§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
We all try in this debate to make our first major post-election speech rather than the election speech in which we took so much pride—but I suppose that it is inevitable that memories of the election should hover over this week of Hansard.
So far as home affairs are concerned, when I think back on the election, I am not really thinking of the curious triangular exchanges in which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I were involved with Mrs. Williams. I have a high regard for the right hon. Gentleman and his debating powers, but I do not think that any of us were at our best as we hurried from one local television station to another, like members of some demented repertory company trying to memorise our lines as best we could. I believe that the broadcasters need to think of a different form for such exchanges if they want to throw light, rather than heat, on the matters before the electorate. I cast that thought before them.
I am thinking rather of the dozens of conversations in market places and on doorsteps which, as I imagine every other candidate found, touched and sometimes focused on the question of crime. No one could emerge from this election campaign without a clear impression of the anxiety, and often the anger, which crime and the fear of crime arouse among our fellow citizens.
The opposition parties made no headway on this front because their analysis was not credible and their recommendations, when different from what we were doing anyway, seemed downright dangerous. It is not credible to make a general connection between the level of unemployment and the level of recorded crime. This is a contention that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends frequently made, but it is not sustained by serious academic research. It ignores the fact that one third of crime is committed by juveniles; it flies in the face of experience in the 1930s; and it flies in the face of the regular experience of the victims of crime. Certainly it is true that in some areas, particularly the most discouraged areas, social conditions have a role in the fostering and in the prevention of crime, and that is a point to which I 382 would like to return. But to make a crude general link between unemployment and crime is an affront to the unemployed and incredible to everybody else.
No one in his senses supposes that there is a simple or single answer to the crime figures. But, after nearly two years in this job, I am clear that there is nothing inevitable about them. Our first task must be to strengthen further the law and order services, to which we have already given a unique priority.
I turn first to the men and money that are available to the police. The police have received a bigger increase in resources than any other major public service. In real terms, spending on the police in this financial year will be some 45 per cent. higher than in 1978–79.
At the end of April, police manpower in England and Wales, including both police officers and civilians in support, rose to a record level of 163,500. That is an increase of more than 17,300, including 11,300 extra police officers. This expansion is continuing. We are just about half way through the further programme of expansion that I announced on 20 May last year. I then foreshadowed increases of 3,200 extra police officers and 2,000 civilian staff in England and Wales. The extra civilian staff are expected to free over 1,000 additional police officers for operational duties.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
On the issue of the recruitment of police officers and others, is the Home Secretary satisfied with the incidence of recruitment of women doctors to the ranks of police surgeons, or should not more be done in this regard? In the second Criminal Justice Bill will he continue the objective of diminishing the distress experienced by child witnesses in sexual and child abuse cases?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am not responsible for the first matter mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in-so-far as it affects Scotland. However, I shall certainly make sure that the hon. Gentleman receives the information that he seeks and I shall write to him about England and Wales. The Criminal Justice Bill will again contain the provision about allowing children to give evidence through a video link rather than in court. I think that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that provision.
The position about police manpower is rather different in London. In London there is no problem about authorisation. I have already given approval for an increase in the Metropolitan police establishment of 600 extra officers and 400 civilian staff. The actual strength of the Metropolitan police, though at a record level, has not kept pace with the increased ceilings. The Metropolitan police are now recruiting fast to fill this gap. They know that the authorisation and the money are there and that, other things being equal, I would expect to authorise a further increase in establishment next April.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the Home Secretary respond to people's concern not just by increasing manpower but by seeing that the clear-up rate is improved? As he knows, the real problem in London is that the clear-up rate has got worse and people's perception of the chance of the forces of crime prevention helping the individual to reduce crime is negative and pessimistic.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am talking about manpower. The hon. Gentleman asks about the clear-up rate. I want to see the 383 police in London and elsewhere being able to concentrate their efforts on the more serious and violent crimes and allowing crime prevention properly to get into action to prevent crimes against property, which constitute the great bulk of crimes. I shall return to that point shortly.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
Before my right hon. Friend departs from the clear-up rate of the Metropolitan police, will he tell the House whether he agrees that the Metropolitan police are absolutely right not to do that which is done by many provincial police forces who trawl prisoners and the courts clearing up other offences merely to improve statistically the clear-up rate? Does he agree that the Metropolitan police are right to concentrate on crime prevention and the detection of more serious crimes?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am all against purely statistical exercises of the kind that my hon. Friend has mentioned. As he knows, we are trying to harmonise and bring some sort of regularity into the practices of different police forces in the taking-into-account exercise.
Outside London, I have to match the applications that I receive from police authorities and joint boards with the pace and extent of the expansion programme that I have just mentioned. As most hon. Members know from constituency experience, this is not easy.
Every police authority and joint board worth its salt can find some special reason why its own force should receive a greater share of the expansion than others. I have, indeed, increased their appetite by putting the percentage of the money that the Home Office finds for police expenditure up to 51 per cent. and with my colleagues altering the grant arrangements so that forces with the biggest establishments get the most grant. I have thus made it easier for police authorities to finance the expansion now under way.
In making these decisions about the further expansion of the police I shall, of course, continue to rely to a large extent on the professional judgment of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Obviously, I cannot accept the simple proposition that more police officers lead to a decline in recorded crime, because anyone who studies the facts for a moment will see that that is not necessarily so. The case for expansion is rather that there are specific tasks in the prevention and detection of crime, in the maintenance of public order and in the upholding of the law which only police officers can perform and for which they need extra resources. The police are, of course, in competition for those resources with hospitals, schools, and everything else paid for by the public purse. My colleagues have hitherto agreed, on the basis that I have described, that the police should have priority and I am confident that they will continue to do so.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I have been following the Home Secretary's comments very carefully. When representatives of the West Midlands police force visited the Home Secretary in May and asked for an increase in establishment of about 1,000 officers over the next three years at the rate of 300 a year, why did the Home Secretary feel unable to accede to any part of that request, apart from the provision of more civilians? I am sure that the Home Secretary is aware that, regrettably, the west midlands now has the fastest rise in crime in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hurd
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point lies in my next paragraph, which contains specific reference to the west midlands and the experience of that force.
I do not believe that we have come to the end of the possibilities of civilianisation by any means. A civilian working for the police costs about half as much as a trained police officer. It must be right to ask chief officers again and again to consider whether there are jobs that are now being carried out by police officers that could be done by civilians.
I do not believe that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) has grasped the point that civilianisation resulted in the release of 1,000 police officers to operational duties between 1983 and 1985. During 1986 more than two thirds of the extra 893 civilians recruited in provincial forces enabled police officers to be released to operational duties. As the hon. Member for Erdington accurately stated, that is why I have recently approved an increase of 427 in the number of civilian staff in the west midlands. That is expected to release 382 police officers in the west midlands for operational duties. That answers the hon. Gentleman's question. There are more professional police officers entering operational duties as a result of decisions about civilianisation. However, there is more to it than that. In West Bromwich—which is not the patch covered by the hon. Member for Erdington, but is covered by the force operating in his area—there is a particularly interesting experiment going on in an attempt to expand still further the scope of civilian work, including the desk work and paper work which has hitherto been carried out by police officers and which the chief constable believes might be quite properly and effectively carried out by civilians. I am watching that experiment in West Bromwich closely to see how it works out.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
These matters are not confined to the west midlands, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware. The police force covering east and west Sussex has been in touch with my right hon. Friend and his Ministers about manning. There is a pressing requirement for more police officers, even after allowing for the further civilianisation programme to which my right hon. Friend has just referred. As my right hon. Friend has just said that he will consider what force increases are required and where, will my right hon. Friend take account of the special consideration due to Gatwick—I will not rehearse all the arguments on that matter now—and the requirements of the force covering east and west Sussex?
§ Mr. Hurd
Sussex will not be forgotten. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, my new colleague on the Front Bench, the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), and a host of powerful right hon. and hon. Friends will not allow me to forget Sussex. The force in Sussex will be treated on the criteria that I have announced and I hope that it will not be long before we can make an announcement about the Sussex force.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he recall his experiences in Northern Ireland, when the civilianisation of certain jobs within police stations went ahead? To my knowledge, not one policeman was released on to the streets to carry out operational duties. Rather, 385 there appeared to be little protection from the police against malicious complaints and the extra police who were released were used to investigate those malicious complaints. Would not the Home Secretary be better employed in thinking of ways in which to protect the police, as they go about a difficult task, from the explosion of malicious complaints to which they are now subject?
§ Mr. Hurd
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that across the water and here Her Majesty's Ministers have given full support to the police, and that includes putting in place in England and Wales a system for investigating police complaints, which goes a long way to meet the hon. Gentleman's concern.
Let me pass from the police to penalties; because police, penalties and prisons are the main sectors of society's front line against crime. The Gracious Speech foreshadows the reintroduction of the Criminal Justice Bill. I do not intend to go through its provisions in any detail since they are familiar to most hon. Members. The reform of extradition, the increase in the maximum prison term for carrying firearms in pursuit of crime, the criminal injuries proposals, are simply three of the important reforms which will once again be in the Bill. I am glad that with the Opposition's co-operation we have managed to put on the statute book the proposal for a serious fraud office and work on establishing that is going ahead.
Let me mention two important topics where we are considering changes in the Bill. We are deeply concerned about the widespread use of offensive weapons. We are committed in our election manifesto to taking action on the sale and possession of items which have no legitimate use but which can be used to injure and maim. I welcome an offer which I have received from the right hon. Member for Gorton to join us in discussing how the law relating to offensive weapons, particularly knives, could be strengthened. I have already set in hand a study of how the law relating to the possession of knives and other sharp-bladed instruments might be reinforced. I look forward to discussing with the right hon. Gentleman whether we can achieve common ground on this urgent matter in the hope that the Criminal Justice Bill will turn out to be the right vehicle for making a change.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is the Home Secretary aware how disturbed public opinion is by the recent publicity, certainly on television, where the police showed how easy it is to buy knives that are clearly offensive, and where, presumably, the only purpose in buying such knives is for criminal acts? I recognise some of the difficulties in drafting legislation, but is it not necessary to make it far more difficult for such knives to be bought?
§ Mr. Hurd
There is a difference between objects which can be used only for offensive purposes—for which we have a specific proposal in our manifesto—and knives—the schoolboy with a knife in his pocket; the housewife who has bought a bread knife at the supermarket; the carpenter with a chisel in his bag. That is the problem that we need to discuss.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that police forces have echoed the concern that he has expressed today about the carrying of knives. If he can introduce legislation along those lines, he will also remove an anomaly which may be appearing and 386 which is linked with the carrying of firearms, where the proposed legislation will presumably recommend a possible life sentence. Many people would be concerned if they found that there was still no serious sentence for the carrying of knives, which should possibly attract a life sentence.
§ Mr. Hurd
The possession of an offensive weapon is a serious offence. The question is how to define it. However, I note my hon. Friend's point, which has validity.
We are looking again at the problem of the occasional over-lenient sentence which can do so much harm to public confidence. This has a long history. Anyone who listened late at night to the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) in support of clause 29 of the Criminal Justice Bill, will realise that there was a much better case for the clause than was generally realised. It ran into strong, though contradictory, criticism in this House, and in another place, from those who thought it went too far and from those who wanted it to go further.
We are actively looking at means by which this original proposal could be strengthened. My own reservations. like those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney, about giving the Court of Appeal the right to increase a sentence have been practical rather than based on principle, although I recognise that there is principle here which is of great concern to many hon. and right hon. and learned Gentlemen in all parts of the House. My concern has been with the effect on the prison population and with the practical effect on the burdens of the new Crown Prosecution Service, which is still in its infancy. However, I am impressed by the need to go further than we originally proposed and I set in hand work to this effect before the election. The Bill will be republished tomorrow and will contain the original clause, but it can, and I hope will, be amended on its passage through Parliament to reflect the results of the policy exercise now under way following the debates on the Floor of the House, upstairs in Committee and in another place.
I must refer to the prisons, because this is, at present, the single most difficult responsibility which we carry in the Home Office. On 26 June, the prison population stood at 50,073 with an additional 506 prisoners locked in police cells. The system is designed to hold around 41,700 prisoners. This strain inevitably places tremendous difficulties on the capacity of the staff and system to cope. We are witnessing, month by month, a dangerous race between the rise in the number of prison places as the result of our prison capital building programme and the rise in the number of those sent to prison by the courts.
In the short term we are doing all we can to squeeze the greatest possible number of places out of the prison estate. Three detention centres have been converted into youth custody centres and another two to adult male prisons to improve the match between the accommodation available and the composition of the prison population. Other changes are planned, including the conversion of a category D prison, Ashwell, to a category C prison later this year with a net gain of 350 places, and of another detention centre to an adult female establishment.
In the longer term we remain committed to improving conditions for prisoners and staff by reducing overcrowding. This is not a luxury but a necessity, as anyone familiar with our prisons knows. The prison building programme includes a total of 20 prisons, providing 10,500 new places 387 by 1995. Alongside this the refurbishment and maintenance programme will produce a further 6,900 new places over the same period as well as providing significant improvements in conditions.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is there any progress in the right hon. Gentleman's thoughts on the need for a forensic science laboratory such as was suggested by Dr. Brian Caddy? I understand that Mr. Gordon Wasserman of his Department is chairing some kind of committee into that problem. In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's experience on the question of the Birmingham six, into which I do not wish to drag him, could we have some assurance that thought is being given to independent forensic science advice?
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
Before leaving the subject of new prisons, can my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department has written to all the local authorities in Cleveland, asking them whether they have a suitable location for a new prison? Is it not the case that because they are all Socialist-controlled authorities none of them will agree to that? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will not be overridden by the local government Labour party but will put a prison in Cleveland, where it is obviously needed?
§ Mr. Hurd
I hope that local authorities will take account of the clear national need for prisons. My hon. Friend knows that at the end of the day I have planning powers, but I would much rather proceed with cooperation. However, that assumes some understanding of the national interest by those concerned.
The size of the remand population is part of the problem. There has been a surge in recent years and about one fifth of those now in prison are on remand. We must take practical steps to relieve that pressure. The steps include the increase since 1979 of over 300 in the number of places in bail and other hostels, and various schemes which are helping courts to take more informed decisions about the granting of bail. Practice varies a lot across the country, and we are asking magistrates to examine the reasons for that.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
While the Home Secretary is examining the problem of remand prisoners being held in prisons, will he also examine the increasing use of custodial places for holding people under the immigration law, and will he ensure that in future they are released on temporary admission rather than being held in remand centres, often for long periods?
§ Mr. Hurd
As the hon. Gentleman knows—although I do not think that he approves—I have recently taken steps to provide specific detention accommodation for the type of people to whom he refers on the Earl William, thus removing the need to put them in prisons. They are not prisoners; they are not on remand before a court. The more that we can provide for them separately, the better.
§ Mr. Hurd
I really must get on. I have been quite liberal in giving way.
I turn now to crime prevention, which I believe holds the key to improving the general crime figures. We need to look at the portrait of crime in Britain. Less than 5 per cent. of it involves the use of violence against the person. The most serious offences make up one third of 1 per cent. of recorded offences. We are not alone in experiencing the changes that we have unfortunately experienced. International comparisons are difficult, because the Interpol figures lag behind events, and comparisons are bound to be imperfect. But looking at the increase in recorded crime in England and Wales between 1979 and 1983—the last available date—we find that it was roughly the same here as in West Germany, while France and the Netherlands showed increases of 50 per cent. to 60 per cent., roughly double ours, and Spain of over 100 per cent.
Let us look at the components of that situation. Our figures for homicide in 1984 were 2 per 100,000, compared with 4.5 per 100,000 for Germany and 4.6 for France. Our figures for rape were 2.4 per 100,000 compared with 9.7 for Germany and 5.3 per 100,000 in France. These are horrible crimes, and each example of them is one too many. But in these types of violent crime our record, although far from good, is better than that of our neighbours. Where we do much worse is at the lower end of the pyramid—the great mass of crimes against property—for example, burglaries, theft of cars or theft of possessions from cars, where our figures have deteriorated sharply.
These crimes against property are in general much easier to prevent than do detect. The prevention of crime is not a matter for the police alone. It is a matter for all of us, for Government Departments, for companies and trade unions, for voluntary agencies, for schools and social services, for the media and for each and every parent. There has been an outburst of activity on this front which we have welcomed and stimulated. The Home Office has sponsored five pilot projects in Bolton, Croydon, Wellingborough, Tyneside and Swansea, which have brought together the various local agencies and individuals to identify the problems of local crime and to seek solutions to them. I want to bring that sort of cooperative approach increasingly to bear on tackling the crime problems of the inner cities.
Even more remarkable are the 30,000 neighbourhood watch schemes which have sprung up, not because the Government have decreed or subsidised them, but out of the concern of individual citizens to achieve safer homes and safer streets. The time has come to take a further step forward. We intend shortly to start consultations with interested groups for the setting up of a new national body for crime prevention. I want this new national association for crime prevention to co-ordinate, stimulate and support local crime prevention activity. It will provide an umbrella organisation for neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention panels. It will, I hope, link with schemes for the unemployed through the community programme, and with the work of organisations such as NACRO.
There is a clear and close link between the efforts of the Home Office and the police to encourage the prevention and detection of crime and the policies that the Government propose for our cities as a whole. The Home Office is keenly involved in these proposals, partly because of our interest in the struggle against crime and partly because of our responsibility for community relations.
389 Good relations between the communities in our cities is obviously crucial to the harmony of those cities, and such good relations depend in turn on a system of immigration control that is firm and fair. The Gracious Speech referred to the Bill that we shall be bringing forward to make our immigration control operate more effectively, and to close a number of loopholes that have become apparent since the passage of the Immigration Act 1971. The Bill will deal with the problem of overstaying, with the problem of polygamous settlement and with the problem of those who come here claiming British citizenship without first having established that claim overseas. We intend to repeal section 1(5) of the 1971 Act, which gives a special position to the wives and children of those settled here when the Act took effect. A man who at present benefits from this provision will still be able to be joined by his wife and children but, like the families of other people settled here, they will have to meet the normal requirements of the immigration rules. In particular, husbands will have to show that they can maintain and accommodate the wives and children whom they intend to bring. I believe that that is perfectly sensible, and that the provisions of this Bill, when published and debated, will be accepted as common sense.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Who is going to make this massively subjective judgment on the suitability of the husband to receive his family?
§ Mr. Hurd
It will be made by exactly the people who now make it in respect of the great majority of people who try to bring dependants here. We are talking about the distinction which the law at present makes between those who were already settled here in January 1973 and those who have brought dependants here since then. I do not believe that that distinction is any longer justified, but the people who make the decisions will be exactly the same as those who do so now.
§ Mr. Hurd
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have already done so once.
Our policy of firm and fair immigration control needs to be seen against the background of our general policy for wider opportunities—a policy which is just as important for the ethnic minorities who live in our cities as for anyone else. Twenty or 30 years ago, many immigrant families settled in the hearts of our cities because housing was cheap and jobs were available. Now many of them find themselves trapped, with their families, in a cycle of deprivation. I am delighted that we have made some progress over the last decade in changing attitudes. It must be good news that there were no National Front candidates running in the last election.
§ Mr. Hurd
It must be good news—I am now answering the giggles on the Opposition Benches—that the problems of immigration and race relations were discussed in a peaceful and reasonable way at the election. Many conversations that took place during the election demonstrated that Asian and black electors are increasingly casting their votes in line with their judgment of the issues, and not according to someone else's racial stereotypes. The effort that the police are now investing in 390 dealing with racial attacks is more clearly recognised. The recruitment of black and Asian Britons to the police service is making progress, although the total figure of just under 1,000 is still much too low. I believe that gradually, step by step, city by city, we are showing that the ladders of opportunity in our professions, in our industries and in our public sector, are open for all to climb.
It is clear what the Opposition are about from their choice of theme for today's debate. They are simply continuing the argument about deprivation and inequality that they lost during the election. They are trying to represent the Conservatives as a party concerned only with the comfort of its supporters. But, if that were the position, we would not be putting forward the proposals in the Gracious Speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) made the point eloquently in the House yesterday, and in a newspaper today. If we were simply concerned with the comfort of our supporters, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education would not be concentrating, as he is, on enhancing the quality of state education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would not be concentrating, as he is, on housing plans to improve the opportunities of council tenants. My right hon. Friends in other Departments would not be concentrating, as they are, on stimulating job opportunities in our cities.
We believe in individualism. We believe in the right of the individual to pile up a good standard of living for himself and his family; we believe that that is natural, right and necessary. But we do not believe that it is enough. We look beyond that to the role of the active citizen—black, Asian or white—who uses his time and energy to improve the community in which he finds himself. We are looking to the active parent to work alongside teachers in correcting the defects in our schools. We are looking to the active tenant to help to put right what is wrong on the huge housing estates. We are looking to the active citizen to work with his or her neighbours and the police in neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention panels to defeat crime. We are also looking to the active business man and to the active voluntary sector to stimulate enterprise and jobs in the discouraged areas.
We do not abandon or renounce the role of the state or of public institutions, but we are clear that the problems that we see—and I think that we see them clearly—are best tackled not just by multiplying the powers and resources of the state and local government but by adding to the public effort the ingenuity and the generosity of the active citizen. That is clearly the spirit in which the Gracious Speech was conceived. I believe that it will commend itself to the House and to our fellow citizens as the plans in it mature and are brought to success.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
It is as well to remind the House that the theme of this debate, as announced by Mr. Speaker, is deprivation and inequality of opportunity in Britain. Until the last minute or two of the Home Secretary's speech one could never have guessed that; instead, what he tried to do—with great success—was to dull the House with an overdose of tranquillisers. At least he was wise enough not to repeat during his speech his invitation to the leader of the Social Democratic party to join the Tory party. Perhaps on reflection the Home Secretary realised that if the right hon. Member for 391 Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) were to join the Tories, his own hopes of becoming party leader would be outflanked from the Right.
We note that the leader of the SDP is present, taking time off from turmoil in toytown. His predicament is best summed up in the words of that haunting song from the appropriately named musical "Bells are Ringing":The party's overIt's time to call it a dayNo matter how you pretendYou knew it would end this way.The song contains the sage advice:It's time to wind up the masquerade.Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now do that and take part in his retreat to Devonport les Deux Eglises.
The Home Secretary's speech today was only the latest of a series of ministerial pronouncements that demonstrate their total insensitivity to the problems of the deprived areas. Last night we listened to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was put up at the Dispatch Box no doubt because he is the Cabinet Minister with the most northerly seat in England—nearly 100 miles north of London. We have heard the ineffable Lord Young attacking elected local authorities—pretty rich from someone who has never been elected to anything—and being reproved for his ignorance by the director of the Merseyside chamber of commerce.
There has also been the Secretary of State for the Environment, a person to whom we are advised to pay serious attention. According to an imaginative writer in the Financial Times, the Secretary of State for the Environment isemerging as the Tory party's thinker on the regions.Lately, we have been treated to some of the right hon. Gentleman's most profound thoughts. He told us that there were no golf courses for Japanese inward investors in the north of England, a part of Britain where it is almost impossible to move without breaking an ankle through stepping into a golf course bunker. He announced, with that elegance for which he is famous:There has bloody well got to be a golf course,and added :There ain't no room for prejudice".If the Secretary of State for the Environment does not know much about golf courses, he is certainly an expert on prejudice.
About my own part of the country, Manchester, the Secretary of State declared :An American executive doesn't want to live in a council house somewhere in the back of Manchester.With my right hon. and hon. Friends, I represent "somewhere in the back of Manchester," a city which, like so many other towns and cities in England, Scotland and Wales, three weeks ago booted out its last remaining Tory Member of Parliament. I can tell the Secretary of State for the Environment that, whatever the wishes of American executives may be, thousands of my constituents would dearly like to have the chance of a council house. However, because of this Government they cannot have one. They cannot have one because the Secretary of State for the Environment has wiped out completely Manchester's housing subsidies. He has cut our housing investment allocation by 74 per cent., and he has reduced our housing programme from 2,200 a year to 77.
392 What is most significant, though, is the implication, from the remarks of the Secretary of State for the Environment, that the only way that we can have employment in Britain is through inward investment from foreign controlled multinationals. What an insult to British invention, innovation and enterprise.
An even bigger insult is, of course, the appointment as Secretary of State for Wales of an absentee landlord, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). Just because the right hon. Member for Worcester can afford to buy Wales does not mean that he has the right to rule it. The Secretary of State for Wales is just a satrap of the Queen Empress herself, the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. The main headline in The Daily Telegraph on Friday announced with due pomp that the right hon. Lady is to set out on a royal progress of her outlying dominions. The front page streamer headline in The Daily Telegraph marvelled at it and said:Thatcher visit to 'front line' inner cities.It is, of course, an unprecedented move for the right hon. Lady to come to places such as we represent, and it exposes her to a certain amount of risk.
In an interview in the Sunday Telegraph the right hon. Lady likened her fellow citizens in our great cities, which have voted in Labour councils, to, as she put it :Bacteria on a culture controlled by inner city socialists.The Prime Minister says that she wants such people to be regarded asindividuals to be treated with respect.On her anthropological safaris, I hope that she will do that. I hope that she will regard these visits, not as fleeting photo-opportunities, but as chances to talk to people and hear their problems. I hope that she will go to Dumbarton road in Glasgow, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and talk to the pensioners who, day after day, queue outside a bakery to buy yesterday's bread, sold at half price.
I hope that the Prime Minister will visit the centre in Glasgow where teenagers are awarded certificates for skill in filling out job application forms, even if they rarely get the jobs for which they apply. I hope that she will meet the Manchester housewife who told me that her 13-year-old daughter had said to her, "Mum, when I leave school, how much do you want for my keep out of my dole money?" That is the kind of ethos that the Government are inculcating into the areas that we represent.
