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All of us who come to this House have different backgrounds and--with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I should like to say a little about mine and about why I wanted to enter public life. My mother was born in the early months of the last world war in 1939 in a little village outside a large town called Breslau--now called Wroclaw--which subsequently became part of Poland. My grandfather, whom I barely knew--I was about three when he passed away--was born exactly 100 years ago. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, at a time when politics was very much looked down upon by the ruling class. He was from a well-to-do Silesian family and became a doctor.
My grandfather regretted to his dying day that he had rather looked down on politics, as had many others of his generation, as that was the vacuum that, along with the discredited Weimar republic and the great economic crisis in Germany in the 1920s, let in, to a large extent, national socialism. People say to me that politics does not matter very much, but, like many here, I am concerned that there is a sense of apathy. Many hon. Members would confirm from their experience of recent weeks and months that there is antipathy from many members of the electorate. We must do our best to re-engage them.
My mother was twice a refugee by the age of 15, fleeing first from Breslau to Leipzig and then, finally, from east to west Berlin before the days of the Berlin wall. It was instilled in me from a young age that politics is far too important to be left to someone else. I am a great believer in the words of Edmund Burke, a great Tory philosopher, who said that for evil to prevail requires no more than for good men to do nothing.
I wish to refer to the constitutional reforms of recent years. I believe that my party was too timid in the post-1997 era, particularly in relation to what was going on at the other place. The House of Lords reforms were botched and partisan, and we shall see what is to come in the second stage of those reforms. However, my belief is that we have little choice and we cannot turn the clock back. We should perhaps have defended the status quo more robustly than we did. However, and this will be a rare use of these words, I now agree with the Liberal Democrat policy: that we need to move to a fully elected second senate. As will be pointed out, there will be concerns as to how a fully elected House of Lords will intermesh with an elected House of Commons, and we shall have to face those concerns because of the ill-thought-out constitutional reforms.
My great political hero is Andrew Bonar Law, who entered this place at the first general election of the last century. It is a salutary lesson that he entered this House with two things in mind: one was the preservation of the empire--he was Canadian; and the other was that Ireland should remain united. By the time he became Prime Minister in 1922, the pass had been lost on both of those main issues, in a sense. That may be a salutary lesson for many Conservative Members who have entered the House as Eurosceptics with strong feelings about the importance of our nation. I am concerned that, in the years ahead, events may move in a direction that we do not, at least at this juncture, consider favourable.
I also wish to look at, dare I say it, Scottish devolution. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is not here because I suspect that what I am about to say will warm the cockles of his heart. Conservative Members have perhaps made too much of the idea of English votes for English laws, when the issue should be about Scottish taxes for Scottish expenditure. By dint of a mere 74-vote majority, my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) is the Conservatives' sole Scottish Member of Parliament. We must face facts: at each of the last two general elections, barely one in six Scottish electors have voted for unionist parties, so we are being taken down the path chosen by the Government.
I am very worried because the Government have upset the equilibrium of the United Kingdom, and it will be difficult to restore. I have a prediction to make, and I hope that I shall be proved wrong. The House must bear it in mind that I am not necessarily the best of forecasters. At the weekend, I told most of my constituency association, or those who wanted to hear, that I did not think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) would enter the fray for the Tory leadership.
I predict that there will be two distinct power blocs in the Scottish Parliament: on the one hand, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party; and on the other, the Scottish National party, possibly in bed with the Conservatives, who will no longer be a unionist party in Scotland. That will present a great challenge in the years
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): It is normal to extend the ritual courtesies to someone who has just made his first speech, and to say that it was thoughtful and a good contribution. In the case of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), I can say that without any exaggeration. He made an awesome speech, and did so as a new Member with far more assurance than I can manage after 18 years in this place. I noticed his lack of notes and his eloquence on the matters that he wanted to address.
The hon. Gentleman comes from a fascinating background, and I look forward to more contributions from him. He told us that his family came from Germany; indeed, so did our royal family. He also talked about Bonar Law--a strange hero, if I may say so--who was Canadian. We might consider that when we talk about immigration. Probably all of us have predecessors who came here from elsewhere. We should bear in mind the contribution that many eminent people have made to this country over the years. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. He replaces a very erudite, civilised and cultured Member of Parliament in the right hon. Peter Brooke, and I am sure that he has nothing to fear about his ability to stand comparison with Sir Peter, who was much admired by everyone in the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris), who unfortunately is not here, on his speech. He, too, follows in the footsteps of an assiduous, popular Member of Parliament, John Maxton. Speaking as chairman of the advisory committee on works of art, I can tell the House that John played an eminent part in our deliberations, and we will miss his contribution. I noticed that my hon. Friend bears a remarkable physical resemblance to John, and I remind him that John was a fairly regular runner in the London marathon, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to follow in those sweaty footsteps.
