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In relation to the proposed legislation in the draft legislative agenda, I said earlier that we had heard most of the statement on the constitution in the media before the Prime Minister made his statement. That was down to spin. However, we had heard most of the draft Queens Speech many times over, throughout the
Prime Ministers career. That was down to his failure to deliver. So why should people believe that he is going to deliver now, after all this time?
Furthermore, why should we believe that the Government will deliver what is in this legislative programme when they have failed to deliver several Bills in their previous legislative programme? According to the Leader of the Houses website, the following Government Bills for 2006-07 have not yet had their First Reading: the Climate Change Bill, the counter-terrorism Bill, the protection of cultural property during armed conflict Bill, the House of Lords Bill, the Human Tissues and Embryos Bill, the local government regulation office Bill, the party funding Bill and the road transport Bill.
Three of those Bills are actually in this draft legislative programme, but that should not be a surprise, because every single one of the 23 Bills proposed in the Prime Ministers statement has been announced before. For the information of hon. Members, and for the record, here are the relevant dates: the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, December 2006; the children in care Bill, June 2007; the Climate Change Bill, March 2007; the constitutional reform Bill, July 2007; the Coroners Bill, June 2006; the counter-terrorism Bill, June 2007; the criminal justice Bill, July 2006; the Crossrail Bill, February 2005; the education and skills Bill, March 2007; the employment simplification Bill, March 2007; the energy Bill, May 2007; the European Communities (Finance) Bill, June 2007; the health and social care Bill, February 2007; the housing and regeneration Bill, March 2004; the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, December 2006; the Local Transport Bill, May 2007; the national insurance contributions Bill, March 2007; the pensions Bill, May 2006; the planning reform Bill, May 2007; the planning gain supplement Bill, March 2007; the regulatory enforcement and sanctions Bill, May 2007; the sale of student loans Bill, March 2007; and the unclaimed assets Bill, May 2005. A total of 23 bills, and not a single one of them is new.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that he wanted more houses to be built. But he has said that before. He once said:
What would a Labour Government do today? We will get Britain building homes again.
That was in 1994. Three weeks ago, he said that he wanted to develop long-term fixed-rate mortgages. But he has said that before, too. He once said that he wanted to
develop a market for long-term fixed rate mortgagessomething that is important to the UK.[ Official Report, 9 April 2003; Vol. 403, c. 279.]
That was in 2003. Three weeks ago, he said that he wanted to develop eco-towns, but he has said that before. His Housing Minister once said that the Government would
create small scale eco-community developments rather than individual homes.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to use unclaimed assets to spend on youth and community centres, but he has said that before, too. He once said:
Today I can announce an agreement with the banks and building societies that unclaimed assets held in bank accounts will be put to use to improve youth and community facilities.[ Official Report, 5 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 613.]
That was in 2005. Three weeks ago, he said that he wanted to raise the school leaving age. But he has said that before. He once said:
New proposalsuniversal education after sixteen.
So I do not know how the Prime Minister can claim that he is some kind of a new start. He is not a new start; he is a broken old record. And talking of records, the Prime Minister has missed this opportunity to put right his record. On his watch, 125,000 people have lost their pension savings. Where is the legislation to compensate them properly? On his watch, home ownership started to fall for the first time since records began. So why will people trust him to deliver more housing? On his watch, the number of young people not in education, employment or training has passed 1 million. So why will people trust him to create opportunities for young people? On his watch, the NHS has been plunged into deficit and forced to make swingeing cuts. Where is the action to stop the cuts? Where is the Bill to increase NHS autonomy and accountability? On his watch, violent prisoners have been released because there is not enough space for them in jail. Where is the legislation to ensure that criminals get what they deserve?
In 2004, the Government committed themselves to introducing a marine Bill. The 2005 Labour manifesto, on which the right hon. and learned Lady was elected, promised to introduce a marine Bill during this Parliament. Where is it? And what about women? Only last week, the right hon. and learned Lady came to the House to make a particularly vacuous statement on her agenda for women, yet there is nothing in this legislative programme specifically for women. Where is the action on equal pay? Where is the action on human trafficking? Where is the help for the families who use a relative or neighbour to care for a child?
As the legislative programme is rolled out, there will be Bills that we support and, where we do, we will engage constructively with Ministers. Indeed, we encouraged the Government to introduce a climate change Bill and I am pleased to see that they are doing so. As another example, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear today, we will work with the Prime Minister in making the country more secure against terrorists.
