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When we consider legislation, leaving aside the benefits and rights that flow from it, we are considering penalties and obligations. Legislation imposes burdens on the electorate, sometimes penal in character. In a democratic society, we all make an implied bargain to the effect that legislation will be properly scrutinised by the
Inevitably, large chunks of legislation, some of it quite serious, will go through--some went through in the previous Parliament--without it having been discussed. When people begin to realise that their obligations are arising not as a result of scrutiny but as a result of fiat, directive and Executive action, they will come to realise that the days of the elected dictatorship have truly arrived. I am not trying to say that we are a dictatorship yet because I do not believe that that is true, but we are putting in place procedures that enable the Executive to ride roughshod over the liberties and freedoms of the people of this country and to ignore the considered opinions of their representatives. That is not just bad in the short term, but will undermine the foundations of democracy. I fear for the future.
Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): It is a great honour to make my maiden speech as the representative of the electorate of Glasgow, Maryhill. Although I was selected as a Labour candidate only in March this year, I received a warm welcome from the community. I heartily support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in the motions before us. Tradition has an important part to play in our institutions, but it should not act as a barrier to progress.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Maria Fyfe, who served the constituency diligently and with great skill over the past 14 years. Since arriving here, I have met many hon. Members who held her in high regard, and that sentiment was expressed to me by many of my constituents during my election campaign. She is an excellent example to follow. She was an independent and strong Back Bencher and I am sure that all hon. Members join me in wishing her well in her future endeavours. I feel privileged to stand here today as her successor and as part of a long line of Labour Members for Maryhill and, uniquely for Glasgow, as its second female Member of Parliament.
My constituency has yet again resoundingly shown its support for the Government with a 60 per cent. share of the vote and a majority almost double that achieved in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections. Glasgow's citizens know that the Government are working for them on jobs, pensions or public services. When my predecessor was first elected, unemployment in Maryhill was growing at an alarming rate and was matched with chronic under-investment in public services and housing stock. The consequent dire effects on the local community were all too evident.
I am happy to say that the policies of the present Government, based firmly on the principle of social justice, have already had significant effect. In the past four years, long-term unemployment in Maryhill has been reduced by a massive 65 per cent. and the general unemployment figure has been lowered by almost 40 per cent.
Maryhill has a strong record of community activism. That was particularly evident during my election campaign when the Forth and Clyde canal, part of which runs through the area, was formally reopened as part of the millennium project. Water has always been seen as a symbol of life, and that project encompasses many hopes and aspirations in the constituency for a better life in the coming years. Although Maryhill might not appear to be a tourist attraction, it may surprise hon. Members to know that it includes a bird sanctuary, the site of a Roman fort adjoining the Antonine wall, the Queen's Cross church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the largest number of farms in any Glasgow constituency.
Maryhill is also home to Glasgow's best-loved football team--Partick Thistle, of course--which this year not only celebrated its 125th anniversary but succeeded in winning promotion to the first division. I am sure that this will be only the beginning of more triumphs for the club and I look forward to watching my first ever football match at its ground. Although I have not watched a match before, my active membership of the Labour party in the west of Scotland over the past decade has proved to be an invaluable source of information and advice.
There has rightly been great concern in the House about the low turnout at this and other recent elections. I urge hon. Members from all parts of the House to give serious and mature consideration to that issue in the weeks and months ahead. It is clear that a growing percentage of our electorate feel no link between themselves and their elected representatives. It is beholden on us to commit ourselves to reform and modernisation, where necessary, while retaining the highest standards of conduct. In particular, I welcome the Government's proposed legislation to allow political parties to achieve better gender balance as an important step in that process.
It is vital, however, that all sections of our society, including the media, play their part in establishing the principle that our Government are the servant of their citizens and that, in turn, all citizens have a duty to maintain our elected democracy. That sense of shared responsibility has, for multiple reasons, broken down in recent years. Unfortunately, spin and sleaze are not new phenomena in world history; they have been with us since the days of Machiavelli, if not before. But the right of ordinary citizens freely to elect their Governments is still a relatively recent concept, and one that has involved much struggle and sacrifice. Many people throughout this globe are still facing death and oppression and are fighting for rights that we take for granted at our peril. We must move away from the pre-eminence of individualism in our society, to create a society where the principle of caring for, and working with, our fellow citizens has priority.
It is not just within the confines of our own boundaries that threats to democracy exist. Elected Governments will face enormous challenges in the coming years, as we experience the effects of continued globalisation and changing relationships with international organisations. The economic and political strength of transnational corporations has been well documented, but as yet the
I very much welcome the widespread reforms that were recently put in place by the Department for International Development, and its new priority on the reduction of world poverty. As someone who has long campaigned for the end of the link between trade and aid, I congratulate the Government on their proposed reforms of the aid system. The Government have established themselves as a world leader in the fight against the scourge of world poverty, but much still needs to be done, and I urge them to renew their efforts on debt reduction at the forthcoming Genoa summit, and to argue vigorously for reform of our international organisations to ensure that poverty reduction is truly integral to their decision-making processes.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) and to congratulate her on her maiden speech, which was delivered with assurance and fluency and which was very much in the tradition of the non-controversial maiden speech while nevertheless making some extremely punchy and proper points. I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing from her again, although she is likely to get the odd intervention in future, as she probably knows.
