Previous Section Index Home Page

Andrew Mackinlay: Obviously, I have a great deal of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Either we have to have an English Parliament, or we need a number of Parliaments within England. I have an open mind as to whether we should create provincial Parliaments in England to represent populations comparable to those of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, or whether we should have an English Parliament. We cannot, however, go on with this nonsense whereby people can not only come down from Scotland and vote on exclusively English matters but actually be Ministers dealing with
18 Nov 2009 : Column 103
such issues. An example is the Dartford toll bridge. A Minister who is a Scottish Member of Parliament told me that I had to have higher tolls on the Dartford toll bridge, when a comparable decision had just, rightly, been taken to remove the tolls from the bridge across the Clyde. That was a very sensible decision, but it was nothing to do with me. That position is just not sustainable.

This very day, a report was published by the All Wales Convention, which was set up by the National Assembly of Wales-to its credit-under Emyr Jones Parry to look into whether devolution in Wales could be advanced. The fact is that any such greater devolution-which I support-will have ramifications for the constituency of the hon. Gentleman and for mine. That report is not available in the Vote Office, however. I got an executive summary of it through the good offices of a member of an Opposition party. We cannot go on like this. The Calman commission produced a similar report into further devolution for Scotland, initiated largely by the Scottish Government, but with a nod and a wink and some support from the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Prime Minister. That, too, has ramifications for my constituency. I just wish that we could get a grip on this issue and address the modernisation of the United Kingdom constitution, in order to create parity of treatment and constitutional symmetry.

I also want to raise an important constituency issue, which affects not only Thurrock but the wider Thames Gateway area. A little while after my party came into office, in order to increase the supply of housing stock and to create jobs, it developed a strategy for expanding in the Thames Gateway to the east of London. I supported that policy then, and I still do, but I am bitterly disappointed at how slow and sluggish its implementation has been. One problem is that Tony Blair and the present Prime Minister have kept moving their Ministers. This is true of so many Ministries. These Prime Ministers have an obsession with changing their Ministers every few months. There is never any settlement, and never any ownership of the issues. Some Ministers change their minds, and sometimes the civil servants think, "Ah, we've got rid of him and her; now we can reverse some of their initiatives." This is bad governance.

In the past year or two, there has actually been significant progress, but I hear a rumour that the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is contemplating giving the responsibility that is vested in the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation to an outfit called the Homes and Communities Agency. I am implacably opposed to that, to the extent that in the few weeks I have left in this place, there is going to be one hell of a row if the daft Minister decides to hand this over to a man called Bob Kerslake and this national quango, which has been created on top of the plethora of bodies that already exist in the Thames Gateway.

This is completely bonkers, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, will tell the Communities and Local Government Secretary tomorrow that the Member for Thurrock who supported and sustained the policy of developing the Thames Gateway is not in favour of
18 Nov 2009 : Column 104
the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation losing its powers and having them handed over to a big national quango, which cannot, in my view, either address the needs of the people of Thurrock and the Thames Gateway, or achieve the Government's objectives of increasing the housing stock in this important region as well as creating jobs. This would be foolhardy in the extreme, so I hope that that message will be conveyed back.

I have spoken informally behind the Chair to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and other Essex MPs. It is interesting to note that when we raise matters relating to our constituencies or the wider region, BBC Essex is dilatory about reporting Parliament and the issues raised by Members, whether they be left, right or centre, about the county of Essex. If the issue is expenses, of course, the BBC people are on the telephone, but we do not get good reporting from BBC Essex, which I am angry about.

BBC Essex has closed studios in Southend. It had a newsgathering facility provided by the borough of Thurrock at the western end, but it did not use it, and gave it up. It is time that we complained about the coverage by BBC local radio. I imagine that hon. Members in other areas will have similar experiences. The service is parlous, and I believe it is time we demanded that BBC Essex and other BBC radio stations up and down the country report real news and real initiatives by councillors and MPs speaking on and about local issues. They are supposed to be providing local news and local interest.

Colleagues have expressed disappointment or, in some cases, surprise that there was no legislation relating to immigration and/or the stewardship of our borders by the Border and Immigration Agency. All I can say is that I simply cannot understand why successive Governments have not been able to get on top of managing the migration system. MPs of all parties have cases in which the Border and Immigration Agency is behaving in a totally absurd manner, with consequences of great hardship, great anxiety and, in some cases, cruelty to individuals.

