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the health of the nation is vital to its success and well-being, a Bill will be brought forward to strengthen the National Health Service. The Bill would create a duty to take account of the new National Health Service Constitution that will set out the core principles of the Service and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff. The Bill would also introduce measures to improve the quality of health care and public health.
Yet if one looks at the detail of the Bill, a vital elementa clear statement of NHS valueshas been completely left out. I served on the Health Committee for 10 years, and by the end of that time I found that we were going round in circles examining the same things that we did when I first joined it. The last thing that the health service wants is yet another reorganisation. Whether it is GP fundholding or independent hospitals, we are going round and round, and if anything would demoralise staff, it would be further upheavals.
will bring forward a Bill to reform education.
We all welcome the appointment of a new independent examinations regulator, which the Conservative party suggested. It is important that that regulator upholds the integrity of the exams system, which regulation has so far failed to do. However, the rest of the Bill is full of meaningless things. It goes back to when Tony Blair was talking about education, education, education and being
tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
I wish that this House had been able to take forward the motion, which some of us supported, to impeach Tony
Blair. Of all the things that he has been responsible for, perhaps the biggest crime of all was the downright lie that he told the House of Commons about the war with Iraq. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and say that I wish that I had had the guts that he showed, together with his 17 colleagues, in voting against the war with Iraq, for which I will never forgive Tony Blair.
will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including
strengthening the role of Parliament.
Since they won in 1997, the Government have done everything possible to weaken Parliament. They have undermined the work of Members of Parliament and destroyed the basis on which this place operates. It is an absolute disgrace. They created that nightmare, but we are now told that they will strengthen Parliaments role. This morning, when I heard Lord Mandelson on the radio giving advice about a Member of Parliaments office being raided by the police, I did a double take. That noble Lord resigned from the Cabinet not once but twice, yet he now lectures us on dealing with a serious matter. He is the last person from whom I would take advice. It says it all if he is the cheerleader for Her Majestys Government.
A Bill will be introduced to manage marine resources and to create a new right of public access to the coastline.
The marine Bill is important. It will protect marine species and habitatsa complex task, given the sheer size of the eco-systems involved. The terms of international maritime conventions have to be fulfilled and environmental management arrangements must be introduced. It has not been fully appreciated that Britains seas are surprisingly crowded. The Bill needs to manage those pressures carefully, and it promises better opportunities for all stakeholders to help to shape the way in which our seas are managed. The question is whether their respective voices will be heard as the Bill works its way through Parliament.
The Government are rotten and have failed deeply. They are running out of time and options. I hope that the Gracious Speech is the last that we hear from a Labour Government and that the incoming Conservative Government will be responsible for the next one.
David Taylor: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether the House authorities have reported any problems with the acoustics in the Chamber because there seems to be an echo of a speech that I have heard 12 or 13 times since 1997. Are there problems?
Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con):
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Queens Speech and highlight the issues that concern my constituents. It is always a pleasure to
follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and to listen to his views. I also commend the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who is experienced and knowledgeable about finance and economic matters. His speech gave us much food for thought. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who was in robust and dynamic form, made an excellent speech.
In my area, there is fear and fury about the position in which our country and my constituents find themselves. They largely blame the Government for failing to deal with the real issues in the past decade. People in my constituency do not believe that all our economic and financial problems started in America. They are worried that, as our country goes into recession, we will be hit harder than other western European and other countries. Why are we in that position? It is possibly because in previous Queens Speeches, legislative programmes and decisions for which the Government were responsible, the wrong policies were implemented at the wrong time.
People in my constituency are hurting today. We will all judge the Queens Speech and the recent pre-Budget statement against that background to ascertain whether either or both will address the serious financial and economic problems that our country faces. At first glance, it appears that they will not and that they represent yet another missed opportunity by the failing Labour Government. My constituents will judge the Queens Speech on two counts: whether it helps resolve the mess into which the Government have got us on so many fronts and whether the measures are fair.
To me, the Queens Speech represents the dying rites of a tired and bankrupt Government. They claim that Britain should be fairer, but Labour policies have caused greater unfairness in our country in the past 11 years. People are fed up with the Government treating them unfairly on tax, benefits, housing, health, education and so on. It is laughable for the Government to have the audacity to take fairness as their theme for the legislative programme. In my constituency, the three top priorities are the economy, crime and health. I shall concentrate on them in my speech.
Some measures in the Queens Speech are welcomefor example, the marine Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West mentioned. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, some of the proposals were originally Conservative and the Government have now adopted them. We always welcome the Government Front-Bench sinner who repenteth.
