§ [FIRST DAY]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call those hon. Members who are to propose and second the motion on the Loyal Address, it may be for the convenience of the House if I announce the subjects which I understand are suggested for the various debates : Friday 26 June, foreign affairs; Monday 29 June, social and economic divisions of the nations and regions of Britain; Tuesday 30 June, deprivation and inequality of opportunity; Wednesday 1 July, Britain's cities, local services and education; Thursday 2 July, the use of national resources.
§ Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)
I beg to move,That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.The Gracious Speech refers to Her Majesty's proposed visits to Canada and Australia in the coming Session, and I know that it would be the wish of the whole House that I place on record our appreciation of Her Majesty's tireless devotion to the interests of her subjects in this country and throughout the Commonwealth. We wish Her Majesty God speed on her journeys and a safe return.
In moving this Loyal Address, may I be the first in this Parliament to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her achievement in securing a third consecutive term of office, a feat unequalled since the days of Lord Liverpool in 1820. On that occasion, moving the Loyal Address, Sir Edward Knatchbull spoke of the "respect and confidence" in which our nation was held by foreign nations. It gave him great satisfaction that the estimates for the public service had been formed on the "strictest principles of economy" and that, in regard to defence, "whatever opinions might be entertained on this subject, he was sure that the House would agree to give the support to Government which the safety of the country required". I know that those are sentiments dear to my right hon. Friend's heart and to that of the House as a whole.
I draw the attention of those self-important television pundits who have recently been pontificating and who have suggested that my right hon. Friend might lay down her burden during this Parliament to the fact that, at the time of the next election, in about 1991, my right hon. Friend will be the same age as Mr. Churchill was when he formed his first Administration. While not wishing to depress the Leader of the Opposition, I am sure that he will be aware that even as we enter the next millenium, my right hon. Friend will still be two years younger than Mr. Churchill when he formed his second Administration.
I am deeply conscious of the honour conferred upon my constituents and upon me in being asked to propose this Loyal Address. I must confess so some amazement that this distinction should fall on me. In casting back through the speeches of those who passed this way before me, a clear pattern emerges — at least in the case of the seconders of the motion. There is little doubt that they, like 42 my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), were young men of promise who were destined for high office. Unfortunately, the future of those who had the honour to move the motion seems to have been somewhat less assured.
I am the third generation of my family to have the good fortune to represent an industrial Lancashire seat, and I am proud to wear today the red rose of Lancashire, which precedes by several centuries its more recent usurpation for political purposes. I am privileged to have had the opportunity of representing my Greater Manchester constituency in this House for the past 17 years.
My constituency is an industrial and residential area on the west side of Manchester straddling the river Mersey and bounded on its north side by the Manchester ship canal. The present-day prosperity of my constituency and of the city of Manchester is based to a large degree on the vision of one man — Marshall Stevens who, 100 years ago this year, embarked on the incredibile enterprise of linking Manchester, which is 35 miles inland, with the oceans of the world. It is an awesome sight to see 15,000-tonne ocean-going vessels gliding along the ship canal amid fields of cabbages.
The foundation of Trafford Park — the first and greatest purpose-built industrial estate in the world — was a direct consequence of that vision. The only project that can be compared with it in modern times is the building of the Channel tunnel. Although it was my wife's great-grandfather, Emile d'Erlanger, who founded the original Channel Tunnel Company in 1886, I regret to say that it was my great-grandfather, Lord Randolph Churchill, who two years later was instrumental in defeating the Channel Tunnel Bill. Although the Bill was supported by Mr. Gladstone and by many prominent members of the Liberal and Conservative parties, he managed to kill that Bill with ridicule, pouring scorn upon the provision to install in a Minister's office a button connected to demolition charges at the entrance to the tunnel which could blow it up in an emergency. He questioned who would have the right to push the button, and suggested, mischievously, that the then Member for the City of Westminster, Mr. W. H. Smith, would no doubt be proposing the motion,That the button he now pushed.By such stratagems, the tunnel was delayed for 100 years, but I am delighted to see that it is well under way today.
Trafford Park became the gateway to Europe for many American firms, and in 1911 it was selected by Henry Ford as the site for his first manufacturing plant outside the United States. During the second world war, no fewer than 80,000 people worked in Trafford Park, which became famous for the production of the Lancaster bomber. Since those stern but glorious days, the decline in employment in Trafford Park under successive Governments has been relentless — above all, in consequence of changing technologies.
Today, Britain is experiencing a painful change brought about by what I would call the third industrial revolution in which the production worker is displaced by robots and computers. It is no accident that Scotland, Wales and the north of England — Britain's industrial heartland — have suffered disproportionately in job losses.
No amount of wishful thinking could bring back those labour-intensive production processes. The only answer is to embrace the new technologies, with the aim of becoming world beaters in that area, as we were in the past. Many 43 of our industries are as modern as any in the world. The northern edition of the Daily Telegraph, which used to be printed in the centre of Manchester with a work force of 2,500 using old technology, is now printed in my constituency with a work force of only 425. The House will wish to know that, during a recent visit, I was advised that none of the 425 employees deigns to take a salary as modest as that of a Member of this House.
The key ingredient in the prosperity of Trafford Park, which still employ 25,000 people, is the skill, ingenuity and reliability of the work force. The same holds true for Manchester as a whole, which, excepting only our capital city, stands second to none in the United Kingdom and is today on the up and up. Two years ago, the Government removed many of the artificial restraints on the natural expansion of Manchester airport. As a result, my constituents can fly to twice as many destinations, and we have direct links across the Atlantic as well as to the middle and far east. Manchester has the fastest-growing airport in Europe, with traffic increasing at 16 per cent. a year. That is leading to a resurgence in economic confidence, which is beginning to spread to other parts of the north west. The trend in unemployment is firmly downward, with 35,000 more people in work than a year ago.
As the representative of an urban and industrial constituency, I welcome the Government's wide-ranging plans, contained in the Gracious Speech and covering housing, education and employment, for regenerating the inner cities. My constituents will be delighted at the assurances contained in the Gracious Speech that, in all these policies, theGovernment will have special regard to the needs of inner citiesand thatAction will be taken to encourage investment and to increase enterprise and employment in those areas.The problems of industrial decline and urban decay cannot be solved by throwing money about mindlessly. Enough of that is already happening up and down the country, with spendthrift local councils squandering millions of pounds of ratepayers' money at the expense of the jobs that are provided by firms in the inner-city areas, which are driven out of business. A new partnership is needed between central and local government on the one hand, and private enterprise on the other to regenerate the inner cities and provide industry and commerce with new life-blood.
The newly-established Trafford Park Urban Development Corporation is the vanguard of that new partnership. There, the commitment of £160 million — [Interruption]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I hope that in this Parliament we shall give Members a fair hearing. The hon. Gentleman should be heard in silence.
§ Mr. Churchill
The commitment of £160 million of taxpayers' money is expected to generate 10 times that amount from private enterprise and lead to the creation of some 16,000 new jobs in Trafford Park in the years ahead.
Any policy for bringing prosperity and hope back to the inner cities must include measures to protect our people in the inner cities from the violence that strikes fear into their hearts, especially of those who are frail and elderly. It is essential that they should be enabled to go about their 44 lawful occasions in safety and feel secure in their homes. My constituents will wholeheartedly endorse the Government's determination to increase the resources that are available to the police and to establish a national organisation to promote crime prevention. The police are doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances and are entitled to the gratitude of us all, especially those of us in this House.
Whichever constituency we have the honour to represent, I venture to suggest that there is nothing that takes higher priority in the eyes of those whom we represent than the defence of the realm. Without peace and freedom everything else, over which we meet together in the House to deliberate, becomes irrelevant. The nation as a whole attaches the greatest importance to the assurance that has frst place in the Gracious Speech, namely, that the Government:will stand fully by their obligations to the NATO Alliance. They will sustain Britain's contribution to Western defence by modernising the independent nuclear deterrent through the introduction of the Trident submarine programme and by increasing the effectiveness of the nation's conventional forces.In the nuclear age, those countries that do not possess nuclear weapons or do not have the privilege of belonging to a large and poerful nuclear-backed Alliance, as we do in NATO, are pygmies in defence terms, and are powerless to protect their civilian population from the threat of nuclear attack or blackmail. Even as we move forward in the negotiations between East and West for the reduction of nuclear weapons at intermediate and strategic levels, it is essential to our national security that the United Kingdom maintains the effectiveness of its own systems.
The British people are finding a new self-confidence and Britain is acquiring a new respect in the world. The programme set out in the Gracious Speech underlines the Government's determination to roll forward the frontiers of prosperity to all quarters of our country so that we can truly build one nation.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
I beg to second the motion.
I am greatly honoured to be chosen to second the moton. However, the real honour is to the historic name of Sherwood and my constituency, which I am proud to represent for a second term.
When I was asked to speak this afternoon, I wondered why I had been chosen. On researching my personal profile, I found that the answer was not there. I was described by some as tall, slim and handsome—sorry, I tell a lie: tall, slim and slightly bald on top-interested in sports, having Victorian values and being a parliamentary orator with the charm and grace of a pneumatic drill. On this important occasion I have left my drill at home.
I have a second reason for pride—I have had the best of both worlds. I was born a Scot and then had the good fortune to live in Nottinghamshire for 26 years. I can recall just a few short years ago when I first entered the House and found my way to the Strangers Bar. [Laughter.] I came into contact with a person who may be known to some right hon. and hon. Members as Mr. Mick McGahey. "Hello Mick," I said, as I would address any fellow Scot, "I'm Andy Stewart and I represent the largest mining constituency in Britain." Mick shook my 45 hand with comradely fervour. "Aye, it's guid tae ken ye, Andy," said he. "Now the bad news, Mick," I said. "I am a Tory." I leave the rest to the imagination of the House.
It is my privilege to follow my eloquent hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and I congratulate him on his speech. His grandfather was the inspiration and leader of this country's fight to preserve democracy and freedom. Recent events in my constituency prove that the will to fight to preserve a system of democracy through the ballot box still burns in Nottinghamshire. Indeed, the courage and determination of the Nottinghamshire coalfield communities will go down in history. But Sherwood has always had strong historical roots, like its major oak in the heart of Sherwood forest which in turn mirrors the stout heart of England.
The Sherwood constituency, unlike its old name, has existed only since 1983 and is made up of one large town, Hucknall, and a series of tightly knit villages, all individual, but linked by one important thread. They are committed, caring communities. Sherwood's collieries are world famous, and Thoresby colliery is our black diamond. Last year Nottinghamshire produced 18.5 million tonnes of coal, and sales injected £750 million into the national and local economy. The pace-setting Nottinghamshire miners' productivity record is now almost equalled by the other coalfields. This remarkable achievement has stabilised energy costs and plays a vital role in the country's fight to kill the evils of inflation—a fight which I am pleased to see will not diminish.
That other great supplier of energy, British Petroleum has its land-based production and exploration headquarters at Eakring. It is where the familiar nodding donkeys were first installed. If it had been necessary, our Eakring oil would have been sufficient to fuel our fighter aircraft for my hon. Friend's grandfather during the Battle of Britain. The House may also be glad to know that the expression "nodding donkeys" did not originate in this Chamber.
But Sherwood does not merely mean coal and oil. Our agriculture provides food. Without Sherwood there would be no Walker's crisps. Our textiles provide clothes. Jaeger exports as far as Japan. Our industries provide transport. Rolls-Royce powers aircraft all over the world. Our tourist industry provides entertainment. The unique £32 million Centre Pares holiday village will open on Saturday, and 400 permanent jobs have been created, not counting the spin-offs for the community. Tourism is the largest potential job creator in this country and the Government's initiatives are widely welcomed.
Robin Hood is not, however, the only famous son of Sherwood. Lord Byron's ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, lies in the constituency. In 1812, after Lord Byron's maiden speech in the other place, Sir Francis Burdett said:It is the best speech by a Lord since Lord knows when.Education is rightly an important feature of the Gracious Speech. The Government intend to give parents the right to make sure that opportunities are available for their children. It is impossible to take advantage of the opportunities offered if children have not received the basic skills to enable them to do so. The Bill will give our children those skills. It is not a privilege that we offer; it is their right. The Conservative Government intend to ensure that right.
46 Robin Hood would have been merry indeed to hear the tax proposals in the Gracious Speech. He was the original Conservative who devised the system of giving money back to the people. Our methods are slightly different, but the result is the same.
Need I say that I welcome the Government's commitment to support agriculture to enable farmers to diversify. Some of us have already diversified. The constituency has 6,500 hectares of conifers, and I applaud the initiative on deciduous trees set out in the Gracious Speech.
I was also delighted to hear of the proposals for step-by-step progress towards further trade union reforms. The plans to give the union member freedom of choice against the closed shop will go some way towards redressing the balance of power and influence from union bosses to individuals. That power will be given to householders and parents — power to the people — and that is where it belongs.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and to her Cabinet and ministerial colleagues for the remarkable transformation that has taken place in this country's economic fortunes and international standing since 1979. Because of this strength of leadership, I am confident about the plans that the Government will follow in the next Parliament, as outlined in the Gracious Speech.
Nationally, the country recorded the largest number of votes for the Conservative party since the war, and I know that the country has put its trust in us. With the country's permission, we shall provide a thrust forward for the British people in the exciting technological world of today and tomorrow.
§ 3.3 pm
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on his speech, when he moved the motion on the Loyal Address in characteristically sparkling style. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) on the way in which he performed the difficult task of seconding that motion.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme has had a chequered parliamentary career, on and off the Front Bench and in and out of the executive committee of the 1922 Committee. He is a man of many dare-devil deeds, not the least of which was to be caught speeding at Talybont, Ceredigion, by probably the only policeman on the mid-Wales roads that day—and he was probably on a push bike.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's greatest disappointment during all the time since he came to the House on the same day as me back in 1970 was the failure to his Obscene Publications (Protection of Children, etc.) (Amendment) Bill in April last year. All that bloodiness and sweatiness, and it ended in tears after great striving by the hon. Gentleman. Then, after all that, the hon. Gentleman had the galling experience of coming sixth again in last November's ballot for private Members' Bills. Not that the hon. Gentleman knew about it. I read that he had not even put his name into the ballot. Some impish spirit, some parliamentary Puck, had been and gone and done it for him without telling him. I do not know what the Orders are on that or who could get up to such mischief, but all I can say is, "It was not I."
However, I have had other encounters with the hon. Gentleman. One that I recall most clearly was at the Oxford Union about 15 years ago when we debated 47 against each other on industrial relations. A speaker from the floor made the allegation that the hon. Gentleman's grandfather, when Home Secretary, had sent the troops against the striking miners of Tonypandy in 1910. I do not exaggerate when I say that the hon. Member for Davyhulme was incandescent. He was outraged. He leapt to his feet in great heat, and with clarion words stilled the whose house. "That is a lie," said he, and complete silence fell upon the Oxford Union. Clearly, we were witnessing history being made. The hon. Gentleman announced to the hushed house, "My grandfather did not send the troops to Tonypandy. Under his orders, they detrained" — I remember the words well "at Swindon." There was a gasp of awe around the chamber of the Oxford Union. The hon. Gentleman followed that with the unforgettable words, "My grandfather did not send troops. He sent only 100 mounted police and 200 unmounted police." [Laughter.] There was a similar reaction in the Oxford Union. The rest of the story was somewhat lost.
The War Office and the Home Office minutes of the time record that Mr. Churchill and Secretary of State for War Haldane both stopped the troops, and then a few days later Mr. Churchill, as Home Secretay, did send them in — the 18th Hussars. They played football against the strikers. As a matter of interest, the score was 2–1 to the troops. But that is all history. As everyone is probably happier with his own version, it probably means that matters are best left at that. The hon. Member for Davyhulme may recall his grandfather's version of events. I recall my grandfather's version of events. He was on his way to Tonypandy, but unfortunately he was stopped at Pontypridd.
Much has changed in Tonypandy over the intervening years. There are no miners there. They have been wiped out. Much else has changed in Tonypandy in those intervening years —the people there now have their very own viscount.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It is always a pleasure to have one of the flower-pot men with me.
When I think of Tonypandy having its very own viscount, I know what upward mobility really means.
The subject of upward mobility brings me to the hon. Member for Sherwood, seconder to the Loyal Address. The hon. Gentleman has a prodigious record of rebellion. He has been a dissident on increased parental contributions to student grants, on Stansted, on fluoridation, on nuclear waste dumping, on the proposed sell-off of BL and on much else. With that record of rebellion, he finds himself today seconding the Loyal Address. I think of his record over the past four years and I look at the hon. Gentleman and say to myself, "This man, with this dexterity and insider knowledge of rebellion, has the makings of a Whip." We shall see about that. We congratulate both hon. Gentlemen on the way in which they moved the motion on the Loyal Address today.
The first Queen's Speech of any Parliament is interesting, not only for the programme that it sets out, but for the people who will be pursuing that programme. Of course, there have been several changes in the Cabinet that has that task in this Parliament. The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), the former Leader of the House, has been sacked — an act that deprived the Cabinet of its last surviving vertebrate. He has now gone. 48 Others, such as the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), have new jobs. Rumour has it that when the right hon. Gentleman went to No. 10 to speak to the Prime Minister, she said, "I want you to take responsibility for Wales". He said, "But Prime Minister, I have done Agriculture, Fisheries and Food already" — thus betraying the extensive knowledge that he has of the Principality. That appointment proved two things about the Prime Minister. First, contrary to what some of her critics say, she really has a sense of humour. Secondly, it shows that she has total contempt for Wales.
There are, of course, rising stars among the other Cabinet members—people such as the Secretary of State for Social Services, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), who is your neighbour in Croydon, Mr. Speaker. He has come to be known as an arch privatiser. I remember him— I suspect that you do, too, Mr. Speaker — in an earlier phase of his development when he was a veritable evangelist of Heathism. It is sad to see such a shift of loyalties. Since he is such a decent fellow, perhaps he is most charitably thought of as a good man fallen among ambitions.
The Home Secretary, meanwhile, is charged with a different task. He is apparently on a special detachment, making appeals to the leader of the SDP. I almost feel sorry for the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen): Tory seduction to the right of him, democratic fusion to the left of him, and complete confusion everywhere else around him. I am sure that he will find a way out of it. He usually does. That is his habit.
Meanwhile, all those Ministers, together with others, have power in Government. The question is how they will use that power in Government. Will it be used, as the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North recommended, with "circumspection", or will it be used ruthlessly to increase the theft of powers from local democracy? Will it be used contemptuously to ignore the overwhelming votes and indisputable views of the people of Scotland? Will it be used sensitively to unify, or savagely to deprive and to divide? All the signs are that this Government, like the one before it, will use power malevolently — to de-control rents and leave private tenants to the mercies of unscrupulous landlords; to conscript youngsters into training schemes regardless of the utility or suitability of those schemes; to break up the Inner London education authority, and break it up in a way that the Secretary of State himself said only a few years ago, in a distinguished report on the subject, would result ina rump of poorer, deprived boroughs and an increase in administrative costs".That was when the Secretary of State was the soggiest of wets. Now he has given himself completely over to the dessicated tendency in the Tory party. He is prepared to conduct half-baked experiments on our children that he would never inflict on his own children. He will conduct experiments in centralisation and in Government control. He will conduct experiments in so-called open enrolment and opting out, and in budget management by head teachers that has flopped wherever it has been rehearsed. Most of all, the Secretary of State will end free schooling and start charging for what in his prejudice and ignorance he calls "extras".
That is the Government's way — to ensure that education, health care and so many other essentials of opportunity and security, are rationed by charges. They will make the offer of provision to everyone and then say 49 that if one wants it, one will have to pay for it. Today they say, "Pay for field trips, music, sport, cookery and art"—so-called extras in the curriculum; tomorrow they will say, "To Pay for books"— indeed, they are doing it already; and the day after they will say, "Pay for teachers." Any hon. Members who deny that do not even comprehend the proposals that stumbled out from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in the course of the election campaign.
This Government know the price of everything and the value of absolutely nothing. Not content with charging for health care or education, they will, with their poll tax, make people pay to vote. That is what the poll tax means. Apart from the fact that millions will be unable to pay the tax or will have immense difficulty in paying it because of their poverty, that there will be extra costs for business in many parts of the country, that there will be a massive increase in bureaucracy and the bills that go with that and that there will be a great increase in centralisation by a Government who always say that they want to roll back the state but always roll on the state over anything that stands in their way, the poll tax will mean that the people of this democracy of Britain will have to pay for their vote. If the poll tax is introduced in England and Wales, it will mean that, as in Scotland, inclusion on a register of voters will mean liability for poll tax. If a citizen registers for the one, he registers for the other. If one votes, one pays. The only way not to pay is to surrender one's right to vote under the poll tax system.
In all of this the Government turn the basic democratic rule of no taxation without representation on its head. With the poll tax, they are saying: no representation without taxation. The vote in the British democracy is to cost an average £205 per adult per year if the Government have their way with the poll tax. The Government know that very well. Their own White Paper in 1984 said that the poll tax can be,seen as a tax on the right to vote".They know what they are doing and still they are going ahead with making the exercise of democratic rights in this country conditional on registration to pay a tax. The Government know it very well. That is only one among the many reasons that have always existed for Governments in this country of every colour and for Governments in so many other democracies rejecting the poll tax.
In the United States, whose tax system the Prime Minister is said to admire very much, the 24th amendment to the constitution lays down that no poll tax should be allowedto deny or abridge the right of citizens to vote".That amendment was resisted by only one group in the whole of the United States during the early 1960s— the clique that controlled the state of Mississippi. Here in 1987, in the state of Missis Thatcher, we have a Government who are insisting on imposing a poll tax and everything that goes with it— abridging the right to vote in a way that is forbidden under the constitution of our sister democracy and should be forbidden by any decent Government in this democratic country.
Even with all that, the Prime Minister still tells us that she wants more power to the people. She cannot want that and a poll tax, for the two are incompatible. Indeed, the Prime Minister does not appear to want a free society as we understand it. She appears to want a fee-paying society. 50 Those who support her, those who support payment for schooling, those who support payment for health care and those who support the decontrolling of rents, the privatisation of water and the conscription of the young unemployed should ask themselves one question: why was every single one of those ideas jettisoned 40, 50, 60 or 70 years ago by Liberal Governments, Labour Governments and by Conservative Governments, too? Indeed, many of the Acts abandoning the brutal and miserable system that this Government wants to reintroduce were instigated by previous Conservative Governments whose memory this Government disgrace.
The reason for the abandonment of private water, the sale of health care, payment for education, rent decontrol and so much else of the trappings of misery was summed up by Winston Churchill. They were abandoned because,they brought the vultures of utter ruin to the dwellings of the nation".A consensus gradually and deliberately grew to get rid of what the present Government want to exhume and restore as the code for living and government in this democracy.
Of course, the Government will claim that their measures, some of which I have just listed, will not bring back the wretchedness or the division of which Winston Churchill spoke in 1945. They will insist that all that they propose are means of modifying and modernising in the name of what they call independence and choice.
But independence for whom? Independence for the tenant who must pay a decontrolled rent? Independence for the youngsters who must accept whatever training they are given, on pain of destitution? [Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but in the 1930s the men of my family had to take exactly the same kind of punishment. They were taken from the north, from south Wales and from Scotland and they were told that unless they went to forced labour in training camps they would lose their dole. Those people, who had their freedom wrenched from them for months of their youth, were expected five years later to fight and win for freedom. That is why I say that the present Government are a disgrace to the past of even their own party. Even their party learnt the lessons of those days.
§ Mr. Kinnock
No. The Conservative party is exhuming the dead past. We are trying to keep it in the past; they are trying to make a tomorrow of all those yesterdays.
Are we getting independence for the householder who must buy water from a private monopoly? Are we getting independence for the pensioners and others who will be hit by further cuts in housing benefit? Where is the independence in all that?
Where is the choice? Where is the choice for the parents who are compelled to pay for the schooling of their children or take the risk that their education will be sacrificed? That is not choice; it is forced charges. What about the choice for the children who are told by the Government, "You can go to school for free, but if you want education in that school you will have to see that your parents pay"? What a choice! How can the Government have the gall to say to those children that this is a free country and that we have a free education system but that children's chances in that system and their future opportunities will depend on the ability and willingness of 51 their parents to pay for what the Secretary of State calls the extras? The right hon. Gentleman knows that those "extras" are vital to a decent, modern education.
Where is the choice in a system that requires people to beg or borrow the price of an operation or to wait interminably in pain? Where is the choice for the widow whose entitlement to state earnings-related pension has been cut in half by the Government? Where is the choice in all that? It is obvious that under this Government independence is a mockery and that such choice is a taunt for those who do not have the money to buy education and health care, the opportunity and the essential services, at the time, on the day and in the place that they need them.
In every part of the Government's programme there are counterfeit offers of advance in choice and independence. The Government's inner city proposals are a prime example. They spent years taking over £2 billion in rate support grant away from the poorest areas and the poorest cities in our land. Now they say in the Queen's Speech that they will pay special regard to the needs of those self-same areas. We know that that special regard will not mean the restitution of rate support grant or the funding of housing programmes. It will mean the turning of those areas into colonies of capital-intensive business and prohibitively-priced accommodation. That is what they have been and what they will continue to be. They will be exclusive in the most literal sense of the word, because they will include only those who can meet the prodigious costs and will exclude those who cannot make the down payments or the repayments. They will exclude local democracy and the interests of the surrounding communities.
We can wish the urban development corporations the very best of luck. We can hope that they will be new centres of employment, but, as we do, we know that continually over the past seven years the Government have cut the rate support grant. They have chopped housing support by 60 per cent., reduced industrial development aid and abolished investment allowances. They do not have the desire or the will to commit the means necessary to deal with the corrosion of life in the inner cities and in many other areas of devastation. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is making his annual visit.
It is for all those reasons that the Government inevitably decrease opportunities, increase poverty, multiply division and diminish democracy. They inevitably want to put an entry charge on all the doors of learning and care and opportunity, the doors that people need to pass through if individual freedom is not just to be a fine and noble phrase but a real chance of living.
The Prime Minister marked her election victory a fortnight ago by quoting Rudyard Kipling. She spoke of the need to govern withAn humble and a contrite heart.For a definition of the Government's attitude towards the people she would have done better to read wider and to have read,Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay-pay-pay!The maxim of modern Conservatism is that if one cannot pay, one should stay away; if one cannot afford the fee, one cannot be really free. That system was buried by history and need and by the decent consensus of all parties decades ago. It will be buried again.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
It is my first and pleasant duty to join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) on the most excellent, witty and stylistic way in which they proposed and seconded the motion on the Loyal Address and the great eloquence and research that they both brought to their task.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme knows well the problems of bringing modern technological industries into the older industrial areas. He was instrumental in trying to get an urban development corporation for Trafford Park, some of which falls in his constituency, because he wants to bring to that area — [AN HON. MEMBER: "Trafford Park is outside his constituency."] Very well—some of which falls close to his constituency. My hon. Friend wants to bring to that area some of the good work that has already been apparent in the urban development corporation in Docklands and on Merseyside.
My hon. Friend also dealt with Britain's role in the world and the need for strong defence, and for us to be a reliable ally in NATO, which is vital to our defence policy. Less well known is his work for health in the community, because he is—
§ The Prime Minister
May I at least finish congratulating my hon. Friends and get on to some of the political content of my speech?
Less well known is my hon. Friend's work for health in the community. He happens to be a pilot and has voluntarily, frequently at very short notice, put himself on duty to fetch pharmaceuticals urgently needed for hospitals and orders for spare-part surgery. We thank him for that work, which is much less well known than it should be.
My hon. Friend follows his family's great tradition in serving this House. I pay tribute to his work today and to all that he has done for us on his own account.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood on his excellent and witty speech, and on his tremendous victory two weeks ago. We remember the firm stand that he took against intimidation and on the right to go to work during the coal strike, and this won him the support of local miners and of the overwhelming majority of people in the country. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is very unseemly for hon. Members to shout. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) remains silent, he may have a chance later to speak at greater length. He should not intervene from a sedentary position.
§ The Prime Minister
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said. He seemed long on words but short on content and I began to understand why he lost the general election in such a decisive way. He seemed to address many of his remarks 53 to some of the shibboleths of the 1930s. Those have no appeal whatsoever to the population of our country, which is becoming home-owning, share-owning, and savings-owning and having an independence it would never otherwise have got. Those class shibboleths have no relevance to our modern society. People know full well that they have a higher standard of living than they have ever had before, stemming from a Government who, in a partnership with the people, have brought about economic strength and a standard of health care and social security that we have never had before.
§ Mr. Roberts
Will the right hon. Lady explain why house prices are falling dramatically on Merseyside, while rising steeply in London, and why this is especially so in Sefton, the lowest rated metropolitan district in the country, with a 20-year record of Conservative control? Has it anything to do with unemployment?
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that one day Merseyside will welcome the private sector within Liverpool and thereby confirm the comments of Mr. Kilroy-Silk, who very perceptively said:In fact, the Militants and their ilk in Liverpool are the biggest deterrents to job creation on Merseyside that there have ever been.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Lady will know that I happened to meet her at lunch time today at a certain reception. I asked her whether she would come to Liverpool and see for herself what the local authority in that area has done, to see the houses and sports centres that have been built and all the work that is necessary. I asked whether she would then perhaps change her mind about what local authorities under Labour control have been doing for the people in areas such as Liverpool.
§ The Prime Minister
I was not aware that we were able to refer to such matters in this debate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I shall be visiting a number of inner city areas. However, I was referring to the comments made by Mr. Kilroy-Silk about what had brought Liverpool low.
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will give me the chance to finish the quotation. Mr. Kilroy-Silk said:Dozens of times in the last few years I have tried fruitlessly to persuade companies that I knew were looking for sites for new plants to locate on Merseyside and in Knowsley, but each time the decision went against us, because of their perception of our Militancy.If we want more jobs on Merseyside, Labour-controlled local authorities will have to welcome private enterprise within their borders.
