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Mr. Clapham: In the Barnsley constituencies, 42,000 pensioners will benefit from that £200. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the Conservatives came to power they should stop the payment of that allowance?
Mr. Robathan: I am sure that the 42,000 pensioners in Barnsley would prefer an increased, steady income. We all like getting £200 in our hands, but I suspect that pensioners would like to receive larger payments throughout the year so that they could adjust their spending according to their means. I am saying that the
The provisions in the Queen's Speech--and the forthcoming Budget--are designed to garner votes. The March Budget will be unashamedly populist--it will be buying votes. Many of the measures in the Queen's Speech will not reach the statute book. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley referred to legislation on hunting with dogs. It is almost certain that that Bill will not reach the statute book in this Parliament. The Government know that--indeed, they have so designed it for their electoral purposes.
I shall examine a few of the measures in greater detail. The first is the ban on tobacco advertising, which was the subject of a private Member's Bill in 1993, although I cannot remember the name of the Member who introduced it. I thought the measure sensible. I am passionately anti-cigarette smoking. The day before the Bill was introduced, I was telephoned by people from the tobacco industry--I had been entertained to dinner or lunch by them not long before--who asked me what I felt about the measure. I said, "You don't seriously expect me to alter my view because you gave me lunch." I did not alter my view and voted against tobacco advertising. However, my view has changed--but not because I have had another lunch or two. I do not believe that the Government should determine what everyone does with his or her time. I think that one or two of the hon. Members who are in the Chamber like to smoke, but perhaps not. If they want to smoke themselves to death, they are adults and they are allowed to do so.
Mr. Purchase: Will the hon. Gentleman pursue the logic of that view? If he accepts that smoking is exceedingly harmful to those who smoke and to those who have the misfortune to inhale secondary smoke, as I am sure he does, but says that people should be free to smoke themselves to death, would he legalise other substances--cannabis among them--on the basis that people have the right to kill themselves with hard or soft drugs?
Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman has a good point, he will be surprised to learn. There is a logic that says that one should be free to do everything. I do not subscribe to that view. If some latter-day Raleigh were to bring back nicotine or addictive tobacco from Mars, I am sure that we would prefer it not to be released on the open market to ensure that people did not get addicted to it. I have two children and I desperately hope that they will not take up cigarette smoking. Occasionally, I smoke a cigar. I do not want smoking to flourish. My logic is that if adults want to smoke, it is up to them, and the nanny state should not rule on the case.
Furthermore, we have been here before. We were going to ban tobacco advertising in sport. Will formula one definitely not be allowed to advertise tobacco? There was an interesting sideshow in 1997 and 1998, when formula one, which had subscribed a great deal of money-- £1 million--to the Labour party, was allowed to keep its exemption. Will the Minister clarify that matter? Apparently not. My mother has smoked for 60 years. It is up to her if she wishes to continue to smoke. I have always criticised her for it, but she should be allowed to do so if she wishes.
The second point that I wish to touch on briefly is the housing Bill--more particularly, the buying and selling Bill. I am not entirely clear from the Queen's Speech how that legislation will be drafted, but we have heard a lot about the compulsory seller's pack. Estate agents and a surveyor have told me that such matters are not as easy as they seem. Most hon. Members have probably endured the hassle of buying and/or selling properties, which can be extremely frustrating. However, before we introduce further legislation and greater regulation, we should consider whether it will be effective. It is highly unlikely that any hon. Member would rely on a surveyor's report from the seller of a property. I would want to see my own surveyor's report, because the seller's surveyor will inevitably produce a report that is more attractive; otherwise he or she will not get much business in future.
I am not sure whether the provision to charge council tax on second homes will be included in that Bill, but as someone who pays one and a half council taxes-- I suspect that many hon. Members do--it seems that the purpose of a local tax is to pay for locally delivered services. That is what we are told when we receive the sheets from the district or, in my case, county council; they tell us how the money has been spent. There was something about no taxation without representation in the American revolution, but the point is that people cannot fully use the services provided in both places. For example, children can go to school in one place only. It is profoundly wrong in principle to tax people twice when they can use only one load of services. They can use half the services, but it is not right in principle to tax people twice.
