Previous Section Index Home Page

15 Nov 2006 : Column 46

I say that if we are to have an outside agency, it has to be coupled with making the system more efficient. It should not mean just seconding everyone who currently works for IND to work for the new agency. It also means that there has to be responsibility on the part of Ministers. If hon. Members have constituency cases, they need to be able to see Ministers in order to get the problems resolved. That has certainly been the case for the past 20 years, and I would be loth to support any legislation if it meant that I could not go to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality with a fundamental case and say, “Your officials have got this wrong. You have the discretion and I want to ensure that you consider this matter on the merits of the case rather than on the file sent up by your officials.” If we legislate again, as we are, on Home Office issues, we need to ensure that the system gets better. That means taking administrative action and not doing what Ministers have done over the past few weeks—give large bonuses to IND officials because they hit their targets. If the targets are hit and the system is still bad, those officials should not, in my view, get those bonuses. I look forward to the Bill, but hope that the House will ensure that it is scrutinised carefully.

I welcome the legal services Bill and I see in her place the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). No doubt she will have a role in that Bill and, indeed, the new Bill proposed for tribunals. We took note of the Lord Chancellor’s statement that he thought that the criminal justice system was in chaos—a very odd thing for the Lord Chancellor to say. I know that the Lord Chancellor—I served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary for a year—is very up front and honest. If he thinks that something is going wrong with the system, he says so clearly. I hope that the Bill will bring about a more efficient system and that we do not simply change senior officials from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to the Court Service. We need a more efficient system, especially at a time when the Government have, because of the Carter reviews, effectively capped legal aid. We need a system that ensures that legal aid is properly targeted.

I hope that the proposed courts and tribunals Bill will make our tribunals system easier to understand for our citizens, who do not get legal aid for going to first instance tribunals. They have to do a lot of the work themselves or rely on solicitors that happen to be members of trade unions. It is vital that citizens be given proper assistance and support with respect to how our system operates.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that 60 per cent. of adult offenders are reconvicted within two years of their release from prison, and that two Select Committee reports have called for a dramatic improvement in the quality of prison education and training, does the hon. Gentleman think that the absence of any Government proposals to that end is, at the very least, disconcerting?

Keith Vaz: I do think that that is an important issue, but there is the catch-all phrase at the end of the Queen’s Speech—to the effect that “other measures”
15 Nov 2006 : Column 47
may be laid before Parliament—so perhaps that is a way of fulfilling the ambitions of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) to secure a Bill on that particular subject.

While on the subject of other measures, I would have liked two further measures to be included. The first is the coroners Bill—it existed in draft form—that we were promised by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. A great deal of work has been done by its Minister of State, but we are not to have a coroners Bill. I know that consumers of the coroner service would want such a Bill as soon as possible. Secondly, I have pressed for new legislation to deal with violent video games, how they are reviewed and how they are labelled. I had hoped that the Government would use the opportunity of the Queen’s Speech to introduce such a Bill.

If I am lucky enough to win a place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, I want to introduce a Bill that would improve the workings of the Insolvency Service. I have campaigned for 15 years for the victims of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International and sat through some of the litigation that was initiated by the liquidators against the Bank of England at huge costs to the victims of BCCI, so I think that it is important that we look at the way in which the Insolvency Service operates. Legislation along those lines would be welcome.

I wish to make two final points. I am glad that we are not having a health service Bill. As with immigration Bills, we have had enough health service Bills. We cannot modernise and reshape the health service any further through legislation, but instead should consolidate the gains that we have made. A huge amount of resources has gone into the health service—although, in Leicester, we will be slightly short-changed in the money that we were promised for our three new hospitals. Instead of £900 million, we will get £700 million. It obviously helps that the Secretary of State for Health is one of the Leicester Members, but she still took £200 million away from us.