In her interview in the Sunday Telegraph the Prime Minister said :This country can never be strong unless the most able are allowed to contribute to the full.I agree with that. I hope that before her visit the Prime Minister will brief herself about deprivation and division in our society and about how millions of able people are being prevented, not only from making their contribution to the full, but from making any kind of contribution at all to our society.
In the deprived areas of Britain—inner-city areas and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said yesterday, in other areas, too—disadvantage starts right at the beginning of life, at birth itself. One of the most telling indicators of deprivation is low birth weight. Birth weight varies significantly, according to region. Babies weighing 2,500g or less at birth are classified as having a low birth weight, and in pretty well every inner-city area there are far more babies in this category than in the nation, averaged as a 393 whole. Sandwell, Newham, Nottingham, Hartlepool and Wolverhampton provide especially shocking figures, but dozens of other deprived areas have a similar story to tell.
Low birth weight carries risks of poor health, handicap and possibly early death, so it is not surprising that there is an alarming regional differential in perinatal mortality. All southern areas have below average perinatal mortality, but the north, Yorkshire, the west midlands, Merseyside, the north-west and Wales have above average perinatal mortality rates. In the most deprived areas of Britain babies simply have less chance of surviving into infancy. If they do survive, they live less long. Life expectancy in deprived areas is significantly lower than in the rest of the country. It is 32 per cent. lower in Burnley, and 23 per cent. lower in Blackburn and Middlesbrough. That is because deprivation often leads to chronic ill health.
The poorer one is, or the lower one's wage, the greater one's chance of being the victim of chronic sickness. The update of the Black report, published only this year, shows that that gap has widened. That update compares 1971 with 1981 to 1983 and showsA widening gap in all cause death rates between manual and non-manual classes".The Black report puts it this way :A child born to professional parents … can expect to spend over five years more as a living person than a child born to an unskilled manual household".Death from heart disease, for example, is much higher in the north, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, the west midlands, Scotland and Wales than in the rest of Britain. Workers in manual occupations face considerable risks of disease and death. In 1984, 432 manual workers were killed at work and another 12,246 were seriously injured. Another 1,068 died of industrial diseases. No one ever got injured at work in the City of London, except perhaps from a bruised elbow shoving someone else aside.
Chances of getting a job are adversely affected by Government policy. One way of obtaining a decent well-paid job has traditionally been through obtaining an apprenticeship, but under this Government the annual number of apprenticeships has fallen from 155,000 to 64,000. Another way to rewarding employment is to get qualifications through higher education, but the chance of obtaining higher education depends very much on the would-be student's station in life. Among 17 to 19-yearolds, of those with fathers in the professions, 72 per cent. are in full-time higher education. Of sons and daughters of semi-skilled or unskilled workers, the proportion in full-time higher education is not 72 per cent., but 27 per cent. Of those accepted into British universities, 70 per cent. come from the top two social classes, 6 per cent. from the semi-skilled class and I per cent. from the unskilled social class.
The system of divide and rule fostered by this Government reduces opportunities all along the way. The Government's own figures show that the chances of getting a job are worst in the west midlands, the northwest, the north, Wales and Scotland. Chances of losing a job are highest in Yorkshire and Humberside, the northwest, Wales, Scotland and the north of England. No wonder that unemployment is worst in the deprived areas.
The programme and partnership authorities in England and urban areas in Scotland account for 33 per cent. of the economically active population, but contain 46 per cent. of those who are unemployed. The Secretary of State for Education and Science smugly prates on about choice, and 394 we got it again from the Home Secretary today. I should like the Secretary of State for Education and Science to explain exactly what kind of system of choice gives one of his constituents in Mole Valley eight times the chance of getting a job compared with the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). Of course such a glaring inequality is not an example of proper choice, but it is a precise example of Tory choice.
§ Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)
The right hon. Gentleman is entertaining the House to a most interesting sociological tour which rather implies that problems that have been known for at least a century—and which have been disclosed in virtually every serious sociological analysis in this country and in virtually every other Western democracy for at least 100 years—are somehow unique to the present Government. How can he possibly sustain such an argument?
§ Mr. Kaufman
If the hon. Gentleman can spare me time at the end of this debate, I shall take him through the material that I have here showing that the gaps have widened during the period of this Government.
Just to make sure that inequity is maintained in employment as well as in unemployment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer moves in and imposes the most glaringly unfair differential taxation. In income tax, national insurance, VAT and rates, a married man with two children on 75 per cent. of average earnings is paying £17.97 a week more than when this Government came to office, whereas a man with the same family responsibilities, but with 10 times average earnings, is paying £46.57 a week less in taxation. No wonder that there is a marked regional maldistribution in ownership of the material possessions in life which this Government exhort everyone to buy—and by those possessions they test their worth in society.
No wonder that people in the north, Yorkshire and Humberside, the east and west midlands, the north-west, Scotland and Wales are less likely to have telephones or to own deep freezers than are those in the rest of Britain. No wonder that under this Government the number of low-paid employees has risen by 1 million, that the number living in poverty has risen by 4 million and that the number living on supplementary benefits has risen by 6 million. No wonder that our nation is so wretchedly ill-housed, with a backlog for repair and renewal of £20 billion in the public sector and £30 billion in the Government's much-vaunted private sector, including the owner-occupied sector, where the Government boast about the increase in owner-occupation but do not tell us about the unavailability of improvement and repair grants for people who own houses and who would like them but cannot get them because of cuts in the housing investment programme.
This Government's answer is not to help, but to harm. Two weeks ago Mr. Peter Kegg, president of the Institute of Housing, drew attention to the terrible scourge of homelessness and bad housing. He pointed out that 25,000 people are living night by night in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Mr. Kegg said:Most will be suffering the most squalid conditions".He pointed out that last year 250,000 were accepted as homeless by local authorities, and that Britain spends the lowest amount on housing, both in the public sector and private sector, of any country in the developed world.
395 This Government have cut housing subsidies to the deprived areas by 65 per cent., and housing investment programme allocations for the deprived areas by 77 per cent.—far above the national average cut of 60 per cent., which is deplorable enough.
§ Mr. Winnick
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only solution the Government have for rented accommodation is to bring in a form of market rents and to decontrol more or less along the same lines as the notorious 1957 Rent Act? Is he aware that the House Builders Federation—no friend by any means of the Labour party—has produced figures to show that in the south-east market rents in the private sector would be £90 against the £80 which on the whole owner-occupiers would be paying in mortgage repayments? Does that not demonstrate that the people about whom my right hon. Friend is speaking, who are in desperate need of rented accommodation and who cannot afford a mortgage, will certainly be unable to afford market rents in any deregulated private sector?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shudder to think what will happen when the private landlords are let loose on rented accommodation. Knowing that in my own constituency people living in private rented accommodation in one room, sharing a bathroom with seven others, are paying £50 a week, I can only imagine what it will be like once the Secretary of State for the Environment gets his way with the free market.
The Government's own index of deprivation—and that includes housing deprivation—shows shocking numbers of people affected by multiple deprivation. That kind of deprivation is at its most grinding, according to the Department of the Environment's own figures, in places such as Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Manchester, Newham and Southwark. No wonder that these most deprived areas are the ones that have suffered most fearfully from the Government's cuts in the rate support grant, with a cumulative loss of £1,400 million for the partnership and programme authorities in England and their equivalents in Scotland. That is Thatcher's Britain in 1987.
What do the Government intend to do about it? The Gracious Speech contains a curious medley of measures. It tells us that there is to be a Bill to give greater flexibility in licensing hours. The Home Secretary reminded us that the Government intend to introduce a Bill to tighten up immigration control. The Government intend to withhold benefit from school leavers under the age of 18 who refuse a place on the youth training scheme.
Changing the licensing laws sounds innocuous, but the Government have simply not thought through the problems that are involved in increasing the availability of alcohol, when all who are knowledgeable about such matters—the Royal College of Psychiatrists has made a recent statement about them—point to the alarming excessive use of alcohol in much violent crime, including wife battering, rape, child abuse and murder. Will the Government change the licensing laws without thinking through what the change will mean in terms of crime?
Tightening up the immigration laws, to which the Home Secretary referred, will have little effect on the level of immigration into this country, but it will cause great hardship to the lives of the small number of people who 396 are already resident here. An immigration Bill will make the ethnic minorities feel even more oppressed and discriminated against than they are already.
Last week we had the disturbances in Chapeltown in Leeds. I know that area well, because I lived there for 20 years from early childhood. I saw successive waves of immigrants—Jews, Poles and Afro-Caribbeans—move in. My home was in the street next to that in which last week's disturbances took place.
I condemn riots and unlawful disturbances wherever they take place, but the Government must be aware of the problems in deprived inner-city areas such as Chapeltown, where there is 50 per cent. unemployment among young blacks. Some 93 per cent. of 16-year-olds in the Asian community in Bradford are unable to find work. That statistic was quoted the other day by Mr. Lawler, who lost his seat in Bradford as a result of it. I warn the Government that the more they exclude young people from opportunities within the community, the more such young people will feel excluded from it. I warn the Government that more such young people, whether they be white, Asian or Afro-Caribbean, will feel that they owe no obligation to a society that accepts no obligation to them.
That is why the Government's decision to withdraw benefit from young people who refuse a YTS place is not only vicious, but dangerous. If up to 100,000 young people are deprived of income, the Government must not be surprised if some of them turn to crime. Already crime in the deprived areas is far worse than in the country as a whole. Already the pressure on the police is such that crime clear-up rates in the deprived areas are even worse than the low clear-up rates in the country as a whole.
Yet the Government are introducing policies that will make crime worse. Ten years ago the Prime Minister, when she was Leader of the Opposition, said:I hope to be Prime Minister one day and I don't want there to be one street in Britain I cannot go down.She also said:I don't intend sitting on the sidelines while crime in our cities goes the way of New York.There is now more crime in London than there is in New York, and the Prime Minister has presided over that. No doubt that is why in her speech last Thursday she did not once dare to mention crime or law and order. The Prime Minister dare not be reminded of her empty and broken promises, but I tell the right hon. Lady that if she goes on her outings to the inner cities she will hear a great deal about crime and the fear of it. She will hear a great deal about other profound problems as well.
In the deprived areas of Britain, babies have less chance of surviving to infancy. If they do survive, they have a higher chance of contracting congenital diseases. They have less chance of being brought up in a sound and secure home. They have less chance of getting an apprenticeship, less chance of further education, and less chance of a university education. They have less chance of any job, less chance of a well-paid job, less chance of keeping their job, and more chance of being made redundant if they get a job. They run greater risks of industrial injury and disease and of dying of such injuries and diseases. Their chances of hospital treatment are reduced by long waiting lists. They are more likely to be victims of crimes, and they have less chance of getting criminal injuries compensation. They often retire on pittance pensions and are sometimes unable to afford winter fuel. They tend to die earlier than their 397 fellow Britons, and when they die their survivors may have difficulty in affording them a dignified funeral because of the Government's abolition of death grant. From cradle to grave, millions are victims of Thatcherism.
In this debate last Thursday the Prime Minister claimed :People … have a higher standard of living than they have ever had before",as a result ofeconomic strength … that we have never had before."—[Official Report, 25 June 1987; Vol. 118, c. 53.]
§ Mr. Kaufman
Not at this stage.
A sufficient number of people believed the Prime Minister on 11 June to re-elect her to office, but the Prime Minister should never forget that 10 million people disbelieved her and voted for the Labour party. The Prime Minister should always remember that it is her duty to be Prime Minister of those 10 million people as well as of her own 13 million supporters.
For eight years the Prime Minister has behaved, not as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but as the Prime Minister of the Conservative voters. She excludes from her consideration all the millions who disagree with her. That is why, whether the Prime Minister realises it or not, she is detested by non-Conservatives as few British Prime Ministers have ever been detested.
In her remaining period of office the test for the Prime Minister will be whether she can break out of her own prejudices to become the Prime Minister of the whole country. If she can, all of us will welcome that change. If she refuses to do so, the consequence will be an alienation and a division that could split the kingdom.
As a result of the right hon. Lady's electoral victory earlier this month, the future of the country rests to a great extent in her hands—to a great extent, but not exclusively. In this newly elected Parliament the Labour party will fight in every way that it can for a proper, decent and dignified place for all our people in a truly United Kingdom.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
The debate on the Loyal Address in reply to the Queen's Speech is always an entertaining occasion, not least because it proceeds under the splendour of the pageantry in another place and because it is also anchored to the discipline of the proposals in the Queen's Speech. What we have before us now suggests that as the excitement of these few days begins to lengthen into the more measured experiences of the weeks and months we have a formidable programme ahead of us.
On this occasion the matter is enlivened by the fact that we have just had a general election. That could reasonably be inferred by listening to some of the speeches over the past few days. The point that I should like to make is that it reinforces the quixotic nature of our electoral system, whereby the number of votes that are properly secured do not have a necessarily close relationship to seats in the House. We have acquired the subtleties to deal with this over the years. Governments on the whole know that they rely upon consent as well as the mere arithmetic virtues of the Patronage Secretary to ensure the passage of legislation. From time to time that position passes from a 398 point of observation to where, although a principle is not breached, some new considerations are called into question. One would not wisely set aside what happened in Scotland in the election.
Of the 72 hon. Members who represent Scotland, 10 support the Government. That is not enviable for the Government. The question is whether we are most able to deal with that challenge by maintaining, broadly speaking, the "business as usual" stance which is apparent to some extent in The Times and in the Chamber. I understand that, but we must move away from the recent certainties of the Smith square election press conference sessions to the more anxious doubts that we must entertain when we consider the problems that face us now rather than as presented in the more exuberant atmosphere of the last few week. I have to say that I do not easily entertain the prospect of going through this Parliament assuming that we shall continue the present basis for Scottish affairs without consideration.
I do not for one moment suggest that any movement from the status quo would necessarily provide any benefit. I understand those who would prefer matters to be contained within the status quo, but I do not believe that it is appropriate for English Members to assume that Scottish affairs can be put to one side. We cannot be expected to carry on and manage as we have hitherto, accepting that a minority party in Scotland is the effective governing party in relation to Scottish business.
I have lived long enough to share with the Leader of the Opposition a deep desire not to retrace our steps to devolution and not to open up all the old arguments about what might be secured by new constitutional arrangements, unless there is a real certainty that they will lead to a conclusive judgment.
I am conscious that "Scotland the nation" is not an empty slogan. Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom with a historical tradition and national identity. I judge that Scots have been happy to be merged with fellow citizens of the United Kingdom to provide a Government, but we must remember that the future direction and debate of a country with such a history cannot be taken for granted.
I have no wish to suggest that we are on the threshold of seeking to re-open the separation argument but. I have a modest comment to make to show that every English Member should think about these things. It would be no bad thing, just a gesture—gesture politics—to ask the Procedure Committee when it is established to take a comprehensive view of how we manage Scottish affairs in the House both in terms of general business and of legislation. I leave that modest thought with those who are in a position further to judge it and present the arguments to the House.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We were made the guinea pigs for the poll tax or community charge. As a former Leader of the House, how does the right hon. Gentleman fancy finding the time for the 90 statutory instruments which the Lothian director of finance says will be necessary? How would he find the money for the 70 full-time canvassers in Lothian region who each month will have to update the register which is to be kept separately from the electoral register? Is this not a classic case of someone saying, "Who will rid me of the rates? Find a way."? Junior Ministers have scurried away and come up with this.
§ Mr. Biffen
I remember when the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was famous for his monosyllabic interventions. There are many uncovenanted benefits of sitting where I now sit and the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned a further 90 of them.
A formidable programme has been assigned to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He is a privileged Member of the Conservative party to hold that portfolio at this time. On occasion the Tory party needs the regeneration of its performance in social terms and in social direction. The education plans outlined in the Queen's Speech, and in subsequent statements, imply a major departure in social policy. This is the authentic voice of Tory social policy looking back for inspiration to people such as Rab Butler or Balfour at the beginning of the century. That has my wholehearted support.
I should like to make a few uncomfortable supportive judgments. First, I hope that we shall always remember that, however important is the private sector, it is state education which is the particular responsibility of the House. The collective tradition in education goes back to before the Education Act 1870. Since then that collective tradition has been identified with politics and the decisions of this House. I hope that it will be clearly understood that the proposals are designed to reinforce that collective tradition of maintained education and that they are not intended to be some oblique form of privatisation.
Secondly, we cannot disguise from ourselves that the proposals will almost certainly impinge upon the authority of local government. I cannot see how the foreseen transfer of powers can do other than enhance schools as entities to the detriment of the existing authorities. I accept and even welcome that, but we must act with as good a spirit of goodwill as we can. Some gesture must be made to the local authorities in their relationship with Government which will enable them to proceed more happily.
I hope that there will be a relaxation in the arrangements for capital receipts. I accept that local authorities are not all the same but we cannot draw the potential poison unless we take a more relaxed view on capital receipts.
§ Mr. Biffen
There, from the heart of Birmingham, comes Chamberlain Toryism. I am the modest rural variety.
Available resources always cause difficulties. Every Tory has in his diary the glorious 12th, with the slaughter, carnage and excitement that goes with it. The dry run for the Tories is the start of the public expenditure round. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury made a speech in his constituency at the weekend. One does not need much of a decoder to work out that someone in the Department said, "Something must be done and damn quick. There's no better place than your own back garden."
In that speech we were given the affirmation that the strictest lines will be taken in public spending, and that includes education. I think that that is a very unwise way of setting about these proposals. We cannot have education reform on the scale and with the intensity and comprehensiveness indicated in the Queen's Speech unless we are prepared to back it with adequate resources. Anything less than that would undermine the policy itself.
400 I wish my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench great and signal success in the execution of the policies contained in the Queen's Speech. It is a magnificent and radical document and I am delighted to support it. Furthermore, I have a suspicion that at the end of the Session my record will look much more amiable to the Patronage Secretary than those of some of my hon. Friends.
Our economic policy is supremely successful and I welcome especially the commitment to continue the fight against inflation. However, in all of these matters there is a balance to be struck between what can be secured by a successful economic policy and a commitment to a social policy. Such commitment is best exemplified in the education proposals. I am certain that those proposals will be considered generously by the House and supported by Conservative Members. This will be an exciting parliamentary Session and I am glad to be around.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Like the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), when I heard the Home Secretary speak I wondered whether he had forgotten that the theme of today's debate is "deprivation and inequality of opportunity" or whether, not having been a frequent visitor to the House for some time, I had perhaps arrived on the wrong day. None the less, I was glad to have a reassurance in the last few sentences that the right hon. Gentleman was aware of what he was meant to talk about to the House today.
As the House knows, I come from an area which has most felt these eight years of deprivation under the Tory Government. The past eight years have seen a steady decline in most aspects of Government in Northern Ireland. That means that when I come here, irregularly as I have of late, I do not come with the blind faith in parliamentary procedure that my right hon. Friend Mr. Enoch Powell felt and expressed when he came to the House. I must pay tribute to Enoch Powell today. He told me that this House was responsible to the nation and that it would not sell the nation short. He said that no Government could overcome the authority of this House. While I recognise Enoch's kindness to me, I am not convinced by his argument, especially after my experiences during the past four years.
I live in a part of the United Kingdom which the Home Secretary did not see fit to mention today when he mentioned other regions in the United Kingdom. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Gorton also failed to mention Northern Ireland in his speech. The situation in Northern Ireland is such that those of us who represent constituencies there honestly feel that a great deal of our time in the House is wasted.
I am glad to speak early in the debate because I want to warn hon. Members that I do not wish to hear them express their pleasure at the presence of Ulster Unionists in the House. That happens from time to time but I do not want to hear those hollow words. If there is to be any healing of wounds during this Session of Parliament, that healing of wounds must come about because we are made welcome. We certainly shall not be made welcome, or feel that we are being made welcome, if we are ignored as we have been in the past and if the government of Northern 401 Ireland continues to be a matter of arrangement between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a Minister from a foreign jurisdiction.
I found it sad that less than a fortnight ago I had no choice or option as an elected Member of this House—I suppose elected by a much larger percentage of the electorate than the average Member—and that the only way in which I could properly represent the feelings of m' constituents was deliberately to disobey the law, allow myself to go before the courts, to state before the magistrate that I was not prepared to pay a fine for my misdemeanour and that I should be obliged to go to prison. Indeed, I went to prison. Anyone who believes in democracy and who is almost 50 years of age can take little pleasure in having had to go to prison, and can take even less pleasure in knowing that he is bound to go back again and again because his democratic rights have been taken away. The greatest deprivation that anyone could suffer is to have his democratic rights taken away and to find that the only way in which he can express himself is by going to gaol in opposition to the joint sovereignty of his part of the United Kingdom.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and I shall not be able to cover many of the points with which I should have liked to deal. However, I could not take part in a debate on deprivation without alluding to the serious state of the Health Service in the part of the United Kingdom in which I live. We have been deprived of resources to the extent that the lives of the people whom I represent are being placed in serious danger. Indeed, lives may be lost. We all know that the Government's security policy has been responsible for the loss of many lives during the past 15 or 16 years. A list of the dead in Northern Ireland runs to many pages. Those deaths are easily defined, if hard to accept.
However, those who die in our hospitals because we are deprived of resources are more difficult to identify. I find it strange that, with direct rule, those who should be fighting hardest to see that extra resources are made available are forced to defend their Government's record on health.
Recently, I criticised the Government, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Health and Social Security about the dreadful circumstances which exist in one of the hospitals in my constituency. It was not anyone from those areas of Government who defended the Government's record, but the general manager of the local regional health board who said that his board rejected what I had said. I was talking about the fact that, in the event of an electricity breakdown in the hospital, there is no automatic switchgear to bring in the auxiliary generator. For 20 minutes, half an hour or longer if it proves difficult to find an electrician—we do not have them on standby because we cannot afford it—the surgeons in the operating theatre must work by the light provided by a car battery.
On one occasion, when a man was having a serious thigh injury set and pinned, the surgeon had to put in the pins by feel as the X-ray machinery was not available. On another occasion a patient was anaesthetised for an operation but had to be brought round without the operation being performed because a lady from the delivery ward who needed a Caesarian section was in danger of losing her life and that of her child. That is the wing and a prayer situation under which the hospitals in my area must operate.
402 Recently, a seriously injured patient had to be transferred to the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast. I am led to believe that the only anaesthetist available had to travel in the ambulance with the patient, who was on a life support system, and that if a shooting, bombing or serious car accident had occurred there would have been no one to anaesthetise the injured. Lives would have been lost. We have no one on standby between the hours of 12 midnight and 8 in the morning in the ambulance room of that hospital. We have to hope that an ambulance can be summoned from somewhere else if the one ambulance on duty is already involved in transferring patients to or from the hospital to Belfast or Craigavon. That is the position that a public servant is defending on behalf of the Government. Why do Ministers not stand up and tell us why they are putting the lives of patients in my constituency at risk?
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) sitting on the Bench and I notice that he has been transferred to the Department of Health and Social Security. He will be an excellent man for the job because he has expert training in what is required during his term in Northern Ireland. The House will be aware that he spent many years covering up the Government's inadequacies on the security front and covering up the increasing death rate in Northern Ireland. Obviously, with what is happening in health and social services, his talent to cover up will be more than required. I am sure that before he leaves the post he will be known as Dr. Cover-up. I hope that he will not be called Dr. Death.
I can never rise in this House and ignore the Government's failure on security. A few days ago, Jim Nicholson, an ex-colleague of those in the House last Session, was dealing with constituency matters. By chance, I happened to be with him. We had not been long about our business when the police arrived to tell us that his wife and two young children had been attacked by terrorists. Fortunately—no thanks to any steps that had been taken to prevent such a situation and no thanks to the terrorists—Mrs. Nicholson and the two children escaped. Again, the record of the Government was well manifested on that occasion.
Everyone knows who the gunman was. Over the past few days the newspapers have done all but name him. He has been responsible for almost 20 murders and has served prison sentences, but he has been released to commit more murders. His victims have been people not unlike Mrs. Nicholson, and a 72-year-old lady was his last Protestant victim. But recently he had a personal score to settle arid was responsible for killing one of his colleagues—his last victim. That murder is well known, but it has not yet come into the public domain.
Immediately after the murder attempt on Mrs. Nicholson, the terrorists left the scene and drove three quarters of a mile back to the house where they had held some people prisoner overnight to return the car they had hijacked from the house, to rip out the telephone and to make arrangements for their escape. They then disappeared. They certainly had no fear that there might be a helicopter flying over the scene, because they knew that no helicopter was available to the police, despite the promises that I have had again and again from the Government Front Bench. Resources are not being made available for the security forces to hope to be able to deal with the level of terrorism that exists in Northern I reland.
403 I shall touch only briefly on the Government's promises that concern hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and I hope that we shall have other opportunities to elaborate in more detail on the unbearable deprivation and inequality of opportunity that exists. For most of us, deprivation in Northern Ireland means the deprivation of life to the people who live there and inequality of opportunity means the inequality of opportunity to live and make political and social progress with one's neighbours. There are those with whom I should like to share responsibility in Northern Ireland. They are those who from time to time have come to this House belonging to a different party and who have said that they feel underprivileged. I do not want them to feel underprivileged, but if they wish to work in co-operation with my colleagues and myself, those people will have to face the reality of political life. They must realise that it is not enough to say, "We deplore violence and want it to end," and then go out and fight elections, as they did in South Down, on the basis of "getting rid of the Prod."
