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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would you be kind enough to clarify the ruling that you gave earlier? It has always been the convention of the House that, in the debate on the Queen's Speech, it is permissible to discuss any subject in the Queen's Speech on any day, even though certain days are earmarked for certain subjects. I have never known of a Member being prevented from touching on other subjects in the Queen's speech. As your ruling affects every hon. Member, wherever he or she sits, I should be grateful to know whether you have changed that age-old practice.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I reiterate that we have today, as we had yesterday, a particular amendment on the Order Paper. Therefore, we are debating that amendment. Incidental reference to other aspects of the Queen's Speech is acceptable.

5.46 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I welcome my right hon. and hon. Friends to their new positions and look forward to working with them. It is good to be back among my friends on the Back Benches. I enjoyed my visit to the foothills of government, but after two years as the lowest form of ministerial life, I concluded rightly or wrongly that I would be of more use to my constituents, the Labour party and the human race in general if I returned to the Back Benches and, I hope, to the world of Select Committees. I hope that my experience in government will make me a more effective scrutineer of the Executive.

I shall start with a couple of general points. For the avoidance of doubt and to avoid being listed among the disappointed, may I say that I am broadly content with the general direction of Government policy? I shall not,

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therefore, unlike other refugees from government, be offering my thoughts exclusively to the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Of course, were I Prime Minister, which by some inexplicable oversight I am not, I would do one or two things differently. I hope that this Parliament will see a little less managerialitis, fewer targets, fewer initiatives, less spinning and an end to naming and shaming. We should accept that some degree of initiative must be permitted at local level, recognising at the same time that there must be a role for the Government in making sure that certain core services are delivered.

On public services--which I refer to in passing--we must avoid talking ourselves into a depression. Yes, they are under strain as the result of years of underinvestment. Yes, they need better management and more resources. But to use expressions such as "third world", which I have seen occasionally, is hysterical nonsense, and we should not pander to it.

For most of our constituents, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) graphically illustrated, the main problem is not organised crime but disorganised crime. Reversing the rising tide of yob culture is one of the greatest challenges that the Government face. It is the single greatest issue in parts of my constituency, as it is in his. I am sure that it is also the biggest issue in the constituencies of other hon. Members, especially those who represent poorer parts of the country.

Many of my constituents are plagued by out-of-control youths and yob neighbours, against whom the law appears powerless. All too often, bad behaviour goes unchallenged. It does not bring consequences to anyone but the victim. People come to my surgeries shaking with fear, and all too often I end up evacuating the victim rather than the villain.

Effective policing and an effective criminal justice system are a precondition of regeneration. It is no use pouring money into the most devastated parts of our inner cities if some of our citizens are tearing them down as fast as we can rebuild. Despite the undoubted progress of recent years, it remains a sad fact that our criminal justice system is wholly inadequate to protect us against persistent young offenders. Many are being repeatedly bailed, walking out of the court door and resuming their activities within hours. They are laughing at us.

We must recognise that some youths are too badly damaged to be capable of reform and they are causing mayhem. Our priority must be to give their victims a rest from their activities, if necessary by locking them up. That is the harsh reality and I do not shrink from it. Successive Home Secretaries have promised more secure detention places for juveniles, but delivery has been slow. I hope that this will be speeded up. In the meantime, we must concentrate our efforts on helping younger children to grow up and lead useful lives, in the hope that they will not disappear down the same plughole as some of their older brethren.

The Home Secretary will come under pressure to pour more resources into policing without paying too much attention to how effectively it is spent. I hope that he will resist that temptation. The first requirement is to obtain value for the very large sums that are already invested in policing. As he will know, there are extremely wide variations in the quality and management of policing as between one force and another. In Sunderland, I am glad to

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say, it has improved immeasurably in recent years. I look forward to the police Bill, which will contain measures to improve discipline and complaints procedures, some of which were proposed in the Select Committee report that was produced under my chairmanship three years ago.

