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The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) made the point about those picking fruit. There are a lot of economically inactive people in this country anyway, as the Government say there are. There are those who are unemployed and still seeking work, and there is some role there. I am not exactly certain what the numbers are, because I am not sure whether I trust the statistics anymore. When people get it so badly wrong at the beginningwhen they say that
13,000 will come in and the figure is well in excess of thatI wonder how accurate any predictions can be of what will happen when the labour markets open in France, Germany and other European Union countries.
That is why we need a full debate: to ensure that we at least have a properly structured immigration policy, which we would also need to discuss with other European Union countries. For instance, if I was Poland, I would be rather worried about the number of people leaving my country, particularly at the age at which they leave, because they are the economically active people. If some of them settle outside Poland, perhaps they will not return so quickly, which would hamper Polands economic progress, too. I thought that part of the reason we wanted countries such as Poland to join the European Union was so that they could benefit economically. I hope that the Government will take that point on board.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and the fly incident, replays of which we will no doubt all be able to watch on YouTube within a few short hours.
It is right and proper in a debate on the Queens Speech to pay tribute to those hon. Members who are no longer with us. As the former next-door neighbour of Piara Khabraobviously not by constituency, but in Upper Committee Corridor North for the past six yearsI should like to place on the record my fond memories of him. He was one of the cheeriest Members of the House and displayed the greatest of humanity whenever one spoke with him about the issues that he cared about.
In this week of Remembrance Sunday, I should also like to pay the deepest respect, as have others, to those serving in our name in our service community, whether we agree with the conflicts or notmy record on the subject of Iraq is well known. I should also like to recognise the great efforts being made by the Poppy appeals throughout these islands and charities such as Erskine, Combat Stress, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, and others.
It would also be right to congratulate the Prime Minister in this debate on his first Queens Speech since taking office. He has waited a long time to govern and I genuinely wish him well. I am not sure that the Queens Speech had the content of a vision honed over so many decades, but we will wait and see.
I should also like to pass on my best wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the First Minister of Scotland, who is currently in Sri Lanka as part of the Commonwealth games bid. We hope that he and Steven Purcell, the leader of Glasgow city council, and the delegation will come back having won that bid. That venture illustrates the fact that, where there is a will for bipartisanship in Scottish politics, progress can be made.
I am delighted to make this contribution to the Queens Speech debate, my first since becoming leader of the Scottish National party in Westminster. I am mindful that this month is the 40th anniversary of the Hamilton by-election, which marked the start of 40 years of continuous representation by the SNP in this House. I was with Winnie Ewing, who won that important by-election in Scottish political history, last week, and she is still very energetic.
Unfortunately, it is what is not in the Queens Speech, rather than what is in it, that causes me, and many others, the greatest disappointment. The proposed constitutional reform Bill is supposed to make government more open, transparent and accountable. However, it does not deal with the West Lothian question, which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who discounts the discrimination felt in England. It is palpable; it exists; it is real. It is there, and all this dancing on a constitutional pinhead about the subject cannot get us away from the fact that there is a gross injustice to English Members in this House. When certain matters are now, rightly, discussed in the Scottish Parliament, English Members are rightly not allowed to take part in those discussions. However, Scottish MPs of all parties are able to cast their votes on matters that might be unpopular in England and might not even have majority support, and win arguments over matters that are devolved. That is an iniquitous situation. Of course, independence for Scotlandand, in consequence, independence for Englandwould be the most elegant, fair and equitable solution, but in the meantime it is right for the SNP to continue to abstain on English-only matters. I would urge Members of the UK Unionist parties to follow us in so doing.
The constitutional reform Bill misses a great opportunity to deal with the dispute over funding arrangements in the UK. Conservative Members have expressed a view that Scotland is being subsidised. Why, they ask, should the taxpayers of Penrith and The Border pay for expenditure in Scotland? I do not believe that that is happening. Scotland actually contributes more to the United Kingdom coffers than vice versa. It would be a sad indictment if, after 300 years of this Union, a UK Government had put Scotland in the economic position whereby, despite being the largest oil producer in the European Union, it was a subsidy junkie. Ironically, that is the argument being put forward by Labour and Conservative Members on this matter.
The elegant solution is independence, but short of that, there is no reason why we should not have fiscal autonomy within the UK. Let us end the debate. Let us end the argument. Let all taxes raised in Scotland be paid to a Scottish finance ministry and, if we remain part of the United Kingdom, let us arrange the level of contribution for shared UK services. That is what happens in the Basque country within the Spanish state. It is a workable model; why is it not being looked at?
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), who is no longer in his place, referred to unholy alliances in the context of the constitutional
future of these islands. I note with interest that a summit was held yesterday in Edinburgh involving Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. People might talk of unholy alliances, but that would be unfair. I hope that they are all taking part in the national conversation, which was launched by the Scottish Government and which is already the most successful consultation in Scottish Government history. I hope that they are working to put forward constructive suggestions that will result in more powers accruing to the Scottish Parliament.
