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This is a Government who have absolutely no direction.

I want to address eight points in the Gracious Speech in a little detail. First, I shall deal with the proposed constitutional reform Bill. The gap has certainly widened in the balance of power between the Government and Parliament over the past 10 years. Why? It is entirely the result of the former Prime Minister. A balanced working relationship between the two, built on mutual respect and accountability, has increasingly been eroded. Without any doubt, the driving force behind that was Mr. Blair. His presidential style and general disregard for the opinion of both Houses has created the need for a rebalancing of power. My goodness, could he not wait to get out of this place?

People are no longer keen to participate in democracy and distrust political decision makers. I blame that entirely on the Labour Government and the former Prime Minister. Their emphasis on soundbites and spin has done much to damage Parliament’s standing. Having spoken on the first day of every Gracious Speech since 1983, I can say without hesitation that the attendance today is unfortunately an all-time low. Where are the Government Members to support the Queen’s Speech? There are nearly double the number of Opposition Members here. The Whips cannot even organise enough Labour MPs to come in and say good things about the Gracious Speech.

The constitutional reform Bill might appear to some to be an attempt to correct the damage sustained by
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Parliament as a result of the previous 10 years of Labour Government. It is somewhat ironic, however, that the Bill is proposed by the current Prime Minister, as he served throughout the Blair years, and told Mr. Blair what to do half the time. The present Government wish increasingly to devolve power to local bodies; they should get on with it. They have had 10 years to do something about it, but over that time they have done everything possible to destroy local government. Southend, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), has been undermined by not having enough money to maintain services. If we wanted to put up the council tax, we would be capped.

Furthermore, I am surprised that the human fertilisation and embryology Bill has not been mentioned, as I am very concerned about it. I spoke during the passage of the 1990 Bill, and many of us who were concerned about allowing experimentation on human embryos up to 14 days have been proved right. The Minister for Science and Innovation shakes his head in disagreement, but the idea that we would put in place the wherewithal to police laboratories to allow experimentation on an embryo of 13 days old, but not on an embryo that is older, is a nonsense. The authority that came into being in 1990 has turned out to be shambolic.

All the promises made of cures found as a result of experimentation on human embryos have been proved wrong. To date, as Ministers have confirmed in reply to numerous questions that I have asked, extensive embryo research has produced no significant breakthroughs whatever, and nor has embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cell research, however, has been far more successful. Even at this late stage, therefore, the Government should reflect on the Bill.

We have a marvellous Freeview television now, on which I saw the Minister with responsibility for public health say to the Science and Technology Committee that there was no scientific evidence to show that Parliament should consider the present law whereby abortion is lawful up to 24 weeks. That was an incredible statement. Before the last general election, when the three then party leaders were asked their view on abortion, they said unanimously that their constituencies had special baby care units that now save babies at 23 and a half weeks, 23 weeks and some even at 22 and a half weeks. We know that those babies have lung development problems and so on, but for the Minister to say to that Select Committee that there were no grounds for reconsidering the matter was extraordinary. I salute my two colleagues who then decided to issue a minority report.

I pray in aid the words of the noble Lord Steel, the architect of the Abortion Act 1967, who said recently that abortion is being used as a form of contraception in Britain, and admitted that he never anticipated anything like the current number of terminations when leading the campaign for reform. I am therefore fearful of the Government’s proposed Bill being used by some parliamentary colleagues to make having an abortion in this country even easier. I believe that if that does happen, a large number of hon. Members will fight, word by word and line by line, to ensure that the abortion laws in this country are not weakened further.

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Then there is the criminal justice and immigration Bill, whose proposals read as a long list of Government failures. I believe strongly that over the last 10 years Britain has become a fundamentally unjust country. It is ridiculous: Home Office Ministers wake up in the morning and decide “We will make another law: we will make something else illegal”, although we all know that it is up to chance whether any of those laws are enforced. The criminal justice system has been very badly damaged. Despite the introduction of more than 30 separate criminal justice Acts and the creation of more than 3,000 new criminal offences since Labour came to power in 1997, crime has continued to rise significantly.

The Government are behaving as if they were still in opposition. The truth about the Labour party is that it is no good in government; its expertise is in opposition. Labour Members are very good at moaning about everything, but what happens when they are given power? If anyone were to ask whether the country is any better today than it was in 1997, the answer would be “Absolutely not”, and history will show that the last Prime Minister failed the country very badly.

Let me say a word about the police. We used to have the best police force in the world, and the best judicial system in the world. Now our police are just like those in the rest of the world, and our judicial system is just like that in the rest of the world. I am sick to death of being invited to go on all-night rides around the town watching what goes on among people who are committing crimes. I have done that. I have been there. I invite those police officers to spend a day with me, as a Conservative Member of Parliament. We know what the problems are, but the solutions are another matter, and I think the “Panorama” programme that we saw during the summer recess was very telling indeed.

Given the recent behaviour of the chief of the Met over the de Menezes case, his position is absolutely untenable. It is outrageous. If the man running the police force is giving this sort of lead, no wonder officers are in open rebellion. If there is one thing the Government have done that has been more damaging than anything else, it is the way in which they have ruined our criminal justice system.

