Mr. Chris Mullin ( Sunderland, South) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Kenneth Clarke) entertained the House with a characteristically fluent and amusing speech and made some very cogent points as well. I must disagree with his suggestion that the Government wasted their first term of office-or did he say their first two terms? I can only tell him that most of my constituents-I suspect that this may also be true of many of his constituents-are considerably better off now than they have been within recent living memory. I shall not follow him down the many paths that he wanted to lead us.
As hon. Members can see, I am back again in my natural habitat, having made two visits to government. The first was not a wholly happy experience, but the second was: I greatly enjoyed the two years that I spent at the Foreign Office as Africa Minister. It was a great pleasure to work with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and the Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), who are two of the most effective and competent members of the Government. During my time there, I felt that we were achieving something: Africa is a continent about which we can hold our heads high these days, given what we are doing there and the role that we play in the world in relation to it. Not that there are no problems-there are, and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) mentioned Darfur, which I will touch briefly on in a moment.
As hon. Members know, we count the votes very fast in Sunderland, and there has come a moment on each of the past four election nights when, for 40 or 50 minutes, I am the only Member of Parliament in the country. It is very tempting to form one's own Government during that time. On all those occasions, I have resisted that temptation, but in the light of what happened to me a few days after this election, I rather wish that I had not.
I cannot disguise my disappointment at leaving a job that I loved in a Department where I greatly enjoyed working, but that is all that I wish to say about my personal position, although there is a general point: I was the fifth Africa Minister in eight years and my noble Friend Lord Triesman will be the sixth. I wish him well, but I wonder, if we take Africa as seriously as we say we do, whether we could not just leave a Minister in place for long enough to establish the personal relations-indeed, I did establish them, as did some of my predecessors-and maintain them with the African leaders with whom we have dealings. A distinguished African who passed through my office told me that he had never met the same Minister twice. That is a rather unsatisfactory situation.
There is a wider point, too. We have had six Asylum and Immigration Ministers so far, seven Europe Ministers, nine Ministers with responsibility for entry clearance, of whom I was also one, and the Department of Health has been more or less cleaned out twice in the past 18 months or so. I know that decisions on such matters are for people far above my pay grade, but I gently wonder whether that is the most efficient use of resources and officials' time and whether we get the best out of people by reshuffling the pack with such terrifying rapidity.
I was glad to see in the Gracious Speech the references to the forthcoming G8 summit over which we will preside and where I expect us to play an important part. I am glad that the Prime Minister has decided that Africa and global climate change are the two main issues that we shall seek to push up the agenda. Getting Africa into the councils of the G8 and, indeed, those of the European Union has been significantly helped by our Commission for Africa report. Although I was sceptical about that report at first, it has been rather a success and, unusually for documents of that kind, it is fluent, easy to read and the arguments are set out with beautiful clarity.
There is a reference, too, in the Gracious Speech to Darfur, and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife was right to draw our attention to that. The problems there have not gone away; there are no easy solutions. I am not convinced that the one that he suggested would necessarily work. The path down which we have gone is to give support to the African Union force, which we hope will increase to 7,000 or 8,000 troops, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said. We have played a leading part in providing support to the African Union. Sooner or later, there must come a point where we invest in African solutions to African problems, and this is one of the first big tests. Given Darfur's geographic isolation and the horrendously complicated politics, tribalism and factionalism that exist there, it will be a very difficult task for any outside force, under whatever banner it travels, but we must not take our eye off the ball, because there has been a huge humanitarian catastrophe and there is the potential for a far greater one.
I shall turn briefly to the number of Bills. Many Bills in the Queen's Speech will be welcomed by my constituents, especially those that address aspects of the yob culture that blights the lives of so many of them. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe made the point, first, that there are rather a lot of Bills and, secondly, that we have had a tendency to rush them through and that they sometimes come here ill-drafted. That has been the case for a long time. It happened under his Government as much as under ours. [Hon. Members: "No."] Oh yes it did. Oh Lord it did.
Under the previous Government, I served on Standing Committees where Bills were rewritten from end to end and then went to the Lords where they were completely rewritten again, so let us not pretend that that phenomenon began after 1997. The big step forward in the last Parliament was that we were beginning to take a systematic approach to pre-legislative scrutiny and, to some extent, were using Select Committees for that purpose, too. That is what must happen. That is the future if we are to start to produce more satisfactory legislation, and I hope that the Government will make a big effort to draft as many Bills as possible sufficiently in advance so that pre-legislative scrutiny can be undertaken. It is in the interests of the Government, Parliament and everyone to get those things right.
I wish to address a couple of issues that were omitted from the Gracious Speech. First, I saw no reference to our commitment to sign the United Nations convention on corruption. I know that some legislative changes are required before we can do that, but I should like the Minister to say when he replies what plans we have to get on with that. It is becoming a bit of an embarrassment, and one increasingly hears distinguished foreigners asking why the UK has not signed the convention. Indeed, I was asked that very question last night at a conference at Wilton Park.
I also wish to raise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), the question of the next generation of nuclear weapons, because a decision on that issue falls due during this Parliament. Indeed, I am aware that some sort of preliminary decision was taken in January 2004. Those of us who have been around for a while recall what happened under the Callaghan Government with Chevaline, when a decision was taken to go ahead with the new generation of nuclear weapons without reference to the whole Cabinet, let alone to Parliament. Most members of the Cabinet and Members of Parliament found out about the decision only when a Tory Government Front-Bench spokesman revealed it some years later. I hope that we will not go down that road again. It is a very serious decision and I hope that it will be brought to Parliament for discussion before any irrevocable decisions are taken.
The world has changed a great deal since 1977, and we should perhaps ask ourselves-people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North have been asking this question for many years, but it is even more relevant now-whether we need a new generation of nuclear weapons, whether the large sums that we might invest in them could not be better spent in another way and whether we would not gain ourselves some credit in the international community by voluntarily giving up what, frankly, is not a lot of use to us anyway.
Kenneth Clarke: The hon. Gentleman made an intriguing reference to a preliminary decision having already been taken in 2004. I do not follow defence matters as closely as many Members, but could he remind me what preliminary decision has been taken? Has any decision been taken other than to carry out a study of the implications and problems involved in renewing our capability?
Mr. Mullin: I think that the Government's position is that all options are still open, but there was some discussion at a high level 18 months ago. I do not think that any firm decision has been taken and my point to the House-I repeat it now-is that I hope that the issue will come before Parliament while there is time to influence it in one way or another.