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Mr. Kennedy: No. There are moments when every consumer requires protection.

On housing, we welcome the proposed legislation on commonhold, but restrictions could make it useless to leaseholders who want to become commonholders.

It is worth making the point that there are currently 750,000 empty homes in Britain, yet there are 150,000 homeless households. At the heart of the problem is the chronic lack of affordable housing for public-sector workers such as teachers and nurses, particularly in London and other major conurbations.

We certainly support the proposed ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products. That just shows what an altruistic chap I am. Perhaps the Government are trying to encourage me in the right direction. Also, given the horrendous examples and the ensuing reports and inquiries on the delicate and dangerous position in which children are being placed, the Welsh legislation is especially welcome.

The Queen's Speech is unambitious because it promises so little, but that shows us more clearly than anything else that most of the proposed measures are unlikely to find their way on to the legislative agenda or the statute book. The Government have their eyes not on governing but on an election. People would have wanted measures on the public priorities--health, education and crime. I fear that what we have here are the Government's priorities--re-election, re-election and re-election.

4.36 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields): We are debating the Gracious Speech this afternoon against the background of a strong economy growing stronger. We are repaying our debts, educational standards are improving and, steadily, the national health service is beginning to meet the needs, aspirations and demands of British people. In a quiet way, the face of Britain is changing and British people are realising that life is improving for them.

Although I enjoyed the amusing speech of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who represents most of the north

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of Scotland, he was a little less than charitable when he spoke about the Government's lack of ambition. The Government have been very ambitious. In our first parliamentary Session we enacted 52 Government Bills; in the intermediate one we enacted 27; and last year we managed to get through 39. This Queen's Speech proposes a further 15 much-needed Bills.

Throughout my career in the House, I have tried to argue for innovation and modernisation. I note that the word "modernisation" is not mentioned once in the Gracious Speech. I recall that in past years it was almost every other word.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): It is mentioned.

Dr. Clark: I am being corrected. Apparently, it is there. Although the word "modernisation" may appear infrequently, clearly the intention is there. I very much approve of that.

I heartily approve of one proposal in the Queen's Speech that does not mention change, although modernisation is clearly involved. It states:

That was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition and it is extremely important. It is important that European nations show that they are prepared to pick up a more responsible burden of defence expenditure. They have to show that we can act together as a rapid reaction force where the United States might not wish to participate.

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister, on behalf of our Government, are absolutely right to insist that the European taskforce must not be separate from the NATO planning procedure. I heard American Defence Secretary William Cohen say on the "Today" programme this morning that he was absolutely at one with the British Government, and I know that at Nice my colleagues in the Government will stick to the position that they have set out. It is a matter that probably unites both sides of the House.

I am delighted that there is to be a Bill on fox hunting, on which it is right and proper that hon. Members should be given a free vote. Our manifesto at the previous election promised such a measure and, in days gone by, many Labour Members have argued for, and insisted on, its inclusion in previous manifestos. To be frank, many people are considerably disappointed that the Government have not acted earlier in that respect. I know the problems involved, and am aware of the difficulties that have been encountered--and which may still exist--in the other place. The Government intend to put the matter right, and it will be up to the House to decide what will happen. Whatever that decision is, the Government will back it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made a fine contribution when she seconded the Loyal Address. She said that she received more correspondence from constituents on the subject of hunting than on any other. I am sure that I speak for other hon. Members when I say that my experience is the same: I get more letters on hunting than on any other issue, and 99.9 per cent. of them agree with me that hunting should be banned in a modern Britain.

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The Queen's Speech also dealt with the matter of regulations, which is dear to my heart. For 15 months, I was responsible for the Government's regulatory programme. One of my first acts was to scrap the previous Government's deregulation unit. I believe that any modern society needs regulations to protect its citizens on, for example, matters such as food and health and safety.

I have been deeply involved in the saga of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and am convinced that we need regulations, but they need to be focused, understandable and direct. Many should come with a sunset clause that enables them to be terminated, as there are a lot of regulations that we do not need any more. They are not appropriate and should be swept away. I hope that the expected Bill on deregulation will help in that respect.

The Select Committee on Deregulation is chaired well by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), and is dedicated to its work. There is plenty to do, but not enough of it goes before the Committee. However, the Committee has done an amazing amount of good. In 1997, 12 deregulation orders were passed. In 1998, there were five, and last year there were only four. An example of the fine work done by the Committee can be found in what is known as the long draw deregulation.

The Leader of the Opposition might have been especially interested in the long draw rule, as it has to do with pints of beer. Apparently, until the Select Committee got to work, it was illegal to serve more than one pint of beer at a time. The relevant law dated from world war one, when it was believed that people should not be encouraged to drink. It was a silly, nonsensical regulation, but it was on the statute book and it could have led to prosecutions, so the Deregulation Committee dealt with it.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): I have another example of the work of the Deregulation Committee, which goes along with the Government's policy on social exclusion. The Committee has enabled the bond with credit unions to be widened, increasing their scope, which is an important move.

Is my right hon. Friend surprised to know that Conservative participation in the Deregulation Committee is almost nil? Indeed, on many occasions not a single Conservative Member is present.

Dr. Clark: I very much regret that and I hope that Conservative Members have taken note of my hon. Friend's point.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's excellent work in connection with the credit unions. I declare an interest, as a director of a friendly society that is using its good offices to help credit unions to expand and to provide services to their members that should be available to them.

I conclude on an issue that is almost unthinkable, but needs thinking about. One of my other responsibilities in government was the civil service. It consists of wonderful men and women, of the highest integrity and competence, who provide a wonderful service to the Government of the day. It is a real tribute to them that the changeover in 1997 from the Conservative Administration to the new Labour Government was so seamless and well transacted.

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It just shows their professionalism and integrity. However, I wonder whether their modus operandi--the system under which they operate--is absolutely compatible with the new world of e-commerce, e-business and the global economy in this new century. I do not doubt their ability to give advice, but I wonder whether their accountability fits neatly with their philosophy.

I am disappointed that we have been unable to put on a statutory basis the code under which the civil service operates, because that would enhance its morale and workings. We had the Ibbs report and the Oughton report in the 1980s and 1990s, but all that we have had recently were the proposals of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson--fine though they were. I am slightly concerned by Sir Richard's conclusions. When announcing his internal reform, he said:

If we want to continue the social, economic and political modernisation of our country, we may have to look from the outside at the way in which our civil servants operate, excellent though they are in many respects. Is theirs the right way of operating when it comes to allowing and encouraging the Government to modernise our country? I leave the thought there, but I believe that we should put it on our agenda.

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