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8.12 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): The state opening of Parliament has always been an important occasion in the life of our nation. It is an occasion on which the democratically elected Government of the day set out the legislative proposals for the coming year.

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Today's proceedings have been extremely sad. We enjoyed the traditional ceremony: I know that some Labour Members are eager to do away with it, and the crowds may have been a little thinner than normal, but I think that, by and large, people enjoyed it. What is happening today, however, is an absolute farce. Every Member must surely realise that none of these Bills will become Acts. This truly is the House of Commons talking to itself, and I think that in time the public's disdain for our proceedings will be reinforced by the farce in which we are all participating.

We have just ended a crammed legislative Session, involving--I think--32 Bills. Many of those Bills were rubbish: they were poorly drafted and ill thought out, and it was left to modest people such as myself to present measures such as the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill with the aim of rescuing us from the sorry state in which we found ourselves.

The present Government, with a huge majority, have wasted more than three and a half years. The situation was summed up best by the journalist, who in the Daily Telegraph last week wrote:

Where are all the Bills that Labour told us we would enjoy in the new Session? Where is the consumer Bill? Where is the alcohol licensing Bill? Where is the urban renewal Bill? Where is the voting systems Bill that was promised by the leader of the Labour party? Where is the legislation to deal with regional assemblies? Where is the housing Bill? Where is the water Bill? Where is the further Bill to reform the House of Lords? Where is the Bill to reform adoption? Where is the Bill to reform our vaccine laws? Where is the Bill to deal with the problems endured by victims, and to give them rights? Where is the communications Bill?

Those are not necessarily Bills that I wanted. They are Bills that Ministers told us we would have, but none of them will become law. We shall have no new legislation until, at the earliest, the 2001-02 Session. The proceedings in which we are participating are a disgrace.

The Queen was told to say:

That is a joke. She was also told to say:

Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime: that is what the Labour leader used to talk about when he was shadow Home Secretary. He used to wax lyrical on such subjects. Now we are being served up garbage about curfew laws. Have we gone barking mad? The fact is that we have not enough police to enforce our present laws. Listen to what the gentleman in charge of the Metropolitan police said last week. He said, "We are 3,500 policemen and policewomen short." Do the

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Government seriously intend to present a Bill providing for a curfew? Who the devil will police curfew orders? How on earth will the legislation be put into practice? This is tragic.

Every Member of Parliament knows only too well that his or her area is short of policemen and policewomen. I bet that when those MPs go to public meetings, whether they are Labour or Liberal--the two parties are, of course, in cahoots--they wring their hands and say, "Yes, it is terrible. We would like our local chief to have a few more police, but it is all due to 18 years of the Conservatives." One would have thought that, after 18 years in opposition, this rotten Labour Government would have thought out what they would do when they came to power, but they have not a clue about what they are doing. Where is the big idea?

All that we have had are destructive measures. The United Kingdom has been broken up. There was a very low turnout in the poll in Wales, and a low turnout in the poll in Scotland--and we can all see what is happening in Northern Ireland. The Government have destroyed the House of Lords, with no idea of what they will put in its place. They have appointed a lot of Labour apparatchiks in the House of Lords, but they have still been de-seated.

Labour Members say that it is all down to the Conservatives, but that is ridiculous. Labour peers are not turning up to vote on the difficult measures. They could support the Government if they wanted, but they are gutless half the time when it comes to measures about which the general public are not concerned. Every thing that the Labour Government have done has been destructive. On the big issues, they have no ideas whatever. On crime above all, which is what the Labour leader supposedly made his name on, they have let the British public down. I do not think that the British public will be taken in throughout the three or four months' deliberation on those ridiculous curfew measures and such like.

Then in the Gracious Speech we are told:

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) told us that he was retiring, that the Labour Government had done a magnificent job since they were elected and that things were better in his constituency. They are not better in Southend, West and I do not think that they are better in many other constituencies as a result of this rotten Government. Things in Southend are better since we got shot of the appalling Liberal-Labour council, but, when it comes to national issues, they are a disaster. The health service is getting worse. Education is declining. Our public transport is failing. Crime is increasing. In every aspect, the Labour Government are not doing Southend any good whatever, particularly in education.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said, the proposals do nothing to deal with the crisis in teacher recruitment. Never mind the health service--we cannot attract teachers at the moment. That is why we have to go to Australia, New Zealand and

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South Africa to try to get teachers. When we get them into schools, unfortunately, more and more take early retirement.

The pressure that is placed on heads by Labour's target to reduce exclusions by a third is an absolute disgrace. The policy of bribing schools throughout the country to take on and to retain challenging students is having an appalling effect in all schools. All hon. Members know what is going on, but, when they are in the company of the heads, they say one thing and, when they move to another school, they say something else.

No politician and no political party has the answer to the challenges that children present us with. I do not know whether it is puberty, testosterone or whatever, but, out there in our schools, there are a number of young people, particularly young boys, who are making it very difficult for teachers to impart the knowledge that they have.

We all know what is going on in our schools. Those young people are truanting. Then they are suspended and, if the cash bribe from the Government is not taken, they are expelled. Those children are not shown in the official numbers. They are out of the system, yet day in, week out, month in, month out, we find terrible cases that involve young people.

