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"scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree".
We will be watching the Liberal Democrats on winter fuel payments-which the Conservatives opposed-to see whether they are continued, together with the bus passes that we introduced. We will be watching them on the national minimum wage, which the Conservatives opposed and which they said would bring mass unemployment. We will be watching them on health. Yesterday's statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury included cuts in the national health service which they were too dishonest to specify. We will be watching them on policing and law and order. Both parties opposed antisocial behaviour orders-oh yes, they did-and now we will be watching to see what they do about the level of policing. The Liberal Democrats promised in their manifesto thousands more police on the beat. We shall have to see whether that is continued. We shall have to see whether they continue Sure Start. We shall have to ensure that building of brand new schools in my constituency and in those of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue.
Yesterday, the Government made a statement about a fund to help build 4,000 new houses. What "help" means is not very clear, but if they keep the promise, there will be six new houses in every constituency in the country. That will scarcely help to solve the housing problem.
On international development, the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised to increase the United Kingdom's aid budget. Yesterday, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government cut money for international development. [Hon. Members: "No."] Oh yes-it is in the statement by the Chief Secretary. In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats said that they would work to end the blockade of Gaza. We will be watching to see what the Government's policy is on the middle east, because there was not a word in the Queen's Speech about that.
I say something else to the Liberal Democrats: they will have to indulge in some internal house cleaning. Their candidate against me at the general election, Qassim Afzal, went round the constituency to mosques and other places where Muslims gather, telling people to vote against me because I am a Jew. That is what their candidate did. I was told that again and again by Muslim voters. My Muslim voters are possessed of a decency and generosity of spirit utterly alien to the Liberal Democrat candidate in my constituency, because they organised for me as they never had before and voted for me in many thousands.
The incidents that took place in my constituency as part of an anti-Semitic campaign went on and on. One of my constituents, a Muslim, told me how the Liberal Democrat candidate Qassim Afzal came to his house, which had a poster of mine in the window, and said, "You cannot have a poster in your window of a Jew. Take it down." I told two Liberal Democrat Members before Parliament was dissolved that that was what their candidate in Gorton was doing. They were horrified. They said that they would bring it to the attention of their leadership. I do not know whether they did. I do know that their Liberal Democrat candidate, against the decency and humanity of my Muslim constituents, went on conducting an anti-Semitic campaign right through to polling day.
I say to the Liberal Democrat leader, now the Deputy Prime Minister, that if he did not know about that before, he should have done. His MPs told me that they had told him. He knows about it now. I will wait to see what he does to deal with an overtly anti-Semitic candidate who fought an anti-Semitic, and personally anti-Semitic, election campaign. If the Deputy Prime Minister does not take swift action to deal with that person, I will know that he accepts that anti-Semitism is a run-of-the-mill form of campaigning by Liberal Democrats. [ Interruption. ] Well, it is up to him. That is what their candidate did, disgusting thousands of Muslims in my constituency. It is up to the Liberal Democrats to decide whether those are acceptable campaigning tactics.
We in this House, as a Labour Opposition, will scrutinise everything that the Government do and we will campaign for the socialist values for which my constituents in Gorton voted and will go on voting. The people on the Government Benches are together in an unholy alliance. The electorate will tumble to that sooner or later. This Government have the seeds of their own self-destruction within them. It is for us as Labour Members of Parliament to advance policies that are for the benefit of the people and that expose the shifty foundations on which this Government are based.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I usually enjoy and can be quite entertained by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who can be very humorous, but today he chose to make a series of very serious allegations, which he has the opportunity to make outside the House where there are proper procedures that can be followed to test them, and I would expect him to do that.
I usually also expect the right hon. Gentleman to have some wider grasp of the context of his comments, but I found no evidence in his speech that he realised
that, actually, we are all minorities. No party won a majority at this election, and therefore some combination of parties had to find a way of ensuring that this country had stable government.
The right hon. Gentleman also seems to be unaware of the fact that his party's Chief Secretary left a note saying that there is no money left, and the scale of the debt seemed to pass him by, too. I was disappointed that on this occasion I did not enjoy one of his speeches as much as I sometimes do, especially as I regard his great seniority-he is one of the four or five MPs who has been here longer than me-as rather reassuring.
