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No one in Whitehall knows who is now responsible for further education. The situation is equally chaotic as regards the learning and skills councils, which fund post-16 education and training.

Next year, I intend to organise a skills summit in my constituency bringing together local employers and business leaders to ask them what skills they need in the M40 corridor between Oxford and Warwick as we go further into the 21st century. I hope that by next summer the machinery of government will have sorted itself out so that we know who in the Government is responsible for FE and skills training and we can invite them to the seminar. It is pointless having a Bill on educational opportunity to tackle the question of what are described as NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training—and cutting benefits to youngsters if the Government have no coherence on FE provision, post-16 funding and skills training provision.

I am not entirely sure as to the purpose of the Gracious Speech from the Throne in the other place when it was almost all trailed by the Prime Minister months before. It has always been clear that a large chunk of the parliamentary Session will be devoted to the consideration of the European treaty. I approach the Lisbon treaty as a pro-European. I want Europe to work. It is in all our interests that the European Union runs smoothly, and it is in all our interests that it is fit for purpose to tackle global challenges such as climate change, terrorism and illegal immigration. But—and this is a substantial but—we were promised a referendum and there should be one. Everyone knows that the new treaty is a constitution in all but name. The European Scrutiny Committee advised that only two of the 440 provisions in the treaty differ substantially from the original constitution. The Prime Minister is breaking a promise to put it to a vote, and I fear that people will see the fact that we are not going to have a referendum on the EU treaty as a further example of the Prime Minister’s evasiveness.

The Government say that no referendum is necessary because they have secured a number of exemptions from the treaty that are now being described as red lines, but will those red lines hold? One of the red lines has it that the EU charter of fundamental rights will not affect UK legislation, but that exemption may not be worth the paper it is written on. A number of MEPs have vowed to challenge Britain’s exemption in the European Court of Justice, arguing that it violates the principle that EU law must be applied uniformly to all member states. The ECJ has consistently championed the supremacy of EU law, and the new treaty gives it sweeping new powers to rule on cases concerning justice and home affairs.

The EU Scrutiny Committee has warned that the UK’s current exemption from the European working time directive may be challenged in court by other member states. There is no guarantee in relation to the Prime Minister’s so-called red lines. We should have a referendum because we were promised one, and as a pro-European I echo what was said by The Economist, which warned recently:

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I certainly endorse that sentiment.

We have known for a long time that we will be spending many hours during the Session considering the Climate Change Bill. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us all. It is a moral challenge. The Select Committee on International Development, which I chaired during the last Parliament, conducted an inquiry on the impact of climate change on developing countries. Our report concluded that its impact will be felt disproportionately by low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, because they are least able to manage the shocks of environmental change. This is a moral issue as well as a political one.

There are three issues at stake. First, although aviation is not the biggest contributor to carbon emissions at the moment, it is estimated that by 2020, carbon emissions from flights will double, especially with the growth of budget airlines. My party proposes the idea of a tax not on passengers but on airlines to encourage full flights, and I am glad to see that the Government adopted that proposal in the pre-Budget report.

Secondly, there is the need to monitor the reduction of carbon emissions. The Government say that the report on carbon emissions to see whether the UK is meeting its reduction targets should be with Parliament in 2012. That is far too far away. The only way actively reduce emissions is actively to assess what we are doing to reduce them. Progress reports to Parliament should be made annually, so that we can see where we are and what we need to do to make further progress.

Thirdly, on the Climate Change Bill specifically, we need annual targets to reduce emissions to meet the 2050 target for a 60 per cent. reduction. Everyone in this House knows that when we do not have annual targets, things simply drift, and the Bill will need to be clearer and bolder if we are to meet the agreed targets.