Details of the crime Bill are a little sketchy, but I have a suggestion: one aspect of the yob culture which urgently needs addressing is the number of out-of-control youths with air weapons. No week passes without some new horror story. Last week, for example, a youth in Cardiff shot and injured four children in a school playground. It is incredible that no licence is required for an air weapon and that anyone over 14 can own one. It is necessary urgently to reduce the number of air weapons in circulation, and the crime Bill is an obvious opportunity to do that. Once again, the Home Secretary will find that there is a helpful Select Committee report on the stocks. I urge him to dust it down.

Drugs lie behind a great deal of crime and the ruin of many young lives. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras graphically illustrated the problem. Enormous efforts have gone into combating the drug culture and I do not seek to denigrate them. I wonder, however, whether we are having a serious impact. Perhaps the time has come to consider a new approach.

The Home Secretary will have seen a recent series of articles in The Guardian by Mr. Nick Davies. I know that he is not my right hon. Friend's favourite journalist, but I hope he will agree that Mr. Davies has made some serious points that require equally serious examination. Legalisation is traditionally a subject on which politicians fear to tread. Let me hasten to add that I am not yet persuaded, but given that everything else has failed, I wonder whether the time has come to contemplate the unthinkable. That may well be something on which the Select Committee can be helpful.

I hope that Select Committees will be functioning by the summer and I would welcome an assurance on that from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope also that he is considering ways in which Select Committees can be made more effective. He will have seen the recent report by the Hansard Society and the report by the Liaison Committee, "Shifting the Balance", which incidentally was brushed aside a little too hastily. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has a reputation for radical thinking, will take them seriously.

I also hope that hon. Members will take Select Committees seriously. We cannot expect Ministers to do that if we do not. The first rule for an effective Select Committee member is to turn up on time; the second is to keep one's backside on the seat throughout the sitting; the third is to ask concise, relevant questions, for which short training courses can be arranged if necessary. After that, we can have a discussion about powers and resources. For what it is worth, it is my view that the only hope of making Select Committees function effectively is to create an alternative career structure for Back-Bench Members; otherwise we are for ever destined to see the best and the brightest seduced away by office or the prospect of office.

If we sometimes wonder why the House and our profession in general do not enjoy the public esteem that we believe we deserve, at least part of the solution lies in our own hands. We do not have to award the Government

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a three-month holiday from scrutiny every summer; we do not have to ask lollipop questions; and we do not have to let the Executive select those whose job it is to scrutinise them. Those are things that we choose to do--and we can equally well choose not to.

5.55 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). We worked together on various issues, especially Northern Ireland, and I was sorry when he decided to resign from the Front Bench. On a Government Bench that contained a number of junior Members who were faceless apparatchiks, he shone as being extremely capable and able.

This is not a maiden speech, but a semi-retread speech. A proper retread speech is when one moves to another constituency. I am in a small and select group of two people who are quasi-retreads because we represent our former constituencies. It is, of course, an honour to be elected in the first place for one's home constituency, but to be re-elected is a substantial honour, and I feel humble about it. All new Conservative arrivals need to have some humility. They are part of a parliamentary party that is in opposition, and we have much to learn so that we can contribute constructively to our task.

I pay tribute to my predecessor. I also pay tribute to his predecessor, because if he had not worked hard over the years, I would probably not be here today. My immediate predecessor, Dr. George Turner, was an effective representative for North-West Norfolk. He worked extremely hard in Parliament and the constituency. He dealt with a heavy case load and established an effective team in King's Lynn to deal with people's problems. It is sad for him that that team is being dismantled. He must feel like I did four years ago and think that all his work has not been rewarded at the polling stations. That is what happens in politics; it is a rough trade. However, we must move on.

