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What has happened to the Government’s, and the Labour party’s, belief in civil liberties? They want to privatise the Probation Service and give the police even wider powers without the scrutiny of the courts. Let us have less tough talk on crime and more straightforward policing in which our communities have confidence.

On identity cards, I simply do not understand the situation. We will have biometric passports; if one wants to prove one’s identity, one can simply produce a biometric passport. So what is the point of having an ID card, unless carrying it is going to be compulsory? To put that another way, will it be a criminal offence not to carry one’s ID card? Otherwise, what is the point of having an ID card?

On the issue of 28 days’ detention, the Prime Minister and Treasury Front-Bench Members have simply not replied to the questions put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and other Members throughout today’s debate. Where is the evidence that 28 days’ detention is not working? Where is the evidence that Ministers need the power to detain people longer for questioning? Why is the Labour party suddenly wishing to be so cavalier with our civil liberties in this country?

Of course, I welcome a number of things in the Queen’s Speech. Let me mention the White Paper paving the way for the abolition of the Child Support Agency, which has been a complete nightmare. There are about 30,000 unresolved cases. Any formula-based system is always going to lead to problems. One of the problems with the CSA is that there has been no means of resolving by adjudication disputes that arise on fact. All Members have got interminable CSA cases in their constituency caseload, but most of them revolve around disputes about fact. There needs to be some mechanism to resolve those disputes. I welcome the reform of the CSA.

I also welcome the overhaul of the pension system. I hope that particular attention will be given to women
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pensioners, and I think that everyone welcomes the determination to restore the link between pensions and earnings.

Some Bills are noticeably missing, such as the much-vaunted marine protection Bill. As a former fisheries Minister—which is slightly bizarre, as I represent one of the most inland constituencies in the country—I am disappointed that the Government have abandoned the Bill on marine preservation. That demonstrates their somewhat half-hearted approach to green issues. When a proposal does not look particularly sexy, they simply abandon it.

The truth is that the Queen’s Speech demonstrates that the Prime Minister has stayed in office for too long. It is not a Queen’s Speech that amounts to a legacy. The Prime Minister’s era is over, and yet he presses for a few more miserable months. In the meantime, the rest of us are left simply waiting for Gordon.

8.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), under whose chairmanship I served on the International Development Committee. He made some excellent points, and his speech was wide ranging and sensible; I would be expected to say that, but I mean it as well.

Starting from where my hon. Friend left off, let me say that this is an extraordinary Queen’s Speech debate because, as far as Labour Members are concerned, the most enormous elephant is sitting in the Chamber. It is an elephant to which they do not refer, because they talk about the Queen’s Speech as though everything in it will happen, but we know that the Prime Minister will not be in post to implement it. If the Chancellor takes over from him, what guarantee do we have that he will implement policies proposed by his predecessor, with whom, famously, he does not get on well?

The tenor of the speeches has been extraordinary. No Labour Member has referred to the fact that the Prime Minister is going, and yet we all know that he will go—indeed, some of those Labour Members were involved in coup attempts to get rid of him. Sitting next to the Prime Minister was that well-known pugilist and philanderer, the Deputy Prime Minister, who now has no credibility whatever, either in this nation or internationally, when he floats around the world trying to persuade the North Koreans to give up nuclear weapons. What a joke that is. Next to him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer sat chuntering, as he has over the many years he has been waiting to become Prime Minister for many years. If he takes over, he might make a great Prime Minister, although I somewhat doubt it. But I am sure that he will not put forward all the policies of the current Prime Minister, so one might well ask: why are we having this Queen’s Speech debate in the current form, anyway?

I hope not to talk for too long, because we have had some rather lengthy and verbose contributions. I shall first turn to an issue that the Prime Minister would, I think, like to have as his legacy: health. I just wish to get on the record a few things about health in Leicestershire. I have had occasion this year to use the national health service more than ever before in my life,
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and I should say that, generally, I was pretty well treated, although I am now waiting until January for something that I was prescribed to go for in a 10-minute interview in September.

I sometimes wonder whether the Prime Minister is divorced from reality when he talks about the health service. I have seen it in action, and I know what is good and what is bad. Does he have no constituents who write to him, as mine in Leicestershire do? One such constituent is having to wait one year for an MRI—magnetic resonance imaging—scan in the Coventry Walsgrave hospital. Perhaps the Prime Minister has not heard about waiting times of one year. Or what about the man I spoke to yesterday? I will not mention his name; he needs a minor operation under local anaesthetic—a circumcision—but it is a pretty important operation for that man, I can say. He went for a pre-operation meeting yesterday. He has been waiting for 18 months since his GP told him that he had to have that operation. He does not know about targets or referrals to consultants. What he knows is that he has had to wait 18 months since he saw his GP, who said that he had to have the operation.