One of the few new announcements trailed in relation to the Queen’s Speech is that the Government want to extend the time that they can hold suspects without charge to 56 days. It seems to me that the Government are trying to pick numbers out of a hat. It was only in 2005 that Parliament agreed to extend detention without charge to 28 days. They then wanted 90 days. I believe that our freedoms are very precious. They have been won over many years, from the time of Magna Carta, which enshrined the principle that no one should be detained without lawful authority; the concept of habeas corpus is central to our system of criminal jurisprudence.

We should not allow those who may threaten our security to corrupt our freedom and basic rights. If we do that, they have, in a sense, won something. They will have taken something precious from us. No persuasive evidence has been put to Parliament that we should curb our civil liberties—liberties that have been won over years, and which so many fought and died to defend. Allowing the state to hold people for ever-longer periods of time without charge would mean losing a freedom, which in itself would be something of a victory for those who wish to undermine our freedoms. We should not allow that. Given the introduction of a constitutional reform Bill to pave the way for a new Bill of Rights and responsibilities, it is
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similarly pointless for the Government to be busy undermining existing hard-won rights and freedoms.

That brings me to my last point. I am proud to represent the garrison at Bicester. Men from the Royal Logistic Corps have been serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and we are very proud of them. There is understandable concern that the compact between the armed forces and Government is being undermined by poor pay and poor accommodation. Our armed forces are all too often overstretched, and recruitment and retention are being damaged. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, Parliament has to make sure that during the coming Session we spend time focusing on the importance of upholding the nation’s military covenant with its service people past and present and their families.

After 10 years of this Government, the Gracious Speech is a particularly disappointing one. As has been said, it could have come after a general election, which the Prime Minister was hoping to have at one stage before he bottled out. Given that, it is a surprisingly weak and thin speech that does nothing to address the fundamental challenges facing this country. We now see a Government imposing greater and greater tax burdens on individuals, families and businesses, while failing to address the ever-growing issues of globalisation or the threats to the British economy. The Government are simply running out of steam and vision.

7.38 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am grateful to have this opportunity to take part in the Queen’s Speech debate. Like other colleagues, I am somewhat surprised by the attendance on this first day of the debate. I suspect it reinforces the fact that we had heard much of the Queen’s Speech well before the Queen graciously delivered it. After all, the Prime Minister had delivered it once, we read about it in the Sunday papers, and again on Monday and this morning, and full copies of it were made available 12 minutes before the Queen graciously delivered it in the other place. Had I been the monarch— [ Laughter. ] If we could just go there for a moment, I would have been tempted to say, “Well, you’ve heard it all before. I will lay other measures before you, and by the way I’m off to Uganda.” And that would have been it. We had seen the contents of the Queen’s Speech well in advance. Had the Queen delivered the Gracious Speech in the way I described, it would have had the virtue of being concise and 100 per cent. accurate. It is disappointing. Like others who are present, I have been a Member of Parliament for a fair few years—[Hon. Members: “Too long.”] “Not long enough”, I hear people cry. At £5.15, the Queen’s Speech probably represents the worst value in Britain. People will not be queuing outside the best bookshops to buy copies tomorrow because it is thin in content, as we all knew it would be.

One of many problems is the matters that the Queen’s Speech does not properly address. Other hon. Members have mentioned devolution. I think that Tony Blair once said that the best thing to do with the West Lothian question was not to ask it. Of course, people, certainly in my constituency, are increasingly asking it. We have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Ireland Assembly. It is good to see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his place.
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However, when discussing the national health service, people in Ribble Valley get frustrated when drugs are made available north of the border but not in my constituency or other parts of England. They get frustrated when Scottish Members of Parliament—I accept that Scottish National party Members do not vote on English-only legislation—vote on issues that do not affect their constituencies but clearly affect mine. That is a genuine problem, which needs to be tackled at some stage. I hope that it will be taken on board in any constitutional review that the Prime Minister considers. There must come a time when we stop the double dipping of Scottish Members of Parliament who vote on issues that affect my constituency, while we are denied the opportunity of voting on matters that affect theirs.

