§ Mr. Speaker
It may be for the convenience of the House if I announce the proposed pattern of the remaining days of the debate on the Loyal Address: Wednesday 23 November: home affairs—freedom, fairness and opportunity; Thursday 24 November—social security and employment; Friday 25 November—foreign affairs and defence; Monday 28 November—environment and industry; Tuesday 29 November—the economy.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I beg to move,.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.I am very conscious of the double honour that is involved in being invited to make this speech. In the first place, the honour falls, rightly, upon my constituency. The Pudsey parliamentary division was created in 1885. Today it is formed from the old borough of Pudsey, which was granted a charter by Queen Victoria in 1901, shortly before her death, and the former urban districts of Horsforth and Aireborough. The area was historically part of the ancient West Riding of Yorkshire, whose disappearance from the map of local government in England my constituents profoundly regret.
Pudsey was first stirred by political excitement as far hack as 1846, when the citizens decided to celebrate the repeal of the Corn Laws by holding a great feast, the piece de resistance of which was the famous Pudsey pudding. It was composed of about 20 stones of flour, a similar amount of suet and very much larger quantities of fruit. It was boiled in a dyer's vat for three days and three nights before being lifted out by crane, carted through the streets and served to the local populace. But the organisers were good Yorkshire folk, and all consumers were charged the princely sum of one shilling each for as much as they could eat. I suspect that that was one of the earliest examples of a means-tested benefit. That, of course, is an off-the-record remark.
The parliamentary seat was a more permanent memorial than the pudding, although over time the Pudsey seat became the Pudsey and Otley seat, and then reverted to being Pudsey. The first representative was a Liberal. The Tories fought back hard, and between 1885 and 1922 Tories and Liberals fought the seat keenly. In the 1887 election, Pudsey headed all the parliamentary divisions in Yorkshire as the seat having the fewest illiterate voters.
In 1922 Major L. H. Fawkes, chairman of the agriculture and drainage committee of West Riding county council, was elected in the Tory interest. The Fawkes family of Farnley hall numbered among its predecessors Guy Fawkes whose attendance at this House we celebrate annually. But the Fawkes family is more justly acclaimed as patrons of the painter Turner for many years.
Major Fawkes was the Member of Parliament for Pudsey for only one year. He saw the West Riding of Yorkshire Drainage Bill safely on to the statute book, and then returned to resume his more potent role on the 7 drainage and agriculture committee. Nevertheless, as befits his ancestry, the beacon lit by Fawkes in 1922 has remained unquenched, and this year we celebrate 66 years of continuous Tory representation in the borough of Pudsey.
There are two other celebrations this year to which I must refer. Pudsey is surely best and most justifiably known as being the birthplace of Sir Leonard Hutton and the training ground of many famous cricketers. For example, I refer to Sutcliffe, Tunnicliffe, Halliday and Illingworth, but Sir Leonard is surely Pudsey's most famous son. This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of his record-breaking score of 364 at the Oval test match in 1938. To mark the event, the Pudsey St. Lawrence club, with a little assistance from the Yorkshire county club, organised a celebration dinner in honour of Sir Leonard, to which nearly 500 people—cricket lovers from all over the world—came to pay honour to the great man.
Another national event took place in my constituency this year. The other shrine in my constituency is Harry Ramsden's fish and chip shop in Guiseley, the largest fish and chipper in the world. On 30 October this year, it celebrated its 60th anniversary, when it offered fish and chips at the 1928 price of 4d or 2p per portion, and it sold 10,182 portions. That celebration was graced by the ample presence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—no, I think that that should read, "The celebration was amplified by the gracious presence"—for which I am extremely grateful.
Although it is not easy to claim that Pudsey is a microcosm of England, it is a microcosm of Yorkshire, and I think that my constituents would prefer it that way. Geographically, the area is located between the major cities of Leeds and Bradford. It straddles the River Aire, with Pudsey on one side and Horsforth and Aireborough on the other, and it reflects in full measure the history of the industrial revolution in West Yorkshire, with the wool textile industry predominating.
The villages of Rodley, Farsley and Calverley, together with Horsforth, Yeadon and Guiseley, all contain old areas of stone housing, fine churches and many fine chapels, many of them within walking distance of the mills that once provided the main source of employment. Those communities are well-established, with a long tradition of independence and a dogged determination to succeed despite the odds. But today the economy is radically changed. New industries—pharmaceuticals, chemicals and light engineering—have grown up. Together with electrical engineering and electronics, they have provided new skills for new markets.
In addition, the economic revival which the Government have set in train has also brought new opportunities for enterprise. For example, the old crane works at Rodley, which were closed by NEI, have been bought by previous employees and management and are in business once again. The Johnson Radley mould works in Pudsey have also been bought back from United Glass by a management team led by some of the original family owners.
New markets for old skills have also been found. The cast iron foundry of Sloan and Davidson, established well over 100 years ago in Stanningley, past masters of 8 decorative 19th century iron work and finials, has recently provided much of the new decorative iron work that hon. Members can see shining at the top of Big Ben itself.
The textile companies that remain have also fought hard to establish new businesses both at home and overseas—Hainsworths, also of Stanningley, exporting billiard cloth all over the world, and Carter and Parker of Guiseley, whose Wendy knitting wools click in many languages.
Those things do not happen by accident. They happen because entrepreneurs and skilled craftsmen take full advantage of improved economic circumstances, and that, combined with Yorkshire grit and not a little Pudsey pride, has meant that unemployment in the Pudsey division is now below average for West Yorkshire, and the prospects look increasingly bright.
In March, my constituents in Pudsey were delighted by a visit from the Prince of Wales to the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Parachute Regiment at Thornbury barracks. This part of West Yorkshire has strong links with the Territorial Army, and I know that the visit by its colonel-in-chief was a great boost to the local volunteers and their families.
Likewise, my constituents in Horsforth gave a rousing welcome to the Princess of Wales when she came in September to visit the Barnados regional headquarters. That was an occasion unrivalled for local schoolchildren, but especially for those young people—many from tragic backgrounds—whom she met. I suspect that all my constituents are baffled, if not appalled, by the recent adverse exposure given by journalists to this admirable and hardworking couple, who bring so much joy and so much happiness to so many people. How difficult it is, and how long it takes, to establish high standards in public life. How quickly and how easily can those same standards be wantonly undermined. This is a Loyal Address, and I trust that it will long remain so.
I am conscious, too, that the second honour in moving this motion falls upon me as the representative of Pudsey in Parliament. I was honoured to be invited to join the Government in 1979 and to serve throughout the first two Administrations of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, as is her wont, certainly kept me on my toes. I started in Northern Ireland, and when, after 18 months, the prisoners went on hunger strike, I was moved. I then went to the Department of the Environment, where I spent two years with responsibility for, amongst other things, the water industry. We had the first national water strike ever, and I was moved. Undaunted, my right hon. Friend tried again and off I went to the Department of Energy, with responsibility for the coal industry. The miners struck, and I was duly moved.
Following that, with even greater courage, my right hon. Friend moved me further up the picket line, to the Home Office, with responsibilities for the police. I had not been there too long before we had riots on the streets, and I was moved. But such was my right hon. Friend's magnanimity that she sent me to the Department of Industry, which, I must confess, was not noted at that time for ministerial longevity. However, I had the supreme satisfaction of working on the progress of British Steel towards privatisation, which is to be realised very shortly. That is an achievement which surely marks a special phase for Sir Robert Scholey and his admirable team at British Steel. I worked, too, on the welcome resurrection of the 9 Rover Group, which, under the splendid leadership of Graham Day, has now moved forward to the position whereby an acquisition is being arranged with British Aerospace.
When, at my request, I returned to these Benches after the last election, it was with a memory bank of unique and happy experiences in five different Departments, under seven Secretaries of State, for which I am profoundly grateful. I thought that possibly this was my last move, but, I suppose, it reached the Whips Office that I am a mover and that from time to time, in racing parlance, "a nice little mover" is required. So I have been allowed one more outing today.
My constituents would wish me to say how delighted they are that the Gracious Speech refers to President Gorbachev's visit next month. Frankly, no further evidence can be needed to establish the British Prime Minister as the most influential statesman in the Western world. It is that position which gives such strength to the commitment in the Gracious Speech to a strong, internationally based defence policy. I especially welcome the stress laid on the elimination of disparities in conventional forces. My constituents wholeheartedly support a defence policy based on strength, from which all successful negotiations must flow.
I welcome, too, the commitment in the Gracious Speech to environmental issues, but I can think of no area of public policy where there is such a credibility gap between the desire to achieve and the willingness to pay. Environmental problems are complicated and extremely difficult to solve. They involve changing public attitudes as well as practices, and they take a long time to work through. Only a strong and growing economy can afford such a commitment, and the Government are certainly courageous to take up that challenge. Such policies will have a profound influence on the privatisation of the water industry, which is referred to in the Gracious Speech.
I am a strong supporter of the water industry, which has for too long been restricted in its ability to raise capital to meet the rising standards, expectations and increasing obligations that have been heaped upon it. But the country should be left in no doubt that the joy of green policies can be achieved only at the pain of substantial increases in costs and prices.
In constituencies such as Pudsey, environmental issues are keenly felt. The residents action group of Calverley jealously guards the open spaces that still remain, few though they be, between Leeds and Bradford. The conservation group of Horsforth is particularly concerned about the problems of pollution in the River Aire. It is good to know that such issues have now moved towards the centre of policy making.
Any programme of legislation is a matter of choice and selection, with demand nearly always outstripping supply. On the question of social legislation, the Gracious Speech indicates that the Government have decided to give priority to the implementation of changes in the law affecting child abuse. I welcome that. Recently, in common with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have become involved in these tragic issues. I am sure that my constituents, especially those in Rawdon who have helped to lead the Leeds parents action group, and those in Swinnow who have suffered under the present system, will be delighted to hear of the Government's commitment to give priority to implementing the findings of the Butler-Sloss inquiry.
10 My constituents will also welcome the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911, and the more permanent arrangements to be made for the prevention of terrorism. I believe that the people of Pudsey and Guiseley are amazed that we have continued for so long with temporary measures on the latter, and that we have allowed the Official Secrets Act to fall into such disrepute, bearing in mind how important it is to maintain confidentiality in the public service. That we should be bringing the Security Service on to a statutory basis also shows immense political courage. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have little time this Session for writing novels—despite, I suspect, an abundance of plots.
I note the references to changing the law on company mergers. That too I welcome, bearing in mind the concern expressed by many hon. Members who represent Yorkshire and elsewhere at the Nestle takeover of Rowntree. It would appear that the present position of awaiting a decision on referral favours the predator rather than the prey. I hope that that imbalance will be corrected in the forthcoming legislation.
The Government's overriding objective, however, must be to pursue economic policies to contain inflation, as emphasised in the Gracious Speech. My constituents know quite a lot about thrift. They understand that high interest charges will deter borrowing, but they also note that higher interest rates and mortgage rates will increase the rate of inflation. Their question is, "By how much and for how long?" Presently, the answers to those questions are unclear. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reassure my constituents about that when he comes to address the House.
The Gracious Speech sets out a full programme for a full Session, indicating once again the Government's commitment to the radical restructuring of Britain, which they began in 1979. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can rest assured that the Tory voters of Pudsey will continue to back her judgment with their support and her confidence with their commitment. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)
I am delighted to second the motion.
When I had recovered from the pleasant surprise of being asked to make this speech, I consulted a few of my hon. Friends on what was expected of me. I asked one how long my speech should be. He said, "Well, I have never heard one that was too short." Bearing in mind that we are here today to listen to the protagonists of the debate I shall follow his advice, but it is unusual for a humble Back Bencher such as I to speak to such a full House. I am used to an audience of 20 at about 8.15 pm, when everyone else is having dinner.
Some things have changed a lot in the past 100 years. In 1888 the Loyal Address was moved in the House of Lords by a Scottish earl in full Highland costume, and in the House of Commons by a Mr. Wharton, attired in the uniform of a deputy lieutenant. During his speech, Mr. Wharton said that it was 14 years since he had last spoken in the House. I doubt that any of us could get away with such reticence today.
In other ways, things are surprisingly similar. One hundred years ago the Queen's Speech dealt with, among other things, the Russian-Afghan border, troubles in 11 Ireland, local government proposals to mitigate the burdens on ratepayers and the promotion of technical education. Fifty years ago, in 1938, it dealt with young offenders, education and improvements in public health. It is interesting to reflect how the same problems seem to recur and how each generation must find new solutions. Perhaps it should serve as a warning to us that few, if any, of the problems that we face are new and that none of the solutions that we find is likely to prove timeless.
In seconding the Loyal Address 50 years ago, Mr. Markham said that his first impression was thatthis House, having recently had a rise in pay, was now in for a considerable amount of overtime and overwork.I expect that those sentiments will be echoed today. I should like to say on behalf of some of my colleagues on the Government Back Benches that there is one item that we are sorry is omitted from the Gracious Speech. That would have been to raise to 90 per cent. the majority necessary to suspend the Ten o'clock rule.
Fifty years ago, Mr. Markham went on to say:In commerce … we have regained our old place of first among all competitors. Even in football a British team is now able to beat the rest of Europe by a resounding margin."—[Official Report, 8 November 1938; Vol. 341, c. 17–19.]Unfortunately, we can no longer make the second of those claims, but I am glad to see that my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Minister with responsibility for sport, plans to introduce proposals to make the spectators behave better, even if he cannot improve the quality of the team.
In 1974 the Loyal Address was seconded by the present Leader of the Opposition. He said that he and the proposer of the motion were fellow members of the Tribune Group, which he described asThe light cavalry of the Parliamentary Labour Party". —[Official Report, 12 March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 51.]I wonder whether that was an entirely happy choice of phrase. My military history is not too strong, but I seem to remember that the light cavalry's most famous outing was in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. However, if the right hon. Gentleman feels that it is still an appropriate phrase, I am sure that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be happy to play the part of the Russian guns for his Light Brigade, although I am relieved to see that he cannot quite muster 600.
My constituency is an inner London seat, but it is mainly suburban in character. We have little or no local industry and most people commute to work in central London. We have some beautiful public parks and leafy, tree-lined streets, but we also have some rundown council estates, with their associated inner-city problems. Most people are very prosperous. Many more now own their own homes. They have enthusiastically taken advantage of the opportunities open to them. They will welcome the commitment in the Queen's Speech to continue the economic policies that have brought that prosperity. However, others have not been so fortunate; some through no fault of their own. Old age, sickness and disability can leave people with few opportunities. I welcome the Government's efforts in housing and urban regeneration to help improve their job prospects and living conditions, but there is still much to be done.
Lewisham, West is a bell-wether, in that in every general election except one for the past 50 years it has gone with the Government. The exception was when Chris Price held the seat in 1979. One of my most distinguished 12 predecessors was the father of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who held the seat from 1938 to 1945. Lewisham, West has also been represented by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I cannot help noticing that the electorate has a nasty habit of moving its Member of Parliament on every election or two. I hope that that is a fate that I shall manage to avoid.
For almost all of the last Parliament, one of my neighbours was John Silkin. No new Member could have asked for a kinder local colleague. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) we mounted several all-party campaigns for the benefit of Lewisham and, as a result, I learned a great deal from Mr. Silkin and those occasions. His sudden death was a tragic loss. I am glad to have this opportunity to pay tribute to him, because I know that he is remembered with great affection on both sides of the House.
Like all hon. Members with less than 50 per cent. of the vote, I keep a close watch on the party in third place in my constituency, which over the past few elections has run Liberal and alliance candidates and, in future, I suppose there will be Democrat and SDP candidates. I find it all confusing. I want to do all that I can to help it maintain its vital 15 per cent. of the vote, but I no longer know where to send my subscription. I thought that I had it straight. I thought that members of the SDP were watered-down Tories and that Liberals were watered-down Socialists. However, I do not know where a Democrat fits into all that. Perhaps it bears out the famous letter of A. P. Herbert to The Times, in which he said:
Dear Sir, The Liberal Party is like a herring, its backbone is to the left or the right, depending upon which way you open it.I welcome the commitment in the Queen's Speech to take action to improve standards in education. Londoners have been concerned for some time about the apparent lack of importance attached to the achievement of high standards, and they will support such measures. My constituents will also welcome the commitment to strengthen and improve the National Health Service, which they see as a guarantee of health care, regardless of ability to pay. I also welcome the proposal to denationalise electricity, which for the first time will give those who work in it and its customers a direct participation in their industry.
In Sir Humphrey Appleby's "Yes, Minister" diary, there is an observation on the need for mandarins to control Ministers which says that avoiding precedents does not mean that one should never do anything, merely that one should never do anything for the first time. The Queen's Speech must be upsetting Sir Humphrey.
Like many of my colleagues, I became actively involved in politics in the mid-1970s because I was concerned at the direction our country was taking. Above all, I wanted to see the re-establishment of a free enterprise economy, and I am happy and proud to have played a small part in that during the five years that I have been here. Whatever our different views and experiences, we are united in having the privilege of serving in the House, of living in a country with an elected parliamentary democracy, of being free to say what we like, and being governed by the rule of law which only Parliament can change. Those are rights and 13 freedoms that have taken a long time to develop, and our greatest trust is to guard them carefully for the generations to come.
§ 3.3 pm
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
I am sure that I speak for the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I warmly compliment the hon. Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) on their excellent speeches in proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Pudsey enjoys great respect and not a little affection in this place, both of which will have been enhanced further by his brilliant and beautiful speech. Since it would offend him, I will not put it in the Hutton class, but I shall refer to another Pudsey lad, Herbert Sutcliffe; as parliamentary speeches go, it was in the Sutcliffe league. I warmly compliment him on it.
Such are his personal qualities and capabilities, manifested in ministerial roles as well as on the Back Benches, that I thought that the felicitous feelings about the hon. Gentleman went well beyond the Chamber. Therefore, I was somewhat suprised to see that Mr. Colin Welch of the Daily Mail, not characteristically an uncharitable man, described the hon. Member for Pudsey as aroly-poly version of Dr. Bodkin Adams.I am willing to subscribe a pair of opera glasses to Mr. Colin Welch because from where I stand I see a fairish, not to say gingerish, thinning-on-toppish, not over-tall, pleasant sort of cove—the kind of personal characteristics which, for some reason or other, I find completely acceptable. The hon. Gentleman is not at all like Dr. Bodkin Adams.
The courtesy and capability of the hon. Member for Pudsey are obvious to everyone. They are so obvious that, as you may know, Mr. Speaker, there was some astonishment in the House earlier this year when there was a noxious and unsubstantiated rumour circulating in the House that someone, somewhere was trying to procure your removal from the Chair to make way for a replacement. This may not have come to your notice, Mr. Speaker, because I realise that such things often do not. However, I read in the Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph that the name most frequently circulated at the time as a potential replacement was that of the hon. Member for Pudsey.