It is a pity that no SDLP Member is in the House today, but I dare say that they will hear my words. As a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the SDLP can win seats only where there is a vast sectarian vote on which to call, such as in Newry and Armagh and South Down, and where they can go forward under the slogan, "Let's get rid of the Prod." They cannot deal with the opponent which the Anglo-Irish Agreement was designed to help them to defeat—Sinn Fein. It is significant that, in West Belfast, if we combine the votes of Joe Hendron and Gerry Fitt, the SDLP was roundly defeated by Sinn Fein—[Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I draw your attention to the Minister for Social Security, The hon. Member for Chelsea, who has the unfortunate habit of laughing at the wrong time. He did it when he had responsibility for the fiasco of government in Northern Ireland. It would serve him well to learn from his mistakes, for which we have paid.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I will get on, but it would do all members of the Front Bench, including the hon. Member for Chelsea, good to listen to what I have to say. The hon. Gentleman does not have to come here, as I have said before, and say that 32 of his constituents have been murdered by terrorists during the life of the previous Parliament. I do.
Unless the Government develop a sense of reality during this Parliament and realise that the vast majority of people are not impressed by a failed Anglo-Irish Agreement or by a triumphalist SDLP, whose only successes have been in constituencies where it was bound to win because of the massive sectarian vote on which it can call, there will be no point in people like me and my colleagues coming here to try to give the Government another chance to right the great wrong that they have done to the people whom we represent.
§ Mr. David Porter (Waveney)
In thanking you for calling me to address the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do so with a proper sense of my position, rising to speak for the first time. My main reason for rising to speak so early in my parliamentary career is that my constituency 404 stands to benefit especially from the policies outlined in the Gracious Speech. I open with those words because they are close to the words used by my predecessor, the right hon. Jim Prior, when he made his maiden speech in November 1959. I pay tribute to his work as a Member since then. He achieved respect across the Chamber, and outside the House he achieved recognition across the nation.
The constituency of Waveney was called Lowestoft in 1959. Then, the new Member spoke about the appalling roads, about the need to ensure help—but if not help, certainly not discouragement—for fishing and farming, and about an unemployment rate of 8 to 10 per cent. Today, we have moved on a generation. Unemployment is 15 per cent., but falling—only six months ago it approached 19 per cent.—and Waveney district council, in conjunction with neighbouring Great Yarmouth borough council, made a joint submission for assisted area status to the previous Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That application still stands.
There is no doubt of my support for the proven policy of allowing enterprise to stimulate economic growth and for selective help to come into the regions, but we should remember that one region's selective help may be another region's unfair competition. For instance, Waveney is trying to compete nationally to attract new jobs. Equally, with farming and fishing, competition is the watchword, but it must be fair. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will know of the feelings expressed by some of our farmers when they hear about the Italian dairyman who still has not translated the word "quota", and when Dutch quality controllers of eggs appear to be employed for their inability to see the eggs.
In 1959 Jim Prior spoke about grants and loans for building new trawlers and drifters. Since then, the Lowestoft fishing industry has reached rock bottom. Fishermen were told to stop feeling sorry for themselves, to stop crying about the Dutch competition, which brought the industry to its knees, and to modernise the fleet to compete. That is exactly what they did, investing millions of pounds to buy modern beam trawlers. Recovery is beginning, with a new 1.5 million fish market being built at Lowestoft, but until we have a system of licences, by-catches, engine sizes and vessel lengths that recognises that British fishing must be at least equal to that of other nations, the industry will not be the success story and the engine of economic growth that it should be. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall return to that subject in a more appropriate debate.
No Conservative Member would argue with the need to address the problems of the inner cities, but there is a point of support for the cities beyond which people in the rural areas and the towns will not go willingly. Those of us from the shires, where county and district councils have been prudent, to the extent of making prudence an art form, will be looking carefully at the community charge and the uniform business rate with a view to saying that the cities are a priority, but that they are not the only need. I say this speaking for Waveney, which is at the very eastern edge of East Anglia. East Anglia is enjoying rapidly increasing prosperity, but that prosperity has not yet reached Waveney. In all the regions there are pockets of need and areas of prosperity. We cannot generalise on the regions, and we cannot lump all of East Anglia with the so-called prosperous south-east.
405 The House has days for debating Scottish issues and Welsh issues. Why—or rather when—will we have a day for debating East Anglian issues?
Until recently our road network was established on an entirely north-south structure, but population, development of business, the proximity of Europe and an increasing tourist industry have highlighted a need to develop a road network that takes us into the 21st century. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), to recognise the need to put East Anglia in general, and Waveney in particular, on the road map.
In 1959 Jim Prior said that East Anglia was the Cinderella of the country's communications system. If we look at any other region, we can see that that is still so. Environmentally vital strategic non-primary routes such as the Halesworth relief road in my constituency have been awaited for these past 30 years. The third river crossing at Lowestoft, without which no significant economic development is possible, and without which the quality of life remains intolerable, has been awaited for these past 70 years.
The Government have largely won the arguments on defence, freedom of choice, trade union reforms, wider ownership, and, to some extent, jobs. Now they must win the health, pensions and education arguments. They will have my support. But taking out strategic schools, such as the Reydon area schools in Waveney, will restrict, if not completely deny, parental freedom of choice. In this Parliament, as well as debates on education and finance, schools deserve the benefit of community and social debate in considering their future, especially in the rural areas.
Waveney is an attractive coastal community. It is attractive to young and old alike, to the recently retired, and to television film crews. The market towns of Southwold, Halesworth, Beccles and Bungay are delightful compromises between old and new, between the developed and the conserved. I am confident that the thrust of the proposals that have been made to the House will further improve the lifestyle of the 100,000 people living in Waveney. We want a lot from those proposals.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in permitting me to serve notice that East Anglia, that Waveney, that Cinderella wants to go to the ball of prosperity which so much of the country has already enjoyed and which the rest will now enjoy during the lifetime of this Parliament.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
As a new Member, may I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in this debate.
I am extremely happy to begin my maiden speech by paying tribute to my predecessor for Dundee, East, Mr. Gordon Wilson. Gordon Wilson held Dundee, East for 13 years and through four different elections. That was no mean feat for a nationalist in an urban Scottish seat. He was very much a politician of the centre right as well as a separatist arid I fundamentally disagreed with his political approach. However, Gordon Wilson had a deserved reputation as a hard-working constituency Member and I willingly acknowledge and pay tribute to him for the great deal of hard work that he put in on behalf of the people of Dundee, East in the past 13 years.
406 May I also take this opportunity to mention Gordon Wilson's predecessor, George Machin, as Gordon failed to do that way back in 1974. George Machin is a fine Socialist and a great trade unionist. He was an excellent Member of Parliament for Dundee, East and it was extremely sad that the work that he had put in on behalf of Dundee, East was not recognised way back in 1974. I hope that, this afternoon, the House will recognise and help to redress the wrong that was done to George all those years ago.
I am extremely conscious that, in common with Gordon Wilson, George Machin and even George Thomson, I rise for the first time in this House from the Opposition Benches. However, I must confess that. coming to this House as a new Scottish Member and in the wake of the 1987 general election result, it does not feel like arriving as a member of a defeated Opposition. In Scotland my party was not defeated. We had a marvellous victory and returned 50 of our country's 72 Members of Parliament. We received a clear mandate from the Scottish people for the policies that we put to them in the recent election campaign, including our policy for creating a directly elected Assembly in Edinburgh.
It is certain that, in the course of this Parliament, we shall return again and again to the Scottish question and to how to resolve the political crisis caused by the general election result in Scotland. Ministers must be brought to realise that they face a political crisis in Scotland. In my country there is no mandate for any of the policies contained in the Gracious Speech. The Secretary of State for Scotland will not make the crisis go away by trying to pretend that it does not exist or by blindly refusing lo accept that 11 June ever happened in Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot bury his head in the sand and wish away the rout of the Tories in Scotland—he must face the consequences. The consequence is that the Government cannot force unwanted policies upon an unwilling people. They will not be accepted in Scotland.
One of the subjects covered by today's debate is the Government's failure to regenerate Britain's cities. I would like to focus on one aspect of that failure—how it affects the unemployed of my constituency. Officially, there are 7,653 registered unemployed in Dundee, East—the highest number of unemployed of any constituency in the north-east of Scotland. The unofficial, and therefore more truthful and accurate, figure is, of course, much higher. According to the unemployment unit there are in fact 9,317 unemployed, almost 23 per cent. of the adult work force of the constituency. For those men and women, nothing in the Gracious Speech offers any hope. Those people will remain wholly unimpressed by the high-sounding phrases in the Gracious Speech about "sound financial management", the promotion of enterprise and the reduction of inflation being the keys to solve unemployment. They have heard it all before in every Gracious Speech since the Government came to office eight years ago.
Eight years on from those first promises to cut the dole queues and to create a climate of enterprise, the unemployment levels that still persist in Dundee, East are more than twice as high as they were when the Government first came to office.
Yesterday, one Conservative Member referred to the problems of the north-south divide as being all in the mind. He could not be more wrong because, above all else, the north-south divide can be found in the levels of mass poverty and its bedfellow, mass unemployment, that 407 persist today at unacceptable levels in various areas of our country. If Ministers are truly concerned to understand the rout of the Conservative party in Dundee, Scotland as a whole, Wales and many areas in the north of England, they should realise that it stems primarily from the Government's abject failure to deal effectively with the evil of mass unemployment.
During my time in the House, what I would most like to do is to alert and persuade Conservative Members of the seriousness of unemployment in areas such as Dundee, East. I want to make them understand that the unemployed want work, not words, from the Government. They want initiatives to secure existing jobs and to create new jobs. The Dundee unemployed certainly do not want the phoney restart programme or the different varieties of temporary employment schemes. Above all, they do not want the new and insidious work are projects, such as the job training scheme. They certainly do not want the prospect of compulsory training for the young unemployed. They want full-time, permanent and decently paid jobs. Surely, in this day and age that is not too much to ask, especially when the unemployed of my constituency only want one job each, while some in this House can enjoy more than one job, and are more than decently paid at that.
I believe that it is not even beyond the wit of this Government to begin to help to provide the opportunities for employment for the unemployed of my constituency. However, I fear that the political will to do that does not exist on the Conservative Benches.
In the Gracious Speech we were told :Measures will be introduced to provide further competition in the provision of local authorities' services.However, only last Friday, at a meeting in Dundee, the chairman of the Scottish branch of the Association of Direct Labour Organisations warned that privatising council services could mean up to 500 redundancies in a city such as Dundee. How can anyone square that scenario, painted by someone close to the local scene who knows what the local effect will be? How can that be squared with the Prime Minister's boast of last Thursday of steadily growing job opportunities for all? We must ask, "All of whom?" for it is certainly not those who live in the northern half of an increasingly divided and critically weakened kingdom.
The failure of the Government to understand or to appreciate the local dimension is one of the most disturbing aspects of their performance over the past eight years. They rule from afar and have no sensitivity to the sentiments and needs of the localities. Let me give the House an example. Dundee is the gateway to the northeast of Scotland and to an immensely important area, not only in terms of population, but also in terms of economic importance. Manufacturing industries, agriculture and advanced centres of education and research and development are all located throughout the Tayside and Grampian regions. However, we remain at a disadvantage because of our relative geographical isolation compared with other parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
My part of Scotland desperately and urgently requires effectively improved communications—not just by road, air and sea, but especially by rail. However, the Government have chosen to stop the electrification of the east coast line short at Edinburgh. The Government have 408 closed down the freightliner depots at Dundee and Aberdeen, thereby throwing an additional 10,000 freight movements a year on to our already hard-pressed road network. We learned only last week that the Government threaten to downgrade Dundee's railway centre by closing the train crew depot and transferring more than 100 administrative and manual jobs out of the city.
No one of any political persuasion locally in Dundee would agree with any of those Government decisions or proposals. It is not a matter of Labour-Tory or Left-Right divisions. Across the political spectrum in Dundee we want improved railway communications, yet we are being denied them by a remote, out-of-touch, authoritarian and over-centralised Government in Westminster. It is time that that Government began to listen to the voices of the localities elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Dundee has not been without its employment successes over the past eight years. I willingly acknowledge the success of the Dundee Project in particular, which brought together local authorities, the Scottish Development Agency and the private sector in a productive partnership. But the work of that project has simply not been enough—nowhere near enough—because throughout its lifetime unemployment in Dundee has gone on rising. That is because of the disastrous collapse in manufacturing employment across the spectrum of that sector in our city.
I should like to refer to one incident in the jute industry, which still employs around 1,200 people in Dundee and Tayside. The survival of that industry is seriously threatened by cheap imports from Asia that are being dumped in the United Kingdom market. In my previous role as convenor of Tayside regional council, in January this year I led a delegation of employers and trade unionists to the Scottish Office in Edinburgh to lobby the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), who as Under-Secretary of State then had responsibility for Scottish industry. The Minister sympathised with our case for a system of quotas on certain classifications of jute products. He agreed with the seriousness of the threat to the very existence of the 1,200 jobs in our area, and promised to take up the matter with the Department of Trade and Industry as "a matter of urgency"—those were his words. Yet despite several telexes and telegrams since then to elicit a response from the Department of Trade and Industry, we still await a reply to the pleas of management and unions in my area to save 1,200 jobs.
The careless neglect and offhand treatment involved in that incident speak volumes about the Government's incapacity to appreciate or support the role of manufacturing industry. It is also one of the main reasons why unemployment is so high in my and many other constituencies.
Scotland cannot afford another four or five years of the same policies that we have endured for the past eight years. That is why Scotland voted overwhelmingly for change two weeks ago. If the House really is the mother of Parliaments and the seat of democracy, it will recognise the democratic decision of the Scottish people on 11 June and deliver to my country the changes that it so clearly desires.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) on their admirable maiden speeches, in which 409 they referred generously to their distinguished predecessors, paid customary tributes to their constituencies and showed a clear grasp of the problems of the people whom they represent. It was a good beginning for both of them, and I can say confidently that we look forward with pleasure to their contributions to our future debates.
I was greatly moved by the speech of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). With him, I hope that the House will have an early opportunity to discuss the problems of Northern Ireland and that we shall then heed the wise and magnanimous words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) about Scotland. I hope that we, particularly on the Conservative Benches, will show a full awareness, sympathy and understanding of the fears, hopes and above all the sensibilities of our fellow citizens in Ulster and Scotland.
I am in broad agreement with the greater part of the Queen's Speech. Given the Government's determination to encourage the development of a freer, more confident, yet more responsible, society, and given the evidence of a reviving economy, I find most of the measures proposed acceptable and necessary. However, I must say with great sadness and, indeed, puzzlement, that I note the inclusion in the Gracious Speech of a Bill to permit all-day drinking in public houses. I wish, therefore, to address myself to that subject, on which I agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
We are told that this Bill will give greater freedom of choice to the consumer. Perhaps. It will certainly boost the sales of the drinks industry, although, interestingly, it is not welcomed by all licensees. But it finds no favour whatever among the bodies concerned with the health and social welfare of the nation. It has no support from the medical profession or the specialist and caring organisations that have to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse, such as Alcohol Concern and the Scottish Council on Alcoholism, which, ironically, were created and are funded by the Government.
I have just received a letter from Dr. John Havard, secretary of the British Medical Association, in which he asks me to make it plain to the House that the association is opposed to any extension of the licensing hours. He writes:There is no conclusive evidence that a change in licensing hours would decrease the health and social costs of alcohol abuse and every reason to fear that it would exacerbate an already deteriorating situation.It is not as if the proposed Bill will receive unqualified approval from the drinks industry. Indeed, a campaign is already under way to extend all-day drinking to Sundays, with the object of extending the sale of alcohol still further. I have to tell the House that, assuredly as night follows day, the greater the availability of alcohol, the greater the harm that we can expect.
The World Health Organisation has been so concerned about the levels of consumption worldwide and the related harm to which they give rise that it has called upon all nations, including Britain, to reduce consumption by 25 per cent. by 1995. No wonder Dr. Havard asks this question in his letter:Why, when other countries are desperately tightening up on the availability of alcohol … are we taking up parliamentary time relaxing it?Why indeed? Those of us who have worked in the field of alcohol abuse and who know the facts have witnessed, 410 since the last reform of the licensing law of England and Wales in 1960, an enormous increase in the availability and consumption of alcohol, as the balanced system of controls that once helped to make this country one of the most sober in Europe has been dismantled stage by stage.
The measure proposed by the Government is one further step in that process, which has already resulted in the misuse of alcohol becoming one of the principal causes of premature death and avoidable illness, and the running thread linking a wide range of otherwise disparate social problems, such as carnage on the roads, violent crime, public disorder, marital break-ups and industrial absenteeism. There is no question but that the misuse of alcohol poses a profound and still-growing threat to the health and wellbeing of our society, compared with which the impact of illicit drugs, dreadful as it is, is relatively small. I speak as the chairman in the previous Parliament of the all-party committee on the misuse of drugs.
One would have thought that a new Government, determined as they are to build a new, confident, bustling but fair society, and knowing the problem and its impact on other comparable countries, would regard the control of alcohol and its misuse here as a priority. Not so. The Government are failing to see the problem in the round. They are determined to wage war against crime, yet there is a close link between alcohol and crime, especially violent crime, as every police officer knows. The Government are determined to tackle the problems of the Health Service and to help it cope with the enormous demands placed upon it, yet they seem oblivious to the fact that up to one in five hospital beds is occupied by a patient with an alcohol-related illness. The Government are determined to improve the education and training of young people, yet so far they have done nothing about the alarming increase in under-age drinking, reported by every newspaper in the land.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I have much to say. I would normally give way, but I want to stick to my single theme and leave my message with the House and, in particular, with the Front Bench.
The Government are determined to continue their drive to increase the efficiency and productivity of the economy, yet they must know that alcohol misuse is a cause of industrial absenteeism and inefficiency. Those are more than sufficient reasons for a determined assault to be mounted on the problems of alcohol control and misuse, and for that to be done before permitting any increase in drinking hours.
We might have expected, therefore, that a Government fresh from the hustings would have announced their intention of launching such an assault, following the example set by other countries. How ironic and how sad is the recent news from New Zealand, a country whose people are so closely related to ourselves, of a report presented to the Ministry of Justice in Wellington. The report came from a committee, presided over by a distinguished High Court judge, which had examined the association between alcohol misuse and violent behaviour. It recommended a period of closure of public houses in the afternoon, and the House will be interested to hear the reason given :Many English pubs are required to observe an afternoon closure and that must be regarded as one of the significant 411 factors which enables English pubs to maintain a favourable image far removed from that of their New Zealand counterparts.Precisely when that appeared, the Government's answer here is a short little Bill ending the afternoon break and keeping the pubs open all day—a proposition which, in the face of the facts, is quite extraordinary, suggesting as it does an attitude of supreme complacency, if not flippancy, towards one of the major social problems of our time.
It may not have been intended—I am sure that it was not—but the message for the young is appalling: their drugs are dangerous, but the most widely abused drug of all, which kills vastly more people than heroin, can safely be given freer rein. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has presented alcohol misuse and licensing hours as two entirely separate issues. They are not. Indeed, that view is wholly at variance with what the Government have said previously on the subject. The DHSS publication "Drinking Sensibly" remains the only comprehensive statement of Government policy on alcohol control with which we have been provided since 1930, more than half a century ago. That document reviewed the Scottish experience and concluded :The sharp increase in alcohol related harm in recent years might suggest that our licensing laws ought, if anything, to be tightened.The harm since those words appeared in print has increased, not diminished.
My right hon. Friend's decision to go galloping off in the opposite direction is surely a classic example of the left hand of the Government—the Home Office—not knowing what the right hand—the DHSS—is doing. In doing so, they are giving the impression that they do not even care.
The Government, in justification of their untimely and retrograde proposal, seem to suggest that they intend no more than a modest tinkering with one limited aspect of the licensing laws which would be unlikely to have any adverse effect. The point is that we have had a quarter of a century of tinkering, and the cumulative effect has been adverse in the extreme. What is needed now is not another tinkering measure, but a coherent, co-ordinated strategy for the prevention of alcohol misuse, which is concerned not merely with pub opening hours, but with the whole issue of legal availability, fiscal policy, health education, advertising, and drinking and driving. Nothing less than that will do. It is simply not good enough for my right hon. Friend to say, as he did last week, that the Government are aware of the problem of under-age drinking and that they aresensitive to the effects of alcohol misuse on health and of its connections with crime",while introducing a measure that will certainly have the effect of making those problems worse.
If the Government are determined to press ahead with further liberalisation, the least they can do is, first, to introduce additional measures to mitigate present problems. According to the Government's own survey, conducted by the OPCS not long ago, with the licensing laws as they are now—not as they may become—one in five 16 and 17-year-old boys drinks well above the so-called upper safe limit for a mature man, and they drink mainly and illegally in pubs.
412 The evidence shows that even 13-year-olds are getting drunk in pubs. Teachers are complaining about pupils returning to school under the influence of alcohol. There is evidence, too, of drunken teenagers causing trouble in the streets.
The drinking and driving problem is similar. The most obvious feature of the pattern of drinking and driving accidents is their close relationship to licensing hours. Alcohol-related accidents begin to occur significantly at midday, about an hour after the pubs open, and then increase steadily throughout the rest of the day, reaching a peak just after the pubs have closed at night. The obvious danger of the Government's proposal for continuous afternoon drinking is that peak accident times will begin earlier in the day, during the late afternoons, when schoolchildren and other especially vulnerable road users are about. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that his Bill will contain provisions for averting that danger?
I serve notice now that unless the Bill—when it comes before us—contains proposals for checking alcohol abuse it will be vigorously opposed by hon. Members in all parts of the House, who, in turn, will be strongly supported by the medical profession, by magistrates and teachers, and by all who care about the health and social well-being of our nation.
There is still time for my right hon. Friend to set up the same sort of co-ordinated machinery that exists for drug abuse—an effective inter-departmental committee. I pay the warmest tribute to the Minister of State who chaired that committee. The Government's action on hard drugs has been excellent and productive of results. Why ignore the most serious drug of all? There is still time for my right hon. Friend to end the contradiction between his own Department's view that there is no connection between licensing and alcohol abuse and the more realistic line that is taken by the DHSS, which has to fund the cost of ill health, and by the Department of Transport, which valiantly mounts costly campaigns to reduce the carnage on the roads—carnage that will most certainly be increased by any step to end the afternoon break and increase drinking hours.
My advice to my right hon. Friend—I say this in the kindest fashion, because I have great respect and affection for him—is to pause, reflect and study the wise advice of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which told us not many years ago:Society has in many ways tried to have its pleasure, deny its responsibilities and hand the problem over to the courts or the caring agencies. We believe that an undoubted message for the future is that prevention has to be strengthened, and that this will eventually mean all of us drinking somewhat less.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
I start by congratulating the two hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches in the House this afternoon. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) particularly impressed me with his recognition that, even in an area that is regarded as fairly prosperous, there are pockets of unemployment. I am sure that we shall hear from him again, and I hope that we shall hear more from him on that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made an excellent and robust speech in defence of the people in his area which, like my own, suffers not from pockets of deprivation but from multiple deprivation 413 on a large scale. My hon. Friend made that point clearly and he will be an admirable voice for the large Scottish Labour contingent which I, as a Merseyside Member, am pleased has joined us in the House of Commons. I look forward to many such speeches and to collaboration with my hon. Friend on future occasions. He made the point that, in Scotland, the Government certainly did not win the general election; and that there were many regions of England, too, where the election was grossly lost by the Tory party. Labour now has as many Members of Parliament in Liverpool as the SDP has Members in the entire United Kingdom. I hope that that will gain us a little bit of preference now and then in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the eye of Mr. Speaker.
In my constituency there was a 9.5 per cent. swing to the Labour party and instead of a majority of 11,8001 now bask in a majority of 20,486. That is despite losing 2,000 electors, mainly council house tenants, and gaining about 1,000 owner-occupiers. Contrary to the popular myth, I am glad to say that those owner-occupiers are overwhelmingly supporters of the Labour party, and I am sure that they will stand by us in future.
The people of Liverpool and most of Merseyside support the Labour party, because they have been made to feel aliens in their own country. They resent what happened in the general election because they see no hope in a Government who have torn to shreds any ideas of local democracy giving anything to the people in that very deprived area. Following an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) last Thursday, the Prime Minister said :I hope that one day Merseyside will welcome the private sector within Liverpool".Really, who does she think built the 4,000 council homes and the five sports centres that were provided as a result of the policies of the Labour-controlled Liverpool city council if it was not private firms? Who does she think benefits from the contracts that local authorities put out to tender as a result of being able to spend more money on all those necessities of life in areas such as the one that I represent?
The Prime Minister quoted the former Member of Parliament for Knowsley. North, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk. Hon. Members may recall that he hoped that within 15 years of entering the House he would be the Prime Minister. That gives us another two years. Mr. Kilroy-Silk put Liverpool's troubles about job creation down to the Militant Tendency. I am no friend of the Militant Tendency. We have been able to solve some of our problems in Liverpool without the help of the Tory party.
The tremendous result of the Labour party in Liverpool in obtaining 155,000 votes as against 47,000 for the Tory party, is far and away in excess even of the very good result that we had as recently as 7 May in the local government elections. That result is attributable to the fact that in the town hall in Liverpool there is again a Labour administration admirably led by a progressive and effective former deputy leader of Merseyside county council, Councillor Harry Rimmer. I am sure that the House will hear much more about that Labour council in the years ahead as Labour is returned with increasing majorities year in and year out.