However, my right hon. Friend is giving us a new diabetes centre of excellence, which I welcome greatly as someone who, like some other Members, suffers from type 2 diabetes. Diabetes screening is extremely important and I discovered that I had type 2 diabetes only after I opened a diabetes screening centre two years ago. I was screened and then rung up the next day to be told that I had diabetes. Members should be careful in what they open, just in case something comes up.

My very last point concerns foreign affairs—not Iraq, but Europe. I am very disappointed that no more mention was made of Europe other than the usual comments about working with our European partners. There is no legislation on enlargement on the horizon this Session, but Romania and Bulgaria will join the European Union on 1 January next year.

Sir Stuart Bell: My right hon. Friend intervened on me when I spoke on Europe in last year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, so will he confirm that next year is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Rome? Would that not provide an opportunity for us all to
15 Nov 2006 : Column 48
debate again the future of Europe, its constitutional arrangements and how we should move the agenda forward?

Keith Vaz: That would be an excellent opportunity and I am sure that my hon. Friend would be very much part of that debate. I know that he takes a great interest in these matters. The House should not be afraid of the European issue. After all, the House keeps saying that we should scrutinise and legislate to ensure that Brussels does not take the lead. However, we never want to discuss Europe. There are complaints that we never want to discuss Iraq, but Europe is a vital issue for us.

On 1 January, Romania and Bulgaria will join, although we will put restrictions on the freedom of movement of the people from those countries. As I have said before in the House, the proposed system will be totally unworkable because it will be impossible to tell a Romanian from a Pole, Czech or anyone else and we will need the police and inspectors to go out to find who is and who is not working. It is sad that our record on enlargement has been sullied in this way. We should allow people from Romania and Bulgaria to come in without restrictions.

We need firm leadership and direction on European Union issues and the Prime Minister has provided such a lead. I am sorry that this is his last Queen’s Speech debate. He has been a terrific Prime Minister and his legacy is very apparent in legislation and the work that he has done. He deserves the thanks of the House.

Mention has also been made of Members who have passed away, and this is only the second Queen’s Speech debate in which Robin Cook has not participated. I worked for him at the Foreign Office as his Minister for Europe and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was his Parliamentary Private Secretary. The tributes paid to Robin Cook by the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and others were full, and rightly so. When a Member dies, his constituency is handed on to a new Member and it is only at times like this that we remember the legacy of someone such as Robin Cook. It is right that the House has done so. Robin Cook would have been pleased with the work that has been done in respect of the European Union. He would also have been pleased with the progress that has been made over the past 10 years under this Government.

I welcome the Queen’s Speech and I look forward to participating robustly in the debates.

5.5 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I identify myself and my colleagues on this Bench with the sympathy that has been expressed to those who have died serving their Queen, their country and the people of our nation. That sympathy comes from all parts of the House. Northern Ireland is, of course, the smallest part of the United Kingdom, but the people have the same sympathy and they too have passed through their own trials and troubles.

I have every sympathy with the families of former Members of the House who cannot be with us because they have been called to the great eternity that lies before us all. As a Christian minister, I know that, at
15 Nov 2006 : Column 49
certain times of the year—at times such as these—it comes back forcefully just how touched by that they are. We all feel for them and our pious prayers are with them.

I am going to speak for only a few minutes. I am sure that people will be glad of that. I could not let this occasion go by because very serious legislation will come before the House in a few days’ time to restore devolution in Northern Ireland. I cannot prophesy—and I would not attempt to do so—what that legislation will be. Even if I did know something, I would not, as a Privy Councillor, be permitted to say anything about it. However, I have sat in the House for a long time. The House failed miserably to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. I am not going to go into the background of that. It is a fact.

I have in my study in the Stormont Parliament photographs of 301 gallant policemen who gave their lives in that struggle. If we put that into United Kingdom terms—by percentages—that would be about 6,000 policemen. The figures stagger us. Of all the Members from Northern Ireland, I have been at more funerals than any other public representative, for the simple reason that I not only represent Northern Ireland from North Antrim, but, for 25 years, was a Member of the European Parliament, representing all of Northern Ireland as one constituency. So, I know something of the deep sorrows.