I wish to extend my congratulations to the Members who spoke earlier: the two opening speakers and, indeed, the acting Leader of the Opposition, who I thought spoke with some force, and quite a lot of the time with some dignity as well. I, too, am puzzled as to why she is not entering her party's leadership contest, but I shall come back shortly to the interesting subject of the future of the Labour party.
First, I want to remind the House that we are all minorities now, and that that left my party with a choice. We could enable a Conservative minority Government to take office, which would not have been a stable Government, would not have had broad support and would not have carried out Liberal Democrat policies, or we could reach an agreement to work together to create a stable Government drawing on the ideas and policies of both our parties. We explored whether a coalition with Labour and others was feasible, but there was no sign of movement from Labour on the civil liberties issues, such as identity cards, or on our tax proposals for people on low and middle incomes. There was also no majority for such a coalition and, perhaps most telling of all, there was no real will within the Labour party to take it on. Moreover, I think that some on the Labour Front Bench saw honourable defeat and moving aside to resolve their own leadership questions as a better course-and the more cynical would say some of them thought, "There are too many difficult decisions to be taken; let's get out of the way and leave it to somebody else to take them."
Labour Members have now entered a leadership election which I am sure we will all find diverting and entertaining. As the Prime Minister pointed out, two brothers are taking part. Why is that principle not extended further? I wanted the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to stand in contest against her husband; that would have been good. There might also be the question of the husband of the acting leader of the Labour party taking part, along with her; that would be fascinating. And why should the hon. Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) not also stand, so that we have two sisters in the race? A pack of "Happy Families" cards could be kept handy in case there is a tie at the end of the contest.
Let me make a serious point about Labour's leadership election, however. I think Labour and its new leader will have to think through the consequences of the massive
debt crisis they have left behind. If they are serious, they cannot simply enjoy the luxury of attacking every cut as if no action needs to be taken and nothing needs to be done. Frankly, if there had been no election and they had stayed in office, they would have been confronted with the same difficult decisions that confront this coalition Government now. We cannot tackle this crisis on the basis that something will turn up.
Sir Alan Beith: I was going to come to that point later, but I shall deal with it now. The hon. Gentleman seems to confuse two things. A vote of confidence-a decision to throw out a Government-is at present and in the future a matter for a bare majority of those voting in this House. That is perfectly straightforward: a majority in this House can get rid of a Government in whom it does not have confidence. That is not the same question as whether a general election should immediately take place. If we make it the same question, consequences follow. One is that it influences the potential outcome of a vote on removing a Government and may make some people more unwilling to remove a Government. In addition, we then present the sovereign with a potentially politically controversial choice about whether to grant a Dissolution, as most precedents require, in circumstances in which there is or may be an alternative Government.
That is why the Labour Government legislated in the Scottish Parliament that there should be a distinct procedure. It is why the German Parliament, which we helped to set up after the war, has a distinct procedure for a constructive vote of confidence. It is a well established practice in many countries, but we should be clear-
Sir Alan Beith: No, I have dealt with the point. We should be clear that there is a difference between the vote to get rid of a Government and in effect placing in the hands of the Prime Minister the power to call a general election whenever he feels like doing so and whenever it is in his political interests to do so.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the situation in Scotland, and as an MP from a constituency next door to Scotland he should know well that there is a difference between what the Government propose in this case and what applies under the Scotland Act 1998, because if the Scottish Government lose a vote of no confidence on a simple majority, the First Minister loses his role as First Minister, and if a replacement is not found within 28 days, there has to be a new general election. That is not what has been provided for in this case. That is precisely why we oppose the proposals in this programme of government.
Sir Alan Beith:
I have not yet heard from Opposition Members a suggestion that there is an alternative way of ensuring that their stated objective of a fixed-term Parliament is built in. They chose that particular complex scheme, including a higher threshold of 66%, in Scotland. So far, they have simply suggested that no other system
than a bare majority is appropriate, in which case they do not genuinely believe in the fixed-term Parliament for which they argue.
Pete Wishart: I know that the Liberals quite readily abandon their plea for proportional representation, but is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that PR is a fact and a feature of the system in the Scottish Parliament and that is why there is a threshold?
Sir Alan Beith: How could I not be aware, as my party played a large part in ensuring that it was the case? I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's co-operation in securing some moves in that direction.