One cannot put the problems of Liverpool and the decline of the port and of industry down to the three and a half years during which time Militant had some hegemony on the Labour group. Between 1961 and 1971, 414 there was a Tory city council in Liverpool. Liverpool has no Tory MPs and next year it is likely to be the first major city in the United Kingdom without a single Tory councillor. That is very much in prospect. Between 1961 and 1971, about 80,000 jobs were lost in Liverpool. About 28,000 were lost in the port, the railways, the construction industry and utilities, 21,000 in retail and wholesale distribution and 31,000 in manufacturing industry.
There is no point in the Prime Minister saying that the difficulties in Liverpool are not the fault of the Government. The Government attempted to strangle local democracy, first by abolishing the county council and then by making attacks on councillors on Liverpool city council. To a large extent, the Liberal party has taken the place of the Tories in more ways than one on Liverpool city council. When the Liberal party under Sir Trevor Jones was in charge of the city, we lost jobs from Dunlop. British Leyland closed its plant, Meccano and Lucas of Broadgreen closed and the Tate and Lyle factory closed.
It is rather interesting to note that, during the last three years, the Ford Motor Company, which has a very important plant at Halewood, has increased its investment. The vice-president of Ford in Europe, Bill Haydon, has said that industrial relations at Ford in Halewood are much better than they were some years ago. As I have said, Merseyside county council was abolished by the Tory Government. Far from turning its hack on private industry, that council positively helped it. In her speech during the debate on the Address the Prime Minister said :If we want more jobs on Merseyside, Labour-controlled local authorities will have to welcome private enterprise within their borders."—[Official Report, 25 June, 1987; Vol. 118, c. 53.]I was the chairman of the economic development committee of Merseyside county council. It improved county help for the active small enterprise scheme, which gave grants on a large scale to small private businesses as well as to worker co-operatives. Over 9,000 jobs were generated on Merseyside as a result of our efforts and I am proud of the fact that we were able to introduce some of those small business men to the export market. We took them to the Hanover trade fair in order to introduce them to wider horizons.
We set up an enterprise board on Merseyside consisting of business men and trade unionists and within that board, largely because of the work of two directors of British Insulated Callenders Cables, that the first technical feasibility study was carried out about the possibility of a Mersey barrage scheme. All this was done under the Labour-controlled Merseyside county council. Tourism benefited and last year on Merseyside, largely because of the work we carried out on Merseyside tourism committee, £233 million was invested in Merseyside and helped to maintain 14,000 jobs. They are largely private enterprise jobs, but they were maintained largely as a result of the efforts of a Labour-controlled council.
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) created a little bit of a myth when as the Minister for Merseyside, as he was called, he introduced a number of schemes. Nobody would decry the investment that has gone into the Albert dock scheme, which had the cooperation of a Labour-controlled county council when it was introduced. Nobody would decry the international garden festival. But does anybody think that anything came from the busload of business men that the right hon. 415 Gentleman spoke about in his recent writing entitled, "Where There's a Will"? If anybody believes that anything came from that, he can forget it. The jobs that have been generated and which have stuck on Merseyside are those that were created by the county council under both Tory and Labour administrations and to some extent that were created by the Liverpool city council in the more recent past.
The right hon. Member for Henley referred to the Waveney technology park in his book. He said that it wasan experiment to prove that where dereliction is far advanced and there is negative value to be removed from a site before anything can be done with it, public money is the essential factor that can produce the first growth.Opposition Members have been trying to get that message across to the Government. If we want to generate private investment in Merseyside, Glasgow or other deprived areas, that investment must be oiled and motored by public investment. Even the hon. Member for Waveney, in his admirable maiden speech, said that there was a need for infrastructural schemes to be supported by central Government to help farmers and the port at Lowestoft. Every sensible person understands that.
I confess that I grieve for my country for what has happened as a result of the general election. I only wish that I could hope that the Government will respond to the words used in the House the other day by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands, (Mr. Knox):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 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."—[Official Report, 25 June 1987; Vol 118, c. 102.]Yes, of course, under previous Conservative Prime Ministers there might have been some hope of that. However, the people that I am privileged and happy to represent recognise that this Prime Minister is totally lacking in humour and humanity. They recognise that the Government are a Government of doormats who are quite willing to go along with what the Prime Minister has to say.
I was very interested in the comments made by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) about the licensing laws. I agree with him overwhelmingly. I hope that he will join me in the Division Lobby in opposition to that legislation. However, if the experience of the previous Parliament is anything to go by, Conservative opposition will be single-issue opposition. When it comes to a fundamenal confrontation with the Government, when many Conservative Members realise that what the Government are doing is desperately wrong for the nation, they get cold feet. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Castle Point that he will probably be the only Conservative Member to join us in the Division Lobby when the licensing laws are debated.
It is rather ironic that the speech moving the Loyal Address to the Gracious Speech was made by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). The hon. Gentleman's grandfather some years ago, when he was a Liberal Member—at least, I believe he was on the Liberal Benches then, but what's the difference between a Liberal and a Tory?—warned us about the licensing laws and said something about the Tory party being the 416 party which extolled the virtues of patriotism by the imperial pint. Of course, he used the word "pint" advisedly in those days.
When we examine the Government's policies as they are presented in the Queen's Speech and in Bill after Bill, I very much doubt that we will find any attempt at consensus from the Prime Minister and her Cabinet of doormats. I am sure that any opposition will be expunged. We have heard already this afternoon from one of those Members who has been expunged. However, there are even more dire straits before us than the fact that the Prime Minister will continue with her intolerance.
On 30 June 1983 I asked the Prime Minister my very first question about the riots that had occurred in Toxteth in Liverpool and the fact that I thought that the report of the Central Policy Review Staff had predicted the riots. The Prime Minister stated :That report did not predict the Toxteth riots. It did, however, take the view that if high unemployment persisted and if the entire region became one of concentrated disadvantage the existing support services and income redistribution mechanisms would be inadequate to prevent social unrest." [Official Report, 30 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 698.]The concentrated disadvantages have not become better since 1983. In Liverpool, Merseyside and elsewhere, they have become much worse. The social mechanisms for distributing income have also been made much worse, thanks to the Secretary of State for Employment who will reply to the debate. The social security legislation introduced by the former Secretary of State for Social Services has made those mechanisms much worse and has increased poverty. If the Government want to see the next four or five years pass without real social turmoil, without the prospect of more Chapeltowns, Brixtons or Toxteths, they had better look carefully at the person leading the Government. That person is safer on the streets of Moscow than she would ever be in my constituency, and she had better look again at the leadership of the Conservative party. She had better look for someone who can lead the nation through consensus with that vast area of the country that has said no to Thatcherism.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) on their excellent maiden speeches we look forward to hearing from them in future.
The first Queen's Speech of a new Parliament is a very important occasion because it sets the tone for the next four years or so. Therefore, I want to address my remarks specifically to my friends and colleagues on the Conservative Benches and especially to my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. I am not interested in what is happening on the Opposition Benches. Opposition Members have their own problems and they will have to solve them.
I tried to intervene in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but he would not allow me to do so. I hope that the House noticed that throughout the speech—which, as usual, was good stuff and very amusing—there was not one reference to the responsibility of local government towards the inner-city areas. That was very significant, and I hope that it was noted by the House.
417 The difference between this Queen's Speech and others is that we have all come fresh from the hustings. I do not believe that my experience on the hustings is different from that of my hon. Friends or any other hon. Member. Obviously there are regional differences. For example, although I have 7,000 people drawing benefit in my constituency, hardly anyone mentioned unemployment. I appreciate that that was probably not the case elsewhere. However, they did mention, in strong terms, education, health, housing and law and order. I received general approbation on what the Government had done in the economic area. They thought that we had been successful; and most of my constituents are much better off now than they were when the Government came to power in 1979. On services, the people were really saying that they would vote for us this time but in a relatively lukewarm way because they did not think that we had done well on the services that I have just mentioned and they felt that we did not really care. The argument went on along those lines.
Most popular concepts are unfair and there are no exceptions to the rule. We were not the only party that had that problem. Not every member of the Labour party is a card-carrying Militant, but that was the general appreciation, particularly in local government. Unfair though those concepts were, particularly on health and law and order where considerable progress has been made in recent years, unless they can be altered over the next four years or so, we shall face massive desertions at the next election.
On that point I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said this afternoon. Organisation and efficiency are one thing, and they are very important in relation to the services, but there is no avoiding the crucial issue that more money needs to be spent in each of those areas. I should be much happier if I felt that that point was fully grasped by the new Government.
We have already heard quite a bit about the north-south divide this afternoon. That name masks the fact that there are prosperous and deprived parts in all regions and that essentially this is a problem of the inner cities. Therefore, I welcome strongly the part of the Gracious Speech which deals with urban development corporations. I am sure that they are the right solution. I represent a constituency which has achieved tremendous progress and prosperity as a result of a new town development corporation, and I am sure that that is the way to proceed. But please let us make it plain that these are temporary, not permanent, solutions, and that what we are trying to do is to prime the pump in the deprived areas. We are not acting against local government; we are complementary to it.
Before I entered the House—all too long ago—I served for many years in local government. I know that many of my hon. Friends are angry at the antics of some Labour authorities, and so am I. They have destroyed the essential trust that used to exist between central and local government. But if one supports local government, as I do, as an essential part of Britain's constitution, it must be accepted warts and all. My fear is that all our efforts in these areas will be dissipated by the lengthy debate and parliamentary process that we shall have on the community charge.
Frankly, I think that the community charge is a bad tax. It is inefficient, expensive and unfair. I made those 418 reservations in my election address, so I am in the clear, as they say. But the point that everybody has missed—whether one is talking about the community charge, the rating system or whatever the system of local government finance—is that the burden is too great. Unless the burden is reduced, either by putting teachers' salaries on to the Exchequer, or something like that, no system will be able to work. That is vital to any consideration of the subject.
I hope that over the next four years we shall turn our attention more and more to the progressive elimination of poverty in Britain. I hope that we shall start, first, with the old and then with the young. By that I mean that I hope that we shall move pensions slowly towards a percentage of average industrial earnings. That cannot be done too quickly. I understand the costs involved and the burden that that puts on working people. None the less, I hope that we shall work progressively towards that end.
Secondly, for the young, I hope that we shall steadily increase child benefit because that is the easiest and quickest way to eliminate family poverty. However, to do that, it must be taxed, and I hope that that will be done. These measures to reduce poverty can take place without being a disincentive to work because payments are made to those in work and out of work. That will have a great effect on the so-called divide about which we have been talking this afternoon.
Let me suggest one final method for the elimination of poverty. I hope that we shall have another look at the earnings limit for those who are on benefit. The present £4 limit is ridiculous. It is bad economically and socially, and I hope that that can be dramatically increased.
No one doubts the successes of previous Conservative Governments on the economy, industrial relations and foreign affairs. In addition, no one doubts the radical nature of the measures that are detailed in the Gracious Speech, most of which I welcome wholeheartedly. But all will turn to dust and ashes unless we improve the position of the disadvantaged in Britain and create in truth the one nation that we all desire.
§ Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the parliamentary Session. You have taken a great deal off my mind, and, at the end of this speech, you will have taken a great deal of pressure from my kidneys. I also want to remind you of a promise that you gave me some 14 years ago when, as a young Labour party trainee organiser. I was asked to organise an industrial visit for you in Carlisle. Later that evening, in the Labour club, you told me, with your arm around me, that if there was anything at all that you could ever do for me I had only to ask. Fourteen years on, and the start of this speech, I intend at some time to hold you to that.
It is a great pleasure for me to represent the constituency of Makerfield. Makerfield is an important and traditional part of the south Lancashire coalfield and an important part of the Wigan metropolitan borough council. Before I deal with the major issues of the debate. I should like to take the opportunity to thank two former hon. Members of the House for my being here. Their contributions were radically different, but because of them I am here making my maiden speech.
The first person whom I want to mention is Michael McGuire, who, from 1964 represented the former 419 constituency of Ince and the constituency of Makerfield. During most of that time he enjoyed the support and understanding of his constituency party. For 24 years he carried out his duties in a way which brought him personal credit. The fact that in later years he fell out with his party can in no sense detract from that. It would be churlish in the extreme not to recognise that for most of that time he had the support of his party and in a genuine sense I wish him and his wife every success in his chosen new career.
The second person whom I want to mention was the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, my father. Over the years he has treated me as a father usually does, giving me sound advice which I usually did not take—right hon. and hon. Members know that that is a trait that I have learnt from him—and he has always been an encouragement to me. It is a little disappointing that he is not present in the Chamber this evening as a Member. I also want to wish him and my mother, Margaret, every happiness in their retirement.
Makerfield is one of those constituencies in the northwest of England which is still suffering from the ravages of industrial decline, the legacy of the industrial revolution and the exploitation of the coalfield and the textile industry and the heavy engineering industry. Despite the sensitive and radical way in which the local authority in Wigan has tackled those problems, over the last eight years the authority has been dragged back by the Government's actions.
What I found appalling in today's debate, and in previous debates, is the complete insensitivity of Conservative Members to the plight of working people—not only in the north, but in every part of the industrial heartland of Britain. There is a real lack of recognition of the problems facing working people, not only because of the industrial decline brought on by the Government but because of the major effect on the community produced by poverty and the crushing disability that it brings to working people and their families. The major attack by the Government has been on those people in the front line—Labour local authorities.
I make no apology for being a Socialist member of a local authority. I think that it is time that the people in this country recognised the important role that local authorities play in a democratic local structure, and in developing caring policies to ameliorate unemployment, to deal with inequalities in society and to stabilise it. Democracy is a very fragile thing. It is not just about Members of Parliament, but about real people in communities. One of the major reasons that we have a stable democracy is the role that local authorities have played since the industrial revolution, and the way in which, after the first world war, people came first in their hundreds and then in their thousands to town halls up and down the country and put forward persuasive changing attitudes to policies on housing, social services, transport, education and training.
Those radical changes in policies were significant in terms of where we are today. The people who put them forward did so not out of books, but out of recognition and understanding of living in communities deprived of opportunity—deprived by Conservative Governments and business people whose interests were merely to take profits from communities, and to hell with the people who have to live in them. It is essential, in this and in future 420 debates, that we recognise and understand the importance of local authorities not only in tackling the problems of unemployment and deprivation, but in tackling in a real sense the feeling of alienation among working people, women and the unemployed. If anyone fails to recognise that alienation, he walks about blind. He fails to understand—Conservative Members often do not want to understand—what is happening in the nation today.
In my constituency, which is a microcosm of the northwest, unemployment in two of my wards is over 20 per cent. In the ward that I represent—Abraham Ward—nine out of 10 school leavers last term did not go in to a real job. Car ownership is among the lowest in the country. We have the largest incidence of one-parent families out of Manchester, the largest number of single-person households and the lowest income in the borough of Wigan—itself a low-income area. Probably worst of all, we have the highest dependency rates of families living on one income. On council estates in the Wigan area, between 65 and 74 per cent. of all households are relying on a single income to maintain the family. That income is usually supplementary benefit or some other form of benefit. Twenty-three thousand families in Wigan each week live on supplementary benefit, and we have the largest live load of sickness benefit claims in the United Kingdom.
This is the last school week in Wigan before the summer break, and we have 50,950 pupils. Of those, 10,187 are on free school meals. That represents 42 per cent. of children who go to school and take meals. So far in this financial year, the authority has paid out £440,000 to 13,857 young schoolchildren for clothing grants because their families live on or below the poverty line.
In a recent speech in Wigan, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) talked about young workers living in a "hamburger economy". That is certainly true in Wigan. Even if there is the opportunity of a job, the jobs available are menial and pay less than £1 an hour. Training is almost nonexistent, except for the training schemes run by Wigan metropolitan council—the youth training scheme, the youth technology scheme, the scheme for young workers in the co-ops, the scheme for small businesses to employ young people, and subsidies for the private sector to take young people on. Those are all through a Labour local authority initiative. Why has it been done? Because the private sector which is represented on the Conservative Benches has given up. It is not interested in investing in jobs in Wigan or the north-west. It sees its role as investing in the City; investing in a fast buck; investing in money instead of people and jobs.
What does that mean for our people? They are denied access to the nation's wealth, and denied opportunities that abound for those gentleman on the Conservative Benches every day of the week. They are rarely seen in the Chamber. Between 8 o'clock in the morning and 10 o'clock at night, when they turn up to vote, where are they? They are in the City, stripping the nation of its assets. This is an unrepresentative Parliament. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but they are stripping my people of real opportunities and jobs. That is the typical face of Toryism : they sit and laugh with their feet up on the Benches. The tragedy is that in my constituency people have their feet on benches because they have never been given a job opportunity.
I want to ensure that I do not use unparliamentary language, so I shall use two words. I want to talk about 421 the abuse of the whipping system. I was shocked and surprised when I came here. Over the past week—the relationship has been either pimpish or impish—Conservative Members have been asking me, cajoling me and writing to me: "Please will you be a pair? I do not want to be here after 10 o'clock." The reason is that they do not want to come and represent their constituents; they want to come and represent the interests of business, and when they are not here, they are representing those interests in the City of London. The Opposition should be exposing that type of scandal to their constituents.
I do not mind a whipping system that gives people time off for parliamentary duties. But I object to its being used for people to go into the City and the law courts to earn their coin, while we are sitting here at 10 o'clock watching them voting in the Lobbies and having a go at working people in all forms of legislation.
We must recognise that local government is one of the most emancipating features of modern Britain. In all aspects of our activity, it is local authorities that keep the nation together, and that must be recognised. If the National Health Service is the jewel in the crown, local government must certainly be the crown.
In the Gracious Speech, the Government have proposed a set of legislation that is desperately trying to undermine the work done by Labour local authorities. As a Socialist and a member of the Opposition, I am certain that Labour councils up and down the country will continue in a logical way to represent the interests of our people. I want to ask Conservative Members a number of questions, and they should ask themselves these questions. Do any of their children have to be sent on a youth training scheme? Do any of their children have their dole cut for refusing to be exploited by JTS? Do any of their married sons and daughters have to live on deprived housing estates, surviving on less than £50 a week? Will any of their children be sharing textbooks bought by the PTA at a local raffle? How many of their parents died last winter of hypothermia because of the cuts in benefits for working people?
This Government will not inflict poverty and hopelessness on their own people, and we must ensure that they do not inflict it any longer on our people.
§ Mr. Wareing
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had always been under the impression that when a maiden speech was being made in the House, hon. Members, no matter how much they might be provoked or hurt by a few home truths, would listen to that speech in perfect silence. Am I right or am I wrong? During the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) there were one or two nasty interruptions——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made one overlong speech. He need not make another on a point of order. Yes, it is the convention that when an hon. Member speaks for the first time in this Chamber he is heard without interruption. However. I heard nothing that was out of order.
§ Sir David Price (Eastleigh)
It falls to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on getting over the first hurdle that all hon. Members have to overcome. He seems to add a certain 422 tartan—I would almost say Clydeside—element to the red rose of Lancashire, and it is not necessarily any the worse for that. We appreciated his remarks about his predecessor, because Michael McGuire was respected on both sides of the House—as was the hon. Gentleman's father who for many years was on the Chairmen's Panel. The hon. Member for Makerfield has two excellent mentors in Michael McGuire, and his father, Hugh McCartney. If one wants to influence colleagues in this House, I suggest to him that it is always better to give colleagues, however much one may disagree with them, the benefit of the doubt.
I intend to take up the suggestion of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), and speak to a subject on which there may be consensus. Also, it fits in with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon). I regret that in this long series of debates on the Queen's Speech no day has been devoted to the National Health Service. The House knows that in the last Parliament I was the senior member of the Select Committee on Social Services. We devoted a great deal of time and energy to the subject. A number of reports. as yet undebated, lie on the table, all of which are directed towards improving the NHS.
I draw the attention of the House in particular to the continuing problem of how society can provide the ever-increasing resources that are necessary to meet the ever-growing demands on the NHS. It is not a new problem, but for too long we have not faced it. Since its creation the NHS has been a growth service. The demands upon it have always exceeded the resources that have been made available to meet those demands. In 1970 the British Medical Association reported in an important survey:the National Health Service has never, since the early years, been able to fully cope with the rising demands that it, and the parallel development of new methods of treatment, were responsible for stimulating.In 1977 the then Labour Secretary of State told us bluntly in her publication "The Way Forward":demand will always outstrip our capacity to meet it.At the same time we must acknowledge that over the last 40 years more resources have gone into the NHS. That is not always fully recognised.
If we return to 1948–49 and translate the then expenditure into 1986–87 values, we find that expenditure in 1948–49 on the National Health Service in England was £3.822 billion. By the last financial year, the figure for England had risen to £15.725 billion. That is a fourfold increase in 39 years, but it is not enough. There is evidence throughout the NHS of demands not being fully met—hence the waiting lists for operations.
The problem has arisen partly because the NHS has been a success. Advances in modern medicine have increased rather than reduced demands upon the NHS. That is well illustrated by the increasing numbers of very elderly, frail and dependent people. As more people live into their eighties and nineties, the overall number of people who will be dependent will inevitably grow. So must the resources to provide the necessary care. both within the NHS and in the community at large.
The Royal Commission on the National Health Service, which I remind the House was established by the last Labour Government and reported before they left power, gave this important warning:Whatever the expenditure on health care, demand is likely to rise to meet and exceed it. To believe that one can 423 satisfy the demand for health care is illusory, and that is something that all of us, patients and providers alike, must accept in our thinking about the NHS.If one took that view literally one would despair, but I do not despair. However, all of us across the party spectrum must recognise the key economic fact that the potential demands for health care are virtually unlimited, whereas the resources that are likely to be made available to meet those demands will always be limited. The extent to which we can reduce that gap is dependent upon our relative success or failure in managing our economic affairs. In health care, as in pensions, the aspirations of the caring society must rely upon the success of the economic and commercial society to seek fulfilment.
Since the commercial society is doing rather well, what are the reasonable resource expectations of the National Health Service at the start of this new Parliament? When Ministers appeared before the Select Committee in the last Parliament, they quoted a target of 2 per cent. annual growth rate in real resources. Since then there has been last autumn's statement. Additional money was made available by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to help to reduce waiting lists for operations. Do the Government remain committed to achieving a 2 per cent. growth rate? Furthermore, will additional resources beyond the 2 per cent. already quoted be provided for the NHS?
I believe that because of the improvement in the economy we can do better than 2 per cent. I should like the growth rate to be up to 5 per cent. a year, but that may be pushing my luck a bit too much. Therefore, I would settle for the rate of growth in our economy as measured by the gross domestic product. I thought that this was an original idea of mine until a memorandum came through the post that had been produced by the three leading professional groups within the NHS—the Institute of Health Services Management, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. They held a press conference on it.
The memorandum contains exactly the same proposals as those I am putting before the House; I give up credit for authorship of the idea. I am quite happy to give them full credit for it. The proposal is that spending on the NHSshould rise in line with national income, with separate provision for demographic fluctuations and major new illnesses such as AIDS.I hope that at the start of the new Parliament we shall take that as our national aim and achieve consensus upon it.
Having said that, there are still major allocation and management problems. I shall not detain the House with them this evening, other than to say that I would like to see us move from annual funding to triannual funding preferably. It is extremely difficult for members of regional and district boards, and even individuals running various parts of the service, to operate on an annual basis. We know that the Treasury operates on an annual basis, but we must try—as we did wth the universities in the past—to have a longer period of financing so that people know where they are.
Secondly, what is the further potential for efficiency savings within the NHS? My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Social Services will recall that one of his Ministers told us:this is not a process that can go on indefinitely".424 In other words, we cannot look to savings of the order that we have achieved in the last two or three years to be permanent. There is, therefore, the problem of the need for extra resources to compensate for the extra that we have obtained in the last two or three years from savings.
Thirdly, there is the whole area of pay. I need not remind the House that the NHS is inevitably labour-intensive and that the staff of the NHS are as much a part of the revolution of rising expectation as any other part of our society. They expect to share in it, particularly as many of them began on relatively low pay compared with many of their peers in other occupations.
I draw attention to the proposals of the three institutes to which I have referred, which said of GDP growth :The proposal is intended to cover the normal year to year needs of the health service: it does not seek to provide an all encompassing solution to wider structural adjustments which may be needed to cover skill shortages, catch up settlements etc".I shall not expand that thought, but merely leave it with my right hon. Friend. However, it is extremely important beause nothing throws the finances of a district health authority more than when it suddenly discovers in the middle of its financial year that it must give big pay increases that have not been allowed for in the year's funding.
I also draw the attention of the House to that whole area of increased health care which we loosely call "care in the community." Many of us support that concept and want to see improved care in the community, but I cannot insist too strongly that it is not a cheap option, and anyone who thinks that it is has clearly not gone into the details of what is involved.
I wish to quote what the Select Committee said when it examined the proposition of care in the community in relation to the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, particularly with regard to the Government's continuing policy of closing down long-stay mental institutions. Paragraph 223 of the Select Committee report stated :We wholeheartedly support a policy of community care for mentally disabled people. It cannot be put into practice overnight. It cannot and must not be done on the cheap.I could go further as there is a whole report along those lines, but that leads me to warn the House that if we are to satisfy expectation in community care we must put more resources into primary medical care. I draw the attention of the House to the report of the Select Committee on primary health care which was published in January. It contained 62 conclusions and recommendations, yet it has not been debated. However, I shall resist the temptation to describe that report, even though it is extremely good.
I merely draw attention to one point. Recommendation 12 stated :With an ageing population, earlier patient discharge from hospital—particularly of children, increasing opportunities for diagnosis in general practice to reduce referrals to hospital, as well as greater responsibility for the management of chronic disease in general practice and a greater emphasis on a range of preventive services, the case for further reduction in the GP list size seems unanswerable.That is the key. We must have smaller lists for GPs. Much more can be done in general practice that does not need referral to hospital, just as, conversely, by the development of services, such as community physiotherapy, we give more relief and help to elderly people who do not have to suffer the burden of going to their district general hospital.