The legislation coming forth, however, must deal with the issue that no one can be in government in Northern Ireland, or any part of the United Kingdom, unless they uphold the police and the rule of law, and support and help the official agents of Government in dealing with crime and seeing that the law is faithfully observed. This is a day of decision for Northern Ireland. If Northern Ireland is going to take another road to peace and prosperity, it must have the rock-solid foundation that anyone serving in government must be a loyal subject of the security forces, the forces of the Crown, the police and those who adjudicate justice in the court system.

What alarms me is that the joint leaders of Sinn Fein recently had meetings in the United States of America; they included Mr. Adams, who is the Member of Parliament for Belfast, West, although he does not attend. He had been let back in to America only after a long delay. At one of those meetings he said, “Ian Paisley says that I am not for law and I am not for order. He is therefore demanding that we all take a pledge to support the police and the adjudication of the courts of the land.” He said, “I want to make a statement here tonight.” This was his statement. He said, “I want to tell this audience and America that I am for law and I am for order, but I am opposed—totally—to the law of Britain and I am opposed totally to the Orange Order.” Here is a man who tells us that he will support the police—although the pledge is yet to be seen and heard or subscribed to—but who then goes out of the country and says that he does not support British rule, British order or the British way of life. I and the majority of people, both nationalists and Protestants, look upon that as almost a redeclaration of war against us.

15 Nov 2006 : Column 50

I trust that everyone here will be at the debates and that the House will say, on the first occasion that it has had such an opportunity, “Right, if you obey the law, if you support the Crown forces, if you support the police, you can be in government—provided, of course, that you are voted into government.” That should be the message from this House. If we do that, I believe that we will deliver ourselves from the darkness of the past and come to a light that will be a light indeed to the people and the children of Northern Ireland.

5.13 pm

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Again, we hear the central theme that the Queen’s Speech contains too much legislation, or not enough legislation, or U-turns on legislation—anything but the right legislation. But 10 days after bonfire night, I am still hearing via my postbag, my telephone and my doorstep about the noise, the nuisance, the problems and the scared pets resulting from enormous fireworks displays, not organised on a community basis, but put on in people’s back gardens. The size of the rockets going off is staggering. We are still finding rockets in our garden now, and I am still hearing a barrage of complaints that we passed fireworks legislation, but it has done no good because the police are not able to enforce it.

If any of the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech offers an opportunity to ensure that we can control the types of fireworks sold in this country, hundreds of thousands of our constituents will urge us to take that opportunity. I know that I speak for many in my constituency who face 20 or 30 days of fireworks displays. Diwali is followed by bonfire night, and very soon it will be Christmas and new year when the celebrations start again. We have to do something to cut the noise that some fireworks make—they sound like cannons going off.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Is the hon. Gentleman not illustrating a point that has been made time and again during this debate: legislation goes through this House because it grabs a headline for a day, but nothing happens afterwards because it has no substance and no powers are made available for it to be exercised?

Mr. Purchase: I take the point; I possibly laid myself open to it. The Bill that became the Fireworks Act 2003 came from the Labour Benches, but the matter needs our attention and should engage us again.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The problem with the 2003 Act was not the Act itself, but the fact that the regulations made under it were not strong enough. Bill Tynan, the former Member for Hamilton, South, who introduced the private Member’s Bill, tabled an early-day motion calling for the regulations to be withdrawn because he felt that after all that work, the regulations that the Government came up with were not strong enough to deal with the menace.

Mr. Purchase: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reminder. Newspapers and radio stations have been running phone-ins and write-ins asking people what legislation they would like.

15 Nov 2006 : Column 51

Mr. Kevan Jones: I know that Wolverhampton is a unique and special place. The experience from my constituency this year is that both the lead-up to fireworks night and the period after it have been quieter than in previous years.

Mr. Purchase: I am pleased for my hon. Friend and his constituents, and I wish I could say the same for mine. Newspapers have run such competitions. Nowhere in the Queen’s Speech, however, do I see a reference to fireworks. Rest assured that such a measure would be extremely welcome in my constituency.

