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While Ministers drag their heels on environmental issues, they rush to get more Home Office legislation on the statute book. The counter-terrorism Bill will be the 60th Home Office Bill since 1997, and so far new
Labour has created more than 3,000 new offences. The contrast could not be more stark, and Ministers will have a tough task demonstrating that creating more criminal offences is a necessary and useful way to counter the terrorist threat.
The Prime Minister could have used his first Queens Speech to make a dramatic statement on fairness in public spending throughout the UK by introducing legislation to reform the unfair Barnett formula. With the Assembly currently reviewing the formula, and given Lord Barnetts own public recognition that the formula is out of date, the time is right for a change. The crude population-based formula simply fails to take account of Waless needs. On the key Government measure of povertygross value addedWales performs more poorly than any other United Kingdom nation or region. We have a post-industrial legacy of ill health to cope with and a higher level of average mortality and cancer rates. Much of our population is spread over large rural areas with obvious consequences for public services on the cost of delivery.
Lord Barnett originally developed the formula as a temporary measure, but successive Governments have backed away from reviewing it as he envisaged and Wales has suffered the most from this unfair system. This new Government with a new Prime Minister have had over 130 days to review the formula and start consulting on change. If the Prime Minister believed in social justice, it should have been a priority for him to make a start on the process of reforming the formula as soon as he came to office, but we are still waiting.
On the theme of devolving further power and responsibility to Wales, several Bills could devolve framework powers to the Assembly to extend its competence in specific areas, such as the education and skills Bill, the health and social care Bill and the housing and regeneration Bill.
Last Session, the Further Education and Training Bill caused controversy when it failed to grant the Assembly the competence to give Welsh further education colleges the power to award foundation degrees. Many Welsh Members of Parliament were concerned that that was hidden in the Bill and that there was little time to debate the significant omission.
The Wales Office has now promised briefing sessions on future Bills that contain framework powers, and that is welcome. However, it would be helpful if it issued a written statement for each Bill that contains framework powers, giving details of the way in which the measure would extend the Assemblys competence. That would help us avoid the confusion that we experienced in the previous Session with the Further Education and Training Bill.
In this Session, the first legislative competence orders will come from the Assembly, but the protocol for the way in which Members of Parliament scrutinise the orders remains unclear. Any extension of the Assemblys powers is welcome but the process would have been far simpler if the Government had introduced a stronger Government of Wales Act in the first place, giving Wales the same powers as the Scottish Parliament rather than creating the current intricate and baffling system.
The Queens Speech is silent on rural affairs. We recently had an adverse report from the Office of Fair Trading about the supermarkets pricing of milk in 2001 to 2003. The Competition Commissions recent report advocated a consultation on establishing an ombudsman for the food trade. It would have been encouraging if the Government had mentioned in the Queens Speech the possibility of setting up such a system, which would give more strength to the code to which supermarkets must adhere.
I want to speak briefly about two other important omissions from the Governments programme. A Liberal Government started the process of Lords reform in the Parliament Act 1911. In the previous Session, Members of Parliament overwhelmingly backed plans for an elected upper Chamber. The constitutional reform Bill must take forward the reform of the upper Chamber to make it fit for the 21st century.
The proposed pension Bill appears likely to stop short of taking the crucial step to reduce and end means-testing for the state pension. Waless pensioners deserve a citizens pension, with a restored earnings link that guarantees a stable income for all and restores the incentive for people to save.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): It is important to remember that many of the men and women who stood on duty outside the House for the ceremony for the opening of Parliament today have just returned from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. Although the ceremony is rather ignored by the public, it is an important part of what we do. I pay tribute to the soldiers who made the ceremony what it was and performed to the highest professional standards.
Unfortunately, the Queens Speech did not match those standards. I am always surprised to hear Her Majesty the Queen use a new Labour turn of phrase when she reads out the speech. It is getting better in her 10th year of reading itshe obviously likes phrases such as inclusion, step change and working in partnership. Doubtless it will be our privilege one day to ensure that her speech is of a slightly different tone.
I want to consider several Bills, which I believe to be important. The constitutional reform measure is clearly important, but the elephant in the room is the West Lothian question. I am a former Member of the Scottish Parliament and I therefore sat in a devolved Parliament at the beginning, in 1999. I am acutely aware of the constitutional settlement and that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I could discuss anything from hunting to education in my Parliament, as it was at the time. The people of Scotland had a choicefunnily enough, in a referendum, for which the Government providedand more than 70 per cent. made the decision.
In this House, I am the second-class Member of Parliament; the second-class citizen. It is unfair of the Government to pretend that that is not the case. I cannot ask questions about hospital policy in Kirkcaldy, Paisley or anywhere else north of the border, but Members of this House who represent
those constituencies can ask about hospital policy in my constituency. That democratic deficit and constitutional imbalance must be solved because I am a Unionist. I do not follow the end agenda of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and the Scottish National party. I do not want the United Kingdom to break up. I went into the Scottish Parliament as a Conservative and Unionist, to try to ensure that the United Kingdom was a stronger place.
