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I turn now to the contribution of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase. With respect, I do not think that he got things rightunusually for a gentleman who speaks very well on such subjects. He referred to the motion as dishonest and dangerous, but it is neither. It is called for by the people, and we believe that we are responding to
what the people want. He said that we play the game, and yes, we do, but he then said that Governments call elections when they think they can win them. That is playing the game, is it not? That is the worst form of game, in my view.
The hon. Gentleman missed the point. The motion is unprecedented. There has never been a motion of this kind before Parliament before. Oppositions have tabled motions of no confidence, but this is a dissolution motion by Parliament and of Parliament, and it is quite different from any previous motion. Unusually, I find myself completely at variance with the hon. Gentlemans normally well-informed views.
In a thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), mentioned two main reasons why he supported the motionthat Parliament was compromised and the fact we have lost respect, and that we should go back to the people to seek a mandate. He spoke of the collapse of confidence in the Government and in the Prime Minister, and said that the economic difficulties made it even more pressing and more important for us to go to the country. He said that if a timetable were forthcoming for the work to be completed and if the date of an election were announced, that might be better, but he referred to the Governments response to the crisis of confidence. There is indeed a crisis of confidence. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister is failing in leadership.
The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) referred to a poll which supported keeping the Prime Minister in place. It was a poll of fewer than 100 people perhaps not the most persuasive evidence in support, and not really a poll. She also let slip during her speech that a general election would do for us all. That may be so, but it is not a reason not to go to the country. I am afraid it was rather a self-serving speech, characterised by continuous attacks on the Scottish National party and little else.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a very thoughtful contribution, as he always does, referring to history1832, the long march, the fear of revolution, 1865 and so on. He said that if there were a poll, perhaps half the House would go and half would remain, and that in itself would be renewal. That is absolutely right. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor any other Member should fear going to the people, letting them make their voice heard, and reacting accordingly. It was a very good speech.
The hon. Gentleman described the current situation as a busted flush. That is exactly what it is. People out there believe that this institution is badly damaged. As usual, his logic was unanswerable, and the oratoryI call it thatcommanded absolute silence in the Chamber. That silence was eloquent.
From the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown), finally, we had a walk round the trees and the woods, and some insults to the Scottish National party. He came up with several answers to several questions, but one question that he could not answer was that if the Scottish Government, God help them, are so bad, why are they running away with the polls in Scotland?
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman made his points in a rather theatrical manner. The question that he could not answer was why the Scottish Government did so fantastically well last week if they are letting the Scots people down. In every opinion poll, consistently, their support goes up and through the roof. There we have it. We heard a speech that did not take us very far.
We have had a good debate. It was worth having. The motion is not a no confidence motion; it is about the credibility of Parliament. Many of us in many parties believe, as I am sure in their heart of hearts do many Labour Members, that we have a busted flush. If we went to the country, there would be a renewal. All the procedures are in place. We are waiting for Kelly. Other procedures have been put in place pro tem. There is nothing to prevent us from having an election as those other countries have recently had.
I urge hon. Members to think carefully about how they vote this evening. I urge Members on the Government Benches to join those of us who are democratically concerned about the future of this place, and to join us in the Lobby later.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant): I apologise to the House for the fact that it is me replying to the debate, but I had been asked to do so before I was moved to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so this is my sort of final appearance as the Deputy Leader of the House.
We had some interesting speeches this afternoon, and some that were fundamentally misleading. It is a shame that the [ Interruption. ] Oh, no, the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has been able to get back into the Chamber now. I disagreed with almost every word that he said, as I am sure he would expect. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) tried to patronise the Secretary of State for Wales, which is the hon. Gentlemans favourite tactic when he is rattled, but I thought that my right hon. Friend made a very good argument, and I hope to return to it.
We then had important contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who made some important points that needed to be heard about the Scottish nationalists record. We also heard from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), whom I like to think of as an hon. Friend these days. When he was lying on top of me the other dayor I was lying on top of him, I cannot rememberon the rugby pitch at Twickenham, he impressed upon me the need for radical reform of Parliament, and, as he knows, I have always agreed with him on those matters.