The Government have no answer to that. Someone must come up with an answer soon. Next year will not be good enough. We are failing those children now. Nothing in the Gracious Speech will help any of them. The Government have already acknowledged that the fresh start programme is not successful. In their drive to meet class-size pledges for five, six and seven-year-olds, secondary class sizes--where the real problems are--have risen steadily, so that, in April, there were 22.2 pupils per class.

The policy of inclusion is driven by the experiences of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment at school. My wife's sister has only one eye. She has very little sight in that eye. Her husband is completely blind. They both went to special schools. It did not lead them to the conclusion that the Secretary of State has come to.

In Southend, the period of consultation over inclusion of our six wonderful special schools in the mainstream has been an absolute disaster. It has upset parents tremendously and destabilised children. I am delighted to tell the House that, last week, under the excellent leadership of the Conservative chairman of the education committee, Mrs. Sally Carr, those ridiculous proposals were rejected by Conservative-controlled Southend- on-Sea council.

Then we find out in the Gracious Speech:

I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, so quite a bit of my time is spent on examining the Government's record on health care, which is a disgrace. Interestingly, when we recently had the opportunity to challenge the Secretary of State for Health, I asked him why it had taken him three and half years to announce the plan and whether it was as a result of the crisis in April. I found the answer unconvincing. The general public will not be fooled by anything in the Queen's Speech on the delivery of the plan.

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In particular, the Select Committee took evidence on the tobacco industry. Labour promised legislation on that when it came to power, but, after taking £1 million from the formula one gentleman, Mr. Bernie Ecclestone, it has delayed it for three and a half years. Conveniently for its donors, the Bill will probably run out of time and not become law. Mr. Bernie Ecclestone and his sidekick, the son of the former fascist leader Mr. Mosley, gave evidence to the Select Committee on the issue, which we followed up with correspondence. The Government have behaved appallingly. They have been entirely disingenuous with themselves and with their Back Benchers in particular.

After the Gracious Speech, I went back to my office and found my fax machine awash with messages from various health interest groups--such as the British Medical Association--which were somewhat perplexed by the Gracious Speech. These days, the Government do not want to know about the BMA, because it is critical of Government policy. However, in the 18 years in which the Government were in opposition, they were always quoting that organisation, particularly its chairman, because that suited their agenda. Now that they are in government, they do not want to know.

The BMA chairman said:

Those are not my words; those are the words of the BMA, which Labour Members and Liberal Democrat Members used to court.

Commenting on the new public-private partnership arrangements for modernising primary care premises, Dr. Chisholm says:

which the BMA wants to be examined in detail in Committee. However, the way in which this Session is going, none of the Bills will be considered in Committee.

The Consumers Association also has very many inquiries. It wants to know, for example, why there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of community health councils. However, as we heard in the magnificent speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, CHCs are a deeply embarrassing issue for the Prime Minister.

The Gracious Speech also states:

Looking round the Opposition Benches, I think that I might be in quite a good position to comment on that measure, as I am one of a rather tidy group of Conservative Members who take a perhaps different view from that taken by the majority of my colleagues. The Government have shown incredible hypocrisy on the issue. They have had more than three and a half years to address the issue. Before they were elected, they told animal welfare groups, "Vote Labour and all the animal issues will be addressed by the Government." Labour has a rotten record on animal welfare issues.

I do not want to mention them by name--and thereby spoil their careers--but two Ministers have a superb record on animal welfare issues. Unfortunately, however, it seems that they do not have sufficient clout when it comes to deciding the programme in the Queen's Speech.

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Conversely, in today's debate, we have heard only a load of guff. Are the Government finally going to do something about the issue, to stop "all those dreadful Conservatives" from killing foxes? The reality is that the Government's proposal is only a con trick. Labour has done nothing on the issue, and the Bill might not even be considered in Committee. Moreover, if the Bill goes to the other place, the Government will blame the other place for the Bill's failure. However, as we all know, there are one or two very high-profile Labour peers who take a different view on the issue.

The Gracious Speech also states:

On the eve of St. George's day 1997, the Prime Minister wrote:

He is off to Nice today, and he is probably already there. We shall have to wait to see how effective he is in slaying that dragon.

The environment is the last point in the Gracious Speech that I wanted to deal with. I thought that I would be dead by the time that there was permanent climate change. It is only too obvious, however, that the climate--rain, temperature and winds--has changed permanently. However, at last month's farcical conference, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a member of the Labour party, had the gall to attack a defenceless--and I am sure quite charming--French lady, whereas those whom he should be attacking are his Democrat friends across the big pond. The Democrats are the hypocrites on the issue.

As we all know, Al Gore--the chap who will not accept the democratic result of the American election--made his name on environmental issues. He has made such a name for himself that, when it comes to broking a deal, he says, "No, we can't do anything about our chimneys. They have to continue spewing all their garbage into the atmosphere." Like Labour, Democrats say one thing, but do another.

We will probably have an election next year. I am sure that Labour Members are greatly encouraged by the opinion polls, but I prefer to see what happens in the real polls. The Conservative party did magnificently in the recent European elections and the Labour and Liberal parties were trounced. In the local elections, again the Conservative party did extremely well. I agree with Labour Members that Britain deserves something better and I pray to God that the British people will get rid of this rotten Government next year.

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