If we are to accept this new consensus, we must recognise that any exceptional crisis in health care and 425 health provision must be met by exceptional measures. In terms of money, that means going to the contingency fund, not the normal NHS budget. On that point I again draw attention to one of the Select Committee's latest reports, which came out three days before Dissolution and related to the problems associated with AIDS. I hope that there will be time in this Session of Parliament to debate that report. One paragraph in that report states :Obviously the Government has the lead role to play in responding to the challenge of AIDS—and we arc encouraged by its initial response. However even in these early days of the disease, we received evidence of under-resourcing which disturbed us and to which we have drawn attention. If the current estimates of the likely spread of the disease are in any way accurate, then the demand on resources will increase substantially and rapidly. In our view this rising demand must be met from new resources and not by diverting resources from other parts of the NHS or of the social services.The challenge of AIDS is immensely humbling when we think of what we ought to be doing. In all this there is a basis for consensus which would be very much welcomed by all who work in and use the NHS.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. A large number of hon. Members are still waiting to speak, some of whom to address the House for the first time. Unless speeches are shorter, many will be disappointed.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
It has been interesting to note that since the Secretary of State's opening speech there have been four contributions from the Government Benches that have all been warning shots across the bows. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) warned the Government about licensing. The former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), and his hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), said that more must be spent, especially on housing, and that we must beware of the divisive plans on education. Most recently, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said that more must be spent on social services. Those four speeches, plus a maiden speech, all warned the Government that they do not yet have agreement for the policies contained in the Gracious Speech.
Obviously, I join others in saluting the contributions of the three hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches—two from the Opposition Benches and one from the Conservative Benches. They all warned that in their new home territories all is not yet right. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) spoke of unemployment in rural Suffolk and the need to deal with it. The hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) warned of the needs of areas in which Tories are not commonly found and of the difficulty, despite those needs, of getting the message across.
There is justified worry, because the Gracious Speech clearly states that the Government intend to cut public expenditure. If public expenditure is cut, the people who depend most on it—those who have the least private capital and wealth and who are by definition the most economically deprived—are likely to be hurt most. The people who rely for their opportunities on the public provision are the people who are most likely to suffer from the cuts.
426 If the Government were trying to be fair, to provide opportunities and to remove deprivation, they would not introduce the community charge, or poll tax, which obviously treats people, not according to their ability to pay, but according to a much more arbitrary measure. There are fair ways of reforming local fund raising and local services. The poll tax, or community charge. is not one of them.
If one wants to provide fairness, to remove deprivation, to increase opportunity and to provide a comprehensive employment service, one does not start by saying, -If you do not take the half-baked scheme that we have on offer, you will not get benefit at all." That is not the way to reward young people in constituencies such as mine who have been out of work for years. Nearly one in three adult males in Southwark and Bermondsey is without a job this month. They resent being told by a Government who received about one eighth of the vote in their constituency that they can have no income unless they are willing to take the only training scheme that may hold together.
With regard to education in London, it does not help to deal with inequalities and lack of opportunity if one says, "The affluent, or Tory, boroughs can opt out arid leave the others with fewer funds to try to educate those who need education the most." That is not equality of treatment. That is not advancing the opportunities for people who start off at the bottom of the heap.
We do not know the details of the housing Bill, arid the Government probably do not know them themselves. It appears that there are contradictory voices, and we shall have to await the outcome of the negotiations. However, it is not sufficient to say that private investment alone is the solution. The solution must be a partnership of support and it must meet the needs of those who are and will choose to remain tenants of local authorities.
It is not sufficient for the Government to say that they will continue to help the Health Service. The former Secretary of State for Social Services, who is on the Government Front Bench today in his new role as Secretary of State for Employment, knows that there have been real cuts in the Health Service. He and I debated this issue often during the election campaigning. They are not technical or academic cuts, but real cuts. There must be more public investment. The equation does not add up.
The policies in the Gracious Speech will not provide good opportunities for those who at the moment have least opportunities, and they will not remove deprivation. It was very galling to some of us to note that the Prime Minister was speaking after the end of the campaign as she spoke at the beginning of it. Deprivation and the denial of opportunity are not caused by defect of character. People in the inner cities, the north, Wales, Scotland and the areas that have suffered most do not lack character, resourcefulness or enterprise. They lack opportunity, services and often dignity, and respect from the Government.
We must ensure that opportunity is given for all to advance and that it is given most—this is the test of a good Government—to those who need it most. Opportunity must be individual and collective. There must be personal opportunity—financial opportunity and opportunity in housing, employment, health and education. But people also want a collective opportunity to share in decisions for their communities. They want to be able to mould their lives together. The imposition of 427 solutions by agencies of the Government is not the way to share and to make the right decisions. The maximum democratic power should be at the bottom, not at the top.
Sadly, I believe that the Government, the Prime Minister and her Ministers do not understand, because they come from affluent constituencies, live affluent lives and are politically insulated. They may have looked at the problems, but they have not understood them, and sometimes they clearly are not motivated in the right way. The evidence is clear. The Prime Minister started her election campaign by going to the jewel in her crown, the docklands of London. She went in a bus and hardly stepped out of it. She saw what she wanted to see. She saw development, but she did not see that most of the new jobs were for outsiders, that many of the homes that were being built were second homes, and that many of the people who were out of work six years ago are still unemployed. The number of unemployed in those areas has increased. The number of firms training youngsters is smaller than it was, and the development is often not in the interests of people who need it most. There have been opportunities to plan for the revival of those communities, but the plans that have been carried out often allow for those communities to be exploited by those who start off with the most.
It was not surprising that the Prime Minister ended her campaign by talking about the inner cities. On that fateful night she stood on the steps of Tory Central Office in Smith Square and said :From Monday we have got a big job to do in those inner citiesand then she smiled—because we want them, too, next time.Britain's inner cities are not her inner cities. They are not the Government's inner cities, they are the people's inner cities, towns and country, and we must have a people's Government. If the Government do not heed the voices of their Back Benchers and the people outside in the areas that have not elected Conservative Members, they will leave this country with a legacy of division and inequality that will be worse than when the Prime Minister came to office.
The Prime Minister and her Ministers could realise that it would he better to end their term of Toryism in good faith. They could make sure that the pattern of employment and training allows, with the right investment, for real jobs to be created and real training to be given. They could ensure that housing was not only repaired in the public sector, by releasing capital receipts, but was developed and managed in a more appropriate way. They could realise the inadequacy of the public services and do something to ease the strain on the social services, transport services and the Health Service. They could remove the feelings of alienation that many people still have.
Why should people move from their communities and look elsewhere for work? Why should families have to be broken up because there is nowhere locally for them to live? Why should families be trapped in poor housing while they watch other people's luxury housing being built nearby? Why should that inequality continue? It is no good my constituents asking whether I can give them the list of new housing developments in their borough when the prices of some of the houses are £500,000 or £1 million. These are not acceptable developments when people are 428 living in damp, poor, overcrowded and unsatisfactory conditions. I hope that this belief in the regenerating magic of the urban development corporation, or another quango or new agencies, is not deceiving the Government.
I have two examples of such a mistaken belief. A year ago the Government set up task forces in the inner cities. They set up one in Southwark and another in Kensington and Chelsea. One year later, the Southwark task force having spent only £100,000 out of its allocation of £1 million, a Southwark council spokesman said :All we've seen is a couple of civil servants being put into an office above the local McDonalds. Now one administrator has taken long-term leave because of the stress, and contracts have been delayed by bureaucratic muddles.In Kensington and Chelsea, hardly an Opposition stronghold, the Conservative leader of the council, where also only £100,000 of the £1 million has been spent, said :I would be surprised if it was any more. They haven't done very much here in their first year.Three things are needed : first, investment, not cutting back, so that the common wealth can be shared for the common good and not exploited for the few. Secondly, we need a response to local needs. Region by region, nation by nation, community activities and priorities are different and they must be allowed those differences. Power has to be given away by this all-consuming Government, who want to do everything themselves, believing that they know best. Thirdly, we need conciliation and humility. There must be an attempt to narrow social divides in health, wealth and education. We must not widen them.
When the Prime Minister quotes the Bible, as she often does, she should remember that the teaching of Jesus was that people were judged by what was done to the least of his brethren. This Government must be judged, not by how rich the rich become or how affluent the already adequately well off become, but by how well off after another Tory term those with the less strong voices and the less fat pockets become. That is the judgment of compassion. The economic policy outlined in the Queen's Speech does not suggest that the Conservative Government, even after eight years, have begun to understand.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Nearly 30 years ago. in the debate on the Address that followed Harold Macmillan's greatest victory of October 1959, Nye Bevan warned the packed Tory Benches that we were faced with hours and hours of infinite boredom. My God, he was right. We still are. It will not be long before we Back Benchers, especially those elected for the first time, will ask ourselves what on earth we are doing. Is Westminster, we shall complain, anything more than an echo chamber with knobs on?
We should not feel sorry for ourselves. The newly elected have arrived without qualifications of any kind. It is, after all, open to any British subject over the age of 21 to apply for membership of the House.
The 1922 Committee has never in my time included peers, clergymen, bankrupts or certified lunatics. What then is to be our fate? The hours are unending; the rewards, if the Prime Minister has her way—she usually does—will be meagre, and the job security non-existent. Welcome to the best club in London.
If the newly elected Member ever wonders where the power lies, I can let him know : it is not with him. Power for an hon. Member does not lie in choosing the Executive. 429 Ministers are promoted on the whim of the Prime Minister from a list of the deserving provided by the Government Chief Whip. Power does not lie in the Back Bencher formulating legislation. We can amend it if we are persistent or fortunate, but Government legislation is by the manifesto out of the Civil Service which is responsible for its drafting. Power does not really lie in dismissing the Executive, for if we were to do so the roof of the temple would fall upon our heads. In truth, we are without power, save the power to make mischief. That is one thing that we can do. We can expose the shortcomings of Ministers and in that necessary activity we shall be aided and abetted by the press. It is a task that can be as much a pleasure as a duty.
Of course, the making of mischief by Back Benchers—I see that the chairman of the 1922 Committee has hurried from an early dinner to join us—is in conflict with the desire of the party Whips. "Stop rockin' the boat" has been the cry of the Whips throughout the ages. For them, the only function of a Tory Back Bencher is to sustain the Government in office.
To help us make mischief, we have a couple of weapons. One is the Select Committee, the reports of which can make the most arrogant Minister tremble at the knees. We should thank Norman St. John Stevas who, if there is any justice in an imperfect world, should soon be sitting at the feet of the Lord Chancellor eating bread and butter pudding.
The second weapon could he the television cameras. If we were clever enough to bring them into the Chamber, we the disregarded, or even the deprived, would have a weapon at our disposal which would bring fear into the hearts of our masters. The nation might not be watching, but no one, whether Minister or bureaucrat, could ever be certain of that.
This is a debate on the Queen's Speech. The speech was based upon the party manifesto. In an ideal world, manifestos should be treated like menus—we should choose only from the a la carte. I am certainly overfaced by ours. Listening to it in the House of Lords last week—so familiar in content, so unfamiliar in delivery—I wondered whatever happened to the Conservative party that I knew and loved. We have changed almost out of recognition. Instead of the part of continuity and careful change, it has become the party of reconstruction and radical change. Why not have done with it and change its name—to the Radical and Once-Unionist Party?
After our election victory, the Prime Minister raised three fingers to the nation—one for each of her election victories. We, stranded way up on the back of the Government Benches—Government Back Benchers have long been regarded as the lowest form of political life—should now raise two fingers to the great and the good. That is unless all we want from life is junior office or four more years of infinite boredom.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
It is very difficult to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), but I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I was getting worried and also suffering from kidney problems, having sat in the Chamber since 2.30 pm.
430 I want to thank the people of the City of Durham, and in particular my party workers, who together by their efforts elected me to the House of Commons. It is a great honour to be able to make my maiden speech this evening.
The City of Durham result was very pleasing, because since 1983 we have been told that the City of Durham was one of the most winnable seats for the SDP. That suggestion has now been shown to be a fallacy.
At this stage I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Dr. Mark Hughes, who represented a Durham constituency for 17 years. I say "a Durham constituency" because during that time the boundaries were altered on a number of occasions. I have known Mark Hughes for many years, as I acted as his agent from 1973 until 1983. Mark is a very able person. He was an academic who gave up a flourishing university career to become a politician. Both Mark and I served as district councillors on the same local authority, although obviously at different times. We were both nominated for our parliamentary candidatures by the same Labour party branch—Sherburn and district.
Over the years, Mark's contribution has included being a member of the Select Committee on Expenditure Trade and Industry Sub-Committee from 1970 to 1974 when he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In 1975 he became a Member of the European Parliament. He held the dual role of being a Member of both the European and British Parliaments until 1979. In 1980 Mark became a Front Bench spokesman on agriculture, a post that he held until 1983 and which was of great interest to him. He was also a vice-chairman of the British Council.
As one can see, Mark had an interesting and varied career and will be a great loss to his colleagues and ex-constituents. Mark has been ill recently and I hope that he soon recovers to full fitness. On behalf of myself and, I am sure, the whole House, I should like to give him our best wishes for the future.
In this my maiden speech, I should like to direct hon. Members' attention to my constituency—City of Durham. I am extremely fortunate to represent such a constituency, which is perhaps the most beautiful in the entire country. We have a magnificent cathedral, which was voted the best architectural building in the world, and a magnificent castle. Indeed, the city could be described as the jewel in the crown of the north of England. The view when one crosses the railway viaduct coming north is breathtaking.
In many cases, after going to public schools the children of Cabinet Ministers have ended up at Durham university which is a truly magnificent university. It is historically a seat of learning, spanning the centuries, and continues to be a centre of academic excellence. Incidentally, at the moment it is suffering badly because of scant resources.
Durham is a tourist attraction, and millions come each year to see our beautiful city—and rightly so. As can be seen, I am proud of my city and should like to draw our three excellent golf courses to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley).
However, what the Cabinet Ministers' children and the tourists do not see are the problems that we have in the City of Durham. Most people see the inner city and make their judgment of the City of Durham on that. Many of the villages that surround the inner city do not share the same affluence or splendour as the city itself. In some areas 431 of Durham, we have pockets of unemployment of more than 40 per cent. There are young people who left school at 16, who are now married and have children of their own, who have never worked—not because they are lazy, but because there are no jobs for them. Their enthusiasm and optimism have been wasted on the dole queues and in youth training schemes. Those young people should be contributing so much to our society, but their value is not being recognised. An entire generation of young people in my constituency has never known what it is to have a steady job and to be able to provide a good home in which they can be good parents to their children.
The position in Durham is made worse by the loss of our assisted area status, and urban aid or being classed as a special development area. Our problems in Durham increase, but we are hampered in our efforts to attract industry to the area.
Our mining industry has been devastated and Durham's once famous coalfield is no longer there. The last three collieries, Bearpark, Kelloe and Sacriston, were closed during the last parliamentary Session. That was the end of an era, but there is nothing on the horizon. However, what we have left is the waste and dereliction where the collieries stood, and because of the lack of funds the possibility of transforming those areas into vibrant industrial sites where jobs could be created is, indeed, remote.
Our countryside is further ravaged by the unnecessary increase of opencast mining. The severe impact on the environment cannot be justified, especially when there is a considerable decrease in the demand for coal and the deep pits can produce as cheaply as the opencast mines. Since 1983 the Government have abandoned a target for opencast coal output and left it to be generally determined by the market. Consequently, more pits will close and there will be further job losses in my constituency for those miners who now travel to pits outside the constituency.
After listening most intently to the Queen's Speech, I fear that there is no hope for the north and Durham in particular. I looked in the records to see I could find an appropriate quotation and stumbled upon one made by Winston Churchill—a leader who I know this House holds in great esteem—who has been widely quoted during this last week, and as recently as this afternoon. He said :We know what to expect when the Tories return to power, a party of great vested interest, banded together in a formidable confederation. Corruption at home, aggression to cover it abroad : the trickery of tariff juggles, the tyranny of a wealth-fed party machine. Patriotism by the bucketful and imperialism by the imperial pint. An open hand at the public exchequer, an open door at the public house. Dear food for millions and cheap labour for the millionaire. That is the policy the Tory party offers you".Has anything changed since those enlightened words were spoken over 80 years ago?
Local government has been under serious attack and this attack continues. Durham city council and Durham county council, like many other Labour caring local authorities, have struggled to maintain their services. They have seen their rate support grant severely cut and their capital allocations diminish. Cumulatively they have lost staggering amounts of resources.
432 That has had a dramatic effect on the services provided. Before 1979 Durham city council had a thriving house-building programme. Now it builds virtually no new housing. Its total new build will be 12 bungalows for aged persons, and that will dry up unless more money is made available. Currently there are 3,200 people on the housing waiting lists. That is treble the figure of five years ago. Homelessness has doubled over the same period. One third of those on the lists are single persons and the council has a chronic shortage of houses for the elderly. Over 75 per cent. of the applicants have been on the lists for over one year and in some places for nearly five years.
All the evidence from the Audit Commission and the tenants themselves suggests that Durham is a well-managed, efficient housing authority, giving a good service and good value for money, yet the council is still being penalised. Despite that and with other housing problems—£66 million is needed for housing repairs—housing finance seems certain to be cut again next year and more jobs will be threatened.
In the private sector, some of Durham's older houses are deteriorating faster than its repairs and improvement policy will remedy. The council cannot renovate its older council houses as quickly as it needs to do so. Many are below current standards of repair and facilities and have become difficult to let. Durham's housing conditions and problems are increasing, whereas the money available to remedy those problems is reducing. Short-term economies are producing serious and adverse long-term effects.
I have lived in Durham for most of my life and, like many others, I want to stay in Durham. From the late 1960s the city's population saw a steady growth but since the early 1980s its population has started to fall. It is almost certain that most who are leaving are from the younger, better skilled sectors of the population. That increases the problems of support services and the rate of decline of Durham's economy. Unemployment is at the root of deprivation and it is not surprising that those areas in Durham with dreadful unemployment are also the areas with great deprivation.
Last year a report published by the Northern regional health authority and the university of Bristol highlighted the close relationship between people's health and the deprivation that people experience in their daily lives. It highlighted also the north-south divide, even in the health of the population. I mention this report specifically because in my constituency the village of New Brancepeth was the fifth worst ward in the whole of the northern region. The report found that the areas of highest mortality and morbidity were overwhelmingly in the north, the north-east, Scotland and Wales and were almost entirely absent from the south, except for one or two areas of inner London.
As a northern Member of Parliament whose constituency is directly involved I must say that the time has come for the north of England and Durham to be treated on a par with the south. The divide must be halted. The people of Durham, the north, Scotland and Wales—all areas which have been neglected—have shown the Government through the ballot box that enough is enough. We want equal treatment, jobs, and resources for better housing and health care. The Queen's Speech does not give me or my constituents any hope for a better future. Unless the Government begin to realise that there is a divide and unless they take steps to halt the increasing 433 anomalies, they will be remembered not as the Government of the United Kingdom, but as the Government of the divided kingdom.
I remind hon. Members that I represent a beautiful constituency, but behind the affluence there is misery, grief and suffering. I implore the Government to take steps that will eradicate the feeling of hopelessness of so many of my constituents and to make a start by appointing a Minister for the north and giving the young and their families a chance, because, if they do not, they will never be forgiven.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I join with all hon. Members in congratulating the new hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) on following the tradition of a barbed, non-controversial speech. I made a non-controversial maiden speech, speaking up for my constituents in Birmingham. However non-controversial we intend to be, we all speak for our people and the hon. Gentleman followed that proper pursuit.
Those of us who have the great good fortune to know Mark Hughes, the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, warmly welcome the kind remarks that the hon. Gentleman made about him. As has been said before, our opponents are in front of us and our enemies behind us. Mark Hughes was an opponent and a friend and the hon. Gentleman's good views of him are held by many of us.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) seemed to use against the Prime Minister the fact that on that early morning after a great victory, her first words were about the inner cities. I had just returned home at 3.21 am after treading the streets, as we all had. I remember the occasion well because it surprised and pleased me that her first thoughts after her great victory were for the inner cities. I do not think that it was a cynical view, as the hon. Gentleman said; I think that the Prime Minister recognised it was sad that after a great victory the governing party had no representatives in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds or Liverpool. Indeed it is sad, because the governing party governs for all people. It is to the Prime Minister's great credit that, after a long, tiring campaign, the first views she expressed were about the country's needs and that she would do something about the inner cities where the problems are great, as those of us who represent great cities and problem areas know.
Exhortation, like patriotism, is not enough. We need a lead from the top and it is of profound importance that the lead on the inner cities will come from the Prime Minister, heading a Cabinet Committee which will deal with our inner-city problems. Anybody who comes from cities such as Birmingham, as I do, knows that over the years there has been decay in the cities that were built in the age of Victoria, even if industry has been increasing and improving. In the age of Thatcher, we must do something to ensure that that decay is reversed. Many of us who heard her words will be happy to help her and to ensure that those fine words are made into fine deeds.
As a member of the majority party, I like the community charge, or poll tax, whichever one cares to call it. In a 77-page manifesto, it was made clear that there was a need for change and so there is. There is injustice in the present rating system. But my Government must ensure that we do not replace an unjust system with another system which may be even more unjust. Nor is it any good merely saying that this system is unjust. It is. It is nonsense 434 that a widow with a dependent family pays exactly the same property tax as a neighbouring family with four or five income earners. To say that it is unjust is only to state the obvious. If we are to say that sweeping it away will bring justice, we must recognise that this is not a children's tea party. I think that people voted thinking that somehow, like a children's tea party, we could all have prizes. We cannot. As an individual I shall gain about £2,500 a year. With my sad problems that is good news; I need it. I suffer, but if I gain, someone else must lose. We must ask whether the winners and the losers enjoy the same just relationship.
John Gibson of Birmingham university's institute of local government, for which I have great regard having worked with it for many years, says—he may be wrong—that 8.3 million people could be worse off. It is important, particularly when we have won another great victory, to talk about justice. We cannot raise the £26 billion and more painlessly. The rating system was not devised to raise that sort of money alone; it was meant to be a type of poor law reform, repairing a few roads and potholes.
At present, the rating system is not entirely fair, but let us ensure that when we sweep it away, or people suggest we do, we replace it with a more just system. People may say, "Let's get rid of it because we hate it," but that does not mean that they will not hate the replacement even more. How will it work? According to the Herod principle, with everyone going home on new year's eve to their village to be counted and to pay taxes? Are we to have a system which will result in people becoming gipsies, every three months moving to a different town to ensure that they are not counted? The rating system is bad and it costs 2.5 per cent. of the rates to collect. A poll tax system may cost 7 per cent. or 10 per cent. to collect, so we shall need to raise a further £2,000 million to be where we are now, from where we wish we had never started.
We talk about change and I believe that we need change. But I say to the Government with the greatest friendliness in the world, particularly at the start of a new Parliament, having suffered since 1979 one outrageous fortune after another because of one local government Bill after another and having spent 22 years in local government and eight years as chairman of finance authorities of the great city of Birmingham and the west midlands: "Do not think that by brushing it to one side you will solve the problem. You will not." The money must be found. Local government and the needs of people have so moved on over the years that we are now talking about £30,000 million. It comes either from national taxation or from local taxation, but unless it comes only from inflation and from printing money, one way or another it will come from people's pockets.
The Government should not dispense easily with the rating system. Property tax has a basis of fairness and logic. If it is right to give mortgage tax relief to people who buy their homes—I believe that it is, because no one makes a better investment than buying his own home—we should think carefully before abolishing a property tax and replacing it with a poll tax or a community charge. We need various threads to bring finances into the land, and property tax is a just tax. Those of us who own good homes should be willing to be taxed upon those homes as well. I concede that the Government should set a business 435 tax, as long as it is fairly based upon the local area and is not just a national mish-mash because some civil servant thinks that that is a better system.
Let the Government fix a local rating tax and let us have a community charge, too, so that local authorities will be responsible. But we should not think that because, some years ago, the Prime Minister thought on the spur of the moment—perhaps it was not quite on the spur of the moment—"Let us do away with rates," we now have to do so. We must bear in mind the hopes of the people of Britain and their future and we must try to help individuals. Bearing in mind the fact that time moves on, to say that one was wrong does not mean that one was venal. To say that we should change our views shows statesmanship, not weakness. Let us make sure that, before we take such a giant step, that step is for the better and not into the darkness that might bring more unhappiness than benefits to our people.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I pay tribute to the eloquent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) and to the equally eloquent maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). All of them will make a major contribution to our debates.
There is no doubt that we are in for some controversial legislation which the Opposition will fight every inch of the way. But that will not include agreed measures against crime. One of the most controversial Bills will be the one on the poll tax. No amount of name changing and calling it a community charge can hide the fact that it is a blatant poll tax that will be levied on all, regardless of income.
I accept that the centuries-old rating system has many defects. I was a member of the Select Committee on the Environment in the 1979 Parliament which inquired fully into alternative systems of local revenue-raising. The Committee found that every alternative, including a local income tax, was worse than what we already had. We considered a poll tax, but it was rejected decisively by the Conservative majority on the Select Committee, as well as by the Labour Members, of course. Millions of householders would lose if such a tax was introduced. That is why it will be strongly opposed at every stage by Labour Members.
However, it is interesting to see—as in the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark)—the beginnings of some concern among Conservative Members about what the Government intend to do. At least those Conservative Members, including the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in his speech last night, are beginning to realise the possible effects of a poll tax and the sheer injustice whereby the most prosperous will undoubtedly gain and the losers will be people on modest incomes.