I could not believe the story and I do not think that any other hon. Member believed it, because from our knowledge of the hon. Gentleman's character, there was no possibility of any such vaunting ambition being entertained in that talented yet modest breast. All became clear when I read the "Peterborough" column in The Daily Telegraph last summer. It said:Any premature controversy about the Speakership would wreck the Prime Minister's plans to appoint another Conservative to succeed the present Speaker.Clearly, someone was taking completely justified pre-emptive action—what in Welsh rugby we call getting your retaliation in first. It absolutely ensured that there was no possibility of embarrassing you, Mr. Speaker, or the hon. Member for Pudsey. All that concerned me as that episode closed was that someone, somewhere had taken the name of the hon. Member for Pudsey in vain.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West made an equally distinguished contribution and paid a thoughtful and sincere tribute to the late and much-loved John Silkin. The 14 hon. Member for Lewisham, West is a newer Member, but he has already earned a reputation for considerable perspicacity. That was evident early in his parliamentary career to those of us who watch these things. In his maiden speech, made just three weeks after he came to the House, he offered an answer to the tiresome problem of local rates. He offered the idea of a poll tax. He talked ofthe introduction of a poll tax of about £25 per year on everybody over 18 who was neither unemployed nor living on supplementary benefit".—[Official Report, 1 July 1983; Vol. 44, c. 849.]Since that time, and in terms that will be familiar to you, Mr. Speaker, an amendment has been made.
The perceptiveness of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West is not limited to local government finance. It extends to public transport. Not long ago, he told a survey, an examination, of the way in which hon. Members get to the House:maybe if everyone else stayed off the road, public transport would be quick enough—but it isn't yet … so I use my car.Such candour is admirable, and goes with the hon. Gentleman's many other qualities.
The proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address do not have in common only their abilities. They are joined by the fact that they are both economic evangelicals. The hon. Member for Pudsey has, for more than 10 years, been an enthusiastic advocate of British membership of the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West has forcefully argued for some years, in the Financial Times and The Times, for the use of credit rationing, as he put it, toactively restrain bank lending to individuals and property companies while encouraging lending for productive investment.I do not want to cause trouble for either hon. Member, but I wonder what the Chancellor thinks of these various proposals. Perhaps he will tell us when, next Tuesday, he gives us his response to those charming speeches, and to the ideas that both hon. Members have rehearsed with some conviction.
I hope that the Chancellor will also give us answers to other questions. Perhaps he will tell us, as I am prepared to accept, that what he really had in mind was a new benefit with new money to help some of the poorest and most elderly of our people. I am sure that that is what was in his mind, but why did he feel that it was necessary, when he was about to offer such a bonus and such mercy, to "educate" his Back Benchers to give him their support?
There are basic policy questions as well. We want to know whether the Government's intentions towards pensioners' benefits are guided by the reality that there are 3 million retired people officially in poverty and another 3 million who are very near the poverty line. Will that be the reality that guides the Government's intentions, or will those intentions be guided by the completely unfounded and unsustainable assumption that only a tiny minority of pensioners have difficulty in making ends meet? We want an answer on that both from the Chancellor and from the First Lord of the Treasury.
I have asked the Prime Minister three times whether she agrees with the Chancellor's view, as expressed at the Lobby briefing, and thrice she has denied him. Perhaps it was not entirely to do with the Lobby briefing. Perhaps it was to do with wider reasons, for, after all, this is the Chancellor who, as recently as last March, told us in his Budget speech that we could expect a balance of payments 15 deficit of £4 billion, and the balance of payments deficit is now £12 billion. This is the Chancellor who told us in his Budget speech in March that he expected an inflation rate of 4 per cent.—still too high, he said—and we now have an inflation rate of 6.4 per cent. and rising—the highest of any major industrial economy.
There is no oil price hike for the Chancellor to blame, no surge in commodity prices. This inflation did not come from external sources, but was made in Downing street by a Government who deliberately foster a consumption surge financed by credit and by a Chancellor who has now resorted to the primitive single instrument of interest rate rises to try to cap that rise in credit and consumption. Inflation comes from mortgage rate increases and rent increases, from price rises imposed to fatten the electricity industry to prepare it for privatisation, from postal charges and from transport charges. Those price rises across that wide spectrum are all supposed to be the firm financial policies designed to bear down upon inflation. The Government's rises in prices do not bear down on inflation—they bear up underneath inflation, and force it higher all the time.
Because the Chancellor insists on using that single weapon of interest rate rises, there is another result. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West has pointed out, as the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) has pointed out, as the Opposition have pointed out and as the Chancellor himself admitted in his Autumn Statement, using interest rate rises as the sole instrument of economic policy bears down much more heavily on investment than on consumption.
The result is that, even if the Chancellor were to get the soft landing that he hopes for, in its wake would be left an economy that is under-trained, under-financed, under-invested and losing its market share and competitiveness. It would then have to face the extra pressures and challenges of the single market of 1992. Those are the weaknesses that the Chancellor should now address. If he does not address those basic, long-term weaknesses, the forecast that he made in the Autumn Statement, that next year the growth of imports would be cut by more than half and the growth of exports would increase by two and a half times, will turn out to be false, and as fraudulent as the estimates that he gave us in the Budget of a different level of inflation, a different balance of payments and different money supply figures.
The Prime Minister rightly said two months ago:the health of the economy and the health of the environment are totally dependent upon each other.When such sentiments were expressed and we were told in the same speech that protecting the balance of nature isone of the great challenges of the late twentieth century",we could reasonably have expected that the Queen's Speech would propose new legislation, new regulations and new investment to face up to that great challenge that the Prime Minister correctly identified.
We and the country had reason to believe that the Queen's Speech could be a green speech, but all we have is the vacuous statement that the Governmentwill continue to attach very great importance to protecting our environment, both nationally and internationally.They say that they will continue that policy, yet British research into the ozone layer, climatic changes, carbon dioxide discharges and energy efficiency are all cut and 16 insufficiently financed. They say that they will continue to protect the environment, yet Britain has the dirtiest beaches in Europe, 11 million people in our country are obliged to drink sub-standard water and there is no strategy for managing the increasing quantities of toxic and hazardous chemical waste. The Lancet can report an "uncontrolled" outbreak of salmonella disease, the incidence of which has increased by nine times in the last few years, yet the numbers of environmental health officers are cut because of local government cuts.
The Government say that they will continue to protect the environment, yet senior members of the pollution inspectorate resign because of lack of Government commitment and there are no serious proposals from the Government for conserving energy and reducing its use, which is widely understood to be the single most important policy for reducing the greenhouse effect. How, then, can we accept that the Government will continue to protect the environment?
If attaching "very great importance" to the environment means anything, the Government should now embrace the "green gauntlet" challenge thrown down by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund in the form of 30 practicable proposals, and should immediately introduce the kind of policies set out in that consensus document. If they were to do that, they would prove their earnest and they would also obtain support throughout the House; as the majority of the major proposals of that document have been Labour party policy for years, we would support the Government with enthusiasm. Until the Government take that course, the undertaking toattach very great importance to protecting our environment",will come to a very great nothing. That is why we have to secure the change.
It would not be true to say that no Bills of environmental importance are promulgated in the Queen's Speech. There are two, both with significant impact on the environment, but neither brings anything of benefit. The Government propose to sell control of the water and electricity industries to private monopolies. Both proposals will be long debated and strongly resisted by Opposition Members. Some Conservative Members share our view that the privatisation of a natural resource such as water and a vital service such as electricity has no justification in common sense or in the common interest.
There is no reason of public service or consumer interest that can justify the sell-offs. There is no industrial, strategic or economic logic to them. Those who buy the water and electricity industries will do so for gain. It will not be malevolence that makes them look for profit before anything else; it will be a sheer business requirement. To make that money, the owners of the water and electricity companies will either fail to make the necessary investment in standards and safety or they will introduce huge increases in charges regardless of the ability of consumers to pay. A nuclear tax and a water tax will be levied by private monopolies in those industries.
In a broadcast over the weekend, the Minister for Water and Planning said that the only way for improvement in the water industry was to sell it off. That was absurd in a country in which large-scale, long-term investment by private industry is the rare exception, not the regular rule. Indeed, it was the very condition of the industries and their private ownership that produced the 17 practical reason for taking them into public ownership. Those acts of community ownership of essential assets did not come as an application of ideology. It is certain, however, that the sell-off of these industries is the product of nothing but the application of ideology. The British people bought and paid for the industries over the decades, and they will pay dearly for this application of Government ideology.
The Queen's Speech contains a reference, rightly and obviously, to Northern Ireland. There has been a further year of terrorism and tragedy and today, once again, a family in Northern Ireland mourns a murder. Before the Government introduce the measures that are suggested in the Queen's Speech, I shall refer to the decision, news of which came this week, to cut neighbourhood policing, transport policing and crime prevention, to close some police stations and to reduce the hours that other police stations remain open in Northern Ireland.
Those decisions would in any event be a cause of objection and reconsideration for all parts of the law-abiding community in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, but the concern that the changes in policing have generated was raised to a different level by the broadcast by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office on Sunday. When questioned about the changes in policing by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he said:We didn't choose the priorities. It was the Chief Constable.That was one of the most disingenuous and disgraceful statements to be made by any Minister. Everyone must know that the responsibility for the cuts and transfers in the RUC lies with the Government, not with the Chief Constable, not with the RUC and not with the police authority. Any shortages that brought the changes must be made good.
The Minister's attempt to avoid blame was only the latest addition to a long list of such evasions. It happened only a couple of weeks ago, with the publication of the Fennell report on the King's Cross tragedy. It appears that there are no backstops in Whitehall. It seems that the Secretaries of State for Transport and the Environment were so busy washing their hands of responsibility that they could not pick up their pens to write out the resignations that they should have tendered.
Another example of evasion has arisen with the regrading of nurses. Ministers at the Department of Health have encouraged health managers to take their nurses to court. Do not the Government understand that loyal nurses are angry and dismayed at the way in which they have been treated? If they do not, they should meet nurses such as the sister who came to my surgery a week ago. She has worked for 19 years as a sister and she finds herself on a low grading. There has been no negotiation, no consultation and no explanation.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman says, "Appeal." Of course she is appealing. Do not the Government understand how insulted and let down nurses of that experience feel? That explains the feeling in the profession now. She is the kind of nurse who has never extended her tea break. Like so many other nurses, because of her dedication she works hours of overtime without pay, as a matter of course. That is the kind of person whom the Government must be concerned about when feelings of bitterness and resentment are obvious.
18 If the Minister needs convincing, he should meet the registered general nurses who hold registered mental nurse or registered certified midwife qualifications and see how they feel. After all that additional training, they find themselves on low grades. In this, the era of the specialist nurse, imagine how staff nurses who want to undertake extra courses to meet shortages in intensive care, paediatric intensive care, midwifery and mental illness, feel when they are downgraded to D during the time that they attend courses. What inducement is that to the modern nurse of either sex to train for the additional qualifications necessary to end the shortages?
A nursing auxiliary at the North Middlesex hospital was referred to last week in Nursing Times and Nursing Mirror. She was awarded a British Empire Medal this year for her services to nursing and then put on grade A, the lowest grade. I suppose that that says it all about the insensitivities, inadequacies and lack of negotiation and consultation built into the grading system.
I appeal to the Secretary of State for Health to meet the working nurses from the Royal College of Nursing, from the Royal College of Midwives, from the health visitors, from the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National Union of Public Employees. It does not matter about the unions: he should meet the nurses and see how they respond. He should tell them that he will guarantee to ensure that the review will be fair and speedy and will take proper account of qualifications, experience and responsibility.
A short time ago, the Prime Minister rightly told us that responsibility goes hand in hand with freedom. She said that those who seek one must be prepared to offer the other. Of course, the Prime Minister's words were absolutely true. The connection between freedom and responsibility is the contract of democracy. When we consider the Gracious Speech today and consider so many of the Government's actions, we and many others say that the Government are not keeping that contract of democracy.
I know that the Prime Minister said last week that sometimes we have to sacrifice a little of the freedom that we cherish to defend the greater freedoms. That is axiomatic. If it was not, we could drive on any side of the road that we liked; all suspects would be free to roam the streets until the trial; and any newspaper could publish any article about any secret without regard to vital interests of national security. If we did not concede some freedoms, we would have less freedom. So much is obvious.
Freedom is not a matter of absolutes; it is a matter of balance. In this country, people of all parties and of no party now consider that that balance is shifting and that the Government are controlling and regulating. They see the ending of the right of silence in a police station and the imposition of a duty of silence in the television station. They see that coming forward in an official secrets Bill which will make it illegal to publish stories which we can read freely now in any serious newspaper. They see that power is being moved relentlessly in favour of the state. They feel that the balance of freedom has swung against the civil servant, the newspaper, the broadcaster and the individual citizen who wants the right to object and the right to know.
Those people who are concerned about the changing balance in our country agree with Edmund Burke: they understand that liberty must be limited in order to be possessed. They do not seek licence, and they do not 19 support lawlessness, but they want the balance of freedom to be retained and they want the rights of information, privacy and expression to be expanded in this mature democracy, as they are in other democracies. Instead of that, they are convinced, with us, that the shifts in the balance that are taking place do not safeguard, but curtail, essential liberties.
We shall resist those shifts against the rights of the subject in the many Acts that come from the Government. We shall resist with reason and with argument. I put it to Conservative Members, again in the words of Edmund Burke, that all it requires for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. I appeal to the good people in all parts of the House to join us in stopping the shift to centralisation, control and censorship that is jeopardising liberty in this state, under this Government, with this Prime Minister.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
First, I join the Leader of the Opposition in warmly congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) on the most excellent speeches that they made in moving and seconding the Loyal Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is famous for his wit and affability, and his performance today was even better than his reputation. It was an absolutely marvellous speech. I noticed that he was typically modest about his own contribution to government. We miss him very much—[Interruption.]— but one of the advantages of being on the Back Benches is that we are able to hear him move a most excellent Loyal Address today.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West on a typically persuasive and thorough speech. I enjoyed it very much. I have a fellow feeling with him, being a London Member, particularly as we suffer from RAWP in the Health Service, as he knows well. It was a most excellent speech and I, too, hope that he will keep his seat for as long as I have kept mine—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I did not wish to interrupt the Leader of the Opposition, but will hon. Members below the Gangway kindly refrain from chatting?
§ The Prime Minister
Let me deal quickly with some of the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition before making my remarks on the Gracious Speech.
There are now far fewer pensioners on low incomes today than there were—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
There are far fewer pensioners on low incomes today than there were 10 years ago. Ten years ago, 38 per cent. of pensioners were in the bottom one fifth of national income. Today, only 24 per cent. of pensioners are in the bottom fifth—an enormous improvement.
Domestic electricity costs 8.1 per cent. less in real terms today than it did five years ago. But it is quite misleading for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that we can have all the environmental improvements and all the improvements in electricity and water quality without 20 having to pay the price. Of course there is a price for environmental improvement, and we should believe that it is a price worth paying.
A report by scientific experts which was put before the North sea conference, which was held in Britain, confirmed that the state of the North sea was generally good and that environmental damage was largely confined to localised areas such as the German and Dutch Wadden seas. If people are interested in the cleanliness of rivers, they might turn their attention to cleaning up the Rhine.
With regard to the RUC, I may point out that expenditure in 1986–87 was £319 million—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have drawn to the attention of right hon. and hon. Members seated below the Gangway my views on talking during the speech by the Leader of the Opposition. I now say to those seated above the Gangway, and especially to those who are members of the Opposition Front Bench, that they should not seek to interrupt the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When my right hon. Friend was speaking, there was noise not only from below the Gangway but from the Government Front Bench, about which you, Mr. Speaker, said nothing. Frankly, I resent the threat that you, Mr. Speaker, make to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is no question of a threat. I say to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who is a member of the Opposition Front Bench, that he should set a good example.
§ The Prime Minister
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the resources available to the RUC. In 1986–87, they totalled £319 million. For the current year, 1988–89, £385 million will be available, and next year a figure in the region of £414 million will be available to the RUC. That is a substantial increase in resources for that brave police service.
The right hon. Gentleman referred also to the clinical grading of nurses. Almost half a million nurses, midwives and health visitors will have to be regarded, and nearly £1,000 million has been provided for that purpose by the taxpayer. The overwhelming majority of nurses are very satisfied with their grades. There is a very limited amount of trouble, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be seeing the Royal College of Nursing. Most taxpayers do not understand why, when they have provided the amount for that award in full, there is still trouble. We hope that we will get an improvement in the Health Service.
The Leader of the Opposition finished by making the astonishing claim that things are being more centralised. I counter his claim very strongly. In taxation, for example, the Government are taking a smaller proportion of the national income; the right hon. Gentleman wants the Government to take a bigger proportion. In nationalisation, we are privatising and taking powers away from the Government and giving them to the people. In education, we are giving far more powers to parents and taking them away from central Government. In council housing, we are giving far more opportunity to the people to have capital than the Leader of the Opposition would ever have given. In share ownership, more opportunity has come from the Government to the people. All those are movements of 21 power from central Government to the people, giving them far more independence—which is something that Opposition Members cannot stand because they want people to be totally and utterly dependent upon the state for pretty nearly all their needs and wants.
I turn to the Gracious Speech—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I say to both sides of the House, if we cannot have freedom of speech in this place, where can we have it? We ought to set an example by listening to one another in silence and with mutual respect.
§ The Prime Minister
The Gracious Speech makes clear the Government's determination to hold to firm and successful economic policies. We shall continue to bear down on inflation, to keep firm control of public spending, and to promote enterprise. Those are the policies that have brought a period of unparalleled prosperity to the British people—prosperity that has been shared by all income groups.
We are now in the eighth successive year of economic growth, averaging over 3 per cent. In terms of output per head in manufacturing we have not yet caught up with our main competitors, but after two whole decades—the 1960s and 1970s—when the United Kingdom was at the bottom of the growth league, in the 1980s we have climbed to the top of the table.
Unemployment has now fallen for 27 months in succession. Over the last year, it has been falling in all regions, and the unemployment rate has fallen faster than in any other major industrial country. Growth has been spread widely across the economy. In particular, manufacturing output is at its highest ever level. These policies have produced extra resources for public spending priorities, such as the Health Service, pensions, the disabled, scientific research, defence and the police services. But total public spending, although it is at record levels, now accounts for less than 40 per cent. of national—income for the first time in over 20 years.
The extra spending has been financed soundly, but combined with lower tax rates. At the same time public borrowing has been eliminated, and we are now on target for a budget surplus of some £10,000 million in the current financial year. As a result, the burden of debt interest will fall, thus releasing more resources within the same total of public expenditure for priority programmes. That is truly a virtuous circle.