On the whole, however, the draft Queens Speech is a massive disappointment. The public wanted a change from the Blair years, but this legislative programme is not the answer to the countrys needs, because this Prime Minister is not the answer to the countrys needs, because he is not the change that the people want. He is not a change. His disdain for Parliament, his lack of new ideas, his spin and stealth are no change. It is just the same old Labour.
Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab):
I shall be brief. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on a unique parliamentary occasion: a discussion of the draft legislative programme. In the past, the programme has remained the preserve of a few people in the higher echelons of Government, but now the
entire House has the opportunity to participate in it. Whatever disagreements hon. Members have with the programme, the fact that we can debate it here is a very welcome step forward indeed. I believe that most Members agree with it.
There is a great deal in the programme, but I shall mention three Bills that I believe will impact on my constituency and on others. Few Members, councillors or elected officials can help feeling a sense of hopelessness and anger when constituents approach them about problems with public transport services within their communities. I believe that the problem is particularly acute for Members who represent areas that are geographically isolated and have statistically low car usage. No one disagrees that bus operators should be able to make a profit, but we must ensure that they continue to provide an essential public service. They receive a substantial public subsidy, and with that should go a clear responsibility to ensure an effective public service. I hope that the draft Bill will have real teeth for elected local authorities to ensure effective public transport in their communities.
Members often present petitions before the House and we sometimes meet the managing directors of our bus companies. Occasionally, we have a little bit of success, but there is a major problem, as everyones postbag over the last few months will confirm. When these problems are compounded, they can lead to genuine hardship and isolation. It is often the elderly, and, indeed, the young, trying to take advantage of employment opportunities, who live in these isolated areas and experience transport problems. I believe that the Local Transport Bill will be widely welcomed in the House and outside in the wider community.
Secondly, I would mention the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. Much attention will rightly be focused on the question of child maintenance, but I shall make particular mention of the other payments side of it. The Bill includes a commitment to set up a scheme for lump-sum compensation for people suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
My constituency used to have a chemical works, owned by Turner and Newall, which made asbestos products for 80 years. The consequences were dire not just for the work force, but for their families as well. My grandfather worked there after he left the services after the first world war and my own aunt has asbestos-related disease. She has it because my grandmother washed my grandfathers overalls. That shows how insidious this disease is and how much hardship it creates. As I said, it is not just those workers who are affected, but their families and others who worked in shipyards, plumbing and a range of other industries.
It is brave and honourable to recognise what happened there. The people who suffer from this disease have pretty dreadful lives, with all the disadvantage and pain that goes with it. This lump-sum compensation may make a little bit of difference to however many years these people have left. The Government are acting wholly honourably by including this measure in the next legislative programme.
Finally, the education and skills Bill is more important than any other Bill for securing long-term economic prosperity and success for this nation. It offers an
opportunity for a national crusade to engrain in the nations psyche the importance of the skills and education agenda.
The impact of globalisation hits us all. Seven years ago, a group of women workers in my constituency who were in textiles and made garments for Marks and Spencer lost their jobs. Marks and Spencer made the commercial decision to source those goods from the far east and China. The argument then was all about low wages and low skills, and how we could compete with them. Over the next three years, by 2010, China will produce more PhDs than the whole of the United States. The argument is no longer about trying to compete on low wages and skills; it is about competing on skills alone. We need Ministers to sell the Bill. I hope that whatever specific disagreements we might have on different sides of the Chamber, we can have a form of national unity on the importance of developing the skills agenda.
I recently took part in a state of the city debate in the city that I representSunderland. I was asked a question by a member of our local Youth Parliament: what sort of jobs did I think they, as young people, would have in 30 years time? The question made me think. It was very perceptive. I thought about what the economy was like when I left school just over 30 years ago in my constituency and what we thought about the future. The economy was dominated by mining, shipbuilding and heavy and light engineering. That is what we did. In many ways, we thought that it would go on.
If I had predicted 30 years ago that we would lose shipbuilding, mining and other industries, while at the same time predicting that employment levels would be higher, people would not have believed it. If I had predicted that in 30 years time my local area would produce 380,000 cars a yearremember the state of the British car industry and its reputation in the 1970sand that some would be exported to Japan, not many people would have believed it. I would not have believed it. Yet that has been the pace of change in the past 30 years. Although it is difficult to predict the future, we can say that whatever the pace of change has been in the past 30 years, the pace of change in the next decade will be as quick.
David Wright: Does my hon. Friend agree that small and medium-sized enterprises will be crucial in the crusade to upskill people in the UK economy? A key aspect of the Bill needs to be to provide support to small and medium-sized enterprises so that they can give young people time off to take advantage of training opportunities. That is crucial. I hope he agrees that we need a strong commitment to that. We need to ensure that we check up on employers to ensure that they are giving that time to young people in particular.