At the heart of the Gracious Speech is the section referring to the economy, and at the heart of Britain's economic strength are the continuing policies of sound financial management. They are designed to reduce inflation further, to keep firm control of public expenditure, and to increase enterprise and employment by incentives and training. It takes time to establish a reputation for prudent economic policies of the kind enjoyed by Germany and Switzerland, with all the benefits 54 that they bring, but Britain is now succeeding. Control of inflation through sound financial policies is and will remain our top priority.
It has been the habit in the past two terms of office and will be the same habit in the next for the Government to set the financial and legal framework. However, the wealth of a country is the effort of its people and the way in which they respond to that framework. They have responded and that has brought a very high standard of living. However, effort depends upon incentives. That is frequently forgotten by those who make easy election promises, but, as the result of the last election showed, people were not taken in by those promises in any way.
§ The Prime Minister
The fundamental wisdom of the truths that I have enunciated was acknowledged then. Our policies have brought record living standards and better standards of health and social services. The news since the Dissolution has confirmed the sense and soundness of our policies.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I will not give way while I am referring to this section of the Gracious Speech.
The news since the Dissolution is good news, and of course Opposition Members do not want to hear such news. There have been good balance of payments figures. Inflation is at 4 per cent.—still too high, but far less than the 7 per cent. that the Labour party says that it would be happy to start with. There is continuing growth in industrial production and national income. There have been encouraging business surveys from the Confederation of British Industry and the chambers of commerce. There are lower mortgage rates and lower gas prices, and record British Telecom profits are helping to finance a record £2 billion investment programme. In addition, the OECD forecasts that Britain this year will have the fastest growth of all the major industrial countries. That is all of the good news since the election.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who comes from Scotland, which, after London and the south-east, has the second highest income per head of any part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Canavan
A couple of minutes ago the Prime Minister mentioned her general election success, but her party in Scotland has been reduced to such a discredited rump that Scottish Tory Members of Parliament could not even form a football team and the Secretary of State for Scotland is like some discredited colonial governor-general who received no democratic mandate from the people whom he governs. Why is there no mention of that in the Queen's Speech? Why, in particular, is there no mention of proposals to do what the majority of people of Scotland want—the setting-up of a devolved Scottish Parliament with legislative and economic powers to help repair a lot of the damage that has been done by eight hard years of Thatcherism?
§ The Prime Minister
I seem to remember that the hon. Gentleman made a similar interruption in 1983. I seem to remember that I gave him a reply similar to the reply that I am going to give now.
55 In three out of the last five Labour Governments Conservatives had more seats in England than Labour, and we had to endure it. What is the hon. Gentleman proposing — separatism? May I point out what the Leader of the Opposition said in the House on the devolution Bill in 1977? He said:At this point I could pause for cheers from the SNP and Plaid Cymru … They know, and they must acknowledge, that their proposterous ideas of economic self-dependence, in any degree of economic separation and the consequences that go with it, would mean utter misery for the people of both Scotland and Wales." —[Official Report, 15 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 469.]Now, let me tell the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) that I have left the best good news until last. But before I come to that I should say that, in spite of our good news, we must be alert to the risks to the international economy, discussed at the Venice summit. The agreements reached there on the need for surplus and deficit countries to take action to correct their imbalances will need to be translated into action.
But the best news is the continuing fall in unemployment, confirmed by last month's figures, the largest monthly fall ever. Other than in Northern Ireland, unemployment has fallen in the last year throughout the country, fastest in Wales, the north-west, the west midlands and the north. Sustained economic growth is now creating enough jobs to reduce the number of people unemployed, even though the population of working age is increasing.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I shall carry on a little longer, otherwise I shall be speaking for too long and I do not wish to do that.
Nevertheless, Government special schemes—
§ The Prime Minister
I am on the particular point that sustained economic growth is now creating enough jobs to reduce the number of people unemployed even though the population of working age is increasing. I give way on that particular point.
§ Mr. Wareing
I am very interested and pleased when there is any real reduction in unemployment, but can the Prime Minister tell the House when the unemployment figure will be down to what it was on 3 May 1979?
§ The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, when we came into power in 1979 the hidden unemployment, the restrictive practices and the failure of the then Labour Government to deal with such things left us with a problem. Perhaps he will read the passage in Lord Donoughue's book about that. He said:Labour's problem was that its general commitment to industrial investment and maintaining full employment, as well as its close ties with the trade unions, made it politically difficult to cut out the bad parts of British industry, even though it was essential for its long-term efficiency and survival.Unless we had done that there would have been far more unemployment than there is now and British industry is now efficient and doing very well. That is an interesting book and I may have time to quote rather more from it during what I have to say.
56 Nevertheless, Government special schemes will continue to play a very important part. There will be guaranteed places—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
There will be guaranteed places on the youth training scheme, which is an excellent scheme, for school leavers under the age of 18 who do not go into employment or further education.
Legislation will be introduced to enable benefit to be withheld from young people who deliberately choose to remain unemployed, and quite rightly so.
Moreover, we believe that jobcentres should be transferred from the Manpower Services Commission to the Department of Employment so that they can work more closely with unemployment benefit offices to provide a more effective service of help. We shall consult the Manpower Services Commission accordingly.
Job opportunities are growing steadily — 1,100,000 more since March 1983. Our task is to help to ensure that those who are seeking work have the right training to fill those opportunities and the help to start a business on their own if they so wish.
I refer now to something that I referred to in reply to the Leader of the Opposition. The spreading ownership of housing, shares, pensions and savings has been one of the great achievements of the past eight years. That is one reason—the bringing of independence and power to the people—why the right hon. Gentleman's party did so badly in the election. People do not want the songs and policies of collectivism. They want the capacity, ability and opportunity to own their own houses, shares, pensions and many other matters besides.
The Labour party favours what it now calls social ownership, which is nationalisation in sheep's clothing. The effect, would be to concentrate power in Whitehall and to deprive millions of ordinary people of their shareholding in industry. By contrast, we shall continue our programme of privatisation, thus freeing businesses to respond to the needs of the customer and increasing the opportunities for share ownership.
Now we have a new task. Just as we took power from trade union bosses and restored it to their members, so we must now extend to the people new freedoms and responsibilities in housing, education and local authority finance. These will be the subject of three major Bills that have been signalled in the Gracious Speech. It is our purpose to bring new opportunities into the inner cities in particular and to make town halls more accountable, for nowhere are the damaging effects of dependence and socialism seen more clearly than in some of our inner cities.
We shall abolish the domestic rates—a grossly unfair tax—and replace them with a community charge.
§ The Prime Minister
Subject to proper protection for those in need, it is right that we should all pay something towards the cost of the local services from which we all benefit. The new unified business rate will protect businesses and jobs in inner cities from the councils which obstruct wealth and job creation by imposing very high rates.
§ The Prime Minister
As the House knows, in spite of those high rates, some Labour-controlled local authorities have plunged recklessly into debt. I take this opportunity to make it clear once again that the Government have never stood behind the debts of local authorities and will not do so now.
We have made great strides towards a property-owning democracy. Some 1,000,000 council houses have been sold since 1979, and two-thirds of our people now own their own homes.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) know that the Prime Minister is not giving way. They must not persist.
§ The Prime Minister
We will ensure that home ownership continues to spread by maintaining mortgage tax relief and the tenants' right to buy.
If one wishes to examine the Labour Government's attitude to housing and how they resisted any attempt to bring increased freedom to people to purchase their houses or to increase freedom in other ways, one has only to look at Lord Donoughue's account of the Labour Government's years in power. On page 104 of his book he says:Labour's housing policy was dominated by dogma and the vested interests of a minority of activists whose power was based on the local authority building departments and who were out of touch with and apparently completely unconcerned with the wishes of British families.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I have given way a great deal and I must get on.
Our new task must be to extend the benefits of greater choice and independence to those in rented accommodation. Rent controls have reduced the private sector to a mere 8 per cent. of the housing market, with the result that there is almost a municipal monopoly in rented housing. Too many tenants are confined to large monolithic and sometimes badly kept council estates. It is high time for town hall monopoly to be replaced by individual choice in renting. We shall therefore introduce major housing reforms in this Session.
First, we shall give council tenants—where they are dissatisfied with their landlords—the right to transfer to other approved landlords, such as tenant co-operatives and housing associations. Secondly, urban development corporations have been successful in restoring derelict industrial areas, and we believe that a similar approach could be adopted for housing in some places. We will therefore take powers to create housing action trusts—initially on a pilot basis—to take over and renovate areas of council housing in especially bad repair.
But wider choice in housing also requires a revival of the private rented sector. For new lettings—I repeat, new lettings—we will therefore bring forward a series of proposals to reduce rent controls which have so greatly restricted the supply of homes for rent. Half a million private sector properties now lie empty, and our proposals will help to bring those back on to the market.
§ The Prime Minister
In all these measures existing tenants will keep their present protection in respect of rents 58 and security of tenure, and we will strengthen the law against harassment. All these policies have been set out in the most detailed manifesto ever placed before the British people. That manifesto said what we would do, unlike the Labour party's manifesto, which tried to conceal what it would do.
A home should be a source of pride to the family living in it, regardless of whether it is owned or rented. Greater choice and independence will help to make it so. I again contrast our whole policy on housing — which has brought more ownership, opportunity and choice to people — with the policy of the Labour party. Lord Donoughue also said:The left wing of the Labour party began to mobilise hostility to what they saw as a threat to their local authority power bases. Although they themselves personally often enjoyed the pleasures and benefits of living in their own private Hampstead homes, they were dogmatically committed to denying those pleasures and benefits to council tenants." We have given them to those tenants and will continue to do so.
§ The Prime Minister
The reform of education is the third of the fundamental reforms to be introduced this Session. Although in many of our local authorities children are receiving an excellent education, in others there is widespread dissatisfaction. In too many schools education does not match either what the parents want or what the children need. In this first Session of the new Parliament we shall bring forward a major Bill which will introduce a national curriculum with clear attainment targets and tests during the period of compulsory schooling; which will prevent local education authorities from putting artificial limits on numbers, so making it possible for popular schools to take in more pupils; which will enable maintained schools to opt out of local authority control where parents and governing bodies so wish and to be funded directly from the Department of Education and Science. The right hon. Member for Islwyn knew that when he made his mischievous statement from the Dispatch Box. He knows that no fees will be payable to those schools that opt out.
The Bill will allow London boroughs to pull out of ILEA and to run their own education service, and it will give many head teachers and governing bodies within local authorities control over the budgets of their schools. Where some of the local authorities have started this they have met with great success and far better use of money.
§ Mr. Kinnock
When the Prime Minister says that there will be no fees, is she saying that there will be no requirement that can be enforced by a local education authority or any school in the maintained sector that makes the provision of music, art, field trips that are essential for the curriculum, sport or any other subject on the recognised curriculum dependent upon parental contribution or the payment of any fee?
§ The Prime Minister
Those schools will be on the same financial basis as local education authority schools. Their fees—[Hon. Members "Ah."] I mean their finances. There will be no fees—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
They will be on the same financial basis as the schools under local education authority 59 control. Their finances will come not from the local education authority but from the Department of Education and Science. There will be no fees payable by the parents. The right hon. Member for Islwyn is referring to cases that have come up from the ombudsman and are before the courts as to whether charges at schools in local education authorities are permissible for extras such as holidays overseas and music. That is a case which is now being dealt with. The schools that opt out will be on a similar basis to those of local education authorities, but their finances will come not from the local education authority but from the Department of Education and Science.
§ The Prime Minister
It is no good the hon. Gentleman mouthing the word "fees". There will be no fees payable.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Can the Prime Minister tell us whether she will ensure that the legisation required to permit schools to opt out will prohibit the charging of fees as a condition of entry? Can what she describes as "extras" be made subject to charges? I am familiar with the Hereford case and other cases in which the courts have held that it is illegal to charge for those subjects recognised to be part of the curriculum. Is the right hon. Lady proposing that that law should be changed so that schools can charge fees for what she loosely describes as "extras"?
§ The Prime Minister
Those cases have gone to the ombudsman and are now going through the courts. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science issued a statement about that yesterday and is consulting upon the result of those cases. The right hon. Gentleman will have masses of opportunities to discuss this matter when the Bill comes before the House. It will be a very considerable Bill.
Parents want schools that will provide their children with the knowledge, training and character—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Unless the Prime Minister gives way, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen must resume their seats.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am grateful, Sir. It is the first point of order of the new Parliament, and it is a very good and genuine one. Will you ensure, Sir, that tomorrow, when Hansard is scrutinised, it contains an exact report of what the Prime Minister has actually said this afternoon?
§ The Prime Minister
I shall be grateful because it will make it clear that no fees will be payable for schools.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman when I have finished this paragraph.
Parents want schools that will provide their children with the knowledge, training and character to fit them for today's world. They want them to be taught basic educational skills.
60 We shall enlarge the right of parents to choose those schools that will best meet the needs of their children. The legislation sets out to achieve the most far-reaching reform of education since the Education Act 1944.
§ Dr. Owen
Will the Prime Minister state the selection procedures for those schools? Will they follow the same non-selective procedures that are applied by local authorities, or will headmasters of such schools he able to choose? That is the crucial question governing whether we return to selective education.
§ The Prime Minister
If a school opts out, it will do so in the character that it has within the local education authority system. When schools are especially popular, as several are now, they must choose. They do not choose on the basis of the 11-plus. In practice they have their own well-known methods of choice. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, voluntary maintained schools can make their own choices. Therefore, the system will not be different. If a governing body wishes a school to change its character, it will have to make a fresh application to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
§ The Prime Minister
May I press on with my speech? People's right to choice and independence must be safeguarded in other directions too.
Since 1979 we have transformed industrial relations by strengthening the rights of trade union members. In the coming Session we shall take that a stage further by ensuring that all members of trade union governing bodies are elected by secret postal ballot at least once every five years; by limiting further the abuse of the closed shop; by protecting individual members if they refuse to join a strike they disagree with; and by establishing a new trade union commissioner with the power to help individual trade union members to enforce their fundamental rights. I believe that these steps, like those before them, will be widely welcomed by members of trade unions throughout the country.
The Gracious Speech identifies 17 other Bills that will be brought before Parliament during the present Session. Overall, the Government's legislative programme is one of the most substantial and radical in recent years.
§ The Prime Minister
However, I shall not deal with all of those matters now because I wish to say a few words on defence.
The Gracious Speech sets out the Government's determination to keep Britain's defences strong and to work for reductions in the overall numbers of nuclear weapons.
§ The Prime Minister
We shall update our independent nuclear deterrent with Trident and ensure that our forces are equipped with the most modern conventional weapons.
Britain has taken a lead in shaping the West's position in negotiations on intermediate and shorter-range—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask why the Prime Minister did not give way. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Maxton
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a Scottish Members, I have no idea whether any of the Bills to which the right hon. Lady has referred will cover Scotland. So far, except in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), she has made no reference to any legislation for Scotland because she knows that she cannot introduce any legislation for Scotland because she has not got the—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman and the House will give the Prime Minister an opportunity, she will, no doubt, deal with such matters.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
That is the issue on which, during my intervention, I was trying to ascertain from the Prime Minister whether the education legislation would apply in Scotland and Wales.
§ The Prime Minister
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is aware, education in Scotland is rather different from education in England. There is reference in the Gracious Speech to a Bill to deal with education in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is aware of that. If he is saying that, because there are more Labour Members in Scotland than there are Conservative Members, we cannot legislate there, I point out to him that in that case many previous Labour Governments had no right to legislate for England, and that much of their legislation would be absolutely not legal. That is absurd. We are the United Kingdom, and I hope that we shall remain a United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It would be for the convenience of the House if the Prime Minister could now get on with her speech. That would leave plenty of time for Back-Bench right hon and hon. Members to make their own contributions and to ask their own questions which will be answered later in the debate.
§ The Prime Minister
There must be many constituencies in Scotland that are glad that Labour's defence policy is not being carried through.
§ The Prime Minister
Britain has taken a lead in shaping the West's position in the negotiations on intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles in Europe. [Interruption.] It is my belief that an agreement consistent with NATO's security can be reached by the end of this year.
Opposition Members have not learnt the simple lesson that a strong defence policy and a successful arms control policy are directly linked. [Interruption.] I realise that the hon. Gentleman would like me to carry on speaking and I am flattered. However, I should like to keep my speech as short as possible.
I recall the words of the former Prime Minister, Sir James Callaghan, speaking in this House last March on the deployment of—
§ The Prime Minister
I recall the words of the former Prime Minister, Sir James Callaghan, speaking in this House last March on the deployment of cruise and Pershing when he said:I have no doubt that our expressed determination to go ahead…brought him"—Mr. Gorbachev—back to the negotiating table. That is a lesson for people to learn now."—[Official Report, 9 March 1987; Vol. 112, c. 53.]However, Sir James's voice and those of many others going back to Hugh Gaitskell are no longer heard in today's Labour party. The unilateralists and the surrender squads have taken over. The views which were once held only by extremists are now the official policy of the Opposition. However, the British people have rejected totally the Opposition's defence policy.
Today, at the beginning of our third term, Britain's voice is heard with respect in Europe, in the Soviet Union and in the United States because we have made Britain strong again and because we have put freedom first.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I am nearly at the end and I shall not give way again.
Indeed, trust in the people is at the heart of our policies. That is how we have, in the past eight years, transformed the climate for busines, brought over-mighty trade unions within the rule of law and created a new confidence at home and abroad. That is why we were returned with such an excellent majority. The achievements of the past two terms of Conservative government show that that trust was well placed. Trust in the people will continue to be the foundation for the achievements for our third term.
§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
I join happily with the other leaders in congratulating the mover and the seconder of the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) was in characteristically ebullient form, and the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is a Scotsman and a Conservative Member of Parliament, which is an increasingly unusual combination, and, because of it, he should be congratulated on his great foresight in moving to Nottingham 20 years ago. I must admit that I did not recognise his comparisons between the policies of Robin Hood and those of the present Administration. My impression is that the Government's social policies are designed to rob the facilities of the poor to make life more comfortable for the rich.
At the start of this Parliament it would he right for Opposition Leaders to acknowledge the undeniably considerable political achievement of the Government in being returned to office and the personal achievement of the Prime Minister in being the first political leader this century to be returned three times to power. I readily acknowledge that, but the policies put forward in the Gracious Speech must be judged against what we expect the country to look like at the end of this Parliament as we turn into the decade of the 1990s. If we judge the contents of the Gracious Speech against that yardstick, we discover that it is a programme which will do nothing to heal the growing social, economic and now political divisions in our country.
63 First, I shall deal with the foreign affairs section. I object strongly to the recurrent elements of newspeak where fine words are used to convey the opposite of what the Government propose. I shall give the House three examples. The Gracious Speech states:My Government will play a leading role in the development of the European Community.That means, "My Government will continue to look ridiculous and damage our industrial prospects by dragging our feet over entry to full participation in the European monetary system." The Gracious Speech says that the Government will support proposals for reductions in nuclear weapons and will modernise the nuclear deterrent. That means, "My Government will unilaterally increase Britain's nuclear capability eightfold over a period when the rest of the world is striving to achieve balanced reductions in nuclear terror." The most cynical sentence reads:My Government will maintain their substantial aid programme.That should read, "Under my Government we have moved further away from the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP. It was 0.5 per cent. when my Government took office in 1979 and it is now down to 0.33 per cent. In spite of the marvellous public response to Live Aid and other efforts, we have no intention of matching private generosity with official generosity." That would be a more accurate rendering of the Government's aid programme.
On domestic matters there is one surprising omission both from the Queen's Speech and from the Prime Minister's address and that is the topic of AIDS. Whether we like it or not, this dread disease will have implications for the health, social and economic strains of this country into the 1990s. We in the House have as a whole underestimated the need to mobilise research and information and the means of controlling the disease. It has become a matter of controversy in the United States and I hope that it will not become a matter of party controversy in this House. Therefore, I wish to make a constructive suggestion to the Government and I hope that the Prime Minister will not reject it simply because it has a Liberal precedent. The Government of 1906–14 established a committee on imperial defence which included not only the Government, but members of Opposition parties, their advisers, civil servants and professionals. That sort of committee should be established to deal with this difficult question which will become increasingly difficult as we move through the life of this Parliament. I hope that the Government will respond positively to that proposal.
The domestic legislative programme fails to address the serious problems facing the country and, instead, we are offered a series of comparatively irrelevant measures. I start with the poll tax. The Prime Minister called it a poll tax before the election and there is no reason to deny that that is what it is. However, last year when we were facing the legislation in Scotland I observed that enthusiasm for it among Conservative Members varied in direct proportion to the distance of their constituencies from Scotland. That is even more true after the disastrous showing of the Conservative party in elections in Scotland and after the slaughter that it suffered. The truth is that no reputable body of local or financial opinion in Scotland supported the proposal.
There are no imaginative proposals for reforming the government of Scotland; there is no mention of the 64 industrial regeneration that is required north of the border; and still less is there any mention of democratic decentralisation of government from Westminster to Edinburgh, which is clearly endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Scottish representatives in this House.
We are offered a further round of trade union bashing. It may be that some minor adjustments to trade union legislation are still required, but if the Prime Minister is not careful they could endanger the legitimacy of balloting and the validity of majority decisions in trade unions. That must be avoided. If we are seriously seeking legislation which will improve industrial relations, why is there a complete absence of proposals to develop a greater sense of industrial partnership? That is what we should concentrate on.
The Gracious Speech includes the sentence:A Bill will be introduced to reinforce the system of firm but fair immigration control.That has an ominous ring to it. There is little primary immigration and our treatment of families of ethnic minorities already here, especially of visiting relatives, is a national and international disgrace. In December the Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration produced a report containing the important sentence:It is not adequate for the Government to deplore racial hatred but to accept no responsibility in respect of situations which foment it.That was a wise sentence and we should concentrate on the need to tackle the real problems of housing and employment among our ethnic minorities and not pander to the racist fantasies of the Tory party conference.
There was a notable interview of Mr. James Prior shortly after the election on Channel 4 News which deserves wider circulation. He was asked,But how has the Conservative party itself changed in the past eight years?".He replied,compared with former years it has undoubtedly moved to the right. It is a tougher, more radical right party than it was under Macmillan and Butler and Ted Heath. And I think for that reason it is a less pleasant party.The sentence in the Queen's Speech certainly endorses that observation.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would now like to make it clear whether his party's policy would be to allow an unlimited number of polygamous wives to enter the country where the primary immigration has already taken place or whether he would be in favour of doing something to prevent an unlimited number of polygamous wives from entering the country? He can make that clear right now.
§ Mr. Steel
If that is what the right hon. Gentleman is worried about and is what lies behind the sentence in the Gracious Speech, I can tell him, as he must know perfectly well, that he is dealing with tiny numbers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I do not deny that there may be a problem with those families, but we must take into account the children of those marriages who are already here and the different habits of different religions. I t is quite wrong that a sentence of that generality should be included in the Queen's Speech. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about, it is a tiny problem compared with the overall problem of good race relations, which is what I am talking about.
§ Mr. Steel
I shall not give way again.
A further irrelevant and rather mean proposal is that to remove benefit from those who do not accept placement on youth training scheme courses. If we had a comprehensive system of training for 16 to 19-year-olds that was properly funded, a case could be made out for that. But to say that the present YTS must be translated from being a voluntary training effort into a compulsory measure for those who have no employment is to take the wrong step.
An even more irrelevant measure is the proposal to privatise our sewerage system. I can think of nothing that will assist our economy less than that. Certainly, if it results in the creation of yet another private monopoly, such as British Telecom, I cannot see that it will produce any improvement in the nation's economy.
To look forward to the picture that Britain may present at the end of this Parliament, we certainly see more people with shares — there is nothing wrong with that — and more people with more money in their pocket—there is nothing particularly wrong with that. But when the Gracious Speech states that the Government
will maintain firm control of public expenditure so that it continues to fall as a proportion of national income and permits further reductions in the burden of taxation",we can see that this forecasts a further decline in the standards of public service, health, education and housing.
Of course, none of us wants more taxation, but to say that taxation is the most important objective, as illustrated in the Gracious Speech, means that, as a consequence, much of the legislation is designed to enable people who have the resources and the initiative to escape from the inadequacies of public service — to escape the inadequacies of education, health and housing. I believe that the Government should concentrate on demonstrating that the social market economy can be used to show that capitalism can be made to work not just for capitalists, but for all the people.
David Lloyd George talked about creating a land fit for heroes to live in, but this Government are creating a land fit for people to make money in. The national profligacy with oil revenues is now matched by private profligacy on a large scale. Consumer credit and consumer debt have risen from £9 billion when the Government took office to £31 billion last year. The credit boom is having the direct effect of sucking in yet more imports.
I believe that if the Government's programme was truly radical it would address the real needs of the country. It would include the widespread introduction of industrial partnership. It would include the real reform of the tax and benefit system into a single structure. It would include machinery for decentralised decision-making, especially economic decision-making, and restore power to local government instead of taking it away. I ask the Government a straight question—why do they continue to resist the most obvious reform of local government, the introduction of proportional representation? That system would ensure that no one was able to grab control and run local authorities dogmatically unless able to secure a majority of popular support. Why do the Government persist in resisting that proposal? There can be only one reason—they fear the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. There is no rational case for resisting electoral reform and giving local authorities back to their citizens. That is what the Government ought to be determined to do.
66 After the election we welcomed the Government's fine words, repeated in the Gracious Speech, about concentrating on the needs of the inner cities. However, the first utterances on this subject from the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Conservative party gave the impression that they were more concerned about the political impact of their failure regarding inner-city policies. It is true that there are now no Conservative Members in the great cities of the north — Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Aberdeen, Dundee, Newcastle, Leicester and Hull. We do not want to see injected into the cities yuppy areas that are designed to tilt the political balance. If that is what is proposed, it is no use. If the run-down city areas are not to become the permanent sink of the affluent society" whose victims live shut away from the gaze of the prosperous suburbs and the shires, except when they explode in resentment, what is needed is help and enablement.
Inner cities need co-operative housing schemes, and the physical environment must be improved. Local residents must be given hope and pride in their surroundings. As mentioned by the Prime Minister, this may take the form of tenant associations and housing co-operatives. However, such programmes need public and private money working together and not the continued bypassing of local democracy. Local enterprise is needed to generate jobs for local people. That will not happen without a systematic fostering of a local grass-roots partnership between central and local government, between banks and local businesses.
Business in the community and the local enterprise movement and its agencies have helped to show the way, but above all they need local leadership. It is in this sphere that the Government are most grievously at fault. The Government are taking over when they should be helping local people to take charge of their destinies.
At the time of Lord Woolton the Conservative party castigated the Labour party for putting the man in Whitehall in charge, but what are the Government doing across a whole range of policies except putting the man in Whitehall in charge? With education, the Secretary of State, the man in Whitehall, is now proposing to run schools himself. In local government, the Secretary of State for the Environment—no doubt, he prefers to be known as the gentleman of Whitehall—proposes to run local government himself. Lord Young, the peer in Whitehall, proposes to sort out the inner cities.
The sustained attack that has been made on the autonomy and independence of local government is rapidly becoming a constitutional crisis. The Government should have a care because strong local government is essential for strong democracy. I find the mania for centralisation and for stifling plurality in our common lives deeply disturbing. The universities are to become more and more dependent upon contracts. People appointed to public boards, the BBC or to the church must be sure to be "one of us". Even a body such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board does not contain one member who represents the politics of that area. That practice is increasingly true of the health boards and health authorities throughout the country.
I believe that the Government should stop asking the question, Is he or she one of us?" but start asking, "Is he or she any good?" Is he or she a representative of local 67 opinion?" If those questions are not asked we shall drift towards what the former Leader of the House unhappily referred to before the election as "the arrogance of power."
At the last election, the Government secured 42 per cent. of the popular vote, which represented 32 per cent. of the electorate. The Government must have a duty and a regard for the other 58 per cent. and not just their supporters. However, the whole tone of the Gracious Speech suggests that they do not yet recognise that duty. I predict that if that persists to be the Government's policy, we shall see a continued decline and division of our country under what is becoming an increasingly narrow Administration.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Richmond, Yorks)
First, I should like to join in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) on their admirable, apt and witty speeches. I should also like to give a warm welcome to the Gracious Speech which amounts to a radical programme of reforms. Anybody who heard that speech would instantly recognise that there is no question of a loss of momentum on the part of the Government. The Government are firmly in command of the political agenda. What is more important is that the Gracious Speech showed that the Government's programme is not just opportunistic, but is based upon clear principles. The bedrock is a sound financial policy and upon that is built an imaginative programme of popular capitalism and increased choice. There is choice for council tenants, choice for parents and choice for trade unionists.
The strictures made by the leader of the Liberal party are wholly misconceived. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) criticised the aspirations for reducing the share of the national cake taken in public expenditure, but that criticism is profoundly misconceived. The progress that the Government made in reducing that share enabled them to increase spending this year on the things that the right hon. Gentleman wants money to be spent on—education and the National Health Service—and at the same time the Government were able to reduce taxation and the level of borrowing by bringing down interest rates. It is through sound financial policies that it is possible to combine those objectives.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale is not correct in castigating the Government for taking things over. If he had listened attentively to the programme regarding the powers of council tenants vis-a-vis their estates, the powers of parents and the powers of trade unionists, he would have discovered that what is proposed is giving power to the people, not arrogating it to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman's slipshod way of misrepresenting what the Government have said is best shown by his reference to the Government running the schools themselves. It is perfectly clear that that is now what is being proposed.
Everything that is proposed in the Gracious Speech is in line with the manifesto on which the Conservative party was elected. If the docrine of mandate applies, there is certainly more than an adequate mandate for this programme as a result of the outcome of the general election. But an election is not just an occasion for politicians to seek to persuade the electorate or to gain power. It is also a unique opportunity for politicians to 68 listen to the people and, if necessary, to adjust both their policies and their tone accordingly. The result of the election was, of course, an unprecedented triumph, for which I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Brittan
No, not for the moment.