I have frequently had cases in which people have, rightly or wrongly, lived in the UK for many years, and have developed relationships and had children and are living as loving family units. We are told, however, that we have to wait until 2011 for those cases to be resolved. It is indefensible that we cannot provide a swift common-sense remedy, because we know what common-sense remedy will eventually prevail: these people will be allowed, for a whole variety of sensible human rights reasons, to gain permanent leave to remain in the UK. Why cannot this agency, and Ministers, address the problem? It is just beyond me; I urge them to revisit the issue.

We expected electoral reform to be mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but it does not seem to have emerged in the way that some of us had hoped for. Both before and during my time in the House, I have believed that we need to alter the electoral system both for Westminster and for local government. Failure to address that need will be a source of further aggravation. There are ways in which we could reach a consensus across parties. We could find a way of maintaining the single Member constituency system while making people's votes count much more. We could create a system in which every Member of Parliament would be able to say that he or
18 Nov 2009 : Column 105
she had a mandate from more than 50 per cent. of the electorate. I cannot see why the Queen's Speech did not at least issue a promissory note to voters saying that if a Labour Government were returned at the next election, electoral reform would follow. There should have been a paving Bill to that effect.

I hope that over the next few days of our debate on the Queen's Speech we may hear some news from the Government. Our detailed debates on justice and home affairs will give them an opportunity to address the issue. In my view, there is an urgent requirement for electoral reform to be put both before Parliament and before the country as a whole.

Other Members, who have been very patient, wish to speak, so I shall not labour my points for much longer. However, I think that we need to be much more ambitious in asserting the rights of the House over the Executive, and indeed the Opposition Front Bench. The Executive are to blame to a large extent-the Executive of the day, that is; the same would be true if there were a Conservative Government-but there is also a cosy consensus between the Front Benches which excludes the influence of Back Benchers, and I think that it needs to be broken down.

You have been here for many years, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you read past Gracious Speeches, you will find that, certainly in your early years in the House, they gave details of overseas state visits made by the monarch, and of the people whom she expected to welcome on their state visits to this country. The latter practice has largely ended. When I inquired about that I was told that it was to do with security, but I think it is going too far for us not to announce when Heads of State are to visit and when visits are to be made at "state visit" level. The public should be given more notice. I suspect that on occasion many Members have observed some disruption in London, or some extra flags flying, and have inquired about the reasons, only to discover that there had been a state visit earlier in the day. A significant Head of State may have visited, but it is possible that no Member of Parliament will have known about it.

I mention that matter for a variety of reasons. One of them is a parliamentary reason. I feel that whenever there is a state visit there should be a presumption that the Head of State involved will address both Houses of Parliament, but that does not always happen. In fact, I think that on the majority of occasions it does not happen, and that is wrong. A state visit by a Head of State is a visit to the country. It is not just a visit to the Government or to our Head of State. After all, it is the tradition for our Head of State to address legislatures when she goes around the world, both in the Commonwealth and in other states. It is also the tradition for many other Parliaments to welcome people to address them in their chamber. I think that we should develop the practice of insisting that both the House of Lords and the House of Commons welcome people making state visits in a very formal way. Perhaps the Chambers could alternate as host.

This is the last time I will do this in the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, but let me, by way of illustration, remind you of a speech by Winston Churchill. He said, "The French generals told the divided Cabinet that in three weeks England would have her neck wrung like a chicken. Some chicken! Some neck!" That speech was delivered in the Canadian House of Commons-and
18 Nov 2009 : Column 106
that is the tradition. Mr. Blair and our current Prime Minister often address other legislatures. Why do we not at least invite visiting Heads of State into our legislative Chamber-and also, for that matter, important Heads of Government? That would be a very good innovation.