The achievements under this Government reflect the new vitality of our economy. This year the number of small businesses is increasing at a rate of nearly 1,000 a week, and since 1980 manufacturing productivity has been growing at over 5 per cent. a year. Under the last Labour Government it averaged only just over 1 per cent. a year. Buoyant investment across all sectors is further strengthening our economic potential.
For the public sector, the plans set out in the Autumn Statement provide an additional £2.25 billion of capital spending next year, taking the total to over £25 billion. For example, there will be £440 million more for public sector housing and £250 million more for water and sewerage investment, taking this year's total capital investment in water to £1,500 million. There will be £220 million more for motorways and trunk roads, taking this year's total capital investment to £1,310 million. There will also be £170 million more for the Health Service.
22 Investment by the private sector has been growing rapidly. Total private investment in 1987—some £60 billion—was over 15 per cent. higher in real terms than in any year under the last Labour Government. Now, in the first three quarters of 1988, investment by the manufacturing, construction, distribution and financial industries is 13.5 per cent. higher than it was in 1987.
With all the talk about investments by overseas businesses in the United Kingdom, let us not forget that British businesses are expanding their overseas holdings and investments at a far higher rate. In the 12 months to June this year, the value of takeovers by overseas companies in this country was £2,900 million. In the same period, British businesses made over 550 overseas acquisitions, with a value of £13,700 million—over four times as much.
These are investments that are earning—and will continue to earn a big return for Britain as the revenue from North sea oil diminishes.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Does the Prime Minister approve of the Australian bid for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries plc and the moving of its major financial headquarters out of Edinburgh?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman knows that the bid has been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. He is well aware that while that reference is being considered, it is utterly improper for any Minister to make a statement about the matter.
Industrial profitability has risen every year since 1981, so business today is able to finance a large part of its investment from retained profits. However, the personal sector also needs to save. Considerable attention has rightly been given to the fall in the savings ratio and to the increase in personal borrowing. Much of that extra borrowing is by people who are buying their own homes or by people who are purchasing shares, insurance policies, and so on. However, some of the borrowing has been for the purchase of consumer goods, too many of which are imported—a major factor in the deficit on current account.
If savings and investment are to be kept in reasonable balance, borrowing must be checked, so that non-inflationary growth can be sustained. That is why we have raised interest rates. The highest rates will take time to have their full effect, both to exert downward pressure on inflation and to help reduce the deficit on trade—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
Of course, higher interest rates are unpopular with some people, although they are good for those who save, including many millions of old people. They are the right response because the defeat of inflation is, and will remain, the top priority.
I shall now speak about the legislative programme. The Gracious Speech outlines a full programme of legislation. Its main provisions can be summarised under three headings. First, there are provisions that deal with industry and commerce; secondly, there are those particularly concerned with the care, protection and education of children; and, thirdly, there are measures for safeguarding the security of the realm, fighting terrorism and combating crime arid hooliganism, such as the Football Spectators Bill.
23 I shall deal first with industry and commerce. Under that heading, we have two major privatisation measures for water and electricity. The Water Bill will be a major environmental measure as well—[Laughter.]
§ The Prime Minister
The Bill will establish a new public body, the National Rivers Authority, to take over the responsibilities of water authorities in England and Wales in relation to controlling and reducing water pollution, resource management, flood defence, fisheries, recreation and navigation. The Water Bill will also establish a new statutory framework for the control of drinking water quality and river quality.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way at the end of this section.
The Bill will enable the existing water authorities in England and Wales to be replaced by new limited companies, which will then be privatised. It will also provide for the appointment of a director general of water services to keep the services under review and to protect the interests of consumers.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
If the Government are so committed to the environment, why do they propose to privatise the water industry, which will make the private consumer pay a considerable amount more, instead of shouldering the burden of expenditure for environmental improvements, which is what the public want? They want the water industry to be retained in public ownership, as they have overwhelmingly argued.
§ The Prime Minister
The Government have only the taxpayers' money. Some hon. Members speak as if there were some other source of money. If we want environmental improvement, it will cost money. There will soon be environmental improvement concerning nitrates in water. It will be the people who want those improvements in water who will have to pay. It is utterly irresponsible to suggest that we can have those improvements without being prepared to pay the price for them.
An Electricity Bill will be introduced to privatise the electricity supply industry in England, Wales and Scotland.
In England and Wales, in order to promote competition, the Central Electricity Generating Board's generating capacity will be split into two companies. The area electricity boards will also be privatised as 12 independent supply companies, and the national grid will be transferred to a new company jointly owned by the suppliers.
In Scotland there will be two independent companies broadly based upon the existing Scottish electricity boards.
In England and Wales we aim to maintain the proportion of electricity produced from nuclear power at the current level, which would mean four more nuclear power stations, including Sizewell, by the year 2000. That in itself—[Interruption.] That in itself—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
I said, "we aim to"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Of course, if hon. Members had been listening, they would have heard that. Maintaining nuclear power at the current level itself will help to mitigate acid rain and the greenhouse effect. A real culprit in the greenhouse effect is the vast amount of carbon dioxide that is produced from burning coal in power stations.
The two Bills show our determination to secure the advantages of privatisation for each industry, their customers and the taxpayer while at the same time making a major contribution to the establishment of improved environmental standards.
Under the same heading of industry and commerce, the coming Session will also include legislation to transfer the Scottish Bus Group to the private sector. This will give a further boost to enterprise in Scotland and will create new opportunities for employee participation, wider share ownership and investment, which, of course, Opposition Members hate.
A Companies Bill will be introduced to improve and simplify procedures for companies and to improve merger control. The Bill's proposals on merger policy cover voluntary pre-notification of mergers and provision for enforceable undertakings rather than reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
Turning to the second area of legislation, which concerns social measures, the House will recall that the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 extended parental involvement in schools. We now propose to introduce an Education (Scotland) Bill which would extend freedom of choice for parents in the Scottish education system by granting them the right to vote for the removal of their school from the central management of an education authority. The Bill would provide that such a self-governing school would remain publicly funded by direct Government grant and would not be able to charge fees; would be run by a board of governors representative of parents, teachers and the wider community; and would retain its denominational character.
§ Mr. James Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
Is the Prime Minister aware that that measure will be totally abhorrent to the vast majority of people in Scotland and that it will simply reinforce detestation of her and her policies? Is she further aware that in Scotland she now has as much credibility and legitimacy as her new pal, General Jaruzelski, has in Poland?
§ The Prime Minister
On the latter point, when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour party and the Labour party governed Britain without a majority in England, he did not complain and neither did we because we believe in the United Kingdom. I recognise that he does not.
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the Education (Scotland) Bill, of course he does not want to extend choice to ordinary people—he is a Socialist.
A further important measure will be the Children's Bill which will reform the law on child care and family services. It will take into account the recommendations of the report on child abuse in Cleveland. Children are entitled to protection from harm and abuse, and innocent families from unnecessary intervention by the state.
The Bill will replace the existing fragmented and overlapping provisions on child care and family law. It will improve the procedures governing the removal of children 25 from their homes in emergencies, while strengthening parents' rights to challenge court orders. It will redefine local authorities' responsibilities towards children in need, and address the difficult questions which arose in Cleveland of parental access and medical examinations.
The Bill will also implement reforms in private child law covering custody and guardianship. Taken together, the proposals will form a unified and consistent code in respect of the care and upbringing of children. Nothing could be more important, and I hope that the Bill will have the support of all hon. Members.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
The Prime Minister set out what might appear at first glimpse to be progressive legislation. Will she give us an absolute guarantee that every social services department in the country that complains today that it has not the staff to monitor even current legislation will be given the money to ensure that it has the staff to carry out that function properly?
§ The Prime Minister
The money that they receive takes important duties into account. If some local authorities did not waste money on other things, they would have more money to give to important things. It is not only the amount of money but its good use and way in which it is managed.
A major Local Government and Housing Bill will also be brought foward to introduce in England and Wales new arrangements for local authority housing finance and home improvement grants, and local authority capital finance. Additionally, the Bill would give effect to several key proposals contained in the Widdecombe report on the conduct of local authority business.
The third group of measures concern safeguarding the security of the realm and fighting terrorism. Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 will be replaced by a narrower and more closely defined provision. Its aim will be to ensure that the criminal law penalises, and penalises effectively, only those who make unauthorised disclosures of official information which do unacceptable harm to the public interest.
The House had an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals in July, and the Bill that we shall introduce will take account of points in that debate and elsewhere. I believe that the new Bill avoids what are generally accepted to be the unsatisfactory aspects of the old Act and provides a more effective safeguard against the unauthorised disclosure of information.
A Bill will also be introduced to put the Security Service on a statutory basis, under the authority of the Secretary of State. The legislation will set out the functions of the Security Service and will reaffirm ministerial responsibility for the service. It will replace the published 1952 directive to the Director General of the Security Service from the then Home Secretary—known as the Maxwell Fyfe directive. The legislation will follow the structure approved by Parliament in the Interception of Communications Act 1985.
This country owes much to the work and dedication of our security service. The Government believe it is right to provide the service with the authority and clarity of a statute.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
At first sight, the measure seems to be a great improvement. What will it mean in terms of accountability to the House?
§ The Prime Minister
In precisely the same way as the Home Secretary and myself have always been accountable to the House—[Interruption.] We do not, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, ever say anything about operational matters. The right hon. Gentleman knows that Conservative Members always supported his decisions on the security service, even when his own party did not.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall make one more point, because I have a lot more to say. It might help.
From what Mr. Speaker said, I understand that the Opposition have chosen to debate home affairs tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will then say more about this Bill, which we hope to publish tomorrow so right hon. and hon. Members will be able to see precisely what is in it.
To strengthen our defences against those who preach and practise violence, especially in Northern Ireland, we are taking a number of steps in addition to those already announced. First, we shall introduce a Bill to require candidates in local elections in Northern Ireland to sign a declaration not to support violence. It is deeply offensive to the great majority of people in Northern Ireland that there should be those who openly support and, indeed, advocate violence in local council chambers. The Bill is intended to prevent such statements and activities.
Secondly, we shall be re-enacting the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1984, including the power to exclude known terrorists from part or all of the United Kingdom, as well as the power to arrest and detain those suspected of terrorism.
The Bill will also include new provisions, in three respects. First, it will make it an offence to be involved in handling or holding funds for terrorist purposes. The police will be given new search powers to assist them in tracing those funds and the courts will be able to order their forfeiture when a conviction is obtained. The provisions follow those used successfully against drug traffickers.
Secondly, for Northern Ireland, the Bill will also reduce the remission granted to prisoners servicing sentences of five years or over for terrorist offences from one half to one third of their sentence.
Thirdly, the Bill will provide that anyone out on remission from a sentence of more than one year, who is then convicted of a terrorist offence, will have to serve the full unexpired portion of his earlier sentence as well as whatever new sentence is given.
Those provisions will mean that those found guilty of terrorism will spend longer in prison. They should act as a further deterrent to those who contemplate acts of terrorism and violence.
The Government are determined never to give in to the terrorist, but to do everything in their power to defend society against terrorism. We hope that our determination will enjoy the unanimous support of the House. But I have to note that right hon. and hon. Members opposite have consistently voted against the existing legislation. I believe that this is seen by the terrorists and their supporters as a sign of weakness. I hope that those Opposition Members will take the opportunity to correct that impression, and to demonstrate that they share the Government's determination to deal firmly with terrorism, by voting for the Bill.
27 The Gracious Speech reaffirms the Government's determination to maintain strong and effective defences while striving to break down the barriers between East and West. There is no contradiction between those aims: indeed, they complement each other. It is a sense of security which gives countries the confidence to negotiate and discuss their differences. If we adopted the policies advocated by the Opposition, there would be no need for others to negotiate with us, because they would be able to get all they wanted without it. Fortunately, the Government take very seriously their responsibility to maintain and update our defences, especially while the Soviet Union's military strength continues to expand with ever more sophisticated weapons.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is some concern about keeping the level of conventional forces sufficiently strong to deter, as she suggested in her last remarks? There is some concern, too, about the replacement for the Chieftain tank. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House when we will have a decision on whether the order willl go to the British company, Vickers, or to the American company, General Dynamics?
§ The Prime Minister
As my hon. Friend knows, in the Alliance we are trying to secure unified proposals to negotiate with the Soviet Union on conventional weapons.
Secondly, a decision has yet to be taken on the replacement of the Chieftain tank, but I do not expect that it wil be very long before we take it.
Thirdly, the provisions announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement mean that the defence budget will grow by nearly £1 billion a year over the next three years. That is the measure of the Government's determination to ensure that our forces have the most modern and up-to-date equipment, both nuclear and conventional. I hope that those who criticise Britain for not being sufficiently European will reflect that, when it comes to making a real contribution to Europe—both our financial contribution to the Community and our military contribution to the defence of Europe beyond our own borders—we are second to none.
I was able to discuss many of those issues with Vice-President Bush during my visit to Washington last week. I am glad to say that he wants to see the special relationship between Britain and the United States continue in all its strength, including, of course, the arrangements for Trident, which is so vital to our defence. It was clear, too, from my talks that our views and those of the new Administration on all the main issues of defence, arms control and East-West relations will continue to be very close indeed.
At the same time, Britain is in the forefront of efforts to overcome East-West divisions. My own recent visit to Poland—welcomed by both the Polish Government and by Solidarity; indeed, by everyone except the Labour party—is evidence of that. What the Labour party cannot bear is that one can go to eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, believing in strong defence, ready to speak up for our democratic beliefs and for human rights, and still receive a warm welcome.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
On the subject of travelling around the world, if the Prime Minister believes 28 that it is right for her to have spent, I think, £5 million of the taxpayers' money during the past nine years, why is she stopping the Queen from going to Russia?
§ The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not discuss this matter. The matter has not been addressed in any way at all—[Interruption.] It is completely hypothetical.
The official visit of President Gorbachev and Mrs. Gorbachev in December will be another opportunity to discuss how we can take forward our aim of more peaceful and stable relations, as well as to hear more about his plans for reform in the Soviet Union. The visit is further evidence of the weight which Britain's views on all these matters now carry in the world. It is the result of the Government's success in rebuilding our economy, strengthening our defences and restoring our reputation—success which will make the years ahead great ones for this country.
The first Session of this Parliament was the fourth longest this century—it enacted 44 Government measures. The coming Session will be shorter, but it is a full programme which carries forward our policies and our commitments in a number of important areas. I commend it to the House.
§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I have the pleasure in joining the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in congratulating the mover and the seconder of the Loyal Address. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made an interesting speech. I must say, however, that I found it difficult to recognise his description of the Government as one who have buttressed and protected freedom, but I can no doubt return to that in a moment.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) made a brilliant speech, which many of us will remember, in which he showed all that engaging humour and wit which those who know him so well value so highly. I particularly welcomed the hon. Gentleman's comments about the environment. I do not believe that I paraphrase him too inaccurately by saying that he said that there was a difference between a general desire to succeed with the environment and the specific policies that would achieve an effective outcome.
I deplore the contempt—frankly, that is the only word that I can use—with which the Government have treated both Houses of Parliament by their handling of the Gracious Speech. That contempt is evident because Her Majesty was asked to turn up in the other place today to read a Gracious Speech that had been extensively leaked, in outline and in detail, in every paper during the past two weeks. If the Government plan to maintain that deplorable practice, perhaps they could save Her Majesty the trouble next year and simply get Bernard Ingham to come here to read the speech.
It gives me no satisfaction to say that the first Gracious Speech to which I have to respond as a party leader will be known more for the opportunities that it has missed than for the importance of its programme. Of course, it gives the House a heavy legislative programme. It would be quite out of character of the Government if it did not, for they have been the most interfering and dominating of all recent Governments.
29 The proposed programme reveals the new phase of Thatcherism—we might call it the right hon. Lady's cultural revolution. It is a time when unthinking dogma is more important than effective legislation. As we know, the Government like nothing better than to have an enemy.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I develop my speech further before I give way. If he would like to intervene later, I shall be happy to consider his request. [Interruption.] I was only being courteous to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he accepts that.
The Government's first enemies were the trade unions, then there was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, then Arthur Scargill, then Left-wing local government, then all local government, then the universities, then Peter Wright, and finally, of course, the pensioners.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way at the moment.
Suddenly, the Prime Minister seems to lack an enemy. I thought for a brief and hopeful moment that the pillaging and despoliation of our environment would become her new enemy.
§ Mr. Barry Field
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker How am Ito know when the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is far enough in his speech to allow me to intervene?
§ Mr. Ashdown
No doubt the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) will know when he tries and I give way.
I thought for a brief and hopeful moment that the attacks on our environment would become the Prime Minister's new enemy. I thought that she might honour that famous headline in The Daily Telegraph and lead a crusade to preserve the planet. I thought that she might roll over her Secretary of State for the Environment, just as she has removed all other obstacles to her will. Yet I can find nothing in the Gracious Speech to fulful the Prime Minister's original promise. I find nothing to suggest that the right hon. Lady takes this real enemy and the threat to our future seriously.
We must conclude that the Prime Minister's brief conversion to the environment was more to do with polling data than a Pauline conversion. Perhaps we should not be too surprised, for we all know that we have benefited far too little from her conversion to St. Francis of Assisi.
§ Mr. Field
Given the hon. Gentleman's dislike of leaks from the Gracious Speech, I wonder whether we can count on his party's support for the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
§ Mr. Ashdown
No. The hon. Gentleman will discover why in a few moments.
Whatever our view of the Prime Minister's commitment to the environment, it is clear that, given the recent 30 utterances of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in the House and outside, my party—along with, I suspect, most people in Britain —has absolutely no confidence in his new-found role as guardian of our precious environment.
I welcome the recent improvements in international relations and I wish the Government well in their dealings with President Gorbachev and President-elect Bush. Why is it, however, that the passage in the Gracious Speech on defence and East-West relations echoes the same old rhetoric of previous years, as though nothing has happened since 1950? Thanks to Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, the world is changing. Everything is different--except, of course, the attitude of the Government, who remain, as ever, frozen in the bleak rhetoric of the cold war era. That is why it would be a disgrace if the Prime Minister vetoed the possibility of the Queen's visiting Moscow. Given Her Majesty's experience, there would be much to gain and nothing whatever to lose from such a visit. Frankly, the public will not have been impressed by the Government's decision to make their advice known to Buckingham palace through the medium of Sunday newspapers.
As a belated signal of their recognition of the new opportunities for peace, I hope that the Government will join West Germany and France in resisting the modernisation of nuclear weapons in Europe. In common with many, I believe that to modernise now would be folly just when real steps towards disarmament are in prospect.