I add my voice to the voices of those who have paid tribute to all the hon. Members who have died since the last Queen’s Speech. If I may, I should like to make a special reference to my dear friend Robin Cook. I had the privilege of being his friend for 20 years and of working for him in this place both in opposition and in government. Robin was an extraordinary character who held this House in the palm of his hand, no more so than at the time of the Scott report, to which reference has been made. I promise not to mention Iraq again, except in this context.

Hon. Members will recall that performance. I recall sitting on the Opposition Benches when Robin Cook was at the Dispatch Box as though it were yesterday. It was an amazing performance. Hon. Members will also recall that he was supposedly given very little time to read the Scott report, yet was able to quote it almost chapter and verse. I found that interesting because, as part of Robin’s team, I knew that members of his staff attended virtually every session of the Scott report and that copious notes were taken, points made and understandings gained.

The weekend following that amazing speech, the New Statesman printed a cartoon showing a door portal and Margaret Cook saying, “Robin, your dinner will be ready in five minutes”. His reply was, “Thank you, dear. Just time to read ‘War and Peace’.”

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I was a Trade and Industry Minister at that time. Without commenting on what the Scott report did and did not say, I must point out that it certainly did not have an executive summary. I think we managed to provide Robin Cook with three hours, locked in a room, to read the 28 volumes, and we thought he came to the House with a pretty forensic display that afternoon.

Mr. Purchase: Might I remind the hon. Gentleman that he would not even let Robin have a pencil? None the less, that was an extraordinary parliamentary performance, and I am privileged to be able to stand here and mention it today, following his regrettable death. My thoughts and sympathies are also with the families of other Members who have departed during that period.

There is, however, much in the Queen’s Speech that I can welcome, certainly the reshuffle on child support. What a dreadful experience that has been for us all. More can be done on offender management and, of course, let us do what we can in the circumstances on concessionary bus travel. How many times must we revisit the issue of border and immigration controls? I suspect that we will still be talking about it in 20 years.
15 Nov 2006 : Column 52
It seems that in a world with 10 million refugees, the west will for ever be subject to people wishing to join our prosperity. I make no political point there, but the prosperity of the north and the west in particular attracts people who are striving to do better for themselves and for their families.

Some of my constituents complain that Wolverhampton has been subject to wave after wave of immigration—including the Windrush people, but starting before that. I am proud to say that Wolverhampton was home to many Poles and Ukrainians who came here immediately at the end of the war, and as a schoolboy I was able to make friends with many of them. Wave after wave have come to Wolverhampton, and by and large we have managed to rub along together to create a community and a city that is well worth living in.

People from our small island, over the centuries, have peopled almost every corner of the world. I like to believe that, by and large, that has been to the advantage of the world and of Britain. Long may it be the case that young people move freely around the world to find what they believe are the best opportunities for them.

While I understand that Home Office Ministers are under pressure and unable to deal with the number of people coming to Britain, I say that when the day comes that we allow bigots, small-minded people and others of that ilk to determine our immigration policy, that will be a sad day not just for Britain, but for Europe and the world. None the less, we have to give the issue a fair wind to achieve some satisfaction for people who understand the dangers inherent there as well.

I want to refer to the local government Bill. We have already had the White Paper, which was pretty unsatisfactory. For a couple of minutes, I want to describe to Members what I believe has been the social policy failure not just of this Government, but of a succession of Governments. We love to talk about cursively divining social policy—joined-up working—but I want to give the House an illustration of how that has not worked.

That failure is not based on the fact that Mrs. Thatcher decided to sell council homes. I own my own home, as do most people in the Chamber, and I have no objection to anyone else owning their own home and no problem with the sale of council houses—I want to make that clear—at a proper discount for sitting tenants. The detail is not that important, but what is important is the fact that successive Governments seem unable to understand the value of allowing local authorities, or councils, to build more homes.

Next Section Index Home Page