The hon. Lady spoke warmly of her predecessor, Maria Fyfe. We all remember Maria with considerable affection as a very individualistic parliamentarian. She was a real parliamentarian--she was frequently here and often intervened in debates. She was most certainly not a lackey of any Government--she spoke her mind, with confidence and authority. Her accent was slightly more Glaswegian than the hon. Lady's, so we did not always get every nuance. I am sure that we shall from the hon. Lady. Maria was a dear woman and an excellent Member of Parliament and we shall miss her. I am sure that we have a splendid replacement in the hon. Lady and I wish her many happy years here--with 60 per cent. of the poll it is going to take us more than a couple of elections to remove her. She will enjoy being here, I am sure.
The hon. Lady was right to interpret the rules governing maiden speeches by ranging widely, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were right to let her do so. What is pertinent to this debate, however, is the fact that the hon. Lady was speaking as the Member of the Westminster Parliament--the United Kingdom Parliament--for Glasgow, Maryhill. In debates such as these, we all have to remember the words of the late Duncan Sandys who, when upbraided for not attending his constituency--not that it was difficult because it was only in Streatham, just down the road--said that he was the Member for Streatham in Westminster, not the Member for Westminster in Streatham.
I was saddened by the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and I am sorry that she is not still in her place. She seemed to imply that we were here too much and in our constituencies too little. She was rightly interrupted by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who reminded her that we have not only weekends but parliamentary recesses. That is when we do the bulk of our constituency work. Our prime duty is to be here when the House is in Session. I have always refused mid-week engagements in my constituency. I have returned there mid-week only for funerals, not for ordinary constituency engagements. It is my duty to be here.
One thing that has saddened me in the past few years, and which is relevant to this debate--it is not only the fault of this Government--has been the way in which the parliamentary week has been squeezed. There was a time when Thursday was one of the great parliamentary days. Until four years ago, we had Prime Minister's Question Time every Thursday as well as business questions. The House sat until 10 pm, when it nearly always voted. Thursday was an important parliamentary day.
An indicator of the way in which Thursday has ceased to be a great parliamentary day is the fact that even the Conservative party's 1922 committee now meets on Wednesdays, not Thursdays, because insufficient Members are here on that day. I do not suggest that all the blame is on one side of the House. The rot set in with Jopling. Many of us were too easily seduced by some of the Jopling proposals.
I will never forget a wonderful speech by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), who told the House as he bared his soul a couple of years ago, how he had delayed the implementation of the Jopling proposals, which was very much in his gift as Opposition Chief Whip. He and the redoubtable Don Dixon delayed the proposals until they knew that they would be in government in a short time. They knew that the proposals would serve the Executive and the interests of government, and the right hon. Gentleman said so honestly in the House.
Of course, hon. Members can bare their souls and say all sorts of interesting things in debates such as this. I am bound to say that I savoured enormously the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). His was a wonderful bravura performance of the kind that we have come to expect of him on every occasion. I could not help but remember the days when he was a Government Whip instructing the 1922 committee on how we must vote--and if we deviated, by jove we would be in trouble.
I can also remember when, as a most distinguished Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend was not likely to brook deviation or any challenge--but of course, now that he is liberated on the Back Benches and in opposition, he is one of the foremost champions of parliamentary liberty. He has already said this afternoon that he will not cast his vote in a single deferred Division for the next four or five years, which will doubtless ensure that he can do one or two other things on Wednesdays.
This is a very serious debate, and I am bound to say that I welcome the tone of the speech made by the Leader of the House. I do not want to sound patronising, but the right hon. Gentleman has it within him to be a very considerable Leader of the House. When he was first elected, he immediately made his mark as someone who fitted in here and who relished the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. He was a consummate debater, and some of the classic debates in the House in my time featured the right hon. Gentleman. He gave no quarter, but he was always punctilious, courteous and hard hitting, and I have missed him during the past four years. I make no criticism; of course, he had his particular brief and he did not attend debates very frequently because he was on Her Majesty's Government's business in other parts of the world.
The right hon. Gentleman could be a considerable Leader of the House, so long as he remembers that he has a dual role. Of course, he is a leading member of the Cabinet and of Her Majesty's Government, but he is also the leader and the servant of the House of Commons, and in that context, his role is second in importance only to that of Mr. Speaker or the occupant of the Chair. I hope that he will recognise that it is important that he gives back to the House more opportunities for the effective scrutiny of the Executive.