The content of the Queens Speech is slim and it has no overwhelming vision for the future. It worries me that it is without vision or direction. The Government appear to have run out of ideas and do not know which way to turn. Our society is broken and the Labour Government have no idea how to mend it. One or two Government Members have said that new Labour is dead, and they are probably right.
For all of usyoung or old, with families, in work or on benefits or pensionsthe economy is the overriding priority. Jobs, money, taxes, housing, mortgages and rents genuinely concern many people throughout our country. The Government talk the talk, but do not seem to understand or empathise with those truly worried people.
The Government have done too little, too late about the economy. Of course, we welcome the proposed Bill to introduce a framework to protect bank depositors. The measure will allow the Bank of England and other authorities to intervene when a bank gets into severe difficulties, and that is welcome. We are also pleased that several banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, will not move on repossessions for six months. That will provide some help for some people.
However, people are genuinely fearful that they will be out of a job or unable to meet their mortgage payments, yet they have been highly taxed by the Government, who wasted money and did not put any aside for the future and the bad times that have now arrived. They taxed and spent and did not look to the future and save, so that, when the recession came, they could do something with existing resources.
The economy is the big issue. There are businesses in my constituency that are struggling. Some are fearful of the new year. We need action to help to improve their cash flow, reduce their taxes and cuttheir national insurance contributions. Thousands of businesses are threatened with going bust and thousands of people will lose their jobs. The 2.5 per cent. VAT reduction was not a sensible move to kick-start our economy, as will be proved in time. The Government need to do more, but I do not think that they have any idea of what to do.
The second issue that I wish to highlight is crime and antisocial behaviour. It is interesting that the Governments policing and crime Bill concentrates on the accountability of the police through directly elected representatives on police authorities. That is another Conservative proposal. As I have said in the House before, my constituents want to be able to walk the streets in their neighbourhoods and town centres without fear. Regrettably, there has recently been a considerable increase in burglary across my borough. Some people do not even feel safe in their own homes now. Constituents feel that the Government and the police do not devote enough time or manpower to the problem of burglary.
There is also concern about the licensing situation and alcohol-induced crime. The Government liberalised the licensing laws. I very much regret the move to 24-hour drinking and believe that it has been a great mistake. The Government have looked at the issue again, but have still done nothing to address itindeed, they have not even proposed anything. Around the Broadway square in Bexleyheath, there are three large-volume licensed premises that can contain up to 2,500 people on a Friday or Saturday night. Police data show that the area has been a hotspot for violence against the person offences and for criminal damage. Between 2002 and 2006, alcohol-related disorder in the area rose by 43 per cent.
Evidence showed that the incidence of alcohol-related crime, disorder and public nuisance in Bexleyheath town centre was increasing, despite the use of mechanisms outside the licensing regime, such as designating the area an alcohol control zone and a dispersal area. The Major of London has recognised the problems caused by alcohol in public places. He took immediate action on taking office to ban the consumption of alcohol on public transport in London, and he backed that up by putting more police on public transport.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why my Conservative council will not ban street drinking in local town centres, even though, as he says, the powers are available and there is enormous pressure from the local community to do so? The point is not about 24-hour drinking, because people purchase alcohol in supermarkets and then drink it in local town centres. Why will my council not do anything about that?
Mr. Evennett: I cannot speak for the hon. Gentlemans local authority, but Bexley, which is under an excellent Conservative-controlled council, is taking those sorts of measures. We all need to unite to deal with alcohol-related crime, but the Government have not taken it as seriously as they could have done. However, I welcome those steps that the Government have taken and hope that the policing and crime Bill will move us in that direction.
The third issue that I want to raise is health. The Queens Speech says that an NHS constitution will be established outlining the rights and responsibilities of staff and patients. That is another Conservative policy and it is welcome indeed. We are looking forward to some positive moves by the Government. However, on the other side, my constituents are concerned about health care and the availability of services locally now.
We in Bexley are still campaigning against changes to downgrade or cut services such as accident and emergency, and maternity services at Queen Marys hospital in Sidcup. The campaign has brought together thousands of people from across the borough and beyond who are concerned about the future of the health services that they can access if the changes go ahead. One of the problems with the Government is that they make too many top-down decisions without looking at local need. The proposals in Bexley have now been referred to an independent review panel, which will look at them again. We eagerly await its recommendations and the Secretary of States decision.
The Governments proposed national health service reform Bill is one step behind, although the main proposals in the Bill are encouraging. We want patients to have a greater say about the care they receive, and we want PCTs to be more responsive to local communities. We also want to strengthen public involvement in commissioning. Those positive steps are very welcome, but my constituents are greatly concerned about polyclinics. There is fear that the hospital will be downgraded to become a large polyclinic if the downgrades go ahead.