We heard from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and he always speaks from the heart, with minimal notes and with great conviction. I do not happen to agree with the conclusions that he came to, and, as he knows, I often disagree with the conclusions that he comes to; none the less, I share with him the respect for this House and the importance of our being able to reinforce its value into the future and to restore the reputation in which it is held. He referred to several changes to the constitution which were brought about
in the 19th century. One of the most important changes, as far as the Rhondda was concerned, was when the franchise was extended to miners, and, from that day forward, they have had Labour representation.
We need to make further reforms, and the most important question that we need to consider when we consider whether to dissolve Parliament is whether there is anything that weweneed to do urgently. I believe that there are two very important things that we need to do urgently.
I realise, however, that I have forgotten the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and his highly illuminating speech. He did, however, mislead usinadvertently, I am sureon one fact. He said that he thought that, one day, the Business Secretary, my Lord[Hon. Members: Aah!] Well, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Business Secretary was going to be an archbishop, and, from my former career, I am used to calling archbishops my Lord. I am sure, however, that he would not suffice with an archbishopric; after all, archbishops can be fallible.
Most importantly, there are significant things that we need to do as a Government. I believe, as all Members have said today, that we need to take very seriously the message that the electorate sent us last weeka message not only to my political party, but to all political parties represented in this Chamber. There was a significant fall in turnout in many areas and there was a vote for the far right in many areas. In my constituency, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats came in after the British National party. There are very important issues that we need to bear in mind; there are important reforms that we need to make to the way in which we do politics; and, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, we need to make them urgentlyvery urgently. First, we need to have an independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, because it is important that we do not set our own pay and rations. Our pay, allowances and pensions should be set, monitored, audited and administered completely independently of this House. That they have not been is one of the major things that has brought this place into disrepute.
Nobody should be able to enrich themselves by virtue of being a Member of this House or by virtue of the allowances that they are able to claim. Nobody should be prevented, equally, from being a Member of this House because they do not have an independent fortune. Anybody should be able to represent a constituency in this country, regardless of their background. I note that the hon. Gentleman wants a swift timetableand there will be one, to bring those reforms forward. We need to see them as swiftly as possible, and that means that it would be ludicrous and inappropriate for us to have a general election now. In addition, we need to make sure that the reassessmentand, if necessary, repaymentof all hon. Members claims back to 2004 can be done swiftly. That would surely have to be done before any general election.
We need to look seriously at the issues raised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon about the reform of the House of Commons and its Committees. We all recognise the value of the Select Committee system, which has been around in a changing form for the past 25 or 30 years. However, we need to go
a step further in making sure that those Committees have real power and an ability to transform the politics of this country. The changes to which my right hon. Friend referred this afternoon would help.
Likewise, we need to consider timetabling and how we conduct our business. We need to look at all such matters urgently if we are to make sure that the House, which has been respected around the country through the centuries, returns to that key position.
Mr. Heath: On the hon. Gentlemans earlier reference to Twickenham, I should say that I seem to remember being hurled rather forcibly by a second row forward at him, rather than simply collapsing on top of him. But that is not the point.
The hon. Gentleman is now articulating a raft of reforms that some Members, on both sides, have been advocating year after yearbut those on the Treasury Bench have refused to accept them. Why should we believe now that there is a realistic timetable for introducing those reforms as a matter of urgency? If there is such a timetable, will he tell us precisely what it is?
Chris Bryant: As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, some of the measures have not been around for ever and a day. Some of them have, and he also knows perfectly well that I have supported them; on many such issues, I have gone through the Lobby with the hon. Gentleman. One of the other issues is House of Lords reform. I believe that it is wrong for people who are not prepared to put themselves up for election to tell people in this country how to live their lives; that is why I believe in reform of the second Chamber.
