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9.15 pm

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I have looked forward to contributing to this debate because the Queen's Speech contains four matters on which I have campaigned for some time. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) addressed some of the issues on leasehold and commonhold and was right to focus on people who have bought flats and houses from the public sector. That is a major issue. The Bill will be a step forward and will be welcomed, especially by my constituents.

The international criminal court is long overdue. The Government can take great pride in leading the way on that. As for the draft Bill on export controls, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington): if it means dealing with the recommendations of the Scott inquiry, I am all for it.

I also welcome the hunting Bill. It is a case not of whether hunting is right or wrong but of whether we fulfil the trust that the British people have placed in us to abolish it. It is crucial that we deliver on the perceived promise to abolish hunting with hounds. Many people are looking to us to do that. The Bill must not be shunted off into a Committee to die. It must make quick progress through the House in this Session.

Much has been made about the economy and how successful it is. My hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) talked about their constituencies, which are run down and have high unemployment, and the need for a stable economy. In Milton Keynes, we have low unemployment and high investment, but we also need a stable economy. The Government's economic policies are as important in a high-tech area with high employment as they are in areas such as Barnsley and Clydebank. There are training and skills shortages. The 15-year-olds who go into work with no qualifications need to be educated throughout their lives. We cannot assume that education stops at 16.

I hope that the Bill on special educational needs will address the fact that help for such people needs to go beyond the age of 16. Kids who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia need to be picked up much quicker in the system. I hope that the proposed Bill will tackle that.

There has been much talk about crime. In an area such as Milton Keynes, which has a high rate of stolen cars, the vehicle Bill will be a major step forward. I hope that

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it will begin to solve the problem. However, it is not just stolen cars that should concern us; we should also be worried about abandoned cars. We shall return to that crucial subject when the Bill is introduced.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Beckenham about the regulatory reform Bill. It is crucial that it is successful. It will introduce important and sensible ways to deal with regulation. I remember the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) promising to burn red tape in the previous Government, but instead they produced more regulations. Every time the Conservatives have proposed regulatory reform, which is shorthand for removing workers' rights and safety measures, they have delivered more regulation, not less. I do not want the Bill to be about deregulation; instead, I hope that it changes the nature of regulation so that it is understandable and simple. We have a fascination with dotting every i and crossing every t, from which I hope we can move away. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which considers about 3,000 measures each year--about the same number as under the previous Government--most of which are unintelligible. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who sits on the Committee with me, nods in agreement. The regulatory reform Bill will give us the opportunity to start the process of transforming regulations so that they are understandable.

We will be able to provide the light touch that will be needed as the economy changes. It is noticeable that the Government recognise that the economy is changing and that the days of heavy industry are over. We must move forward, and a light-touch regulatory approach is the right way forward. One of the key Bills to which I look forward is the regulatory reform Bill.

I welcome the fact that there will be a homes Bill. The word "crisis" trips off the tongue of some Conservative Members. I enjoyed the performance of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I did not agree with one word of it, but his performance was entertaining. The word "crisis" also trips off the tongues of editors of certain newspapers. There is a real crisis in housing. People are homeless and the Bill that the Government are proposing will be a major step forward. However, it will require the Government to recognise that major investment in public housing is necessary.

I welcome the proposed seller's pack. As someone who supported for a long time the idea of a housing log, I regret that it is not part of the proposals. The seller's pack and the issues that surround it--the state of houses and surveys to ensure that people know what they are buying--are important. That leads me on to ask what is to be done with houses that are in a state of disrepair. There are many houses, both new and old, in that condition. The issue is one that we neglect at our peril.

Like many others, I regret the fact that some Bills are not included in the Queen's Speech. I should have liked consumer legislation to be in it. I know that the Government will be doing quite a bit through secondary legislation, but I urge them to recognise that consumer legislation is critical and that we need to return to it.

We have been promised a communications White Paper, and I hope that there will be sufficient time for us to debate it. It will be about the changing economy, and it is important that we address the issues. Other issues include civil service reform, regional government and how we equip people for success in the new economy.

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I suspect that we shall return to the rural issue after the general election. It should be remembered that all the things that we recognise as the legacy of the Thatcher years and most of the key Bills for which they are remembered came about in the second and third terms. In our second term, key legislative proposals will be introduced and I hope that some of the measures that I have mentioned, especially consumer legislation, will be at the heart of them.

I welcome the partnership approach, which is part of the social care proposals. It is not easy to operate partnerships and they are not a panacea for arriving at solutions. However, they can be used to try to break down the Berlin wall between social services and hospital trusts. It is important that we recognise that they need to work together to achieve that.

Like many Members, I am concerned about the future of community health councils. I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns that have been expressed and ensure that the Bill is amended accordingly. Many proposals in the social care Bill, such as direct payments and free nursing care, are to be welcomed. They will be of major benefit to my constituents and to the people of this country generally.