The Labour party has now changed its position and joined the other two UK parties in agreeing that the constitutional settlement is not complete. I agree with that. I agree with the UK partiesshock, horror! Perhaps that will be the headline in some newspapers. I am pleased that the Scottish Government are prepared to give the people a choice. We hear a lot about that in this Chamber: let the people decide. On all the optionsthe status quo, more devolution, and independencewe should let the people decide. Unfortunately, however, this matter is not in the constitutional reform Bill, and that is sad. It is sad because the Labour Government have conceded that this is not a finished work; it is a work in progress. Even today, we have seen the Secretary of State for Wales confirm that more powers are being devolved to Wales in a series of policy areas. Of course, the Labour party is in coalition there with Plaid Cymru, the party for Wales, and perhaps Plaid Cymrus positive influence is helping that process. The UK Government must get to grips with these matters sooner rather than later, and not run away from them. The Queens Speech has missed an opportunity to do that.
Sadly, we have not been given much detail of what will follow in the legislation, but I have looked through the Queens Speech to try to work out which issues will be reserved and which will be devolved, and which might be of interest to Members of all parties in regard to what is happening here and what is happening further north. Many Members have mentioned housing today. I have not seen among the details that the Government have promoted whether they intend to freeze the right to buy council houses and to take immediate steps to remedy the housing shortage. I have not seen that in the Queens Speech, but the Scottish Government have announced that that will happen north of the border. I think that that is a good thing, and I hope that UK Ministers will consider it here as well.
On health care, we have heard a pledge to meet cancer waiting time targets by the end of this year and to abolish hidden waiting lists. The Government have also announced the raising of the legal age for buying tobacco from 16 to 18 from October 2007. They have also announced a U-turn on the closure of many accident and emergency services. I am not sure whether these measures were in the Queens Speech, but they are certainly being implemented in Scotland at the moment. Furthermore, NHS staff there are now seeing their full pay deal backdated and implemented, ahead of the rest of the UK.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I raise two points with him. First, I understand that it is the policy of the Scottish
Government to ban the right to buy new council houses. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Midlothian council is building 1,000 new houses and that, under the present legislation, without any need for change, people will not be allowed to buy them. That provision was in place before any initiatives were taken by the Scottish Government. Secondly, he mentioned accident and emergency services. I noticed that his colleaguesMSPs and local councillorscampaigned to return accident and emergency and trauma services to St. Johns hospital in West Lothian, which serves my constituency. I understand that that is not now going to happen, and that the Health Minister has said that the trauma facility will not be returned to St. Johns.
Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman raises some important points, and no doubt he will take them up with the Scottish Government. He is right to say that the measures on the right to buy relate to new build council housing. I am not acquainted with the issue of St. Johns hospital, but I would be happy to discuss it with him later.
Vulnerable children are discussed in the Queens Speech, but I have seen nothing about how asylum seekers children will be treated. I know that, in Scotland, they are to be given the same rights as other children in Scotland, in regard to tuition fees and free nursery provision. That is a good thing, and I should be interested to know what the UK Government are going to do.
I am glad that the Scottish Government have made a commitment to set a target to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050. That is a more ambitious target than the one adopted by the UK Government and I should be interested to know why they have not followed the lead of the Scottish Government in picking a more ambitious target.
There is a whole series of other matters within the ambit of the Queens Speech where the Scottish Government have made tremendous strides forward. I hope that UK Ministers will look and learn from what is happening on energy matters and on congestion and road tolling, which has been got rid of for the Forth and Tay bridges. On education, the graduate endowment has been scrapped and an extra £100 million found for universities and colleges, not to mention the piloting of free school meals for years one to three in primary schools. I believe that those are positive measures, in respect of which the UK Government could learn from the SNP Government in Edinburgh.
Turning to deal with two particular matters in the Queens Speech that relate to the whole of the UK, I first want to raise the serious issue of anti-terrorism legislation. I say to the Government Front Benchers that we are pleased with the ongoing talks between ourselves, including Plaid Cymru, and the Home Office. I was present at those meetings, which have taken place over the last two weeks. The Government are well aware of the difficulties that our parties have had over the extension of pre-charge detention beyond 28 daysunless appropriate safeguards are in place. I very much hope that the Government return with the supporting evidence to validate the case for detention beyond that time scale.
The second important matter is the European Union Bill. I see the esteemed Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I serve, in his place. Government Ministers have known for years that, from a Scottish perspective, there is a fundamental problem with the text in the original draft constitution, continuing now with the draft European reform treaty text. It concerns the exclusive competence of the EU over fisheries matters, and the entrenchment of the common fisheries policy within the treaty.