The most dramatic urgency relates, however, to the issue of the independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. That has not arisen until recently, but we need to proceed with it as fast as we can. It is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House to inform the hon. Gentleman when that will happen, but I understand that this afternoon several hon. Members have been in cross-party talks about some of these measures. I hope that we will be able to move them forward as fast as possible.
It is vital that we continue urgent work on a second issue: the recession. Uniquely, it has hit the whole world, and profoundly so. When I was knocking on doors in my constituency during the elections last week, people were constantly raising issues about their family incomes, their savings, their jobs and their future prosperity. Those people would have been expecting the House to be debating such issues in substantial measure this afternoon. The truth is that this Government acted to shore up the banking systemnot to protect bankers, but to make sure that individuals deposits were protected. Otherwise, people would have lost all their savings.
This Government have been providing support for businesses, which can now defer their taxes at an important time in the economic cycle. We have introduced additional support for mortgage interest, reducing it for the unemployed so that it kicks in for mortgages of up to £200,000 rather than those up to £100,000and after 13 weeks, not 39 weeks.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks did not mention any of those issues; he did not seem to have any interest in the economic situation. Like the Leader of the Opposition, he had no time to mention any
matters of substance. The issues that I have mentioned face our constituents, and we need to address them. So I say that now is not the time
I want to address some of the issues that have been raised by the nationalists. They pretend in political life, and yet we all know the truth that lies behind it. What is the truth in this case? They do not expect to form a Government if there is a general election. They are not intending to put up candidates across every seat in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They have no intention of forming a Government of their ownthey want to get rid of this Government to put in that lot, the Conservatives, and they should be honest to the House about it. [ Interruption. ] Yes, absolutelythe right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and his friends should look carefully at where they are getting the cheers from.
We know that that is the truth, because the nationalists have a record on this. Just look at 1979they did exactly the same then. Look at 1993, when they propped up a discredited Government. The truth is that they are so obsessed with independence that that is the only thing they will ever see. Of course, the leader of their partythe leader in Scotlandcould perfectly well have been in Scotland today voting on reform of the rape law; instead, he has decided to sit in here and smirk like a Cheshire cat so that he gets on television behind the leader of Plaid Cymru. Where were they when it came to the minimum wage? None of them even bothered to turn up, and yet they try to pretend that they believe in things [ Interruption. ]
Madam Deputy Speaker: Orderthe House must come to order. This debate is coming to an end, and Members who have been here throughout wish to hear the Ministers reply. There are far too many private conversations going on.
Chris Bryant: The truth of the matter is that the nationalists always vote with the Tories. Who was their latest Member to come into the House? I am glad to see him sitting therethe hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason). In his first four votes, which Division lobby did he go through? Not through the lobby with the Labour party but through the lobby with the Conservatives. No wonder this years Scottish Conservatives conference programme said:
For the first time in more than a decade Conservative policies are being enactedand it is here in Scotland.
So we know that the nationalists like to ride in on the Conservatives coat tails, but the Conservatives like to ride in on their coat tails as well. They do not table their own motion but come running along like Johnny-come-latelies after that little shower. I warn the Conservatives about the nationalists, because they do not share the same principles in some respectsthe nationalists want to cut defence jobs in Scotland and in Wales. They want to see the end of Trident in Faslane. They do not support St. Athan and the new defence training academy
in Wales, which would mean thousands of jobs in south Wales, including for people in my constituency. What are the nationalists in my constituency doing about armed forces day? They are saying that it is just a gimmick and they are not prepared to defend our armed forces.
On the economy, we know what [ Interruption. ] I am about to come to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), so he can keep calm. What were his views, along with all the nationalists? They proclaimed the great arc of prosperity that was to extend across the smaller countriesIreland, Iceland and Latvia. The hon. Gentleman said that
small country success is everywhere...Iceland...has a GDP per capita some £7,000 above Wales.
The reality now in Iceland is that inflation is running at 18 per cent. and its economy has shrunk by 10 per cent. So we know that the nationalists policy on the economy is absolutely nowhere. They have no suggestions and no way of making sure that this country returns to economic strength
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