I have not had to wait a long time for my hip operations in London—at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital—and I was well treated, for which I pay tribute to my consultant and others, who pushed me through. But I was also very embarrassed, just before I went into my second operation in July, to get a letter from an elderly constituent who had been given a year’s wait for a hip operation—it might have been just under a year, to be accurate. I can promise Members that these ailments hurt, and yet people are having to wait for their operations. What world does the Prime Minister live in, because he does not live in the same world as most of us?

There are five or so Home Office Bills in the Queen’s Speech. I am not quite sure about this so I hope that the House will forgive me for asking the question: have there been 50 or 57 Home Office Bills since 1997? I have been told that there have been 57. [Interruption.] The Minister says that crime is falling. What world does he live in? He should come to my constituency, and I will show him a few things.

Who would be a judge, having to keep track of all those laws? That is incredibly difficult. Are there 3,000 new criminal offences? I am told that there are. That is unbelievable. What has been achieved? We hear about antisocial behaviour orders. The Minister might remember a report of two weeks ago that said that nearly half of all ASBOs have been broken and that young thugs wear them as a badge of honour. That was not the intention, was it? Let him come to Broughton Astley or Whetstone in my constituency where groups of up to 200 young people—most of them, frankly, probably perfectly nice but bored youngsters—gather with alcohol, so there is under-age drinking, and often with drugs, which means that there is illegality, and cause a lot of what can only be termed low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. ASBOs have not worked. Let us persevere with them by all means, but let us not pretend that they are a panacea for solving antisocial behaviour, because they most certainly have not been. After 57 Home Office Bills, we hear that the prisons are full—or creaking, so they are just about full—and I am
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sorry to tell the Minister that violent crime is growing, which is pretty extraordinary.

The Gracious Speech refers to what will be the sixth immigration Bill since 1997, apparently. If I may, I shall quote from it:

I think that that was our policy at the last general election—

that was our policy—

Well, that all sounds very good, but the truth is that the immigration service is in complete chaos. The Government’s own figures reveal that nearly 200,000 people settled legally in this country last year, and if we count “illegals”, the figure is probably well over 200,000. A little bit of maths enables anybody to work out that in a decade, if we continue at this rate, we will have to build two cities the size of Birmingham. We should not view that with equanimity, and we certainly should have a proper debate on this issue, which my constituents are concerned about—as, I suspect, are every Member’s.

Reference is also made in the Queen’s Speech to deportation. Good—I am glad that we are going to deport people. Was not Abu Hamza meant to be deported to face trial in the US? However, something was said about his human rights. We all think that human rights are important, but this Government, who introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, have made the term almost a dirty word. The whole concept of human rights has been discredited, because, as we know perfectly well, that Act has not worked as the Government or anybody else intended. For instance, under the terms of the European convention on human rights, we disapprove of and do not support capital punishment. Does the House know that the British Government would not provide evidence to the Iraqi authorities in prosecuting Saddam Hussein, because he was likely to face the death penalty—a point that has been proven by parliamentary questions that I have asked of the Government? So we send an Army to war in Iraq and lose some 120 soldiers in tragic circumstances, yet we will not help the elected Government of Iraq to prosecute the tyrant whom we went there to depose. This is a very sad matter.

Climate change has been discussed well, although sometimes at too great a length. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made a very good point, but he rather spoilt his argument by being over-long. My own view is that this is almost certainly the greatest problem that our nation and this world faces, and our children will certainly have to face it much more. We need to work at protecting the environment, so let us do so. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made some very good points in that regard.

However, perhaps we are going to have more of the rhetoric not backed up by facts that we have had in the past. The EU emissions trading scheme has been central to the Government’s plans for cutting carbon emissions in this country. Last Thursday, the Carbon Trust, a Government-funded body, said:


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across Europe. I am not making a party political point. This is very worrying—for all of us; we have to get our act together. On this, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and I agree entirely: we must take action now. It is not good enough to say that we will take action in 10 years’ time. It is probably already too late to save a lot of things that we all hold dear.

I turn to Iraq, where five UK soldiers were tragically killed in the past week. I do not want to dwell on this; however, we all feel for their families. There was nothing on Iraq in the Queen’s Speech. I totally agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said about Iraq. Is it so unreasonable that we should subject the Government to scrutiny on their strategy in Iraq? We need to have a sensible review of what we are doing in Iraq and what we are trying to achieve. The Baker commission, which has received evidence from our own Prime Minister, is taking place in the United States. Why are we not allowed to discuss the issue in this House of Commons? To ask that we do so is not unreasonable.

It has been said that such scrutiny would undermine troops’ morale. I was in the Army for 15 years, and never once did a soldier say to me, “ ‘Ere, sir, do you know what those people said in ‘Ansard yesterday?” I know that soldiers would expect us to show political leadership and to discuss the reasons they are risking their lives in dangerous circumstances. They would be very unhappy about the—I regret to say—slavish and blind way in which we have followed the US lead. I am not calling for withdrawal, but we need to reassure our soldiers about why they are risking their lives.