Despite the Government's majority of over 100, if there is sufficient concern on the Government Benches and a willingness among Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Selly Oak to join us in the Division Lobby, we can defeat a poll tax even in this Parliament. I hope that it will not be just rhetoric from the Conservative Members 436 who understand the injustice of a poll tax but that they will show their concern by coming into the Division Lobby with us.
A subject that has concerned me since I have been in politics and which indeed was the subject of my own maiden speech all those years ago, is the need for adequate housing for all our people. It is sheer Tory mischief-making, as we all know, to say that the Labour party opposes owner-occupation. Far from it. Indeed, a Labour Administration introduced the option mortgage scheme and other assistance for those with modest incomes to buy their own places. For the majority of our people, owner-occupation is the solution to their housing needs, and it was always expected—not least by me—that this would become the case in Britain.
However, we are left with a sizeable number of people who cannot purchase their own homes, and there is no reason why they should be denied adequate housing because of their low or modest incomes. The Government have pursued policies that have made it almost financially impossible for local authorities to carry out their responsibility to build accommodation. My own borough of Walsall in the black country, whether Labour or anti-Labour-controlled at various times, has not had the means to carry out any house building during the past eight years. That is true of countless councils, and it has produced a great deal of housing hardship and misery.
Since 1979, capital spending nationally on council house building and on major repairs has been reduced by about 60 per cent. In human terms, it means that young couples, like many of my constituents, have little chance of getting a place to live. Even families with two children have to wait now for years in a multi-storey block of flats before being offered a house. Thousands of families, in London for example, live in squalid bed-and-breakfast hostels which should shame our country. It costs about £50 million a year to provide such bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London alone. In addition, essential repair work is being delayed on older council properties because the local authorities lack sufficient capital.
May I give an example of constituents who live in what are known as Wimpey no-fines properties—concrete properties built just after the second world war—in the Blakenall area of Walsall within my constituency. They are extremely worried about acute dampness and condensation, and the local authority agrees that the work should be undertaken as quickly as possible, but it simply does not have the money to carry out the work. The residents are so fearful that they will have to spend another winter in such conditions that they are coming to London on 22 July to see a Minister at the Department of the Environment. I hope that a Minister will see them. Only today, I reminded the Minister of Housing by letter that my constituents will be coming to his Department in London and that I shall be accompanying the deputation. It would be unforgiveable if, having travelled more than 100 miles and made financial arrangements to hire a coach and so on, my constituents were snubbed.
The Government apparently accept that there is a need for rented accommodation, although I suspect that they sharply underestimate the numbers who require dwellings to rent. The main, important difference between the Government and the Opposition is that the Government believe that the shortfall in rented accommodation should be provided by the private sector through charging market rents. We totally reject that solution.
437 The Government's proposals are to provide new lettings—they emphasise new, rented lettings—to be let at what landlords consider to be these market rents. In those circumstances, I understand, security of tenure may be retained. At the moment it is rather difficult to understand precisely the Government's proposals and obviously we shall have to wait for the Bill. However, a free market in rent levels totally undermines security of tenure. What use is security of tenure to a private tenant if the landlord or the property company, as the case may be, offers a new agreement on a rent that the tenant cannot possibly afford?
Ministers dismiss our concern about the revival of Rachmanism. They say that we exaggerate and that there is no chance that Rachmanism will come back. They point out that existing tenants will not be affected by any new legislation. Rachmanism came about, however, precisely because of previous attempts by the Tory Government to change the privately rented sector. The Rent Act 1957 came onto the statute book to deregulate a large amount of private rented dwellings. Rachmanism, alsatian dogs and the rest of it came about because those totally unscrupulous landlords wanted to ensure that sitting protected tenants were forced out. Once that tenant and his family were forced out, the letting could be re-let without any control, regulation or security of tenure. Ministers described the Rent Act 1957 as a measure that would increase the amount of rented accommodation. That was the justification for the Act and much was made of that fact.
On 21 November 1956 when Enoch Powell—no longer with us—was a junior Housing Minister, he piloted the Rent Bill through the House and said:It will halt the drain upon rented accommodation, it will release additional accommodation which is under-used or wasted, it will arrest the deterioration of millions of houses for lack of maintenance, and it will give to persons who are moving or setting up home the opportunity to find accommodation in the market."—[Official Report, 21 November 1956, Vol. 560, c. 1775]Almost exactly the same words are now being used again by Tory Ministers. That legislation, apart from bringing in Rachmanism, led to a substantial reduction in privately rented properties. More than 1.5 million rented dwellings left the market completely largely as a result of the 1957 Act. Why should we believe that there will be any difference now if the Government's wishes are put into force?
As regards market rents, the House Builders Federation—I mentioned this in an intervention on a speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—points out that in some parts of Britain the market rent would amount to £90 a week. It also points out that that figure compares with the average £80 a week that many owner-occupiers repay on mortgages. Those people for whom we are so concerned, those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and so many others including many of our constituents who are unable to buy a house simply because they do not have the means, but who desperately need somewhere decent to live and who are on the waiting lists, will not be in a position to pay £90 a week, or anything near it, for rented accommodation.
It is obvious that the measures that the Government have in mind will in no way resolve the serious housing problem faced by hundreds of thousands of people in this country whose only crime is that they have an inadequate 438 income to buy a place of their own. For that reason we are concerned about the Government's measures. We have the same concern about the Government's various, vague, but rather obnoxious proposals to encourage existing council tenants to opt out of local authority ownership. The idea that private landlords will come in and carry out the work that is so essential in so many places, be good landlords and act as philantrophists belongs to fairy-fairy land. We all know that to be the case.
If council tenants are given an option, as the Government promise, we will do our utmost to ensure that they decide to stay as tenants of the local authorities. Indeed, they have every reason to continue as such.
I have no doubt that the poll tax, housing, local government services and related matters will dominate this Parliament. During the next five years I am sure that, time and time again, we shall return to those issues. As I said earlier, I hope that if Conservative Members share our concern, certainly about the poll tax, they will demonstrate it in the Division Lobby.
I certainly hope that, by the end of this Parliament, the Labour party will be able to convince the majority of the people to return a different type of Government. We shall do our utmost to ensure that in the next Parliament there is a Labour Government who will be deeply concerned about the problems that I have described and will act accordingly to resolve them.
§ Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)
With respect to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I must confess that I expected to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). I may not agree with her thesis, but she certainly distinguished herself before entering this House. I was thwarted in the enterprise because some of my colleagues left the Chamber, possibly following the revelation from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that, as Back Benchers, there was no point in them being here.
I must disappoint the hon. Member for Walsall, North because I do not intend to indulge in rhetoric against the community charge, or to attack it. The subject of today's debate is inequality of opportunity. I must assume from the negative contained in the title that the subject was chosen by the Labour party. The Conservatives deal in positives. We believe in seeking ways to increase available opportunities for everyone instead of threatening to try to reduce the opportunities of a few in the misguided belief that that will help the rest.
Complaining about our record on equality comes extremely ill from a party that, over the years, has destroyed so many opportunities. The House will remember which Government destroyed the grammar schools and caused the disastrous levelling down of education standards and the demoralisation of secondary education in many parts of the country. The House will remember which party supported the activities of union wreckers over the years. It will remember who allowed our manufacturing industries to be strangled by restrictive practices and lack of competitiveness and who made British industry famous all over the world for strikes. History will judge how many jobs were lost for ever, especially in the north of England and in my constituency, as a direct result of those actions.
439 The situation has now improved out of all recognition. It is sad to note that the Labour party is committed to repeal all our industrial relations legislation that has given rise to this extraordinary improvement. Millions of former council tenants will not forget that the Labour party did its best to prevent them from acquiring the dignity of owning their own homes and taking them out from under the mercy of local housing departments. Those departments were often incompetent or unwilling to maintain their properties.
Equality of opportunity—whether that means equality of access to adequate health, education or other services or whether it means the supply of good, well-paid jobs—cannot be delivered by Governments fiddling around with the benefit or tax system or attempting to reform our institutions. It can come only as a result of continued economic growth. There is no way that the demands on the public services, especially health, can be met without an expanding tax base from an expanding economy. No company will plan to take on more employees unless it has a reasonable expectation that its business will grow.
Jobs result from decisions by companies to invest and to take on more employees. It is now axiomatic that companies work in an international environment. Companies will not take investment decisions in any country unless they can see a favourable political and economic climate. After eight years of Conservative government, we have that climate. That means low inflation, monetary controls, a stable currency and, perhaps most important of all, a radical improvement in industrial relations.
The economic portents at the time of the Queen's Speech are good. We have increasing tax revenues, despite the decline in the price of North sea oil, and falling corporate and personal income tax rates. We have the expectation of continued growth and low inflation, combined with mounting international interest in investing in this country. Best of all, we have the most confident predictions for years of a continued fall in unemployment.
The measures in the Queen's Speech, particularly those on industrial relations, further privatisation and a reduction in tax rates, will build on all those favourable developments.
But what do we hear from the Labour party? We hear of plans to nationalise or renationalise major companies, whatever words Labour Members may use to dress it up, in spite of all the evidence of 40 years that it can lead only to a disastrous waste of financial and human resources, loss of markets and further unemployment.
We hear of plans to repeal employment legislation, which can only result in a return to strikes, restrictive practices and mob rule. We hear of spending plans that would involve huge increases in personal taxation, eroding the incentive to work for many people and rendering many others unable to afford to go out to work at all.
What amazes me—I am sure that I am not alone in this—is that many Labour Members, particularly some of those who sit on the Front Bench from time to time, are go-ahead people who, in other walks of life, would make a real contribution to some aspect of our national life. But what do they do? We see them pushing out tired old ideas, so utterly reactionary that they are no longer taken 440 seriously by anyone who takes even a passing intelligent interest in the world of politics or business. Attitudes have moved on, but the Labour party stays rooted in the attitudes of the 1930s. It fails to recognise that the British work force will no longer be pushed around by the likes of Arthur Scargill. Labour Members forget that people want to own their own houses, their own pensions and shares in the companies for which they work.
They ignore the fact that ordinary people have ceased to trust Governments and local authorities to take a huge proportion of their hard-earned income in taxes and rates to spend, or rather mis-spend, on their behalf. They seem unaware that people now want more control over their own lives, not to be controlled by politicians and civil servants. They seem unable to grasp the fact that new jobs do not come in any economy where Governments interfere in the workplace or the market place.
Opposition Members now speak for and appeal to an ever-declining constituency, consisting of a tiny minority of people who still believe in the Socialist nonsense, despite all the evidence of its destructive effects over the years. That constituency also includes many of the low-paid or unemployed, who may have been conned into feeling that a Socialist Government would have something to offer them personally, and those who have never broken the habit of a lifetime of voting Labour.
The British electorate proved in the recent election that it will have no truck with Socialism or any other reactionary policies that seek to take Britain back to the 1930s. The Labour party presented a campaign aimed at exploiting envy and class hatred, and it failed utterly. The Queen's Speech is further proof that the people have reelected a party, a Government, with a radical programme dedicated to dragging this country away from the prejudices and errors of the past and into the 21st century, with the confidence that everyone who wants to do so can share in the social improvement and greater prosperity for which the past eight years have laid the foundations.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
I am pleased to have the opportunity of addressing the House in this, the first, debate of the new parliamentary Session.
It is the custom for new Members to pay tribute to their predecessors, and I do so willingly. Bernard Conlan, who represented Gateshead, East for 23 years, was a personal friend. His efforts in the constituency were much appreciated, particularly the work that he did in supporting the local power, engineering and shipbuilding-related industries in their quest for ever-elusive orders and new customers. In all his efforts in the constituency he was concerned to ensure that our high unemployment did not become worse. During his career Bernard Conlan was an active trade unionist and had an ideal of co-operation in industrial relations, which, unfortunately, in the present climate of hostility towards trade unions, seems a far-off vision.
In speaking of my predecessor, I should also like to express my appreciation of the help and advice that he was always prepared to give me, both in my capacity as a Member of the European Parliament for Tyne and Wear, and more recently in my role as prospective parliamentary candidate in Gateshead, East.
In his maiden speech my predecessor referred to the fact that unemployment in the Gateshead, East constituency was considerably higher than the national average. He also 441 lamented the fact that insufficient diversification of the local industrial base had taken place. It is a tragedy that 23 years after he made that speech, unemployment in Gateshead, East is now three times higher than it was then and that the hoped-for diversification has not taken place.
The north-east of England as a whole has fewer small businesses as a proportion of regional economic activity than any other British region. We are all too well aware of the distressing tendency of the new technological industries to concentrate in the already prosperous parts of southern England rather than in the areas where they are needed most.
How to deal with the regional imbalances is the most pressing problem that we face, yet one of the glaring omissions from the Gracious Speech is the mention of any regional policy worthy of the name. Opposition Members from Scotland have spoken eloquently of the political frustration felt there, arising from the unpopularity of the Government's policies. I understand their point of view, but it should also be said that there is real sense of anger in areas such as mine in the north-east that people in the better-off regions simply do not care about the unemployment and poverty that many people in our region face.
It is true that the Prime Minister made a fleeting visit to the north-east during the election campaign. She visited the fine new Metro shopping centre on Tyneside, and that seems to have been one of the highlights of her campaign. I wondered whether, as a result, she would abandon her belief in market forces and instead take up a belief in supermarket forces, but the point that I should like to make strongly is that we want to produce more of the goods that are sold in our supermarkets.
In the northern region, we feel that we are being squeezed into our corner of England and that we have virtually no ways open to us of exercising some control over our economic and political future. I should like to see measures of devolution introduced for all the regions of the United Kingdom that want it. In the north, that would mean a regional assembly as well as a development agency with a large budget and adequate economic powers. I noted that in his speech in the debate yesterday the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) referred to the need for an English development agency, but, from my point of view, what is needed is not an English development agency, but an agency for those areas of England that most need the jobs and potential that can be developed for the future.
Being in the European Parliament has shown me that we are in danger of becoming one of the most centralised countries in Western Europe—a clear contrast with the position in West Germany, for example, where two good things happen. First, the regions are allowed economic and political powers of their own, and, secondly, their efforts are backed up by a federal policy of positive discrimination in favour of the least prosperous areas.
In addition to the lack of regional devolution, we are faced with what seems to be a never-ending curtailment of the powers of local authorities. I know that many speakers in the debate have referred to that eloquently. Today's theme is lack of opportunity and deprivation, and that is obviously linked with the regional situation that I have described. If one lives in the northern region, one's chances of finding a job are limited. In fact, one would need to move a minimum of 150 miles away to find oneself in an area with an increased chance of finding new employment. 442 That is tragic, and so is the fact that the northern region is an area of net outward migration, despite the fact that we live in a small island, with more and more of our resources, people and wealth concentrated into one small corner of it.
The lack of opportunity and the sense of deprivation is certainly real in my part of Britain, and the claim that was made during the general election campaign that Britain is booming and that people generally are experiencing a higher standard of living seems like a cruel taunt to the many whose experience is quite the reverse. The prospects for Gateshead and the north-east, if the proposals in the Gracious Speech go ahead, look bleak, yet areas such as Tyneside pioneered our industrial revolution and could do a great deal again if the conditions were right.
A century ago one of the residents in what is now the constituency of Gateshead, East was Joseph Wilson Swan, who, together with the American Edison, is credited with the discovery of the incandescent electric light. Swan's house in Gateshead was the first in Britain to be lit by electricity, and through his invention he gave the whole of Britain a brighter future. I should like to think that the Government will take action to ensure that Gateshead and our other deprived areas have a brighter future in their turn, but it will certainly need a dramatic change of approach from that in the proposals that were outlined in the Gracious Speech if such a desirable result is to become a reality.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
It gives me pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quinn), whom I have known for some time in her capacity as an MEP for our region in the north-east. She has made an excellent start in her contribution and I hope that I shall have the opportunity of hearing her often in the future. We shall disagree fundamentally in many ideological ways, but I believe that she is a good Member of Parliament and has started with an excellent speech. I also want to be associated with her remarks about Bernard Conlan, whom I also regarded as a friend. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) said earlier, we have opponents in the Opposition who can be friends and not always enemies. We shall also miss Bernard Conlan's contributions to this House over many years.
That said, I listened to the hon. Lady's speech and wondered whether it was about the same region of England as that which I represent. Of course, the Conservatives won more additional seats in the north-east than the Labour party this time. I now have as an hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) in a constituency adjacent to mine, and that is more than we had in the last Parliament. I hear all the gloom and doom and pour-more-money-down-the-drain remarks, and I wonder whether the hon. Lady has been to the Nissan factory yet to see what has happened as a consequence of the work that we have done to bring it to the north-east of England. Perhaps she should reflect that it is there, it is successful, and for one reason: it has a single union operation.
Another reason why we have problems in the north-east of England is the stranglehold that the unions have had on that part of the country for far too long. Where else in the world would one find shipyards in which a ship is being repaired, another ship is lying off waiting to come in, and 443 the following happens: the men are told that if they go on strike they will lose the order of the ship that is lying off outside the river Wear and is now waiting to come in? What did the men in Sunderland do? They went on strike, as a result of which they lost the additional work and created the sort of atmosphere in the north-east that drives would-be entrepreneurs and business people away from the area.
Cleveland has been in the public eye during the past two or three days because of a matter that I do not wish to dwell upon in this speech. However, it does not help our cause in the north-east—to improve the lot of the people—if we are saddled with the sort of millstones that have resulted from the activities of the Cleveland county council social services department and the stranglehold that the unions have in the north-east. The Prime Minister was right to say that we must attack the problems of the inner cities. She has also said that we must seek to eradicate Socialism from this country. The last area in which it seems to thrive now—although it is dying rapidly—is the north-east of England. Once we have eradicated that bedrock of Socialism, which is endemic in society there, we will have the same opportunities for our people as exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. There will not be the bleating that we hear about the north-south divide, because everything that is good will exist in the north-east as well.
Nevertheless, the Government have a role to play and they had better listen to some of the voices of Conservative Members from the north-east in this context. It is no good for ever saying that we cannot have a motorway linking the south-east of England and the Channel tunnel with the north-east. We must have one, and the Government have a responsibility to provide it. That is one way of opening up the north-east. If one tries to travel down the A1 now from Newcastle to London one will run into no fewer than 10 lots of roadworks, and the journey for an average lorry driver will take six hours. That is not good enough. The Government must address themselves to that problem.
The Government have recognised the poor standards produced by local governments in the north-east, which is one reason why two urban development corporations have already been announced. They will be the kernel from which wealth will be created, jobs will come and people will be set free from the doctrinaire attitudes with which they have had to live for far too long.
Much has been made of the subject of the community charge and/or poll tax. I suggest that, before the Government rush headlong into it one way or the other, they should look at the whole of local government and examine whether it is absolutely necessary to have county councils, district councils, borough councils, parish councils and town councils, all of which are becoming far more politicised than they ever were. I receive letters telling me that a parish council in my constituency has decided to ban anything from South Africa because it is antiapartheid. It was set up in the first instance to deal with allotments and bus shelters. Such councils were not intended to be places where local people can start to get involved in major affairs of government.
We ought to be looking at the duplication and at the manner in which local government comes about. Perhaps we ought to start by asking what local government should be doing and who should he doing it. Outer London 444 boroughs seem to be quite capable of running their own education and social services and they have all the trappings of county councils, yet we maintain county councils. I served on Buckinghamshire county council. If I wanted to go from the south to the north of the county I had a journey of 84 miles, and those who lived in the south and those who lived in the north had absolutely nothing in common.
I represent a constituency in a small county, Cleveland. That county council is totally unnecessary and bureaucratic nonsense, and the quicker it is done away with the better for the people of Cleveland. Officers of the local authorities are serving as county councillors and county councillors are officers of the local authorities. Therefore, we have the mish-mash of the professional politician. That is quite untenable, but we have brought the situation about and we must address it.
It is no good saying that a report is coming any minute now and that, when it comes, something will be done about it, because setting up a committee in the first place is kicking the problem into touch. The problem is there. We do not need a report—we need action. Perhaps the Government should pre-empt the report by seeking to reexamine the whole role of local government and determining what its priorities are and what they should be.
§ Mr. Holt
Having done that, we should establish and set about funding local government in a proper manner. There is no point in saying that it should be abolished altogether, because it has a role to play. We must determine that role. At the moment there is far too much duplication, waste and lack of accountability and far too many people are elected with no training, knowledge or expertise in anything.
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
Is not the possible answer to my hon. Friend's question and to the theme that he is developing so well that local government is misnamed? It is not government. It has an administrative role which should be discharged as efficiently as possible in accordance with statutes passed by this House.
§ Mr. Holt
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking up my theme and for following it through. Anyone who looks at what has happened in Cleveland county council in the last few days will see that it has lost £250,000 of its pensioners' funds by putting that money into a speculative newspaper. That newspaper was bound to fail, and everyone knew that. However, the council has wasted £250,000 that it did not have the right to lose.
What else has Cleveland county council done? It has just introduced apartheid studies in every secondary school in Cleveland. How many parents in my constituency or in Cleveland as a whole saw a Labour party local government manifesto that said that when Labour was in power it would mandatorily teach the children apartheid studies whether the parents liked it or not? I shall suggest to parents in my constituency that if they do not like it they should withdraw their children from those studies. That is not a right and proper thing to be taught in Britain's schools.
What happens in Cleveland about rate increases? The county council has massively increased the rates. We have 445 the highest rates in the country. Middlesbrough pays the highest rates of any town in Britain. The county council carried out a survey to justify the extent of the increase and announced that everyone in Cleveland likes having a 25 per cent. increase in rates. When I challenged the council and asked how many of the people surveyed actually paid full rates, it took six weeks to acknowledge my letter. It was two and a half months before the council sent me an answer and it arrived one week after the general election. The council came up with the staggering answer that 51 per cent. of the people that it had surveyed paid full rates and that they were prepared to pay an additional 25 per cent. if they were given the opportunity.
During the election campaign I was on the doorsteps of many houses in my constituency, yet I did not find too many people who said that they were not paying enough rates and wanted to pay more. I met a great number who said that they were paying far too much. That is one of the reasons why we cannot bring industry and commerce to the north-east. Industrialists know that they would be bled white by Labour-controlled local authorities which have no knowledge of how to run a business or of how to produce goods. Very seldom have any of them been in the position of employing anybody or being responsible for creating jobs and wealth.
In her contribution the hon. Member for Gateshead, East talked about the need for the north to have its own controlling agency. It had the Northern Development Agency and it was stuffed full of Labour councillors. They spent fortunes. How many jobs did they create? They created none at all. The business community in the northeast got fed up and frustrated and set up the Northern Development Corporation. That has superseded the Northern Development Agency because that was a moribund body, a talking shop, and a waste of all the resources that were poured into it. It had an office in Canada and one in the Far East. People could junket out there and junket back, but they did not produce any jobs. That is why the north-east of England has lost much of its manufacturing base.
There is no point in talking about a Minister for the north or about a northern development organisation that would be separate from this Parliament. One of the things that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East will learn is that from the Back Benches one can get at every Minister of the Crown. If there were a Minister for the north, every time one wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, it would be deflected to the Minister for the north and would not get to the source of the power about which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) spoke so eloquently.
The north-east needs a radical change. We have to eradicate Socialism there, and one of the ways in which to do this is to ensure that the role of the media in the northeast is changed. At the moment people producing material for radio, television and the newspapers openly say that they are producing articles that they think suit the people. We need to ensure that there is a greater balance in the way in which the north-east is shown in the media.
Far too often, only the bad things in the north-east are projected. Let us see some of the good things, and let us see them more often. Let the media take note that the north-east of England will never prosper and survive and develop in the way that we would all like it to do unless the media present the north-east in a light that will encourage people to go there. People must be encouraged 446 to bring business there and to provide employment. It has taken a long time, but we are now beginning to persuade people in the north-east that profit is not a dirty word—that it is out of profit that we get investment and jobs. For years anyone in the north-east who made a profit was automatically castigated, but at long last we are beginning to get the message across that what we need is more profit which will bring extra investment. Investment will bring the jobs and the prosperity and, slowly but surely, we shall sweep away Socialism. At the moment, I am the frontiersman. Everything to the south of me, almost without exception, is blue. Very many of the places to the north of me, almost without exception, are red. Those days are changing. We will move that frontier forward more and more.
§ Mr. Holt
I had to smile inwardly when I heard the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) making his ranting and raving, but so-frequently-made speech about Rachman. I remember hearing the hon,. Gentleman make speeches like that nearly 25 years ago when we were both founder members of Brent council. He has not changed and Socialism has not changed. However, the north-east of England is changing. That is why the Conservative party has had an excellent general election result and next time we will have an even better one.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
I am tempted to begin by asking, "What was I saying when I was so rudely interrupted four years ago?" I remember what I was saying. I was commending the National Audit Act 1983 to the House as a useful advance in parliamentary accountability which did not go far enough. I still hold that view and I hope to return to that subject in debates on the Public Accounts Committee.
I must state how pleased I am once again to represent the people of Norwich, South. The city of Norwich has an incomparable record of Labour-controlled local government, which is now desperately threatened. The city has a cultural tradition in the arts and architecture unlike any other city of its size. It has a formidable intellectual tradition of radicalism and dissent. I hope to live up to those traditions. I pay my respects to my predecessor. and I am sure that the people of Norwich, South thank him for his work and interest in local government.
Today's debate is primarily about inequality and the lack of chances. I intervene briefly because I come from a region that is considered to be on the prosperous side of the divide and therefore free from the curse of unemployment, the decline of public services, increasing homelessness and the lack of opportunity. Naturally enough, things are not quite like that. The years of Conservatism have not been good years for many people in Norwich. We now have more than 8,000 unemployed and 500 vacancies and we have an unemployment rate of 16 per cent. inside the city boundary.