The process none the less highlighted some deep-seated problems. What came to the surface was not new, but an election always amounts to a grand assize of the nation. It certainly highlighted some of the problems of which we were already clearly aware.
§ Mr. Brittan
I think that I am coming to the point on which the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene. Perhaps he will allow me to deal with it in my own time.
I am glad that the strongest message coming from the electorate has led to an immediate response from the Government in their concentration on the problems of the inner cities. But if we are focusing on the divisions between the more and less prosperous parts of the country, it would be wrong to believe that the problem of the inner cities is the whole problem. Nor is it a question of a crude divide between the north and the south. As we know, there are areas of great prosperity in the north and areas with considerable difficulties in the south and the midlands. The division, rather, is between areas that have been heavily dependent on industries in decline and the rest of the country. That division has a regional dimension, as most of the declining industries are in the north.
None the less, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, economic advance is proceeding even in the more disadvantaged areas. No way is that more clearly demonstrated than in the recently announced fall in the unemployment figures. The north-east, for example, now has many signs of hope, but equally it is apparent that the south is advancing much faster. The more benign economic climate that now exists everywhere should not blind us to the fact that what may be glorious summer in the home counties amounts to no more than a long-delayed spring in Consett or Halifax.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's point, if he will bear with me.
That is well appreciated by the Government. After all, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I told the Conservative party conference at Blackpool in October 1985 that the vast gulf between different parts of the country represented the gravest social and economic problem facing us as a nation. That remains my view. In crude political terms, we could probably ignore the problem. Political opportunists would point out that with more seats being won, not just retained, in the south, we could govern securely without tackling those problems. But I am confident that we shall do no such thing, for to do so would be an abdication of responsibility and, as Conservatives, we are deeply conscious of our duty as stewards of the welfare of the whole nation.
What should we be doing to bridge that gulf? Much has already been done or announced. The announcement of the introduction of urban development corporations has already brought hope for Teesside.
69 Expenditure of £150 million is designed to attract in its wake some £500 million of private money. In the manifesto, mini-development corporations are proposed, and there is the introduction of city technology colleges, which will do for the human resources what the urban development corporations will do for the bricks and mortar.
§ Mr. Brittan
I shall not, because I am coming to Scotland later. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to it.
The other initiatives that the Government have in mind are represented, for example, by the work on the task force. It is important that that work should continue and be given priority, and that the extra work should be done by local labour. I am sure that efforts will be made to ensure that that is what happens.
However, in my view, a wider regional approach than that is still necessary. The problem of the north-east, for example, is not just an inner city problem. Many small industrial towns and villages, which could not be regarded as inner cities, still suffer considerable deprivation because of the decline of the traditional industries. That is recognised in the support that the Government have given to the new Northern Development Company. I wish it well, but I am anxious about its capacity to do the whole job that it faces. As it proceeds on its way, I hope that the Government will not lose sight of the possibility of converting it into a full-scale development agency of the type that exists in Scotland and Wales and of creating such agencies in other parts of England.
In addition, the time has come to have another look at the dispersal of Government Departments and agencies from London and the south-east. Since the most recent round of dispersal, information technology and communications more generally have advanced greatly. It may be possible to move agencies out of London and the south-east now when that was not possible or practicable even five or 10 years ago.
Other measures on the so-called supply side are necessary. I am glad to see the Government's moves towards regionally varied pay, with the public sector in the lead. But the other side of that coin, which could make regionally varied pay much more acceptable, is a regionally varied tax or national insurance contribution structure. The combination of lower pay, but lower tax, would be a powerful stimulant to employment in the regions. It would be a well-targeted and effective use of public money and influence, making economic sense and being entirely in line with the Government's general philosophy.
What is essential is not any particular measure, or even any set of measures, but giving sufficient priority to those problems throughout the operations of the Government. In the speech at Blackpool to which I referred, I said:In making all our economic and industrial decisions we should always ask ourselves: what impact will this decision have on that gulf between the different parts of the country?That factor cannot always be the decisive factor, but the question must always be asked. The question arises in the most diverse areas of policy making. In working out the 70 community charge scheme, for example, the question was asked. As a result, the benefit to industry in the north of the new universal business rate will be considerable.
If we are concerned about the policies needed to reinforce the unity of the whole country, what happened in the election in Scotland must give Conservatives the greatest cause for anxiety. It is clear that the problem there is political, not primarily economic. The economic situation in Scotland, as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, in his speech two days ago, have shown, is better than in some other regions where we did not suffer so badly during the election. Nobody could say that Scotland has not received its fair share of public money. 1 believe that the shock of our radical approach, our confident espousal of popular capitalism, has had to battle against the instinctive reliance on the public sector that has built up in Scotland in more depth and over a longer period than in any other part of the country. We simply had an inadequate basis of understanding and sympathy with what we were doing. In addition, there was a Scottish national element going well beyond the supporters of the Scottish National party which we ignore at our peril.
There is an urgent need to respond to those messages from the electorate. That does not mean that we should abandon the substance of our radicalism, nor succumb to the temptation of constitutional changes that look infinitely more attractive as a vague idea than when examined in rigorous detail, but it means recognising that a tone of voice or a set of assumptions that may strike a responsive chord in Reading or Ruislip may jar disastrously in Edinburgh or Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Dalyell
With the right hon. and learned Gentleman's knowledge of the north and his obvious concern about Scotland, going back to the devolution argument, why does he think the Prime Minister has not honoured her hope in the resignation correspondence that he would return to high office soon and resume his ministerial career?
§ Mr. Brittan
That does not have the slightest thing to do with the subject that we are debating.
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is conducting far-reaching discussions and a critical examination of what went wrong in the election in Scotland. We cannot expect an instant solution, but we, south of the border, must in due course be ready to respond with sensitivity and understanding to any practicable proposals that emerge, destined to assuage the ill-founded but dangerous feeling of being left out of the mainstream, which, sadly, seems to abound in Scotland today. It is that type of response to all our problems that will give reality to our sincere and oft-repeated desire to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom and promote and enhance the concept of one nation. It is such a response that I commend to the House.
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
I wish to pay tribute to Joan Maynard who, for 13 years, represented the people of the constituency that I am here to serve, and the people of Sheffield, to the best of her ability. On 12 June, I was the only Opposition Member who could genuinely say that he was looking on the bright side.
71 I congratulate the mover and seconder of the motion — the hon. Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I remind the hon. Member for Davyhulme, who talks about high-rated local authorities and eulogises about the sort of solutions that the Government are proposing for other parts of the country, that until last year the district council in whose area his constituency lies was controlled by the Conservative party. I remind the hon. Member for Sherwood that Robin Hood was born in Locksley in Sheffield, and, like the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), I recall that Robin Hood took from the rich to give to the poor, and not the other way round. From Sheffield, we shall continue to advocate that as hard as we can.
It is not surprising that the issue of what sort of democracy we are and the nature of our local government is a primary part of the Government's programme. The Prime Minister has spelt out on many occasions that it is her intention to sweep Socialism from the face of Britain. This afternoon she has reminded us that she has nothing but disdain for collectivism. Like the trade unions, local government has stood in the way of the restructuring of our economic and social life; instead of the democracy of the ballot box at all levels, the democracy of the bank balance and of the privilege that comes with wealth and property will be how our democracy operates in a Conservative Britain.
In other words, we shall be taking a step back 100 years to the time when people fought to ensure that democracy was based on citizenship and not on the property that people owned. Talk of a property or share or capital-owning democracy is an insult to the people of Sheffield, Brightside, who, day in and day out, look not at where they can put their money on the Stock Exchange or in the best possible share dealing but at where they can put their money to ensure that their children have food on the table and clothes on their backs. Any family or parent would expect to ensure that the money that they wish to earn will keep their families well looked after.
The words that the Prime Minister used this afternoon about decreasing dependence are hollow to those whose dependence on the state has been increased by mass unemployment, by the increased poverty that goes with it and by the ever increasing dependence on state benefits that they experience. If we want to lift people out of dependence on a central state, we need to ensure that they can earn their living and that they have the dignity and status that go with using their skills. They must earn their money, not make money by speculating on the Stock Exchange or selling property that they may have acquired at a knock-down price from a give-away Conservative Government. They must be able to earn it by hard work in our factories, offices, shops and communities, by providing services and producing goods, and making sure that we have wealth for the future.
The people of Brightside do not want to hear talk of pricing themselves into jobs. Lower wages mean increased dependence on benefits for those who are in work. The number of those who receive housing benefit as rents are pushed up and their earnings go down has dramatically increased—it has doubled during the eight years of the present Government.
In that spirit, we need to examine a different future. This afternoon we heard a dangerous and disturbing comment from the Prime Minister about the security of 72 local government finance. I hope that she will withdraw that remark at some point, because the interest rates for all local authority borrowing and the well-being of local government finance as a whole are not served by statements such as that made by the Prime Minister. That applies to Conservative, alliance or Labour-controlled local governments.
We have, I hope, a pluralistic democracy that is based not solely on the ownership of wealth or the votes that put us in this House, but on being able to make decisions across the country for the well-being of our communities. The cultural, political, social and economic diversity of the country must be respected if we are not to have the elective dictatorship of which Lord Hailsham spoke some years ago. We must not have a single solution imposed on every part of our country, or a position in which the zealots and missionaries from down south believe that they have the answers for Scotland, Wales and the inner cities of the north.
Some of us are working together. Industry, commerce, business, trade unions, higher education and research institutions are working with local government to come up with solutions of their own. We do not want the solutions imposed through urban development corporations, for which public money is readily available as long as it is directed from the centre and is in the hands of those who wish to offer our communities as hosts to those who want to come in and make for themselves, rather than to stimulate and support the community.
I wonder whether the intentions of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) or of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry reflect what the Government intend to do. Is it to be the colonisation of Scotland, the north and Wales, or the self-help programmes for the inner cities? There is a considerable difference. Sheffield alone has lost almost exactly the same amount of money in local government grant and subsidies as has been pumped in public money into the London docklands. I challenge the Prime Minister to give the city of Sheffield the money about which she spoke, in terms of the urban development corporations that were mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), to use for the benefit of local people through the democracy that has existed for generations, rather than to impose her solutions from outside. Working together, we can use enterprise arid initiative to rebuild our communities. Until eight years ago our people had jobs. They had pride in the crafts and skills that they used in steel and engineering. I was appalled to hear those industries described today by the Prime Minister as the bad parts of our industry. They were the industries on which our wealth was created and on which many people in this part of the country were happy to live for generations. We want the opportunity to do that all over again. We expect even this Government to respect those differences and that diversity.
If we are to have the opportunity to extend and develop democracy, we must stop the vilification and undermining of confidence in local democracy, as the leader of the Liberal party said earlier. If we remove the safety valve that allows people to determine what will happen in their communities for themselves, if we remove the opportunity for people to be helped to change the nature of their lives, we pose a dangerous threat to democracy itself. If people cannot find an outlet for their frustration, and if the symptoms of the present decay of inner city areas are not 73 allowed a democratic outlet, the Government will inevitably be forced into even greater authoritarianism in order to suppress those symptoms and overcome the frustrations and difficulties that people in such areas will be displaying.
I appeal to the Prime Minister to take account of all that. Democracy is not a slogan about whether people own capital or shares; it is something that belongs to us, which our grandparents fought to achieve. The ballot box, in local as well as in national elections, is an important part of the pluralistic democracy of which we have been so proud.
I hope that we will also ensure that public money is made available for our people and not simply for those who are willing to come from abroad to exploit our country. We do not need the Japanese and Americans, and we certainly do not need to invest in golf courses or in mansions to provide for them. We want leisure facilities and decent housing for our people, because that is their birthright.
If the Government are to invest public money in inner city areas through housing action trusts, as described this afternoon, why are the Government not prepared to provide the same resources to those local authorities that are willing to work with their tenants to ensure that together they are able to repair the desperate housing stock currently existing in many of our major areas? Why is the money that is being made available to the London Docklands Development Corporation not being made available to local government? Is it that the direction of the LDDC suits the Government? Two hundred-year leases without rent review are being given to speculative companies willing to put their money into the London docklands. Property is being sold at well below the market price to encourage people to make a quick buck. If that was done by the much vilified local government system, those councillors would be surcharged and disqualified for neglecting their fiduciary duties.
I say to the Government, to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is, of course, not with us in the House, and to those who, on his behalf, listen and report back to him that we do not want solutions imposed as though we were colonies of an underdeveloped nation. We are not a separate part of the country. We want the opportunity to do things for ourselves with our people. If the Prime Minister means what she says about the need to listen and to be willing to co-operate with those who wish to regenerate their economies and communities, I hope that, respecting the cultures and the politics of those areas, she will be willing to put some of those resources and some of that commitment into areas where it is clear that the whole of the community, speaking with one voice, is unified in seeking a way forward. It is statesmanship of the first order that unites a nation and does not divide it. It is those who give people the dignity of having a job and of using their skills who will be remembered. Those of us who have to suffer the difficulty of Opposition in the years ahead will continue to ask that this country should see our democracy operate in the interests of everyone, and not just in the mission for a few.
§ Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)
Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for affording me the opportunity of 74 addressing the House this early in the debate on the Loyal Address. I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his speech. It was a fighting speech. Indeed, he comes to the House with a considerable reputation in local government and in the Labour party, and also with a considerable reputation for courage. We salute him for that and I hope that he will make a considerable contribution to our debates and our discussions in the House.
I, too, propose to say something about local government and local government finance, but before doing so may I say how much I welcome the Queen's Speech and the very clear radical thrust in its proposals. It is quite obvious that we shall have a number of late sittings. I welcome that because I hope that the Government will in no way on this occasion lose the momentum that I believe we have gained from our stunning result at the general election. I was particularly pleased, therefore, to hear that in the first year there are definite proposals to go ahead with the reform of local government and local government finance. I appreciate that this is a controversial area but we have debated these issues in the Conservative party now for many years. Indeed, I remember the time when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was the Minister responsible for local government. He carried out a widespread consultation with all Back-Bench Members of Parliament but, alas, at that time there was a failure to agree and so no measures were introduced. However, the problems did not go away and, if anything, the problems of unfairness and the lack of equity increased.
I am very pleased that we have now finally reached a situation where I believe the majority of the parliamentary party will support the proposals on which we fought the general election campaign. Under our proposals the burden will be spread more evenly and more widely than has hitherto been the case and there will be a greater measure of accountability between the electorate and those who are elected to serve as local councillors. I sincerely hope that, as our debates develop, the Government will not run away from their proposals.
Earlier today I was interested and amused to have an exchange outside the Chamber with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who said that the reason that the Conservative party had done so badly in Scotland at the general election was the introduction of the community charge. The Conservative party was already facing difficulties in Scotland before its introduction—the hon. Gentleman may remember that there was uproar over the revaluation which took place. Were we not to introduce the community charge in England and in Wales and were we instead to proceed with the long delayed revaluation, I think that we would face considerable problems, which is another reason why we are right to press on with our new proposals.
Having engaged the hon. Member for Linlithgow in a discussion about community charge I could not help but have a further discussion with him about what used to be called the West Lothian question, what I suppose is now the Linlithgow question. It has already been raised in the newspapers after the general election results in Scotland. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Government generally that those of us who resisted the proposals to go ahead with a measure 75 of devolution in the 1974–79 Parliament would do so again in this Parliament were the Government to be so unwise as to travel down that road.
I read an article in The Guardian yesterday which sought to depict the way in which Scottish Question Time will develop. It pointed out that there may not be too many Members on the Government side of the House on those occasions. I propose, and I hope that a lot of my hon. Friends will join me, to attend Scottish Question Time in future as often as I can. I think Scottish Question Time will be absolutely fascinating. It is important that there should be no wobbling on the issue of devolution. We must make absolutely certain that we do not get ourselves into the trap of being led on to ground which will be marshy and swampy and from which there will be no escape.
The answer to the problems of the Conservatives in Scotland is not that there has been too much of what the press refers to as Thatcherism but that there has been not enough. It is necessary for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office to continue, with Treasury Ministers and other Ministers, to pursue policies in Scotland that will continue to bring benefits to the Scottish economy. Thus, more people in Scotland will abandon the defensive posture or attitude of believing that when there are problems and difficulties they must always turn to the state for protection rather than to the benefits that can be produced from an efficiently working capitalist economy. Markets do work and markets do clear, and the more that can be done to improve the market economy in Scotland, the better the prospects for people in Scotland will be.
When I listened to Opposition Members talking about Scotland I realised that that is only one manifestation of what the chattering classes refer to as the north-south divide. I have been a Member of Parliament for an industrial conurbation in the north of England — for Greater Manchester—for 13 years and I am bound to say that the caricatures that I read in the national press are just that. Contrary to the description that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Brightside, it simply is not true to depict our country as divided between haves and have-nots in terms of a simple geographical division between the north and the south. He knows as well as I that large parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester are prosperous because they have taken up the opportunities offered by the Government instead of going down the narrow mean streets of Socialist authoritarianism of the kind practised in the city of Manchester.
There are 10 Conservative Members in the 30 constituencies in the county of Greater Manchester and each one represents a prosperous community. There are three Conservative Members in the metropolitan borough of Stockport and it is no accident that Stockport's rates are well below those of the city of Manchester or that businesses are moving from the city to boroughs such as Stockport because they do not want to put up with the sort of nonsense from Socialist councillors that they are expected to put up with in Manchester.
Unless radical steps are taken to deal with the problems of the inner cities, the decline will continue. I am delighted that the Government are to go ahead with a variety of measures to take the Conservative attack into the Labour heartlands. That is a great challenge for us in this Parliament.
We made sweeping gains in the general election in a number of constituencies that the Labour party had 76 regarded as being its for ever. I salute in particular my new hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who went into the Labour heartlands and won votes from people who had previously voted Labour. The victory at Battersea was not the result of yuppies moving into the area; the Conservative candidate won the hearts and minds of erstwhile Labour voters. That needs to be done in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, and we will do it.
I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the chairman of the Conservative party, is present. He has already started to unveil some plans and I wish him well. Until there is a concerted effort to turn back the Socialist policies of our great northern cities we shall continue to have difficulties and problems.
My message to the Government is that whatever happens we must not lose momentum. We must take the opportunity that the historic general election victory has given us and press ahead with our policies and the proposals in the Queen's Speech. If we do that, we shall trounce the Labour party in the next general election arid shall deserve to do so.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) seemed to be still fighting the general election, and doing so in a strident way which was a contrast to the tone of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett).
I join in the welcome given to the hon. Member for Brightside and thank him for his thoughtful contribution on the nature of democracy. If we had more discussion on that topic, the House would be more representative of those whom we are supposed to represent.
I wish to start by examining the nature of democracy. As we have already seen, a serious democratic issue faces the people of the countries and regions of the United Kingdom. That issue involves the Government's right to pursue the policies set out in the Queen's Speech in the regions and nations of the kingdom. That is the most fundamental question which any democracy can face and we must face it at the start of this new Parliament.
I tried to elicit from the Prime Minister, who would not give way to me, whether she intended that the policy of selling schools out of the state sector and funding them directly from the central education Departments would apply to Wales and Scotland. I should like a clear answer to that question tonight.
The Prime Minister twice mentioned the Department of Education and Science, but did not mention the Scottish Office or the Welsh Office. I therefore assume that the Government do not intend to introduce their divisive education policies in Scotland and Wales. If that is so, I shall be glad, because there is clearly no support in Scotland and Wales for the education policy or for the policy on what the Queen's Speech calls housing reform, involving the withdrawal of support, through the system of controlled tenancies, for those tenants in the private sector.
There is also no support in Wales and Scotland for other parts of the Queen's Speech, such as the emphasis on further firm control of public expenditure. There is support in Wales, Scotland and the north of England for further public expenditure. Liberal, Labour, Plaid Cymru 77 and SNP Members regard it as their mandate to argue for additional public expenditure. It is our democratic entitlement to do that.
We see it as incumbent on the Government to respond to the demand for more public expenditure. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), said, in the thoughtful second half of his speech, that he understood that the Government needed to respond sensitively to diversity, protest and opposition within parts of their territory. Unless the Prime Minister responds sensitively to those demands she will be the last Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in their current form. She must take that decision. It is clear that the people of Scotland, Wales and the northern region of England will see that only by demanding greater autonomy—perhaps in different ways in different areas—will they be able to ensure a response to their valid political demands.
Perhaps the most reprehensible parts of the Queen's Speech are those dealing with international affairs and defence. I wish to discuss those, but first I wish to examine the political response to the election result.
We have already seen the Prime Minister's attitude to Wales in the appointment of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) as the Secretary of State for Wales. I am not one of the narrow nationalists who believe that English people cannot make a contribution to Welsh politics. Indeed, I should not be an hon. Member if it were not for the votes of English people who have moved into Wales and have the good sense to vote for me. My criticism is not that English people should not take part in Welsh politics. We had Mr. Keith Best as the hon. Member for Ynys Môn during a short interregnum in the politics of Anglesey. He was an assiduous constituency Member and I am sure that his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), will pay tribute to him.
The argument is not that the new Secretary of State represents Worcester and can see Wales on a good day; the argument is whether the Secretaries of State for the territorial Departments of the United Kingdom — the Northern Ireland Office is a slightly different case — should be based within the politics of those countries. That principle has never yet been breached in the Scottish Office, but it has been breached in the Welsh Office.
Welsh Tory Members are not present today. Perhaps they have disappeared from the House; they have almost disappeared from Welsh politics. Before the appointment of the right hon. Member for Worcester those hon. Members kept saying how important it was that the Secretary of State for Wales should represent a Welsh constituency. After the right hon. Gentleman's appointment those hon. Members turned down all requests to be interviewed on Welsh television because they were so embarrassed.
The appointment was a negation of Welsh democracy. The traditional role of the Secretary of State for Wales is to represent in the British Cabinet the interests of Wales as a country within Great Britain. It is not his role to represent in Wales Government policies in which he has been schooled in other Departments. Yet that is precisely the role that the right hon. Member for Worcester is bound to follow, because that has been his departmental schooling in a series of Tory Governments.
78 Therefore, the principle has been breached. Every previous Secretary of State but one has represented a Welsh seat. The only exception occurred in the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when the Secretary of State represented an English constituency but had previously represented a Welsh seat. In that case the person did not have a Welsh seat, but at least he had been part of Welsh politics for most of his political life. In the breaching of that principle the Government have shown contempt for the principle of democracy and, indeed, for the principle upon which the Welsh Office was founded — namely, that it was a recognition of the political integrity of Wales and that that integrity should be represented in Cabinet.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman think it is right for hon. Members who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies to hold office in any other part of our unitary Parliament? If he does not think that, he must tell us why.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is an important principle that devolved Departments should be staffed by Ministers from the relevant territories. In the case of Departments with overall United Kingdom responsibility— as, for example, in the Department of Energy, because energy is clearly a major issue in Scotland— it makes sense that a Minister in such a Department should represent Scottish interests. The same principle applies to education. Where higher education is not a devolved function, as in the case of Wales, a Minister from a Welsh constituency might have an important contribution to make to higher education in the United Kingdom as a whole.
I served for five years in the previous Parliaments with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. It is clearly sensible that hon. Members from all over the United Kingdom should be allowed to make a contribution. In the case of Scotland and Wales we are talking about specific Ministers with territorial responsibilities which have been devolved to those Departments by legislation. In this instance the basic principle of Welsh democracy has been breached.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove spoke about the joy that he would get from being present during Scottish questions. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is part of his responsibility in representing the electors of Hazel Grove to disrupt democracy in Scotland? Clearly, the role of Scottish Members is to question the territorial department of the Scottish Office, and if that process is disrupted by hon. Members representing English constituencies it will be a serious matter for the Chair. Indeed, it might well be a matter to be referred at some stage to the Committee of Privileges if we find that in the first or second lot of Scottish or Welsh questions English Members seek to disrupt the democratic will of the Scottish and Welsh people.
I am certain that the Chair has already addressed itself to the issue of the selection of Members to speak in Scottish and Welsh debates and during Welsh and Scottish questions. We expect the selection to reflect the balance of parties in those nations, not the balance of parties in this House. A similar system should apply to the selection of hon. Members to sit on Scottish and Welsh Select Committees. Those Committees should respect the political will of the electors in Scotland and Wales and 79 reflect the political balance in Wales and Scotland. The Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees should reflect the same balance. The Secretary of State for Wales is in a difficult position because he does not represent a Welsh constituency.
I have set out that agenda because it is an agenda for potential constitutional conflict. It reflects the reality of the election results democratically delivered by the ballot box in Wales and Scotland.
I should now like to turn from the domestic and internal divisions that are part of the Government's programme to dealing with the international disaster that the Government have launched with their even firmer than usual statement in this Queen's Speech about the deployment of Trident submarines. Throughout the countries of Britain there is no democratic majority for this escalation in the arms race unilaterally being carried out by the Government.
It is significant that in the order of priorities in the Gracious Speech deployment comes first and arms control comes second. Once again we see the multilateral myths of the Conservative party. It is concerned in the first instance with so-called modernisation of the so-called independent nuclear deterrent rather than with giving first priority to arms control. The acquisition and introduction of Trident by the Government is a serious unilateral escalation of the arms race. As we know, the Trident D5 has been designed as a weapon of greater effectiveness against hardened targets and it has a higher yield. The yield is far higher than that of the current warheads in the Chevaline programme, although that was modernised in secret by the previous Labour Government. This Government's modernisation will result in substantially greater capacity and in the acquisition by the United Kingdom of what is potentially a first-strike weapon. That is a serious escalation of the arms race and it has been undertaken by the Government. It will be part of the whole so-called NATO deterrent strategy, but in no sense can it be described as an independent deterrent because the whole of its command, control and targeting will depend on United States facilities.
The Government have no mandate in Scotland and Wales to pursue their divisive social and economic programme. In addition, by pursuing their foreign policy programme of putting a higher priority on unilateral escalation of the arms race rather than on multilateral disarmament through arms control measures, they are a threat on the international scene. The Prime Minister should realise that her internal and external responsibilities will be very grave during the pursuit of the Government's programme over the next four years.
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his maiden speech. He spoke about the engineering industry and about Sheffield and the steel industry. I am chairman of the parliamentary group for engineering development and 1 find it one of the most interesting committees that I have attended. That is because we are concerned to see that our manufacturing industry is brought up to date so that it can create wealth to try to carry out many of die things that the hon. Member for Brightside mentioned.
When one visits industrial firms it is exciting to see the progress that is being made. That is especially true of computer-aided manufacture and design. The more 80 progress that we make and the more skill that we have the more we shall be able to compete with West Germany and Japan and with our other competitors. That will enable us to create the wealth that is needed to solve some of the difficult problems in the inner cities and in manufacturing industry.
We must not discount what is already being done. In my constituency I have two engineering companies and they are exporting machine tools to Japan. Another company, which is a joint enterprise with the Americans, is exporting 18 per cent. of its products to Japan. 'That is the sort of thing that is being done and we must not be disparaging about our engineering industry. One of the things that we must do is to see that it is encouraged more to carry out research and development. We must also see that we have skilled teachers in industry and in our schools to encourage those people who can use their skills to create the kind of quality that is required to enable us to compete.
Those are some of my thoughts. I am glad to say that after only two years about 120 hon. Members are members of the parliamentary group for engineering development. I hope that other hon. Members will follow their example. I should like to say a lot more but this is not the time or the place to do it.
One of my reasons for welcoming this third term of office by the Prime Minister is the continuity that it will bring to the economy and to foreign affairs. Given the Prime Minister's experience in the realm of foreign affairs, I am sure that she will be able to make a great contribution towards solving some of our problems. As it says in the Queen's Speech:My Government will work for greater trust and confidence between East and West".I had the good fortune to be in China in April this year. I had been there 10 years previously. The change that had taken place in that country's economy over that period was something that had to be seen to be believed. The difference was that the Chinese Government had moved to much more of a market economy from a centrally controlled economy. The farmers, instead of working for the state, were able to work for themselves and put their profits in the bank. The same applied to many small businesses.
The litmus paper that I have in our relations with Russia is whether this will happen there. I sincerely hope so. We must watch this carefully. Mr. Gorbachev is having a fight with the old guard and those who look backwards and not forwards over whether he will be able to create competition and a market economy, which can lead to less centralisation. In that context, we must examine the balance of power.
I have just been in Washington and I know the importance of our being a member of NATO. We want to see more disarmament, both nuclear and conventional. However, until we see change in the economy of the Soviet Union, we have to look at the great military power of the Soviet Union, whether in chemical weapons, in terms of the nuclear Typhoon submarine or of the conventional navy. We must be realistic about that and learn about it. However, we have great hopes that we are now on a different threshold and will be able to get a better understanding than we have yet been able to achieve. This is why I am delighted that we have this continuity of Government and that my right hon. Friend the Prime 81 Minister has been able to visit the Soviet Union, and has been able to discover what is happening in other parts of the world. I hope that this will bear fruit for all of us.
I have looked at the amount of business that we have to do in the House in the next 18 months, and I fear that we shall not have much time to debate foreign affairs. Therefore, I hope that the importance of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is realised, particularly in the part of the world in which I am interested— Japan, China and the new industrial countries. I hope that the Government will consider creating a sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee to deal with those countries because there would then be the possibility of debating in much greater depth, and gaining much greater knowledge of, these countries, and the debates that took place on the Floor of the House would be better.
Two points arose in my constituency during the general election. About 40 per cent. of my electorate are retired people, many of whom are over 75 years of age. That means that they suffered more than most people in the inflationary period that we had to face from 1977 to 1981. There is a case for the Government to look at this to see whether some differential help can be given. Some of these people are on the margin and do not have a great deal of capital, so need such help. Undoubtedly, that age group is having a difficult time and is finding it hard to face up to modern costs of living.