Anyone who knows anything about the existence of fishing communities since the start of the common fisheries policy knows that it has been the greatest disaster yet in European Union policy making. Yet the UK Government have agreed to the enshrining of the CFP as an exclusive competence within the reform treaty. It was signalled to the Government that unless changes were sought, that would have consequences for the SNPs positionand we should remember that the SNP is the most popular party in Scotland. Should there be a referendum, that matter would hold great weight with the voters of Scotland. That signal has been ignored. For that reason, at its recent conference, the SNP took the view that it would back measures in this House for a referendum. Having committed to it on the constitution, we were honour-bound to do so if the text was not changed on the reform treaty. I signal to the Government now that they have little time left to get changes to the text, which is what they must do if they want our position to change [Interruption.] I note that the Minister for Science and Innovation is rolling his eyes; I do not know whether that is because he does not believe that the fishing industry is important or whether he is just bored with the subject.
Something that the Minister should not be bored with is the matter of political party funding. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was in his place earlier, is not here now, as an important element to this debate has not to my knowledge been raised thus far. It is well known that the Hayden Phillips inter-party talks have involved the three UK parties to the exclusion of the Northern Ireland parties, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. It became apparent only within recent weeks that the three UK parties were discussing a deal in respect of the state funding element that would see votes for the UK general election weighted at 50p a vote, while elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament would be weighted at 25p. It would be helpful if the UK parties clarified their position on whether they believe that that is fair or equitable. The result of instituting that sort of discrimination will, I think, come back to bite them. There are issues around trade union affiliation fees and how they would skew a package, but this issue of the state funding element certainly needs to be looked at.
I am mindful of colleagues who want to contribute. A number of us made commitments to speak at less length than previous colleagues, who all had excellent points to make. Let me conclude on the point that the Queens Speech is, sadly, full of missed opportunitiesopportunities that could have improved governance in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. From my perspective, representing my party, which always
puts the interests of the people of Scotland first, the worst aspect is the omission of any measures to improve Scotlands governance and to give us the ability to accord the Scottish economy a competitive advantage in a globalising world. The absence of measures to achieve that at a time when the UK Government are considering the matter of variable corporation tax in Northern Ireland is beyond me. Those issues need to be and must be looked at.
The constitutional settlement in the UK is not a finished piece of work, not just because of iniquities in Englandwhich there arebut because there is a demand in Scotland for further powers. There is an understanding in Wales that there have to be further powers for the Welsh National Assembly and its Government. The UK Government need to get their heads around these matters; if they do not, it is the likes of the Scottish Government who will put the matter to the people. If that happened, I believe that we would see an overwhelming vote for the Scottish Parliament to have more powers.
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): This is the Gracious Speech that should never have been. The reason I say that that, as we all know, there was going to be a general election. Frankly, having listened to the Gracious Speech, I wish that that general election had taken place.
I would like to make a number of points before going into the detail of the legislation. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party intervened twice in the Prime Ministers speech. On both occasions, his interventions could not have been more telling. He first asked the Prime Minister to look him straight in the eye and comment on inheritance tax and then again on the general election. The Prime Minister will live to regret his reaction on both those counts.
I had been looking forward to the end of the Blair years and to welcoming a new era. In a very short space of time, however, I have become somewhat disappointed. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister had intended to call a general election in 2009. I cannot understand how he listened to the advice of people who may not have been in politics for a great length of time, as that put him in a position that has destroyed any reputation that he might have had. As far as I am concerned, the dithering over the general election is the ERMthe exchange rate mechanismmoment for the Labour party. Labour will not be able to have the election in 2009, as originally intended: it will have to go on to the bitter end. The longer this rotten Labour Government go on, the more Labour Members will be concerned about their seats.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right when he said that the Prime Minister was treating the general public as if they had no intuition whatever as to what the Labour party was about. The Prime Minister has spun this Government as a new Government. For goodness sake, the Prime Minister was elected to Parliament in 1983 and he has been running the Government since they were elected in 1997. There is nothing new about the deputy leader of the Labour party either: she was elected in 1982. The idea that this is a new Government is absolute nonsense.
There was a wonderful article about the Gracious Speech in one of our national newspapers. It was entitled What is the point of all this legislation? The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) made some similar points earlier. The article stated that today marks the final curtain on the Blair years. It continued:
In 10 years, there have been 455 Acts of Parliament... and thousands of statutory instruments.
reforms of health and education,
two dozen criminal justice Acts, aimed principally at tomorrows headlines rather than making the streets safe, the legislative effort should have been expended on proper, lasting and effective reforms of public services. Last weeks population figures showed how exposed we now are to our hospitals, schools and transport network being overwhelmed by a greater number of people than was ever planned for.
Over the 10 years of Blairism, Labour has brought in six Acts on immigration, seven on terrorism, a dozen on education, 11 on health and social care, and 25 on criminal justice. It has created new crimes at a rate of nearly one a day and passed more than 32,000 statutory instruments.
Cleaning hospitals is a laudable ambition, but...three years ago there was a health and improvement Bill, giving new priority to infection control in hospitals. Why did that not work? What is the point of all this legislation
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