Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.34 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Like the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), it is a little while since I gave my maiden speech-- 18 years ago, not 22 as in his case. Like him, I did not mention the problems of crime and disorder.

I devoted my maiden speech to defence. It is a tribute to the previous Conservative Government that defence is now so much on the back burner. Thanks to the robust policies followed by previous Conservative Prime Ministers, we have successfully dealt with that threat. However, we still face the threat posed to our cities and rural areas by lawlessness. I want to say a little about that later.

Everyone who loves this place should be very concerned indeed about the appallingly low turnout in the general election and should be asking themselves why people apparently have so little faith in the democratic process. One reason is that politicians, even those armed with very large majorities, appear to lack the courage of their convictions, and I am disappointed that the Government, who have already been in power for four years and now have an enormous majority, have produced a Queen's Speech that is so lacking in radical cutting edge. I should like to say a few words about that.

Above all, we need Governments who believe in justice, in telling the truth and in reaching a decision and putting that decision fairly to the British people. In their handling of two subjects--the constitution and Europe--the Government show a lack of justice, a lack of firmness and a lack of conviction.

On the constitution, devolution is now in place and, although we have argued about the West Lothian question for four years, there is still no answer. Our English constituents are still faced with the fact that Scottish MPs vote on our health, education, policing, agriculture, transport, housing policy and much else, whereas we have no say on Scottish matters. We should point that out again and again because it is a denial of natural justice.

27 Jun 2001 : Column 675

Over the years, many solutions have been proposed. There is the federal solution, advocated by the Liberal party; and there is the solution advocated by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and which I favour--that Scottish Members should not be allowed to vote on exclusively English matters. But it is a matter of justice, and it must be dealt with. The Government cannot ignore it.

On reform of the House of Lords, we are still waiting for a definitive answer to the question of what will happen to the second Chamber. In a democracy, one cannot have a situation where half the legislature is entirely appointed; it does not work. Something must be done. I personally favour an elected House of Lords. I believe that the House of Lords must be based on the traditional counties. If we are to retain an appointed element, the appointed element can no longer be appointed by the Prime Minister. In a modern democracy, people will not accept that so much patronage over the legislature is given to the head of the Executive.

On Europe, too, people are crying out for conviction politics and for guidance from the Government. We cannot continue with the policy of "wait and see" on the euro. It is bad for the constitution, for business and for our country, and it is incumbent on the Government to reach a conclusion on that. I see no reason why there should not be a referendum within the next two years. Let us decide the question once and for all.

My personal view is absolutely clear: I am opposed, on constitutional grounds, in principle, to the scrapping of the pound. I would put that view--I am happy to do so, as are many of my colleagues--to the British people. The Government cannot continue to play around with this issue. Let us have a referendum--let us sort this out once and for all and move on to other things. Let us then try to base our relationship with the European Union on an element of honesty.

Everyone else in Europe is perfectly honest about their aims; there is no doubt about that. I am happy to remain in a European Union that concentrates on trade matters, environmental protection and good relations between nation states. I cannot accept the Europe that seeks to control our foreign and defence policy, our currency, our taxation, our justice and immigration. I believe that the point of view that I am advancing is rational and should be debated. Let us have the referendum now and get this issue out of the way. Everyone else in Europe apparently knows their mind. Why is it only in this country that the Executive are incapable of giving clear guidance to the people?

Let me pass on quickly to home affairs. Why are people so disillusioned? They are disillusioned because, every year, we have a new criminal justice system and, every year, it appears to make so little difference on the ground. What do people want from their chief constables? They want visible policing. Despite the fact that we have put so much pressure on the Government, why is the number of special constables still in catastrophic decline?

I agree that we cannot afford to employ as many regular policemen as we would like, so why do we not pay special constables? Many people are anxious and willing to give of their free time to the public, so let us get them back into the villages and on to the streets. The people are

27 Jun 2001 : Column 676

crying out for visible policing. They are not crying out for yet another criminal justice system; they want to see policemen.

Before I finish my speech, let me say one or two things about the public services. There is enormous dissatisfaction with the public services and, again, there is a lack of honesty about what is going on in them.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the amendment that is being debated today in referring to the public services.

Mr. Leigh: I understand that one is entitled to range over all the matters in the Queen's Speech.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There is an amendment, tabled by Her Majesty's Opposition, on today's Order Paper.

Mr. Leigh: Well, I am sorry that I have to be constrained by the Liberal Democrat amendment. I was under the impression that one was entitled to range over many matters.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are debating the amendment tabled by the Conservative party.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very reluctant to challenge your ruling, but Mr. Speaker made it plain this afternoon that the House will vote on the Liberal Democrat amendment, so surely it is permissible to speak about any subject dealt with in that amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I must advise the hon. Gentleman that the debate is on the amendment that has been selected by Mr. Speaker, and that curtails debate.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a serious point. Mr. Speaker has selected the Liberal Democrat amendment for a Division. That amendment most certainly touches on public services, so it would be extraordinary if we were not allowed to debate an amendment on which we shall vote just after 10 o'clock.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I advise the hon. Gentleman that the Liberal Democrat amendment has been selected for a Division, but not for debate.

Mr. Leigh: If I am not allowed to talk about issues of importance to the public, it is a sad reflection on how we order our affairs. I believe that we need to reform the procedures of the House and to ensure that Select Committees are strengthened, and I support what the Liberal Democrats are trying to achieve in that respect. It is important that we try to strengthen the role of Back Benchers in our affairs and that the Government should produce clear policies that the people understand. We are not being honest in the way in which we address the great issues of the day, especially health and education. People care about those issues, and we are not meeting their aspirations. The way in which our proceedings are conducted in the House is not meeting those aspirations. We are not having an honest debate.

27 Jun 2001 : Column 677

Surely people want to ensure that an operation is available when they fall ill. They ask us why they should contribute all their lives to the national health service if operations are not available to them when they reach a certain age. They ask why they have to pay twice: they pay through taxation for operations, which are either denied to them, or they are told that they must wait two or three years; and they have to pay again through the private sector.

A lot of work is being done on such matters--for example, by the Institute of Directors--and there are interesting and radical ideas. For example, if people are denied an operation, the state should give them a credit towards a private operation, so that the difference between the private and the public sectors would be blurred.

We need to consider similar ideas in education. If people do not receive the state education that they believe is their right as taxpayers and prefer to use private education, the state should provide a credit towards it. Those are interesting and radical ideas. To give them credit, in their proposed education Bill, the Government are starting to break down the barriers between the private and public sector in education, which we are debating in this Queen's Speech debate. They have already done it in health with their concordat. Why can we not have an honest debate? Why do we have this rigid divide?

Next Section

IndexHome Page