9.24 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I recall clearly my first job interview. The first question that was thrown at me was, "What are your faults?" I had never been asked that question before, and I was completely stumped. I said virtually nothing, and then said, "This is ridiculous. I must have some faults." I spent the rest of the interview remembering my faults one by one, and throwing them into the conversation. It was hardly surprising that I did not get the job.

I should like to dedicate this speech to the lobby correspondent of the Worcester Evening News, Mr. Nick Cecil, who asked me immediately after the Queen's Speech what it meant for Worcestershire. I was similarly stumped, and scrabbled to think of one or two things. I spent the rest of the afternoon reflecting on my inadequate response. I have now come up with an answer for Mr. Cecil and the Worcester Evening News. I think that there is little chance of any of this legislation reaching the statute book if the election comes when I think it will come, but assuming that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is wrong about the prospect of any of these Bills becoming law, the answer seems to be local good news: 2, local bad news: 3, local missed opportunities or points: at least 7, most of the rest silly, questionable, pedestrian or platitudinous, but serious national harm: 3.

There are two bits of good news for my constituents. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), in his characteristically gracious speech--to paraphrase the subject of the debate--said that his constituents were jumping for joy about a number of issues. The only group of my constituents who may be jumping for joy are the residents of Wyre Piddle, who will read with interest and enthusiasm the first paragraph of the Queen's Speech, where the Government talk about an increase in resources available for transport, among other things. Those residents want their bypass, and I hope that we will have that early Christmas present for them next week.

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The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) highlighted the Bill to regulate the private security industry. I expect that my constituents who work for Group 4 Securitas will also be jumping for joy, because they will welcome such a measure. Group 4 Securitas has its headquarters in my constituency. I say that but it is not technically true, because the gate to its headquarters lies in my constituency but its offices lie in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is sitting on the Conservative Front Bench. It gives both of us pleasure to know that Group 4 Securitas will be pleased with that measure.

Apart from those two bits of good news in the Queen's Speech--one of which is a little speculative to say the least--there is not a lot to shout about in mid- Worcestershire and much about which to be cynical and cautious. Above all, the Gracious Speech betrays the fact that the Government believe their own propaganda. That is a terribly dangerous thing for a party to do. Their propaganda is encapsulated in the spirit of "Animal Farm":

It goes like this: "Everything the Conservatives did or proposed to do is bad, everything we have done or propose to do is good." Or to put it another way: "It's gone wrong, it's their fault. It's gone right, it's our achievement". That is how the Government see things.

I was horrified by something the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions on 22 November. He said:

the issue of the European army--

we all know that that is absolutely wrong--

That is one of the more shameful things that has ever been said in this Chamber. All Conservative Members came into the House to fight for the interests of their constituents. Hon. Members may from time to time disagree on the means, but not on the outcome. The Prime Minister should reflect carefully on his words. They show the underlying propaganda that lies at the heart of the Queen's Speech.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made a thoughtful speech dealing with some important issues. I did not agree with everything he said, and he was a little premature to assume that we were not interested in discussing the economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, wait for Wednesday.

The first paragraph of the Queen's Speech left me a little breathless. It said:

I have news for the Government: they cannot do any such thing. They have done one thing right, for which I give them credit, and that was to give the Bank of England independence. I think that it was an imperfect and incomplete independence, but it was the right thing to do.

The other two factors that have delivered economic stability over the past three years or so are all the various supply-side reforms that we put in place when we were

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in power and from which the Government have benefited--the generally benign economic conditions that they inherited from us are part of that--and, crucially, the continued expansion of the American economy and the more rapid than expected recovery of the far eastern economies. Those are factors for which the Government can claim no credit whatever. There are now signs of a downturn in the United States, and people on the other side of the Atlantic are speaking of the coming recession. The Government should be very careful about crowing about continued economic stability.

Let us look at the Queen's Speech in more detail. The third paragraph on education may be well-meaning, but it does not read well in Worcestershire, where the county council has just received a shamefully low settlement. It has the lowest settlement anywhere in the country--a 3.2 per cent. increase in resources from central Government, compared with more than twice that in many south-eastern counties.

That scandalous discrepancy will make it extremely difficult for schools in my constituency even to stand still in terms of the quality of service that they provide, when they have paid the teachers' pay increases and met rising demand. The paragraph dealing with education is one that the Government will not be able to read out in Worcestershire with a straight face.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, all the stuff about law and order is splendid. One cannot argue with much of it, but fundamentally my constituents, like hers, want to see more policemen or policewomen. We do not need more laws; we need the existing laws to be properly enforced. I know from the experience of my own family and the crime that we as a family have experienced in Worcestershire in the past few weeks that the resources of West Mercia constabulary are stretched and that the force cannot cope with the problems that it faces. It is not more laws, but more bodies, that we need.

The Bill to give courts the power to decide whether certain defendants should be tried by jury--in other words, the abolition of trial by jury Bill--is a major local and national scandal. The fact that the Government plan to take away the magistrates courts in my constituency makes matters worse.