There is also the problem of single people living alone. I welcome the Government's proposed changes in local government finance — something that I have been pressing them to carry out for a long time. I hope that when people discuss a community tax or poll tax, they will think about how they can help single people living alone, particularly widowers or widows. Undoubtedly, the changes that the Government have proposed will help those who are not earning a great deal. One should compare the case of the single earner living alone with that of a family of five wage earners in the house next door. Something must be done about such anomalies, so I welcome the Government's rating proposals.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech. I am delighted that we have this continuity of Government, which was needed not only for industry but for the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
1 am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my speech in the first and the most important debate of this new Parliament.
I am proud to stand here on behalf of the people of Nottingham, North — the community in which I was born and raised, and which has sent me here to fight for its interests. Nottingham, North is a community now on the borderlands of a Britain divided between the stricken north and the affluent south, a borderland which produces a political turbulence which I hope will be strong enough to make and unmake Government majorities. The sooner that that happens, the better it will be for all of us.
I gladly continue the convention and pay tribute to my predecessor — a Conservative — Mr. Richard Ottaway, who in his time as Member for Nottingham, North acquitted himself both in the constituency and, I understand from his colleagues, in the House with dignity 82 and courtesy. He and his party fought a skilled and professional local campaign, and it is the highest possible tribute to the Nottingham, North Labour party workers that we emerged victorious from the contest. We will relearn much from our opponents, not least the basics of the effective use of organisers at national and local level, the use of telephone canvassing and all the modern campaigning techniques.
The brilliant flash of a four-week campaign at national level, while it is essential, should he only a complement to, and not a substitute for, the years of unglamorous organisational work that is necessary to underpin our Democratic Socialist ideals at local level. We must learn quickly so that we can win the next election, but also so that we can be at our most effective in opposition over the next four years.
This is necessary above all because in the country, and in particular in my constituency—where we are afflicted with a Conservative council as well as a Tory Government — people will look to us to defend them against the excesses and extremism that seep from every pore of the Queen's Speech. The quaint parliamentary language remains the final veil covering the real hideousness of the "hidden manifesto" to which the electorate were not, and still are not, privy.
I am indebted to the older hands on the Labour Benches who suggested that I read the maiden speech of my predecessor. In 1983 he rightly referred to the industrial might around my constituency, to Boots the Chemists, Raleigh cycles, the royal ordnance factories and Babbington pit, one of the local collieries.
My first sad duty is to report to the House that since that time Babbington pit and our neighbouring colliery of Hucknall have closed, Boots has "restructured" and Raleigh cycles, a shell of its former self, has been sold off —an ironic monument to the bankruptcy of the "on yer bike" philosophy. Royal ordnance factory Chilwell and Thorn EMI have closed permanently, and ROF Nottingham is to be privatised, which will lead to further job losses in conventional arms manufacturing in my constituency. What a boost it would have been had this House now been committed to strong, secure conventional defence instead of one-sided, rundown and multi-faceted job losses in my constituency. The other industrial giant in Nottingham, North, John Players Tobacco, has only postponed redundancies at the expense of fellow workers in Swindon.
Ten thousand jobs have gone. Ten thousand real people with real families have been wasted. That is Nottingham's profit from the victory of 1983. We want those jobs back and I want to make it clear to the House and the people of Nottingham that my overriding priority will be to undo the damage caused by what are called the Thatcher years so that all those men and women who want work can have it.
The east midlands as a region for so long protected from the recession has been catching up with a vengeance. The same applies to Nottingham's council estates and to our hospitals and pensioners and to all the other areas that lie emaciated by a Government fat on the arrogance of 13 years of unfettered power.
The Queen's Speech today piles on the agony and I will seek to make my contribution as the Labour party exposes the proposals line by line while promoting our positive and constructive alternative inside and outside Parliament. We must demonstrate, especially to the young, that the 83 practice of our democracy amounts to more than a four-yearly TV special. Then, and only then, will "anyone with a conscience" refuse to waste their vote on third parties whose only contribution has been to deliver a second and third term to a Government despised by half the nation. However, that debate will await another day.
Impatient as I am as a newcomer to Parliament—and if 1 had a desk, I would hang it—I wish to avoid the pitfall of William Cobbett who made his maiden speech early in the 19th century after listening to just one debate and pronounced:Mr. Speaker, it appears to me that since I have been sitting here I have heard a great deal of vain and unprofitable conversat ion.Mr. Speaker, since I have been sitting here it is clear that the electors of Nottingham, North have given me more than a ringside seat to witness today's drawing up of the battle lines for a new Parliament. In the face of overweening Government power, I hope for a Parliament in which Back Benchers will be not merely onlookers but participants. With your assistance, Mr. Speaker, and in Gladstone's words, while we will not run the country we will and must, ever more effectively,
hold to account those who do.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
My first very pleasant duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on his maiden speech. We also very much appreciate his comments about his Conservative predecessor.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North comes from the east midlands and I come from the west midlands. Obviously we have a certain amount in common with regard to the amount of industry and commerce which we have lost and which 1 hope we will regain. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's comments and hopes for the Back Bencher, I think that our present Speaker—and I am not trying to flatter Mr. Speaker—is particularly careful and anxious about looking after the interests of Back Benchers at all times. We therefore hope to hear much more from the hon. Member for Nottingham, North in the debates to come.
I welcome the Queen's Speech not only for the Bills proposed, but for its tenor. This Parliament meets after several difficult years for the economy, particularly in the early 1980s and, prior to that, the many years of "stop go". It is now very difficult for us to comprehend the fact that good times and much better times are coming. Morale is just as important in a nation as in an army. Morale is improving everywhere, even in the darkest corners. I was enormously impressed by the keenness and interest shown by young people in the election, many of whom supported the Government, although they had not been voters when the previous Labour Government were in power.
We must never talk down our achievements as a nation. The nation and the Government have great successes to their credit across the whole economic front. They include low inflation, high productivity, increasing production, increasing sales at home and above all abroad, excellent labour relations and a higher standard of living for most people. Apart from the very important issue of defence, those achievements were the reason why the Conservative party won the election.
I was amazed, even in my hard-working constituency, to see the improvement in the lives of ordinary working 84 people over the past four years. I was amazed to see the new homes that have been purchased and how well they had been painted and cared for. I was amazed by the immaculate gardens that were so well tended. Often there was a car in the drive and sometimes there were two. People have savings in the bank or building society or possibly own shares. Of course they have holidays abroad; indeed, many have been to Spain already. I have not been anywhere so far this year. I was very proud to see children leaving school at 3.15 pm so well turned out. What a credit they were to us. When 1 remember the conditions that existed when I was a boy 60 years ago, I thank God for what has happened.
Of course the nation has its dark spots and we have heard much reference to them today. Scotland is a puzzle to me. I have spoken in Scotland on only three or four occasions, but I have always enjoyed it. Had I not been born an Englishman, I would have wanted to have been horn a Scotsman. I know something of the history of the Scottish people. They used to be a proud and independent people who went all over the British empire. There were Scots engineers on almost every ship on the oceans. However, in recent years millions of pounds from the British taxpayer have been poured into that country without apparently doing any good.
In the west midlands we know about recession. Our recession from 1980 to 1983 was one of the worst in the country. Masses of' factories closed and many firms went bust. However, I was struck by the fact that my constituents hardly ever complained. I can remember only two managing directors telling me that their firms were going bust. I rarely saw workers out of work and they never asked me to put my hand into the Government's till. They did not want handouts. Instead, at each election they returned me with ever-increasing majorities. Now the west midlands is beginning to boom again, and boom it will.
This is hard for me to say, but I must tell the truth. During the election campaign in which I met hundreds of people, I found that those making a go of their lives were nearly always Conservatives. Perhaps that lack of go has been part of the reason for difficulties in some parts of the country. The tenor and purpose of the Government is to set people free from the shackles of the state or the trade union or restrictive practices in their professions so that they can give of their best. Surely in Scotland there are enough leaders and people with go to ensure that salvation will come from the people—from the individuals helping themselves rather than expecting help from the taxpayer in London. As I say so often in Parliament, leaders are needed at every level in society. With good leaders the rest will follow, and that can be seen in the armed forces. Whether or not the people in Scotland live on porridge, I cannot accept that they are so different from the rest of us that they cannot get up and go. I appeal for them to do that.
I have an inner city area on my doorstep in Birmingham. I have seen improvements that have been made there and I know others will be made. However, there must be a partnership among Government, industry, the local authority and individuals who are prepared to start businesses, to take part in new enterprises, to live in the area and to improve it. I cannot see why that is not being done in more places apart from in the midlands.
We have in this island certain difficult social problems to overcome. One of the most serious and worrying is the enormous increase in crime. That was the one matter 85 about which I heard from everybody in my constituency day after day with monotonous regularity. I welcome what the Government have done to combat crime by increasing the police force, their better pay, which in some cases is now very high indeed, the building of more prisons, sterner sentences and the Criminal Justice Act. But somehow the Government and others have forgotten a most important factor—the moral dimension.
Most crime is committed by youngsters, and some are very young indeed. Yet why do we seldom hear about that? Why do not teachers, the clergy and everyone in positions of responsibility say that the first thing is the family and the authority, and the respect in which it is held, of the father in the family? What are parents doing when young people are committing such awful offences? Surely there must be a need for good moral and Christian teaching to regain the standards that we used to have in Britain. Before the war, with much more poverty, there was much better behaviour, and so poverty does not seem to cause crime.
Something else that has worried me greatly since the election is what I call the further treason of the clerks. By that I do not just mean The Observer and The Guardian. Almost the whole intellectual world, including the bishops, some of the clergy and the universities are bitterly hostile to and critical of the Prime Minister to an almost scandalous extent. My own university, Oxford, which I love so dearly and of which I have been so proud, made a complete fool of itself in denying the Prime Minister an honorary degree. How much greater a fool it must be now in not giving her one straightaway for being Prime Minister three times in succession, and Prime Minister, of course, as a woman.
§ Mr. Stokes
Nothing less than an earldom.
What was Oxford's petty grievance about? After years and years of overfunding, too many universities, too many students, colossal inflation in professors, some of whom were less good than they might have been, there was a cut in university grants, which did not affect Oxford which continued in its own extremely comfortable way. I know because I live 10 miles away. But now we have Professor Sir Mark Richmond, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, saying what a good thing the cuts of the last six years were and that they provided an enormous kick up the pants.
But it is not only the intellectuals who hate the Prime Minister. Some people—not in my sensible constituency — among the middle class members of the Social Democratic and Liberal parties are anti-Thatcher, unpatriotic and out to get all that they can from the welfare state. Yet they call us Tories uncaring. Care is an individual matter. It does not mean making the other fellow pay more tax to ease one's conscience. There is hardly a Tory lady, in my constituency or elsewhere, who does not do all kinds of good works—the charities, the voluntary welfare services, church work and much else. In fact, they are so busy doing other things that they do not always have enough time to attend to their Conservative business. I object to being called callous and non-caring. 86 I feel a responsibility for each and every one of my 79,000 constituents, although I do not necessarily want to give them all more taxpayers' money.
I welcome many of the new Bills, but I hope that with the great amount of proposed legislation we are not allowing our enthusiasm to run away with us. We must take it steady and progress step by step. The most important Bill is the one which will allow more rented accommodation so that there can be far greater mobility of labour. The lack of rented accommodation is a great difficulty in getting people from the midlands and the north to move south to where so many of the jobs are.
I welcome the improvement proposed for the running of state schools. I do not know why, but they have failed dreadfully. The teachers must share part of the blame for that and, I suppose, the parents. When I was a boy, 50 or 60 years ago, everybody I knew could read and write. Now my jobcentres tell me that 10 to 20 per cent. can neither read nor write, nor do elementary sums. That is a dreadful indictment of our education system since the war.
I am also glad that council tenants will be able to have more freedom in choosing their landlords, and, having seen something of the housing associations, I think that they are a good thing.
Many of my trade unionist constituents will welcome greater freedom in deciding whether to go on strike, how to choose their leaders and how to conduct their affairs. I am glad that we are excluding Sunday from the change in the licensing laws so as not to raise a hornets' nest. If sensibly done, the changes will go through without much contention.
We are giving this welfare state United Kingdom more freedom and responsibility. There is still a colossal amount to be done. There are still far too many quangos. Far too much Government money is spent. The Civil Service is still far too big and local authorities are still far too overstaffed. But we are getting it right. Things are getting better. The Tory party is here not, as some people say, to encourage yuppies, but to encourage ordinary people who work hard and honestly every day of their lives, as do many of my constituents. The people everywhere are being given the opportunity to earn more and to have more of the good things in life—and what is wrong with that? But the Tory party must never forget that man does not live by bread alone.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I shall confine most of my remarks to the Scottish dimension of the Queen's Speech. There is very little mention of Scotland in the Queen's Speech although, perhaps significantly, it has been mentioned by several speakers in the debate so far, including the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes).
The hon. Gentleman seemed to conjure up an image of the Scots as a nation of beggars looking for handouts from the English Treasury. On reading Hansard, many Scots will find his remarks deeply insulting. Even on revenue-raising within the United Kingdom the hon. Gentleman seems to forget that, due to legislation enacted by the previous Labour Government, the Tory Government have had the opportunity of £50 billion of North sea oil revenues, much of it coming from Scottish waters and much of it produced through the enterprise and hard work 87 of Scottish workers. Therefore, I strongly resent his remarks and the image of the Scottish people that he tried to put across.
The Prime Minister made several references to Scotland. They may not have been in her original speech as drafted, but, under pressure from various interventions, she did at one stage say that she was sure that many people in Scottish constituencies will welcome the return of a Conservative Government because of their defence policy. That shows how out of touch she is with Scottish public opinion. The vast majority of the people of Scotland would gladly swop the Trident missile for a Scottish Parliament with legislative and economic powers, directly elected by and accountable to the people of Scotland.
We need a Scottish Parliament to defend the Scottish people, not against an external enemy but against the enemy within. After eight years of Thatcherism, the Scottish people know, probably more than most people in the United Kingdom, the need for more defence against the evils of mass unemployment, deprivation, homelessness and all the other ills which have been visited upon the Scottish people over the past eight years. The Tory party was the only party which fought the election in Scotland with no proposals for any form of Scottish parliament. It is no wonder, therefore, that as a result it is reduced to a discredited rump of 10 hon. Members. It is arrogant of them to refuse to respond to the legitimate demands for devolution in Scotland by saying that the demand does not exist. There are other Conservative Members, perhaps not all of them, who say, "It is not a top priority, it was not a major issue during the general election campaign and it is not a major issue now."
I agree that there are other big issues, but probably the biggest in the election campaign in Scotland was the mass unemployment which has been deliberately created by this Government. The fact that there are over one third of a million unemployed people in Scotland was why 76 per cent. of the people of Scotland rejected the Tory Government in the ballot box. However, there were other issues, such as housing, education, the National Health Service, the iniquitous poll tax proposals, and social services for the elderly, sick and disabled. All those issues are linked to the demand for devolution and more say in the running of our affairs. Devolution and the Scottish parliament were key issues in the Labour party manifesto because they were to be the means of delivering many other commitments such as a fairer system of local government revenue raising, better social services for the elderly, sick and disabled, a better funded and more democratic Health Service, more education opportunities, and better housing opportunities, and they would have made a significant contribution to the regeneration of the Scottish economy to help to get many Scots back to work.
As a result of the general election—I am not the only hon. Member who has said this in this debate — the Government received no democratic mandate from the people of Scotland. In reply to my brief intervention this afternoon the Prime Minister said that some previous Labour Governments had no mandate to govern England because they had not won a majority of the seats in England. She said that we are all members of a unitary state called the United Kingdom, or words to that effect. No party has ever fought and won a general election in England on a commitment in a manifesto for home rule for England or on the setting up of a devolved English parliament. I detect no demand for the setting up of an 88 English devolved parliament. Many of my hon. Friends who represent constituents in the English regions want decentralisation and a form of devolution in their areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who was no great devolutionist in the 1970s, seems to have changed his tune, because in the aftermath of the general election he said that if the Scots wanted) to declare UDI the people of Merseyside would gladly go with them. The people of Scotland face similar problems to those of Merseyside, Tyneside, Teesside and many of the other depressed areas of England.
The case for Scottish devolution or Scottish home rule is unique and I shall mention four reasons why the Scottish case is unique. First, Scotland is not a county or region. The people of Scotland constitute a nation and, like the people of any nation in the world, they are entitled to as much self-determination as they want. Secondly, Scotland is unique, not just in this House but in the world because it has its own legal system and its own body of Scots law, but it has no legislature to deal with that law. All Scottish laws have to be passed through this over-centralised and over-burdened Parliament. Thirdly, the Scottish case is similar to that in Wales because we have this thing called the Scottish Office. There is already a degree of administrative devolution, but the ministerial team heading the Scottish Office is not directly accountable to the people of Scotland. They were rejected by over 76 per cent. of the people of Scotland at the general election, so the Secretary of State for Scotland appears to the people of Scotland to be some sort of colonial governor general with no democratic mandate from the people whom he rules. Fourthly, in Scotland a clear-cut demand has been expressed through the ballot box. Some 76 per cent of the people of Scotland voted for parties which were committed to some measure of home rule. The vast majority of them would settle for a devolved Scottish parliament with legislative economic powers.
I warn the Government that they had better respond to that legitimate demand. In the first instance it is being demonstrated in a democratic manner in this House. It is up to the Government and this House to respond, otherwise the Government will be heading for trouble in this place and for the possibility of a constitutional crisis inside and outside of this place. Surely it would he ironic if the Prime Minister, who prides herself on flying the Union Jack all the way from Finchley to the Falklands, went down in British history as the Prime Minister who, because of her intransigence, helped to break up the union that she seeks to protect.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I am afraid that I am not very familiar with the problems of Scotland, although I spent a certain amount of my youth there. However, I am certain that there are as many Scottish Members in Scotland who would not like devolution as there are Scottish Members who would, but one must strike a balance between the two.
After eight years of strict economies we have a platform on which we can expand our economy and I was glad to read in the Queen's Speech that defence was one of the first matters to be placed on the agenda. It says that Trident will be retained and that there will be an increase in the effectiveness of conventional forces until a balanced and verifiable arms agreement is achieved which does not leave us at a disadvantage. Working with our American allies 89 and NATO we must try to achieve the ban on chemical and biological weapons which is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We have abandoned those dreadful weapons, but the Soviet Union and its allies still have large stocks of them. We must balance our needs and those of the United States which, in the case of defence, may not be exactly the same. At all costs, we must stick with the Americans and NATO in our attempts to achieve peace.
I was glad to see that mention was made of the Falkland Islands. While we are perfectly happy to negotiate with the Argentines, I was pleased that we had renewed our promise that we would honour our obligations to the Falkland islanders. We may talk about trade and the economy, but we must remember that the question of sovereignty cannot be negotiated.
Mention is also made in the Queen's Speech of the common agricultural policy. It is clear that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Cabinet are endeavouring to revise many aspects of that agreement, and I am sure that they will be successful, particularly with regard to the strict controls on Community spending, which in many cases is quite out of hand.
Probably the greatest of all our problems are unemployment and law and order. Unemployment is the most difficult to tackle, because essentially we must try to create new industries and ideas that will replace the old-fashioned industries that have disappeared simply because they were non-competitive. To do that we must ensure that each child leaving school has the opportunity of further training, particularly in technological trades. That should be combined with industry so that education in the new technological skills can be adapted to our industrial needs. That is the only way in which we shall be able to compete in a highly competitive world.
After all, everyone knows that we are moving towards a new technological revolution in which robots, machines and highly complicated devices are replacing men who have previously done the jobs. We must therefore adjust and ensure that the education of our young people is adapted to those needs.
That brings me to the reform of education which, I am glad to say, includes emphasis on parental choice. Parents have the right to choose. If a school is good, they will want to send their children to it. If it is bad, let it go to the wall. The parents should have the right to choose. A national curriculum which is also mentioned in the Gracious Speech is equally essential. Greater autonomy in the schools and more control over their financial resources are also desirable.
A very good school in my constituency called Altwood is threatened with closure by the local education authority. I hope that it will not be closed because, apart from being a church school, it provides a good technical education. When the children leave, they have a skill that they can employ in the new industries, and it is no good turning them out without such skills. In my opinion, those skills should be geared to industry. Industry should go into the schools. There should be an interchange, so that when the children leave school they are ready to go to work.
I am also pleased that schools will be able to opt out of the system if they so wish. I do not yet know all the details, but the general idea is that, instead of coming under the control of the local education authority, they should be allowed to get their money from the centre and 90 administer themselves in a manner that they would prefer. I am certain that in some areas many schools will opt for that choice.
We have already heard much about crime, and we shall continue to hear about it. It is not crime that we must tackle but the detection of crime. To achieve that, apart from sophisticated appliances, we shall need men on the beat. My own county of Berkshire needs at least 700 extra men over the next four years. Without them it cannot provide a proper police service. It is not out of place for me to say that I have discussed this with the chief constable, and it is clear that the police will be unable to do their job properly unless they have sufficient manpower. Even if more of the existing numbers performing clerical duties were put on the beat, there would still be a shortfall.
I am glad that further protection will he given to the individal trade unionist against the arbitrary authority of union bosses, because that is another aspect of freedom from bureaucracy.
We have much to do in the Health Service in Windsor and Maidenhead hospitals in my constituency. Far too much is spent on administration rather than on doctors and nurses. The relationship between the Health Service and the social services should be revised and the number of administrators should be cut.
The rating system has also been mentioned. I have served on a rating and valuation tribunal for more than 20 years and have seen the anomalies and inequalities that arise from the present system. For the life of me I have never been able to come up with an alternative system that would work. We in this House will have great difficulty in finding an alternative to the thoroughly bad system that now exists. I know from many years' experience that it is difficult to pull an easy solution out of the hat. I am sure that the House will be called upon to deliberate on this matter, and the task of finding a solution will be hard.
Let us look forward to a programme that enables us to move towards fuller employment, improved schooling, better opportunities and greater freedom of choice for the individual. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right when she said that we are slowly converting our country into a property-owning democracy in which people own their own houses and shares. As a result, they feel that they are sharing in the prosperity that we all want to see.
Our attitude towards the new technologies must change. People must realise that the old-fashioned methods that served us so well in the past are now out of date. It is our duty to lead the nation into this new technological age which will be so different. If it is managed efficiently I am quite certain that our country can again become great. At present, thanks to the Prime Minister, our standing in the world is very high. It is now up to us in this Parliament to ensure that we are a prosperous and secure nation so that we can hand over to our next Government a system and country that are better than those we inherited.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)
Like my colleague the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), I, too, am grateful for the opportunity of making my maiden speech during the debate on the Gracious Speech.
First, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Roy Mason, who retired after 34 years of service in 91 the House. During that time Mr. Mason served in a number of Governments and held a number of offices—Minister of State, Board of Trade, Postmaster-General, Minister of Power, President of the Board of Trade, Secretary of State for Defence and, latterly, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was an extremely distinguished political career—one that I shall be only too pleased to emulate and that I shall strive to copy. Throughout his career he represented his consituency fully. He is well respected by the people of Barnsley as well as by his former colleagues in the House. I am sure that the House will wish him all the best for his future and his retirement.
I now turn to the problems facing Barnsley, having particular regard to the contents of the Gracious Speech. Although it is proposed that there will be guaranteed places on youth training schemes for all school leavers under 18, in Barnsley hundreds of youngsters eligible for such schemes are unable to obtain places. Those young people, who wish to take part in the youth training scheme, are unable to do so because of the insufficient number of places provided for them. The Government's guarantee that all 1986 school leavers would be found places on youth training schemes by last Christmas could not be met at Barnsley. In January the Government gave another guarantee that all 17-year-olds would be found places this year. I am again informed that in Barnsley the local authority cannot meet that guarantee. Employers in the Barnsley area do not even have the capacity to take on youth trainees, let alone full-time regular employees.
Youth training schemes are not the solution to unemployment; they never have been and never will be. They are simply a method of removing young people from the unemployment register and providing employers with cheap and exploitable labour. There is considerable resentment among young people who cannot even become a part of what is a poor scheme. Many feel that they are being exploited and are being paid low wages for dangerous jobs in hazardous industries. Many trainees do not get places on the scheme of their choice and they are reluctant to take part in a scheme that they dislike. They are reluctant to gain experience in a job in which they do not wish to remain. Many youngsters are disillusioned from the beginning because they cannot even obtain places on a scheme. Perhaps the most telling reason for the resentment is that the schemes do not work. In my constituency less than 40 per cent. of youth trainees are successful in finding full-time work after their courses finish. Before giving further guarantees to the young people of Barnsley, perhaps the Government should examine their previous guarantees, which so far have failed.
The decision to take powers to withhold benefit from those who refuse youth training schemes, which was referred to in the Gracious Speech, is a callous and calculated act designed to remove any illusion of choice from youth training schemes and artificially to reduce further the level of unemployment. In my constituency there will be considerable concern that a further guarantee of YTS places has been suggested when the local authority cannot meet previous guarantees. There will also be concern among many unemployed people of all ages that the power to withhold benefit is the thin end of the wedge and a precursor to the American style workfare scheme 92 —a system of welfare conscription where unemployed people have to take any sort of work or face destitution as an alternative.
My constituency will suffer under the Government's proposals for inner city development. The reorganisation of regional policy carried out in 1984 led to an increase in the number of designated intermediate areas. That has meant that Barnsley's chances of attracting badly needed enterprise and investment have been devalued. Inner city assistance will further weaken Barnsley's position by attracting enterprise to areas in inner cities and away from Barnsley and other similar towns. All that is despite the fact that Barnsley's level of unemployment is now the fifth highest in the country and that as recently as December 1985 it was the 27th highest. That is despite the fact that unemployment in Barnsley has been consistently higher than the average for development areas and that since the reorganisation of regional policy in November 1984 Barnsley's unemployment has increased to well over 20 per cent. In fact, between January 1985 and April 1986 Barnsley suffered the highest percentage increase in unemployment benefit claimants in the country.
There are precious few job vacancies in Barnsley. There is an average of 80 unemployed people for every listed vacancy and that compares to a national average of 18 per vacancy.
The Government's proposal to bring aid to inner cities is obviously very welcome in the areas concerned, but it is a short-sighted measure bearing in mind that the most recent studies have shown that the drift from urban to rural locations is one that has been described asmore powerful and pervasive than any other trend in industrial location.Old and restricted inner city sites cannot provide the space for expansion that is required by newer enterprises. Therefore, I urge the Government to rethink their policy of regional aid, particularly in view of the effect on intermediate areas, such as my own constituency, which will undoubtedly suffer as it did under the 1984 regional policy review and which stands to gain nothing from inner city aid. In particular, consideration should be given to increasing the number of areas designated as development areas. I would include Barnsley among those. Before any programme of inner city aid is embarked upon, some consideration should be given to those areas and to the areas highlighted earlier in the debate. I ask the Government to pay special attention to unemployment in Barnsley and to consider it as a special case.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
It gives me real pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) on his extremely lucid speech. I well remember sitting almost exactly where he is now 23 years ago and having a note passed up from the Front Bench which said that Mr. Speaker was going to call me next. That was for my maiden speech. I showed the note to my neighbour and he said, "Don't worry. It's like being sick. You feel better afterwards." The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central has given us such a superb speech this afternoon that I shall look forward to hearing him on many occasions. I agree entirely with all that he said about his predecessor. The hon. Gentleman's most interesting comments on youth training and the way in which he spoke up for his constituents will make his speeches in the future something to which we shall look forward.
93 There are no surprises in the Queen's Speech. The speech is the embodiment here in Parliament of the manifesto upon which we fought and won the general election. It is a speech that has been debated already throughout the nation, and the nation's verdict was one of total certainty, sending the Conservative Government to Parliament with the second highest majority since the war. Listening to the Leader of the Opposition and other Opposition Members one can only now understand how it was that they failed totally to attract the support of the people of this country. There was nothing new in what they had to say. Indeed, there was no policy in what they had to say. The Labour party has become the party of protest over the past eight years. The Opposition have a vested interest in bad news and all they seek to do is frighten the electorate of this country into believing that the future will be far worse than anything in the past. The fact remains that they have been rejected.
I regard the Gracious Speech as a magnificent blueprint for the next four and a half or five years. There are a number of matters in it to which I should like to draw attention. Since it is so wide-ranging I shall try to be as brief as I can on the individual points that I wish to raise.
In paragraph five on page two there is a reference to the Government playinga leading role in the development of the European Community.Many in the House and outside have wished to see that role take on the part of a political union and a complete monetary union under the European monetary system. Being members of an enormous group of strong economies such as those within the EEC, it is. of course, important that we should work closely together. However, I caution the Government against joining a monetary system that would inhibit rather than strengthen our performance in the future. Indeed, I would go further and say that in the world economy today the European monetary system is little more than a side-show. It is a side-show isolated from the real issues, such as how one balances a world economy where the greatest debtor is the United States and where the greatest surplus lies in Japan. I hope that we do not believe that by joining that organisation we can somehow enhance our economic performance in the future. We would shackle ourselves with all the restrictions in that system which would lead to the imposition of enormously high interest rates, if there are fluctuations in our currency, brought about by the fact that we are a significant oil producer, and we would face strains different from those of many of the existing member states. Therefore, I hope that we shall resist the siren voices that seem to believe that that is the way forward now that the Tory Government have been re-elected.
Like every Member of the House, I welcome the Government's determination to tackle inner city problems. When I made my maiden speech 23 years ago, I was the Member for Lewisham, West in south London and I am, therefore, familiar with the problems of inner city deprivation. I have represented a rural constituency for the past 20 or more years. Of course, there is inner city deprivation, but there is also rural deprivation. One could concentrate all the services on which a rural community depends in the big cities and create great problems for those living in rural areas, with frequently indifferent transport links, which would be almost as serious as those 94 in the worst inner city areas. Therefore, I hope and pray that in our determination to tackle that glaring problem, we shall not turn our backs on the rest.
In my constituency there is a well-known and well-loved maternity home at Barton on Sea, the Grove maternity home, which is currently being reviewed with the possibility of closure. There is a belief that in some way the cases that are treated there can go to one of the big facilities in Southampton or elsewhere. I hope that when the Government finally review the matter—it has now progressed from the regional health authority—they will make certain that local views and demand are taken into account. I hope also that we do not receive the broad-brush treatment and that the people in the big city of Southampton will not think that cases in the rural areas of the New Forest are not worth considering.