I have sat in the House for, I think, 36 Queen's Speeches, but this is the first time that I have been able to listen to one in which Liberal Democrat policies are clearly included as such in the programme. I am referring to policies that we campaigned on in the general election campaign to make our country fairer: fair taxes, a greener economy, a fair start for every child, cleaning up politics, restoring freedom and civil liberties by scrapping identity cards and passing a repeals Bill, which we have long argued for. That is all to be put into practice. I am talking about cleaning up politics by reforming party funding and giving people the right to sack their MP if they are found to have done something fundamentally wrong.
The measures include having an elected House of Lords. In 13 years of the Labour Government, they did not do that. I am also talking about a referendum to end the first-past-the-post-system with what I regard as the first step on the electoral reform road-the alternative vote-which means that every MP would have to secure the support of more than half his or her constituents.
Reforms to the House of Commons are part of this Government's programme. The Back-Bench business committee, ultimately taking over the full management of the business in the House, will give the Government their business but allow the House to decide what time to spend on what parts of it-a measure that the previous Government resisted right up to the final moments of the Parliament. When the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was referring to parliamentary reform, I was astonished that she had so quickly forgotten how hostile she was to change in the last days of the previous Parliament.
More Liberal Democrat commitments include the freedom Bill, the financial services Bill to try to sort out a system in which at the moment banks are too big to fail, and energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses, for which I have fought through much of my parliamentary career.
I want to mention fairness on Equitable Life. I mention in passing that I have a minute interest in that matter, but what is important to me is the undermining of the
ombudsman's authority by the Labour party which was so dangerous to this House. The ombudsman is one of the few servants of the House who has some authority over Government. That authority was undermined by the refusal to implement an ombudsman decision, which occasioned special reports from the ombudsman. At last, we have a commitment to do something about that.
I would like the new Government to look closely at some of the work that Select Committees have been doing, and in particular at the work that the Justice Committee did under my chairmanship in the previous Parliament on justice reinvestment-on looking at why we are committed to spending so much money on creating so many prison places, rather than ensuring that young people do not get involved in crime in the first place. The previous Government tried to do that with regard to youth justice and the women's prison estate, but that work needs to be extended much more widely if there is to be real progress, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to do that.
I represent a constituency in a region that has serious concerns about the impact of the financial crisis, and I welcome my right hon. Friends' decision to retain a regional development agency in our region; that is strongly supported by the business community. The agency will need to be clearly focused on regeneration, and I am anxious to ensure that, despite budget pressures, it can continue to do its work in an area that relies too heavily on public sector jobs at the moment.
Tony Lloyd: I am, of course, very much on the same side as the right hon. Gentleman on the issue of the RDAs, but at what point, whether during the election campaign or subsequently, did he draw the conclusion that his party's view, which was that the early repayment of debt would be damaging to the economy, had been reversed? Its view now supports that of the Government, and that will create unemployment in his constituency and mine.
Sir Alan Beith: One of the key features of what we have agreed in the Government's programme is that some of the savings produced by the measures announced yesterday have to be ploughed back into helping to create jobs, for example through the affordable house building described earlier. Market perceptions have changed over the period, and it is important that we make it clear that we are prepared to make the kind of cuts that will be necessary. We cannot go on with £160 billion of public sector debt. Anyone who imagines that we can is living in a dream world.
The situation makes things difficult for areas such as mine, where crucial elements of infrastructure have never been properly put in place; the A1 link between the north of England and Scotland is one example. For us, raising capacity on the east coast main line is more urgent than high-speed rail; we urgently need that capacity ahead of high-speed rail to make sure that we are not disadvantaged when it gets only part way up the country.
I very much welcome the pupil premium, which should particularly help disadvantaged children in a number of areas, such as Northumberland, that up to now have had more than £1,000 less per pupil than some other areas of the country. Much has been said about Building
Schools for the Future, but that programme failed to provide for schools such as the Duchess's Community High school in Alnwick. The buildings there are a disgrace, and the previous Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), admitted as much, but its excellent results precluded it from being considered for rebuilding under that programme. We need measures that will enable decisions to be taken that do not go against schools that do a good job.
I welcome the abandonment of Labour's forced local government reorganisations. Unfortunately, it has come too late for Northumberland, where the verdict of the people in a referendum not to have a single authority was simply ignored by the previous Government.
Sir Alan Beith: The hon. Gentleman has to realise that very difficult public spending decisions have to be taken. Unless he and his hon. Friends start to recognise that they would have had to do something similar, they are in an unreal world.
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