The economy of Norwich is traditionally based on manufacturing industry, in mechanical and electrical engineering, footwear, food, drink and confectionery. We have seen many redundancies and closures of long-established firms in those industries. For example, Boulton and Paul, Laurence Scott, the Co-op footwear factory, 447 Courtaulds, Marconi, the Norwich Brewery and Norplan. The manufacturing base of the city has been massively undermined.
It is true that there has been some growth in retailing and financial services, but many of those jobs are part-time. The result is a grossly unbalanced labour market with very few opportunities for craft trainees and apprentices. Many skilled men and women will never use their skills again. The Government frequently talk of the substitution of manufacturing employment with service employment as if the creation of a job in a boutique selling jeans balances the loss of a skilled fitter's job in electrical engineering. It clearly does not.
For many years, Norwich had a remarkable record in council housing. In the 1970s, it was not unusual for the city to build 600 or 700 houses a year. Last year, it built 80 and this year 40. The housing waiting list is now more than 5,000, and 25 homeless families a month have to be housed. My advice surgeries are already filled with people desperate for a home who are living in cramped, substandard accommodation. What kind of society is it that cannot provide decent rented housing? There is no private solution to the problem when house prices have gone far beyond the reach of those on average earnings.
Education is a key issue in equality of opportunity. As a county borough, Norwich used to have a fine record in education with properly staffed, funded and maintained primary, middle and comprehensive schools. Then education was taken over by the primitives on the Tory-controlled Norfolk county council. Norwich was levelled down to the standards of an authority that has been singled out by Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools as providing an inadequate service. Norfolk county council has a low level of expenditure per pupil, a high pupil-teacher ratio and underfunding of GCSE and even needs to spend £600,000 on fire precautions to meet current standards in primary schools. There are only four nursery schools in the whole county. Thirty-three nursery units built with the encouragement—one might say at the behest—of the present Prime Minister when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science have never been used for their intended purpose. Currently, the levels of school ancillary staffs are being reduced. We have a picture of educational deprivation in what is supposed to be a prosperous county. Poor public services are not related to geography, but are a factor of Conservative control.
There are two important school issues in my county—the failure to provide a new school in Bowthorpe village, a fast-growing area of the city, and the proposed closure of the Bowthorpe comprehensive school, which has an excellent staff, a unique system of pastoral care and good results. It is being closed ostensibly because of falling rolls, although it is clear that there will be a shortfall of 600 comprehensive school places in the city by the early 1990s. The closure of that school by Norfolk county council probably has more to do with the value of the school's extensive grounds. I will be seeking early discussions on that matter with the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
There are also crucial issues in higher and further education in the area. The Norwich school of art—an institution with a national reputation—was first encouraged, as a result of a review by the National 448 Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education, to merge with the Great Yarmouth college of art and design. When discussions were under way, the White Paper on higher education produced in April 1987 proposed entirely new arrangements for funding colleges which left the Norwich school of art as one of the colleges that could be opted out of local authority control altogether. That proposal is repeated in the Gracious Speech. The result is total confusion for that institution. It cannot plan ahead and contemplate development. I hope that the Government will clarify in short order what is meant by allowing some colleges to opt out of local authority control and what that will mean for funding.
Another educational issue of the greatest importance to Norwich is the sudden and massive £4 million cut levied on the funding of the university of East Anglia. That is a cut of 16 per cent. overall and 19 per cent. in the academic cost centres. That will lead to the loss of 110 academic and 75 non-academic posts. At a time when the nation and the region need more graduates, a very well regarded and successful university is singled out for a most destructive attack. What is the rationale for that? By the standards of similar countries in western Europe, we already have a very low level of investment and a low level of participation in university education. However, the Government are now proposing an economy by cutting investment in university education still further.
In all those ways and more, in health, social services and transport, our quality of life in Norwich has suffered for the sake of tax reliefs which most of the beneficiaries hardly noticed. In what is supposed to be a prosperous corner of prosperous England which is envied, I suppose, by most of my hon. Friends, we have rising homelessness, grievous unemployment and deteriorating opportunities for our children. The mean and destructive spirit of present-day Conservative ideology reaches into every corner of our country, north and south. If people are weak, old or poor or do not have adequate economic clout, they suffer.
What remedies are contained in the Gracious Speech? There will be further cuts in public expenditure when we really need more houses, schools, hospitals and more expenditure on roads. There will be compulsion to use the make-weight, make-work dead-end youth training schemes. There will not be more expenditure on our schools, but there is a half-baked and divisive proposal for schools to opt out of the local authority system. There is a proposal for a poll tax. That will be a tax on young adults which will hit students and the young unemployed particularly hard. However, I listened to speeches by Conservative Members today and yesterday which contained many awful warnings about the poll tax. I have an idea that the Government may slink away from that poll tax in the end.
The Gracious Speech also promises the truly ominous privatisation of water authorities. There is the greatest concern for the quality of the water supply in Norwich. We have alarming levels of mercury in our waterways. The Broads are polluted by agricultural run-off. The Norfolk beaches are polluted by sewage. Who will safeguard water and river quality when the Anglian water authority is profit-driven by privatisation?
As it is, Norfolk is an environmental tragedy. Farming and forestry have drenched the landscape with chemicals. In the past 40 years, we have lost 60 per cent. of our hedgerows. Every year, sites of special scientific interest 449 are destroyed. The wetlands are under threat. In Norfolk, we have that unique anomaly in Government that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food pays farmers to drain their wetlands and the Department of the Environment pays farmers not to. The landscape has been destroyed to produce great heaps of grain that nobody wants. Add to that devastation the removal of the environmental protection through water authority privatisation and there will be an environmental disaster. There is great concern about that and other environmental issues in my constituency.
In all those ways, modern Conservatism has meant a reduction in our quality of life and the quality of our community standards. Most of East Anglia may have enjoyed a superficial material prosperity from Conservatism, but many thousands have been left out. I speak for them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Five hon. Members still hope to speak, including two who wish to make their maiden speeches. I appeal for brief contributions so that I can call all those hon. Members before the Front Bench spokesmen.
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
I shall certainly oblige you, Mr Deputy Speaker, in that regard.
I must begin my remarks by sharing with the House a dilemma that I face. I have become a good friend of the previous hon. Member for Norwich, South, yet it is properly my duty to commend to the House the excellent and experienced speech made by the renewed hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). I am sure that he would not wish me to follow his remarks as though he were a maiden speaker. He is obviously returning to the task with experience and familiarity, and has just made a good speech to prove it.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I am not unfamiliar with Norwich. It is, as it describes itself, a fine city, and my late father was an employee of one of the businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred—Laurence Scott. I had Easter lunch with my mother in the Maid's Head. Therefore, as we co-exist in this Parliament, the hon. Gentleman and I will have something that we can talk about.
The same must surely be said of the excellent maiden speech of the new hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin). I knew her in another place—more often than not in Strasbourg, where she did a splendid job as the Member for Tyne and Wear. She made the absolute model of a maiden speech. I hope that her new hon. Friends from the north-east of England will convey those appreciations to her.
I want to make a few limited remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, contained and restrained in the light of your injunction from the Chair, about inner-city areas and local government. It may well be that some hon. Members would give me an argument on my experience of inner-city areas, representing, as I do, the constituency of Solihull, which would not on any test rate as an inner-city area, but in another and previous existence I was leader of an interesting authority called the West Midlands metropolitan county council. Those who are familiar with the west midlands will know that it embraced Lozells and 450 Dorridge and, if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will permit me to say so, Four Oaks and Nechells too. Across the conurbation were the outer prosperous areas, and there were the inner, deprived and needy areas too.
One of the few arguments that retained some validity in the days when we discussed and then abolished the metropolitan county councils was that they could serve as an instrument for sub-regional redistribution of resources between the wealthier people on the periphery and the less prosperous in the centre. However, those arguments became somewhat marginalised by the orgy of overspending that took place in the death throes of the metropolitan county councils. Therefore, perhaps the one valid argument was lost in that rather inglorious and inelegant closing performance.
Many things have contributed to the rundown and unsatisfactory state of our inner-city areas. A number have been touched upon rather combatively during the debate, and I do not wish to make any particularly combative points at this stage. I shall deal with one rather less contentious point, which is that urban sprawl, as it has reached out into the countryside on the edges of our conurbations, has gone hand in hand with central urban evacuation and demoralisation. Some studies, such as those of Dr. Alice Coleman of London university, have shown that the relationship between urban sprawl on the one hand and central urban evacuation on the other is 1:1. That permits the conclusion, not merely that they have gone hand in hand but that those activities at the periphery have helped to cause the disadvantages and the evacuation at the centre.
No one, from whatever place within the political spectrum, would disagree that, ultimately substantial resources must be spent in our inner-city areas and, if I may put it this way as a representative of one of the outer-city areas, it is in our interests to do so. I do not want to live in a prosperous midlands suburb a few miles from a society that is disintegrating, because that is no good for my constituents. If they have to contribute to those costs, I suspect that they will willingly do so.
It is a concomitant tragedy of that situation that much of the land that is now redundant in our inner-city areas is in public ownership in one form or another. If one examines the audit, one finds that it belongs to the water authority, the waterways board, the gas board, the coal board, the city council, and so on. Those parcels of land are languishing on the books of those public bodies at unrealistic book values which might almost be designed to repel any interested inquiry. That state of affairs is leading nowhere and helping no one.
We must grab hold of some of those sites in an imaginative way, award them a pretty broad-range omnibus planning permission and sell then at auction for anybody who will give anything. Let them go away with one condition only attaching to that purchase—that the stipulated or chosen development within the planning permission must be commenced within 12 months and finished within a further period. Such an approach will result in book losses for public bodies. My answer to that is, "So what?" We must move some of those sites, and until we start work on the fabric we shall not start work on the morale.
We have the resources. At the time of the Budget, an interesting and sincere debate showed that there were two sides to the argument. Some said that we should cut taxes, 451 others that we should have more public expenditure. The interesting thing about cutting tax from 33p to 27p is that the net result in the Chancellor's hands is £1.1 billion of extra revenue per annum in real terms. Therefore, those who wish to see more public expenditure and those who wish to see reduced taxation are on the same side of the argument.
As the Revenue is having good inflows of money, as national borrowing is low, and as there are signs of increased economic activity, there is reason for confidence that the pledges in the Gracious Speech about the inner areas will be followed through. The kind of leadership that leads the party that I support does not merely say that it will do it; it does it. We can expect that to take place. I am glad that it will, and I hope that we shall have more bodies like the London Docklands development corporation, which, under the inspirational leadership of Mr. Reginald Ward, has worked a miracle in the Isle of Dogs. I hope that we shall see more of that.
My last remark—I know that others are anxious to speak—concerns the very nature of local government. A complete misunderstanding has become current that supposes local government to be a kind of model village of central Government. It is thought that this legislature, and the Government who come here and respond to it, are one kind of great institution within our society, and the belief has grown up that local government is the same thing, only smaller. It is not; it is quite different. Local government is not governmental, but administrative. It is in place by statute to discharge statutory responsibilities, and the people who are elected regularly to its councils to supervise its discretions should remember that they are there in an administrative role and answer to that in a sensible style.
The Leader of the Opposition, in response to the Gracious Speech, referred to the theft of power from local democracy. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is playing a leading part in misunderstanding the role of local government. I hope that I am not, and that I never have done. I spent 13 years or more in local government, and it has led me humbly to the conclusion that, in stepping into the inner cities, the Government must use their own authority. They may be answerable to the House, through institutions such as the London Docklands development corporation, but if they need to step aside and bypass local government they should do so, and they will have our support in doing so. I recommend that they will succeed only if they do that. I support the Gracious Speech, and those sections of it in particular.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a maiden speech in a debate on the inequality of opportunity in Britain. I do so not as one of the Celtic minorities in the House, although I am so qualified, but rather as an elected representative of Lewisham, Deptford—a constituency clearly located in the prosperous south-east, and a mere three miles from the Palace of Westminster. That constituency was most ably served by my very distinguished predecessor, the late right hon. John Silkin. I know that hon. Members will share my deep regret that premature death has prevented him from serving in some new capacity in his planned retirement from the House.
452 It is almost 24 years since John Silkin made his maiden speech on the subject of the Rent Act 1957 and property profiteering. He pointed out then that the aims of the Act to bring more properties into letting had signally failed, producing instead a property market rife with speculation, extortion and profiteering. Such is the continuing pressure of housing need in Deptford today that I know that he would have had no confidence whatever in the new free market policies for housing outlined in the Queen's speech.
The Prime Minister referred last week to her Government's success in bringing independence and power to the people. I regret to say that that has not been the experience of the people of Lewisham, Deptford. Many of my constituents have suffered the very worst consequences of a divided Britain. Half our manufacturing industry has disappeared since 1981; one person in five is unemployed, and, among those in work, wages are well below the average for the south-east. Yet there is no lack of pride, spirit, determination or endeavour among the people of Deptford. We may live in the deprived inner city, but we still have a sense of community. We want the best for our community in housing, employment and education, and we want it for all the community.
In the Prime Minister's speech last Thursday, we were promised new freedoms and responsibilities in housing, education and local government finance. On behalf of the people of Lewisham, Deptford, I have to ask how those freedoms will be gained and those responsibilities exercised by the poorer members of our society. Or are they lesser beings in the new order? In Lewisham borough as a whole, 22 per cent. of the population live, or rather subsist, on supplementary benefit. The combined waiting and transfer list for council housing alone numbers close on 25,000, and hundreds are literally homeless. Yet no one, in my experience, is seeking dependence. People want the dignity and self-reliance of a job, but there are on average 35 unemployed people for every registered vacancy.
People want improved council housing and better education, and they are willing to pay for it. Indeed, they are paying—paying for collective provision, and repeatedly returning Labour councillors to office. But we are told that a change of tenure is the answer to housing problems in the inner city. Frankly, I find that notion incredible. What alternative landlord is going to provide for the needs of the tens of thousands queuing for homes in Lewisham? What alternative landlord is going to be financially viable—even profitable—in providing housing for the average family, or the pensioner in the inner city? Or could it be that the new landlords will be supplied with the public money denied to elected local authorities? My local council has repeatedly put forward exemplary plans both for its own programmes of house building and environmental improvements, and for employment initiatives in partnership with Government. On the latter, it has even been congratulated by the Department of the Environment on the range and content of the projects submitted.
There is no lack of initiative by Labour councillors in the inner city. There is, however, a dire lack of finance. A Government injection of a couple of million pounds under special programmes goes no way to offset the estimated £137 million lost to Lewisham council in central Government support between 1980 and 1986.
453 I can promise that the people of Lewisham, Deptford will not readily accept cosmetic solutions to their real and pressing inner-city problems. We shall also be looking carefully at the Government's promise to introduce a Billto reinforce the system of firm but fair immigration control.In more than a quarter of the households in my constituency, the head of the household was born in the New Commonwealth or Pakistan. Those people are not seeking open-ended immigration; far from it. But they do seek, and I seek on their behalf, a just law which does not split families, and which gives our black citizens the freedom to receive visitors from abroad on equal terms with everyone else.
Freedom has been a recurring theme of speeches in the past few days. It is a much-vaunted concept, but one around which the House, like Britain, remains divided. As Socialists, we on this side of the House seek freedom tempered with justice, acknowledging that freedom for the strong all too often means exploitation of the weak. Our attempts to secure greater equality are frequently denounced, as they were today by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), as barriers to that greater freedom. However, Tawney said:We must ask the vital question, 'Freedom for whom?' For there is no such thing as freedom in the abstract, divorced from the realities of a particular time and place.I am only too aware of the realities of my inner-city constituency and of the needs of its people. I come here to campaign for those people and to resist every measure that shifts resources from the weak to the strong and from the have-nots to the haves.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I congratulate the newly elected hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on her eloquent speech. She spoke eloquently about her subject and also about her predecessor, the late right hon. John Silkin who was held in such high regard by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He is very much missed by us all. It was good to hear her speak so well of him.
The hon. Lady has strayed quite a long way from her Celtic origins. Furthermore, she can be no believer in the north-south divide, judging by how she referred to the conditions, as she sees them, in her constituency. I was also glad to hear that she seemed to reject utterly her leader's call to scrap all the immigration laws. I am sure that her constituents are pleased that there is to be a firm and fair immigration policy.
The Gracious Speech is excellent. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to his new role and look forward to his introduction of the three pieces of legislation that were outlined in the Gracious Speech. The first relates to the withholding of benefit from school leavers. School leavers should not have the right to go straight on to the dole. However, the Government should ensure that school leavers have a proper choice when they embark upon their careers. It is one of the most important decisions that anybody has to make. School leavers should not feel compelled to take the first job that is offered to them.
The Sun criticised my right hon. Friend for proposing a job search allowance for six months. If he is criticised on both the Right and the Left, perhaps he has chosen the right path. The careers advice that is available to school leavers should be adequate and ensure that sufficient 454 choices are put before them. If they are not to be pushed into the first job that is offered to them, we shall look forward with great pleasure to the legislation.
The legislation on the inner cities is to be welcomed. As the inner cities have been regarded as unemployment sinks for so long, we must take new initiatives. Excellent work has been done by the city task forces. Will my right hon. Friend consider the inclusion of Bolton among those areas where special measures can he taken? There is high unemployment in some areas in Bolton, and they would benefit from such measures. I am not sure whether the proposed legislation would include Bolton, but I ask my right hon. Friend to include specific towns such as Bolton.
The third piece of legislation will deal with the right of individuals not to strike. It will provide for freedom to work. If my right hon. Friend is considering where the balance should lie between protecting the rights of the individual and looking after the cosy interests of the closed shop, I urge him to back the individual every time. It is not always very comfortable when one person is right and everybody else is wrong, but the Government should not flinch from supporting any individual who has to make a difficult choice. It is not easy for the politician who is right when everybody else is wrong. He may find that he is in difficulties. If the Government are wondering where the, balance lies, they should stick with the individual. I hope that the CBI, the Institute of Directors and other employer bodies will not persuade the Government to allow cosy arrangements to continue. The future must lie with the efforts of individuals, and we should back those individuals every time.
These pieces of legislation are the result of manifesto proposals. It was an excellent manifesto. It outlined three guarantees. I have dealt with the 16 to 18-year-olds. There is a guaranteed youth training scheme for them. The manifesto also proposes that within one year a place should be guaranteed for all those aged between 18 and 25 who have been unemployed for six to 12 months. For them there are the enterprise allowance schemes, the job clubs and the new job training scheme.
I am disappointed that the trade unions are backing away from the agreement on the JTS. Ron Todd was a TUC representative when the agreement was drawn up by the Manpower Services Commission. I wonder whether the unions should continue to play a role on the MSC when their role is so negative. They seem to be far more interested in looking after the rights of people in work and are not sufficiently interested in looking after the rights of those who are out of work. The Government should reconsider the role of the unions on the Manpower Services Commission to see the whether or not we should continue their involvement.
I welcome most of all the proposals for those who have been out of work for longer periods and who are aged over 25, because in the past people between the ages of 25 and 50 have been relatively neglected. The number of those who have been out of work for a long time has increased substantially. Before the election I produced a publication called "Operation Longstop"—copies of which are available in the Library—and I am pleased to see that the recommendations in that publication have been picked up to such an extent in the manifesto. In particular, I welcome the improvements to the community programme, so that people need not turn down a place simply because 455 they can get more by way of benefit. The fact that they can get at least as much, or even more, on the new style community programme is very much to be welcomed.
In my book I draw attention to the plight of those who have been out of work for long periods. The number of people out of work for five years or longer has risen from 66,500 in 1983 to nearly 250,000 currently, and I am particularly pleased that the manifesto promises that all those out of work for more than two years and aged under 50—it was a stated aim rather than a specific promise—will be guaranteed a place in a training scheme, the new community programme, the enterprise allowance scheme or a job club. That reflects one of the main recommendations in my booklet "Operation Longstop".
Bolton's job clubs have now placed more than 200 people in employment since the first one opened in September, and anyone who has been out of work for six months or longer is welcome to apply. I appeal to all the unemployed of Bolton who are eligible—of whom there are about 10,000—to apply for a place in the job clubs as they have been extremely successful in encouraging a positive spirit among all those who have participated. I am confident that unemployment in Bolton will drop further if people take full advantage of these schemes.
The latest figure from the Bolton jobcentre shows that unemployment has fallen by 1,500 in the past year, and I am sure that we shall see a continuing drop in the future if people take full advantage of the Government's schemes and our strengthening economy.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I welcome the opportunity of speaking in the debate on the Gracious Speech. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) said that he thought that the topic had been chosen by the Official Opposition because of the emphasis on deprivation and inequality. All I can say is that the Secretary of State's speech left me wondering what the debate was about, as in my opinion it was a gratuitous insult to the honest poor of our nation, given that the first part of the afternoon was devoted to crime and crime prevention. Those who look to the poor for the source of crime are often looking in the wrong place.
At the same time, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), on his tour around the kingdom, forgot that Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom. As a result, I am glad to be able to speak this evening, especially as my colleagues and I represent that part of the nation which is recognised by most as the area of greatest deprivation that has suffered most from the problems affecting other parts of the kingdom—more unemployment, lower incomes, greater poverty and poor health.
I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). He did not allow me to intervene when he referred to Scotland, even though I come from that part of the country which gives Scotland its name—the land of the Scotti—the land of the Irish. As one of the Scots-Irish, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's plea was important.
It was echoed in a fine maiden speech by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), who suggested that there may be a place for regional assemblies, and I was reminded that as Leader of the Opposition the Prime 456 Minister said that it was the task of Conservatives to encourage diversity and to ensure that it could flourish. While there is a tendency to think of central Government as the only way out, it is interesting that many of the Commonwealth countries, the United States of America, which is regarded as our strongest ally, and West Germany all have systems of federalism. The time has come for this House to consider that form of government for the future of the nation and to give a place to the diversity in the regions.
Although this is not relevant to the concept of federalism, the Treasury may consider that, instead of building larger buildings and more offices for Members and staff here, it could spread the finance around and have a House of Commons that deals with the central issues of the nation and give the regions greater power and scope to deal with the diversities that exist.
Northern Ireland is deprived in other ways. It is deprived, unlike any other part of the kingdom, in that joint authority is shared with a foreign Government through the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I would have thought that, almost two years after it was signed, those who are entrusted with administering it would be wanting to trumpet forth its worth. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) complained about the difficulties in getting answers to questions from local authorities. We have similar difficulties getting answers from the Northern Ireland Office. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had an opportunity to answer a simple question that I tabled for answer on 29 June. It asked:in what ways the Anglo-Irish agreement has contributed to peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland since 15 November 1985".His answer was:I shall reply to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible."—[Official Report, 29 June 1987; Vol. 118, c. 28.]I would have thought that there would have been such self-evident benefits at the present moment that he would have wanted to herald them to the world, but the reality is that no benefits have been forthcoming.
We should consider sharing the wealth of the nation throughout the nation. In that context I question the glib use, in debates about the poll tax or revision of rates, that comes through regularly from Government Departments about winners and losers. It would be tragic if, in the words of a very wealthy gentleman, the rich are the winners and the real losers are the frugal poor. Those who are thrifty and who have built the nation to a large extent are constantly penalised.
Due to the time, I am unable to deal with other issues, but I shall deal with one. The people of Northern Ireland have suffered from the use of identity documents when voting. At least 2 per cent. of the people going to the polls, with no one questioning their right to be there, are not allowed to vote. They have not got the prescribed documents. We on this Bench counselled against such a system. We desire a proper identity document for the whole nation. Such a document could be useful with regard to the problem of alcohol addiction, especially teenage drinkers.
Northern Ireland is not being treated as an equal part of this kingdom. We were regaled some time back by guidance that was given to the unemployed to get on their bike and go looking for a job. We had a refinement of that from a well-meaning former Minister of State in Northern 457 Ireland who said that he had gone to America and tried to get them to open immigration so that our people could go there again; no longer on a bike but on a Boeing.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jim Craigen. He is held in very high esteem for his devotion over many years to the interests of the Maryhill people. Since coming here I have met many hon. Members who hold him in high regard as a man of ability who did his work here and in Scotland, particularly in regard to local government, with great distinction. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will join me in wishing him well in his future endeavours. Nothing could give me greater pride than to stand here today as Jim Craigen's successor in a long line of Labour Members for Maryhill.
My constituency has been described in the press as "a citadel of Socialism". That might be journalistic exaggeration, but the answer at the general election to the Prime Minister's threat of bringing an end to Socialism in Britain was to increase a Labour majority of 11,000 to an all-time high of over 19,000. The story is similar all over Glasgow. It is the city that has everything except a Tory Member of Parliament.
In the few days that I have been in the House I have frequently heard Government Members claim that their policies are working, but just a little more slowly in Scotland. We are told to have patience and that all will be well. Let me tell the House just how patient Maryhill will have to be. A total of 29 per cent. of adult males in Maryhill are unemployed. In the Woodlands ward the rate is 34.4 per cent. In Ruchill more than half the unemployed have been so for over a year, and 20 per cent. of unemployed women have been unemployed for three years or more. Half the youths in my ward are unemployed, and the Queen's Speech gives no hope whatsoever of any improvement in their lot.
It is strange to reflect that 200 years ago, the 1784 Tory Government of William Pitt, in the reign of George III, deployed a more progressive attitude to jobs and industry than do their present-day successors. That Government gave a cash grant of £50,000—£25 million at today's prices—to the Forth and Clyde canal company to complete the unfinished canal on a route through Maryhill to link with the Clyde at Bowling. That company was what Government Members would call a "lame duck" company. It had run out of money and could not raise cash on its own. The Government gave real money—not a loan, not a capital allocation, which is Whitehallese for permitting local councils to spend ratepayers' money to pay off interest on borrowing.