However, I wish to devote most of my remarks to the Government's proposals for local government finance and education. I should like to link the two together because it makes sense to do so. I have long been a strong advocate of rate reform. As we well know, under the current system less than half of the electorate pay rates but everybody uses the services. Under the current system a local property tax prevents and is hostile to those who want to improve their property. There are now so many exceptions to the system that it is held in disrepute. There can be no doubt that reform has been needed for a long time. Indeed, in 1974 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that that should be one of our priorities. I support totally the idea of reforming the domestic rating system. However, that system carries on its back burdens that should be outside the scope of local government finance.
Since I have been a Member of the House I have seen several local government reorganisations. When I was the director of the London Municipal Society at the end of the 1950s and in the early 1960s, I spent a great deal of time going around London promoting the concept of a Greater London council. Of course, it was a Conservative Government who introduced that body. In 1972 there was yet another large reorganisation of local government. However, at no point until now have we tackled the problem of local government finance. We have put sticking plasters over the problem in the form of various rate-capping schemes, but until now we have never considered it in detail.
Therefore, when my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment, now the Secretary of State for Education and Science, announced his Green Paper in January 1986 in the House with suggestions for real local government finance changes, he received a warm welcome. However, the way in which those changes were constructed began to cause concern in some people's minds, and especially in mine.
On 28 January 1986, I asked the Secretary of State whether he had considered taking the biggest single item of local government expenditure out of local government finance and putting the responsibility on to the central Exchequer. I was referring to education, because that is the single biggest item. His lengthy and helpful reply covered several points. First, he said:We have considered that possibility, as have previous Governments.He continued:If the annual financing of education is removed from the local authorities, ultimately the power will end up with a central education service.95 Finally, he said:I ask my hon. Friend, and those who feel that that is an easy answer, to consider and reflect what that would mean to local government. The powers and responsibilities of local government would be considerably diminished."—[Official Report, 28 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 806.]That was in January 1986, before the proposals that are embodied in this Gracious Speech had been made public. Those proposals are radical and I welcome them for that. They make sense and refer to direct funding of schools so that they can be run by the people whose children attend them and by those who teach in them. I welcome that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has referred to a core curriculum, and it is mentioned again today in the Gracious Speech. Again, that would mean an opportunity for decisions affecting schools to be taken at the centre. Indeed, the decisions that are now being discussed would meet the problems to which my right hon. Friend referred in his answer to me in January 1986, in that the education system is more and more bypassing the local education authority altogether.
Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science had to impose a settlement on the teachers' dispute. That was a decision from a Minister. A core curriculum would be a decision from the centre, and there is now the opportunity of funding schools direct from the centre. If all of that is happening, what is the objection to recognising that teachers, and teachers' pay, should also be funded from the centre? One hears about local involvement. My right hon. Friend made that clear in his answer to me. How real is that? How much real control do our constituents have over the schools in the areas where they live? The answer is next to nothing. The vested interest which prevents that happening is that education remains the most important single power of county councils.
As I said earlier, I used to propose and promote the concept of the Greater London council. Therefore, when the decision was taken to abolish it, I received the news with a heavy heart. I believed that perhaps that council and others throughout the country were essential to the management of our large cities. I now happily admit that I was completely wrong. It is right to have abolished the Greater London council and the other metropolitan councils. It could be equally sensible to abolish the county councils also. To deal with the problem of education locally—as is now offered to us in the Gracious Speech—and to expect ratepayers and poll tax-payers to fund teachers' salaries is asking too much. After all, we pay doctors from the centre. So why not teachers? We have district and regional health authorities. We pay doctors, as I should like to see us pay teachers, on a tax structure which is not only in place, but which is broadly fair. I have nothing against the concept of everyone paying something towards the cost of local government. I have nothing against the belief that if one pays for a service one values it and that since everyone uses local services they should contribute towards them. However, switching from the present system without making that change in the funding of education will place a colossal new and unfair burden on the British people.
Already we are talking about exemptions. A colossal bureaucracy will be necessary to keep track of itinerant people in the big cities and elsewhere to ensure that they pay their contribution. If we take the biggest single item 96 of expenditure out of local finance and pay for it from the centre where the Inland Revenue is already in place to collect the necessary funds — we can by all means use our community charge as a way of involving everyone in the cost of local services—it makes sense, but to abolish the existing system and to replace it with a community charge which must meet the colossal expense of education will create serious problems.
As I said at the beginning, this is a radical manifesto and it is the one on which the election was fought. As we know, there are no other examples in contemporary history of a Prime Minister achieving what my right hon. Friend has done. Although major problems remain to be solved—and they will be solved: we are already tackling them—the Prime Minister spoke for the aspirations and beliefs in the future of ordinary people when she spoke here today. She deserves our support.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
This is not a maiden speech, although I believe that my reappearance after eight years with a new name and a new constituency has confused both Members and Officers of the House. However, I should like to observe one minor tradition of a maiden speech and to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Alex Pollock, who was one of the 11 Scottish Conservative Members who lost his seat in the general election. He was a respected Member of the House and an honest, open opponent. I believe that his error was in fighting on the Government's record in Scotland which the Scottish people found unpalatable.
I also wish to pay tribute to my predecessors on this Bench—Mr. Gordon Wilson, who represented Dundee, East for 13 years, and Mr. Donald Stewart, who represented Western Isles for 17 years. This House will be a sadder place without them and their loss to the Scottish National party is deeply felt. We wish them well — Donnie Stewart in his retirement, and Gordon Wilson in his new career. We certainly hope that Gordon Wilson will in due course return, as my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) and I have done, although perhaps without waiting the eight years that we had to wait to make our reappearance.
It will not surprise hon. Members if I, too, talk about Scotland and the issue of the Government's mandate or lack of mandate there. Between 1974 and 1979 I had the pleasure of listening to many debates on the future of Scotland. In this Session Scotland will once again dominate many of our political speeches and thoughts. It is honest for a member of a party such as mine which stands fully and unequivocally for the independence of the Scottish nation to state categorically that the Government have no mandate in Scotland. We see this as a constitutional problem which the Government must face quickly if we are to salvage any future for Scotland.
The Scottish Conservatives lost 11 Members and now there are 10 Conservative Members and 62 Opposition Members in the House. Seventy-four per cent. of the Scottish people voted against the Conservative Government in the election and no one can question those figures. They are on the record and a clear message is being sent to Westminster by the Scottish people. The same is true of Wales, where five Conservatives lost their seats. Now they have eight representatives left in the House, leaving an Opposition of 30.
97 That raises the issue of democratic accountability for the people of Scotland. A Solicitor-General has been appointed who does not hold a seat in the House. He was beaten in the general election by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East. Members in another place will have direct responsibility for vital areas of Scottish interest, such as agriculture and fishing. That means that there is no direct accountability in the House of the people with direct responsibility. The Government can appoint spokesmen if they wish, but that is not the same as offering hon. Members the opportunity to question directly in the House the actions of those who are responsible for deciding Scotland's future.
The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), in an eloquent speech, referred to Scotland and its problems and spoke about the need for a sensitive approach to the issue. I appreciate the courtesy, thoughtfulness and honourable intentions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I remind the House that the Scottish issue is not new. Over the past 20 years the nationalist parties of Wales and Scotland have been continuously represented in the House. Many of our opponents wish that we would go away completely, but we are here and intend to use the democratic processes of this establishment. We are elected, just as other hon. Members are, by the democratic votes of our constituents to ensure that the fortunes of Scotland and Wales are not neglected in this Parliament.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman attempted an explanation of the rout of the Conservatives in Scotland. Part of his problem was that in his analysis he spoke of Scotland as a region. One of the great irritations that Scots of all political parties experience is others regarding Scotland as a region. He compared Scotland with other regions of the United Kingdom. We in the SNP have always argued that comparisons should be made with other nations with similar resources, particularly Norway which is similar in size and land area and has natural resources similar to those of Scotland. Perhaps such contrasts, which the Scottish people have been seeing, have made them reject so firmly Conservative policies. Compared with Norway, Scotland has far higher unemployment and fewer resources invested in the economy to ensure our future.
The Gracious Speech in no way responds to the mood of the Scottish people or to the issues facing them. Those who analyse the results in Scotland should remember that the Government have appeared to pay no attention to the general election results. It is almost as if the election has not been held and the results have not occurred. Earlier this week the Secretary of State for Scotland said that not one iota of the Gracious Speech would be changed and my impression is that he was perfectly honest. I do not believe that one iota has been changed. Surely that is a failure in democratic response. Surely cognisance should be taken of the aspirations of the people of Scotland and Wales.
The Gracious Speech devotes all of two sentences to substantial Scottish issues. Earlier today, when she was questioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas), the Prime Minister seemed uncertain how much of the other 98 legislation would apply directly to the Scottish people. That will do nothing to reassure. the Scots that their interests are being looked after here.
One of the two items mentioned is housing. What is required in Scotland is not tinkering with the system, but a major injection of public expenditure to ensure that we can bring the quality of public sector housing up to an acceptable standard, rid ourselves of old buildings and renovate those worth renovating. We have one of the most appalling housing records in Western Europe and the Queen's Speech does not show any sign of remedying that.
No mention has been made of the under-funding and under-resourcing of education — an important issue in Scotland. Aberdeen university, in the oil capital of Europe, as the city is known, is fighting for its existence. The lack of funding for the university means that research work is disappearing, departments are closing and staff, at all levels, are being made redundant. That university serves the north-east and the Highlands of Scotland and there is distinct anger in the Grampians and the Highlands about the treatment that Aberdeen university has received. The Gracious Speech should have contained a much more direct advance towards the kind of expenditure levels that we wish to see.
The final issue in the Queen's Speech, and one which has been exercising the minds of many hon. Members south of the border, is the poll tax. When analysing the results of the election in Scotland I warn Conservative Members to pay great attention to what happened there. The poll tax was rejected by the Scottish people in the election. In Scotland it is regarded as an ill-thought-out, regressive tax, a measure of expediency brought in by a Conservative Government frightened by Conservative reaction to the third revaluation in Scotland.
From reading today's press, I understand that there is some rebellion within the Conservative ranks regarding the implications of a poll tax in England and Wales. I appreciate that rebellion and I will do everything to encourage it. However, the Scottish people will find it unacceptable that some of those hon. Members wish to wait to see what will happen in Scotland and how the poll tax will work there. One of the strongest feelings evident during the election campaign was a belief that the Scottish people were being used as guinea pigs. The fact is that 1989 is almost upon us, yet there is no indication when similar legislation will be enacted south of the border. The people of Scotland resent being looked upon as guinea pigs for a form of taxation that is unacceptable.
If the Government want to rethink the whole issue of local government funding, they should consider the possibility of local income tax. Other European nations use that system and it is feasible. It takes into account people's income and their ability to pay.
Conservative Members have spoken of the problems of the previous rating system. Everyone accepts that there were anomalies and injustices within the previous system and that they needed to be eradicated. However, the way to eradicate them is not to replace a bad system with one that is even worse. We regard the poll tax as one of the most regressive forms of local government funding. The Government will reap a whirlwind of antagonism south of the border if they go ahead and implement that system.
I remind the House that the people of Scotland have sent a clear message to the Government. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) spoke eloquently about the demand in Scotland for a Scottish Parliament. It is not 99 enough for Conservative Members to say that devolution or self-government is not an issue in Scotland when opinion poll after opinion poll suggests that up to 80 per cent. of the people wish to see some form of democratic control returning to Scotland. One third of those questioned supported the concept of independence. That concept has my support.
It is important for the Government to accept that there is a message coming from Scotland. Our recommendation is that people should be given the opportunity, through the establishment of a constitutional convention based in Scotland with representatives from all political parties, to debate how the government of Scotland can be best decided upon in an open and democratic fashion. There are Conservative Members who believe that there is a need for devolution in Scotland—some of them have been honest enough to admit that. I hope that they will support the concept of a constitutional convention and will join us to make sure that we can bring to Scotland the kind of democratic control and accountability that it so richly deserves.
§ Mr. David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
It is a great pleasure to follow and to welcome the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) back to the House of Commons after an absence of eight years. As the hon. Lady pointed out, hers was not a maiden speech; and I understand that the word to describe her speech is "retread". Between 1974 and 1979 the hon. Lady spoke frequently in this House and it is obvious that she is as articulate as ever. We look forward to hearing her frequently in the months and years ahead.
The hon. Member for Moray rightly paid tribute to her predecessor, Mr. Alex Pollock. Although I am quite pleased to see the hon. Lady back here, I am sorry that it was at the expense of Alex Pollock, who was a highly respected Member of the House.
The hon. Member for Moray spoke about the problems of Scotland. You may recollect, Mr. Speaker, that in your previous incarnation as Deputy Chief Whip you had a certain amount of trouble with me because I was one of those who during the 1974–79 Parliament voted consistently for devolution for Scotland. I frequently saw the hon. Member for Moray in the same Lobby.
The Gracious Speech contains a very full programme of legislation for the next 16 months. To return to the period of 1974–79, some of us remember that some of my right hon. Friends, when we were the Opposition, told us that there was far too much legislation and that the return of a Conservative Government would lead to much less legislation. Whatever else they may say, this is one promise that has certainly been broken in the past eight years. I see little evidence that it is not likely to be broken in the next five years. I believe that there is far too much legislation in the programme. However, I hope that the Whips have noticed the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) for late nights and, no doubt, late Committees.
I welcome some of the proposals in the Gracious Speech. I warmly welcome the reform of housing legislation, the policies to revive the inner cities, the promotion of greater competition in the provision of local government services and the reform of licensing laws. Most of those proposals are overdue, especially reform of the licensing laws. It is quite absurd that in England the 100 licensing laws are more restrictive than they are in Scotland. The changes should have been effected down here a long time ago. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not be too timorous in the proposals that he brings before the House. We need substantial modernisation in this sphere.
There are some measures in the Queen's Speech that I tend to view rather more critically. I am not very happy about some of the education proposals. I also have reservations about the proposals to reform local government and about the privatisation of water and sewerage functions.
I have considerable doubts about the proposals to allow schools to opt out of the state system. I got the impression that this matter had not been carefully and clearly thought out in advance. It will be up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to convince the House and the country of the advantages and the workability of that proposal.
I have greater reservations and doubts about the community charge. I cannot see any good reason for the rush. Surely it would be sensible to see how this charge works in Scotland before imposing it on England. I am rather worried about the regressive nature of the community charge, and I am also worried about the ability of the authorities to compile an accurate register of those liable to pay.
We have all participated in the general election and we are all aware of the inaccuracy of electoral registers. When people are compiling electoral registers, there is no disadvantage in having one's name on it; indeed there are advantages. However, there would be substantial disadavantages in having one's name on the register to pay the community charge. I foresee substantial errors in that register. I ask my right hon. Friends to consider this matter carefully and to question whether it is necessary to rush at it at the suggested pace.
I can see no good reason for the privatisation of the water and sewerage functions. Some functions are better provided by the public sector, and others are much better provided by private enterprise. Generally speaking, water and sewerage services are much better provided by the public sector. I thought that that proposal had been dropped in the previous Parliament, but it seems to have been resurrected in the election manifesto and now in the Gracious Speech. I rather regret that.
Interesting as legislative measures are, the performance of any Government will always be judged on their management of the economy. There can be no doubt that in certain important and significant respects the British economy is stronger today than it was eight years ago.
§ Mr. Knox
If the hon. Gentleman would just wait a minute or two, I might explain what I was talking about.
I said that in certain important and significant respects the economy is stronger than it was eight years ago. I was about to add: but there is obviously a lot of work to be done in other areas of the economy. The hon. Gentleman may disagree, but there can be little doubt in most people's minds that the balance of payments is much stronger today than it was eight years ago. Over the period that the Government have been in power, we have had surpluses since 1980, except for a very small deficit last year—
§ Mr. Knox
I repeat that we have had surpluses over that period. As a result of having those surpluses, it has been possible to build up substantial investments overseas, so that today, with the exception of Japan, this country is the largest holder of overseas assets in the world. That gives to the British economy a substantial strength internationally that it did not have before. One of the reasons why the fall in oil prices last year did not have the devastating effect that it would have had six or seven years ago is that we had that basic, fundamental economic strength from those investments.
§ Mr. Knox
No, I shall not give way.
The balance of payments is much stronger today than when the present Administration came to power. Those investments provide a cushion against the wilder international fluctuations.
On inflation, the situation is much better than it was eight years ago. The Government have a good record in that respect. We have got away from the galloping inflation of the 1970s, which at one time reached 25 per cent. That was bad for the British economy because it created uncertainty, and that was bad for industry and commerce. It was bad socially because those living on fixed incomes found that their real spending power was cut substantially year by year. Now we have got inflation down to about 4 per cent. That may not be perfect—it is not—and it is right and proper that the Government should aim to get inflation down to the rate that it was in 1958 to 1960, a nil rate, when, incidentally, Mr. Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister. But we have made substantial progress. If inflation is to be kept under control, there must be constant vigilance. One cannot just relax things, else it will be on an upward curve once again.
In this Parliament we must all look to the Government to maintain their very good balance of payments and inflation records. But I said that there are areas where much remains to be done. One of them is manufacturing industry. I find it deeply alarming that, in the first quarter of this year, output in manufacturing industry was lower than it was in the first quarter of 1974. Before the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) smiles too widely, I should tell him that in 1979, under a Labour Administration, it was lower than in 1974. So neither party has much to boast about on manufacturing industry, and a little modesty by some Labour Members would be becoming.
The record on unemployment over the past 13 years is far from good. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister, unemployment was less than half a million in the closing months of 1973. It more than doubled under the Labour Government and it has more than doubled under this Government. Neither party can be terribly proud of its record on unemployment, but surely the important thing is this: whereas unemployment rose steeply in the first four years of this Government, it levelled out after 1983—admittedly at much too high a level—and over the past 12 months it has been falling. I shall not make great claims about that, but at least it is moving in the right direction now.
If we are to effect an improvement on manufacturing output and unemployment, we need to give the economy a further boost. That involves relaxing the public sector 102 borrowing requirement a little and trying to get 1 or 2 per cent. more growth on top of the underlying growth in the economy. That would increase the demand for manufactured goods and for employment in that sector. I hope that the Government will look at that. When we come to the end of the current Parliament, we shall look not just for a good record on the balance of payments and inflation, but for a better record on manufacturing industry and unemployment.
In the Conservative election manifesto, reference was made, rightly, to the importance of small, rural schools for education and community life. The manifesto pledged that the Conservative party would ensure that the future of such schools was judged by wider factors than mere numbers. That matter will be soon put to the test in two schools in my constituency. The Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council proposes to close Waterhouses and Warslow middle schools in my constituency. Both were opened a mere eight years ago. Both have already been threatened once with closure. Four years ago the county council withdrew the threat to Waterhouses middle school, and three years ago the Secretary of State overruled the county council's desire to close Warslow middle school.
Neither school has had a real chance and the arguments put forward by the allegedly caring Socialist county council in Staffordshire for closing those schools are, frankly, bogus. First, the council says that there is a numbers argument, yet when the schools were opened the council knew roughly how many children would be at the schools this year because every child who is there now was born before the schools were opened in 1979. Having lost that argument, the county council said that there were financial reasons for closure.
Staffordshire county council is spending marginally more on school education today than in 1979 in real terms, even though it is responsible for educating fewer school children. I cannot see why the schools in Warslow and Waterhouses are not entitled to have the same amount of money spent on them now as in 1979, in exactly the same way as schools in Labour areas such as Stoke-on-Trent have the same amount of money spent on them.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will save those schools. I hope that he will give them a chance. When he has saved them, I hope that he will insist that Staffordshire county council resources the schools properly.
A matter that has caused me some concern is the consequences of the election results on this Parliament. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her historic achievement. No one can take anything away from her in that respect. At the same time, Conservative hon. Members must recognise that in 1979 we received 43.9 per cent. of the popular vote. In 1983 it was 42.4 per cent. This year it was 42.3 per cent. On all three occasions the figures represented a lower proportion of the popular vote than any other post-war Tory Government received in an election. That means that the Government should proceed with caution and restraint over the next four years. I become alarmed when I hear about the Government's radical programme. Radical Government should be left to radical political parties. Conservative government should be the business of the Conservative party. Above all, given the proportion of the poll that the Government obtained in the recent election, during the next five years they should govern in a manner that shows 103 respect for the views of those who did not vote for them. A real effort must be made to obtain consensus on as many issues as possible.
A further point about the outcome of the election concerns Scotland. There is no doubt and no point in denying that the Government suffered a severe setback in Scotland. There is evidence that the Government are out of touch in Scotland in significant areas, even though large amounts of central Government money have been spent in Scotland — amounts that are disproportionate to its size and population. However, that is not a reason for complacency on the part of Conservative Members. The results in Scotland do not mean that the Government have no right to govern Scotland, any more than the failure of Labour Governments to gain more votes than the Conservatives in the 1964 and 1974 general elections in England deprived them of the right to govern England.
We are still a United Kingdom and it is important to remember that. With the exception of the nationalists, all the parties in this House believe that we are a United Kingdom. So, although the Government have a right to govern Scotland, I hope that they will be conscious of the hopes, aspirations and fears—all of them genuine—of the Scottish people.
I ask the Government to re-examine the issue of devolution. I supported the Labour Government's proposals for devolution in the mid-1970s and I have no regrets about that. Although the issue seemed to go away then, it will come back. I think it was the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who once said that he assumed that there were good reasons for opposing every Irish home rule Bill in the last century, but it was rather a pity that one of them had not reached the statute book. If it had, we might have been saved a great deal of trouble today. I am worried that if we continue to ignore people's feelings in Scotland about looking after their own affairs and having a greater say in them, we may end up with more severe problems than we have now. It is not a matter — whatever hon. Members may say — about whether Scotland will he better governed. The importance of devolution is that the Scots would have a greater say in looking after certain of their own affairs; and if things then went wrong they could blame only themselves. I believe that the Conservative party would best serve its own interests, and the interests of the United kingdom and of the Scots, if it seriously reconsidered the question of devolution.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) evidently understands the country of his birth considerably better than do many of his hon. Friends. The result of the general election in Scotland was very different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Like the hon. Gentleman, I believe in the United Kingdom. I want to see it remain in one piece, but the hon. Gentleman was right to say that if the Government whom he supports are as insensitive as they appear to intend to be—judging from the content of the Queen's Speech—the future of that United Kingdom could be in some peril.
The hon. Member for Moorlands has done a wise thing for a Scottish Conservative—he has gone south of the border to find himself a seat in Parliament, but he is certainly renowned in the House for delivering coded attacks on the Government. How on earth he gets away 104 with that when he is trying to defend the Government's record in his constituency is a matter for him, but. I welcome his constructive and thoughtful contribution to the important Scottish aspect of the debate.
It was nice—I suppose—to hear again from the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). My last recollection of her and her hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) was back in 1979. I remember both of them scuttling into the Lobby beside the then Conservative Opposition and voting the Labour Government out of office, thus putting devolution off the agenda and doing themselves out of seats in Parliament. A few days or weeks of quiet reflection on the part of the SNP might he appropriate, given the treatment that it received in the polls. The hon. Lady is welcome to hold a Conservative seat if she likes, but I am delighted that the Labour party has retained its seats and regained the Western Isles and Dundee, East from the tartan Tories.
This has been an almost unreal debate from the point of view of the people whom I and my hon. Friends represent in Scotland. One would think that the general election campaign and its result had not happened. There is no recognition in the Queen's Speech or in the speeches of Conservative Members of the grim division that now exists between one part of the United Kingdom and another. There is no recognition of the obliteration of the Conservative party north of the border. It would be useful if certain people could make themselves visible in the Strangers' Gallery: Sir Alex Fletcher, Anna McCurley, Michael Hirst, John MacKay, Michael Ancram, Peter Fraser, Albert McQuarrie, Gerald Malone, John C'orrie, Alexander Pollock and Barry Henderson, to name but 11. Those people have had an awful doing north of the border, and I wonder whether their colleagues have learned anything from what has happened. The Prime Minister has indicated that she intends to go on inflicting her poisonous programme on Scotland as if' nothing had changed. She wants to continue with the privatisation, the cuts and the closures. She wants to go on with the intolerable level of unemployment in Scotland and to continue to suppress local democracy there.
One of the first measures to come before the new Parliament will be yet another order affecting the freedom of elected local authorities in Lothian, Clackmannan and Edinburgh to deal with their own affairs. The Government still intend to ride roughshod over local democracy in Scotland. That is not on.
The figures for the election in Scotland show that 1,258,132 people voted Labour and that no fewer than 2,245,058 people voted against the Conservative party in Scotland. Only 713,099 people voted for the Tory party in Scotland on 11 June — only 24 per cent. of the electorate. Yet the Government think that they can carry on as if nothing had happened. On any analysis that result represents a potential constitutional crisis. The attitude expressed by the Prime Minister today is calculated to ensure that that constitutional crisis will come to a head sooner rather than later if she is not careful.
If the Government chose to be sensitive there would be a possibility of avoiding the sort of confrontation to which I am referring. If they decide to be insensitive and to ride roughshod over the clearly expressed views of the people of Scotland, that could be a recipe for the destruction of that union about which the hon. Member for Moorlands spoke. No member of a responsible party wants that to happen.
105 The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) referred to the position in Scotland, saying that he regarded the anomalies that would arise in Scottish Question Time as a bit of a joke. If those people were to pursue their logic to its conclusion, they would have to say that what they really want is to abolish the Scottish Office and simply incorporate the government of Scotland into the Whitehall Government machinery and make it part of England. I wish they would be honest and do that because then they would have to face the music in Scotland.
As things stand, the Government have no mandate in the Scottish context, yet they have the effrontery to say that they want to suggest further legislation. The Queen's Speech today referred to further legislation for education and housing in Scotland. If it was conciliatory legislation or legislation that was going to lead to the building of more houses to deal with the housing crisis I dare say that there would be a measure of support on both sides of the House. However, I am afraid that the Government's track record on that is not encouraging. If the Government want to legislate in Scotland I would love to know how they will do it because they have only 10 Members of Parliament left in Scotland. including the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Just, with a majority of 182 in Ayr. Of the former Scottish Office team, all that is left is the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang). To make up a team of Ministers they have had to draft in the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas Hamilton), who parade around Edinburgh as if they were Ministers. We have a Mickey Mouse administration in Scotland which has no credibility of any description. They ponce around in official cars as if they represent somebody. They do not represent any strand of opinion in Scotland, and well they know it. One person who knows it very well is the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who rather wisely opted for the freedom of the Back Benches.
The only Back Benchers the Government have are the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) and the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). How will they man a Standing Committee to legislate in Parliament? As I understand it, a Standing Committee must have 16 Members representing Scottish constituencies to consider Scottish legislation. To get a majority on such Standing Committees they will need nine of their 10 Members on it. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Defence realises that he will spend much of his time sitting on Standing Committees that deal with Scottish statutory instruments. They have not even been able to appoint a Whip representing a Scottish constituency. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) will apparently be the Scottish Whip. Under the current Standing Orders he will not be allowed to sit on Scottish Committees. I dare say that that will be quite a relief to him. The Government will not be 106 able to legislate on Scotland unless they doctor the Standing Orders. It would be an outrage if they attempted to do that.
It should seem to all reasonable people, and I include the hon. Member for Moorlands, that this is the time for statesmanship. This is a time to recognise that the poll tax has been resoundingly rejected by the people of Scotland and that there is absolutely no case for continuing with the experiment in which Scotland is to be used as a guinea pig to try out the tax before it is introduced in England and Wales. That has been specifically and clearly rejected. It was a major debating point in the general election campaign and it would be an outrage if the Government were to try to impose that tax.
This is a time when a responsible Government should recognise the need for sympathetic initiatives to promote employment and to improve housing and the Health Service in Scotland. This is a time when the Government should recognise the facts of life in Scotland and should respond to the overwhelming case for democratic devolution. If anyone doubts that there is such a case for democratic devolution, I recommend that they read an interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Pentlands on 16 December 1976 in the Second Reading debate on the Scotland and Wales Bill when he said:Scotland is the only territory on the face of the earth which has a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it. This is a crazy anomaly, and it cannot meet the requirements of 1976."—[Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol 922, c. 1832.]It did not meet the requirements of 1976 and it does not meet the requirements of 1987. Now that the right hon. Member for Pentlands calls himself the Secretary of State for Scotland he could do worse than to consider the opinions which he expressed and argued for not so very long ago. There is an overwhelming case for constitutional reform in Scotland and for a degree of home rule within the United Kingdom. Scotland has voted for such constitutional reform at every possible opportunity for more than eight years. We voted for it in the referendum of 1979. We voted for it in the general election of 1979. We voted for it in the general election of 1983, and we voted for it most resoundingly and overwhelmingly of all in the general election of 1987. The democratic case for administrative and legislative devolution in Scotland is now overwhelming. We already have massive administrative devolution in Scotland. People say that it would result in an extra tier of government in Scotland, but we already have that in the Scottish Office, which has massive powers. All we ask for is a democratically elected Assembly or Parliament to take over those powers which have already been devolved.
The Labour party does not want to see the break-up of the United Kingdom, I certainly do want to see the breakup of the United Kingdom, but the Government's attitude, as has been expressed over the past week or two, could very well set us on this slippery slope on which none of us wants to embark. The issue has been debated by people representing my constituency for a long time. Perhaps the most famous of all was the great Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun who represented East Lothian in the last Scottish Parliament in 1707. He argued passionately, acknowledging the case for union with England, but he foresaw the anomalies and difficulties that would arise if one tried to roll two Parliaments into one. That case has stood for all those years and my predecessor John Mackintosh led the 107 debate on this issue in the 1960s and the 1970s. The case is more overwhelming now than it ever has been. Scotland will have its own Parliament. It is just a question of how we extract it from this Government or from Parliament.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
At this stage in the Parliament it is inevitable that hon. Members from Scotland and from Wales should state their maximum demands. It would be foolish for the Government to declare their position at this stage. I do not go so far as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox), but I agree with the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that a degree of sensitivity is called for. I am quite certain that in practice that sensitivity will be forthcoming from Ministers in the Scottish Office and in the Welsh Office.