Recent progress in international relations stands in stark contrast to the latest news about our economic performance. As the Prime Minister has rightly argued, responsible management of the economy is one of the prime tests of good government, and a responsible Government would act very differently towards the economy from the way in which the present Government are acting. A responsible Government would have had the courage to admit that they had miscalculated on the economy in the previous Budget and were prepared to alter course. A responsible Government would have accepted that, after nine years of Tory rule, we are no nearer solving the problems of the United Kingdom's performance in world markets.
The figures tell the whole sad story. Our inflation rate now stands at 6.4 per cent., four times the West. German figure, and half as high again as the EEC average. Our interest rates are two and a half times those of France, and more than three times those of West Germany. Our wage rates are increasing at well over the European average. Our overall investment is still well below the EEC average. Meanwhile, our balance of payments deficit is running at a record level and will be three or four times what the Chancellor of the Exchequer predicted a mere seven months ago. In the face of such a lethal combination of figures, why is it that the Chancellor is just about the only person in Britain who does not recognise the potential dangers ahead?
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Given that the hon. Gentleman is outlining the position of his party, I wonder whether he is speaking for all its Members, or whether the semi-detached Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is in danger of becoming fully detached? Can he tell us what name his party is now trading under, as we are becoming extremely confused about that?
§ Mr. Ashdown
I am sorry to be discourteous to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but his question must be treated with the contempt that it deserves.
We shall oppose the privatisation of water. The two inevitable results of that foolish legislation will be that the consumer will lose and charges will rise, probably by a massive amount. Presumably that will be the first fruit of the Government's curious new phrase, found in the Gracious Speech, about bearing down on inflation.
We shall also oppose the Government's plans for electricity. They will not lead to real improved competition, and the regulatory structure, as with British Telecom, will doubtless prove inadequate. My party has never believed that the ownership of an enterprise is the key criterion. After all, with regard to service to the consumer, there is nothing to choose between British Telecom's performance as a private monopoly and what it used to give us as a public corporation. The real questions are not who owns, but how is the consumer served? How is competition improved? How is the public interest best protected? On all three questions, the Government's proposals for water and electricity privatisation comprehensively fail the test.
The proposals will also ensure that this year will see further inroads into our freedoms. Frankly, it ill becomes the Prime Minister to lecture the world about freedom when she now heads a Government who are so careless with our liberties.
If the proposed legislation on the Official Secrets Act follows the recent White Paper—nothing that the Prime Minister said could lead us to any other conclusion—it will result, not in more freedom of information, but in further restrictions, tighter controls and more sanctions in the hands of the Government. Similarly, while my party supports the need for a Prevention of Terrorism Act as a temporary measure for Northern Ireland, we shall oppose the Government's attempts to make it a permanent feature of the British legal system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Let me tell Conservative Members why. We do not accept the Government's defeatist attitude that terrorism must be viewed as a permanent state of affairs in Britain. That is why.
However, I am happy to welcome in principle the Government's proposals to require a declaration from candidates in Northern Ireland that they will not support terrorism. I have to support such a piece of legislation, as it is something that I recommended to the Prime Minister in a letter that I wrote to her earlier this year.
My party also welcomes a statutory basis for the security services. The Prime Minister almost removed that welcome with a single sentence when, in answering a question during her speech, she said that the parliamentary accountability that would be attached would be the same as the House has enjoyed—or should I say which it has been denied—by herself and the Secretary of State responsible. We welcome the prosposal as a step forward. As the House will expect, we shall press for proper parliamentary accountability of the security services, which we want to see vested in a carefully chosen cross-party Select Committee drawn from membership of the Privy Council.
The most important message from the Gracious Speech, however, is not one of unwise legislation. It is chiefly one of lost opportunities. Here are a Government who claim a mandate, in so far as our twisted electoral system can ever supply one. Here are a Government who 32 claim that they are radical, yet they have failed to produce a single coherent idea of what we need to do now if we are to meet the challenges of the next decades. On the eve of 1992, and with a new President about to enter the White House, only a fool would be complacent about our trading performance and our rising inflation.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way just now.
A responsible Government would have announced their intention to put the health of our economy before further cuts in taxation in the next Budget. Why was that not specifically mentioned? A responsible Government would have committed themselves to membership of the European monetary system and taken action to rein in the expansion of mortgage and credit lending. They would have taken the necessary measures to encourage savings. All those things could have been in the Gracious Speech, but none is.
A radical Government would not have sat back in the face of the destitution and homelessness in Britain—9 million people are now living at or below the poverty line, and 112,000 were homeless last year. A radical Government would by now have started work on integrating our tax and benefit systems. They would have released some of the money locked up in council budgets to build more homes. They would have responded to the challenge of the Griffiths report on community care, rather than letting it fester on the shelf. All those things could have been in the Government's programme, but none is.
A Government who were serious about the environment would have taken this opportunity to get to grips with the environmental crisis facing our country and the world, but all that we have is rhetoric—fine words, but grubby actions. The Natural Environment Research Council is still being starved of funds, and now we hear of top-level resignations at the Department of the Environment in protest at inadequate resourcing and bureaucratic frustration. The Secretary of State's view is that we should do nothing until he is personally 100 per cent. convinced. He argues that it is better to wait than to do anything hasty.
The Prime Minister quoted from the North sea summit of November 1987. I should like the right hon. Lady to contrast the attitude of her Secretary of State with the words of the Prince of Wales at that conference:If science has taught us anything, it is that the environment is full of uncertainty. It makes no sense to test it to destruction. While we wait for the doctor's diagnosis, the patient may easily die!A Government who were serious about combating the environmental threat would now join the 30 per cent. club. They would do more to promote energy conservation. They would use the power of the taxation system to provide real encouragement for the use of unleaded petrol. They would introduce legislation to improve control over vehicle emissions. They would tighten up the cross-border shipment of hazardous wastes. They would commit themselves to a decent policy for public transport. All those things could have been in the Government's programme, but none is.
The trouble with the Government is that they clearly have no trust in the people. They have no argument against a Freedom of Information Bill except the political 33 convenience of the Executive. They have no case against a plural and democratic system of local government except the authorisation of central Government. They have no reason for refusing political and institutional reform except the fear that any change would lift the suffocating blanket of control that the Government have thrown over everything and everybody in Britain. It has always struck me as peculiarly ironic that it was a Conservative peer, Lord Hailsham, who warned against the threat of an elective dictatorship, and a Conservative Government who made it a reality.
A Government who looked to the 1990s would recognise that the modern citizen will expect a greater role in decision-making and a more open system of government. They would see that our United Kingdom would be stronger and our democracy healthier if we had elected Parliaments for the nations of Scotland and Wales. They would recognise that a full commitment to Europe is the best way to secure Britain's long-term interests. They would understand that the development of democratic Europewide institutions is not just necessary, but inevitable. They would know that we cannot preserve our appalling electoral system without damaging our democracy itself.
This is a programme of missed opportunities. We are missing opportunities to safeguard the environment. We are missing opportunities to strengthen our industrial base and improve our research and development potential. We are missing opportunities to co-ordinate foreign policy initiatives. We are missing opportunities to raise standards for the consumer. We are missing opportunities to tackle poverty, which blights the lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
This is a programme from a Government dominated by the poverty of their public spirit and their narrowness of the view of Britain's role in the world. It is a programme that is all about dogma—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it is. It is a programme that is all dogma and no vision. It is a programme that will damage further the quality of our life, divide further our already sadly divided nation, deplete further the strength of our already weakened democracy and do nothing to prepare Britain for the future.
§ Mr. David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me at this very early point in the new Session.
Last Tuesday marked the end of a Session of Parliament during which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, a great deal of legislation reached the statute book. The Gracious Speech suggests that there is another heavy programme of legislation before us. Before the 1979 general election, I remember being told by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the then shadow Cabinet that there had been too much legislation in this country and that a Conservative Government would mean less legislation in the future. Alas, that is one election promise that has not been fulfilled. However, being of an optimistic disposition, I have not given up hope that eventually the promise may be fulfilled—who knows, perhaps next year. It is not that I have any great dispute with the details of most of the proposed legislation in the Gracious Speech, 34 but I believe that there is too much and that it might have been advantageous if it could have been spread over two or three Sessions.
I particularly welcome the Bill on the care and protection of children. In recent years, there have been a number of worrying cases, including the scandal of Cleveland. The protection of children, compatible with fairness and justice to parents, is essential in any society and should have a high priority in a society that calls itself civilised.
I welcome the Bill on the security services. There has been some public concern about the activities of the security services in recent years and I hope that the Bill will bring them under proper control and reassure people.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The hon. Gentleman says that he hopes that the proposals on the security services will deal with the doubts and difficulties that many of us have about whether they are impartial. Does he agree that the most effective way to overcome our difficulties is to have parliamentary scrutiny—hence a Select Committee?
§ Mr. Knox
It would be wise to wait for the publication of the Bill, which I understand will be tomorrow, before passing any detailed judgment on it.
I was pleased to hear that the Bill to privatise the electricity industry is to be introduced in this Session. It will enable the industry to escape the clutches of Treasury control. The Bill will introduce a little more competition. Clearly, the industry cannot be totally competitive, but there will be more competition than at present. Both those things should help to contribute to a more efficient electricity industry. Hopefully, the privatisation will give a further boost to share ownership in Britain.
I was also pleased about the legislation on improvement grants. I hope that the Bill will cover those in defective houses formerly owned by the Coal Board—the people who do not receive help to remedy housing defects. I am thinking particularly of people in my constituency who did not buy their houses direct from the Coal Board and knew nothing about the defects when they bought them.
I have some reservations about the proposed football national membership scheme. Those of us who are interested in and care about football have been concerned about the violence that has manifested itself in recent years at football matches. Measures have been taken to deal with that and considerable success has been achieved so far. What worries me about the membership scheme is that, although it will provide greater control inside football grounds, it will leave troublemakers outside the grounds. Since it is much easier to police potential hooligans in confined areas rather than on the streets and in town centres, I am afraid that the overall effect of the scheme may be more hooliganism, and hooliganism which is less easy to control. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will have another look at the proposal, because I know that it is causing concern among football clubs and the police.
However important Ministers may regard legislative proposals, the Government will be judged in the coming Session on the performance of the British economy. When I spoke in the debate on the Gracious Speech in June last year, I expressed some criticisms about manufacturing output and unemployment and commended the Government on their record on inflation and the balance 35 of payments. I suppose it tells one something about the nature of economic problems that this year I wish to commend the Government's record on manufacturing output and unemployment and to express concern about inflation and the balance of payments, particularly the latter.
Over the past year, the index of manufacturing output has risen from 108 to 115.5—an increase of about 7 per cent. Over the past two years, the index has risen by over 13 per cent.; by any standard, that is a fast growth rate. Of course, we ought not to become too carried away, because we have been catching up on lost ground. It is as well to remember that the index in September this year was only five points higher than in September 1974–14 years ago.
There has been a significant improvement in unemployment during the past two years. The number out of work has fallen from just over 3 million in October 1986 to just over 2 million this October. That reduction is welcome but—I am sure that this will receive general agreement throughout the House—there are still too many people out of work. We have a long way to go before unemployment is down to the level of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
Both manufacturing output and unemployment have been moving strongly in the right direction during the past two years. Unfortunately, the progress made in those spheres has not been repeated for inflation. During the past year, the annual rate of inflation has increased from 4.5 per cent. to 6.4 per cent. I do not believe that that deterioration is a matter for grave concern but it obviously calls for action, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken. However, I am sorry that he has confined himself to the use of interest rates to squeeze out inflation. In some circumstances, interest rates have a part to play, but, because of the damage caused by the side effects of high interest rates, I wish that he had used some other weapons on this occasion.
One aspect of our current inflation is a cause for concern. In the past, inflationary pressure tended to appear only in conditions of over-full employment—when unemployment fell below about 350,000. The current inflation, caused to some extent by an increase in earnings of 9 per cent. in the past year, has taken place when unemployment is in excess of 2 million. Despite that large pool of unemployed people and the freeing of the labour market, which has resulted from the Government's trade union legislation and other measures, we have an over-heated labour market and, as a consequence, wage and salary cost inflation.
Despite all that has happened, we seem to be even further from resolving the great unresolved economic problem of the post-war era, which is how to maintain a high level of employment and, at the same time, control inflation. Could it be that there is a case for an incomes policy after all?
The really serious economic problem facing Britain today is the balance of payments. Since the Budget in March, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has had to increase his estimate of the current account deficit from £4 billion to £13 billion. I am not over-critical of his forecasting, because I have always been suspicious and wary of economic forecasts. A deficit of £4 billion was bad 36 enough. A deficit of £13 billion is very serious. It shows that the United Kingdom economy is once again uncompetitive.
One of the great advantages of North sea oil has been that it has enabled us as a nation to build up large overseas investments. That has made us one of the strongest creditor countries in the world, with substantially larger investments in other countries than foreigners have in this country. There can be little doubt that our strong international capital position enabled us to withstand the fall in oil prices over the last two years without too much short-term trouble. Our strong international capital position is also enabling us to run a large current account deficit without short-term difficulties at present. But it is not desirable that we should continue to run a large deficit, even if that is possible—which I doubt.
Apart from its destabilising effect on international trade, a large current account deficit is undesirable because it must be financed either by the sale of overseas assets or by the inflow of overseas funds attracted by high interest rates. Either way, this adversely affects our net capital position, and if it is allowed to continue for too long it will result in Britain ceasing to be a net creditor country. If that happened, we would have to pay out more in interest to foreigners than we would receive from our remaining overseas investments. To put it mildly, such a situation would be deeply alarming.
Early action to reduce and eventually to eliminate the deficit is urgent. Unfortunately, the policies being pursued to deal with inflation can only make it more difficult to remedy the balance of payments deficit because the policy of high interest rates has the effect of keeping sterling at an unrealistically high level against other currencies. As a consequence, British exports are dearer in world markets and therefore more difficult to sell, while imports into Britain are cheaper and easier to sell. In such circumstances, it is impossible to reduce, far less eliminate, the balance of payments deficit. If we are to right the current account of our balance of payments, there must be a reduction in the exchange rate of sterling against other currencies. That means that interest rates must be allowed to fall and that other measures must be used to restrain inflation. If that does not happen, the deficit will continue and will eventually become insupportable, with devastating consequences for the British economy.
As a contribution to returning to surplus on the current account of the balance of payments, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will refrain from making further tax cuts. That is because tax cuts almost always result in higher consumer spending. In principle there is nothing wrong with that—it is desirable—but unfortunately, in recent years, a disproportionate amount of consumer spending has been directed to imported goods. That trend has been aggravated, but not entirely explained, by the exchange rate problem about which I have spoken. For that reason alone, the tax cuts in the last two Budgets were, in my view, errors of judgment.
If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has any surplus in the spring, I hope that he will devote it to capital expenditure on the infrastructure, where the import potential is very low or non-existent, rather than to tax cuts. Only in that way can he ensure that total effective demand in the economy as a whole will be maintained at a level that will ensure that unemployment continues to fall, while at the same time avoiding further burdens on the balance of payments. When eventually the current account 37 of the balance of payments is in surplus once more, no one will support tax cuts more strongly than I. Further tax cuts before that happy day is reached would be a profound mistake.
I shall now turn to the European Community. The most important votes that I have registered in the House since I came here in 1970 were in 1971 and 1972, on the issue of principle of British membership of the Community and on the Second and Third Readings of the Bill that took Britain into the European Community. Naturally, I voted in favour of our entry to the Community, and I am pleased and proud that I did so. The House recently debated the Single European Act. In the coming Session, we shall be concerned with implementing it and thus preparing for 1992—the year when all obstacles to trade, finance and movement in the Community are removed. There is nothing very dramatic in the Single European Act. Everything in it, and much more, was originally agreed at the Heads of Government meeting in October 1972. It is regrettable that it is taking us so long to complete the task of creating a real common market in the Community. However, at least we are moving strongly in the right direction.
Undoubtedly, 1992 offers tremendous opportunities to British industry. The Government are right to devote great efforts to impressing on everyone the importance of preparing for 1992. The benefits of 1992 are not automatic. They will be gained only after great effort on the part of those in industry, commerce and finance who are preparing themselves to be more competitive. During the summer recess, I was impressed by the level of awareness of firms in my constituency about the opportunities of 1992. That augurs well for the future but, of course, there is no room for complacency. As I have said, success will depend on people in industry, commerce and finance, but, the Government too have a part to play. Perhaps I could suggest three steps that the Government might take.
First, Britain should join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. The volatility of sterling creates for British Industry considerable difficulties, which most of our European partners do not experience. Membership of the exchange rate mechanism would give greater exchange rate stability, although not absolute stability, for all our trade in Europe, and that would make life much easier for British industry.
Secondly, the Government should drop their opposition to the abandonment of frontier controls in the Community. To get rid of those controls would enable trade and labour to flow more freely between Britain and the rest of the Community, and that would be to our great advantage. The abandonment of frontier controls does not mean abandoning the battle against drugs and terrorism. That battle must be pursued more ruthlessly than ever, but frontier controls are not necessary for that. The Americans manage without barriers between states, so why not all of Europe? The real answer to drugs and terrorism is to co-ordinate activities throughout the Community to ensure that drug traffickers and terrorists are brought to justice.
Thirdly, the Government and the House should give much stronger support to the European Parliament and especially to our Members of that Parliament. Britain has a vast experience of parliamentary democracy. Surely we should be taking a lead in the development of the European Parliament, in order to make it a better, more 38 effective and more democratic institution, able to play a fuller role in monitoring, scrutinising and controlling Community activities.
For the past 40 years, we have been reluctant Europeans, yet our future is in Europe. The more we put into it, the more we will get out of it. The Community will develop and grow, no matter what we think. The choice for Britain is whether we play a part in guiding that development and growth in directions that will be to our advantage and to the advantage of the Community, or whether we continue to respond to developments, initiated and framed by others, which may not always be to Britain's advantage. I believe that in future we should play a much more positive role in the European Community; it is one of the most exciting developments in human history.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
Nothing in the Gracious Speech or in the Prime Minister's explanation of it will be of any benefit to women. Much of the Gracious Speech is positively and chillingly damaging to women. During the debate my hon. Friends will eloquently destroy the Government's case, so I intend to devote my speech to outlining an alternative Queen's Speech—a Queen's Speech for women. In doing this, I have the full support of my trade union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. USDAW's support is based on its close knowledge of the needs of women and of the burden carried by them.
It is ironic that working conditions for most women have worsened under the regime of the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. Some 63 per cent. of my union's members are women. It may be a surprise to the press and Tory Members, who like to portray trade unions as macho and male-dominated, but my union has a majority of women and we know about the needs of women.
Would it not have been refreshing to hear a Queen's Speech which began by saying that the Government, having at last realised that women form a majority of the population but that they have low incomes, few opportunities and little power, have now decided to use more of the nation's resources to redress this unfair balance? That would be justified for the sake of women and, in addition, would be of immediate benefit to children. Such measures would ultimately be to the benefit of men as well as women and children, because they would create a fairer and happier nation.
