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8.35 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): And now for something completely different as I welcome the Queen's Speech. The most important part of the Queen's Speech and of the debate is the reference to the economy. It states that the Government will ensure the continued economic stability that has enabled them to increase the resources available for public services. I share that hope.

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An extremely interesting feature of today's debate is the fact that, with the exception of the rather quirky speech of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), no Opposition Member has drawn attention to the economy. The Opposition want to keep off that territory. They know that it is a no-go area and a no-win issue. I cannot remember that happening in debates on previous Queen's Speeches. When we were in opposition, we would say in every Queen's Speech debate that the Government's weakness was their conduct of the economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) and I have similar problems in our constituencies, which require long-term stability to raise standards in schools and people's aspirations, as they have been trapped for so long in a downward spiral. They need investment in nursery education and better education to raise aspirations and improve areas. They are still suffering the consequences of the 1980s and 1990s. Only last week, jobs were lost as a result of the shaking out of Kvaerner. John Brown Engineering had been established for more than 100 years. It endured the nightmare of belonging to Trafalgar House, which milked the firm and never invested in it before suffering the consequences of the Kvaerner problem, so we are losing more skilled manufacturing jobs. It is encouraging that youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have been cut, but we need stability to continue to get some optimism in the area. Economic success enables us to strengthen health and education services.

I welcome much of the Queen's Speech. Reference has been made to the international criminal court, which I see as a major step forward. The Government made a major difference at the Rome conference, where they took a positive attitude as a member of the Security Council and said that there had to be an international criminal court. It is important that we quickly ratify that statute.

I welcome the proposal to improve the transparency of export controls and to establish their purpose. If the aim is to control arms sales, I wish that the Queen's Speech said that. In fact, I wonder why it was not said; we should have the political wisdom to see that as a popular measure. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is not in his place, for his role in the quadripartite Committee, which I believe is unparalleled in bringing together four Select Committees to look at that issue and to make sensible proposals. That links up with the wider development issues in the world. Of the 20 poorest countries, about 10 are involved in war or conflict. We and other countries must take a lead over arms control. We will not end those countries' poverty until we stop the conflicts in which they are involved.

I also welcome the statement that a White Paper on globalisation will be produced by the Department for International Development. That Department has made an enormous difference in the development world. It has existed for three and a half years and has produced two White Papers, whereas not one White Paper on policy in that area was produced in the previous 30 years.

The Department for International Development works with the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry on matters such as debt and trade. I believe that it leads the world among development organisations, and that it is something of which we can be very proud.

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There is one notable absence from the Queen's Speech--it makes no mention of further constitutional change. I welcome that, and wish to devote most of my speech to the matter, as I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to get such change right.

The Queen's Speech contains no commitment to further reform of the House of Lords in this Session. That is not surprising, given that this will probably be a short Session. Such reform must happen, but it is not the priority for constitutional reform, which should start in this place: only after we have reformed the House of Commons should we consider the role of the House of Lords.

We should also look at our democratic relationship with the European Union. A few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister proposed a new second chamber for the European Union that would be drawn from member states' national Parliaments. The Germans have made a similar proposal for a senate. It would be wrong to proceed with further reform of the House of Lords without considering such proposals as well. In addition, many hon. Members are also seeking decentralisation through regional administrations, and that matter needs to be tackled before we look at the House of Lords.

Smaller issues under the Belfast agreement need to be resolved, especially in terms of our relationship with the Irish Government through the British-Irish Council--or the Council of the Isles, as I prefer to call it. However, Labour Members must stop avoiding the biggest issue of all--the changed nature of this House as a result of devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Therefore, I ask that the House look at the Queen's Speech through the eyes of a Member of Parliament with a Scottish constituency. It contains a major Bill on secondary education, which will apply only to England and Wales. The Queen's Speech states that the


Laws on disorderly conduct will therefore be introduced, but they will apply to England and Wales. The Queen's Speech states:


Such a measure will apply to England and Wales. The speech continues:


That Bill will apply to England and Wales. There will be a Bill about jury trial, but it will apply to England and Wales. Proposed Bills and plans on the national health service will apply to England and Wales.