Although I hope to catch the Speaker's eye again between now and Dissolution, I shall conclude my remarks tonight by referring to the pride that I have taken in being a Member of this House, and to the fact that colleagues left, right and centre have been bruised recently, and in many cases traduced. We have got ourselves to blame to a large extent, of course, but some of the vitriol and criticism have been wholly disproportionate. I hope that Members will get an opportunity to read the contribution that I am making this evening, because I shall now quote some words of Teddy Roosevelt, a distinguished President of the United States at the beginning of the last century. He said:

I think we should take heart. There are people outside this House-we know them-who find it easy to traduce but never to contribute to public life. There are many people who say repeatedly that they could do the job of a Member of Parliament more cheaply and better than we do it. It is perfectly reasonable for them to assert that, but if they believe they can do the job more cheaply and-this is the important ingredient-better, not only may they stand at the next general election, but I say they have an obligation to stand. If they are elected, they will have to fulfil their duties in the way they have outlined to the people outside this place. They will also have to remember that resources are limited, and that being a Member of Parliament is not about being away in the recess and enjoying relaxation, but that it is a 52-week-a-year commitment, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Therefore, I say to our critics, "Yes, you're entitled to criticise us, and we will never want to stop you doing so, but if you feel so strongly about this and think you can do the job better and more cheaply, not only can you stand at the next election, but you have an obligation to stand."

9.4 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I hope I am not being too premature in paying a tribute to him, but may I say that he is always a pugnacious parliamentary performer, and also highly creative and at times highly entertaining as well?

As the hon. Gentleman alluded to the report of Sir Emyr Jones Parry, perhaps I should start by discussing that. Today is a very important day in Wales: not only do we have the Queen's Speech, but there is also the publication of Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report on further devolution-on, in fact, full law-making powers for the
18 Nov 2009 : Column 107
Welsh Assembly, or the so-called part 4 powers. This is highly pertinent to our debate now and over the next few days, as some of the flagship elements of the Queen's Speech are to do with devolved matters, specifically education and social care. Those matters are the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Assembly itself. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that we have not heard contributions from Welsh or Scottish Members today, aside from an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) has come into the Chamber because if he had not, Wales would be unrepresented, save for myself. Wales should be represented here as this is an extremely important occasion, because of not only Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report, but the Queen's Speech.

There has been frenzied discussion in the press over the past few days as to how much of this Queen's Speech will be enacted. I found myself in the novel and rather disconcerting position of being in agreement with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) earlier. Hon. Members who know of his previous career as Secretary of State for Wales will know how strange it is for me to agree with him, but I, too, find the trailing or leaking beforehand of the Queen's Speech, and of other matters, highly irritating. I listen every day to the "Today" programme and hear matters related there that should be related to this place first. His arguments would have been somewhat stronger had he given the House an undertaking that should his party be returned to government it would immediately abandon these practices, but he made no mention of that eventuality.

The Queen's Speech was trailed and one of the questions discussed was whether or not it was just a manifesto for the next general election. I wish to respond on behalf of my party by saying that if it is, there are certain matters that we welcome. We welcome the statement that there will be further devolution. Devolution has been going on, but it has been under the hatches as far as most people in this place are concerned. The legislative competence orders-LCOs-have been considered by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, on which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and I serve, and they have transferred a great deal of power to the Welsh Assembly.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has alluded to Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report and to the LCO process, which some of us would say we endure, rather than celebrate. One of the points that Sir Emyr Jones Parry made was about the lack of clarity in the government of Wales-in the transfer of powers. What does the hon. Gentleman feel about that, given what the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said about wanting an holistic approach and about our wanting good, accountable government and decision making closer to the people affected by the decisions?

Hywel Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The LCO process is highly mysterious to some people and extremely boring to others. I have counted the steps in the devolution of power through that process and I believe that there are 27 such steps-there can sometimes be 28 and there may even be 29 if, as is
18 Nov 2009 : Column 108
likely, we discuss LCOs in respect of the Welsh language on the Floor of the House-before the Welsh Assembly takes any step towards passing a measure.

We have recently discussed the LCO in respect of having regulations for sprinklers in new domestic builds. It has taken two and a half years from the initial inception of the idea that sprinklers should be made mandatory to its being discussed here, and it will take another six to eight months before it is eventually passed and a measure takes the simple step of having building regulations in Wales on the installation of sprinklers. I understand from the Assembly Member responsible on this that every year some 25 people in Wales die in fires that could be prevented by sprinklers. We are also talking about £128 million of damage caused every year by fires that could be prevented in that way, so there is a real issue to address because people have died and great damage has been done. I shall not go on about the devolution process, because I know that yet another Member-the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner)-has been patiently waiting to make his contribution.

