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8.51 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): It is interesting to follow the analysis of the Queen's Speech by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). He referred to what had been left out, following closely the analyses of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who spoke about the dogs that did not bark.

My analysis of the Queen's Speech is slightly different. The speech is more like a metaphor for new Labour and very similar to the dome: it is full of shiny things on the outside but, when we analyse it, there is not a lot there. I suspect that it will turn out to be as unpopular as the dome.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie mentioned our unbalanced constitution. In the late 1970s--when I was working for the right hon. John Smith in the civil service--I listened to many debates on devolution in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pursued the West Lothian question. He was, at that time, the hon. Member for West Lothian. Many hon. Members will remember George Cunningham--the then hon. Member for Islington, South--proposing the 40 per cent. requirement for referendums in Scotland and Wales, which led to the downfall of devolution in the 1970s. Although the West Lothian question was closely debated in those days, not much time was spent considering the role of English MPs for English seats.

Any thought of how to deal with our unbalanced constitution is missing from the Queen's Speech. The Conservative party's proposals have great validity and would provide a sensible way of moving forward. Speaking as a Scot representing an English constituency, I feel somewhat uneasy about Scottish Members voting on matters that affect my constituents and not theirs. This question must be addressed rapidly.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie chided Opposition Members for not debating the economy, but a whole day's debate on the economy has been scheduled

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for Wednesday. Some of us who are saving our fire for that debate are conscious of the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has followed the old Labour path of tax and spend, which will bring the economy to a crumbling halt. At present, his public expenditure proposals far exceed the potential growth of the economy, however productive the Government think they will make it, and will eventually lead to further significant increases in taxation, many of which will be impossible to hide under the label of stealth tax--they will be extremely obvious.

Perhaps the Government are making spending promises that they will not deliver when the imminent general election is over. Today, I heard anecdotally that a health authority had been told that it had a large sum to spend between 16 October and 23 November but that, if the money was not spent, the authority would lose it. However, anyone who knows anything about the health service knows that one cannot spend large sums as quickly as that. Huge sums are being offered, but either it will not be possible to spend them in time, or they will be spent inefficiently. That is a large drawback, especially for the NHS.

Before I focus on the measures that are in the Queen's Speech, I must declare an interest in leasehold and commonhold reform. Although I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, I am rather sad that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has done his stint on the Front Bench on this occasion and has handed over responsibility. I wanted to talk about the leasehold and commonhold reform Bill in great detail--[Interruption.] I realise that as the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has just taken her place, someone equally as responsible for the legislation is in the Chamber, so if I bore the House on the subject of leasehold and commonhold reform, it is because I have a captive Minister to talk to.

Instead of promising that such a measure would have the slightest chance of becoming law, however, the Gracious Speech merely states:


Those words send a chill down my spine. They suggest that the Government do not expect to fulfil that manifesto commitment--they claim that it is the one remaining commitment that they have not met, although in fact there are many.

That commitment does not stand the slightest chance of fulfilment. I am especially sad about that because I know that the Lord Chancellor's Department had prepared an extremely adequate commonhold reform Bill before the 1997 general election. It was not the same as the private Member's Bill that I introduced--that was designed to help the then Government to achieve progress in the preparation and introduction of a proper commonhold Bill. When the Labour Government took office in 1997, a suitable Bill had already been prepared by the Lord Chancellor's Department, but this year we are told only that there is likely to be progress on the matter.

I also declare an interest because I am a director of the management company of the block of flats in which I live in Beckenham. Luckily, we hold the management rights so we can administer our block, and we have reasonable freeholders. However, in Beckenham and in my previous constituency, I have come across detailed leasehold

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problems that need to be addressed. The Government have gone some way towards tackling them in their legislation. I am not volunteering to serve on any Standing Committee. We would never get the Bill out of Committee, even with the new programming procedures, because the detail is horrendous and the Government have not even committed themselves to putting the measure in the legislation--it is all to be done by regulation.