Despite the Governments claims that polyclinics will not be imposed on communities, half of all PCTs do not plan to consult local people about whether they want one in their community. People in my area are concerned that family doctor surgeries will close and that impersonal polyclinics will be introduced, with patients being lucky to see the same GP regularly and perhaps having to travel much further. The proposal for the new constitution is good, but many Conservatives are concerned about the delivery of services on the ground, and about the downgrades and cutbacks that have occurred, because if the Government have more financial difficulties, there will be real problems.
The hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House in the pre-1997 period, representing much the same area that he represents now, so he will have been part of, or at least a supporter of, a Government
whose expenditure on the NHS was going backwards. Does he welcome the fact that in the almost 12 years since 1997 the gross amount being spent has more than tripled to well over £100 billion a year? Even allowing for NHS inflation, there has been a doubling in real terms as an effect of that. Had the Government whom he supported continued from 1997, the NHS would be nowhere near as strong as it is now.
Mr. Evennett: There are a couple of points to make on that. Of course we welcome the resources that have gone into the NHS, but the issue is how efficiently that money has been used. I am afraid that much of it has been wasted, and has not been used efficiently for patient care. Too much has been spent on bureaucracy and administration, and not enough has been spent on front-line care. In the 1990s, productivity was going up considerably, and when we look at waiting times now, we see areas of concern for the future. We welcome the increase in resources, but we want them to go to front-line services, so that the medical side gets them, rather than the administrative side.
Other measures were mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We are to look at education, yet again, as well as training and apprenticeships. We want excellence in education and of course we want the best opportunities to be available for every child, so that they can develop themselves and maximise their opportunities in life. However, some of the figures for exam results and for the number of people leaving school without basic qualifications, or five GCSE equivalents, make us worry that although money has gone in, the output has not been as good as we would have liked. On apprenticeships, we have a desperate need for more trained apprenticeships and for more skilled 16-plus students, but, regrettably, there has not been as much success in that area as we would have liked.
Many areas that were mentioned in the Gracious Speech need to be improved, so we look forward to the introduction of various Bills, and we will argue our case on each of them as they go through the House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, I hope that this will be the last Queens Speech of this fading and discredited Government, who have no future and no vision. It is time for change; the country needs it and the people want it, so we want to bring it on.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and particularly to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), with whom I have had the pleasure of working closely in the past. He is a fine man, and his constituents are lucky to have him looking after their interests.
Today started with a statement from Mr. Speaker. I do not want to go over the various points that have been made today, but they are important and they matter to our constituents, because the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his or her constituents is important. It needs to be confidential and should always be conducted through open channels of communication. We know that that did not happen in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) last week.
The offence of aiding and abetting misconduct in public officeor being charged on suspicion of having committed such an offencehas been used not only against a Member of Parliament. It was used recently against two of my constituents: a local investigative journalist and a former detective sergeant in the police force. They were charged with that offence and brought to court fairly recently, but I am pleased to say that the charges were thrown out because the judge found errors of law and of fact in the case that was being brought against them.
When people look at the debate that we had earlier today on the events of last Thursday, they might think that it simply involved MPs being concerned about their own privileges. As I have just said, those privileges matter, as far as our constituents are concerned, but such chargeswhich are common law charges, not criminal charges, as I think was suggested earlierare also being used against journalists, police officers and others in our constituencies. We need to bear that in mind as we discuss these issues.
Todays debate has so far quite properly focused on the economy and on the difficult situation that many of our constituents face, and it is on those issues, at national and local level, that I wish to speak first. Many Members, especially on the Conservative Benches, have asked whether the huge sums£487 billion has been mentionedthat the Government have put into the banking system, either as direct capital injections or as guarantees, are giving us value for money. There was rather more discussion in the US Congress on these matters than I have heard from those on the Government Benches here. Congress debated whether the American public were getting value for money from what the American Government were doing, and whether main street or Wall street would be the beneficiary.
I am glad that, at last, questions really are being put to the Government, and that they are under pressure to tell us whether the huge amount of public money that has gone into the banks is really getting through, whether the credit is starting to flow to small businesses, and, in particular, whether people are able get mortgages. We must not forget the people who have been priced out of the property market for many years by ever-rising prices. The tragedy now is that, at a time when property prices are starting to come down and there is a hope that homes might become affordable, many of our constituentsespecially the younger onesare going along to their bank or building society only to find that they are unable to get a mortgage. We need to look at that matter urgently. Lending needs to be done sensiblywe do not want people to be offered six and a half times their income; such ratios have got people into difficulties in the pastbut I hope that Ministers will urgently address that issue, and that of looking after small businesses.
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