Some of the changes would involve new attitudes, especially by the Government and others in authority. Other changes would need more resources, both financial and human. Both of these are available. This is a rich country, which has been devoting far too many resources to making rich people richer.
A Queen's Speech for women will include the following points. I shall say "will" rather "would" because all of them will come about, and the sooner the better. So a Queen's Speech for women will say that a Ministry for women will be established; that it will be headed by a Cabinet Minister, who will introduce legislation, and that it will also have the power and the duty to examine all Government policies for their impact on women and ensure alteration when necessary. For this purpose, it will have outposts in each Government Department. The Treasury will no longer reign supreme. Such a Ministry will inform women about Government actions and ask for 39 their views, and, for these purposes, will set up regional offices. It will work with local government when necessary and with a strengthened Equal Opportunities Commission.
Women now form a large percentage of the work force, and this is increasing, but they are concentrated in low-wage sectors and in the lowest wage portions of all sectors. The increasing use of casual and part-time workers leaves many women without the employment rights protection that most men have. A statutory minimum wage for adults will therefore be introduced, pro rata for part-timers and trainees. The trade unions and employers will be consulted on timing and phasing and high priority will be given to eliminating low wages. A standard working week of 35 hours will be established.
Employment rights will be extended to all part-timers, regardless of the number of their working hours, and to home workers. Casual work will be restricted. Properly protected job sharing will be encouraged. Part-time workers will have access to training. Men who wish to share in child care will have access to part-time work.
Employers will be expected to take positive action against unfair discrimination and lack of opportunity and to negotiate equal pay for work of equal value.
The Government and local government will use contract compliance as a means of encouraging good employment practices.
Parental and paternity leave will become rights. Maternity rights will be strengthened and financed by a levy on all employers so as to help small businesses and those employing large numbers of women.
Education and training opportunities for women will be improved.
Varied and appropriate facilities for the under-fives are essential both for the children themselves and for their mothers. Resources will be made available to provide nursery education for all who want it. Grants will be available, through local councils, for parents and voluntary bodies to establish varied provisions such as play groups. Income tax on workplace nurseries will be removed.
The full use of schools by the whole community outside school hours will be encouraged, as will the provision of varied facilities for children during school holidays. This will ensure truly economic use of buildings and parks.
These are all modest demands and modest proposals for a country as rich as ours.
More health and safety inspectors will be appointed, and they will pay more attention to problems experienced by women at work, such as those connected with repetitive movement.
Good health requires more than medical services. Poverty, unemployment and bad housing afflict all too many people, and the nation's health is damaged. Therefore, major steps will be taken to reduce these, and thus the incidence of ill health.
The National Health Service is an asset to the nation and an efficient way of providing medical services. More resources will therefore be provided. Health service workers of all kinds and grades will have good pay and conditions. Although women will benefit greatly from an improved Health Service, both as workers in it and users of it, there are also matters more specific to women which 40 require urgent attention. The maternity services will be reorganised to place emphasis on meeting the wishes of mothers, on continuity of care, and on the full use and recognition of midwives' skills. We will no longer have the spectacle of midwives protesting about the degrading effect of the regrading proposals. An insult to midwives is an insult to all women.
Benefits will be adjusted to ensure that all expectant mothers can afford suitable food. More home-help provision will be available for new mothers.
The rundown of family planning facilities will be reversed, and women requiring legal abortion will be treated on the NHS. Infertile couples will receive as much help as possible. Many women feel they are fobbed off with tranquillisers. Better solutions, both medical and social, will be researched so that they will be offered more positive help instead, and progress in reducing tranquilliser use will be monitored.
Well woman centres will be established in each area, and may vary according to the wishes of local women. Self-help groups will be encouraged.
Steps will be taken so that all women who wish to do so will be able to see a woman doctor. Training and career patterns will be adjusted to facilitate this.
Ethnic minorities will have translation help, and food to which they are accustomed to aid their recovery when in hospital.
Community care will be greatly improved. The contribution to the national economy made by carers—worth about £6 billion—will be fully recognised through suitable help and support.
Discussion with professional bodies will start, in order to widen the scope of the NHS to include complementary therapies such as osteopathy. Much emphasis will be laid on prevention and on positive health targets, but this will be done not by exhortation by Ministers but by practical steps.
Consumers are seeking healthier foods. The production of such food will be increased by offering help to encourage growers and farmers to turn to organic methods. This will replace previous Government encouragement of methods that damage the soil, may not be healthy and, in the case of livestock production, are cruel.
Consumer law will be changed to give better labelling and other improvements. The distributive trades will be expected to give better training so that shop work is seen as skilled and helpful to consumers.
Women's needs, both as users and workers, will be taken fully into account in the planning of shopping and other developments.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
I apologise to my hon. Friend for having missed the opening of her speech. Will she consider the need to reduce the recommended time between cervical smear tests and join me in urging the Merseyside regional health authority to improve its cervical smear test service?
§ Mrs. Wise
As I think I have made clear, the needs of women's health, which include screening, would be fully addressed in a Queen's Speech such as I am suggesting.
Better public transport will become a priority. It is essential for women, who have less access than men to private cars, and it will reduce congestion and pollution for everyone.
41 Local government services are particularly important to women. Previous policies will be reversed so as to work in partnership with local government in future instead of trying to flatten it. In particular, the poll tax will be repealed. It would have been a huge burden on women and on people on low and average incomes in general.
Social security will be improved. Child benefit will be increased and index-linked. Pensions will be increased, concessionary transport made nationwide and extra services given to those over 80 or becoming frail. Women form a high proportion—two thirds—of pensioners and so will be particularly helped by these measures.
Homelessness has more than doubled in the past eight years. Steps will be taken to reverse that trend, and bed-and-breakfast accommodation will no longer be used for homeless families. Women and babies will no longer walk the streets. Repair and improvement of the housing stock will be a priority and resources will be made available for it.
We will look for ways of reducing violence against women and in general.
In foreign affairs, the Government will pursue policies for a less violent and more peaceful world. They will pursue a non-nuclear defence policy. They will devote more resources to constructive help to relieve starvation and suffering in the Third world. To be most effective in that, they will give particular help to women's projects, because women usually carry the greatest burdens and have the least power.
The Government will bring such other measures before the House as are necessary for the well-being of women and, through them, of all citizens.
When we hear such a Queen's Speech, we will know that we have once again a civilised Government and that we are on the way to a fairer and happier nation.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)
For one awful moment, while listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), I thought that we were back in the 1974–79 Parliament, in which I was on the Opposition Benches and the hon. Lady was on this side. Once again she is proposing the remedies, as she sees them, of tax and spend which finally produced the convulsion that triggered the general election of 1979, since when, I am happy to say, we have been in office.
I reject the programme that the hon. Lady has outlined to the House and welcome most warmly the Queen's Speech, the second of this Parliament. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House so early in the Session, not least because the economic policies set out in the Queen's Speech go a long way towards reassuring those of us who may have had some doubts recently about the Government's resolve to stand firm.
I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to the United States last week, because the relationship between my right hon. Friend and President-elect Bush will be of signal importance in the years ahead. In some respects, the policies that are being urged on my right hon. Friend and on President-elect Bush are, according to many commentators, the same—and they are wrong. The American economy has been growing for 72 months and has been paralleled by a tremendous growth in American prosperity. Our economy has been growing for eight years, yet we can hardly pick up a 42 newspaper at the moment, or listen to a political speech by our opponents and by many so-called neutral commentators, without reading or hearing that the time has come for taxes to be raised both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
I reject that approach, because it would strike at the very roots of confidence that have been important in sustaining the recent growth in employment and output. To increase taxation in Britain and the United States would produce the very result that we should seek to avoid—a lack of confidence and a move towards recession. I cannot conceive that it is right for the British economy to take any steps that could possibly bring about a situation in which recent growth is halted and we go into a period of economic decline, yet those policies are being urged upon us by newspaper commentators and others, including many hon. Members.
I therefore welcome the clear statement in the Queen's Speech that the Government will seek to move their economic policy in a direction where further cuts in taxation will be possible. No Conservative Member need ever be defensive about the desirability of, or need for, cuts in taxation, because high taxes blunt incentive. We have seen that time and again. The lesson of the past eight years is that we must keep moving forward in the broad direction that we have outlined.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
What is the point of having tax cuts one month when, the following month, there is a rise in interest rates which attacks the living standards of many people?
§ Mr. Arnold
The trend over a period is important. Since 1979 we have sought progressively to reduce the burden of taxation on our economy and, with it, the proportion of national income taken by the public sector. That is our philosophy, and it is in complete contrast with the philosophy of the hon. Member for Preston.
The introductory passages to the domestic section of the Queen's Speech underline the need for us to stand firm on the principles of our last election manifesto and not to move in the direction urged by other people. If we stand firm and move ahead on the lines suggested, we can continue to look forward to considerable economic and political success.
The honeymoon period enjoyed by the Government has been the longest of any Government since the war, and, as we go into 1989, we will be in an excellent position to do well in the European elections, the importance of which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) stressed. However, we could not sustain a position that would be comfortable in terms of conducting an election campaign if we went back on our undertakings and introduced policies of the kind that he suggests—with all due respect to him—including increases in taxation and, God forbid, the introduction of a statutory prices and incomes policy.
We must do everything that we can to continue to foster and encourage an enterprise economy of the kind that we have been working hard of late to produce. In that sense, unlike Opposition Members, I welcome the proposal in the Queen's Speech toremove unnecessary obstacles to employment, particularly in relation to women and young people, and to alter training arrangements.
§ Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what obstacles are to be removed and what training initiatives are to be reorganised, bearing in mind that he has welcomed the Queen's Speech so wholeheartedly?
§ Mr. Arnold
I am talking of obstacles which 30 or 40 years of Socialism have imposed. I sat in this place from 1974 to 1979, during which time a Labour Government introduced measure after measure, usually with euphemistic titles, such as the Employment Protection Act 1975, which, far from protecting employment, has increased the level of unemployment. We are right to move in the direction of removing the obstacles, several of which still stand in the way of the employment of young people. That is a specific issue that will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment when the relevant Bill is introduced.
Unemployment in the north-west is at its lowest level for seven years, yet neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the hon. Member for Preston referred to the recent fall in the unemployment figures. The many newspaper commentators who have been sturdily rejecting the Government's policies have failed to recognise the real progress that has been made in creating employment and reducing the unemployment figures. We are entitled to welcome that and to say that the trend will continue in the months ahead, provided that we do not alter the general direction in which our policies are taking us.
The Government are right to put first and foremost at the top of their economic programme the continuing battle against inflation. The fact that inflation is rising is a signal of how much still remains to be done. We shall never be able to solve the broad structural problems of the economy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Moorlands referred, unless we recognise that only a private enterprise culture and economy is likely to produce growth, real increases in output and the opportunities for employment that can sustain our objectives.
The Socialist policies that were advocated by the Leader of the Opposition and by the hon. Member for Preston are recipes for turning the country back on what has been achieved during the past 10 years. I reject that approach. I welcome the Queen's Speech and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friend's to stand firm on the economic policies that the Government have put before the House and the country.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
The Queen's Speech outlines the Government's legislative programme, but it does not take into account the overall effect that it may have on various sectors of the economy and the industry within them. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the privatisation of the electricity and water industries will be fought clause by clause, in accordance with parliamentary procedures. We must be realistic and recognise that, with the Government's majority, the electricity industry, for example, will be privatised. That being so, the House must concern itself with the spin-offs of the privatisation.
I shall outline briefly the problems of the mining industry and describe what has taken place since 1978. In 1978, in the Wakefield area, there were 20 pits with a work force of 16,900. By 1984, there were 16 pits and a work force of 15,061. In 1987, there were eight collieries and a 44 work force of 6,096. In the first few months of 1988, three more collieries closed, with the loss of another 1,855 jobs. In May, the district's remaining five pits employed only 4,036 people. The average age of those employed was 34.
It is well recognised that the international market is leading us into great change. British Coal has always relied on its main customers, such as the Central Electricity Generating Board, and it is in great competition with cheap imported coal. Private Bills have been introduced to expand certain ports to enable more cheap coal to be imported. There is great fear that, following the privatisation of the electricity industry, the private companies will be attracted to cheap coal. That can be understood and accepted within the terms of a pure economic argument, but if it happens, the mining industry will have a work force of about 45,000 by the time that it is privatised. In 1978, the work force was more than 200,000.
Those figures illustrate the great impact that certain events have had on mining communities. With the privatisation of the electricity industry, the question is, "How many more?" It is thought that another 50,000 will lose their jobs. The young men involved, who will be aged 34 and less, will not receive the reasonably attractive redundancy payments that we saw in 1984 onwards. If the Government continue with their current policy of merely encouraging alternative employment, there will be further devastation.
In the mining communities—this is certainly true of the one that I represent in Castleford—there is little alternative employment. In my constituency, 11,000 jobs have been lost since 1984. I can count on the fingers of my two hands the jobs that have become available to replace those which have been lost. How long can this continue? We have appealed to the Government to recognise the problem and to zone areas for assisted area status. If the Government had been willing to implement such a policy, areas such as the one that I represent could have attracted grants from the Government and the EEC. Unfortunately, the Government have failed to respond.
The Queen's Speech tells us that the Governmentwill continue to promote enterprise and to foster the conditions necessary for the sustained growth of output and employment.I hope that that means that the Government will support applications from the Wakefield metropolitan district council, which is in a declining industrial region, under the second objective of a new European regulation. I am aware that the Government have forwarded their proposals and that Wakefield has been included. I am aware also that the list that the Government have presented to the Commission is far too long, and that some of the applications will not be successful. I am concerned for the mining communities, which have been devastated and will continue to be devastated by the privatisation of electricity. As they have not been zoned by the Government as assisted areas, I fear that they will be taken off the list. I hope that the Government will take this on board, if the Gracious Speech means anything at all.
The Gracious Speech states:My Government will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime.Another passage states:They will maintain firm control of public expenditure, so … allowing further improvements in priority services".I hope that the Government are sincere about crime and the priority services.
45 Between 15 November and 18 November, the Yorkshire Evening Post carried major articles which were not unconnected with the problems in our mining communities where young school leavers are unable to find work. Those youngsters, who would normally have entered the mining industry, have been unable to get work. The articles state that 31 inmates in Her Majesty's prisons, the majority of whom were unconvicted and on remand, have killed themselves so far this year and it is expected that the figure will be much higher before the end of the year.
Armley prison in Leeds is between nine and 12 miles from my constituency. In the past five months, three youths aged under 18 have committed suicide in that prison. During the course of the year, 18 have attempted suicide. The Yorkshire Evening Post report on the suicides claims that they were driven to suicide by brutal and squalid conditions in one of Britain's most notorious gaols.
We must all be concerned about the fact that 16 and 17-year-old youths who have never been in prison before, the vast majority of whom are not guilty of any crime but merely waiting on remand, find conditions which cause them to commit suicide. The report continued:There is evidence that many innocent men were desparate to escape beatings and appalling conditions. A top psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Shaw, is reported as saying, 'A fate worse than death … that is what some teenagers on remand in prison believe is in store for them and that is why they commit suicide.—The Prison Officers Association has stated:Suicides will continue until a shake-up of the whole legal process is put into operation by the Government.The chairman of the Prison Officers Association at Armley prison, Mr. David Sayer, is reported to have said:.
If it costs money, they will have to spend it.The Prison Officers Association's view on the issue is clear: youngsters on remand should not be in prison. It is as simple and straightforward as that. The association claims:We do not want them, because we do not have the staff or facilities to cope. We have said so loud and clear to anyone willing to listen, yet a fifth of our inmates are teenagers awaiting trial.There are 1,200 prisoners in Armley prison, one fifth of whom are kids aged under 18 who are awaiting trial on remand. The conditions are such that there have been three suicides in five months and 18 attempted suicides so far this year.
If the Government are so concerned about crime, will they find employment for kids in the mining communities to keep idle hands out of mischief, instead of banging them up in squalid gaols 23 hours a day, in cells with hardened criminals? If the Government are serious about reducing crime, they must find employment and provide facilities to which to send youngsters on remand rather than send them to squalid prisons which cause youngsters to commit suicide.
Some of the youngsters to whom I have referred are my constituents; I have received letters from their heartbroken parents. If the message in the Gracious Speech about cutting crime means anything, the Government must act.
An experienced criminal solicitor in Leeds, Mr. Rodney Lester, has said:Brutality is the order of the day in Armley prison. If young remand prisoners going into jail are not brutes when they go in, the chances are that they will have been brutalised when they come out.46 Other organisations, and the chief probation officer for west Yorkshire, have expressed grave concern about this matter. The Government must seriously consider providing accommodation for remand prisoners, and above all, they must provide employment for youngsters which will stop them getting into prison in the first place.
The Gracious Speech also states that the Government are concerned about and committed to the National Health Service. If that is so, the Government had better get their act together and satisfy the nurses. At present, the nurses are very dissatisfied. Last Friday evening, I attended a mass meeting of nurses with my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley). Before the Government talk about hotheads or militants, I must stress that the meeting consisted of senior nursing sisters, staff nurses and nurses right down the line. It is not sufficient to tell nurses that, if they do not accept the grade or work to the grade that is allocated, they will be taken through the courts.
It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Health was not at that meeting. We heard that senior nursing sisters in hospitals in Wakefield had found themselves £2,500 a year worse off than the people they supervised. We were told that two wards in a hospital in Wakefield one night that week had not been staffed on the night shift. That cannot go on. The Government tried to get over the message that they want to do the best thing for the nurses when they said a few weeks ago that the pay award would be paid in full. However, the Government did not tell us about the chaos that their policy would create. If the Government do not put things right, all that they say about caring for the Health Service means nothing.
The nurses want some consideration; they want looking after and fair remuneration. The Gracious Speech means that we will have a very long and hard Session. I assure Conservative Members that many of the details in the Gracious Speech will be fought clause by clause by Opposition Members.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. From the Back Benches, I associate myself with the remarks by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in admiration of the speeches moving and seconding the Loyal Address by my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples). It is rare for the House to be treated to a pair of such accomplished and witty speeches on such an occasion. I compliment them, with just a tinge of envy for the fact that they could speak so well.
It is clear that the privatisation measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech will play a major part in the Session that lies ahead of us. They may even dominate it. The Government may have no problem convincing the House what they are about, but they may have harder work convincing the public of the rightness of their privatisation plans.
I say that because the public are surprisingly confused and cool in their outlook to the privatisation programme. In their privatisation policies the Government are not buoyed up by a tide of public enthusiasm. Despite the 47 obviously successful privatisation of British Airways, there is no great pressure from the public to move along the path of further privatisation.