I pay tribute to some of my predecessor's achievements. He worked hard to bring Ministers to King's Lynn. As a consequence, we received pledges on key local issues such as the Hardwick flyover at the junction of the A10 and A47, the regeneration of the Anglia Canners site in King's Lynn, and the Nar-Ouse regeneration area--the NORA scheme--which will greatly regenerate an area of King's Lynn that has been blighted for many years. He secured pledges from Ministers on those important projects and it will fall to me to ensure that they are honoured by the Government. I shall work as hard as possible to make sure that those promises are kept. As we got nearer the election--I am sure this was no coincidence--more and more Ministers came to the constituency and made more and more pledges, which I shall hold them to. That work must continue.

King's Lynn is a great historic town. It has remarkable churches and extraordinarily beautiful Georgian buildings. However, it also suffers from the blight caused by the neglect of the areas that I mentioned and of the state of the high street. Anyone who goes into King's Lynn will be horrified at the number of empty shops, which generates a sense of depression and gloom. We have a strong local economy that has been built on the tradition of working hard for self-sufficiency, and on the

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entrepreneurial drive of many small businesses. Although we have a thriving small-firm sector, we need more investment. I do not think we will get that unless something is done to sort out the high street and to implement the schemes that will regenerate it. We need to attract more business and engender more development. I shall work hard to achieve that, because I fear that all the regulations and burdens on small businesses mean that much of the spirit of wealth creation that has been built up in the past few years will start to suffer.

King's Lynn is the centre of the constituency, but one does not have to travel far outside it to find truly stunning countryside. Inland from one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the country are many small villages, most of which I visited in the election campaign. I found genuine anger, frustration and isolation because of a Government who have forgotten and neglected rural communities.

We are considering not only a crisis in agriculture. Many farmers in North-West Norfolk continue to keep stock, especially pigs. They live in daily fear of foot and mouth disease. The crisis is not confined to small post offices or lack of rural transport. There is a perception that the Government do not care about the rural communities. That was summed up by the Prime Minister's contribution to "Question Time" during the election campaign. He said that he did not care about votes in the rural communities. That is a small step from saying that he did not care about rural communities.

Above all, those communities feel isolated and that the Administration are remote. What, according to the Gracious speech, will the Government do to help rural communities? Nothing whatsoever. There will be a Bill on hunting. During the election campaign, I met one voter who was anxious about hunting, but thousands who were worried about rural crime.

Rural crime and the lack of a visible police presence in west Norfolk are a genuine problem. I pay tribute to the police officers who work tirelessly and do their best to provide policing on the ground. There are far too few, however, and their morale is low. They are worried about the extent of the burden of paperwork that is placed on them, and about bureaucracy and retention. Now is not the time to start tampering with police pay and conditions. Morale is low, and if the Government want to fulfil their promises on law and order, they must win the support and trust of the police. That also applies to health and education; they must win the trust of teachers, doctors and nurses in order to fulfil their promises.

People mentioned the Tony Martin case during the election campaign. It was a big issue in west Norfolk. Many people believe that Tony Martin was the victim of a crime. Many others believe that we cannot make law on the basis of one tragic, unfortunate case. But consulting one of the burglars who broke into Tony Martin's house on the length of the latter's sentence represents an unfortunate state of affairs which the Government should urgently examine.

Police morale can be improved. I am pleased that more police officers will be appointed in Norfolk. The Government make great play of the extra numbers, but as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary pointed out, they have let the numbers fall. We are considering 100 extra police officers in Norfolk, but why were

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numbers allowed to fall by 50 between 1997 and 2000? Only now are the Government making up for the harm that they did.

If the Government are to fulfil their promises, they must tackle morale in the caring services. I am worried by the fact that the previous Home Secretary was slow-handclapped at the Police Federation conference. I am worried that doctors are tabling motions about contracting out national health service contracts. I am concerned that teachers and university lecturers are threatening industrial action. The Government can promise what they like about the caring services, but they must carry the staff with them.

I shall do all I can to ensure that the Government's promises are fulfilled in my constituency. Making sure that constituents get the best possible deal is the most important task of a Member of Parliament, especially a new Member. I shall be constructive, but extremely critical if the promises are not delivered in the next four years.


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