Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks):
It is a great pleasure to congratulate the Members who proposed and seconded the motion on the Loyal Address. First--as is
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our custom, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) pointed out--let me pay tribute to Members who died during the last Session.
Clifford Forsythe was a quietly spoken but brave Member of the House of Commons and a staunch defender of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We shall miss him. Audrey Wise was a dedicated and passionate Member of Parliament, a long-standing campaigner on many issues and, of course, one of the authors of the famous Rooker-Wise amendment of 1977--the check on stealth taxation that is still necessary today.
Michael Colvin's tragic death with his wife Nichola--they will be much missed--deprived the House of a distinguished and experienced contributor, particularly on defence issues. We remember him very fondly. He had many interests, and was even a pub landlord--a qualification much prized in the modern Conservative party.
Bernie Grant will also be greatly missed, especially today. On this occasion, he always showed his pride in his roots by wearing traditional African dress. In his last few years he battled bravely against illness, but that never stopped him speaking out.
Finally, let me mention the death of Donald Dewar, who was mourned throughout the House and throughout Scotland. I spent many months debating with him in Committee. He was a cultured, accomplished, civilised, extremely entertaining and endearing man--notwithstanding the fact that he hardly ever went abroad, that his favourite food was fish fingers and that he had a "happy melancholy" about him, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South referred. It was once written of him that he was happy only when he was thoroughly depressed.
Donald Dewar once said that he would give a lot to be present at the opening of a Scottish Parliament. He did indeed give a lot to be there, including all his energy and all his health. He was a friend to many of us on both sides of the House; we miss him greatly. When he first entered the House, he did so as the Member for Aberdeen, South. It is on a far happier note that I warmly congratulate the present hon. Member for Aberdeen, South on her speech. We wish her many happy returns, in one sense at least.
I note from the hon. Lady's biography that many years ago, as a student, she gratefully received the help of her local Conservative MP in dealing with a massive telephone bill that had been unfairly sent to her and some fellow poor students. She has now repaid that kind act by dedicating her life to unseating Conservative Members, which she has done very successfully. We have all met constituents like that at our surgeries. I unreservedly congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech.
I also congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris), who has been a Member of Parliament continuously for 41 years. He would have become the Father of the House had he not decided to step down at the next election. He once said:
I don't regard myself as a professional politician,
which is quite a statement for someone who has been Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Transport; Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Power; Minister of Defence (Equipment); Secretary of State for Wales; shadow spokesman on legal affairs; Attorney-General; served in the Cabinets of three Prime Ministers; and spent
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33 years on the Front Bench of the House of Commons. With that record, he would have to be a professional politician to claim that he was not one.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State for Wales in the 1970s. It tells us something either about Secretaries of State for Wales or about the Welsh that he spent five years campaigning hard for devolution, at the end of which the Welsh voted to reject it; and I spent two years campaigning against devolution, at the end of which they accepted it. That was not his only setback. He was against joining the European Union and the country joined. He opposed unilateral nuclear disarmament and the Labour party adopted it. He supported Roy Hattersley for the leadership of the Labour party and it went to Neil Kinnock, so he will understand if I look cheerfully on his prediction of a Labour victory at the next election.
Judging by the content of the Queen's Speech, it is probably the last Queen's Speech of the current Parliament. In fact, there was so little in it that I think it was very good of Her Majesty to come down to deliver it at all. It is now clear that certain things that the Government committed themselves to in their manifesto will never be enacted in the current Parliament. The Government's manifesto said:
We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons,
and their annual report told us that the referendum was "on course", so where is it?
There is always one group of people that will be gullible enough to believe that the promise of a proportional representation referendum is about to be kept. The Prime Minister promised a PR referendum to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). It is all recounted in the thrilling page-turner "The Ashdown Diaries." Page 276--not many people have reached page 276--says:
4th September 1994. Blair: 'You must understand that I am not playing a tactical manoeuvre on you. You can trust me on this'. I said I believed him.
It is touching really, is it not? More recently, the right hon. Member for Yeovil, now older and wiser--well, older anyway--when asked by friends whether the Prime Minister had
sighed and replied:
He was sincere at the time.
That is the trouble with the Prime Minister. He can be sincere about something at the time he is asked, but he is sincere about the opposite the next time he is asked. The Liberal Democrats are all still sitting there--eager beavers--waiting for a PR commitment from Labour at the next election and willing again to believe it. It just shows that the Government cannot fool all the people all the time, but they can fool all the Liberal Democrats most of the time. The Liberal Democrats do not understand that the Government are all spin and no delivery.
The manifesto said that the Government
will introduce legislation to allow the people, region by region, to decide in a referendum whether they want directly elected regional government.
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The annual report said that the Government remained committed to that undertaking. This is the last opportunity to do that, so why have the Government not done it in the current Parliament? Is it because there is no demand for regional assemblies, as we told them at the time? Is it because the London elections did not go exactly to the Prime Minister's taste, or is it because the intricate legislation would have to be delicately steered through the House by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Come to think of it, why is there so little legislation in the Queen's Speech that is anything to do with the Deputy Prime Minister? There was to have been a water Bill. We know that the Government wanted a water Bill, because those measures were in last year's Utilities Bill, which collapsed amid chaos and confusion. There was to have been a Bill to implement the urban White Paper. The Government had three and a half years to produce the White Paper. They published it so late that they cannot legislate on it.
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney):
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way in a little while.
The Deputy Prime Minister no longer has time for legislation because he is so busy in his new role as international diplomat. The Prime Minister once said:
There is a new era, a new millennium approaching, and it requires a new Europe.
Last week, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
everyone was with us until we got to those Euro ministers.
The Prime Minister said that we have established "strong, positive relations" with our European partners. The Deputy Prime Minister said:
She got cold feet and she couldn't explain it. She was exhausted and couldn't understand the detail.
The Prime Minister said that we
engage constructively with Europe to get a better deal for Britain.--[Official Report, 29 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 733.]
The Deputy Prime Minister said:
I had not been home for three weekends, so I admit . . . wanting to go home that night.--[Official Report, 27 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 638.]
Why are the Government bothering to recruit the star of "One Foot in the Grave" when they already have the star of one foot in the mouth? After that performance, the Deputy Prime Minister must be concerned that, in a lengthy interview that has just appeared in the magazine Local Government First
, a long-standing, deep interest in local government and the environment is claimed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). Well, the Deputy Prime Minister has at least been allowed a housing Bill. However, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool could do quite well with a housing Bill. At least, he would certainly much rather introduce a housing Bill than pay a housing bill.
Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley):
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his promise yesterday to cut £200 million from housing programmes?