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There is great disparity in the wealth of our overseas territories. Some are demonstrably wealthy and self-sufficient, although the distribution of that wealth leaves an awful lot to be desired in some places; there are great disparities within those territories. Other territories are dependent on funding from London, and their people are in what you and I would consider to be poverty, Madam Deputy Speaker. They are out of sight and out of mind. The House should put aside some time for the subject, and there should probably be an institutional committee with ongoing oversight of the conduct, stewardship and governance of our overseas territories. At present we are signally failing. That is in
contrast to other countries: the United States, France, Spain and the Netherlands have the equivalent of overseas territories, but they give them some limited representation in their national legislatures. We are not fulfilling our moral obligations to people in our overseas territories, and it is time that the House did so.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): It is a great pity that on today of all days we have lost a sense of occasion. That may be because it is the first time that the Queens Speech was delivered by the Prime Minister several weeks before Her Majesty gave the speech. It may be because at 11.19 this morning Iand, I think, all right hon. and hon. Membersreceived a definitive text of the Queens Speech from a news service, some 12 minutes before Her Majesty started to read it to the Members of the Lords and Commons assembled in the other place. It also reflects the fact that over the past two or three days, Ministers of the Crown have entered into an active debate in the media and in the pages of the newspapers on much of the contents of the Queens Speech. As a result, right hon. and hon. Members know that to participate today, on the first day of the Queens Speech debate, is to participate at the end of a rather long debate in the media, conducted while Parliament was not in Session by Ministers, commentators and others. Other right hon. and hon. Members have found it difficult to get into that debate. I hope that the authorities and the Government will reflect on that for the future.
If the Government are seriousand I hope that they areabout wanting to make Parliament the fulcrum of our national political life and the centrepiece of our debate, surely the Chamber is the place where the first clash of argument should take place over the nature of the Queens Speech, and whether it is wide-ranging enough or deep and profound enough. If that were the case, more Labour Back Benchers would wish to stay for the rest of the debate. For the Hansard record, only two Labour Back Benchers spoke in the debate after the speeches by Front-Bench Members, so it can probably be argued that they do not support the speech enough to come here and speak in favour of it, although, doubtless, they will vote for it. It implies, too, that they believe that the debate has already taken place.
Tony Baldry: Is it not a rather sad spectacle that Members such as the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) should be driven in by the Whips and handed a Whips brief as they arrive in the Chamber? [I nterruption. ] Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is the Whips lackey. Doubtless, we will see Government Members driven in one by one to keep the debate running. It is a very sad situation.
It is sad for parliamentary democracy, because one would hope that by and large Government Members support the speech and do so sufficiently to want to speak in favour of it. If the House returned to the notion that the Queens Speech should remain confidential until the Queen delivered it, that would be
a courtesy to Her Majesty, and it might encourage more right hon. and hon. Members to take the debate seriously.
Angus Robertson On the issue of the Hansard record, is it not noteworthy that there is not a single Scottish Labour MP in the Chamber? Many measures in the Queens Speech pertain only to England. Labour Members are not prepared to listen to the debate, yet they are prepared to vote for measures that will impact on English constituencies, which is a very odd state of affairs, is it not?
Mr. Redwood: That is another good point, and it prefigures something that I was going to say. Her Majesty began the Gracious Speech with some extremely good sentences crafted by the Government about the way in which the Government intend to give more power to Parliament and to people. I would find that more credible if the Government had something sensible to say both about engaging people in the question of the European treaty and about Government representation of England. Many Conservative Members believe that the European constitutional treaty is almost identical to the document that was rejected in referendums in countries freer than our own that allowed plebiscites on the issue. I know that the Government disagreethey argue like a rather expensive but not entirely convincing lawyer over a few words at the beginning of the document, although the rest of the words bear a remarkable resemblance to the original documentbut it is not just Opposition parties that believe that it is more or less the same document. It is the settled view of most Governments of the European Union, and it is the view of most independent commentators with no party political axe to grind.
The House was elected in 2005, which is not very long ago. Practically every Member in the Chamber was elected on a party manifesto pledge, often backed by a personal manifesto pledge, to vote for a referendum should something like the constitutional treaty reappear. Why, therefore, are the Government shy about putting the issue to the people? They say that they have a great case, and that this is an entirely harmless set of proposals, which will be good for Britain, so why will they not put that case to the British people to show that they are serious? They know that 80 per cent. of the British people think that they ought to have a vote on the matter.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentlemans mellifluous flow, but may I assure him that what we said in our election statements in 2005 was not that there would be a referendum if there was something like a constitution but that there would if there was a constitutional treaty? What we face is a reform treatyit is not a new constitution. I rest my case.
The Government do themselves a great disservice. No one outside the House believes them when they claim that it is an entirely different document. That is why there is so little trust in politics and in government.