What cannot be claimed is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has no mandate to govern. That could as well have been claimed in the days when there was an overwhelming majority of Conservatives in England and yet we had a Labour Government imposed on us because of large Labour majorities in Wales and Scotland.
If ever a Prime Minister has a mandate, it is this Prime Minister. Her unprecedented third election victory gives her the right to put into practice what she has been preaching. Nothing can now stop her from doing that, unless it be the practical impossibility of carrying out some of the things that we said we were going to do. I suspect that the proposal for a community charge may turn out in practice to be impossible to carry out. I suspect also that some of the proposals that we have put forward in education may also turn out to he difficult to achieve.
It is not open to the Labour party or anyone else to claim that the Prime Minister has no mandate. It is absolutely clear that there is no majority for any other party and no majority for any other set of policies. I am bound to say that it does not seem likely that any majority will emerge in the course of the next four or five years for any other party or for any other set of policies. Nothing that I have heard today suggests that there is any readiness on the part of Members in any of the minority parties to consider fundamentally what has happened to them and the need for a fundamental realignment on the Left if there is ever to be an electable alternative Government. That means that no commentator, no one in the press and no interested observer will take any serious interest in what the Labour party has to say. Constructive criticism will have to emerge from within the Conservative party.
With a majority as large as that which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister enjoys, she could safely ignore the doubts and hesitations of even a substantial group of her supporters. As her vision of Britain is so much clearer, even if it is harsher, than that of some more traditional Tories, she has every right to drive ahead. However, although she has every right to do so, it may not always be wise to do so.
Neither the feeble bleatings of the Opposition nor the murmured doubts of some of my hon. Friends are any real constraint on the Prime Minister, but, however great the majority and however emasculated the Opposition, the Government will not succeed in their radical aims unless they can carry at least the assent of the majority of the population. As far as I could asses the public mood in the election, it seemed that people were not alarmed by even 108 the most controversial of the Government's radical proposals, but they did not understand how they would benefit from them.
The Government face a difficult and important task in persuading people that their programme of tax cuts, incentives and privatisations will bring benefits not only to the thrusting and successful but to all the people. It is partly a matter of tone and rhetoric. All too often the Government's rhetoric has been self-defeating by alienating the support of those who should have been beneficiaries of our policies. We risk alienating a whole generation of young people if we are not very careful in the language that we use about training and benefit arrangements. We have already come close to spoiling our very good case in the dispute with the teachers' unions.
It is not much comfort to school leavers unable to find a job without going far away from home—and if they do go far from home they cannot find anywhere to live—to parents in inner cities where the only schools are dustbin schools, or to pensioners afraid to turn on the heating or having to spend all their savings before they can claim any of the innumerable means-tested benefits—all of whom have derived precious little benefit from our growing prosperity—to be told that we are to create one nation by giving people more freedom of choice. The concept of "one nation" involves rather more than freedom of choice. It includes the idea that I am, at least to some extent, my brother's keeper.
Of course it is right to insist on according overriding priority to wealth creation. To promise the distribution of wealth to all and sundry, as the Labour party did at the election, but with no believable explanation of how the wealth will be created, is quite simply fraud. The wealth must be created first. Even if some of the ways in which wealth is created — for example, in some parts of the City of London — is unattractive, never mind; it is wealth which can be taxed.
If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer can show that by cutting the top rates of tax he can increase his revenue—and American experience suggests that that is true — neither he nor our party should be deterred by Opposition charges that he is giving more money to those who already have plenty.
We need to find Conservative ways of steering as much as possible of our additional wealth towards the stimulation of new job opportunities, towards improved social services for all, towards more generous retirement pensions, towards better schools with better motivated teachers for all children, not just those of concerned parents, towards better health care for all in a better NHS, alongside an expanded private health service, and towards the renovation of our run-down inner cities. Those are tasks which Socialism, despite its fine promises, has failed to tackle. No party has yet come up with a systematic body of ideas for tackling them. I am sure that it can be done and my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made a fine start, which is still remembered admiringly in Liverpool, by using limited sums of public money to trigger substantial private investment which sought commercial profit and brought benefits to many people in that city.
There is one area in which the policies of Conservative Governments, if not Conservative policies, have been enormously—one might say excessively—successful in attracting savings. The immensely expensive mortgage relief has boosted house purchase. In electoral terms at 109 least, those policies have been extremely successful, even if the main effect has been to push up house prices to absurd levels. There may be lessons to be learnt which could be applicable to health and education.
In the absence of a coherent and fully worked-out body of Conservative thinking to point the way towards using increases in national wealth to bring tangible benefits for all, we shall have to make increased use of practical experiments. Where better to carry through such an experiment, with good chances of success, than in Wales?
I rejoice in the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) as Secretary of State for Wales. What is more, I believe that the Opposition, once they have delivered themselves of their ritual incantations about an English Member in the Welsh Office, will come to welcome him, if only to themselves.
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales can, should and will carry through a major operation of recovery in Wales, making full and imaginative use of instruments such as the Welsh Development Agency, Mid-Wales Development, the Tourist Board for Wales, the water authority. WINvest and other bodies to achieve a mix of public and private enterprises which will be of immense benefit to all the people of the Principality. I believe that Wales faces a period of great excitement and hope, and I shall be privileged to give my right hon. Friend all the enthusiastic support that I can.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
The fact that we are discussing the contents of a Tory programme which promises 17 Bills in the next 15 months is deeply disappointing. It is not disappointing primarily to Labour Members, who will be back in hand-to-hand combat with the Tories, going through every piece of their legislation line by line. We shall be fighting the real 102 damnations—the Tory majority. The really disappointed people are those whom Labour Members represent — the millions of men and women, the young, the unemployed and the one in three people who live on or below the poverty margin. The past eight years have been a nightmare for those people and we now have to discuss the prospect of more attacks on their living standards, communities, councils, trade unions and all the bodies that they set up to protect themselves and their families.
I issue a warning to the Government. They think that they have been given a mandate to complete what, according to an editorial in The Daily Telegraph on 11 May, isUnfinished Business: The Welfare State.The Government should remember that elections are a snapshot of the moods, hopes and aspirations of people on a single day. Life is a movie. Thursday 11 June was an opinion poll writ large, reflecting the views of people on that single day, having been affected by four weeks of campaigning and the hysteria of the gutter press and the artificial boomlet that the Chancellor of the Exchequer engineered. That boomlet will soon peter out.
Nothing in the Queen's Speech will change the underlying weakness of the British economy. All the pre-election carrots, including the minimal tax cuts and other minor concessions in the months before the election, will turn rotten when the chill economic winds of recession 110 begin to hit the British economy in the next 12 to 18 months. [Laughter.] There is some laughter on the Tory Benches, so I shall start by quoting the predictions by one or two of their own people. During the debate on the last Queen's Speech I sat through a speech by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He said:But the decline of Britain's industrial base is not measured in the lifetime of this Government or of the previous one. Britain's industrial base has been declining relatively for most of this century. If one considers the statistics that matter — the share of the world's manufactured trade which Britain enjoys — they show that relentlessly, regardless of which Government are in power and regardless of policies and economic regimes, there has been a persistent decline in our share of world trade in manufactures.A few minutes later the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said:The decline in oil production and the trends in trade in manufactures will ensure, by one route or another, that we enter a new era of economic decline possibly combined with renewed inflation … There will be a nasty crisis in the next Parliament … dealing with it … will be a difficult and unpleasant task." — [Official Report, 18 November 1986; Vol. 105, c. 482–500.]I have still not worked out what he found particularly pleasant about the last eight years. That time may have been pleasant for Ministers or ex-Ministers on the best part of £1,000 a week, but it was not a pleasant time for men and women in low-paid jobs, for the long-term unemployed, for those in decaying council housing or for young people leaving school with no prospect of a job. The last eight years have been described by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham as the pleasant part of a decade. The next two or three years will be conditioned by what happens internationally. They will be determined by the recent trade conflicts between Britain and Japan or by the recent three-cornered conflict between Japan, Europe and America.
The indications are that we are on the eve of a slump, a turning point in the world's economy. I am not the one who is saying that. It has been said by bodies that Tory Members should regard as their allies, such as the Bank for International Settlements which pre-dates Bretton Woods in its history of economic prediction. It said in a report that was mentioned in The Guardian of 17 June:How can overall demand in the world economy be sustained at a time when the US fiscal stance is being tightened? How can further protectionist pressures be resisted if the US payments deficit, and the counterpart surpluses, are not reduced? How can the debtor countries hope to export enough to service their debts without sufficient growth in the industrial countries?The present deterioration in growth prospects in the main surplus countries is no less worrisome, however, when viewed from inside…Unemployment is now becoming a major issue in Japan, for the first time since the second world war.The most painful headache remains the intractable United States current account deficit, which reached $140 billion last year,…Two days later The Guardian reported that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, supposedly the unified body for the 24 richest capital countries in the world, said:The world economic situation has deteriorated in recent months and there is a risk that worsening performance could intensify unless there are policy changes in the major countries, according to the authoritative Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a report published yesterday.The Guardian says that in Britain's economy the OECD… foresees a slowdown to 2.25 per cent. next year with a rise in inflation to 4.25 per cent.…111On the world economy, the report warns that 'slow growth, unemployment and large payments imbalances arc likely to persist' and that the recent fall in the dollar, despite unprecedented interventions in the foreign exchange markets had led to rising expectations of inflation and higher interest rates in the United States.These developments, together with growing tensions in international trade relations and continuing debt problems, have increased the risks of a worsening world economic situation".Yesterday The Guardian said:US plunges deeper into the red.The Bank for International Settlements was talking about the problems of a deficit in the US budget of $140 billion. The Guardian now said:The United States plunged deeper into debt last year when commerce department figures yesterday showed a doubling of its foreign debt to $263.6 billion. The American economy, which slipped into debtor status in 1985 for the first time since 1914, is now by far the world's biggest debtor.American debt outstrips that of the next three most debt ridden countries combined. Brazil is the Third World's biggest debtor at $108.8 billion. Throw in Mexico's $101.6 billion and Argentina's $51 billion and US debt still leads the world.I was always taught or I learned or read that when the United States economy catches a cold Europe, and Britain in particular, catches pneumonia. The forecasts that I have outlined are the harbingers of the next 12 to 18 months of what will happen internationally in the world capitalist economy. It will bring to Britain and especially to our manufacturing industry a deeper recession than the recessions that occurred in 1979–81 or in 1973–75.
It may be of interest to Tory Members who find the health of their capitalist economy so amusing to know that the OECD predicts the dropping of growth rates this year in the 24 richest capitalist economies from 3.25 to 2.25 per cent. According to The Economist — I have picked magazines and newspapers that Conservative Members may read—that represents $100 billion of lost output, the equivalent of Belgium being drowned in the North sea. That such a downturn in the world capitalist economy and all the problems that it would bring for the economy and for working people provokes humour on the Tory Benches says a lot more about Conservative Members' cavalier attitude to the problems of working people than the fine words of the Queen's Speech could ever do.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) made a laughable attempt to talk about the strength of the British economy. I shall give him a quote that he can read when he looks to see what happened in the Chamber after he spoke. In the Birmingham Post of 26 May it was reported that the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said:Over one in five manufacturing companies expect recruitment in the next three months".That was headlined in the Birmingham Post asGood news for the jobless".The corollary to that sort of assessment is that nearly four in five manufacturing companies or factories in the west midlands do not expect to see a growth in recruitment in the next few months. The same statistics were given for investment in plant and machinery in those factories. That was described as themost optimistic survey in the last 18 month".For the interest of those who are prepared to listen, I shall repeat the key statistics from the record of this Government. Manufacturing production is 10 per cent. lower than it was in the peak of 1973 and investment in factories is 25 per cent. lower than it was in 1979. For the 112 first time since the days of Queen Elizabeth I this country became a net importer of manufactured or semi-manufactured goods. Britain was once known as the workshop of the world, but the Government have turned it into the warehouse of the world.
The problems arise not as a result of shortage of money for investment but because, having lifted the exchange controls in 1979, the Government allowed that money to flood abroad. Some £100,000 million of wealth created by working people in Britain is chasing the super exploited labour in countries like South Africa, Brazil, Korea and Argentina. What is £100,000 million between friends? I shall tell the House what it could have done for working people in Britain. It represents 1,000 brand new hospitals the size of the Walsgrave hospital in Coventry. It represents 7,000 brand new comprehensive schools or 750,000 three-bedroom family council houses with gardens at the front and at the back. That is what the working people of Britain have sacrificed in the last eight years because of the profits chased by the fiscal psychopaths in the City of London who look for the next killing in terms of where to invest the profits stolen from working people. Working people have never controlled that wealth, and the Queen's Speech alters that by not one jot or tittle.
It may be that those in the City of London on the best part of £500 an hour in the top reaches of the merchant banks and dealing in the various forms of stock exchange swindles in the casino economy of the square mile were swilling champagne when the election results were announced. No doubt they will welcome the Queen's Speech, particularly those parts that offer new killings like the proposed piratisation—were it to go through — of the water authorities and of parts of council and health authority budgets. The 17,000 new millionaires created in the past eight years of the Tory Government may welcome those aspects of the Queen's Speech, but a more sober assessment has been made internationally by those with real money about the prospects of the British economy and the fragility of the economic and social position of Britain under a Conservative Government.
Before the election, everybody was telling us that a Conservative win would result in billions of pounds of foreign money flooding into the economy, investing in the success of a Tory Government. Where has it all gone to? Not even a trickle of foreign money has come in, because those with money internationally can recognise what the next 12 or 18 months will mean.
Tory Members may think that 102 is a stable majority. I will remind them of what my hon. Friend and comrade the Member for Liverpool, Broad Green (Mr. Fields) said when he made his maiden speech in 1983, four years ago, immediately after the last victory by a Tory Government. He said:Despite the Tory victory on 9 June, we give fair warning that a large majority in Parliament will not save the Government when the true effects of their policies are felt by the British people. The Government of 1924 had a majority of 200. Stanley Baldwin thought that he could savage the living standards of ordinary people. Do the Tories now think that they can do the same, perhaps in a more brutal fashion? Baldwin's actions provoked the 1926 general strike. This Government's policies will provoke an even greater reaction from working people. Of that there is no doubt."—[Official Report, 24 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 308.]There was derision when my hon. Friend said that, but within eight or nine months of that prediction of the same reaction from working people following a Tory majority of 140 as that which followed Baldwin's majority of 200 113 there was a miners' strike which shook the fabric of our society over a 12-month period in a way that it had never been shaken since 1926. I expect that in the next months and years the Tory Government will face a greater resistance from working people as the effects of their anti-working class policies are felt.
Do Tory Members really believe that tens of thousands of council tenants will welcome the selling off of their estates to rich speculators and watching, creeping northwards, the horrendous levels of rents that people in London are asked to pay? Grafted on to that will be the huge and widespread resentment that the effects of the Tories' poll tax—already seen in the election results in Scotland—if it were introduced in England and Wales and of the swingeing increases in local bills would engender among working people. Already in many large cities Tory support has collapsed and Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle and other cities have not one Tory Member of Parliament. I leave aside Scotland because the results there have been adequately covered.
That mood of resentment and anger will run wide and deep and people will not be bought off by the inadequate and paltry changes in funding for inner cities. We are already suffering from too much Thatcherism in the inner cities, not too little. Giving Coventry £3 million or £4 million extra for inner city projects after taking well over £100 million in the past seven years is like a mugger stealing an old lady's pension book and offering her 10p for the bus fare home. That money will be regarded with the same sort of resentment and treated with the contempt that it deserves.
Some £20 billion to £30 billion needs to be spent on repairing, modernising and renovating inner city housing, and those sums are way beyond anything that the Government have the intention of producing. The same is true of education and health and the crises that affect those two sectors.
Privatisation or opting out are not the answer. Britain's dilapidated schools need huge injections of cash, and there is no mention of that in the Queen's Speech. All we hear about for schools is delegations of budgets and greater autonomy. For example, a school in Coventry called Whitley Abbey needs not delegation of budgets but enough money to repair the holes in the roofs of the classrooms so that teachers and pupils are not rained on.
A backlog of over £500 million worth of school repairs must be coped with. One in three schools has a leaking roof, one in four has an outside toilet, one in five is overcrowded. They need investment and money for books, equipment and decent wages for staff and teachers, not the proposals in the Queen's Speech for greater financial sacrifice for parents already burdened by requests, begging letters, raffles and bingo to pay not for luxuries but for basic essentials such as books.
The same is true of health. The Government's claims to be providing more for health, backed up by the Prime Minister's oft-quoted phrase that the Health Service is safe in her hands, are rubbish. Her hands were not safe in the Health Service when she needed an operation, and nor were her legs. It is a joke to claim that the Health Service is safe in the hands of Tories. In Coventry, deliberate underfunding of the district health authority has led to a crisis of a £1.5 million shortfall in the budget this year, and the Tory-dominated district health authority is proposing 114 to close a city hospital, perhaps Whitley in the constituency of Coventry, South-East. The staff, patients, the working people in general and I, as their elected Member, are determined that the hospital will not become the 222nd hospital to be closed under the Tory Government.
The former Secretary of State for Health and Social Services gave some promises when he visited Coventry briefly during the election campaign. We now await the outcome of the new arrangements, and we shall see whether we shall get increased funding from his successor. The signs from new Ministers in the DHSS are, shall we say diplomatically, less than hopeful.
In the Queen's Speech is the disgraceful announcement—I take no pride in having predicted that this would happen if the Tories won the general election—of the removal of all rights to benefits for young people who refuse to take a place on the youth training swindle schemes that are not designed to be a bridge from school to work. The schemes have two purposes — to fiddle down the dole figures among young people, and to drive down the average level of wages for young people. We have seen a deliberate and malicious cut of £17 a week in YTS allowance over the eight years of this Tory Government, perfectly in line with Sir John Hoskins' plan when he was the head of a policy unit at No. 10 Downing street.
Even the concept of a bridge is crumbling. In the past 10 days in Coventry the city council has been forced to close three of the most popular YTS schemes because of a cut of over £200,000 by the MSC in its budget for YTS. What little hope there was supposed to be of YTS engendering in school leavers the idea that they had a bridge from school to work is turning sour as a result of the way that the Government have treated them. I warn the Government that the youngsters on those three schemes, the hundred thousand youngsters nationally who expect to be hit if benefits are cut, and those affected by the 14 other identifiable cuts in youth benefit since 1980 will not accept the future that the Tories have mapped out for them of mass unemployment or low-paid jobs with no legal minimum wage, prefaced in each case by cheap labour schemes. Increasingly they will be drawn to the Labour and trade union movement to campaign for Socialist change. As the honorary president of the YTURC—the youth trade union rights campaign — I hope to play a part in that process.
Before I finish, I want to refer briefly to two other points within the Queen's Speech that will be increasingly resented by working people in Coventry and others throughout the country. There will be resentment about the Government's policies in general.
The first point relates to the rising trend of poverty among those relying on supplementary benefit. Just before the election I had to deal with a case of a woman in my constituency who had no electric lighting for three weeks. She required £65 to repair the electricity ring main in her house. She went to the DHSS and was told to go away and visit a bank or building society to get a loan. I do not know what experience Tory Members have of life on the dole. I spent three years on the dole before I became a Member of this House in 1983. The idea of a bank or building society giving a single parent a loan is laughable. Every building society and bank that my constituent went to rejected her. Fortunately, one bank was prepared to put 115 that rejection in writing and once the DHSS received that rejection in writing they gave her the £65 that she needed to repair her electricity ring main.
However, for three weeks her 13-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son had relied on candles. Indeed, the daughter had to hold a torch so that the son could revise for his examinations. That is life after eight years of a Tory Government for hundreds of thousands of people in the midlands and for millions of people nationally who eke out an existence on supplementary benefit. Forty-eight per cent. of the cases dealt with by the citizens advice bureau in Coventry are now debt-related in comparison with 19 per cent four years ago. That is what the past four years of Tory Government have meant.
If the cuts outlined in the Queen's Speech and in the social security legislation go through with respect to housing benefit, in Coventry alone 30,000 families will lose between £1.30 and £1.60 a week. I do not need to mention the suffering that will be caused by the other attacks such as the conversion from grants to loans when people seek help from the DHSS.
The second point that will cause resentment is related to the first and represents the other side of the coin. It relates to those people who work in the offices trying to deal with the problems of those people represented by Opposition Members — those people on benefits or in low-paid jobs. I refer especially to the civil servants in the DHSS and the Department of Employment. They are among the lowest paid and most exploited workers in the country today. Some 40,000 of the 150,000 membership of the Civil and Public Services Association are estimated to be claiming precisely the same supplementary benefits that they process and give out each day to the poor in their cities.
In some inner city areas — notably London — the turnover among those young men and women in their first 12 months after they have left school and taken up a position with the Civil Service in the DHSS or the Department of Employment is more than 100 per cent. They do not even last 12 months in those jobs given the stress and strain they suffer.
It is no wonder that the anger of those young workers is now reflected in demands for the escalation of industrial action by their union against the Government's contemptuous and contemptible offer of a 4.5 per cent. wage rise. Interestingly enough, that anger is also reflected in the increasing support given to Socialist candidates for high office within the union.
The Queen's Speech contains nothing for those workers or others currently engaged in an industrial struggle. For example, it contains nothing for the 70 medical secretaries in Coventry who have been on strike for nearly a month over regrading and the district health authority having its budget cut by the Tory Government. There is nothing for the 2,500 Massey Ferguson workers entering an industrial struggle against enforced and compulsory redundancies. What can he more ironic or laughable about the supposed health—according to the hon. Member for Moorlands—of the British capitalist economy than the thousands of Massey Ferguson tractor workers in Coventry who have been told that they will get the sack because they are producing too many tractors, yet last night on television Judi Dench desperately pleaded on behalf of all the aid organisations in Britain for ways to save the lives of the famine-stricken people in Mozambique following the earlier appeals two years ago made by Bob Geldof and 116 others for Ethiopia and Sudan? There is insanity in a system that sacks workers who could produce goods that could be exported to stop starvation and poverty in countries such as Africa.
This Queen's Speech will not dissipate the accumulated bitterness among the millions of ordinary working people during the past eight years. As the Coventry Evening Telegraph claimed when explaining the industrial action among Massey Ferguson workers, that "compulsory redundancy" notice became the catalyst for the explosion after months of frustration among those workers. There will be many more catalysts in the months and years ahead for this newly re-elected Tory Government.
The Labour movement outside this building will continue its traditional and honourable way of mobilising the discontent of working people through demonstrations, marches and industrial action to reflect the growing mood of anger of the working class. I am confident that Labour Members will play their part in the process inside and outside Parliament.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
It would be easy to be depressed by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). He began his speech by referring to the carrots that the Government have offered over the years and he suggested that those carrots were about to go rotten. I would prescribe those carrots to the hon Gentleman before they go rotten. He should eat them and he might then see in his darkness. That would benefit his constituents.
I sometimes have a nightmare in which I wake up one morning to find a Labour Government in control. What would the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East do for four years? Not one positive or constructive proposition passed his lips in the previous Parliament. The hon. Gentleman personifies the reason why there will never again be a Labour Government in this country.
However, I respect the fervour expressed by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East and I respect the people of the fine city of Coventry. This Government are not responsible for turning the United Kingdom into the warehouse of the world. They have not seen the manufacturing base destroyed to its present level. That has been caused by the mistaken policies of half a century of Socialism and centralism and uncompetitive industry over those years which allowed the import penetration of the manufactured goods that we used to make. Another cause has been trade union restrictive practices which compounded that uncompetitiveness. Indeed, the inflation that the Labour Government sought to use to solve the problems caused the erosion of our manufacturing base.
The first mistake that this country made in 1945 was to elect a Labour Government to continue central control through nationalisation. The second mistake was for Conservative policy to acquiesce to that for too long. Although I am a great admirer of the late Lord Stockton and so much of what he stood for, he was wrong in one important respect. It was the Governments who stole the family silver in the first place. That was his error of analysis.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her third term in office and on her magnificent victory. In the Gracious Speech I particularly welcome the policies on education and inner cities. Many of us who now represent prosperous seats in the south of England have 117 done our time as candidates in inner city areas. I certainly learnt an enormous amount, which has been of great benefit to me in my present constituency, when I fought for election in Holborn and St. Pancras. That was a very difficult inner city seat in London. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), in a most penetrating analysis earlier this evening, suggested that there are also areas of rural deprivation that we must address.
I want to spend a few moments discussing the problems of prosperity in our nation. Who would be a Minister having to tackle the problems which exist in the difficult areas and in the prosperous areas? A popular new book has recently been published called "Sarum", the Latin name for Salisbury. It says that it is a history of our nation, and my constituency represents in microcosm so many of the best characteristics of the the nation and some of the problems.
I welcome strongly the Government's determination to regenerate and revitalise the rural economy. I hope that high on their agenda will be a reform of the Development Commission and the working out of a new relationship between the commission and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. COSIRA is at the sharp end of so many of the rural problems, yet it is under-resourced and under-staffed compared with its parent organisation in London.
I welcome the tremendous support that the Government have given to the establishment of enterprise agencies. Later this month the South Wiltshire enterprise agency will be opened by the new Minister. That will represent a great step forward in the regeneration of our economy. I welcome the way in which my district council is starting to formulate a new industrial policy. It is no good having jobs, which we have, if there is nowhere for people to live.
I often say that Salisbury is between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is not the people of Swindon who are devils, but Swindon is the fastest growing town in the United Kingdom, and, indeed, in Europe, and that is a devil of a problem to solve. There is a planning application in for an extra 28,000 people to be housed, and the infrastructure consequences of that are enormous for a modest county such as Wiltshire. The developers of such a project should pay the infrastructure costs. I hope that the Government will move down that road which will relieve the tremendous burden which other parts of the county have to face when Swindon continues to expand.
The deep blue sea is represented by the Channel to the south of Salisbury and the prosperous towns and precious green belt inland. Those areas are seeking to slow down or stop development which has gone on too fast and that has its consequences for Salisbury as well.
Less than half the population of my constituency live in Salisbury; the rest live in traditional villages with declining village economies. Traditionally, agricultural jobs have been the mainstay of those villages, but agriculture has suffered from being too successful and too productive and now the traditional jobs are not there. The village tradition of church, school, pub and shop provide a good mixture, but, if we are not careful, we shall not have the young people to fill those villages and to keep those communities alive.
118 First, we have planning constraints. There is a lot of infilling of new buildings in our villages. There is too little land. There is often cramped over-development and the prices of the houses provided are too high. The price of land is the single biggest problem, and that is because of many of the planning constraints. Young couples simply cannot stay in our villages.
Another important point is that almost a third of the jobs in my constituency are not in agriculture, retailing and distribution, the Civil Service or the Army, but in manufacturing. There has been a complete turnaround in the economy of the south-west and much of it has been towards manufacturing, not in large factories with large employers, but in high technology, manufacturing, subcontracting to big manufacturers — in everything from pipes for smoking tobacco to British Aerospace. Little factories are tucked away in villages, in a completely non-aggressive way, and they are providing nearly a third of all the jobs in the constituency.
There is no doubt that those wealth-creating enterprises of great diversity are the seedcorn of the future. Often, the farmers themselves are leading the way in creating new jobs in those areas. The future strength of our rural economy depends on such evolution. We must tackle the problem of housing just as enthusiastically as we must support the generation of new jobs.
The private sector faces the major problem of price in seeking to provide more houses. Young people want to buy their own homes. Of course, the rented sector has almost completely disappeared, which is why I welcome the Government's commitment to reform the private rented sector. I started my married life, as did many people, in rented accommodation. That option is simply not available to most young people now.
Salisbury district council has a well-managed housing stock and under its new management it is tackling the problems most professionally. But let us consider Salisbury and the problems faced by the housing managers. On 1 April this year Salisbury district council's stock of council and sheltered accommodation stood at 8,151 units. But no houses are currently available and only 2.6 per cent. of the housing stock became available for letting last year—that is, 261 properties through casual vacancies. Last year 190 council houses were sold, and the bulk of those were three-bedroomed houses. Of those. nine were bought back, being Reema system-built houses repurchased through the Housing Defects Act 1984. That Act is welcome but it was with some sadness that the district realised that it was allowed to spend in its housing investment programme only an additional £100,000 on those houses, not the £1 million that was needed. Last year 19 new houses were built and six houses were lost due to conversion. In all that, with a stable housing stock, the waiting list stood at 2,365. We anticipate that that will rise to about 2,900. The problem is the shortage of available housing.
Even with the best managed stock it is hard to make progress if many of those on the list wish to purchase their own houses, are willing to be responsible for their own houses but cannot be because they are locked in. In Salisbury city most of the families who are rehoused are priority cases. They are the only ones who can make progress, except by casual vacancies.
We have a special problem, which occurs elsewhere in the country, regarding the Ministry of Defence. The Salisbury area has a high concentration of the armed 119 forces. We welcome that because it is a major source of employment, but the homeless persons legislation requires that a person made homeless must be rehoused. Service men leaving the services apply to go on the council housing list and if they have employment in the area the district council is required to find them accommodation. Employment is not in short supply in Salisbury and many in the services were born in the Salisbury area.
Empty Ministry of Defence properties are not in short supply. As most are not made surplus to requirement the district council is not in a position to purchase them, even if it had the money, and of those offered for leasing the Ministry of Defence was only prepared in the past to offer a three-year lease. That is simply not cost-effective for the district council because so many of the properties need considerable renovation. Therefore, the council would prefer a five-year lease, which might be worth looking at.
