particularly in Committee, is how all legislation is timetabled these days. The automatic guillotine falls, and we simply do not have the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation in the way that we should. However, it is wonderful to see my hon. Friend back in his rightful place.
This is my fourth term, as it is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I had a good result in the Ribble valley, although the celebrations were tempered by the death of my agent, Keith Brunskill, the next day. Keith was a tremendous supporter of mine. He supported me through my summer tours over 14 years in the Ribble valley. The Queen's Speech refers to respect, and everybody I know who knew Keith respected and admired him. He was a community man and did so much for everything that he became involved in, whether it was politics, the church or just his local community and the village cricket team. My thoughts are with Kate, Mike and Vivian. He was a tremendous man and will be a great loss to us.
I have had five private Member's Bills so far and if I am as lucky in this Parliament as I have been in the past my next one will be the letter-box Bill. Having delivered thousands of leaflets over four weeks, I want to see legislation stipulating that letter-boxes should be horizontal and in the middle of the door, with no brushes, so that the leaflets go through smoothly. [Interruption.] That will clearly be a popular Bill; it may be my leadership bid. Everybody else is standing so I do not see why I should not. It was a hard-fought campaign.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) referred to his maiden speech, and I remember mine in 1992. It was at half-past 1 in the morning. It was on Maastricht and it was an awful speech. I spoke mostly on what I liked about Maastricht, which were its opt-outs. This Queen's Speech refers to the European Union constitution, and I say to the Minister: let us bring on that referendum and give the British people an opportunity to vote on it, irrespective of what France does on 29 May. If it votes no, so be it, but let us give the British people a chance to vote on the European Union constitution. I have no doubts about what they will say. We had to drag the Prime Minister into having a referendum in the first place. The only reason he caved in in the end was that he wanted to save what he thought were a few seats at the European Union elections that
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were coming up, and I am not so sure that he was successful at that, because it was quite a dreary result for the Government. But he promised a referendum and I hope that we will have that. It would not be a bad idea if we had the date of that as quickly as is possible.
One reason why I did so well in the Ribble valley, with the Lib Dems only just clinging on to second place, was my support for BAE Systems. We have talked about manufacturing today, and the Ribble valley has all the technical and manufacturing skills required to help to make the Eurofighter. The Lib Dems were against tranche 3 of the Eurofighter, and that went badly against them. The Labour party candidate was in favour of it and he increased his vote. I want to ensure that we have the manufacturing skills required to manufacture products such as the Eurofighter jet, that we give those skilled workers our full support, and that we have the work for them in the future. We also need to ensure that our armed forces have the defence capacity that they desperately need for the job that they will have to do in the future.
The Queen's Speech also refers to support for rural services, but we do not really know what that means. We have talked about the vagueness of the Queen's Speech and its thinness in partsnone of us had the 200-page document that all the journalists hadand I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby had to say about farming. When I was knocking on doors during the election campaign, one youngster of 18 or 19a farmer's son who works on the farmsaid to me, "Mr. Evans, will I have a job to go to?" If we want a countryside that everybody can visit and working rural villages, the primary point is to ensure a farming industry that can sustain the families that live in and around those farms. This is my worry, and given the Government's desire to support rural services, I hope that they will support farming, which props up our rural areas. But we must also ensure that this is more than just words. We must ensure the survival of our rural post offices and buses, which allow people to live in such villages and to have a full life.
A children's Bill is also mentioned in the Queen's Speech. At the tail-end of the last Parliament, I asked the Prime Minister about the tragic case of a young boy in my constituency who died in the care of a child minder. Shortly afterwards, I met the then Minister with responsibility for children, who said that the Government were going to introduce a children's Bill. Having listened to what she and the Prime Minister had to sayI believe that the Prime Minister was being sincereI hope that the Government will look at the facts of this tragedy. If they consider this children's Bill an appropriate vehicle, I hope that they will ensure that safeguards are included in it, so that our child minders are fully trained and know what to do when accidents or emergencies happen. Training and certification also have to be better. What happened to Joshua was an absolute tragedy, and if we can learn lessons from it, we can ensure that it never happens to anyone else.
The Queen's Speech also refers to a Bill on road safetyan issue which the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (Mr. Marshall) mentioned. I enjoyed everything that he had to say on dealing with speed cameras; it was absolutely superb. The current situation is clearly over the top. There are far too many speed cameras throughout the country, and not all of them are in the
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right places. He said that people are losing their licences and he is absolutely right. I do hope that we will take a more intelligent approach to speed cameras and to the points system.