The same is true in Afghanistan. I support our presence there, which is absolutely essential, but something has gone awry. We were told only a month ago not to worry, because we have been fighting so well that the Taliban are just about defeated. I could quote the brigadier who said it, but I do not want to incur his wrath. We have read about the Taliban’s receiving a bloody nose. There have been reports—ill advised—that perhaps 700 Taliban were killed in a particular engagement, which leads us to ask how many there were in the first place. I question those claims and wonder whether we have given the Taliban any sort of bloody nose. We might have killed a lot of people, but I fear that a lot more recruits are coming out. Indeed, a lengthy report on the BBC news on Monday suggested that the Taliban were far from defeated.

Our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq deserve real political leadership. They deserve to know exactly what they are fighting for. In Afghanistan, is it for reconstruction or for development? Is the fight against the drugs trade or in support of the democratically elected Afghan Government? What exactly is the aim? That is what we need to address as politicians.

I question our political aims, because I think that they are confused. Our strategy is slightly confused, although I would not criticise David Richards, with whom I was at staff college. On the same front, I would not criticise people’s tactics, but I have read reports that
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give me great cause for concern. Soldiers are quoted as saying that it seemed as though we were taking part in a drugs war and siding with just one of the drugs barons. That is not what we have sent soldiers to Afghanistan to do. Soldiers have been dying there, so it is important that we are clear about what we are doing.

It is not for politicians to dictate tactics, but such stories are disturbing. We must be cautious in what we do in Afghanistan. We must not follow the example of Soviet forces and British forces of the past into the morass of Afghanistan. We should speak softly, but we should carry a bigger stick. We need more troops, who should be NATO troops. We need more helicopters if we are to operate as we have been operating, and more support in general. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) was in Afghanistan only last month and has some interesting things to say—although not now, as he is sitting on the Front Bench as a Whip.

Europe was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, but Germany is taking over the presidency of the EU in January and Chancellor Merkel has said that she is going to revive the EU constitution. It therefore might be pertinent to consider in this Session what is happening in Europe and what the Government’s position will be on the constitution. We cannot just ignore it and pretend that it will go away.

Finally, I should like to mention spin. Last week I read a newspaper report that announced that Labour would raise the school leaving age to 18. I do not know whether that is in the proposed education legislation, but perhaps the Minister could enlighten me on whether that is true. If so, is that really what the country wants, or is the proposal just a newspaper report?

Rob Marris: Yes.

Mr. Robathan: It may be, but as one or two of my hon. Friends have said, we need more people being trained in skills such as plumbing, which can pay a huge amount these days, rather than keeping them at school, bored yet receiving an education maintenance allowance.

The Queen’s Speech was rotten and thin. The Government’s heart is not in it, and neither is the Prime Minister’s. He hunts for his legacy, but I fear that it will be Iraq, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said. I served in the first Iraq war and I supported this war, partly because of unfinished business. However, the real sadness is that in March 2003, as hon. Members who were here then will remember, the Prime Minister made the best speech that I have heard in the House of Commons. It was outstanding—it was theatre, perhaps, but none the less a brilliantly made and moving speech. I am sure that the Prime Minister believed what he said when he said it, but to discover later that some of the facts were somewhat distorted was pretty distressing. I voted with the Government on that day and I was perfectly happy to, unlike some of my hon. Friends, who had reasonable reasons not to do so. We were not told the exact truth, but the worst thing of all was that there was no plan for the reconstruction and redevelopment of Iraq, as we have now seen. That is a disaster.


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What legacy will the Prime Minister leave? Will it just be Iraq? It will not be the health service. I cannot see much beyond Iraq, and I am sorry for him for that reason. We know that the many of the proposals in this Queen’s Speech will not be enacted.

8.59 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice—the House and the country should rejoice that this is the last time that the present occupant of No. 10 Downing street will have any hand whatever in the Gracious Speech. I have spoken on the first day of every Queen’s Speech debate in my time in the House and, having sat here since 2.30 pm, I can say that today has been very grim indeed. The Gracious Speech represents 10 years of failures and, just like the previous nine, it represents missed opportunities too.

There are 27 Bills and four draft Bills before us, and I am sure that, at the end of the parliamentary year, the House will once again come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister has not delivered what he promised us in the Queen’s Speech. Every year, there are the same promises, and the same failures. This is the fourth Queen’s Speech promising action on immigration, the fifth promising to tackle antisocial behaviour, and the seventh promising House of Lords reform, and there have been more than 50 Home Office Bills. As the Leader of the Opposition told the House earlier, 110 of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 are still not in force, 17 were repealed before they came into force, and another 39 were repealed subsequent to coming into force.

To turn to the Gracious Speech—I have to say, it seems that not everyone has addressed their remarks to the speech today—first, we were told that the

Judging by the previous nine years, I—and, I have no doubt, the country—have no confidence whatever that the Government are capable of facing the challenges before us, at home and abroad. Next, we are told:

We all agree with that, but the speech goes on to mention

I wonder how many hon. Members have followed recent economic statistics, because inflation, interest rates and unemployment are increasing, and there is now a huge trade gap, too.

Next, we are told in the Gracious Speech that the Government will


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