I remember that the Government claimed that devolution would see off the nationalists. That was one of their main claims. The late Donald Dewar used to say that the nationalists would be finished with devolution. It is interesting that we have a First Minister in Scotland who is from the Scottish National party and that, if my understanding is correct, there is power sharing with a Welsh nationalist in the Welsh Assembly. The nationalists are certainly not dead; they are alive and kicking.
As the consequence of a vandalised constitution and an unfinished project, I see English nationalism on the rise, and I am not a nationalist; I am a Unionist. Unless we face those issues and try to find a solution, the Union will not last in its current form. To attack hysterically any offerings from the Opposition partiesfrom the Liberal Democrats and the Conservativesas meaning the break-up of the Union is to raise the level of hysteria in a way that will only feed English nationalism and encourage the nationalists in Wales and Scotland to stoke it up. The Government need to be mature on the issue. There is a democratic deficit that must be put right, but the constitutional reform Bill simply skips that issue.
We do not know the details, although no doubt the Government will offer us regional grand committees as a sop, but that is not the solution. I implore the Government to be grown up about the debate in the next year. If they are not and if they are not prepared to discuss the whole United Kingdom, I fear that we will end up with a bodge job and we will be attacked for asking the West Lothian question. That is not surprising, because Scottish Labour, which I saw in action in the 1980s and 1990s, used to go round Scotland saying that everything from the Conservative Government was anti-Scottish. It did not say that the policies were against people from low-income backgrounds, or attack them on their merits or failings; it attacked them as anti-Scottish. Scottish Labour persuaded the Scottish people that anything that came out of Whitehall was, in the end, anti-Scottish. That is why the percentage voting for the Scottish National party is now about 30 per cent. Scottish Labour persuaded enough people in Scotland to think that perhaps independence is the right way to go.
Should the Conservative party come to power because we have more MPs in England, my fear is that the Scottish Labour party will resort to type and go back to its old ways, instead of saying, Well, in the United Kingdom you take the rough with the smooth. In the 1970s the Wilson Government were, in effect, imposed on England by Labour MPs. Again today, the Labour majority is made up of Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs. We could easily spend our lives going round saying to the English, Itd never happen, you know, if we just get rid of Scotland and Wales, but we
do not say that. One has to take the rough with the smooth in the United Kingdom. The problem with the current devolution settlement is that it was peddled by saying, Youd never get the Tories in Scotland if you had a Scottish Parliament, but the Government have not thought it through.
I hope that there are measures in the constitutional reform Bill to beef up pre-legislative scrutiny. One of the good things about the Scottish Parliament was that pre-legislative scrutiny was the de facto procedure. It was not in the hands of the Government to decide not to have it. I would like more of that. I would like a beefed-up Intelligence and Security Committee that has a power of investigation and is responsible to the House, not the Prime Minister. We will face more and more measures dealing with national security, so we need the confidence that the House has a handle on the security services and the agencies that will inevitably become ever more powerful. The Serious Organised Crime Agency is responsible to only one person, the Home Secretary, and is totally unaccountable to any democratic review. We must beef up the Intelligence and Security Committee.
This leads me to the proposed counter-terrorism Bill. It is amazing, given that the Governments proposals for longer detention without trial were rejected, that they have returned to the issue. They say that this is because more and more people say that they need to do so, but the evidence is not there yet. The Government have not presented any evidence that there are terrorists out there who need to be held for longer than 28 days without charge. We were told that control orders were going to be a great success, yet three of the 18 people being held under them have absconded, so they are not much cop. Why should we believe the Government this time if they could not get it right the first time?
I worked in counter-terrorism, and I can tell the House that locking people up without trial will lose the Government the consent of the community. Without that consent, they will not be able to recruit informers or to counter terrorism in the long run. Their proposals represent another short-term short cut, so that they can say that they are doing something about counter-terrorism. The United Kingdom already has the longest detention period without trial in the western world. We are the only ones doing this, so why do we want more? If the Government start to imprison people from the tight-knit Muslim communities in my constituency for longer periods, their sources will dry up. I have yet to see much evidence that suggests otherwise.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): To be fair to the Government, they have not actually proposed a new time frame for such detention. The Home Affairs Select Committee is investigating this issue at the moment, and it is important that we should have a debate about it in the country before Parliament considers any new detention period.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing that out, but we have already had a debate, and the Government lost. A sizeable number of Members from his party voted against the Government. Nothing significant has changed since then. The county of Lancashire, which I represent, has
a very high proportion of terrorist suspects and terrorist-traced individuals, but there is no evidence that the way to solve that problem in the long term, or even the medium term, is to start sweeping people into jail. I would be amazed to see a jury convict anyone on the strength of a confession or statement made after 90 days detention without trial. I can just imagine a judge being told, Well, your honour, after three months, he admitted it. I cannot see any jury convicting on that basis.