Maryhill prospered. The population grew rapidly and industry boomed. Mining, glass-making, chemical, engineering and many other industries flourished, but most of them have now gone. At the height of the prosperity a pub was opened. It still stands on Maryhill road. It is called The Politician because its building was the headquarters of the Maryhill Tory party. However, for many years now Maryhill Tories have drowned their sorrows in the Bearsden watering holes, but even that is no longer the haven that it once was.
The industries that I mentioned have almost entirely gone. It did not all happen in eight years of Tory Government, but the climate has considerably worsened in recent times. Since 1978 many companies have ceased 458 to trade, with a loss of more than 4,000 jobs in my area. Employment in the largest companies that existed in 1978 has fallen from 13,000 to 5,500. However, the people of Maryhill are not cowed. Their vote on 11 June was a warning, and in their own interests Government Members should heed it.
A different but related aspect of the Queen's Speech concerns the rights of trade unionists who are fortunate enough to be in work. The attitude of the Government to trade unions has nothing to do with giving power to the people, but everything to do with weakening democratic opposition to Government policy. This Government will spend any amount of money, as they did during the coal dispute, to weaken trade union organisation. They have victimised trade unionists for carrying out the democratically decided wishes of their members. If this Government want people power, why are the people who work in OUT industries the last to know about management decisions that affect their livelihoods and working conditions? Why do the Government not require employers to give adequate time off for training and education?
Let us consider some of the proposals that the Government have come up with. There is, for example, the inspection of trade union accounts. Why do the Government not bring forward amendments to require the political parties to reveal all their sources of income, or would it be giving too much power to the people if they were enabled to choose a packet of biscuits that did not contribute to Tory party funds?
In the election of trade union executives, double standards are again at work. The people of Scotland voted for a Scottish assembly, and against the Government's policies, but they do not get what they voted for. Whether one is talking about teachers in England or Scotland, about the GLC, GCHQ or the Morris furniture workers in Glasgow who balloted for trade union recognition, the Government respect only the ballots that come up with the answer that they want. Under the new rules that the Government hope to bring in, it will not matter if 100 per cent. of the work force agree in a secret ballot that they want a closed shop. They will not get it.
The Green Paper openly admits that the reason for that legislation is to providegreater flexibility in the labour market and increased freedom of choice for employers when recruiting.That is nothing more than an attack on the ability of trade unions to protect their members interests and an invitation to unscrupulous employers to pay poverty wages. Likewise, the charter for strike breakers who defy the result of a democratic ballot will serve only to bolster the employers' power. It is utter hypocrisy to see that as having anything to do with the rights of trade union members, because trade unions are democratic organisations which know an awful lot more about serving their members' interests than do Conservative Members.
The Government's readiness to exert stringent controls over the conduct of trade union affairs stands in sharp contrast to their willingness to leave the City to its own squalid affairs and to regulate itself. The Government have been rumbled by the voters in Scotland, Wales and the north, and it is no coincidence that the traditions and values of the trade union movement are part of the culture of those nations and areas. That is why the Government are bent, not on ignoring them, but on dismantling their rights to organise themselves collectively.
459 In conclusion, any trade unionist, or any person with a respect for democracy, will fail in his duty if he does not do all in his power to stand up for the rights of working people and in the defence of trade unions until once again we have a Government who truly believe that people should have the power to rule their own lives.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
This has been a good debate, which has been characterised by the real issues of deprivation and lack of opportunity and which has been improved immeasurably by the quality of the maiden speeches. There have been eight maiden speeches today and although that seems an awful lot in one day, all made valid contributions to the issues that are before the House. I welcome the fact that nearly every one of those speeches—perhaps with one exception—overthrew the tradition of not being controversial. Indeed, they were controversial and colourful speeches that reflected the anger felt by people representing constituents who have voted in a particular way because they reject—and rightly so—the Government's policies, as embodied in the Queen's Speech.
I hope that the House will understand that trying to address some of my remarks to those eight maiden speeches will take a considerable amount of the limited time that is available to both Front Bench Spokesmen. However, it would be a discourtesy not to make an effort to comment on some of the points raised in those speeches. I thought at one stage that I might have not to comment on a maiden speech but to welcome the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) to the Back Benches. His contribution reminded the House that it is not "business as usual," whatever the result of the election, and that if the Government fly in the face of the evidence of what the people in certain parts of the country are saying, they will be in for a difficult time. That problem is not limited to Scotland.
The first maiden speech, that from the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) reminded me of the other dissident, perhaps the first dissident of this Government, Mr. Jim Prior, who was respected in the House because he argued that there should be a system for the regulation of fair wages, such as the wages councils. Indeed, because he argued a strong line on that in the Cabinet, he paid the price—as have most of the dissidents in this Government—and left the Cabinet. Indeed, when the hon. Gentleman made his point about the fishing industry I was reminded of the fishing industry in my area. He spoke of the importance of regulation in that industry, yet the Government set great store by deregulation. I hope he has more influence than we have in deterring the Government from deregulation and all its consequences.
My hon. Friends the Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) made powerful speeches, reflecting the cutting edge of those who represent constituencies with high levels of unemployment, considerable deprivation and poverty. Both showed their influence on and experience of local government. It was clear from most speeches that many hon. Members who have come to the House have direct local government experience, and at a time when the Government are mounting a massive attack on local authorities. The theme 460 throughout the debate has been the role of local authorities and that will be a major issue in the coming months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield struck a humorous note when he talked about the circumstances here. He reminded Mr. Deputy Speaker that Mr. Deputy Speaker had promised to do anything he could to help the hon. Gentleman and that he would ask Mr. Deputy Speaker to provide him time for speeches. He reflected the humour of his father, whom we all remember. He seems to have his father's experience and humour, which will undoubtedly stand him in good stead.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) reminded us of that beautiful city, its value and university, as well as the considerable difficulties facing it. When he spoke of golf courses, I thought that he had caught on to a mood. Perhaps he should be making the point about golf courses and everything that is in the air. I think that man will go far.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) made an eloquent speech and I particularly welcome her because we share a record. We crossed the Humber bridge together before it was opened, and when the car crashed I broke my back. She was in the car at the same time and I am pleased to welcome her to the House. We both recovered—[Interruption.] I do not think that she has come to finish the job. We welcome her to the House. She reflected the experience she gained in the European Parliament, especially in shipbuilding and fishing, which was a reason why she visited Humberside at that time.
I certainly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), who is not a maiden speaker but what we call a retread; he is certainly no maiden. He reminded the House that in the areas of considered affluence in the eastern region there is deprivation, high unemployment and real problems with many job losses in the manufacturing sector. He will undoubtedly make considerable contributions to our economic debates, as he did in the past.
The final two maiden speeches came from female Labour Members who reminded us that women were under-represented in the House of Commons. I am glad to see that there are now far more women in the Labour party and I am sure that their numbers will increase as they begin to get a fairer proportion of representation in the House. Both spoke of the north-south divide—a constant theme in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) reminded us that the prosperous south-east has levels of unemployment in some parts of our inner cities as high as exist in some of the worst parts of northern England. It is a division between the haves and have-nots and not strictly a north-south divide.
One million are unemployed in the south. Admittedly deprivation, poverty and unemployment are higher in many northern areas, and we shall reflect that in our debates, but we should not ignore the fact that we have high unemployment, a lack of opportunities, and considerable deprivation developing in our inner cities. That is presumably why we have had a considerable volume of propaganda from the Government about what should be done in our inner cities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) made an important contribution to an issue about which we shall hear more—trade unions and democratic representation. Indeed, we shall hear more 461 about democracy in our debates, whether about the democratic rights of local authorities to have a say in what happens in their areas or about the democratic rights of individual trade union members to have a say in the internal mechanisms of the trade unions and to decide not necessarily to be regulated by statute. She made a powerful point about the contribution that trade unions make to our society. No doubt all of them will make a considerable contribution to our debates, and I offer my congratulations, as will every Member of the House, to them on their maiden speeches. I hope that eventually we can get rid of the word "maiden" and call them first speeches.
I welcome the new Secretary of State for Employment, whom I remember from our debates on transport. I watched him while he was Secretary of State for Social Services, and some of the skills that he learned at the DHSS will be of use to him at the Department of Employment. He is quite adept at fiddling figures, as was shown when he fiddled the hospital waiting lists. I recall the conference when he threw a list of hospitals to everyone and said, "These are the hospitals that we have built," but apparently half of them had not been built or even planned. The Department of Employment has also been adept at fiddling the unemployment figures.
Instead of reiterating all the arguments about unemployment, which is clearly higher than unemployment in any of the major competitors and higher than it was in the 1930s, will the Secretary of State put honesty back into the unemployment figures and calculate them in the same way as other countries calculate them? Why does he not publish a Green Paper on how we will examine real unemployment, not just the numbers of those who are eligible for benefits? If we returned to the regular census reports, people would have more confidence in the figures given by the Department. I hope that the new Secretary of State can end the constant debate about fiddled figures every time the unemployment figures are produced.
The Secretary of State's experience in the administration of social security and unemployment benefits will stand him in good stead in his consideration of reform of the Manpower Services Commission. If he removes control over jobcentres from the MSC and puts it into the Department of Employment, he will be setting up a system whereby the same Department will deny benefit and place pressure on those who visit jobcentres to accept the employment offered or the skivvy schemes that were promised in the Conservative manifesto. He will be in breach of the belief, under both Governments, that we should remove pressure from the MSC and that people should be able to attend jobcentres without the fear of being pressured into jobs or the refusal of benefits. The Government are trying to apply pressure, especially with the coming job training scheme, the youth training scheme and the denial of benefit to which they are committed. It is also probably the first move towards privatisation of those services, but we shall wait to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that.
Another feature of the Department of Employment is the amount of money that it spends on propaganda. The amount spent to publicise the YTS and JTS schemes increased elevenfold from £3 million to £34 million. The propaganda money spent by the DHSS doubled while he was Secretary of State there, although a great deal of it related to the AIDS problem. A fantastic amount of money has been spent by the Government, and by Saatchi and Saatchi in the process, to propagate the Government's 462 case, yet we are promised legislation that will deny local authorities the opportunity to explain their case using their resources. That is another example of the doubletalk that we can expect from the Government.
§ Mr. Prescott
The hon. Gentleman must realise that we have only 25 minutes left, so I shall not give way.
Today's debate was largely about deprivation and the lack of equality of opportunities. The provision of employment is the most important contribution to improving equality of opportunity and reducing deprivation.
I presume that the great emphasis on inner-city policies comes from the Government's new-found belief that something should be done in the inner-city areas. The Government should have accepted the policies that have been advocated over the past 15 years by members of the Labour party to deal with the problems of deprivation.
I notice that the new Secretary of State for Employment has displayed great concern about the amount of money that should be available from his Department for job creation. Indeed, within a couple of days of getting the job, the right hon. Gentleman was on television telling us that a lot more jobs will result from tourism. I worked in the tourist industry, and I can tell the House that it offers low-paid, low-opportunity, low-skilled jobs. Such are the jobs that mainly exist in that industry. It has been easier for such jobs to continue in existence because the protection of the wages earned by people in that industry has been taken away by this House. We are the only country, out of the 90-odd countries that observe the international convention, that has removed the protection on low pay for those in wages council industries.
What especially offended me when the Secretary of State made the announcement on television was that he felt that the way forward was to improve bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London. The reason why bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London is tinder pressure is primarily because an awful lot of people got on their bikes and came down to London. There are 1 million homeless in the London area who have now been pushed into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, financed by the DHSS.
Why are there so many homeless? Why are there cardboard cities? Why are we using bed-and-breakfast accommodation to provide for our people? It is primarily because the Government have denied £18 billion to the local authorities to do the necessary work. They have also denied local authorities the use of £6 billion—a sum that the local authorities have obtained from capital funds—to build houses. The Audit Commission has told us that, in London alone, the Government cut £1 billion for house building from local authorities.
We have witnessed the collapse of public sector house building : the number has dropped from 11,000 to about 2,500. However, the Secretary of State has come along to tell us that the way forward is to improve bed-and-breakfast accommodation, together with an improvement in tourism. That illustrates the difference in our approach to this problem. If one wants to create jobs and meet the needs of homeless people, why do we not release the £6 billion that local authorities have in their accounts and allow them to build houses? The unemployed building 463 workers should build the houses that will reduce homelessness. The local authorities should be able to carry out their traditional role as house builders. That is an easy way of providing real services, meeting real needs, and creating real jobs. The money, labour, resources and demand are obviously there. Why do we not allow local authorities to carry on and do that instead of having the Secretary of State coming on television giving us propaganda about bed-and-breakfast accommodation?
What I find especially annoying about the Government is that they claim that the London Docklands development corporation represents the way forward for urban development corporations. However, it has already been mentioned in this debate that some of the houses provided by that body cost almost £500,000. How do the people of Bermondsey and the docklands afford such housing? Of course, private money has rushed in on a bed of public money to build the infrastructure, but the houses on offer to people in that area cost between £100,000 and £500,000. The income of the average person in that area is between £10,000 and £11,000. How will they raise the money to obtain a mortgage in that area? The area is becoming extremely affluent and the property provided is for those who are extremely wealthy. Such housing developments have little to do with reducing deprivation and the lack of opportunity in those particular areas.
The problems that we face in our inner cities have developed because there is a shortage of training. There is a considerable shortage in every kind of skill. The Secretary of State should ignore what his Department has been saying for the past few years and ignore what is intended for YTS and JTS. They are skivvy schemes and they do not provide qualifications; indeed, they do not provide much opportunity for jobs. That is why people do not want to accept a place on those schemes. Some 20 per cent. turn down a place on YTS and more and more are turning down JTS and workfare projects. All those schemes witness the development of an army of skivvy labour who will be available for the inner-city programmes that the Government are now beginning to introduce.
The Government have made many complaints against the authority of Southwark. Indeed, today Lord Young made a speech in which he said that Southwark does not co-operate. I have considered the evidence. Southwark produced an alternative plan to get people back to work called "A Working Community." Such plans for jobs are always rubbished by the Government, so they sent in a task force. We asked the Government how many jobs it created, what resources it was provided with and what sort of schemes it produced. The then Paymaster General said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) that out of the £1 million available, only about £200,000 had been used. It was used for projects that included the establishment, in co-operation with a clearing bank, of a grant and loan scheme for local small businesses. That was recommended by Southwark council. Twenty places were provided for entrepreneurial training for people from the estates. That is welcome, but it was mentioned in the document "A Working Community". In another project, £12,000 was provided for the improvement of lighting and external security on the north Peckham estate. We all want that—it was recommended in "A Working Community".
464 Other projects involved the establishment of a cooperative shop, and the creation of industrial start-up units from garages. Another project gave support towards training for about 100 local people, which is similar to 20-week JTS training. Finally, there were improvements to two adult education institute branches. The toilets were improved for £4,000 and a training course for 15 disadvantaged local residents was recommended.
After 18 months, the Government produced that alternative to "A Working Community". It represents few jobs and few resources and does nothing to reduce the deprivation in that area. On that basis, the Government give us all the propaganda about the extension to another eight inner-city areas. It is a charade. It does nothing for the real problems in our inner-city areas.
The local authorities have produced job plans and alternatives to the Government's schemes, whether YTS or JTS. If the Government looked at those alternatives, they would find real ideas. But the Government are not interested in those alternatives. They see no role for the local authorities or the trade unions participating in a reformed Manpower Services Commission. They see no role for them in the improvement of the quality of training for our youngsters and in providing jobs for nearly 1 million people of between 18 and 25. All that the Government offer is more skivvy schemes; a conscripted labour force. That is not a way forward for any of our people. It is those schemes and ideas that we in the Opposition shall fight tooth and nail because they do nothing to assist towards the reduction of deprivation or to increase the equality of opportunity in our society.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)
The House has listened to a series of impressive maiden speeches. All the hon. Members referred generously to their predecessors. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) referred to both his immediate predecessors. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) put the case strongly for the east of East Anglia. The hon. Member for Dundee, East set out his case on unemployment, to which I shall refer.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) set out his view of the Conservative Benches, which seems to be that we all work in the City and are perpetually paired. Speaking as someone who has never worked in the City and who does not have a pair, I shall gladly come to an arrangement with the hon. Gentleman.
There were also excellent maiden speeches from the hon. Members for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett)—although, as has been said, he is a retread—for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe).
The House also listened to a typically witty speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) and to powerful speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) and for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), and many others, but, above all, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). He was a most distinguished Leader of the House. His speech was elegant, short and to the point. At the end, in his typically modest way, he said that he was glad to be around. If I may say so, the House is glad that he is around.
465 The theme of the debate was inequality of opportunity. The Opposition's case is significant not just for what they set out but for what they left out. We have not heard a great deal about the need for a successful economic policy, yet there is not much equality of opportunity for elderly people in this country when inflation cuts the value of their savings in the terrible way that it did under the last Labour Government. Labour's inflation of 25 or 26 per cent. was a savage blow to millions of pensioners. We have not heard a great deal about spreading home ownership, yet there is not much equality of opportunity for men and women who are forced to remain council tenants rather than buy and own the houses in which they live.
We are not prepared to take lectures from the Opposition on equality of opportunity, because, like so many of the Opposition's policies, they are based on words, not actions. It is a deception to claim that opportunities can be achieved without successful economic and anti-inflation policy. One does not help the inner cities if one's economic policies collapse in ruins. One does not help the weak if inflation gets out of hand, because inflation robs the weak, not the strong. It hits the pensioner, not the person who is able to adjust his income quickly to rising inflation. All the Government's policies, social and industrial, are within the context of a sound economic policy; and if we do not achieve that, we do not achieve any of our other goals. It has been the consistent failure of the Opposition to recognise that which has helped to doom their position to one of perpetual opposition.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to health care. Perhaps again we can remember exactly what happened under the last Labour Government. They had to cut the capital building programmes, such as hospital building, and the cuts that they inflicted were the worst since the war. Why? Not because the Labour Goverment wanted to do that. They did not want to cut the hospital building programme, but they had no option. The economy was in ruins. The IMF came in and Labour's cuts were the inevitable consequence, with the effects that it automatically had on employment in the construction industry.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to perinatal mortality rates. He failed to point out that improvements in the maternity services have led to a sharp drop in the deaths of newborn babies, from 15.4 per 1,000 in 1978 when he was in government to 9.8 per 1,000 in 1985. There is now more spending on health than ever before, and the policy of redistribution is precisely the type of policy that he advocates. If we are to have a strong Health Service, a strong education service and a social security system that provides help for families, as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes rightly urged, we need a strong economy. The Government have provided that. The Labour Opposition have most conspicuously failed in providing an economic policy with any credibility.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said about the level of unemployment. I certainly agree with him that central to the whole issue of equality of opportunity is opportunity for employment. What I cannot accept is his view of the trend in unemployment. It is true that, earlier this month, I announced a record monthly fall in unemployment, which was down by 64,000 on the seasonally adjusted basis. It is true that the figures have now come down below 3 million and that in May they fell 466 faster than at any time since records began. I should have thought that that would have been welcomed. I thought that it was on that issue that we were being challenged in the last election. However, the significance lies not in one month's figures, but in the trend of unemployment, which has fallen each month for the past 11 months. In the year to May 1987 unemployment has fallen by almost a quarter of a million. It is firmly established on a downward trend.
Let us be clear about what the figures mean not only for one month, but over the whole year. They mean that, during the year, the number of long-term unemployed has fallen by a record 61,000. They mean that, during the year, unemployment has fallen most substantially in the northwest, the west midlands, Wales—some of the areas about which the right hon. Member for Gorton spoke. The figures show that during the year unemployment in Britain fell faster than in any other industrial country and that our unemployment rate is now below that of our nearest neighbours, France and Belgium.
This fall in unemployment has not been achieved by the overmanning of the 1960s and 1970s. The United Kingdom economy is now into its seventh successive year of growth. We have experienced the smallest number of days lost due to strikes for a generation, inflation has come down and our goods are now much more competitive. Although earnings are still rising too quickly, there have been substantial gains in productivity, especially in manufacturing, where the rate of increase in unit labour costs has slowed dramatically compared to that of our competitors.
The conditions exist for a further fall in unemployment, but that will not happen automatically. It is vital that we remember the lessons that we have learned, that industry improves further its productivity and competitiveness and that we recognise that realistic wage settlements give us the firmest foundation for long-term prosperity. In this debate the Government have been urged to act in a number of ways, but it remains the case that the greatest contribution that the Government can make is to provide sound financial policies that will provide the low inflation that is necessary for individuals and for business and industry.
I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in this respect. Beyond their indispensable, strong, economic policy, the Government can take further steps. Nothing is more important than that we should help unemployed people back into jobs by improving training and by improving their skills. The aim is to help the unemployed to take full advantage of today's expanding opportunities. The priority is to help those who have been hardest hit by unemployment, especially the young and the long-term unemployed. To achieve this, the Government are committing themselves to a number of major steps that I hope the House will welcome. First, we are now able to guarantee a place on the youth training scheme for every 16 and 17-year-old school leaver who does not have a job.
§ Mr. Fowler
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East says, the youth training scheme offers training leading to recognised qualifications, and two thirds of trainees go into jobs or into further education—[Interruption.] There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to shout. He was demolished by one of my hon. Friends only last week. If the Opposition are readily interested in equality of opportunity, they should welcome 467 the opportunities offered by the YTS which puts us ahead of most other countries. The fact that we can now guarantee a place to every school leaver is a major step forward.
The second Government commitment concerns the 18 to 25-year-olds who have been unemployed for between six and 12 months. Within the next 12 months we aim to guarantee places on the job training scheme, on the enterprise allowance scheme or in a job club. The people in this group are often too old to have benefited from the YTS and all too often they do not have the skills and qualifications that they need in a modern labour market. That is why the Government are determined to press ahead with the job training scheme that the Manpower Services Commission launched earlier this year. It is a training scheme of high potential specifically designed for the 18-to-25 age group.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West, I think it is a great pity that the Trades Union Congress has now succumbed to pressure to withdraw its support for this scheme. This is despite the fact that the TUC, through its membership of the Manpower Services Commission, participated in the design and launch of the scheme and despite the fact that my predecessor in this office accepted all the recommendations of the commission about the design of the scheme. It entirely exposes the hollowness of the Opposition case when they seek to talk about equality of opportunity. There will not be much opportunity for many of the young people in this age group unless they can get the qualifications that they need.
Our third aim is to work during the lifetime of this Parliament towards the position where everyone under the age of 50 who has been unemployed for more than two years can be offered a place on job training schemes, the enterprise allowance scheme, in a job club or on the new community programme.
The fourth change affects the community programme. The community programme currently provides more than 300,000 long-term unemployed people each year with a temporary job on projects that benefit the community. However, the programme has two weaknesses that are widely acknowledged by those involved. The opportunities it provides are largely part-time and the structure of the programme means that many of the jobs on offer are not sufficiently attractive to people on higher rates of benefit. Therefore, we propose that those working on the community programme should be paid an allowance which gives a premium over and above their social security benefit. That will ensure that no one entering the programme is worse off than he would have been on benefit and that no one is deterred from taking up the opportunities for financial reasons. That is a major reform—[Interruption.]
Those are substantial improvements in the programmes for the long-term unemployed. For the first time we will be able to extend the community programme to people with families, the longer-term unemployed and those who until now have had no financial incentive to take up the jobs on offer. I want to see the community programme 468 revitalised, offering a way back to work for people who until now had nothing before them except continuing and lengthening unemployment.
The fifth and final change concerns the management of the services. It is now clear to us that we will be able to give an even better service to the unemployed if we establish a comprehensive employment service covering the work of the jobcentres, restart, job clubs and the payment of benefits within a single organisation. I am therefore consulting the Manpower Services Commission about the transfer of the jobcentres and the related programmes to the Department of Employment to form part of a new comprehensive employment service. I shall write to the chairman of the commission this evening, and I will, of course, put a copy of that letter in the Library.
The Manpower Services Commission would then be able to concentrate on the vital task of modernising our training arrangements. That aim was set out in the election manifesto. We also said in the manifesto that we intend to enlarge the commission because our training strategy depends for its success on one thing above all else—the commitment of employers. The employers create the demand for skilled labour and they are the customers for it. However, just as important, the enlargement of the commission will mean that we can involve the new growing sectors of employment not now represented on the commission. I have in mind the new technologies, leisure, tourism, retailing, distribution, banking, insurance, financial services and small businesses. Those are the areas in which tomorrow's jobs will emerge. We think that it is therefore reasonable for the commission to be enlarged by up to six seats so that those areas can be represented. The restyled commission will be an up-to-date reflection of the balance of responsibility for training and will speak with greater authority as a result.
The Opposition have chosen the theme of today's debate to be equality of opportunity. They have made a weak case. Indeed, the choice of subject is curious. We have on record the views of the deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who, on "Newsnight" in 1983, said:The Labour party are not the party of equality of opportunity. That is a view of society of the Conservative party. We, the Labour party, arc the party of equality of outcome.I leave it to Opposition Members to define what "equality of outcome" amounts to. By equality of opportunity, we mean equality before the law and defence from discrimination. We also mean the opportunity for people to own homes, to have pensions, to build up savings and own shares and to have the maximum choice over how their incomes will be spent.
By equality of opportunity we also mean that the unemployed must be provided with opportunities to get back into work. Over the next months the efforts of the Government will be directed at that goal, and particularly at helping the position of young people and the long-term unemployed in this country.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.