Given that we have wasted all this money on the investigation into cash for honours—£1.5 million, we now discover—was it surprising that the Crown Prosecution Service did not proceed? The gentleman who runs the CPS is a staunch Labour supporter, for goodness’ sake: he was never going to go ahead with the prosecution. I think that when there is a general election, Labour will be judged on that as well.

Andrew Mackinlay: Throughout the long, tortuous business of cash for honours, I was desperate for someone to ask one question. Could someone explain how that man called Lord Black, from The Daily Telegraph, managed to get his peerage? He is a Canadian, and also, I understand, a Conservative peer—a Conservative peer who, even before he was in trouble, did not turn up at the House of Lords very often. By what divine intervention was he selected to become a Conservative peer? Presumably it would not be to do with anything as grubby as money, would it?

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Mr. Amess: I have no knowledge of such matters, but I do intend to touch briefly on party political funding, and the hypocrisy surrounding that particular issue.

Over the last 10 years, it has become very plain that the Government do not have a clue about immigration. We no longer have controls over our borders, and the system is an absolute shambles. Anyone who has arrived at Heathrow airport recently will have been subjected to the queues that grow ever longer as the Government—presumably—begin to panic over the situation. A sensible and carefully considered immigration policy is clearly beyond their capability. In contrast, recent remarks by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the importance of a well-balanced immigration debate were praised by the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Mr. Trevor Phillips. I had never considered Mr. Phillips to be a known supporter of the Conservative party.

The Gracious Speech also features a counter-terrorism Bill. Every Member in the House knows that we face a huge security challenge. I do not have a solution to the situation where someone is prepared to take their own life so that others lose their lives. I cannot think of any sort of deterrent. All of us are struggling to come up with a solution but I say again that I will regret for ever more that I voted for the war with Iraq. I believe that it is now permissible for me to say that the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said things at the Dispatch Box that I believed, which is why I voted the way I did, and we now know those things not to be true. I much regret that I did not join my 18 colleagues and vote against that measure, but all of us will support the Government in trying to combat the threats that we face from terrorism. However, I certainly am not keen on extending the powers of detention beyond the present 28 days. That seems against the British spirit of common justice.

After those gloomy words, I am going to welcome two Bills in the Gracious Speech: the Climate Change Bill and the energy Bill. I and many hon. Members receive a huge amount of correspondence and campaign cards on those issues. Climate change is having and will have a huge impact on us all. Never has the need been so pressing to find effective ways of reducing carbon emissions and at the same time of ensuring that those efforts are not to the detriment of our economic growth and competitiveness. I am delighted that Mr. Gore has received his honour but when I look back on the Clinton- Gore years—the pair of them ran the United States of America for eight years—I am a little puzzled as to why, when it came to the point when they could have done something, it seemed that American business stopped them. Anyway, we all welcome sinners who repenteth.

I have long been an advocate of promoting energy efficiency as a means of reducing environmental impact. I am proud to say that I introduced what became the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 in order to alleviate fuel poverty by providing domestic insulation and other energy-efficiency measures. Of course I am not particularly pleased that the target year seems to be slipping, but there we are—that is the way of the Government these days.

The Bill that I piloted through effectively championed the benefits of maximising the energy produced by the burning of fuels for domestic heating. The Bill had as a
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central theme the enormous benefits that can result from efficient use of energy. Thousands of people throughout the United Kingdom have benefited from that private Member's Bill. I welcome the measures in the Bill proposed in the Gracious Speech that seek to reduce our carbon emissions and yet make provision for the need to maintain our overall economic performance. I believe, however, that to be a robust and effective piece of legislation the Climate Change Bill should include a genuinely independent body to set targets and not merely to monitor them. There should be provision for rolling year-on-year targets and an annual carbon budget report, with any new measures being subject to approval in Parliament.

I welcome the provisions in the local transport Bill in that they are designed to give local authorities the right mix of powers to improve the quality of local bus services, but my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East and I have a challenge as far as local buses are concerned because we do not have too many in Southend. The reason for that is that the Government—we have the former Deputy Prime Minister to thank for this—have starved Southend of money through the local government finance settlement. Local authorities must be empowered to make the decisions on local matters that they, and not central Government, have the background knowledge to make. Having long been in consultation with my local authority on public transport issues, I know precisely what Southend-on-Sea borough council would like to see in that Bill.

The Government have introduced a number of public transport initiatives, but they have often failed to support them with adequate funding. The national concessionary fares scheme is part-Government, part-local authority funded. However, Southend-on-Sea borough council is struggling to fund the local scheme, as the Government grant is simply not a significant enough contribution to enable us to take that measure forward. The Government must not leave councils to fund initiatives that they instigate. The Bill on this issue must address the funding inequalities that are undermining the concessionary fares scheme in Southend. It must ensure a level playing field for negotiations between local authorities and bus companies, and help local authorities to deal with unruly and intimidating behaviour on public transport. The public are often discouraged from using public transport, especially at night, as they fear the behaviour of certain individuals. Local authorities must be given help in order better to tackle antisocial behaviour on public transport, and help to ensure that such services are accessible to all.