The Gracious Speech states:


Significant changes will be introduced with regard to the learning and skills councils, but they will apply only to England and Wales. There will be legislation on the buying and selling of homes, and it will apply only to England and Wales.

I calculate that about 70 to 80 per cent. of the time of this House in the coming short Session will be spent on measures that apply to England and Wales. A few Bills will apply to Scotland as well. We must accept that the

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West Lothian question, which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has asked for many years, has never been adequately answered. I am sad to see Conservative Members nodding. It was unjust that English Members of Parliament inflicted their views on Scotland, and it is unjust that Scottish Members of Parliament should have a considerable say in English matters.

If the reason for having a separate Parliament for Scotland was separate traditions and nationality, the argument applies elsewhere. There are 140 Members of Parliament in this House from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. None of them is from the main Opposition party. At some time in the future, there will be a major constitutional issue. It is better that we should develop our ideas on the issue now, before it becomes divisive.

For many years I have believed that we should become a federal state. I have said that in public in the past, and I wrote an article about it in 1992, so it is not new to me. I believe that powers over the economy, relations with Europe, social security, trade and industry, communications, foreign affairs and international development should be retained here in the United Kingdom Parliament, but that the nations of the UK should have broadly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Any other arrangement will, in the long term, prove unstable.

That does not affect my colleagues' ambitions, where appropriate, for regional assemblies, which are not about legislation. They are not about the laws for education in Yorkshire or the national health service in Yorkshire, although that might appeal to some Members representing Yorkshire constituencies.

England is much larger than any of the other nations--80 per cent. of the UK's population live in England. However, the interests of smaller nations can be safeguarded by a UK Parliament and constitutional devices on funding. In any case, as I said earlier, the European dimension is growing all the time. We have to take into account ideas such as those of the Prime Minister about direct representation in the second Chamber. When we have decided on the role of this House and are clearer about the democratic element in Europe, we can consider the role of the House of Lords. If we do so now, without dealing with these other issues, we will take the wrong approach.

It is my belief that our modest experiment with Westminster Hall will prove much more significant than any of us have so far imagined. We are already dealing with foreign affairs, European matters and human rights issues much better than we did in the past, when there was no scope in the Chamber for such innovation. Let me give as an example something that goes round in my head all the time. Is it not incredible that in the early 1990s, when 1 million people were killed in the genocide in Rwanda, there was no debate about it in this Chamber apart from two Adjournment debates that I secured? I find that disgusting. Imagine the question: "What did you do as an MP when 1 million people were killed in Rwanda, Daddy?" The answer of the House is "Nothing." The Westminster Hall experiment stops us turning away from such situations in that appalling way.

As the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons and other bodies have said, there is much scope for enhancing the role of Select Committees

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and changing the way in which Standing Committees operate. In terms of taking one's brain along, serving on a Standing Committee when one is in government is often not a happy experience. Later, we should consider the role of the House of Lords.

Let us allow a decent amount of time for any ideas about a nominated House of Lords to fade away. We mock the state of Florida because of what we see as its flawed interpretation of democracy, but what other country in the world is currently considering a largely nominated, chosen and sponsored second Chamber? Let us put that idea aside.

Our valuable constitutional reform has to stop there. If we keep winning elections with a majority of more than 150, the fact that 140 MPs will be voting on matters that do not affect their constituents will not be a big issue. However, when the Government's majority comes down to 30, 40 or 50, a flawed constitution will be revealed and will have to be tackled. I believe that devolution strengthens the United Kingdom--that is why I voted for it. The Scottish Parliament is already dealing with matters better than we ever have. However, an unbalanced devolution would be divisive, and I hope that future Queen's Speeches will tackle that issue.


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