Michael Connarty: The hon. Gentleman is a kind and reasonable man. Has he ever thought that we, the Scottish Members of Parliament, do not have a full mandate? We have given up the right, through the Scotland Act 1998, to people who are elected to deal only with Scotland, to tackle education, health and other important matters in our constituencies. We have given that up in the interests of keeping the United Kingdom united. There was a clear problem: if we had not acceded to the needs—not only the aspirations—of the Scottish people to speak for themselves in those matters, the UK would have been broken up. That is important. We, not English Members, have lost a franchise. We try to aid and assist good legislation in the UK and in England, not deny the hon. Gentleman privileges that we have denied ourselves in Scotland.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is reasonable but a walking example of the double dipping to which I referred. He has given up responsibility in his area for health and education—he has transferred it to a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I cannot vote on such issues, yet the hon. Gentleman sits in this Parliament, voting on education and health in my constituency.

Michael Connarty: I have always sat here.

Mr. Evans: I know, but the hon. Gentleman is reasonable and will understand my argument. Let us consider what would happen were the position reversed. The example of the introduction of the poll tax a year early in Scotland was cited earlier. Everybody erupted and said that it was unjust.

We are now in a position whereby I cannot vote on issues that relate to Scottish constituencies yet Scottish Members of Parliament can vote on health and education in English constituencies. That is the West Lothian question, which needs to be tackled. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) says from a sedentary position that it has always existed, but when I was first elected in 1992— [Interruption.] There is a fly—where did that come from? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opened his wallet. It is still here—I do not know whether this has happened before, but I think that we are in new territory. I shall ignore it and hope that it goes away. If the West Lothian question is ignored, it will not go away.

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When I was first elected in 1992, I could vote on all issues relating to the United Kingdom and so could the hon. Gentleman, but the position has changed. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is arguing for a reduction in salary, he is doing a good job. He cannot get away from the fact that the position has changed and an imbalance now exists in the constitution of the country. We need to do something about that.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can attend to the fly while I am intervening. I can still see it. Does he agree that, when the House discusses health and education, that has implications for the devolved Governments of Wales and Scotland? There are Barnett formula implications, and added expenditure in England is reflected in added expenditure in Wales and Scotland.

Mr. Evans: If you do not mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall move to another microphone— [Interruption.] The fly is following me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Perhaps I could encourage the hon. Gentleman to battle on, despite the fly.

Mr. Evans: Thank you for your encouragement, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are flies on me.

I thank the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) for his intervention. Clearly there is an issue with the Barnett formula. Funding, financing and taxation are matters for the House. However, when we discuss how the money is spent in the Assembly or the Parliament, the devolved institutions must clearly determine that.

The Queen’s Speech mentions health. We are considering better health for this country, yet MRSA and C. difficile are genuine problems in our hospitals. I spoke to a constituent the other day who mentioned the problem of patients at the Royal Preston hospital in my constituency crossing the road in their pyjamas, going to the local supermarket to buy things and then returning to the hospital. That will not help the hospital’s hygiene; we must address the matter far more diligently to ensure that our hospitals are clean and kept clean 24 hours a day. Patients should not be allowed to wander into the streets, just as nurses or doctors should not leave the hospital environment and go back in again. That must be sorted out.

Obesity is a ticking time bomb. Many young people, some with parents who are obese, struggle with weight problems. One problem leads to the other. We need to ensure that the school curriculum leaves sufficient time for giving young people the information that they need about exercise and eating properly. That would have an impact on the conduct of the curriculum in England, if not in the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We should give youngsters and their parents the information that they need to ensure that they get a proper, balanced diet and do not over-eat or over-indulge. Better labelling of food would be a start. Some supermarkets now insist on their suppliers including calorific values on labels. That practice is beneficial and needs to be spread. I rather hope that that could also be made available on menus in restaurants, so that people would have at least a rough
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idea of the calorific value of the food they ordered. I do not think that is happening anywhere yet, but we should at least give people the information that they need.