David Maclean: I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) will have heard that great statesman, Valéry Giscard dEstaing, when he said that the constitution and the treaty are the same thing. Je repose ma valise.
Mr. Redwood: In view of the falling standards in foreign languages, and the falling interest in them, that is extremely wise guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, which will allow people outside this House to understand my right hon. Friend, who spoke in elegant French as one would expectalthough perhaps not in this House.
A Bill will be introduced to give effect to the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, subject to a referendum.?[ Official Report, House of Lords, 23 November 2004; Vol. 667, c. 3.]
My first recommendation on the Queens Speech is to amend it to include a referendum Bill, because that is the way both to give power to the people on an issue on which they want a voice and to settle the European issue. If the Government are so confident about their position, they should put it to the electoral test, which is the way to start to restore confidence in politics and politicians. Confidence in politics and politicians is damaged by all sorts of things, but it is certainly damaged by the impression formed by many people outside this House that they were offered a referendum that has now been taken from them.
The second big constitutional problem that the Queens Speech does not address under the excellent rubric of giving power to Parliament and the people is the lack of proper representation of the people of England. There is now devolved government in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that is capable of making decisions over a range of issues on which English MPs can pass no comment or have no influence, whereas Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish MPs can come here to settle our affairs, which form a lot of the substance of this Queens Speech. This Queens Speech is partly a programme for the Unionit includes areas such as foreign affairs and benefits, which run across the whole Unionand it is
partly for the people of England, where it deals with issues such as planning, housing and education.
We desperately need a solution to the problem of England. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made the perfectly good suggestion of moving towards more decision making in this House by the body of English MPs, so whatever is settled for Scotland in the Scottish Parliament would be settled here in Westminster by the English MPs of the Westminster Parliament exercising their jurisdiction as English MPs.
Angus Robertson: Is it not fair to acknowledge that the current situation falls far short of the most elegant solution, which is, of course, independence for Scotland and independence for England? In the short term at least, Scottish MPs should do what Scottish National party MPs do at Westminster, which is to abstain on matters that are solely English. That would not answer all the challenges in the long term, but it would address the core anomaly, which unfortunately arises when Scottish Labour MPs vote through matters in England when those matters have no relevance to Scotland.
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman has made a moderate and sensible point. That is good advice, but I do not think that the Government are about to take it, because the truth is that they often need their Scottish MPs to vote against the interests of England to drive through policies that the body of English MPs on their own would never dream of accepting for our country.
Sammy Wilson: As a staunch Unionist, I find that argument rather disturbing. Although devolution did not apply to Northern Ireland for many years, part of the contract of the Union was that decisions about Northern Ireland were made in this House by people who often represented parties that did not even organise in Northern Ireland. In the absence of devolution in England, does that contract not also apply to people in England in the sense that all hon. Members should make decisions about what happens in this part of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Redwood: The point is that the constitutional argument is moving on. The idea driving Scottish nationalism is to radicalise English voters so that they, too, become Scottish nationalistsby proxy. That is what the Scottish nationalist strategy is all about.
As an English MP who has always in the past defended the Union, I am conscious that the political mood in my country of England is moving rapidly in exactly the direction that the Scottish nationalist party wishes for, as it tries to turn England into a battering ram against the Union. As a result, my right hon. and hon. Friends have reached the point of thinking that unless the problem of Englishness receives some recognition that goes some way towards matching the devolution offered to Scotland and other parts of the Union, that problem will get far worse, and the Scottish nationalists are more likely to get their way. The people of England will, effectively, become advocates of Scottish independence because they will want English independence. That is the process on which we are now embarked.
My advice to the Government, who still claim that they want to save the Union, is that they must do a much better job of that now that Scottish nationalists are radicalising English voters. At the very least, the Government should understand that splitting England up, balkanising it into a set of artificial euro-regions, is the very opposite of what is required to deal with the problem of Englishness. Far from making English people happy, some kind of second-best devolved Government in bogus regionssuch as, in my case, the south-east, which we cannot define and do not wish towill make them far angrier. They will say that such changes are a deliberate ploy to stop them being English, and they will be made more English and more anti-Union than if the Government had not gone down the route of trying to split the country up and pretending that creating artificial regions with unsatisfactory degrees of devolved power was some substitute for tackling the problem of England.
So I welcome the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) of English votes for English issues, although I would go a little further, because the movement is rapid and Englishness is on the rise. I certainly like the idea of creating an English structure within the Westminster Parliament; I feel that, because of history, it is the English Parliament as well as the Union Parliament.