There are many battles still to be fought on leasehold. The glaring omission is that the Government have not had the courage to deal with the problems of people who bought their flats leasehold from the public sector. There are many disappointed people out there who have problems with their leasehold, and I help them where I can. The Government have not had the guts to deal with that problem in legislation, unless the Bill is different from that drafted in the summer. I suspect that it will not be that different.

Public sector leaseholders face real problems. Many of the housing associations with which they hold the leases do not conform to the consultation standards that the private sector has to meet. There are problems with estimates for repairs and with consulting leaseholders. Many housing associations will demand money, almost with menaces, for repairs about which leaseholders have not been consulted--never mind their being offered the right to get their own quotation, which one has in the private sector.

The Government will have disappointed many people who see themselves as natural Labour supporters--people who are trying to better themselves. In the 18 years of Conservative government, we were able to provide for them. They have now been slapped down by their own Government. That is one significant area that the Government have ducked. The other is that they clearly do not expect the Bill to become law in this Session, so one manifesto commitment has been lost.

Long-term care is to be part of a national health service Bill, as far as I can make out. The costs and the definition of nursing care will impose extraordinary burdens and difficulties on anyone providing such care in rest or nursing homes. I am concerned that, given the loss of 15,000 beds in that sector already, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said, the burden that will be put on homes due to the narrow definition of nursing care will be so costly that yet more beds will be lost.

I understand that the Bill will include elements to reform preserved rights. Many people have such rights if they were in homes before the enactment of the Community Care Act 1990. Their treatment is now not comparable with what is available to people who have come in subsequently. There is a need for preserved rights. What bothers me, however, is whether the Government are prepared to pay local authorities the sums that are required to ensure that people with preserved rights get treatment equal to that which they would have received if they had come into the sector after 1991.

The Government are trying to relieve bed blocking by offering large sums to local authorities with responsibility for social services for this winter. There is no guarantee that next year local authorities will get the money which they are being paid this winter. Some local authorities said that they did not want the cash because they had no guarantee that they would receive it again. The

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Government are stuffing local authorities' throats with gold, but people realise that that is a cheapskate move to get them off the political hook and that the Government are not prepared to face the problem in the longer term.

We need to explore another element of that Bill with great care. I believe that it will include a provision to abolish community health councils. The community health council in Bromley is up in arms about its abolition. I have huge sympathy with that view, as I used to chair a health authority in the east end of London--the City and East London family health services authority. We viewed the CHC in that area with great respect. It did a very good job, and we knew that there was a real problem if it took up a case. Exactly the same is true in Bromley and in Hastings and Rye.

Not all CHCs are perfect by any means, but their sheer independence gave them respect and rights. With the best will in the world, and however good a health authority or a health trust is, I do not believe that employees will have the same power and authority to investigate as the CHCs have. The Government have certainly lost a lot of friends by announcing the ill thought out abolition of the CHCs. Clearly, the Prime Minister has not thought it through; he changes his mind from one minute to another about whether CHCs will be abolished or whether people are simply being consulted about their abolition.

The Home Secretary's promise to do something about care out of the community for people with personality disorders represents another dog that has not yet barked. Perhaps that issue is too difficult to face, or perhaps he has been frightened by some of the human rights organisations. However, I can tell the Minister that into my surgery on Friday came a gentleman who was begging to go somewhere, but he could not get there because he had a personality disorder. Unless I have missed something, the proposals in the Queen's Speech will do nothing to help that poor man.

We need to worry about another small matter. I understand that there is mention that all doctors in primary care should be on health authority lists. This is obviously the wrong Government to talk to about such matters, but some doctors in primary care are in the private sector and they will wish to know whether they will have to register with health authorities in future. I shall leave that question hanging.