I said that we would welcome elements of the Queen's Speech if they form part of a manifesto. The statements on child poverty are extremely welcome-I shall refer to that later-as too are the energy Bill and the extension of the social tariff. I draw the House's attention to the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government do not have great power in the latter field, and we would welcome further consideration of devolution on the matter. As part of my general welcome to the Queen's Speech, I should mention that the digital economy Bill, too, is very welcome. One hon. Member referred to the wonderful broadband service in England and Wales, but he could have dropped the reference to Wales-or, at least, to my constituency, where generally the broadband service is pretty awful.

I would like to raise a matter that has concerned me since I became aware of it a couple of years ago. When broadcasting goes digital, as it has been doing in north-west Wales over the past few weeks, digital radio will be made available. In the north-west, that will include Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and the Asian Network, but Radio Cymru, which broadcasts in Welsh and whose heartland audience is in the north-west, will not be broadcast digitally there until 2015, as was referred to in the Queen's Speech. For possibly four or five years, therefore, all kinds of services will be available digitally through the medium of English, but the core listenership of Radio Cymru will be unable to access the latter digitally. That seems perverse to say the least, and I wish that someone would take a look at it. I have drawn the Government's attention to it in the past; I hope that they will pay attention to it in the future.

We, in Plaid Cymru, have published our alternative Queen's Speech, containing nine Bills, all of which address the concerns of the people of Wales, and which we will put to the people of Wales as part of our offering for the forthcoming election. I do not want to detain the House unduly on this subject, as we are here to discuss the Queen's Speech, not the alternative Queen's Speech, but I shall read out some of the Bill titles in our alternative speech. There is a military well-being Bill, a care allowance Bill-I shall talk about that later when I come to care in the community-and a maximum wage Bill, which has been mentioned already. We also have
18 Nov 2009 : Column 109
some proposals for the devolution of justice powers to Wales and a democracy Bill to introduce electoral reform, the single transferable vote, votes at 16 and various other matters. We have, too, a financial reform Bill, a green representatives Bill, an employment services in Wales Bill and a personal debt Bill.

Last week, when we presented the alternative Queen's Speech to the press, a BBC journalist-the faithful David Cornock-asked where was the St. David's day bank holiday Bill, which is a traditional part of our offering. If he is listening, may I now refer to it and say that we would like that as well-and have done with it?

We were disappointed by some partial omissions in the Queen's Speech. For example, we would have liked to hear proposals more directly related to employment and unemployment. I referred to an employment services in Wales Bill. We would like the services of Jobcentre Plus and the various associated initiatives to be devolved and beefed up. In some parts of the UK, the numbers of people seeking vacancies are very high. For example, in parts of Wales, 60 or 70 people are chasing each vacancy. However, in parts of south-east England, the numbers are two, three, five, six, seven, eight or nine. A very good case can be made, therefore, for beefing up Jobcentre Plus in Wales and working more effectively with the third sector.

When one looks at the distribution of unemployment, it becomes clear that, as ever, it is high in some inner cities and parts of the midlands and the north-east, and, as is traditionally the case, high in Wales. In fact, the unemployment rate in Wales jumped substantially last month, despite some of the actions taken by the Welsh Assembly Government.

There is a great deal that we can learn in this Chamber from what happens in Wales. We should look beyond the UK's borders as well, but there are certainly some initiatives in Wales that bear examination by this place. We have two schemes in Wales-the ProAct and ReAct schemes-that ensure that people are retained in employment or trained for employment in lean times. They are short-term measures, instituted by the Welsh Assembly Government, but have been highly successful in their own limited terms. We are talking about thousands of workers being retained in employment, not tens or hundreds of thousands, but there are points related to those schemes that could be examined in this place. Indeed, ProAct and ReAct have been praised by those in all parts of the House when they have been discussed.

That is what the Welsh Assembly Government have managed to do, safeguarding those jobs, but much more needs to be done to target resources at, for example, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises, of which we have many in Wales. In fact, as in many places, small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of the Welsh economy. However, I would add in parentheses that private enterprise forms much too small a part of the Welsh economy. We have a large public sector, but without a doubt we could do with growing our private sector. There will be new jobs, as we have heard from those on the Treasury Bench. That is very much to be welcomed, but I would have hoped to see further direct steps taken on the training of workers, job creation and helping SMEs.

Next Section Index Home Page