My colleagues and I are happy to do both jobs for the same money. I do not want the development of an English movement that wants a large and expensive English Parliament, which would be in other buildings, with other politicians and bureaucrats, producing nothing of value at enormous cost to taxpayers. We can happily do both jobs; we have the plant, the building and the staff. A lot of the business now being conducted by the Union Parliament relates to England; we are saying that there needs to be a different way of handling that business to deal with the problem of England. Otherwise, the Scottish nationalists will win and the Government will look silly. They will discover that in creating a Parliament in Scotland to provide a platform for the Scottish nationalists, they have radicalised not only some Scottish voters, but an awful lot of English voters, and that that will start to pull the Union apart in exactly the way that they said would not happen.
As someone who was sceptical about the devolution proposals when the Government first put them forward, I find that completely unsurprising. I wrote a book entitled The Death of Britain?, which put forward my view that the Governments constitutional approaches of more powers for Europe, trying to balkanise England into artificial regions and giving lopsided devolution to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales combined to make up the best possible way to start pulling the Union apart. It was almost as if the Government were on the payroll of the Scottish nationalist party, because they were doing its work.
I hope that the Government listen carefully to Members from England, who love the Union and our own country as well. I hope that the Government understand that we now need something better to prevent the split of the Union.
I hear what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is saying. I should sayit may already have been saidthat all but three of the Bills in todays Queens Speech will have an impact north of the border, in Scotland. What kind of commitment do the right hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues have to retaining the Union? If he goes down the road that he has discussed, he will play into the nationalists hands. In his partys view, political expediency may be the best thing and that might be in favour of an independent Scotland. Is that the case?
Mr. Redwood: I have already set out my case. I have always been a UnionistI still think that the Union has a lot to offer the peoples of the United Kingdombut I am warning the Government that they are losing control of the debate because they have set up a lopsided system of devolution which does not suit the people of England. As an English MP, I will have to give voice to the very reasonable concerns of my constituents. I can still do so within the framework of a rebalanced Union, but if the Government ignore all those pleas, that will get more difficult. If they go in exactly the wrong direction and try to force bogus European regions on England, they will accelerate the process of splitting up the Union and make the problem that much worse. I hope that they are listening and understand the force of the argument. After all, they have some English MPs themselves. They do not get quite as many English votes as the Conservative party does, but they get quite a lot, and they will need a lot if they are to have any chance of staying as a large party in the House of Commons. I therefore trust that they will consider it very carefully.
The Government have tried to use this Queens Speech in the usual crude way that we have come to expect of this new Administrationnot so new when one looks at their members, but perhaps new in style. They see their list of proposed legislative measures as a cross between a press release whereby they legislate merely to get an effect or create a storywhich means that sometimes they do not bother to put all the legislation through or repeal it before it has even come into effectand a means of trying to expose differences between themselves and the Opposition which they think will place them in a favourable light. I have a piece of advice for the Prime Minister. He has spent all his life trying to get this job, and I would quite like him to do it well, because it is my country too, and he is my Prime Minister as well as the Labour partys Prime Minister. However, a good Prime Minister does not spend all their time in office thinking about how they can trip up or expose their opponentsthey should spend most of it thinking about how they can solve the nations problems, identifying them correctly and taking the action that only they and their
Government colleagues can take. Obviously, Opposition Members can speak but cannot act; we share the frustrations that Labour Members will remember from their time in opposition. We can have good ideas, but unless the Government adopt them, they do not happen.
Of course, the Government live in a political world, and from time to time they have to give the Opposition a kicking, or try tothat is part of the life of this place, and I am not saying that we should be immune from criticism. However, they would be a better Government, and thought to be so, if they spent a bit more of their time worrying about the problems of the country and how their policies might work in effect and rather less time worrying about what the Oppositions position is on things. The Prime Minister spent quite a lot of his speech trying to find out what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition thought or said about a number of interesting issues instead of spending time developing the detail behind the Queens Speech, which he and his colleagues had written, in order to satisfy the House that it would be different from the 10 Queens Speeches written by his predecessor and would really make a difference to the problems of the country.
Let us look at some of those problems. The Prime Minister says that affordable housing is a very big problem. It is obviously true that a lot of people would like to buy a property but are fairly young or do not have the incomes or savings that enable them to do so as easily as they would like. We notice that under this Government more and more young people live with their parents for rather longer. While I am sure that family life is a wonderful thing, I suspect that it is mainly because of economicsthey cannot afford to get a property of their own at the stage in life when their parents or grandparents took it for granted that they would leave the family home and find their own property.
The Government refuse to answer one very simple question. They say that they want more affordable housing, but when I ask Ministers by how much they want house prices to fall for them to then regard housing as being affordable, they will not answer, because they realise that telling all the existing home owners that they are trying to engineer a house price fall would not be very popular. However, if they are not trying to engineer a house price fall, it is difficult to see what they mean when they say that they want housing to be more affordable. It just does not make any sense. We know that there are lots of properties for sale, and it is possible to buy a property if, of course, one has the money.
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