Although he is not here, I must mention the speech of a retread, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). When he talks about law and order, I am always fascinated. I have to remind myself, and the House, that one of his ancestors assassinated that very good man and Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, so given the hon. Gentleman's antecedence, I always listen carefully to what he says about law and order.
There is a good lesson tucked away here. Spencer Perceval was doubly unfortunate: he was shot by a constituent who was complaining about the tardy response to a letter. That was bad enough, but the assassin got the wrong Minister. Let that be an object lesson to all new Members: they must be quick in replying to their constituency correspondence and try to avoid at all costs looking like a Minister in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his new post. I knew him when he was a local councillor in Sheffield. We worked together in local government, and he has done rather better than me, of course, but he has also done well for the east end in his capacity as Secretary of State for Education and Employment. I look forward to similar treatment from him for the east end in his new capacity. Having thanked and congratulated everyone, I am running out of time to make my own contribution, but I will, I hope, have opportunities to speak in future.
I was disappointed with the turnout in West Ham--it was below 50 per cent. I might add that Labour still won handsomely, with 70 per cent. of the vote, so we were not too worried about our majority. What worried me was that 17 per cent. of the households in my constituency had not a single registered voter, which either says something about the collection of details by the local authority and the returning officer or it means that an awful number of people in my constituency are not entitled to vote, although many of them manage to make their way to my advice surgery. [Laughter.] Well, it is a serious point.
We check to find out which people are registered, and I spend most of my time dealing with those who are not registered. They might have a good reason for that, but what is the relationship of a Member of Parliament to those people? They cannot even say that I am their MP if they did not vote for me. I was toying for a moment with the idea of seeing only those who are on the electoral register, however they voted, but I felt that it would probably be unfair because many of them are asylum seekers and people who want to settle in this country. In view of what I said earlier, most of them are very welcome; indeed, I hope that they will make a contribution.
One reason for the low turnout is the fact that people are galvanised in an election when they want to vote against something. One rarely runs into demonstrations of people who are, by and large, satisfied with events. I am not being complacent, but I believe that the electorate were prepared to give us, as a party in government, the benefit of the doubt. They saw that we came to power after 18 years of Conservative government, so we have not had enough time to slow the ship down, never mind turn it around. We have these four years to make genuine progress. When the next election comes round, we shall have to demonstrate significant progress and success in the areas where people feel that it is most necessary. If we do that, the new leader of the Conservative party will grow old in opposition, because a Labour Government
We will be asked about delivery of services such as health, education, law and order, transport, and we cannot be prescriptive about how we will deliver them. We will be judged by results, not by the purity of our approach.
I look forward to the conversion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) to the cause of decriminalisation of drugs, which I have advocated in this House for many years. We are not winning the war against drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who is sitting on the Bench in front of me, used to be a Home Office Minister. He used to give what amounted to Government health warnings by saying that decriminalisation was not Government policy, but today I shall do it for him: the decriminalisation of drugs is not Government policy. However, I believe that we must be bold and radical when we consider the matter, and look at the whole range of issues involved.
We are not winning the war against drugs. If it is true that 70 per cent. of all crime is associated with the supply and use of drugs, we ought to be deciding whether criminalisation is appropriate. I believe that it is not.
Reference has been made to the yob culture. I shall not try to pinpoint the blame for its rise over recent years, but it represents a general breakdown in our society. I believe that we should consider a national community service scheme, and I hope to be able to advance that cause by means of a Bill later in this Parliament, so that I can explain more of my thinking on the matter.
The Gracious Speech makes it clear that there will be another free vote on hunting. I hope that this time there will be no attempt to kick a Bill on the subject into the long grass. One cause of the low voter turnout at the election was cynicism. If we promise to do something and then do not do it, it will not be surprising if people become cynical and do not support us. I hope that we shall do what the House has said that it will do many times in the past--institute a ban on hunting. It is time for the Government to act and give hon. Members a chance to introduce such a ban.