When people's telephones go wrong, they are all too ready to say that it is because British Telecom has been privatised. That is utter nonsense, but it is said. The muddle goes even further. Recently, a lady wrote to me to complain that in her area letters had been going astray. She said that she expected a better service from the Post Office now that it had been privatised. If the public are not sure what has been privatised, the Government have a slightly uphill task in pressing the argument for further privatisation, particularly of electricity and water. That is especially so with water, because many are inclined to think that water is in a special and different category.
There are two simple reasons why the Government's privatisation policy should be supported. The first is to take the electricity and water industries out of Treasury control and to bring them nearer to their customers. The fact that they can make their own decisions about the level of investment that is required is crucial to the successful running of such industries. That is a fairly fundamental point. Secondly, there is a different ethos in the management and control of a private company. That is an indefinable thing, and while public service may be a good thing, it can result in a lack of the sharp edge of management that one would wish to see.
It is important that we should press ahead with the Government's privatisation plans. However, I am sure that the House, particularly Conservative Members, will look at the exact extent of the competitive ingredient that can be injected into the two privatisation projects.
It is not so long ago that the British Airports Authority was privatised. I am pleased to see that the BAA is progressing well. I hope that it will not be thought of as sour grapes on my part if I say that I feel surer now than I did at the time that the privatisation could have been handled differently. It has been evident from what has happened in the past two or three years that the separation of London's airports might have served the country's interests rather better than their being privatised altogether.
The sharp-eyed among us will have noticed that civil aviation does not appear in any form in the Gracious Speech. We are told that other measures will be laid before us. One measure that will creep in during the Session, perhaps late one night, is a statutory instrument in which the House will be asked to increase the air transport movements at Stansted. That is the device that the Government created to enable the expansion of Stansted airport from 8 million to 15 million passengers per annum, for which legal planning permission has been granted.
The coming year must surely see the start of some moves further to develop airports policy. There are already noises off. The chairman of BAA, Sir Norman Payne, has gone on record as saying that he wishes to see further expansion at Stansted and Heathrow. There have even been noises on, in that not very long ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that he did not believe that there could be further expansion at Gatwick. Things are being said on the subject of airports policy. All those statements, whether expansive or 48 restrictive, are bound to cause alarm in the constituencies that are directly affected, and those are many more than just my own.
I want to make a plea to the Government to take a comprehensive look, in the course of the year, at our airport needs in the south-east, and in the rest of the country for that matter. The development of airports policy in Britain has been characterised by the little-by-little approach, which has not served our interests well. At one moment we are told, no doubt under the pressure of popular resistance in areas where airport capacity is talked of, that extra terminal capacity is required and documents are produced to try to prove that. The next moment we are told that it is runway capacity that is crucial, and evidence is produced to make that point.
There has been a great muddle in our airports policy over the years, and I hope that we shall not perpetuate it. It would be characteristic of the Government to want to take a long-term view. The continuing success of the Government's economic policies will lead to increased demand, part of which will be demand for air travel, whether for holidays or business. Clearly, therefore, some of the more optimistic predictions that are being made about airport capacity have as good a chance of being fulfilled as other less optimistic forecasts. If the Government recognise that that is likely to flow from the success of their economic policies, it is incumbent on them at the same time to bring before the House an airports policy that will take account of it.
It would be wrong to invite the House to approve further expansion at Stansted without saying what will come after that. It is not fair to my constituents to make it appear that any further expansion that must take place will have to take place at Stansted because there is nowhere else. If the picture, when it is unveiled, suggests that we shall need not only one more runway in the London area, but perhaps two in the next 25 or 30 years, we need to know that now, so that we can effectively plan where to put those runways. It is unacceptable to creep forward small step by small step. That is not helping us to preserve London's competitive position against Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. Nor does it help us to achieve the full play of competition between airlines, which is also something that the Government support.
In the light of the liberalisation of air services in Europe, there will be still further pressure on the London airports system. We hope that liberalisation is achieved as part of the completion of the single market in Europe. I welcome all the measures that are being taken to complete the single market. I note the Government's commitment, reiterated in the Gracious Speech, and I warmly endorse it. Without surrendering an open outlook to the rest of the world, our destiny, as the Prime Minister reaffirmed at Bruges, truly lies in Europe. It may be paradoxical, but I suspect that the Government will find it easier to convince the British public about that than about the privatisation of the water industry. I hope that the Government will not make the country's ambitions in Europe harder to fulfil by running away with the idea that they have a sullen, suspicious public behind them.
I have been reading the last volume of Martin Gilbert's biography of Sir Winston Churchill. In the immediate post-war years, Sir Winston played a great part in stirring the public's imagination over steps towards the broader unification of Europe. One notes that in the difficult 49 post-war years that was treated with much enthusiasm by the public, and that the Conservative party chided the then Labour Government for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about it. I cannot believe that 40 years further away from the second world war it is more difficult to convince the British public of the benefits of greater European unification.
If the Government worry about public opinion, they should take heed that, for our main industrial companies, the fuse has been lit and that, to coin a phrase, there is no going back. There may be disagreements about exactly what is needed to achieve the single market, but if we are prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities that it will present, we must bring home to businesses—large, medium and small—exactly what is involved for them. The Government cannot afford any ambiguity in the signals that they send about the importance of what will happen. We must negotiate soberly and practically on individual measures, but we should take a wider, rather than narrower, view of what the single market could mean for us.
I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) about frontiers. It is a mistake to think that this country can maintain its frontiers against our 11 partners if they decide to have no frontiers between themselves. One sure consequence will be that business invests, not in this country, but in continental Europe. We are proud that we have attracted to this country, because of our improving economy and attitudes to industry, more outside investment wanting to be part of the single European market. It will be folly to give the slightest hint that we are prepared to see ourselves playing less than a full part in that market than any other country.
I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Moorlands said about joining the European monetary system. It should go further than that, and we ought to consider the potential benefits of a single European currency. That may cause some fluttering in the dovecotes, but industry will increasingly find it convenient to deal with its counterparts if it operates a single currency. In Europe we impose burdens upon ourselves by having to observe currency differences, which create uncertainty in business deals. I believe that there will be increasing pressure from industry to move in the direction of a single European currency, and we should not set our hearts and minds against it.
If we are to preserve competition—which is something in which we, as the Conservative party, believe—for the benefit of British consumers, we must reconcile it with the need to have larger companies to compete effectively within Europe and throughout the world. If that means that amalgamations and mergers in this country should be accepted, the only way left to regulate monopoly will be on the larger dimension of the European Community.
The logical underpinning for the changed economy that the Government seek, and for the longer-term industrial success that we all crave, is the fullest possible coming into being of the single market. The fruition of much of the Government's programme is dependent upon that, so the single market becomes the most important part of the Gracious Speech—which I have the greatest pleasure in supporting.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I take this opportunity to draw attention again to what I believe is one of the greatest social injustices that Northern Ireland has to endure—the fact that no arrangement has been made to recognise that, in terms of basic commodities, the people of the North of Ireland are 30 per cent. poorer because of the cost differential that applies there as compared with any other part of England, Scotland or Wales. It is incredible that no allowance has been made for that in social security benefits. I do not see how anyone in this country can be happy with a situation in which people who are on the borderline of poverty, and who must resort to social security, are by definition 30 per cent. worse off in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. That is a crass injustice and one that ought to be put right at the earliest opportunity.
It is a matter of regret that, for the third week running, I have to speak about a substantial derogation of the rights of Northern Ireland people. What we have heard today in relation to more punitive measures will not bring a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland and to the violence there but will exacerbate them, and will further delay the day we can all begin to work towards peace.
Last week, there was a derogation of rights in respect of the right to silence. The week before, it was in respect of free speech and the freedom of press reporting. This week, it is in respect of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984, and removal of the 50 per cent. remission that has existed since that legislation was applied in Northern Ireland.
Next week and the week after, there will be a further derogation in respect of a free and open franchise, which should exist in every country. The question that people ought to ask themselves is: what derogation of rights will there be the week after next, or six months hence?
The measures I have mentioned have not been as successful as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland predicted. What will happen further down the line? When will Parliament say to itself, "So far and no further."? When Parliament reaches that point, it will have arrived at the moment of realisation—I hope it will be soon—that the course upon which the Government have embarked is not, and cannot be, successful. The reason is that the Government have chosen to make the law and the process of justice a weapon with which to defeat terrorism. However, the law is not there for that reason. I repeat what I said last week and the week before: the law is there to administer justice and it cannot be used to defeat terrorism in the way that the Government are attempting, without bending it and reducing its integrity and basic principles, which we should all cherish.
One element of the Government's action that I welcome is the legislation dealing with racketeering. It is wrong that individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland should be allowed to extort money from private individuals, private businesses and public bodies in the way that they do. However, I exhort caution. The legislation to which I refer will give the Secretary of State a power normally reserved for a judge or a court, and we must be careful to ensure that the onus of proof will reside with the state and not with the suspect. While I welcome that element of the Government's proposals, it could also be dangerous.
I am concerned about the withdrawal of remission, because it runs the danger of putting the whole debate 51 back at the emotional epicentre of Irish republicanism, which is the prisons. We have seen throughout history how the emotional content of what happens in Irish prisons can itself change history, and cause problems that last not for one or five years but for generations.
What is the Government's objective in making the proposed changes and those of the past three weeks? Is it to create a punitive arrangement, or to bring about the rehabilitative approach that I believe should underlie all legislation relating to the courts and prisons? In the last analysis, someone must put it all together again and enable a small number of people—one and a half million—to live together in peace on a small bit of land. If we derogate from normal practice as I believe the Government are now doing, we are in danger of accepting abnormality. The Government may have conditioned themselves to live with abnormality, but those of us who live in the North of Ireland cannot allow that to become our standard. We are entitled to work towards normality, rather than settling for the lowest common denominator as the Government are doing.
As for the removal of the 50 per cent. remission, why was it there in the first place? The reasons, I think, are obvious: they are on record and they have been given by the Government here. First, a number of young people are caught up in the process of violence. That has not changed to this day, and as a reason it is as valid now as it ever was. Secondly, we are working against a background of legislation that does not operate in England, Scotland or Wales—the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1987, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 and the public order legislation.
It is not accurate to say—as do the Minister of State, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister—that arrangements are being brought into step with those in England, Scotland and Wales, or that they are being brought into step with those in the Republic of Ireland.There is a fundamental difference. In all those places, parole is available after one third of a sentence has been served, a facility that does not exist in the North of Ireland. We are not only playing with fire within the prisons and creating a highly emotional issue that will benefit not the Government or those who want peace, but those who want to manipulate it; we are also adding to the harshness of an already harsh prison regime.
The second question is implied in the first. A number of people, on leaving prison, revert to terrorism and to the support of terrorism. But the Government have not given the figure, and I think that they must put it on record. They tell us that they estimate such offences to be in the region of 25 per cent. of scheduled offences—that is, terrorist offences—but that is only a guess. When it is compared with the available figure of 60 per cent. for those convicted of non-terrorist offences, the notion that there is a high level of return to violence must be challenged.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister will accede to the point made by Viscount Colville in his report on the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He said that the iniquitous system of exclusion orders against people from Northern Ireland should be done away with, but the Prime Minister made no reference to that today. I wonder whether it will 52 happen, or whether the Government will override the view of a respected Member of the other House who is also a respected and learned member of the legal profession.
Does not the very fact that the arrangement is being made permanent tell us something about the imaginative approach of the Government? Does it not tell us something about their state of mind? It is very dangerous to start marginalising a large section of the community—such as we have in the North of Ireland—who are not on the margins but central and indigenous, and who support those who support violence. It cannot and will not work. The Government should be drawing those people into the process of creating peace and stability, rather than pushing them out.
There is no better example than the way in which the Government are now tampering with the electoral process by deciding that everyone who stands for election in the North of Ireland must make a declaration against violence. I shall have no problem with that, and I should like to think that no Member from the North of Ireland will either, but there will be problems none the less. I am not talking about those who form armies and occasionally take them to the top of hillsides to wave gun licences and threaten the Government; I am talking about those who every day give unambiguous support to the men of violence. They have said that they will make the declaration. What happens then? Will the Government, in their wisdom and strength of purpose, step in and take them before the courts? No: that will be left to a private individual.
I do not believe that this will work, but if it is to do so at all successfully, an individual will have to take people before the High Court, at enormous expense and risk, to prove the spurious point that the Government are trying to make. That does not strike me as firm government or dealing with the problem that I accept is there—the problem of people on the one hand purporting to be democrats and on the other hand supporting violence. It is also a problem for me to realise that Members of the House create armies such as the Ulster Resistance Organisation, whose huge arms cache was found close to where I live last week. But we should face up to such problems honestly, not in this inadequate, devious way.
The legislation will not succeed, for the same reasons that the other legislation I have mentioned will not. People will drive a horse and cart through it, and those of us who are still involved in local government will be dancing in and out of the courts for the next four years. Think of the damage that will be done to the whole political process in the North of Ireland, which is damaged enough already, and the publicity that will be given to those who go through the courts or who take others through the courts. I know from rumour—a potent factor in the North of Ireland—that a long list of people are already earmarked for visits to the courts who do not belong to the UDA, to Sinn Fein or to a number of the organisations at which the legislation is aimed.
I am disappointed by these changes. I confidently predict that somewhere along the line a member of the Government must have the courage to stand up and say, "We are not going any further towards bending the law and derogating from the highest standards." Otherwise, the integrity of the law will go, and someone—and it will not be a Conservative Member—will have to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
53 That is painstaking work, which other people will have to do. They will have to create confidence and support for the process of law and justice, which is being eroded through Government edict. Surely, after the bloodstained history of Ireland and in view of Ireland's relationship with this country, the Government should have learned something.
The executions of 1916 were said to have passed Irish republicanism into the hands of people whose motivation was not only love of Ireland, but hatred of Britain. Must we continue to make the same mistakes decade after decade? In the case of this Government, perhaps I should say, week after week.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I came to the House as Member of Parliament for my present constituency 20 years ago this month, but for 16 months between the end of 1964 and 1966 I had the honour to represent Lewisham, West. It gives me great pleasure to place on record my personal congratulations to my hon. Friend the present Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) on the charming way in which he seconded the motion that a Loyal Address be sent to Her Majesty. I hope that he will represent Lewisham, West for as long as I have represented New Forest.
I find nothing in the Queen's Speech with which I can possibly disagree. Quite clearly, it represents the redeeming of the pledges that were given to the people of this country in the general election campaign. Nevertheless, the Queen's Speech raises matters that require further consideration.
First, I want to deal with the comments that were made in the Queen's Speech about defence and the need for effective and strong defences. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was kind enough to respond to me in an intervention earlier this afternoon, when I asked whether she could yet tell us when a decision would be made about the replacement of 500 Chieftain tanks by either the American-designed Abrahams mark 1A1 or by the Challenger 2. As we know, there was a third possibility for the contract—the West German Leopard. In all probability, that third possibility has been ruled out.
I want to place on record my concern about the way in which the choice will be made. No one wants a repeat performance of the difficulties in which the Government found themselves over the airborne early warning system, when vast sums of taxpayers' money were spent on a system that was clearly unable to do the job. For that reason, I found no difficulty in supporting the decision to buy the American system. However, on this occasion it appears that the choice available to the Ministry of Defence is finely balanced and the effect of losing the order would be so disastrous that the matter should be examined in the greatest detail.
The two tanks are very similar. The American Abrahams tank is powered by a gas turbine engine, whereas the British tank will be powered by a Perkins 1,200 horsepower engine. On paper, that is 300 horsepower less than the American tank. However, it should be remembered that a gas turbine engine is far more thirsty on fuel, which will create additional problems of logistic support for tank formations, and I am advised that Perkins states that its engine is mildly turbocharged, and could be uprated to 1,500 horsepower, if necessary.
54 Therefore, there is no difference in terms of performance and speed. In addition, even when a gas turbine engine is running at tick-over speed it has a more definite heat signature than a diesel engine, so in terms of battlefield logic it makes a great deal of sense to stick with the British design.
We are told that one of the drawbacks of the current Chieftain tank and, we are told by those who have examined the plans, of the Challenger 2 is that the gunnery system is less efficient. I hope that Vickers, and those companies that subcontract from Vickers, will ensure that that will not be the stumbling block for the British design. Vickers has already spent about £40 million on the project and about 12,000 jobs at Leeds and Newcastle upon Tyne could be affected by a decision to buy the American tank. In addition, British companies would lose servicing contracts and contracts for sales elsewhere in the world, so I hope that we shall choose the British product.
Page three of the Gracious Speech refers to the economy and to the need topursue firm financial policies designed to bear down on inflation.Hon. Members have made their own suggestions this afternoon on how that could be achieved. Inevitably, some rather simplistic views have been expressed, and there seems to be a feeling that there is a panacea to cure all difficulties.
Some hon. Members have said that we need to join the European monetary system—a view that I totally reject. The European monetary system, and especially the exchange rate mechanism, was designed to cater for like currencies. Within that system, currencies operate within predetermined arithmetic bands and, if a currency goes outside its band, remedial action is necessary. On certain occasions, that has meant not only increases in interest rates, about which hon. Members have complained today, but jumps of up to 20 per cent. in interest rates to bring a currency within its band.
Our currency has a characteristic unlike all other European currencies, in that, for whatever reason, it is a petro-currency and is perceived as such. Given the wide fluctuations in the cost of crude oil, our currency could be given a band, without any reference to the performance of the economy, and we could find extreme difficulty in trying to stay within that particular range. That would be an added strain on the British economy, which we could well do without.
Other hon. Members have talked of the need to reduce the value of sterling, as if that was an easy option for restoring competitiveness to the economy and removing any deficit that may exist. I remind the House that in 1976, in the darkest days of the Labour economic crisis, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to take immediate action, part of which relied on a visit to the International Monetary Fund. The West. German deutschmark and the Japanese yen were at record high levels, yet their cars and products were pouring unchecked into this country. The low value of our currency did not help us at all. In fact, the reverse was true. Currency is an indicator of the international financial respect that a country enjoys.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the percentage of imported vehicles has steadily increased since those years and continues to increase?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Clearly, personal preference has something to do with it. Inevitably, if a product that we 55 produce is not to the liking of the consumer, the consumer will buy elsewhere. I have always tried to buy British, and I am satisfied with the products. The hon. Gentleman knows much about such matters, but I remind him that unfortunately the creation of an economy such as I have just described by the Labour party in the dying years of its last Administration did nothing to stimulate competition. It was for that reason that British Leyland and many other businesses produced products of the wrong quality, which meant that people bought from elsewhere. As a result, it was not just the motor industry that suffered. The steel industry was also affected because every foreign car that was imported meant a tonne of steel that did not come from a British steel mill. There are no short cuts. We want a properly competitive industry to produce products at the right price, at the right time and, more importantly, of the right quality.