Another real problem for rural housing authorities is that ex-service men can count their years in service accommodation for the purposes of discounts. The current rate for a house is 32 per cent. discount after two years' tenancy, plus 1 per cent. for each additional year in tenancy up to a maximum of 60 per cent. discount for 30 years. For a flat, the discount is 44 per cent. after two years' tenancy, plus 2 per cent. for each additional year up to a maximum of 70 per cent. after 15 years. That means that a service man, having been 10 years in, say, the Army and its accommodation, and then two years in district council accommodation, can qualify for a 42 per cent. discount on a council house and a 64 per cent. discount on a council flat. That is very good news for the services and I welcome it. It is right and proper, but unless we can increase the housing stock one way or another, once again we are trapped.
The district council leases another 30 or 40 properties from private owners, such as farmers or service men currently abroad, for low rental, short-term housing. That is an important but small sector.
How does a prosperous community such as ours in Salisbury, let alone communities elsewhere, solve its undoubted housing problem? We have the first Government for 50 years to question the relevance of traditional housing solutions, and I welcome that. First, Salisbury district council could build more council houses. It would need to build over 1,000 to absorb everybody on the housing list. But in Salisbury we have several large council estates and they are not the answer. Large-scale uniform housing schemes create as many social problems as they solve.
The private sector could and would help by building more houses, but it is constrained by structure plans, environmental pressure not to build in certain villages and conservation areas. Planning officers must make sure that the conservation policy of the council is not breached and that houses are not built. Above all, it is constrained by the lack of land on which to build and by the price of land.
Another solution might be the regeneration and the commensurate increased impact of rural housing associations. Rural housing associations are important, but they need more help. I hope that the Housing Corporation will receive a considerably increased budget, but that can only derive from the general health of the economy in the long run.
The private rented sector is an area of considerable hope in the rural regions. We all know of farm cottages that are empty because the owner dare not let them. We 120 all know of empty houses. If they can be brought back into the housing market, a considerable impact will be made on the housing shortage nationwide.
Perhaps the biggest message that we must get across in the prosperous areas of the south is that the countryside is not a museum. However, we must find the right balance. No one wants over-development, but we should not drive out our young people and discourage them from bringing up their families in the villages and communities where their families have often been for generations. It makes me sad that young couples in the village where I live are having to leave and seek council accommodation in Southampton because there is no accommodation for them at a price they can reasonably afford. Even if both of them are working, they cannot afford the mortgage or the price of the basic accommodation which is on the market.
The Government have given the nation great prosperity, particularly in the south. We must consider how to share that prosperity with the inner cities—which we must do, because we have deep consciences in the south about our prosperity, as we discovered in the recent election campaign. We must also look at the housing problems facing the prosperous areas and break the shackles that are preventing many people who want to accept the responsibility for housing themselves from doing so.
The Government should encourage the vitality and continued prosperity of the people of the south of England. In return, we will generate more wealth for the Government to tax and transfer to rebuild the communities and pride of the people of the north.
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The sickest remark in the speech of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was that people in the south have a conscience. If they had a conscience they would have voted for a Labour Government and not returned this despicable Tory Government. They voted for their own pockets and against the interests of the people who live in the deprived areas of Scotland, the north of England, Wales and above a line which is creeping slowly south to the midlands of England. That is what the people of the south did and I hope for their sake that they do not live to regret it.
The speech of the hon. Member for Salisbury demonstrated the appalling ignorance of hon. Members who represent constituencies south of Watford and who believe that anything north of Watford is an obscure place in which the barbarians live for which they have little or no regard. That is what one expects from hon. Members from the south of England.
I shall not talk about my constituency as the hon. Member for Salisbury did, except to say that, perhaps more than any other, it typifies what has happened to the Tory party in Scotland. We won the seat of Glasgow, Cathcart in 1979 from the hon. Member who now represents Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). Conservative Members may find it worthwhile to read the article that he wrote in The Guardian this week about what he thinks is happening in Scotland. In 1979 we had a majority of 1,700. In 1983, with the boundary changes, the pundits said that it should be a marginal Tory seat with a majority of 2,000. In that year I doubled my majority to 4,000. In 1987, the Tory party fought no campaign in Cathcart because they obviously did not expect to win it back and 121 they were right. I now have a majority of 11,200, so since 1979 we have turned what was a Conservative-held seat into one of the safest in the United Kingdom. However, to put that in perspective, in the city of Glasgow Cathcart remains the second most marginal Labour-held seat. Out of 11 seats, the second most marginal has a majority of 11,000. The Tory party once held four seats in Glasgow. In 1979 it still had one left, but in 1987 it polled only 12.5 per cent. of the total votes in Glasgow.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman remind us of the average electorate in each of those Glasgow seats?
§ Mr. Maxton
I believe that the average is about 56,000 people. My constituency has an electorate of 49,000 and I have a majority of 11,200, so in percentage terms my majority is larger than that of many Conservative Members.
The Tory party has been virtually wiped out in Scotland. Only a few Conservatives remain, such as the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), the Secretary of State for Defence. The Prime Minister said this afternoon that she was sure that, for defence reasons, the people of Scotland were glad that the Tory Government had been returned, yet the Secretary of State for Defence held on in his constituency with a majority of 182 votes. So much for the Scottish people approving of the Government's defence policy, when they nearly threw out the Secretary of State himself.
This Government no longer have a mandate to rule in Scotland. I shall explain that because Conservative Members have attacked the no-mandate argument. First, let me clarify the constitutional position for them. When they say that England has been ruled by Scots in the past they are wrong. That is a nonsensical argument, because constitutionally there are United Kingdom Departments of State and there is the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Office. Constitutionally, there is not a Secretary of State for England, but there is a Secretary of State for Scotland. When I say that there is no mandate I mean that the Secretary of State for Scotland has no mandate on the matters with which he deals. I accept, although I do not like it, that with regard to defence, the economy, the macro-economic position and immigration, the Government have a mandate to rule Scotland, but for the affairs on which the Secretary of State has powers he and the Government have no mandate. They are in an absurd constitutional position. They have 10 seats left out of 72. The Government were wiped out and lost over half of their members. Even in the last Parliament they had no mandate in Scotland, but, having lost over half of their members, not only do they have no mandate; they are almost in a position where they are incapable of carrying out government in Scotland in the normal, traditional way.
When the Secretary of State looked for junior Ministers, he found that two Ministers had been beaten and that his Whip had gone as well. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) refused to serve and the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who had been thrown out of the Government 12 months before, refused to return. There was also the Secretary of State for Defence. Therefore, out of 10, three were out straight away. He was then left with 122 the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). He is an elderly gentleman to put it mildly, and obviously he would not be asked. That brings the number down to six, including the hon. Members for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Those were the choices from which to select two junior Ministers and a Whip.
The Secretary of State selected his two Ministers, one of which was the hon. Member for Stirling. I must admit that so far in his public pronouncements in Scotland the hon. Member for Stirling has been reasonable and has sounded moderate. However, his public remarks as a Minister have been very different from the remarks he has made in the past as a Back Bencher very much on the extreme Right wing of the Tory party. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is almost much more of an extremist than my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). It is as if we in Scotland have someone like my hon. Friend in the Government.
I shall not comment on the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West. I am sure that all Conservative Members know him and know how effective he will be as a Minister. However, when the Secretary of State looked for a Whip, he could not find one in Scotland and went to an English constituency.
§ Mr. Maxton
I admit that he is a Scot, but both my parents were born within what is now my constituency.
The fact remains that in order to find a Whip the Secretary of State had to go to a Scot who represents an English constituency. If I were the hon. Member for Tayside, North I would wonder what was wrong with me. Three positions were left, yet the Secretary of State was not prepared to give him one of them.
The Government therefore faced a major problem, but it is nothing to the problem that they now face in terms of manning a Select Committee in Scotland. That is essential. There is no reason why the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office should not be put under the same scrutiny as any other Department of State. By the traditions of the House it would be normal for that Committee to be manned by Scottish Members of Parliament and for the governing party to have a majority on it. But with only five Back-Bench Members, it would mean that every one would have to serve on the Select Committee, including some who have just left senior office in the Government. In other words, the Government would simply be unable to ensure that the size of that Committee would be the same as it was previously.
That places the Select Committee in great danger. The Government and the House should recognise the constitutional position of the Labour party in Scotland and give us a majority on the Select Committee. That would then allow it to scrutinise the Scottish Office in a proper manner.
The Secretary of State will be unable to put legislation through the House of Commons. He will simply be incapable of doing it if he is to abide by the Standing Orders of the House. The Standing Orders state that 16 Members representing Scottish constituencies — not 16 Scots—should serve on any Standing Committee dealing with a Scottish Bill.
I accept that the Secretary of State for Defence, as a Cabinet Minister, will probably not be asked to serve on 123 a Scottish Standing Committee. That is a reasonable assumption. But that means that the remaining nine Scottish Conservative Members, including the Secretary of State himself, will have to serve on that Committee if they are to have a majority. Even then they would not have a majority that reflected the make-up of the House of Commons. and that is the constitutional position—that each Standing Committee shall have roughly the same balance as the House itself. A Committee composed of nine Conservative Members and seven Opposition Members would not reflect that make-up.
I do not see how the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to put through any legislation whatsoever, and I fail to understand why the Government simply cannot recognise that they face a major constitutional problem arising from their massive defeat in Scotland by coming forward with proposals for a devolved elected Scottish Assembly. From their point of view that would make sense and it would ease the legislative burden in this House.
All non-Scottish Members moan frequently when they have to stay here after 10 o'clock to deal with Scottish business. The solution lies in the hands of the Government. We would be delighted if they gave the Scots an elected Assembly to deal with the Scottish legislation that is at present dealt with in this House. We would not then have to burden other Conservative Members as we could deal with such legislation in Edinburgh or wherever we decided the legislative Assembly would be. The introduction of such a scheme would seem to be plain common sense.
The Government will have to think again positively about this matter over the next few weeks and months. It cannot be put off, because like my Scottish colleagues I am constantly asked by the Scottish people, "What have we done to deserve another bout of Thatcherism?" As I went through Glasgow airport the other day two security people asked me that very question. These were people in employment. They wanted to know how we could stop the Government imposing their will on the Scottish people.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, none of us wants the break-up of the United Kingdom. We believe in maintaining the United Kingdom. But no Government can impose strains upon the now very delicate relationship that exists between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom without expecting a backlash from the Scottish people. They are expecting the Government to do something, and do something they must.
As well as establishing the Assembly, they could get rid of the poll tax. I gather there are rumours in one London evening paper tonight that the Government are thinking again about the poll tax for England and Wales. Be that as it may, it must be said that the Scottish people overwhelmingly rejected the poll tax.
I served on the Committee that steered that legislation through the last Session of the previous Parliament. Time and again we were told by the Minister, Mr. Michael Ancram — now gone — that this would be a popular measure and a major plank in the Tories' campaign in Scotland. We were told that it would bring back the dissident Tory vote because the middle classes would be better off as a result of the poll tax.
It is worth looking at the constitution of that Committee. It contained 11 Tories. Mr. Michael Ancram led for the Government. He is gone. Mr. Gerry Malone was the Whip. He is gone. Mrs. Anna McCurley served on the Committee. She is gone. So did Mr. Michael Hirst, and 124 he is gone. Mr. John Corrie served on it, and he is gone, as are Mr. Alex Pollock and Mr. Barry Henderson. Only four of those 11 members are left. I therefore advise Conservative Members not to serve on the Committee that will consider the poll tax for England and Wales, otherwise their chances of remaining in the House at the next election will be remarkably small. I am not a betting man and I cannot work out the odds but they really do not have much chance. The Government should listen to that. They should say, "We made that a major plank. We told the Scottish people that that is what we believed they wanted." The Scottish people have now said, "No, we do not want that thank you very much. We voted for a Labour party which stood on the plank of retaining rates." The Labour party won on that basis.
If there is any democratic morality left on the Conservative Benches, the Government should withdraw the poll tax as soon as possible. If they want to impose it on the people of England and Wales, they may take that electoral risk if they so wish. However, the Scottish people had the opportunity to vote on it and they rejected it. I hope that the Government will listen to that message and withdraw the poll tax as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
It is interesting to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). He came dangerously close to referring to the Gracious Speech on one occasion. As he pointed out, it may be reckless for a Member representing an English constituency to demonstrate too great an interest in the legislative affairs of Scotland for fear of meeting the fate of the members of the Standing Committee. We understand what he said, but he should bear in mind that Members representing English constituencies, which in many general elections have, been mainly Conservative Members, recognise the legislative right of the minority of Labour Members in England to legislate for the nation and we shall have the same attitude when it comes to Scotland.
Undoubtedly all Members of Parliament who have been returned are delighted to be hack because it is a privilege and an honour to serve in the House of Commons, and to represent the historic and beautiful constituency of Shrewsbury and Atcham. However, at this early stage in my speech I must take my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to task. She has had lots of praise, justifiably so, from my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I must say that the weather during the election campaign was appalling. As she was responsible for the timing of the campaign she must take some responsibility for that. Representing a constituency that forms the county town of Shropshire and about 170 villages and hamlets around it, one of the pleasant aspects of the 1983 campaign was to get a pretty good suntan as we canvassed the country areas. The Prime Minister wisely went for a similar time of year and a friend of mine who is a consultant dermatologist, concerned for the state of my suntanned face after the 1983 election, gave me some cream to protect it but the Prime Minister had different weather in mind.
Here we are after a long campaign. Many of the issues that have been raised during the debate on the Queen's Speech so far were dealt with on the hustings and the nation has spoken with the histortic return of the Prime Minister for a third term. Many people may feel that perhaps she is on the last lap but such a radical Queen's 125 Speech has demonstrated that that is far from the case, that the Prime Minister is not out of breath and that there is much before us. The British people have undoubtedly endorsed that with the substantial return of so many Conservative Members. The Opposition's interest has been demonstrated by the fact that so few of their Front or Back Bench Members have been in the Chamber.
I was delighted to hear Her Majesty welcoming the visit next month of His Majesty King Hassan II of Morocco. The British and Moroccan Inter-Parliamentary Union groups have good ties and undoubtedly the economic and cultural ties between the United Kingdom and the kingdom of Morocco have improved enormously and grown steadily. Morocco's ancient customs and great traditions find a welcome and warm acceptance in Britain and we look forward to welcoming King Hassan next month.
Earlier in the debate I was delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in his place. He has joined the team at the Ministry of Defence. There is a reference to NATO in the Gracious Speech and the part that this country plays in the Alliance, not least through the debates in this Chamber and the debates during the election campaign on the independent nuclear deterrent. I suspect that part of the reason why the alliance is reduced to such a rump in this Parliament is that eventually we got through to the British people the fact that 83 per cent. of Liberal candidates in the election campaign, including the one who stood unsuccessfully against me, were unilateralists. I thought that it was unfair of the British press, whether pro-Tory or not, to give the Labour party such a hammering for its unilateralist view while so many Liberal candidates got away scot free because the public were not privy to their beliefs about the defence of our United Kingdom.
Representing a constituency that manufactures engines for the Challenger tank, I am glad that our commitment to NATO on conventional weapons is unchanged. We are re-equipping seven Challenger tank regiments and those engines will come from Perkins Engines Ltd. in Shrewsbury.
I hope that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will take the opportunity to get to know people in their constituencies who perhaps serve in Territorial Army battalions, which are committed to NATO. They will be visiting Germany in October for an exercise and I urge hon. Members to take an opportunity to see the training that goes on for those part-time soldiers to enable them to play their part in the Territorial Army's enhancement of NATO. In that respect I am delighted to see that the Government are sticking to their course of Territorial Army expansion and enhancement and the 4 per cent. of the defence budget used for that is a sound investment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who was sitting in his place earlier will undoubtedly have an interesting time bringing through this Parliament the revision of local government charges for England and Wales. One of the things I found a little strange while listening to the debate on the Gracious Speech is that hon. Members, especially those representing Scottish seats, are so keen to save us from ourselves. That makes me more than a little suspicious. If any of my colleagues had doubts about the wisdom of the 126 community charge I would have thought that the fact that we have been warned about it so many times from Scottish Members demonstrates the wisdom of such a course.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that we must remind the ratepayers of England of what they were perhaps not able to appreciate during the election campaign — I am assured it was a feature of the campaign in Scotland—which is that in England and Wales we have had two revaluations of property levels postponed under this Government so far. If those revaluations by the Inland Revenue had been allowed to go ahead, the difficulties that the Tory party experienced in Scotland during the period of revaluation would have been brought upon us in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Maxton
I assume that the hon. Gentleman is aware that business rates will continue, even if it is to be a uniform rate. Before that uniform rate can be introduced there will have to be a revaluation of all non-domestic property in England, Wales and Scotland. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that some of the businesses in the south of England will be screaming blue murder when they see what that revaluation means.
§ Mr. Conway
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. In fact, the uniform business rate will not necessarily be to the advantage of business men in my part of the world. However, what they accept and appreciate, being in a prosperous part of the country and having concern for the development of those areas of the United Kingdom that are less prosperous, is the need to help those business men in the parts of the United Kingdom who have suffered under extreme Left-wing Labour councils which have put up the rates to an enormous degree so that the job losses that occurred followed as surely as night follows day. We are well aware of the hon. Gentleman's warnings.
It is vital that my right hon. and hon. Friends remind the ratepayers of England and Wales about the scale of revaluation. If the last valuation, pre-1979, which has been postponed twice were to come into effect now it would bring a revolution to the Conservative party, one that I doubt we would survive.
As one who has spent 10 years in local government, leading a council group of 44 members, I believe that the community charge will give extra control to local councillors in budgetary matters. However, when we give the electors greater power over the actions of their local councillors and a greater understanding of their spending, it is equally important that we ensure that those local councillors have power over the budget. It is not acceptable for a Government to impose conditions on local authorities or for this House to put conditions, duties and requirements on local councils through our legislation, and to expect them to carry the can to their electors. If we are to give the power of control back to the ratepayer, we must ensure that the power of control over local finances goes with it, so that local councillors can account properly for themselves.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will be answerable for a sentence in the Gracious Speech in which the Government pledge to maintain and improve health services. I am looking forward to an Adjournment debate on Monday night on the financial position of Shropshire health services, and to reminding constituents in Shropshire of the enormous improvement in the financing of their health services, which increased 127 from £30 million in 1979 to £72 million in 1986. However, throughout the election campaign misinformation advised us time and time again that there had been a cut. My basic arithmetic suggests that a change in funding from £30 million to £72 million is far from a cut.
However, we have difficulties in Shropshire with a large and expanding population as a result of Telford new town in The Wrekin constituency. Our regional health authority is based in Birmingham and I believe firmly that it does not have any comprehension of the health conditions in Shrewsbury, in Atcham and in the rest of Shropshire. We are on the extremities of the regional health authority's geographical area and undoubtedly on the extremities of its concern. In fact, our county is 10 per cent. underfunded on the basis of the RAWP calculations.
One great thing that this radical and reforming Government could bring to this Parliament through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services would be the abolition of the regional tier of health authorities, because it is a tier of money-consuming bureaucracy that does not provide any Health Service to the many county boroughs that it serves.
Those of us who have experienced the election campaign will have experienced again and again on the doorstep the issue of crime and law and order and the concern of so many people about the deterioration in the standards of law-abiding of our citizens. Legislation from this Parliament will not necessarily be the answer, although the concept of a national organisation for crime prevention, which was referred to in the Gracious Speech, will help rather than hinder. However the responsibility must lie with our magistrates and judges who must apply the laws and the powers that they already have from this Chamber. They should apply them with such determination that those who seek to do harm to individuals will realise that they are heading for a custodial sentence. Although we spent much time during the previous Parliament discussing the problems in the City of London — rightly so and regulations have been brought in — crimes of violence should be the priority in tackling crime, and the penalties for violent crime must be severe.
I wish that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would consider an area of crime prevention which would come at as little cost as does, for example, the Territorial Army to the functions that the Ministry of Defence pursues, and enhance the role of special constables. They are individuals in our community who give up their time, without payment, to wear a police uniform to police our communities. During the conflicts of the miners' strike, for example, which consumed so much of the time of our regular police officers, who were protecting our citizens from bully boys, in many areas such as mine we were left with special constables to police the county town and the outlying areas. They did a splendid job. I recognise that many regular policemen are not keen on the idea of special constables. In fact, many Regular Army officers were not keen on the Territorial Army. However, that is undoubtedly a way to spread public resources to greater effect. I hope that we can carry through our policy of more bobbies on the beat by using special constables on housing estates and in the inner-city areas of our country.
I now turn to the agricultural references in the Gracious Speech, especially to the reform of the common agricultural policy. Various polls in farming newspapers suggested that the farmers of Great Britain were moving away from the Conservative party. I am delighted that 128 when the election was held that was proved not to be the case. Although many farmers have had justifiable cause to be displeased with some of the actions of my party during the previous Government—indeed I have felt unable to support it on every occasion in Divisions on agricultural debates—the farmers are loyal and have stayed with the Conservative party. They appreciate the changes that need to come in agriculture. They recognise that changes must come but ask the Government to take account of the fact that nature is their raw commodity. It is unacceptable for politicians in this Chamber or elsewhere to wander blindly through the Lobbies bringing in measures which rapidly affect sectors such as the dairy industry, but which take no account of the need of our primary source of food supply to change with nature. The farmers in my constituency and, I believe, in many other rural areas seek from the Government an understanding of the need for equity. I am delighted to see that in the Gracious Speech there is a reference to maintaining our "essential national interests". I do not believe that the British farmer asks any more than that. If quotas come, as they have been introduced on dairy products, we should like them to be equitable so that the British farmer is not taking a greater share of the cake than our continental competitors. We undoubtedly have competitors although we are all in the European Community. Our farmers understandably want to see an assurance on farm incomes.
Although colleagues from all parties in inner-city areas go on about the cost of the common agricultural policy, likewise farmers see the level of redundancy payments that are made to those who were involved in, for example, mining and feel that if they were entitled to such redundancy payments many small-holding farmers would be delighted to take them.
One of the good things about this election was that it endorsed the Government's strong stand against the two-tier pricing policy, which has been resisted again and again from Europe. It was supported unwisely by the alliance in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) at Cirencester, when he embraced that policy so enthusiastically—with all the enthusiasm of his party for everything continental, and so very little for Britain—but the alliance was roundly defeated in farming constituencies because the two-tier pricing policy on cereals would have had a devastating effect for British agriculture.
If we join the European monetary system, I hope that, before we reach that stage, there will be a substantial devaluation of the green pound to ensure that British farmers enter that system at an advantage rather than a disadvantage. As one who served on the agriculture Select Committee during the previous Parliament, and earlier in that Parliament on a Standing Committee on industrial legislation, I should like farmers to be encouraged to diversify and to have similar access to Government assistance in terms of interest on loans and rates as they apply to industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who is in his place tonight, is to be congratulated on joining the Government with the difficult responsibility that he faces. However, those of us who know him well know that he has the ability to give this country that which it demonstrated that it wants in education and will give parents a much greater say. In Shropshire, which, sadly, for the past couple of years has had a county council that has been controlled by an unholy alliance of Labour and 129 Liberal councillors, a proposal was put forward which affected my constituency and which would have involved closing two substantial comprehensive schools, the Corbet school and the Church Stretton school. They were saved as a result of substantial efforts by the parents who were frightened that, at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen or the endorsement of the council committee, those adequate rural schools would have been lost. Those schools have a good reputation for the education that they provide and are essential parts of their communities, but they would have been lost. The proposals in the Gracious Speech would give those parents the assurance that they need which is that the future of their children's education will be in their hands, not in the hands of the shire hall. I welcome that.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider carefully the minimum number requirement. In my constituency, for example, the same Labour-Liberal county council has proposed to close Acton Burnell school. During the election campaign my Liberal opponent wrote to the chairman of the governing body saying how much he supported small rural schools without pointing out that his Liberal colleagues on the county council had voted for the closure of the self-same school. People in rural areas are not so stupid and they gave him a resounding goodbye.
That school is too small to save itself under the proposals and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reject the county council's plan to close it. If he feels the need to endorse the plan, I hope that he will feel equally the need to allow the children of those parents to continue at that school. As I understand the proposals, at present that would not be the case and I hope that there will be some room for movement. It will undoubtedly be a difficult fight but, as with the sale of council housing in 1979, it is deserving and must be pursued.
We went into the election with the general public understanding that we have a sound economy. The other options were undoubtedly thrashed and the so-called pact which was to lead to a hung Parliament and alternative form of government is now showing its genuine face, tearing itself apart as the two Davids demonstrate what unity was hidden at the general election. The ability of the Conservative party to deliver a programme was a major reason for success. We have a great deal to do and I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will get on with it.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
It is my new privilege to represent Clydebank and Milngavie and to succeed Mr. Hugh McCartney who gave 17 years good, loyal service to the House and his constituency.
The Gracious Speech fails because it does not address itself to the major problem which faces my constituency and many others — unemployment. The Government believe that unemployment is best dealt with by market forces. In the policy for the Scottish Development Agency the Government states:the public sector should only be involved when the market alone will not produce the outcome desired by policy.130 There is not the slightest sign that market forces will mean anything other than a two-tier Britain with a prosperous south-east and an impoverished north and Scotland.
The market is not sufficient and should not even be so for a party which calls itself the Conservative and Unionist party — a union of nations rather than of regions. A Government who tolerate a north-south divide do not merely threaten social cohesion, but risk political schism when the people of Scotland realise, as they do, that the Government do not have their interests at heart. They are indeed a foolish Government. When the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) points out the merits of bicycle riding, it takes on a whole new meaning when he wants us to ride to another country, especially when those on their bikes are likely to be the most skilled and entrepreneurial.
The market is not enough. My constituency has an unemployment rate of 16 per cent. That is about average for Scotland. It is deplorable when 16 per cent. unemployment is the average for a country. We have only 16 per cent. unemployment because, through the Scottish Development Agency — an instrument of Socialist planning that the Government realise they cannot do away with—we have an area initiative and task force which has brought 360 new companies into the area with a projected 4,000 jobs. The SDA expenditure has been £29 million, and its involvement has also brought in £25 million of private money.
If that can be done in Clydebank, why can it not be done elsewhere? The success of the initiative should persuade the Government greatly to enhance the SDA budget and its role, particularly to enable it to take a strategic look at Scotland's manufacturing industry. There must be much more sectoral planning by the SDA of areas such as the engineering industry. There is no sign that other developed countries are willing to give as low priority to manufacturing industry as the Government are with their over-reliance on the service industries.
Any success that there has been in electronics is welcome, although there are still significantly fewer jobs in high technology in Scotland than in the rest of Britain, and the 45,000 jobs in electronics are often part-time and only a fraction of the jobs that have been lost elsewhere in manufacturing. The SDA must address itself much more to the strategic planning and development role for manufacturing. At present only 2 per cent. of its budget is spent directly on manufacturing investment.
It is also ridiculous that an agency such as the SDA must cut its many other worthwhile projects because of the Government's failure to enhance its budget to take care of the one-off, large-scale Glasgow Garden Festival next year. Similarly, during the election campaign, the Secretary of State for Scotland claimed credit for Glasgow achieving the status of city of culture in 1990. He omitted to mention the complete failure of the Government to give one penny towards that event, despite its considerable prospective spin-offs for jobs and other means of enhancing the image of Glasgow. If the Secretary of State pursues previous policies, such as those on the Commonwealth Games, he will financially penalise the local authorities for their contribution to the city of culture and he alone will make a profit through the clawback of grants.
What else should the Government do? All of us who campaigned in Scotland could not help but be dismayed by the parlous state of much of our public housing. 131 Thousands of people are being cynically — I use the word advisedly—denied the right to a warm, dry house by the Government's refusal adequately to fund local authorities with the necessary capital. The Government are hoping that the condition of council housing will so deteriorate that people will buy or turn angrily on their councils. Then the Secretary of State will introduce a privatising "solution" to a problem which he has caused.
Clydebank is particularly savagely dealt with. The irony is that it has a massive housing debt stretching back to the need completely to rebuild the town after the blitz. That means that it has no resources for housing. Milngavie has another widespread problem. Because of the Government's failure to provide money to build council houses the sons and daughters of those who live there must move from Milngavie in order to find housing. Far more money must he invested in the infrastructure of our cities. Our roads, sewers and public buildings are under-resourced.
During the election campaign the Secretary of State was so out of touch that he boasted he would try to bring the A74 up to motorway standard. For years every Scottish resident crossing the border has experienced the national insult that the M6 stops precisely at Carlisle and is converted into the A74. For the Secretary of State to boast that the upgrading of the A74 would be his step forward shows how out of touch he is with the western side of the country.
With regard to the poorer parts of the country, the Government must abandon their strategy of imposing a low-wage policy, whether that policy is intended to depress the wages of youngsters or is an attempt to break up national pay bargaining in the public sector. It is an absurdity to tackle the poverty of the poor regions by taking money out of the pockets of those in jobs. That would represent a further downward twist in the economy of those areas with high unemployment. Once again one notices the sheer insensitivity of the Government.
The Labour party wants to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom, but the Government would aid the separatists by paying public service workers less for doing the same job in Scotland. One can imagine what the separatists would make of that.
Much more should be done to make it possible for the wealth generated in areas such as my constituency to be retained in those areas and used for the stimulation of further wealth. As an example, let us consider local authority pension funds. Previously, I chaired the Strathclyde superannuation fund, which is by far the largest local authority superannuation fund in Britain with resources of £1,800 million. However, to get the maximum return for that fund, it was necessary to invest in the economy of the south-east and the economies of Japan, Canada and elsewhere. It would make an enormous amount of difference to my area if a simple law could be passed which would enable perhaps 10 per cent. of that fund— £180 million—to be invested in the area by the local authority if it believed a return could be made. Such a return need not represent the largest possible return.