I will be interested to see the result of the Governments review of the admissibility of wire-taps as evidence. I know that there has also been a review of special branch, and of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which could certainly do with some fine-tuning.
The Government are proposing a Bill on the EU treaty. I am a European; I am pro-European Union. I was not old enough to vote on the issue the first time roundI was three, I thinkbut I certainly feel that we have now been promised a referendum. I remember attending the European convention on the treaty. I was a member of the Scottish Parliaments European Select Committee at the time. When the Labour Member who was on that convention says that she feels strongly that there should be a referendum, and that this is the same treaty by another name, it is important that the Government should honour that manifesto commitment.
What I find disingenuous is the nuclear option. The one thing that makes me a Eurosceptic is when people say, Well, if you dont like it, youll have to leave. We do not have to leave. We do not have to take what is on the table from the European Union. We can tell it to go back and think again, as the French and the Dutch did. If the treaty does not provide the policy solution that is right for the United Kingdom, we do not have to leave the European Union. We do not walk out of Parliament if we lose a vote on a Bill, saying that we are not coming back into the House of Commons again. The European Union is a forum in which member states should come together and agree on what they can agree on. It is trickery to treat the people of this country like fools and to say that it is all or nothing. It is not. The French and the Dutch knew that, and I am sure that the Irish and the Danish know it, because they often decide to send provisions back.
We should ensure that the Government honour their manifesto commitment. They made a promise to the people, which is important. I am a supporter of the European Union, so please do not insult my intelligence
by making it the all or nothing option. My electorate will spot that; they will know that that is an insult; they already know that this is the same treaty. The only people who pretend that it is not are members of the Government.
Let me deal with something closer to home, which remains important. I hope that appropriate legislation will include measures to deal with it. I represent Lancaster and Wyre, which has the biggest concentration of residential park homes and holiday residences in the country. To give credit to the Government, they have been very supportive through their officials of my efforts to get at these rogue traders who run some of the parks. I have some excellent park homes in my constituency, but there are also some appalling ones. We need a licensing regime that is enforceable and can deal with the real crooks throughout the country who exploit vulnerable people by making them buy without proper contracts or by threatening to tow them off parks and so forth. Local authorities can be faced with one option: withdraw the licence and end up with 300 homeless people from those sites. Some of these individuals are real rogues and we need to deal with them. I had a summit, which Government officials attended, at Wyre borough council, but the gap in legislation is the problem. I hope that any Bill will include measures to say that this is an enforceable regime and that if rogue operators do not comply with it, their licences or livelihoods will be taken away.
Other manifesto commitments have still not been met. Generally, many speakers this evening have said that there is nothing new in the Queens Speech. There is nothing exciting about it. For a Prime Minister who has spent 10, 12 or 15 years waiting for the day, it seems a rather boring programme. It is a programme brought to us by the Governments backroom boys, because the backroom boys of the past have now become the front-room boys: the Foreign Secretary, the Education Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development. They are wedded to the soundbite and the headline; they are not wedded to the delivery of policies. So much of what we have seen today is either a copy of other parties policies or an attempt to put right their own policies without taking any of the bold steps that could or should be taken. There is not much new in any of this. If this is what the new Prime Minister bases his credibility on, I am afraid that it will be a pretty disappointing year for himand even more disappointing at the polls.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the issue of restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who wish to come to the United Kingdom to work. Since my application for this debate, the Government announced their decision last week, after a 10-month review, to retain the restrictions placed on migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania. However, it is important for us to debate why the Cabinet reached that conclusion, as well as to examine the wider issues surrounding the emotive immigration debate.
I am pleased to see the Minister for Borders and Immigration on the Front Bench. He is a very pleasant and cheerful man, who has to do a very unpleasant job. It cannot be easy to say no all the time. Despite being cheerful and happy, he is, as we say, a tough cookie as far as immigration policy is concerned.
On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became members of the European Uniona move championed by Britain for many years. On 4 May 1999, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, became the first British Prime Minister to address the Romanian Parliament. During his historic speech, he announced:
Britain wants the European Union to enlarge... I want Romania to be part of that process.
At this point, may I pay tribute to our ambassador in Bucharest, Robin Barnett, who has done a tremendous amount of work to build the excellent relationship between Britain and Romania? May I also commend the efforts of Raduta Matache, the chargé daffaires of the Romanian embassy in London, who has been relentless in her pursuit of equality for Romanians?
On 1 May 2004, the United Kingdom was one of only three countries that decided not to impose any restrictions on the A8 countries. Without a doubt, those who have come from Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have made a great contribution to our country. From Ealing to Glasgow, and from Leicester to Hull, citizens from eastern Europe have added to our country economically, socially and culturally. Like the vast majority of original EU member states, Britain chose to put restrictions on the A2, which require that their citizens gain authorisation from the Home Office before they start work. The accession of the A8 and the A2 appears not to have had any significant negative impact on the British economy or the jobs market. Added to that have been many positive responses from companies such as FirstGroup, which says that the economy and its businesses are in need of more migrant workers.
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