When discussions on the world economy takes place today, there is one component that is totally different from any of the pre-war or immediately post-war years. At the time of the great crash of 1929—that happens to be the year when I was born, which some might regard as significant—the world's national currencies were related to the amount of precious metal in the possession of the national Governments. We all recall that the gold standard created terrible misery. Throughout those pre-war and early post-war years, currency crises meant that gold and dollar reserves were the arbiter and deciding factor in how far an economy could be expanded.
Now that gold has been demonetised and we have moved away from a reliance on a relationship with a given amount of precious metal, there is no limit to the size of the world economy. Previous constraints no longer exist. Although hon. Members may be concerned about the level of the American deficit or about our own deficit, we should look at the wider issues. If we were to accept the proposals that were put forward by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Democrats, that we should have an immediate restriction on credit, we would begin once again to recreate recession and depression in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) said earlier, if the Americans were substantially to increase their level of taxation to deal with the deficit, they would do precisely the same thing to their economy. Therefore, I do not regard those as sensible options.
Interest rates are an option that could be used, in spite of the important and engaging remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) about the need to reduce them. Interest rates are probably the quickest way to bring any imbalance under control.
The third of my four points about the Gracious Speech is the Government's continuing attachment to the importance of protecting our environment. I live in an environmentally sensitive part of England. I have the honour to represent the New Forest. It is not just a very nice part of England; it is a unique part of England—indeed, a unique part of Europe. It is the largest piece of lowland vegetation in the whole of central Europe.
Recently in the New Forest we have had some difficulties because of the local authority's attempt to introduce a private Bill to circumvent some of the general Acts of Parliament which are in place to protect that 56 unique part of England. The legislation that is designed to give that protection stems largely from an inquiry which was set up in 1946 by a Labour Government to look at the requirements of the New Forest in the immediate post-war period and the years beyond. The New Forest now needs a new inquiry. Although we have had a full review, which was set up by the Forestry Commission, the final report which will be available shortly, only an independent inquiry can ultimately produce the balanced report that will be necessary if new legislation is to be introduced at some future date.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will find it possible to set up an inquiry, like that was established in 1946, not only to consider the requirements of the New Forest and of the people who live there, but to ensure that a balance between the increasing urbanisation of the south of England and the protection of this remarkable ecological example of rural England can be preserved. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will ensure that my right hon. Friend is told of that requirement, because it will not be enough to rely on legislation stemming from an inquiry that took place over 40 years ago. We need something new, and we need it soon.
Finally, I should like to turn to the restructuring and sale of our electricity supply industry. A long-standing problem for those concerned with energy is the complete imbalance between the generating part of our electricity industry and the part that is supposed to be concerned with prices. We have always known of the dominant position that the Central Electricity Generating Board has enjoyed relative to that enjoyed by the Electricity Council, even to the point that the CEGB not only made but spent all the money. With great respect to those who have served the Electricity Council for so long, it has been little more than a tassel on a lion's tail.
The idea of restructuring the industry is not new to any political party. Attempts have been made by both sides of the House to look for ways of redressing and restoring the balance. Therefore, I am happy that we should go the full distance in our restructuring and return the industry to private ownership. However, I have one caveat, because, although in separating generation from transmission one has immediately and helpfully—and hopefully—broken the idea of a public monopoly by becoming a private monopoly, one could be in serious danger if there were a shortage of supply, because the generating companies might well group together to produce a common and increasing price scale. If we are to see the fruits of the success of our policy, it is essential that the Government quickly expand the number of generating companies and units that will be available after vesting day.
At the moment, the two generating organisations will control 70 per cent. and 30 per cent. respectively. The area boards are there to take up any options and opportunities which may exist. However, I shall not feel happy about the privatisation of electricity until I see a much larger number of generators on the scene. I refer not necessarily to those who build the large power stations, to which we have become accustomed, but to well-backed generators which use gas turbines and smaller thermal stations to add to generating capacity, so that transmission companies may have a genuine, wide range of options, and, as a result, we shall see prices fall. The alternative is a cartel of generating 57 capacity, which would lead to increasing prices and would completely defeat the objective of the Government's policy.
I have picked out four significant matters in the Gracious Speech. The speech sets out a formidable programme for the next 12 months, but, having heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explain the Government's plans to the House this afternoon, I am convinced that we shall have little difficulty in convincing the country of their value.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
In the past few weeks in Glasgow and in Scotland generally there has been much talk about nationalism. It is disappointing that the Scottish Nationalist Members who told us that they would set the heather on fire are not present. I am disappointed also that the Queen's Speech does not mention devolution for Scotland. It is clear that the vast majority of people in Scotland do not want to go down the road of separatism, but they want a say in the running of their own affairs. The Government should remember that.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke about the North of Ireland, as he called it. Perhaps that is an appropriate term. However, he spoke about Northern Ireland. In view of recent events, there is worry in Scotland that we could see a hatred of the English emerging again. I am Scottish born and bred. I am proud of my culture and my heritage. I hope to God that I never see the day when my country is run by people who hate others on the basis of race and creed.
In recent weeks in the Govan area, I have seen something emerge that the press has not covered. I mean no disrespect to Scottish Nationalist Members, but some of their followers are frightening people. They are prepared to crowd around Members of other parties at polling stations to make sure that they do not hand out leaflets. Because of their political beliefs, they are prepared to abuse those who are interested in promoting their parties and democratic systems.
Ten years ago, when I was a councillor, and when the SNP had some seats in Glasgow, councillors were prepared to say that, unless they related to their wards, they were not prepared to push through any decisions. We must consider not only the nationalism that the press has been reporting but the ultra-nationalism that can be seen in Scotland. Believe me, it is frightening. We have already seen people who, only five or six years ago, were anti-European. They went around factories telling people not to get into Europe. They now say that Europe is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
In Scotland, as in the rest of the country, there is great worry about the regrading of nurses, nursing sisters and auxiliaries. We should not forget that regrading affects auxiliaries. The rights of women have been mentioned. It is interesting to note that many auxiliary nurses are women who have brought up their families and who have lost education opportunities. They take up auxiliary nursing so that they can have an interesting job that can give themselves a decent career and a proper status. The Government have failed miserably in looking after such dedicated people. The word "dedication" has been used time and again, but it is hypocritical for Ministers to talk about the dedication of nurses. Within five minutes of 58 some nurses expressing a grievance, the Government are the first to say that they are harming patients and the National Health Service.
One of the biggest employers in my constituency is Stobhill hospital. I visited that hospital three times to attend meetings there in the past week. I can lay to rest the case that trade unions are stirring up matters. Pressure has come from nursing sisters and those in other grades. They called the meetings and asked elected trade union representatives to come along. If Ministers think that that is just another case of trade union officers and militant trade unionists stirring up matters and leading workers by the nose, I invite them to come to Stobhill hospital or to any hospital in Glasgow. They will then see the bitter resentment that has been caused there because the Government and the health boards have made an absolute mess of regrading. Glasgow is even worse off than areas outside the boundaries. Health boards in areas other than Glasgow have given the benefit of the doubt to nursing sisters and auxiliaries.
We have a colder climate north of the border. It is exceptionally cold just now in Glasgow and in the north of Scotland—
§ Mr. Martin
As my hon . Friend said, it is exceptionally cold in Greenock.
We had about four inches of snow at the weekend. That is a serious problem for the elderly. We are talking about the privatisation of the generating boards, but, as a small first step, we should abolish standing charges. Elderly people living alone are worried about bills and they try to cut the amount of gas and electricity that they use. Therefore, it stands to reason that the standing charge is proportionately bigger than any other charge. It is shameful that, sometimes, people spend only £5 or £6 on gas and electricity during the summer, but they are hit with a standing charge that is almost that amount again. We should do away with standing charges, at least, and examine the poverty of the elderly. All hon. Members must be ashamed when people go to their surgeries.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Has the hon. Gentleman investigated whether old people would in fact benefit from the abolition of standing charges? If standing charges are abolished, it means that the bills will go up for everyone else. The cost must be spread equally. Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that many old people are housebound and therefore have larger bills than people who go out to work?
§ Mr. Martin
I was coming on to the question of larger bills. Many elderly people have been accustomed to saving and putting aside the money for their rent, electricity and other bills. They gain some benefit in the summer, during the hot weather, but that benefit is taken away when the bill is lower, because they are hit with a standing charge. That is highlighted when a person's appliances are almost all gas and the only electricity used is for lighting. In those circumstances, it is very galling for an elderly person to have a small electricity charge, but to discover the same amount again for a standing charge.
I am ashamed, as no doubt other hon. Members are, of the fact that many pensioners tell us that they are in arrears with their electricity payments, and that to try to pay off 59 those arrears they have to reduce their electricity consumption by cutting down on their heating. The Government tell elderly people to guard against hypothermia, but because those people are in arrears with their electricity payments their only option is to cut back on heating. It is no use Ministers saying in communities such as mine that they will crack down on illegal moneylenders, when they are forcing people to take that road because of gas and electricity arrears.
I am worried that no mention has been made of drug and drink abuse. There is a flaw in the law of Scotland, and perhaps applies in England, too. In Scotland there has been a lot of publicity about the fact that no one under the age of 18 can be sold alcohol. However, it is not against the law for a person under the age of 18 to consume alcohol on the streets. If we are worried about law and order, it is ludicrous that people as young as 14 and 15 can consume beer and whisky on the streets. The Government should take steps to deal with that loophole in the law.
The Government have mentioned a recent campaign about drugs and the fear of AIDS. Frankly, that is not enough, when housewives cleaning their tenement closes and stairways run the risk of being jabbed by discarded hypodermic needles, which is how serious the problem is in some parts of Glasgow. Recently, after a church service, I was told that an 11-year-old child had picked up a discarded needle. She was not a drug user, nor was her family. That innocent child was cut and had to be rushed to hospital, and her parents had a worrying time wondering whether their child would contract hepatitis or AIDS. The Government are spending ha'pennies on the campaign to combat the drug and AIDS problem.
I cannot recall a time since becoming a Member of Parliament when a new nursery has been opened in my constituency. When talking about women's rights, and, most important, children's rights and better education for children, it is a scandal that our record for nursery education is worse than that of any in the European Community. The local authority in Strathclyde—a responsible local authority—cannot guarantee children at least a year's nursery education before they start primary school, which is probably the case for every local authority. That is shameful and something should be done about it.
§ Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I always enjoy debates on the Gracious Speech. They are a kind of grand inquest on the nation, when we hear many speeches covering a wide variety of topics. Before thinking what I would say today, I refreshed my memory by looking up what I had said two years ago on a similar occasion. I see that then I praisedthe strength, energy and commitment of the Government,"—[Official Report, 12 November 1986; Vol. 105, c. 42.]I reiterate that praise today, but add to that the strength, energy and commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who goes from strength to strength in leading this country at home and abroad. We are greatly respected abroad and, in spite of the sad tales we have heard today, in the main our people have never been as prosperous as they are now.
60 Our Prime Minister has just returned from a most successful visit to the United States and she occupies a unique position on the world stage, however galling that may be to some Opposition Members.
There has been some mention in the press about the possibility of the Queen visiting the Soviet Union. The Soviets brutally murdered the Tsar and his family who, of course, were close relatives of the King of England. They have an appalling record of crimes against humanity.
§ Sir John Stokes
We need to see great and fundamental changes by the Soviet Union, such as dismantling the Berlin wall, before such a visit could be considered.
I welcome the statement in the Gracious Speech that we shall maintain strong defences. Agreeable as the reductions in nuclear arms have been, there is still no sign whatever of any reductions in Soviet conventional forces. Until those come about, we must continue to keep up our guard.
In foreign affairs, I support the Prime Minister's determination to keep our national identity and not to be swamped by what I can only call an absurd federalism among some EEC nations. Therefore, we must not be entirely bemused by the prospect of one market in 1992. Of course, so far some of the changes have been appalling, silly and unnecessary, such as tinkering with our ancient weights and measures. I now hear that our superb English silver, which is the best in the world, will no longer have its own distinguishing hallmark, but will have instead a miserable number produced by some faceless bureaucrat in Brussels.
I welcome the list of new Bills, long though it is. I hope that perhaps next year, as well as passing Bills, we can return to scrutinising Government expenditure and wherever possible saving the taxpayer's money, which is our prime duty.
The increase in the rate of inflation is worrying, as, too, are some aspects of the housing market. I have great confidence that, by next spring, the Chancellor will have substantially reduced the rise in inflation and that there will have been stabilisation—I hope, a fall—in house prices.
Enormous sums are still being spent on social security. We all pride ourselves on looking after the ill, the old and the unemployed, but I am not in favour of indiscriminate benefits, which are often paid for by imposing too high a tax on those with small incomes.
I welcome the further steps towards privatisation and towards increasing the efficiency of industry and commerce. The improvements in the west midlands are most encouraging. The fall in unemployment, the rise in orders, the creation of so many new businesses and the general commercial activity are welcome. In the hard times, the people of my constituency never complained; I rejoice in that, and congratulate them on their success now. They have also greatly improved their marketing and selling skills in an area that was once far too production-oriented. I also salute their tremendous export efforts, which are an absolute romance. If one goes into the 61 packaging departments of firms medium and small, one sees the names of countries from all over the world. It makes one very proud.
The Government believe in encouraging individual effort and getting the state off our backs. The reductions in taxation are most welcome. So too is the enormous increase in private giving to charity, which I am sure is the result of people paying lower taxes. Almost the worst way in which to help people is by giving liberal helpings of taxpayers' money. Self-help, soon to be supported by local and central Government, will be the key to our success in regenerating the inner cities and other depressed parts of the economy.
Unfortunately, the Government have not yet had much success in dealing with crime, violence, punishment and the lack of it. Violent crime and armed robberies continue unabated. The vast majority of the public desire the return of the death penalty. Each time this Chamber refuses to conform to their wishes, our reputation suffers further harm. However, I welcome the steps that have been taken to combat football violence and hooliganism.
I detect a new social problem arising from affluence, not poverty. I refer to the appalling bad manners, increasing dirt, litter and vandalism that is evident in public places. Some areas also suffer from dreadfully bad, selfish and dangerous driving.
In the 18th century, the poor, who had to endure many hardships, were promised the reward of heaven in the next world by John Wesley and other preachers. Today, for some poor people who have become rich, heaven has arrrived. It is here and now, and those people respect neither God nor man. This is primarily a matter of moral training and discipline in the home, supported, I hope, by teachers and the clergy. We shall become a perfectly horrible nation unless steps are taken now to curb this menacing trend. I realise that the mass of the people live good lives and use their wealth responsibly. That only makes it more important to try to curb the bad behaviour of a small minority.
I welcome the intention to make the prevention of terrorism more permanent and positive. I am not one of those who are mad to replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. That is mainly a matter of concern to journalists and media people and not to the ordinary man and woman in the street. Most ordinary, decent, patriotic Englishmen want state secrets to be kept and those who break them to be properly punished. Similarly, I am horrified that politicians should somehow have detailed control of our Secret Service. I can imagine nothing more disastrous for the safety of our country.
I welcome the improvements in the standard of education, but I am only sorry that, today, so little English history is taught. I take people around this place, which I greatly enjoy, and I show them the great portraits in the Royal Gallery and the paintings depicting the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Many children have never heard of Nelson and Wellington, our heroes. Surely the basis of our civilisation is our great and glorious history.
Today, Opposition Members have told us of some of the sad cases in life, but let me repeat what I have said so often in this place—how fortunate we are to live in this island. Our general elections, for instance, do not cause the convulsions that occur in some other countries. Our people are basically peaceful, particularly the English people. They hate revolution and civil strife.
62 Today, as I saw the Queen arriving, followed by the royal procession with the sun sparkling on the plumes and helmets and surrounded by the good-natured crowd, I thought, "My goodness, we have a lot to be thankful for; how cheerful are our people." They are rightly cheerful.
§ Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at an early stage in this debate and I am also pleased to follow on closely from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), who eloquently described the situation in Scotland. My speech, as a Labour Member representing the north-east of England, will follow a similar course, but whether my Englishness will be acceptable enough to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) is somewhat doubtful.
I listened carefully to the Gracious Speech and to the fuller version given by the Prime Minister this afternoon. Along with, I suspect, many others, I am as perturbed by the glaring omissions in the Gracious Speech as I am by the catalogue of unwelcome Bills that it contains.
I want to concentrate on the failure of the Gracious Speech to tackle one of the most acute problems in Britain—the way in which power is centralised in our society and how decisions are increasingly concentrated not in Westminster or Whitehall, but in No. 10. Downing street.
I was amazed that, in response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister denied that centralisation was taking place. It became clear, however, that she backed up her claim by quoting her privatisation programme. That is a peculiar form of economic decentralization, which involves selling off something that is of benefit to us all for the benefit of a favoured few.
However, there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about political decentralisation or the reform of our political institutions. That is a tragedy. At one time, Britain was a shining beacon of democracy that others admired, but we are now falling behind many other countries in the quality and depth of our democracy.
What we need is political decentralisation, but what we will get is more centralisation and the denial of local and regional powers, which has been the hallmark of the Government since they took office. It is clear in the Gracious Speech that, once again, the Government are proposing a Bill to deal with the conduct of local authorities. That follows the curbing of local authority spending powers, rate capping, the poll tax and the abolition of the metropolitan counties.
We have seen the destruction of regional policy, the collapse of much regional financial support and the refusal to create regional institutions. The Government, who have presided over and helped to create the most marked regional and social divisions that many of us can remember, do not recognise that fact, and propose no remedies or initiatives. There seems to be a complete lack of awareness of regional feeling, yet I believe that the Government ignore it at their peril.
I was greatly amused to see a cartoon in one of the national newspapers last week, which referred to the Mappa Mundi that the Hereford cathedral authorities proposed to sell. The cartoon showed a 20th-century Mappa Mundi, with the Prime Minister gazing at it in appreciation. That distorted view of the world showed a 63 fairly small Europe on the left-hand side, a slightly larger United States of America on the right-hand side and in the middle a huge wodge entitled "South-East of England". The Prime Minister's Mappa Mundi is perhaps even more distorted than that, because many people in the south-east and in the inner-city area of London also seem to be ignored by the Government.
The Government's disregard of regional issues is particularly obvious in England and is particularly resented in my area, the north-east of England. Where I live in the north-east, there is a highly developed regional sense of identity, reinforced by strong tradition, particularly cultural and musical traditions. As we are so close to Scotland, perhaps our identity is neither particularly English nor particularly Scottish, but has something of each. That identity is not allowed any political expression by the Government.