Mr. Purchase: The hon. Gentleman attempts to enunciate an important principle. However, the point is not that children are educated in one place, but that there is a range of local government services--not least the fire brigade, which most people would expect to come out whether they were at the premises at the time, or whether they lived there permanently or half-time. The council tax is perfectly reasonable and fair. Where two sets of services are available, they have to be paid for. A further point is that in local government elections--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. I am aware that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) will seek to catch my eye later. If he has that opportunity, he may make his points then.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East makes an important point. I am astonished that there is any common ground today. My point is that it is fair to pay half the council tax in a particular place if people live there for only a small part of the time. For example, if people use a cottage at weekends, they will create only a certain amount of rubbish, which is taken away by the council refuse collection, paid for by the council tax. That applies to a raft of issues.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) said, this is not just about fat cats. I fear that some Labour Members think that we are talking about rich people who have two houses. Soldiers
On criminal justice, there was a lot of talk earlier this year about drunk teenagers being marched off to cash machines, and curfews will now be extended to teenagers, but no curfews for under-10s have as yet been put in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) mentioned the important issue of police time. The people who should be responsible for curfews on 16-year-olds are not the police or the courts, but the parents. The Government should support parents and the family, rather than putting people on curfews if they misbehave.
We would not have had such a discussion 50 years ago because families were much more likely to stay together. All children knew who their parents were and lived with their father as well. Sadly, too many children, and too many children in trouble with the police, do not know where their fathers are, or are the product of broken homes. Anyone who visits the magistrates courts will know that that is the case. Unfortunately, the Government would prefer social workers or the police to interfere, but most people believe that it would be better if families were more stable, and we should use public policy to achieve that. The talk of curfews will be vacuous and headline catching, but there will be little useful substance to the proposal.
The hon. Member for Heeley looked forward--not that avidly--to the proposals on long-term care. We should consider the facts about long-term care homes. I have been contacted by many of the owners of such homes in my constituency. Of course, they have a particular position on that matter. However, I understand that 15,000 care beds have been lost in the past year or 18 months--a staggering number. The people who would have been in those care homes have gone elsewhere. Many of them have gone into hospital.
Care homes are closing because of discriminatory legislation and too much bureaucracy. Regulation might be well intentioned, but it might state that bedrooms, especially those in listed buildings, are not big enough. People might like those bedrooms, but they are not allowed to use them. Many small, independent care homes find that they are being discriminated against, which is why they are closing.
I am delighted that the Government have come round to the view that they wish to get rid of a great deal of regulation, but most Conservative Members will believe it when we see it. I shall mention two cases. A brewer in my constituency told me that there had to be a basin behind a bar in one of his tied houses. The inspector who came round told the landlord, "You have got to have a basin in here to wash things." The landlord said, "There isn't room." He was told that the basin could go anywhere, so he stuck one on the ceiling. Apparently, that satisfied the regulations and the inspector, even though glasses could not be washed up in it.
One or two of my hon. Friends disagree with me about hunting. I know that the hon. Member for Heeley disagrees with me because he said so. I do not hunt; I can hardly ride, but I have attended meets. I have never hunted on a horse, although I have been beagling once or twice. For those hon. Members who do not know, beagling involves running or walking. Hunting does not occupy the minds of the great majority of British people. Those involved in hunting care passionately about it because it is their sport. Those--a smaller number, I suspect--who are anti-hunting, are saboteurs, or who join the League Against Cruel Sports also care passionately about it.
The vast majority of people in this country do not especially care. The proposal will not catch a lot of votes. If one asks the public, one will probably find that they have a general antipathy towards hunting, as they visualise a poor little furry creature being chased around the countryside. However, their votes will not depend on the issue. I fear that the Labour party is deluding itself if it believes that the issue will be a vote catcher.
I go to schools in my constituency and talk about hunting. Although the area is relatively rural, most of the young people are ill-disposed towards hunting. If one asks them whether they like watching football, many answer yes--although, incidentally, most of them do not. However, they would agree that it would be pretty stupid to wander around the streets of Leicester with a football shirt pulled over a pot belly, waving a scarf. I would not want to do that, but I see no reason why somebody should be banned from such activities if they do not impinge on anybody else's liberty.
Similarly, if people want to spend their Saturday afternoons cavorting around the countryside on a horse and breaking their necks, that must be up to them. It cannot be up to us to decide. Unless something is so awful or cruel--the Burns inquiry did not find that fox hunting was especially cruel--it is not for us to use our privileged position adversely to impinge on other people's rights.