The broad theme of the Queen's Speech is not education, education, education, but regulation, regulation, regulation. I have mentioned leasehold and commonhold. Those proposals will involve regulation. The proposals for long-term care will overburden the sector with yet more regulation. The NHS changes represent yet more regulation, as do the Home Office Bills. On under-age drinking, will everyone under 18 have to have a identity card? If so, will the card be issued by the Home Office or by a charitable organisation, as with the citizens card? However people prove their identity, the proposal will produce more paperwork. The motor salvage regulations will involve more regulation for the industry.

There is a proposal for curfews on children under 16, but a fundamental flaw has emerged about curfews. If they have sufficient manpower, the police may wish to find out whether someone under a curfew is at home, but they have no right of entry to check whether the person under curfew is there. The criminal community will not take long to discover that fundamental flaw in the scheme.

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A regulatory reform Bill is intended to deal with all that regulation, but I understand that the ability to impose additional burdens where necessary will come under one of its broad headings. I do not think that anybody in business is looking for additional regulatory burdens. Last week, I heard on the radio the chairman of Fuller's brewery reporting on his six-monthly returns, which were, thankfully, in profit. He said, however, that he could have made £500,000 more profit in the previous six months if it had not been for the costs of regulation. Extra Government regulation cost the brewery half a million pounds in six months.

I understand that the regulatory reform Bill will also contain provisions on relieving burdens from everyone except Ministers in Departments when only they would benefit. Do the Government seriously mean, in this day and age, and given the way in which they have truncated discussion in the House of Commons, that burdens laid on Ministers and Departments should remain? Why keep them if they can go? Surely, we are in the business of lightening the work load of Ministers and Departments. Let us get rid of regulation, even if it applies only to them--anything to get rid of red tape. The Government are not a deregulatory Government; they are a regulatory one. Everything in the Queen's Speech will create more burdens.

The overriding aspect of the Queen's Speech is the number of Home Office Bills. It is full of nice, shiny bright ideas to deal with the not so nice problems. One must ask, however, whether those problems would exist if more police were on the beat. Would we need all that legislation if we had more police? How many of the measures would be necessary if the Government created a police force with more officers who could get out and deal with crime? I suspect that the answer would be very few, as the police already have the powers to deal with crime. The Government are trying to hide the loss of 3,500 personnel from the Metropolitan police by producing reams of legislation stating what the police should do. However, if the police do not have the numbers, those aims cannot be achieved and yet more people will be disappointed.

Finally, I should like to deal with tobacco advertising. I spent some time on the Select Committee on Health and listened to the evidence given during the previous Parliament about the effect of advertising on tobacco consumption. The only reliable evidence that I could extract from all the humbug that the Select Committee heard amounted to two points. First, the only thing that stops people smoking is high prices. Secondly, advertising encourages people to change brands; it does not get them hooked.

Many people are becoming hooked on tobacco because the Government are maintaining high duties, which means that it is cheaper for people to go to Belgium and France and smuggle tobacco into this country than it is for them to buy it here. That is much more damaging to people's health than any advertising. Yet again, an advertising Bill is a bit of flim-flam that hides the basic problem: the huge difference in duty between the United Kingdom and Europe, South Africa, eastern Europe, the United States and elsewhere. It is cheaper to bring tobacco into the United Kingdom from practically any other country than it is to buy it here.

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Is it any wonder that people smuggle? When smuggled tobacco is available and is much cheaper than any that can be bought in the retail market, it goes to precisely the vulnerable groups that the Government hope to prevent from smoking by stopping tobacco advertising. It goes to the young kids, because they are the ones with low budgets. Anybody with cheap tobacco knows how to get round the schools, youth clubs and night clubs. That is where tobacco is smoked by youngsters. We know their reasons for smoking--for example, puberty and lack of self-confidence. The cheap tobacco also goes into rest homes where elderly people get hold of it. It is pushed out through the system, in a way similar to that involved in the distribution of drugs. The increase in tobacco consumption is entirely to do with price and the duty differentials; it is not to do with advertising.

The Queen's Speech looks shiny and bright, but underneath it is full of flim-flam and has no substance. It answers no one's problems.


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