We also need to spend the money raised from speed cameraswell over £100 million a yearmore intelligently. We need to spend it on ensuring that the roads are made safer. There have been several tragic accidents and deaths on the A59, which runs through my constituency. A particularly tragic incident occurred between Sabden and Clitheroe, and the cost-effective answer was to stop the traffic turning right into Clitheroe along the A59. A few months after that was done, there was another accident in which somebody tragically died. What is needed there is a roundabout. No doubt that would cost more money than the cones that are currently littered along the A59, but they are not an effective road safety answer. Let us ensure that some of the money raised from motoristsmoney raised on the back of a road safety argumentis indeed spent on effective road safety measures. I hope that we will see a lot more such measures.
We have talked a lot about crime today, and about drugs. I asked the Prime Minister whether he thought that he made a mistake in reclassifying cannabis from class B to class C. He went on a bit, saying that the Government will have a look at this issue. If the commission that they have set up recommends returning it to class B, they will do so, but why did the commission not examine this issue in the first place? Why did it not look into the various consequences of reclassifying cannabis, taking on board the various psychiatric disorders that cannabis causes, and then make a judgment as to whether it was right to reclassify it? It is a very dangerous experiment and the Foreign Secretary has already said that the Government may have made a mistake. If so, let us be big about it, admit the mistake and reclassify cannabis as a B drug. A mistake has been made and it has sent all the wrong signals to youngsters up and down the country. The impacts of the reclassification were never taken into account.
The electoral system has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby, and I am also very concerned about postal votes. It seems that a number of people who did not ask for them received them; that some who wanted them did not receive them; and that others received more than one. We must therefore listen seriously to what the Electoral Commission has to say about the problem[Interruption.] I see my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby is waving a spare ballot paper for us. We must take this matter very seriously indeed. We must ensure that the electoral system in this country is rigorous: there are ways to achieve that. Let us learn the lessons of the 2005 general election and bring forward a Bill that all political parties, not just one, will support. We need effective measures in place to ensure that people receive the voting papers that they need.
In my own constituency, more than 100 people were turned away at one of the polling stations in Fulwood simply because the clerks supervising the ballot were overwhelmed. When someone phoned through to ask for more clerks, the request was denied. A police officer then turned upnot to ensure that everyone could vote, but to quell the 100 people involved and to tell them that, sadly, it was 10 o'clock, so they could not vote. It
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was announced on the television that 100 people in the Ribble Valley were turned away from voting. We must learn the lessons there, too. When people turn up to vote and there is a queue, there must be a system in place whereby doors can be shut or a police officer called to prevent people from joining that queue after 10 o'clock. Anyone joining the queue before that time, however, should be able to vote. We talk so often about encouraging people to vote, yet these people were turned away, which is wrong.
Finally, I want to talk about democracy in the mother of Parliaments. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) mentioned that reforming the House of Lords was not the No. 1 issue on the doorstep, but spoke almost exclusively about it during the rest of his speech. I want to ensure that we have a rigorous and effective Parliament, and the Government well know that they have been returned on the basis of just 36 per cent. of the vote. The last thing we want to see in this Parliament is a Government with 36 per cent. of the vote completely nobbling the second chamber. The Government are not content just to pack it full of their own cronies to gain the upper hand in numerical terms. They were upset by what happened at the tail end of the last Parliament, when not just Conservative or Liberal Democrat peers, but Cross Benchers and Labour peers repeatedly told the Government to think again on anti-terrorism legislation. The Government said that they could not do this or that, but every time the Bill came back here, we did think again and it was revised and sent back again. We ended up with an improved Bill, which both Houses were happy with. Of course, the Government said nothing about that during the election campaign, but waited until the election was over. As I said, not happy with packing the House of Lords full of their own supporters, they now want to neuter it so that the second chamber becomes ineffective against the mighty Labour Governmentelected, I remind the House, on 36 per cent. of the vote.
On the day after the election, the Prime Minister said that he was humble and would listen to what the public had to say, and we all took him on trust. We will carry on taking him on trust, but he has to ensure that his policies reflect the percentage of the votes that he secured. He may wish to introduce many measures, such as ID cards and reform of the House of Lords, but he should think again. That is what the second Chamber is for. It tells the Government to think again, and the result of the 2005 general election is telling the Prime Minister the same thingthat he must think again. I hope that that is what he will do.