David Taylor: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the controversy and the debate among various sections of the food industry and retailers about the desirability of either guideline daily amounts or the so-called traffic light system? There seems to be a head-to-head approach, the only outcome of which is confusion for the consumer. Does he believe that the Government should give a stronger indication of which of those two options should be pursued?

Mr. Evans: I wish that there was a stronger lead, because confusion leads to people not being absolutely certain about their intake. The best thing is for the system to be as simple as possible but to give the most accurate information. Personally, I am quite surprised at how high the calorific level of some products on supermarket shelves happens to be, including even fruit. However, if we have the information, at least we can make a start.

A related issue is that of sport in schools. The Government have made £100 million available so that youngsters can have up to five hours of sport in schools. I stress “up to” five hours because I would prefer youngsters to have exactly five hours, which is an hour an day. They spend more than that in front of the television or the computer, on the couch doing nothing. If they had the one hour of sport a day in school, that structure would be perfect. I am sure that we are all involved with voluntary sporting organisations in our constituencies. They are great, but they are all self-selecting. Those youngsters will always be able to look after themselves, but there are some people who simply need the help through sport within a structure, which they can get in schools but nowhere else. I would ask the Government to consider again whether the £100 million, which is about £12 per pupil per school, is sufficient to spread the programme throughout the whole of the country.

Finally, on immigration—I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary is here—there are so many misleading statistics that it is worrying. Nobody really knows the level of illegal immigration. Nobody knows which people are coming in and which are going out, because neither is being properly checked. We all know that there is a problem with legal immigration, too. The statistics that the Government gave us early on said that when the 10 countries from eastern Europe joined the European Union, we would have about 13,000 immigrants. That figure then became 600,000, and now we have been told that it is more than a million. Such levels of immigration are unsustainable. The Government are talking about building 3 million extra homes. I suspect that some of them must be for the extra people in our population, which is now more than 60 million.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I want to put a question to him that has been ignored by those on both the Opposition and the Government Front Benches. If we reduce immigration, how do we select the jobs that
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will not be filled? The fact is that the labour market is absorbing immigrants. It is time that people were reminded that it is in the United Kingdom’s best interests, particularly in reducing wage inflation, to meet the demands of the labour market. Who is going to pick the fruit in East Anglia, for instance? The hon. Gentleman and those on both Front Benches need to start answering that question.

Mr. Evans: What we need is an honest debate on the subject, which is what I am asking for and what the hon. Gentleman wants, too. Nobody is saying no to any immigration whatever; that would quite silly. We have always looked for the skills that we need, but we seem to have lost control over the past 10 years. That is why immigration into the United Kingdom is at its current level.

Also, when France and Germany decided not to allow people from the 10 countries to come into their countries to work, Britain was one of the few that said, “Yes, please come in.” And surprise, surprise, that is exactly what happened. Rather a large number of people came into the United Kingdom, and that is where we are. That is why I am talking about the 3 million extra homes. Would we need them if the level—

Andrew Mackinlay: They build the homes.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We would need to import the labour to build the houses in the first place. However, we see problems even with the current demand on infrastructure, such as schools and health care. Transport is also an issue. Anyone who travels on the tube in London between the hours of 8 and 9 in the morning will know how uncomfortable it is.

Michael Connarty: It is important that we have a serious debate about immigration, but one of the factors that the hon. Gentleman must put into the equation is the one that he has just mentioned. Other countries in Europe did not give immediate access to those from the accession countries in the A8—we can discount Malta and Cyprus, which will not send many—that came in before Romania and Bulgaria. The problem is that when those other countries open their doors to those people, they will not stay in the UK. The target for people from Poland will be Germany, while Italy will be used by many others, as will France. We will lose a lot of people and then be back in the same situation of relying on non-EU immigrants to fill posts that are currently filled by people legitimately. However, there has always been a demand for labour that is here for many reasons other than work, and which does indeed work, but off the tax rate and using the same facilities that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

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