During the election campaign the Secretary of State visited a neighbouring constituency and took part in a photo-opportunity dressed in a police jacket. He was visiting a firm that was expanding, moving to another constituency and creating more jobs. That was commendable, but what the Secretary of State failed to mention was that the money that went into that firm came from the 132 Strathclyde superannuation fund. We managed to set up that firm with £5 million capital. It was only because of the failure of the orthodox banking system that enabled the Secretary of State to have that photo-opportunity during the election campaign. I view that photo-opportunity with some irony because the Strathclyde superannuation fund helped that firm when the orthodox banking system would not. The City has no interest in the good that money can do for communities such as mine. Profit is all that matters.
If the Government are concerned about unemployment they must abandon the absurdity of trying to create unemployment. I represent a regional council that is universally considered as moderate, sensible, well run and concerned with efficiency. None of its services is extravagant, and many are below national standards, but the Government state that the council is £54 million over their own fiddled guidelines. Such guidelines have been fiddled. If the Government had allowed Strathclyde to retain its share of regional services spending over the past few years, the council would have received £71 million extra. Instead, the money has been redistributed to areas that happen to be of a more Conservative flavour.
The Secretary of State must say why he is moving money away from the poorer regions if he is genuinely concerned about deprivation. If Strathclyde were to accept Government guidelines and cut £54 million in spending, 3,500 jobs would be lost. We saved the people of Strathclyde from that catastrophe. How can it make sense to move money into the inner cities while imposing restrictions on a local authority that is universally recognised as trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances?
Much more must be done to encourage the creation of local jobs. Many of our areas will not be helped even if there is an upturn in the economy. There are some areas, including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), that have unemployment levels of between 30 and 40 per cent. Such areas will not be helped by an upturn in the economy. We need skilled, local economic development workers to create something of an entrepreneurial spirit in areas that simply have no local economy. To some extent that has been done in Strathclyde with the creation of Strathclyde community business and local co-operatives. Such bodies need more assistance from the Government because of the running-in time during which a firm is built up. One is talking in terms not of one or two years, but of five or 10 years.
The problems that I have highlighted could be greatly alleviated — obviously this will be a common theme among Scottish Labour Members— if we had an elected Scottish assembly able to choose its priorities and devise its solutions. One reason why the Government did so badly in Scotland was that their London-based campaign themes and posters had no relevance whatsoever in Scotland. I urge them next time to use McSaatchi and McSaatchi. The Government do not have the slightest idea about what happens north of Tottenham Court road.
The message of the Gracious Speech to the people of Scotland is that the Government will pursue their present policies, which promise only greater prosperity to the already prosperous people and the already prosperous areas. The people of Scotland have given their message: that all the people of this kingdom expect a fair share of 133 any wealth that is created. If the Government do not deliver on that, the Conservative party will complete its journey to oblivion.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). I congratulate him on a most polished maiden speech. He showed none of the normal signs of the maidener—knocking knees, dropped papers and a dry mouth—but made a first-class speech. Undoubtedly we shall look forward to his further contributions.
I was particularly glad to hear the tribute that the hon. Gentleman paid to his predecessor. We remember him as a man who was interested in and knowledgeable about engineering. He cared greatly about the elderly and disabled, and also about human rights. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the considerable service that his predecessor gave to the House.
Each Gracious Speech has charted a change in this country's fortunes. Rightly, the first two Parliaments have concentrated on rebuilding a country with effective defences and a strong economy, as well as increasing freedom in a variety of ways, such as with trade union reform, where there has been a restoration of democratic control to the members through compulsory ballots. Secondly, there has been an increase in freedom through a decline in state monopolies. There has been the denationalisation of British Telecom, allowing Mercury to compete for traffic and producing a better service. Those are just two examples.
I do not wish to dwell on past battles or past successes. I want to concentrate on a fundamental issue that was mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I refer to the best way of financing local government — whether it should be through rates, local income tax or a community charge, which the Government want. The issue is fundamental, and it matters, because the way in which a service is paid for affects crucially the amount of responsibility that people feel for it. The best guarantee of good services at a reasonable cost is to have an informed and responsible electorate, concerned about the services, aware of their benefits and costs and able to influence the elected representatives controlling those services. The two examples that I gave illustrate that.
In the 1970s some trade union leaderships had reached the point where their ordinary members, the electorate, had little information and even less say about the conduct of disputes and negotiations. But the measures that we have introduced since 1979 have improved the flow of information and ensured that ballots take place before industrial action. I am pleased to hear that more is to come. Because of that, we have seen more responsible trade unionism. As a result we are being assisted in competing in world markets.
Similarly, with British Telecom, in the 1970s the ordinary consumer had no choice over equipment and found it pretty difficult to get any response on queries about service. Many of us will have held surgeries during which business men have complained, and indeed have been completely frustrated, about the long delays in 134 getting any service at all. Now, with denationalisation and deregulation, BT has become more aware of who pays the bills and the service has become more responsive.
Local government is a major supplier of services—schools, roads, housing, social services, sport facilities, libraries, police, and the fire and ambulance services. All of us are involved in those services at one time or another. It is in all our interests that those services should be run effectively, efficiently and economically, but because of the battle that the Government have had with some local authorities it is sometimes suggested that the Conservative party is in favour of everything being run from the centre. That is far from true. The Conservative party has consistently argued that central Government should do only those things that must be done centrally.
Since 1979, we have steadily removed the functions, powers and regulations that have accumulated over the years. We have abolished the GLC and the metropolitan authorities, thus returning to local authorities more functions and powers. Our concern with local authorities has been not to remove services but to ensure that the services that are supplied are run in the best possible way. As a country, and as individuals, we cannot afford to waste resources on inefficient or ineffective services. The wealth that we generate from industry, agriculture, export earnings and services has to pay for all the internal services that we enjoy.
The key to control lies in the method of paying for such services. If electors do not see a strong link between voting for increased expenditure and the consequent rising cost to themselves, they will have little reason to challenge the ways in which the services are run.
I want to examine in more detail how local authorities finance their services and how individuals, as consumers and paymasters, can ensure that those services are better run. First, the Government are allowing local authorities to spend £25 billion in 1987–88. Of that, 46.4 per cent., or 12.8 billion, is provided by central Government in grants that come directly from the taxpayer. It must always be remembered that high spending authorities are directly supported by taxpayers in rather more responsible authorities. Of the total £25 billion, 17 per cent. is provided by the non-domestic ratepayers— shops, businesses and factories. Only 11 per cent. is provided by the domestic ratepayers. Domestic rates are supposed to be a mechanism by which ordinary individuals bear their share of the cost of local authority services. For example, if they ask for more swimming pools and elect councillors who will build them they should be willing to meet the cost from their rates. Of course, that does not happen. It sounds fine in theory; in practice, things are far more distorted. Of 35 million voters in England, only 18 million — householders—are liable to pay rates. That means, for example, that a 19-year-old still living with his parents can lobby for increased services and vote for councillors who want increased services but possibly never see a rate demand.
Secondly, rates do not depend on the number of people in a house. An elderly widow whose children have long since left home may be liable for the same rate as four adults in work living in a similar house next door.
Thirdly, rateable values vary according to the precise location within a local authority and people living in different locations may use the same services but pay quite different amounts.
135 Fourthly, rateable values need regular revaluation to remove the distortions that creep in from time to time. Domestic rates are unfair and do not provide the essential close link between the consumers and service provision. It is people who use services, not bricks and mortar. Some have argued for a local income tax. That would not solve the problem. Of 35 million voters in England, only 20 million are income tax payers. Not many more voters would be involved.
It would also damage incentive by increasing marginal tax rates because high spending authorities would have to levy a local income tax which would push an individual's marginal tax rate up to 40 per cent. If collected by employers, it would involve them in considerable time and effort. An employer could have employees in three or four different local authorities or, in the case of London, in 10 or more. On the other hand, if it were collected by the local authority, it would involve them in complex income assessments, and that would be costly. I believe the Government have rightly rejected the concept of a local income tax. Instead, they are proposing a community charge— a locally determined flat rate charge, payable by adults.
The working of the system in the main would be straightforward. All adults would be liable to pay for the community charge in the area in which they lived. Most people have only one address. They would register there just as they do at present for the electoral roll. People with more than one address would register where their main residence was. Owners of two houses would obviously have to pay a flat rate equal to two community charges for the second home. There would be special arrangements for students and for the disabled. Owners of institutions or houses providing short-term accommodation would pay a collective community charge.
The system will be cheaper to run than domestic rating, for two reasons. Firstly, we will avoid the £30 million a year cost of keeping valuation lists, and, secondly, there will be no need for revaluation, which will save £65 million.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
It is broadly accepted that rates are the cheapest of all the taxes to collect. They form about 2.5 per cent. of revenue collected. Even the Government's figures show a substantial increase in collection and administration costs for this proposed tax compared to rates.
§ Mr. Sayeed
I take the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I suggest that he is leaving out the cost of revaluation. We have ducked two revaluations in England and Wales. If one added them in, the cost would be somewhat different. I would also suggest to him that the use of the electoral roll will provide the core of the community charge registration system and therefore will save considerable costs. The community charge will also be fairer because it will bear less harshly than domestic rates on low income households and, because many of the poorest households have only one adult, often a widow or a lone mother, it will therefore bear less heavily on them.
Also, low income households quite often are large users of local authority services, and so a flat rate charge per adult represents a better deal than charging at point of use. Those on low incomes will continue to receive help under the community charge, as they now do under domestic rates.
136 The community charge will bring home more closely to those voters previously unaffected by rate demands the cost of the services provided by local authorities. I firmly believe that people appreciate more the things they pay for directly. Services which appear to be free are more often abused or wasted. By paying a community charge, all voters will become more concerned to ensure that they get value for money.
The Government also propose changes in non-domestic rates and in central Government grants. For non-domestic rates, the Government recommend a new national non-domestic rate that will be uniform and that will apply to industry and commerce everywhere. The money collected will be pooled and redistributed to all local authorities in proportion to the adult population. That system has a number of advantages. It would remove the economically damaging variations in rate poundages, provide protection and certainty for businesses, ensure continuity of income for local councils and allow a radical simplification of the grants system. A national non-domestic rate would remove one of the major variations in rating circumstances, thus allowing a simpler system of grants which would comprise a needs grant and a standard grant. I believe that the system will be simpler and more productive than the present arrangements.
I believe that the proposed community charge will reinforce individual responsibility, lead to pressure for better value for money from local authority services and enhance local democracy. If we had had a community charge earlier, I do not think that we would have seen the worst excesses of certain councils, which have brought so much opprobium on local authorities. Most councils provide valuable services in a perfectly sensible way, arid I think that the proposed reform will help them to continue to do so and will force others better to serve those who elect them.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
I start by paying tribute to the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) who spoke with assurance and competence. As soon as I heard about his previous service on Strathclyde regional council, I knew that he would make a good speech. I am sure that we shall he hearing from him on many occasions and I look forward to that.
The Queen's Speech is the most disappointing that I have heard in my four years as an hon. Member. It offers no hope and no solutions for the problems facing Britain. It serves only to show that the Government will widen the rift between the north and south and between the haves and the have nots.
It was no wonder that the Prime Minister shuffled through her speech with ill ease. When she reached the section dealing with the reorganisation of schools not only was she ill at ease, but she waffled and clearly did not know exactly what the Government propose to do.
We must recognise that the country faces major problems. The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) referred to the community charge—the poll tax— and I take the opposite view to that of the hon. Gentleman. In my experience in local government I recognised that the rating system produced anomalies. However, unless someone brings forward a scheme with fewer anomalies which is easier and cheaper to administer, it will be folly to change the present system.
137 The community charge will create more problems than it solves. The hon. Member for Bristol, East said that some of the problems could be overcome, but I believe that he is over-confident. He spoke of the electoral register being the core of the community charge system, but many residents in many parts of the country do not appear on that register.
The Government argue that the area that I represent is an overspender. It is spending 64 per cent. above its target at a rate of £43 per head in the current year and its problems are compounded by a declining population. Our community charge will be more than double the current rate poundage. Rateable values in north-east Lancashire are extremely low. Therefore, while the rate in the pound may be high, the rates paid by the residents of the borough are relatively low. The overwhelming majority of the people of Burnley and, indeed, of north-east Lancashire and of many other similar constituencies will pay considerably more as a result of the community charge. Only those living in the most expensive homes will benefit.
I heard on the radio this morning a former Minister who is still a Member of the House but who in October was thrown out of the Government by the Prime Minister. He said that the community charge was regressive and took no account of the ability to pay. He spoke about many of the problems that exist. I hope that the Government will again give serious thought to the matter before they move ahead with a scheme that will create more problems than it will solve.
The Government say that people who do not pay rates are not making a contribution to local government expenditure. This Government pay only 46 per cent. in rate support grant for which people make a contribution through taxation in the form of VAT, income tax or other taxes, and rates on industry are part of the charges that people have to pay when buying goods or services. One way or another people are aware of the amount that local government needs to maintain essential services.
The Health Service is extremely important, but the comments in the Queen's Speech about the Health Service give me considerable cause for concern. The Speech says:My Government will maintain and improve the health and social services…I accept that in my health authority area of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale the capital budget has been increased over the last few years. However, the problem is not with the capital budget but with the revenue budget, the money needed to run the new units that have been provided. It is quite unrealistic to provide new units if the resources to staff and run them are not there.
In my constituency there are threats to the future of Victoria hospital. While no decision has been taken to close that hospital, several wards are already closed and some equipment has already been moved out. When I went into that hospital during the election campaign, I found that in sealed off wards beds and other movable equipment had labels attached saying where the items were to go. In addition, there are threats to the future of Marsden hospital, which is also in my constituency, and threats to the future of Bank Hall hospital. The special baby unit is threatened, yet we know that St. Mary's hospital in Manchester cannot cope. As the secretary of the community health council said at a meeting on Monday, if we are not allowed to maintain that unit it will clearly 138 result in more baby deaths in the areas of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale. The Government must give serious thought to that.
One of the crazy things in my area is that while wards were being closed we were able, as a result of the special allocation of money that the Government conveniently made available just before the election, to reduce waiting lists. Work was contracted out to Gisburne Park hospital which is owned by some of the consultants in our health authority area and in other health authority areas. They did not do the work on patients transferred from Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale but it was carried out by consultants from Blackburn and vice versa which was a good thing for the patients and consultants.
It also worries me when constituents tell me that if they want to pay to see a consultant and receive speedy attention they are told that if they pay cash they can get such treatment. When they pay cash to see consultants privately, even if they do so only for the first stage, they jump the queue and get the rest of the treatment on the Health Service. It surprises me that the consultants want to be paid in cash and not by cheque. I do not believe that it is because they think that the patient will not survive on the operating table and the cheque will not be honoured. I wonder why they have to pay cash. These are some of the doubts about where the Health Service is going. There are many problems and the Government are wrong to claim that they have protected the Health Service. They need to do a lot more.
Housing is a great priority. The Government must look at areas on a more selective basis, accepting that the problem in London is not the same as the problem in Manchester and that the problem in Manchester is not the same as the problem in Burnley. We have to have a housing policy that deals differently with the different problems of specific areas. One of the problems in north-east Lancashire is that property values are extremely low because we are losing population and have been for many years. Burnley has lost some 5,000 people since 1983. This means that we have empty houses in both the private and the public sectors and there is not sufficient money to deal with the problem.
We had a meeting with the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction to put these points the day after the general election was called. He said—and we understood—that he would not be able to give a response because of the change in the situation. We hope that his successor will send a reply. One of the main priority areas is sheltered housing, and we need to provide resources for that.
There are other problems in Lancashire, such as school buildings. The Evening Telegraph of last night said that there is to be a crunch meeting to discuss the future of the adult education centre run by Burnley college. There are problems with Stoneyholme primary school and we cannot build an urgently needed new primary school there. The Secretary of State for Education and Science came to see the problem in October last year. Burnley Wood primary school is closed and a new building is going ahead. These are the type of problems that we have.
It is important that we look at unemployment, particularly in the north-west. Under this Government, we have lost 32 per cent. of manufacturing jobs since 1979. Some 330,000 jobs have gone in an area that is heavily dependent on manufacturing jobs. As long as the Government permit the country to import manufactured 139 goods to the tune of £7.5 billion worth more than we export, we will not deal with the problem, and it will continue to worsen.
Another important aspect is foreign affairs. The Queen's Speech outlines the particular problems of the middle east and South Africa and I recognise the importance of those areas, having visited both of them. I hope that the Government will show that they mean business over South Africa. I believe that the Minister now in charge of South African relations will show the South Africans that the Government mean that they condemn apartheid and wish to see an end to that policy. Unlike many Conservative Members, I believe that she of all the Foreign Office team is most sincere in what she says. I hope that she will seek urgent meetings with President Botha and stress the need to end the present censorship, the state of emergency, and apartheid.
The Government have a lot to do. I hope that they will think again about many of the points in the Gracious Speech. I hope that they will tackle the problems and work for a united Britain rather than continue to divide it as appears to he the aim of the Gracious Speech as delivered today.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
At the beginning of his speech the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) referred to the community charge. That topic will obviously be the flavour of the evening and I shall revert to it in a moment. However, before I do that I want to put on record that I agree with much of what is contained in the Gracious Speech, especially with regard to education and tackling crime. I very much hope that imaginative action will he taken over housing. Perhaps more than any other party the Conservative party is free of an ideological aspect and that allows us to consider a range of alternatives for rented housing in particular. Housing is the cornerstone for breaking the cycle of deprivation in the inner cities which leads to bad education, bad health and crime. If housing policy is wrong, it is very difficult to get the other aspects right. I applaud the Government's intentions and greatly look forward to applauding the specific initiatives as and when they appear.
It would be wrong of me in the relatively short time available not to concentrate on the area that causes me most concern in the Gracious Speech—the proposal for a community charge. Right hon. and hon. Members who were Members prior to the election will not be surprised to learn that I have the strongest reservations about the proposal, and I have made my view clear on many occasions. I must again remind colleagues, especially my Conservative colleagues, why the proposal for a community charge is misconceived. I shall consider the claims that have been made for the charge and try to explain why they are wrong. If time allows, I shall then say a brief word about the political impact.
First of all, the proposal was introduced as a way to increase local accountability. It was claimed that "everyone would be required to pay." In practice, quite realistically and properly, we have since concluded that those receiving supplementary benefit will be fully protected if we allow for differences in calculation of reimbursement. Of course those people must be protected. However, at a stroke, so to speak, we have removed one of the main struts behind the proposal. There was always a contradiction. On the one hand, the proposal was for a 140 universal tax, and, on the other, there is a necessary and proper protection for those most in need. The Government have rightly and properly stated that those most in need will be fully protected. That drives a bit of a hole in the first argument in favour of the community charge.
The second and unquestionably the major problem about the community charge relates to its administration. Of course it is early days. The Scots have yet to have the full benefit of the legislation.
§ Mr. Squire
Indeed, some might say politically that they have already had the benefit. When it is recognised—especially in inner city areas—just how difficult it will be to track down the mobile population, a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends will see the problem appear. Even in the outer London area that I represent—outer London, not inner London— I hesitate to think of the degree of mobility that exists, particularly among young people, on a month to month, or even week to week, basis. I believe that it will be an absolute nightmare to track down that mobile population. Even when those people are tracked down successfully, levying and recovering that money will be another nightmare that the Scots will be the first to experience. All that, as I pointed out a moment ago, is despite the fact that rates, whatever else is said about them, are by a street the cheapest form of taxation to collect as a percentage of total revenue.
That is not the only reason for having rates, but it is useful that domestic rates are cheap to collect. Anyone who was ever taught accountancy will know that the relative ease of taxation is one of the things to be looked for in an ideal tax. Sadly, the community charge does not come into that category.
Hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friends, will say that we must do something. That is questionable. There is nothing inherently unusual about a property tax. It operates successfully in many other countries. We can change the way in which it is assessed, but if it were retained we would certainly have to revalue.
The great fear that seems to strike politicians when one mentions revaluation is rather interesting. I was the chairman of a finance committee of a local council at the time of the latest revaluation. One might say that that was a fairly exposed position. The average increase was about two and a half times in valuation terms. For the first few months pandemonium reigned. But what happened? Eventually, people received a rates demand which, surprise, surprise, had not increased two and a half times, but, in most cases, had gone up by the same sort of figure as previously because it was adjusted on the poundage. There was no great arithmetical surprise there.
In Scotland the great reaction understandably took place, as I have already recognised, and by the time it subsided and the rates bills came out, demonstrating that there were a number of winners and a number of losers, the Conservative party had committed itself to a radical change.
If I were to stand here and suggest that we should run an income tax system on estimated incomes rather than actual incomes, I can assure hon. Members that I would be laughed out of court. Therefore, it is proper to suggest that we have a property tax based on a true regular 141 revaluation. If we are not going to do that, as I think we should, at the very least we should transfer over some of the nationally determined expenditures.
In The Times today Ronald Butt said:The bulk of the money raised by the poll tax will go to pay for what are essential services, education, fire and police, which are laid on local authorities by central government. But what is the logic of having these national services paid for by an inequitable flat rate when other national services (defence, for instance) are paid for by a graduated income tax?I urge hon. Members to consider those words carefully.
Let me touch finally on the political aspects of this issue. The Government's Green Paper states that a narrow majority of households would gain from the introduction of a poll tax. That does not clearly bring out the fact that the majority of the gainers are single adult households and the clear majority of the losers are households with three or more adults in them.
In an article published this month in the influential local government journal PSLG—which I commend to all colleagues to read—on a new study by John Gibson, it is pointed out thatout of every 100 electors, there are 56 who live in households which will find themselves worse off under poll tax and 44 living in households where bills fall under poll tax.Moreover, if one looks at the large gainers and large losers, an area which I am sure concerns many of us, the article says:The ratio is 62 large losers to 38 large gainers—and there arc over 8.3 million electors in households with bill increases of over £100 a year.I could say more. The article goes on to name a number of constituencies and councils where the increases will be substantial and I am sure that hon. Members who read this speech in the following days would do well to read that article closely to see whether they are in the hit list line.
When the legislation was being introduced in Scotland we were told by a number of our colleagues in Scotland that it was strongly wanted and would be—
§ Mr. Squire
I must finish this point, but I do not think that I am about to say anything with which my hon. Friend will disagree. We were assured by our colleagues in Scotland, to whom we listen on these matters, that it would be electorally popular. That was stated several times and it was given a fair wind.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I want my hon. Friend to note that the results from Scotland were not the result of the introduction of the community charge. The results were the subject of many other factors, of which the community charge certainly was not one.
§ Mr. Squire
All I am saying is that the claim that it would be a vote winner has not been demonstrated.
I ask that that issue be borne in mind by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, because, with that exception, I believe that this is an exciting and challenging Gracious Speech which I shall have great pleasure in supporting.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
We are coming to the end of the first day of the debate on the Loyal Address and we have had some very good maiden speeches. I refer in particular to two speeches that were made by hon. Members who represent the south Yorkshire 142 area — my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). It bodes well for the House because they are both young men with a long future in this place and will certainly do well.
A number of matters have been raised concerning the poll tax. As to administration, how will the register be compiled? Who will compile it and who will be responsible for putting the name of the householder on it? If the person who is responsible does not put his name on it, will he be prosecuted? Will the demand go to one dwelling or to each person in the dwelling who is over 18 year of age? If it goes to the person who is over 18 years of age, the administration of the scheme will be so tremendous and costly that it will not be worth considering.
As to the effect of the poll tax on Barnsley, West and Penistone, on the Government's figures the average rate in Barnsley is £349.21p. On the Government's figures the rate of the poll tax will be £267. That is fine for people living alone, and there is no quarrel that they will be financially better off, but what about the old couple who will be paying not £349 but £267 each? What about the married couple with an 18-year-old son or daughter? They will be paying not £349 but £801.
Also, how will the water and sewerage rate be calculated? Will it be calculated on the poll tax rate or will it be a metered charge? If it is to be metered, what notice will we give the water authorities? The authorities will make a profit out of water when they are privatised by putting in meters. The Government cannot introduce a poll tax and be fair to the people not only in the collection but in the administration of it.
Farmers in my constituency are very worried. I said in 1979 and in 1983 that 20 per cent. of them would go bankrupt. In 1987 I have changed my mind, because 40 per cent. of them will go bankrupt. Their farm machinery has come to the end of its life and the charges on that machinery will be so prohibitive that they will not be able to use it and they will go bankrupt. There is a need for a system of capital grants for farm machinery. If they go into forestry they will need help because there is a 20 year lead in before it starts to give a return. All these factors must be looked at.
With regard to milk quotas, I see no reason why the owner of the land should have the milk quota or a share in the milk quota when it is the tenant farmer who has produced it.
Those are the issues that we found on the hustings concerned many people.
The Government are making a ridiculous proposal when they say that they will take schools out of the state system. Councils are having problems trying to rationalise schools because of the falling rolls. They are having to rationalise because of Government policy. Local authorities are trying to balance bricks and mortar with the numbers of children. The Government are proposing to take them out of the state system, upsetting the balance completely.
If I were a parent whose child attended a school that was due to close, I would vote to take it out of the state sector. There would also be the question of raising money to keep the school in being, because, regardless of what they say, the Government know that a parental contribution will be required to keep schools going as independents. That is the ridiculous situation into which the Government are dragging us.
143 It is time that the Government were honest and forgot all about the poll tax. They should come forward with a proper and equitable rating system instead of trying to push through the poll tax. It is definitely unwanted in Scotland, and, as far as I am concerned, it is certainly not wanted in Yorkshire. If there is to be devolution for Scotland, we should go for devolution for Yorkshire as well.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
This debate on the Gracious Speech gives me the opportunity to say how proud and privileged I am to have been re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Basildon. It came to my attention both before the election and during it that a number of political pundits had forecast that I would lose my seat. I believe that Joe Coral was running a book on it.
I think I am entitled to give a reason why we retained the Basildon seat. Some of the pundits had obviously looked at the local government election results in 1983. At that time, four weeks before the general election, I lost my one Conservative councillor and we polled just 26 per cent. of the total vote. Again in 1987, no Conservatives were elected to the local council, and we got 24 per cent. of the total votes cast. Nevertheless, I was re-elected Member of Parliament for Basildon and actually doubled the majority, because when the people of Basildon went to cast their votes and looked at what the Opposition parties were offering, they obviously decided that it was precious little.
The debate on today's Gracious Speech highlights precisely why the Conservatives won the election. Never before have I heard such an ungracious speech as the one delivered by the Leader of the Opposition. I am personally delighted to have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, because clearly he has learnt nothing from what happened during the general election campaign. There was no substance whatever in what he said.
The nonsense of romanticising about the 1930s and 1940s makes me despair, because many Opposition Members were not politically active during that time. This is 1987, and we must live in the present. We must modernise our policies. I am talking not about Victorian values but about the world situation in 1987, and it is absolutely clear that the Opposition parties have learnt nothing and that there was no substance behind their rhetoric.
I welcome the idea of the community charge. In 1983 I made my maiden speech on the then Rates Bill. I know better than most hon. Members of the damage that an irresponsible rating policy has on the local community, because that is precisely what has happened in my constituency. The rates system in Basildon is an attack on widows, widowers and pensioners. It is grossly unfair. I therefore welcome the concept of the community charge which I believe will be much fairer.
My colleagues should not fall into the trap of referring to a poll tax. It is not a poll tax.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The hon. Gentleman should be careful about what he is saying if he expects to make any headway in his career. The Prime Minister described it as a poll tax in relation to Scotland before the election.
§ Mr. Amess
I stand by the statement I have just made. It is not a poll tax and I urge my colleagues not to fall into 144 the trap of calling it a poll tax. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition or any of his supporters to introduce a Bill to make voting compulsory. They know only too well that they would not do that. The turn-out in the general election was 75 per cent. on average and in the local elections it was 50 per cent. Therefore, we will not have any nonsense about the community charge having anything 10 do with a poll tax or putting a price on democracy. Conservative Members are certainly the upholders of democracy in this country and the conduct of Opposition Members undermines democracy.
§ Mr. Amess
The community charge will be a much fairer system and will turn out to be a vote winner. High rates destroy jobs. On current spending estimates the business community in Basildon will have a rate reduction of about 9 per cent. On average, each ratepayer in Basildon pays about £300 per person and on current spending levels it would be reduced to about £230.
§ Mr. Nellist
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to continue to make the assertion that high rates destroy jobs, will he explain to the House why virtually every survey conducted by business organisations on the reasons for redundancies and plant closures do not mention rate rises but always mention interest charges?
§ Mr. Amess
I am sorry, that is not true. When I was elected to the House there was the closure of Carreras Rothmans with a loss of 1,000 jobs. Part of the reason for its decision to transfer to Spennymoor was the fact that its rates bill in Basildon was £750,000. I am sorry, I do not agree that high rates do not destroy jobs. Anyone who knows anything about running a business knows that the smaller the business unit, the more concern one has about the level of rates.
Five weeks ago in Basildon the Labour party lost control of the local authority. It is now a hung council. Neither of the two other parties will take control of the council because over the next few months the people of Basildon will hear a horrific story about the extravagance of the former Labour administration. It was noticeable that when the Opposition environment spokesman came to Basildon he said specifically that if there were to be a Labour Government he would not bail out the then Socialist-controlled Basildon district council.
I welcome the fact that we are to continue with the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill. It is essential that we get on the statute book the review of lenient sentences. We note with interest that the Opposition in the previous Parliament voted against the review of lenient sentences. I welcome the provisions on housing. Conservative Members believe that much more should be done to open up the rented sector. I welcome also the Government's intention to introduce a blank tape levy.
I should like to express my disappointment that there was no mention in the Gracious Speech of legislation concerning the Warnock report. If this Parliament is not concerned about life, I do not know what we are concerned about. I understood that we were to have legislation on the 145 Warnock report. As medical science advances, the age at which a premature baby can survive once it is born is reducing all the time. It is essential that Parliament has the guts and the courage to take a decision on that.
Some months ago, in the other House Bishop Montefiore introduced a Bill relating to this. I was delighted that the Government dropped their neutral stance and said that they would support the Bill. We have a right to introduce legislation on such measures to give further protection to life.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.