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Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I begin by congratulating all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. That is a very special moment. When I made my maiden speech, I was fortunate enough to address a full House on the rate capping Bill. How times change: the House is rarely full these days. Even so, I extend to all those making their maiden speeches my best wishes for the future.
In particular, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) on his speech today. We entered the House on the same day and shared the same office for a time. In those days, conditions for newly elected Members of Parliament
17 May 2005 : Column 137
were rather different. Today, they are allocated offices immediately, but I occupied a broom cupboard for my first 10 years in the House. I wish my hon. Friend well in the future. He has been missed from the House, and I am sure that he will serve his new constituents well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) spoke about the Government's mandate after the election. We can argue however we like about the numbers involved in the Government's re-election, but there is no doubt that there is an enormous disparity between the percentage of the vote that the Labour party achieved and the number of seats that it has. I hope that the leader of the Labour party will reflect on that result, and on the enthusiasm shown for the Gracious Speech.
I am delighted to have so many new colleagues on this side of the Chamber. I wish them all well, but I admit that I had not thought through all the implications. I charged into the Chamber earlier expecting to drift into my normal place on the green Benches, but now I realise that I will have to use my prayer card in future to secure my place, as the Conservative Benches are likely to be full on important occasions. If that is a nuisance, it is one that I welcome.
As a number of Conservative Members have observed, it appears from the Gracious Speech that the Government's current buzz word is "respect". I do not know whether that is a result of the new political party that caused the Government some damage in the election, but it is galling to hear this of all Governments saying that they are going to make respect the issue for this Parliament. I have no respect for a Government who, on our very first day of meeting, think that it is okay to brief the media before hon. Members. I have no respect for a Government who took us to war on a false premise, or for one who immediately reinstate Ministers who have only just resigned. Under this Government, Ministers never resign because they have done something wrong.
Finally, I have absolutely no respect for a Government who told us that there was nothing to worry about with postal votes and that nothing improper would happen. We tried to scrutinise the legislation on postal voting before the election, and all of my colleagues tell me that they are very worried about the matter. Given that several hon. Members have only small majorities, I wonder how many challenges will be brought forward.
I have no respect for this Government. Respect has to be earned, but they have done nothing to earn respect since 1997. I see nothing in the 45 Bills proposed in the Gracious Speech that will bring back respect.
I am delighted to find, however, that I am respected by a number of my constituents. I am delighted to have been returned to the House with an increased majority. I was gratified to receive this morning from one of my constituentsI will not name himthe following letter:
"when you called looking for support prior to May 5th. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of the look on your face and you had the good grace not to reply. I don't know what came over me, as you do so much good for people.
The first thing that our attention is drawn to in the Gracious Speech is the economy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that, no matter whom one spoke to from the business sector during the four weeks of the election campaign, the economy is very flat. I have no doubt that there will be tax increases to come. Thank goodness the Conservative Benches have the numbers that we need properly to scrutinise legislation, and I am confident that we will be able to scrutinise the tax increases and all the other matters that trouble me.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Prime Minister gave us an assurance that taxes would not increase. If we are to have respect, surely we can hold the Prime Minister to account. He said that taxes will not increase, rather as his manifesto said at the previous election that tuition fees would not be introduced and that the Government would legislate to prevent them. We now have tuition fees, of course, but what makes my hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister was misleading the public when he said that taxes would not increase?
Mr. Amess: I am concerned because of the track record of this rotten Government since 1997. They appear to be serial sinners, and I am not optimistic that they will deliver on their promises this time, particularly on not increasing taxes.
We have also heard over and again about education, education, education and how terribly important it is. In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), education is indeed of major concern. We do not have enough secondary school places, for instance, and my hon. Friend and I will be on the doorstep of Education Ministers to see what help can be given so that our constituents are offered real choice.
As a member of the Select Committee on Health, the national health service is a major interest of mine, and after four weeks of talking to constituents it is clear that there are huge concerns about it. My hon. Friends will remember that the Labour party suggested before the general election that the Conservative party would, if given power, privatise the national health service. I wonder whether my hon. Friends were puzzled, then, by the part of the Gracious Speech that tells us:
The only point on which I disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) is that I think that we should bring back Hattie Jacques. Most of my constituents agree that matrons are needed, and I hope that traditional hygiene will be brought back to our hospitals.
Mr. Robathan: Does my hon. Friend, as a member of the Health Committee in the last Parliament, know how many NHS patients are already being treated in private hospitals? We suggested that and it is a sensible idea, but I believe it already happens in some 250,000 cases a year.
Mr. Amess: My hon. Friend is right and Conservatives have no problem with that. However, I resent bitterly the Labour suggestion before the election that a Conservative Government would mean the end of the national health service, because people would then have to pay for health care. That simply was not the case. My hon. Friends intend to hold the Government to account if they attempt to honour their promise in the Queen's Speech and tinker with the private health sector.
The Queen's Speech also promised that the Government would begin long-term reform to provide sustainable income for those in retirement. In a previous election they said that they would help senior citizens, but in their first Budget they raided pension funds of £5 billion. Now they have the gall to claim that they will begin to help senior citizens. They will have difficulty with respect from senior citizens after their previous pledges on pensions.
I do not wish to upset my hon. Friends, but I am in favour of identity cards. In the 1980s, I successfully introduced a ten-minute Bill that enabled voluntary identity cards to be introduced and I am still a great supporter of them. When someone is born, they are issued with a birth certificate, and when they die their relatives are given a death certificate. There would be enormous advantages to having identity cards, but I do not want to fall out with my hon. Friends on the issue. If we cannot agree on compulsory ID cards, I hope that they can be convinced that it would be worth while introducing a voluntary scheme.
The Queen's Speech also says that the Government will tighten the immigration and asylum system in a way that is fair, flexible and in the economic interests of the country. In Southend, there is huge injustice in asylum and immigration. Genuine asylum seekers are not allowed to remain. People who come here as immigrants and have been accepted have huge hassle getting permission for relatives to come and stay for a couple of weeks. However, people who should not be in the country, and who have papers saying that they should have been removed, are still here. The system is an absolute shambles, but I have no faith that this Government will have the nous to do something about it.
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