Legislation that is not properly scrutinised is frequently very bad, and we should all remind ourselves of that. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), I have never been a friend of the guillotine. I have voted against guillotines introduced by my party because it is wrong when great swathes of important legislation go undebated and undiscussed. We reached a parliamentary nadir just a few weeks before the general election, when we debated the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and the House connived at what I then called, and call again, a parliamentary lie--we deemed that things had been discussed that had not been discussed. That was a low point in parliamentary history, and I hope that it will never be repeated and that it will not have set a precedent. That happened as a direct consequence of programming legislation.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will not automatically programme all Bills. It is not the subject of programming that excites Opposition Members, but the manner in which it is done, so I hope that when programming is considered, there will be a proper opportunity adequately to discuss all the clauses of the Bill under consideration. That will mean that the Government cannot programme until after Second Reading. There must be proper opportunity for extending the time that is available. To take up the point made several times by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) from the Opposition Front Bench, there must also be adequate discussion of amendments from the House of Lords. If that means that the Government have to produce less legislation for the House rather than more, so be it. That would be a good thing. If it means that the Government have to produce more draft Bills that we can crawl over before we come to debate them in their substantive form, again that will be a good thing. It is the quality, not the quantity, of legislation that matters.
The pre-election Session was rushed and there was almost no opportunity to discuss certain legislation. The Leader of the House will have to bear all these things carefully in mind if he is to earn the reputation of which he is certainly capable; if he is to go down in history as one of the considerable Leaders of the House. I remember many Leaders of the House, and two or three stand out as absolutely first class. One thinks of Norman St. John Stevas, who was responsible for introducing the Select Committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills anticipates me by mouthing the words "John Biffen", who was a marvellous Leader of the House because he was--I do not think that I am being unfair to anyone else--the least partisan. He was semi-detached before his semi-detachment was dispatched by the lady with the handbag. I sincerely hope that if the present Leader of the House becomes semi-detached he will not be dispatched. I hope that the Prime Minister will redeem his parliamentary reputation by realising that he has put the right man in the right place and leaving him there. This is a reputation that is at the moment potential, and we all want it to become actual.
Programming should not be entered into automatically. It is important that the Leader of the House heeds the words uttered this afternoon about the composition of Programming Committees and the way in which the time is allocated. If he does not, we may well have a repetition of events last year, and the reputation of Parliament will suffer in consequence. None of us, whether we come from Glasgow, Maryhill or from South Staffordshire, will benefit if the reputation of Parliament sinks. I want to see Parliament once more at the centre of national life, which at the moment it is not, and this Chamber at the centre of Parliament's life, which at the moment it is not.
The Leader of the House did not deal adequately with deferred Divisions--the postal ballot a week after the debate, when there has been no requirement to do anything and plenty of opportunity to be got at by all sorts of people. Deferred Divisions are a negation of what Parliament and parliamentary voting should be all about. I hope that, at the least, the right hon. Gentleman will discuss with his colleagues on the Modernisation Committee a reorganisation of deferred Divisions. As he reminded us, we are still in the experimental stage. Divisions should at least take place the day after the debate. It might be inconvenient for hon. Members to be here at 2 o'clock the next day to cast their votes, but we are not here for our convenience. It is our role to serve our constituents and to represent them adequately and properly. If that means the inconvenience of casting a deferred vote the day after a debate--at, for example, 9 o'clock in the morning or 2 o'clock in the afternoon--so be it.
I am no friend of long nights--I have been in the House too long for that. I remember Parliament sitting night after night in 1970 to debate the Industrial Relations Bill. There was a great spirit of camaraderie and I shall never forget the Labour Opposition bursting into song with a rendition
As for the Modernisation Committee, I do not like its title and want it renamed. The "Improvement of Scrutiny Committee" would more adequately describe its proper function and role. I apologise to the Leader of the House if my intervention was a shade flippant, but he should think carefully about his role in relation to the Committee. He should consider whether it might be better for him to have someone like the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich or my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills as its Chairman. Its stature as a parliamentary Committee would grow immeasurably and its recommendations would carry far more weight. The right hon. Gentleman would continue to have an input; he would not be prevented from attending Committee meetings to put his point of view. However, the Leader of the House, a senior member of the Executive, should not be perceived as being in the driving seat of a body that is deciding how we will scrutinise every Government action. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect carefully on that over the recess.
We are at the beginning of a new Parliament. The Conservative party did not have an especially successful election. That fell to the Labour party. Democrats must congratulate the winning party, but they must recognise, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill did in her maiden speech, the fact that we have to look to ourselves when we consider the percentage poll. Some 25 per cent. of those eligible to vote voted for the Government; 19 per cent. voted for us; and 11 per cent. voted for the Liberal Democrats. In that context, none of us has anything about which to be proud. One reason for that vote is the fact that the House has fallen in the estimation of the people. It lies within our power to enhance that reputation once again.
It is important that hon. Members, especially new Labour Members, remember that they have a crucial role. We cannot properly and fully hold the Executive to account unless they take part in that process. Everything that we do to reform and change our procedures should be with one aim in mind--to improve that scrutiny and involve everyone in it. If the Leader of the House can set us on that road, he will deserve the thanks of us all.