I know that the Gracious Speech suggests that other Bills will be introduced, but I am very disappointed that there is no certainty about a marine Bill and a Bill on copyright and associated miscellaneous provisions, which would receive widespread support. I welcomed the introduction last year of a draft marine Bill, which was designed to offer protection to marine environments. However, it suffered severe delays to its progress during the last Session, and the Government appear to have failed to come forward with a new such Bill for the new parliamentary year. I recently participated in a wonderful campaign, organised by the Wildlife Trust—the local launch was at Chalkwell junior school—to lobby the Government to include a marine Bill in their list of priority Bills. Youngsters are particularly enthusiastic
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about such a Bill, and I urge the Government to rethink their commitment to this legislation.

Earlier this year, under the ten-minute rule, I introduced a Copyright (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which I understood the Government were very much in favour of. It was intended to tackle the growing problem of internet piracy that is costing the British music industry millions of pounds in lost revenues each year. Online copyright theft and its impact on the music industry and associated British artists is a seriously pressing issue, and I am rather disappointed that the Government have not introduced a measure to assist in that regard.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) mentioned cash for peerages earlier, and it is suggested in the Gracious Speech that measures will be introduced to sort out political funding. I find this a disingenuous debate. I voted against the £10,000 that has been made available to all Members of Parliament to—let us be frank about this—promote themselves. Of course, it will help Members in marginal constituencies. Such things cannot be party political, so endless photographs will be taken of them and reference will be made to how wonderful they are; these will be all-singing, all-dancing affairs. Now that there will not be a general election until 2010, those Members will have three years in which to spend taxpayers’ money making themselves more cuddly to constituents.

The Labour party has been angered by the fact that a Conservative peer is giving a little bit of money to various candidates throughout the country, so the Labour Government are introducing legislation on this issue. However, it is interesting to note that we have not heard any details about the trade union support of Labour Members. We all know that, frankly, many trade unionists are staunch Conservatives. It is very wrong if the Government intend to introduce legislation that does not deal with the Labour party funding of individual candidates in general elections.

There is nothing new about the Government. They are a failed Government. They are an incompetent Government. They are a rotten Government. If the Prime Minister is so confident, as he appeared to be at the Dispatch Box today, why did he not call a general election last month?

8.44 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I want to pick up on a couple of the points that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has been talking about, particularly the last one about the arms race between political parties in terms of election expenditure and pre-election expenditure. Surely what we need is some form of cross-party consensus. Surely that is what the talks were trying to achieve. It seems a pity that those talks have foundered, rather than carrying on to try to find a way to reach some conclusions. It is an interesting use of the word “little” in respect of Lord Ashcroft’s contribution of financial largesse to the Conservative party.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burstow: Yes, if the hon. Gentleman will tell me how much Lord Ashcroft is giving.

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James Duddridge: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the sum is little relative to the large amounts that the trade unions present, not little in absolute terms?

Mr. Burstow: I would agree that we have an arms race and that we should negotiate down spending, rather than spending even more. That is the problem with what the hon. Member for Southend, West is suggesting. Simply criticising those on one side of the argument does not really help; a consensus is required. I hope that the legislation that is introduced will provide us with a route through all this.

The reason I want to speak in the debate today is particularly to address one of the measures in the Queen’s Speech. I will not cover the full range of measures that it sets out. The measure that I want to talk about partly reflects something that the hon. Gentleman was talking about: the fact that successive legislation has created a new architecture for aspects of health and social care regulation and inspection over the past 10 years. That has been done in a piecemeal way, and yet another piecemeal change to the system is proposed in the health and social care Bill that will shortly come before us.

In essence, the proposal is to bring together the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Healthcare Commission to form a new body, to be called the body for care quality. That may well be the right thing to do. Indeed, during the passage of the legislation that set up the two separate commissions, I argued very strongly that we should have a single commission that would be consistent in following the needs of people in different care settings as they went through their journey in the health and social care system, and ensure that good quality care standards were met wherever the person might be.

The danger now, however, is that we have already been through two sets of changes to the way in which we organise social care inspection and regulation. The National Care Standards Commission was set up only to discover on its first day of operation that it would be abolished and replaced with the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Now the Commission for Social Care Inspection will go the same way.

All reorganisations lead to managerial loss of focus. They almost inevitably result in people wondering and worrying about their own futures, perhaps more than about the people for whom they are meant to provide a service. The organisation that will be established under the Bill also runs the risk of a loss of focus on social care generally, because the focus tends to be the big relation—the health service. As a result, social care will become even more of a poor relation in the new organisation.

I am concerned about the Bill because it is a missed opportunity to get the regulation right and to deal with the abuse of older people in this country. Earlier this year, the Government funded a study, along with Comic Relief, that was undertaken by King’s college London and the National Centre for Social Research. Quite rightly, the Government wanted to establish the true prevalence of the abuse of older people. It was the first time that such a study has been done, and the Government are to be applauded for funding it.

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