The Evesham and Droitwich Spa magistrates courts are scheduled for closure, although no date has been given and consultation has not yet begun. They are to move to Worcester city, well away from the local communities where the crimes occur. That is a travesty of access to justice in my county. The Government are denying defendants the right to trial by jury and forcing them into a court in remote Worcester, rather than in the communities of Droitwich Spa and Evesham. What a shame that is.

The paragraph on the national health service is particularly breathtaking, when I consider the problems faced by the health service in my county. Back in the summer, the Prime Minister said something that made me angry--another shameful remark from a Prime Minister. He said about the Conservatives:

He prefaced that by saying:

Such hyperbole is wrong and monstrous. What is happening at present in Worcestershire shows that the Government do not understand the health service, in

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Worcestershire at least. The abolition of community health councils may shoot the messenger, but will not solve the problem. I hope that the Government will think again about the abolition of community health councils.

The funding settlement for Worcestershire county council will mean that bed blocking in the hospitals of Worcestershire this winter and next is inevitable. Yes, it is true that a few extra pennies are coming in this year to try to ease the pressure, but the trouble is that care homes are closing because of the regulations imposed on them by the Government, and because of the failure to ensure that they have the fees necessary to pay the increased burdens placed on them.

I am afraid that the health service in Worcestershire looks pretty sick, and all the Government's fine promises are best shown up by the Government's failure to answer some simple questions. In the previous parliamentary Session, I asked how many beds were blocked in Worcestershire's acute and community hospitals. I received punctual holding replies and no substantive response.

If the Department of Health thought that it would escape giving an answer on the record to those crucial questions by not answering them during the parliamentary Session and thus letting the questions fall, it was wrong. I retabled those questions today. I am sure that the Department has already done a lot of work on preparing the answers, so I expect them to come on the first named day, which is Monday next week.

The Government boast about learning and skills councils, which may or may not be good things. I am inclined to think that they are not good things, and that they are the beginning of a process leading to the abolition of sixth forms and the compulsory adoption of tertiary systems throughout the United Kingdom. That is simply wrong. I am particularly worried by the fact that the Hereford and Worcester learning and skills council includes no one from my part of Worcestershire, although four of the 10 members are from Herefordshire, which grossly over-represents that county. One or two members come from outside the county. That council does not represent the two counties it is supposed to represent. I shall watch its work with an eagle eye, and I am exceptionally nervous about the impact of learning and skills councils on Worcestershire.

A lot of time has been spent discussing the Bill on regulation. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made some splendid remarks as he tried to analyse what, exactly, that paragraph of the Queen's Speech meant. It is certainly convoluted and would not win a plain English award--that is for sure. I know from my constituency experience that local businesses--small, medium and large--are drowning in a tide of regulation. I am the first to say that a lot of that regulation is well meant by the Government. I am sure that the working families tax credit and the minimum wage are well meant, and I am sure that all the other measures affecting the way in which employers relate to their employees are well meant. However, there comes a stage at which one cannot afford all those good intentions, because the burden simply becomes too great.

The example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham of a brewery highlighted exactly what the cost of that regulation was to that company. There comes a limit. Although the Government might say, "This is a

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good thing", Conservative Members might say that it is not a particularly good thing, but I leave that aside. The Government might continue, "We would like to do this, but we cannot afford to impose such a burden on the private sector." The Government's convoluted promise about a regulatory burden Bill comes ill from them because they have done so much to heap burdens on the shoulders of businesses in my constituency and around the country.

The Bill that concerns me most as a constituency Member of Parliament is one that has been extensively discussed in the debate--the Bill on hunting. I heard what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) said, but I remind him of two facts. First, the Government have not pledged to abolish hunting with dogs; they have pledged to have a free vote, which has already been held during this Parliament. He, and the rest of his party, are off their manifesto hook. Secondly, the Burns report has been published. It would be a tragedy if the excellent work done by Lord Burns and his colleagues on that committee were ignored by the House. The report repays the most careful reading, and it does not deserve selective quotation; it needs to be taken as a whole. A careful reading of the report makes it clear that there is no intellectual justification for a ban on hunting.

I commend a document that has, I hope, been sent to all Members of House by the middle way group, of which I am a member and, along with the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Newcastle- under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), the co-chairs. The report contains a crucial sentence, which I should choose above all others:

There are two issues in this great debate--animal welfare and human liberty and freedom--which we must put on the scales. We know that banning hunting will lead to more, not fewer, foxes dying, as rural England's tolerance of the fox disappears. The fox would no longer be there for the hunt; it would simply be shot because it is a pest. Gamekeepers and farmers would pretty well eradicate the rural fox.

I hope that Labour Members will think carefully about the implications. I understand their motivation--some of it is honourable, some emotional and some is probably driven by class envy, prejudice and misunderstanding. They have a variety of motives, some good, some bad. I urge them to look afresh at these issues. I suspect that the Bill will have its Second Reading before Christmas, and I urge them to ask themselves whether they are right. One or two Labour Members, to their great credit, have come to me during the past week and said, "Peter, we have looked at the matter and realised we have got to vote for your middle way option after all, because it will genuinely enhance the welfare of the fox."

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