Mr. Kemp: I certainly agree. When I talk to employers in the constituency, particularly in small and medium-sized firms, the one thing they constantly say is, We need a work force that has constantly improving skills and levels of education. Employers recognise that if they are to be competitive within a global economy, they need a highly skilled work force. They realise that it is in their interests, to their benefit and for the profitability of their companies to ensure that we have that level of skills. Young people certainly need it.
I wanted to mention only those three Bills. We should grasp the challenges of the future. We have lived through a period of change over the past 30 years, but the speed of change will quicken in the future. The train is leaving the station and we have a choice: either we can get on it or it will leave us behind. It is crucial that education and skills are taken seriously. We must get out there and sell that message. We must convince everyoneyoung people who have not yet entered the job market and those who are already in work. Adaptabilitythe ability to change jobsis important. The tradition of being in the same employment for many years will disappear. Only if we sell education and skills and convince people that they are important will we have a reasonable chance of securing this countrys long-term economic future.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): We welcome the opportunity to discuss the programme for the coming year. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said on 11 July when the Prime Minister made his statement, it is right that we should move from legislation being cooked up in secret and announced on one day with a fanfare of trumpetsalbeit that it had usually been leaked beforehand, with everyone pretending one thing was happening when it was notto a system of honest and open discussion in which the Government say at the outset, This is what we are thinking, and at the end say, This is our final view. That is a much better process. We welcome it, and will co-operate on it.
We also welcome the honesty of the Leader of the House. This parliamentary year will operate from the arrival of the new Prime Minister at the end of June, so time is inevitably foreshortened. We understand and accept that. However, I made the point in an intervention that that should not mean that consultations should not be considered, and it will not be helpful if ideas are not taken on board. Flexibility will be required, as will hard work in October by civil servants and others employed in Departments, and Ministers must be honest about any good ideas that are suggested. We look forward to that.
My position and that of my fellow Liberal Democrat Members can be summarised by saying [Interruption.] Although none of them is present, as I have been their colleague for so many weeks, months and years, they trust me to speak for them. Our position is that Governments have often legislated in haste and introduced measures that we subsequently regret. Legislation, legislation, legislation is no substitute for good administration, but it has often been used as a substitute for it.
I checked up on three Departments. In the past 10 years, we have had 11 Health Bills, four Health White Papers and seven Health Green Papers. We have had 11 Education Bills, nine Education White Papers and 11 Green Papers. We have also had 60 Home Office Bills. Much of that proposed legislation has not been thought through; much of it has been undone, as the Government have returned and said, We want to change it; and much of it has never been implementedwe pass it, but it never takes effect. My strongest plea to the Leader of the House and her colleagues is, please do not introduce
any Bill that we do not absolutely need. Legislation should be the last resort, not the first resort. Usually, what is needed is administrationnot new laws, but other steps.
As the Leader of the House knows, one of the results of all the laws we have passed is that there are more than 3,000 new offences. That is not a healthy route to go down. The test I always apply is whether legislation increases liberty or authority. We have experienced 10 years in which the trend has been towards authorityby and large, although not without exceptionand away from liberty. We need the trend to be in the other direction.
My second test is whether legislation increases individual peoples power and local power, rather than central power. There have been some very centralising proposals. The national health service is still one of the most centralised services in the world, and real devolution to local people and communities is desperately needed. One of the measures by which we will judge any legislative proposal is whether it gives local government a real opportunity to be influential and powerfulas opposed to its being said that something will happen but its not being the case. The same test applies to the devolved Administrations. The Government need to understand that in devolving government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they must actually devolve it. There are bits that they still hang on to, and so far they have not been willing to go down the road of a federal United Kingdom in which its four countries can have real autonomy in many of their own affairs.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point that fits in with much of what the Government have said in the past few weeks about transparency and opening matters up. How far would his party go in devolving more power? How far would he go down the route of fiscal autonomy? Would he support a call from other parties for the devolution of corporation tax to the devolved Administrations?
Simon Hughes: The honest answer is that we want to go much further. At our autumn party conference, we will debate a proposal for the same form of constitutional convention for the UK as in Scotlandinvolving not just politicians but business, the unions and faith groups, among othersso that we can achieve such devolution. That would include thinking through the financial settlement across the United Kingdom. If one believes in a federal United Kingdom, as I have all my years, that must be the consequence.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is on to an interesting train of thought. Given that the Scottish Parliament was established by a referendum, does he think that that proposal, once thought through, would have to be put to a referendum of the Scottish people?
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