I was pleased when, during the previous Session, my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) presented the Northern Regional Assembly Bill to the House. I was also pleased that it was followed later by the presentation, again by an Opposition Member, of the North West Regional Assembly Bill. That shows strongly that Labour is the party of decentralisation wherever it is felt to be needed throughout the United Kingdom.
In the northern region, a development body has been set up, but independently, without the full extent of Government support or blessing that would be necessary for that organisation to do an effective job. At present, it has to run on a shoestring budget. Labour Members from the northern region will try to remedy that in the coming Session of Parliament.
The need to cope with regional awareness is so low on the Government's list of priorities that it is difficult to find out how much the different Government Departments spend in the different regions. As a member of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, I have been trying to get the Government to produce spending statistics for their Departments by region, but so far without success.
The attitude of other European Governments shows that the Government are out of step in their view of the regions. At one time, France, with its Napoleonic structures, was thought to be the most centralised of Western democracies. These days, significant powers are given to the French regions. Germany's federal structure also works well and seems to be acceptable to all the states in the federation.
European feelings in favour of a strong regional structure were reflected in the European Parliament last week, when a report on the situation in the regions was adopted, which referred to the necessity for regional organisations to be elected and to have financial autonomy and sufficient resources to exercise their power. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) talked about the European Parliament and the need for greater recognition of its role. However, I am not sure that he would have supported that report, because his Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament did not, as they thought that it went in the opposite direction from that followed by the Conservative Government.
I believe strongly that we are seeing an arrogant misuse of power and that the Government—who, after all, were 64 elected with only 42 per cent. of the popular vote—should not ignore the regional variations within that overall vote. In Scotland, Wales and the north of England they obtained less than one third of the votes cast.
Let me give a more recent example of a by-election, not the one that received so much publicity, but a by-election in the north-east—at Cramlington in Northumberland. There was an interesting vote. Labour was returned with 603 votes. The Democrats and the Social Democratic party got 361 and 239 respectively, the Greens got 89 and the Conservatives got 88. So much for the environmental reputation of the Government.
As a result of the general election, the Government have a mandate, but they do not have a mandate for riding roughshod over, or ignoring, regional or local democratic structures in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will learn some humility in the face of the majority who do not support them, and whose opposition grows daily more hostile.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) said, I always enjoy these debates because they give us an opportunity to look forward into the coming year and at the effects that the Government's proposals may have on us.
The Government's programme is a continuation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's policy of moving our nation from the bottom of the league to being a great nation with an international reputation and commanding the respect of all other nations. That is an amazing feat. I am convinced that we shall continue that process in the new Session under her leadership.
I welcome the fact that early on the Gracious Speech mentions the most important issue—defence. I welcome the Government's plans for national security and the preservation of peace with the assistance and co-operation of our NATO allies and United States friends. The fourth paragraph of the Gracious Speech states that the Governmentstrongly support the United States' proposals for 50 per cent. reductions in American and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons.We welcome that. We all look forward to disarmament, but we must be careful about two things—timing and verification. I welcome the Americans' initiative in starting the negotiations, and I am sure that we shall back them up.
Mr. Gorbachev's visit to this country illustrates two things. The first is the position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Europe and the world and her importance. Secondly, it shows the stature of our nation. My right hon. Friend said today that she would bring to Mr. Gorbachev's attention certain differences that are absolutely paramount. They are on the human rights issue, which must be discussed. We must say to Mr. Gorbachev that until he carries out reforms—for example, on Afghanistan—it is difficult to understand his philosophy.
We must also say that while he is embarking on an increase in arms production, we find it difficult to understand his philosophy. It would not be amiss to remind him of his own troubles in the Baltic states and other parts of the non-Russian republic, which are beginning to show him the internal desire for freedom in his own empire. Such suggestions can and will change his mind. I am sure that slowly he will be able to overcome the 65 system of government in the Soviet Union and begin to concentrate on agriculture rather than armaments and bring his country back to what it was before the great war—the granary of Europe. I am sure that those are things that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be discussing with him.
The Queen's Speech refers to the Falklands. I would be happy to see negotiations with Argentina, as such negotiations would have advantages. However, I am determined to abide by our declaration that no change in the sovereignty of those islands will take place without the consent of the people who live there. That does not prevent us from negotiating with Argentina. Those are two separate issues and should be treated as such. Until the Government of Argentina recognise that, it is impossible to have any trade negotiations.
The Queen's Speech also refers to the Official Secrets Act. Recent events have made it necessary for us to change section 2 of that Act by statute, making it impossible for those who serve in the security service to reveal anything they discover during their service. Their lips must be sealed. Parliamentary supervision would be too wide. Certain issues are so sensitive and difficult that they must be kept within the bounds of the security service and not divulged to Parliament or anybody else. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has access to those things, but access should be limited. Section 2 should be altered, and recent events prove that we are justified in seeking an alteration.
The Queen's Speech also refers to the social services and the NHS. One cannot have good social services and a good Health Service for our aging population without sufficient funds. The demand for treatment is increasing and the provision of medical equipment is expensive. Therefore, it is essential for the nation to be prosperous and to make sufficient funds available to provide health care. Also, funds should be made available for the poorer elements of our society. Resources should be targeted at those people, and there should not be blanket provision for people who do not need it.
There should be selective but effective help for those who genuinely need extra asistance in order to make their lives tolerable. That applies particularly to the elderly. I know that there are private pension schemes, savings, and so on, which help some people and raise them out of the poverty trap. However, others are not so far-sighted or fortunate and have not been able to accumulate such resources with which to supplement their incomes. I hope that the Government will ensure that the resources made available are targeted on those who really need them.
I am satisfied that the Government are sympathetic to people. They have understood over the years that we have been in power that we need efficiency in the NHS, efficiency in the administration of money, and, above all, that sufficient money must be provided by the taxpayer. That can be provided only if society is prosperous, which it is now. I am sure that Britain's prosperity will improve even more during the next Session and that we will continue to be regarded as once again one of the great nations of the world.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The content of the Queen's Speech could hardly have come as a surprise to anyone in the House. Everything was leaked 66 beforehand, which is what one associates with the Government. During her speech, the Prime Minister was asked about the stories that appeared in the Sunday press regarding the Queen's non-visit to the Soviet Union. I listened to what the Prime Minister told us. She said that no decision had been reached and that the matter had not yet been raised. How is it that every Sunday paper carried the same story? It was the same sort of briefing as the Chancellor gave on pensions only two or three weeks ago. I suspect that Mr. Bernard Ingham gave a briefing on Friday or Saturday. If the matter has not yet been dealt with at the usual level between the Prime Minister and the Queen, it is extremely discourteous to Her Majesty that she should read about the Government's decision in the Sunday press. Clearly there was a Government briefing, and this is yet another example of the way in which the Government conduct their business.
The domestic content of the Queen's Speech is once again a predictable chronicle of extreme Right-wing Tory measures. Reference is made to amending the law on social security. We shall find out all the details in the next few days. I am concerned at any further change in social security legislation because all the changes that have occurred since the Government took office have worsened the position for millions of people in Britain. The last change saw millions lose all or part of their housing benefit. Undoubtedly, that has caused tremendous hardship to many, including many of my constituents. Even the inadequate transitional arrangements were introduced as a panic measure. It was not intended that they should be introduced. Because of the outcry from Labour Members and the general public and the fact that we pointed out day in, day out, the hardships being caused to our constituents, the Government decided to introduce the transitional arrangements, but I do not suppose they will last long.
We are told that there will be a measure to change the law on local government housing finance. There have been enough leaks in the past few days for us to know that was coming. Such a change will mean exorbitant rent increases. Ministers wish to see any element of rates stopped for rent purposes and they also wish to end central subsidies for council housing finance. The poorest council tenants who do not have the income necessary to pay such rent increases may be protected in some way. However, any help or subsidy will come from other council tenants. Therefore, the near-poor will be subsidising the poorest in the community.
We are certainly concerned about the way in which millions of council tenants will be penalised and discriminated against. The Government are out to fatten up the council estates to make them ready for privatisation. Under the Housing Act 1988, private landlords and property companies, as long as they are approved—for what that is worth—will be able to bid for council-owned properties and local authorities will have no way of stopping such bids succeeding if the vote, which is very warped, is carried by council tenants.
Ministers will, I believe, find that such pressures will not produce a majority of council tenants, even under the system used for voting, in favour of their properties being sold to the private sector. Council tenants know full well what would be in store for them if they became private tenants. That will be all the more so under the provisions 67 of the Housing Act because regulated tenancies will come to an end, there will be market rents, and security of tenure will be largely undermined.
I shall now deal with the plight of the homeless and those who are forced to stay for months or years in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and the many more inadequately housed. Many families live in a rented room because they cannot afford a mortgage or cannot get council accommodation. Other people, some with small children, live with their parents or in-laws who help them. Those things do not seem to worry the Government. This Christmas even more of our people will be forced to live in such conditions and will face great hardship and misery. Nothing in the Queen's Speech offers any help to such people.
We require far more accommodation at a reasonable rent, and the Housing Act that we debated in the last Session will not provide that. As we said when that measure was going through, people who can afford market rents will obtain a mortgage. In some cases market rents are higher than mortgage repayments would normally be. Local authorities cannot build. For example, in my borough no council accommodation has been built for nearly 10 years, and that is entirely as a result of central Government policy. Clearly, the people that I have mentioned will continue to be in a plight over housing. Tory Members will spend their Christmas in comfortable accommodation, and I do not deny that I will do the same. Are they concerned that their Government, who have been in office for nearly 10 years, are taking no steps to give assistance to people who are being penalised because they cannot afford a mortgage or a market rent?
§ Mr. Barry Porter Wirral, South)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am interested in his detailed knowledge of local authority affairs. Could he address his mind to the problem of the enormous rent arrears on council properties in the great cities of the north of England? In Manchester, rent arrears were about £12 million last year and the amount outstanding in Liverpool is about the same. Would it not help if those arrears were collected? Are we to ignore the fact that that money is apparently to be written off by Labour local authorities?
§ Mr. Winnick
We can always rely on Conservative Members to exaggerate rent arrears. If rents are increased, as we predict, as a result of what is outlined in the Gracious Speech, for obvious reasons there will be more rent arrears. People cannot afford the rent levels being forced on them by the Government.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
Calderdale had a hung council that was run for many years by the Tories and Liberals. In the six months from April rent arrears have gone up by 44 per cent. A child could guess why. It is because housing benefit has been so savagely cut by the Government.
§ Mr. Winnick
No doubt the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) will note what my hon. Friend has just said.
The Gracious Speech talks about protecting the environment. Residents in my borough of Walsall will want to know what steps are to be taken to stop the dumping and processing of toxic and poisonous waste.
68 One firm in my borough is carrying out a public relations exercise by way of advertisements and leaflets to try to give the impression that what it is doing is for the public good. I congratulate the residents and councillors who have been protesting about the way that the firm is acting. The residents are in no way persuaded and do not want to live, any more than hon. Members would want to live, in places where poisonous and toxic waste is being dumped. They see no reason why the borough and the west midlands in general should be used for that purpose.
I should like to deal with two other matters: one domestic and the other international. Some hon. Members know that I take an interest in the security services. I was on the Select Committee on Home Affairs when it carried out an inquiry into special branch, and I wrote a minority report on the subject. I note that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is nodding. The Committee had a Conservative majority. When it agreed to an inquiry into special branch, the hon. Gentleman said on the radio that that would be a danger to national security. He used words to that effect. Now he seems to deny it. He certainly gave the impression on the radio that in some way we were undermining national security. We had our inquiry and produced majority and minority reports. The United Kingdom still seems safe and secure. We have not been invaded, and I doubt whether foreign agents know anything more about our secrets that they did before.
In other circumstances I would welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech that the security services should be put on a statutory basis. However, the Government are clearly concerned far more about establishing contracts for those in the services in order to ensure absolute life-long confidentiality than about accountability. Those of us who are genuinely concerned about civil liberties want organisations in the security services, and first and foremost MI5, to have some parliamentary accountability.
There have been allegations, as we know, from Wright. As I have said before in the House, for all I know Wright may have been lying. His aim was to sell as many copies of his book as possible, and in that the Government have considerably helped him. If he is a millionaire it is because of the actions of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues. I do not know whether he lied, but he made serious allegations that some people, including himself, in the security services deliberately did their best to undermine an elected Government. There should be a judicial inquiry.
Apart from Wright's allegations, there have been allegations by someone else for whom I have a great deal of respect. I have no respect for Wright—why should I have?—either for what he did at the time or for what he has done since. He has made his revelations not out of concern for civil liberties, but only to make money. Someone against whom no one could make such an accusation is also a former employee of MI5, Cathy Massiter. She is an honourable person for whom I have much respect. She has given details, which have not been refuted in any way by the Government, about people carrying on activities that the Government may not like but which, I understand, are perfectly lawful. I am talking about campaigning for nuclear disarmament and being actively involved in the National Council for Civil Liberties. The NCCL had its telephones tapped and was spied upon.
69 I have already told the House about Mrs. Haigh in the west midlands. She lives in Sutton Coldfield, which is not in my constituency. She was visited by special branch but it was denied that the visit had taken place. She persisted and, following her second complaint, her Member of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Employment, wrote to the chief constable of the west midlands and it was conceded that the police had misled Mrs. Haigh and that she had been lied to. She is active in local nuclear disarmament activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was subjected to MI5 investigations before she became a Member of the House. She was investigated because she was the legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties. Is that a reason for being spied upon? Is it surprising that Labour Members think that MI5 should have some parliamentary accountability?
I must say that I am somewhat amused when those from the Liberal or Democratic Benches, whatever they may he called, talk of a Committee of senior Privy Councillors. I am not asking to be on such a Committee if there were to be one—perhaps my arm would not be twisted too much—but why should it be confined to senior Privy Councillors? What about the rest of us? Are we not as loyal? Is it suggested that our loyalty to our country, to parliamentary democracy and to the rule of law is any less than that of senior Privy Councillors? We need to get that one straight.
The essential point is that there should be some parliamentary control of MI5. I may be wrong and I may be being unfair and unjust to MI5, but I believe that among some of the MI5 people—not all, by any means—there is a political bias in the direction of the Conservative party, which undermines the security services. Like everyone else, I recognise the need for security services, as I have made plain on many occasions.
My last subject is of a totally different character. It concerns the reference in the Queen's Speech to findingpeaceful solutions to regional conflicts.There are many regional conflicts. One of the worst, which has been going on for 40 years, is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On many occasions I have hesitated to speak about this subject, because sometimes, when I listen to those arguing the Israeli case and those arguing the Palestinian case, it seems that they are taking up fixed positions, and those who argue the one side can see no justice in the other. There needs to be a just solution, however.
We know what has been happening in the occupied territories and on the West Bank in the past 12 months. We know of the injuries that have been caused and the deaths that have occurred. First and foremost, there is a need for both Israel and the Palestinians to accept mutual recognition. There is no solution, and there can never be a solution, based on Israel going out of existence, whatever the rights and wrongs of Israel coming into existence in 1948. We know why that happened: the 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, which culminated in the holocaust; and it goes without saying that I am totally committed to the state of Israel remaining in existence. However, I am not committed to an Israeli state within its present borders, and certainly not one that includes the occupied territories.
Equally, Israel can never have peace and security until the Palestinians have a state of their own. For 40 years, the Palestinians have had no state, which is why I welcome the modest but useful step of the decision taken last week in 70 Algiers by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I wish that it has been more clear and explicit and had spelt out in so many words that it recognised the state of Israel. It did not go so far, but, by accepting United Nations resolution 242, it implied that it recognised the existence of Israel.
When we had the PLO representative in Britain, speaking recently at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the parliamentary Labour party, he made it clear that the Palestinians have now reached the stage at which they will recognise Israel. The responsibility now rests on the Israelis, and I am extremely disappointed by the negative attitude taken by the Israeli Government last week. It would be a tragedy if the response of the Israelis in the next few months or years, if it is to carry on for that long, is simply to say, "We shall not negotiate. We have what we have and the occupied territories are simply part of the state of Israel." I fear that if that happens, it can only further undermine Israel's credibility. It may be that not only this country and the European Community but the United States will have to exercise some pressure, perhaps strong pressure, on the Israeli authorities and the incoming Israeli Government to recognise what needs to be done.
I started off by saying that the Queen's Speech contained extremely Right-wing Tory measures. The responsibility of Labour Members is to fight those measures tooth and nail at every opportunity. We shall do so in the House of Commons and we shall put our case to the country. One hopes that, by the time of the next election, enough harm will have been done by the domestic measures outlined in the Queen's Speech, by those in the Housing Act and by the poll tax, to make people recognise how essential it is that the Government are removed from office.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
It is rare that anyone says thank you in this place, but I should like to start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her ministerial colleagues for creating the conditions in which the area that I represent is flourishing as never before. The hon. Lady, whose father was well known to us in the House, as no doubt she will become herself—perhaps I do her an injustice—spoke of the neglect of the regions.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I apologise to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), and to her father. She was saying that her region had been neglected. I can only say, from my experience as a Minister, that the north-east, the north-west, Scotland and south Wales have had more public money poured into them by Governments of both complexions than has my region of East Anglia, where only minimal public funds have been spent; but despite that, East Anglia today is more prosperous than it has ever been.
There are some obvious reasons for this prosperity: the expansion of our east coast ports benefiting from the trade with the European Community; the Cambridge 71 phenomenon, in which academia, following the lead of Stamford university in California, is beginning to spill over into the high-tech and biotech industries that are creating the new jobs that we need. Then, too, we look forward to some, although not all, of the benefits of the expansion of Stansted airport and the better access that we now have to the City of London.
These are the macro-factors that are helping East Anglia to grow. But it is the virtuous circle of policies that my right hon. Friends have brought about, through supply side economics, and in particular the lower taxation that has led to higher economic growth and therefore to a greater abundance of public expenditure available for priority targets, that have enabled East Anglia to go ahead as never before.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Not in the least, but they are of course national, not regional.
Turning to the Queen's Speech, I wish to make four points of which I have had some experience as a Minister. The first concerns the promised legislation to deal with local authority capital and housing finance. I am sure that it must now be right to allow our local councils to use a somewhat larger proportion of their receipts from the sale of council houses, to promote low-cost housing schemes, preferably in conjunction with housing associations, or in partnership with private builders. In my area there is a pressing need for more low-cost starter homes. One way to tackle it is to ease some of the present restrictions on local authorities' use of their receipts from council house sales.
I hope, too that, in the course of this legislation going through the House, my right hon. and hon. Friends as Ministers will look carefully at the balances that some of our local authorities have accumulated, sometimes from those sales of council houses, but also as a result of the increase in the value of land, particularly in East Anglia. My own borough authority is stuffed with cash, yet it still is proposing rate increases. The Government should consider carefully the possibility of insisting that local authorities with large balances should not increase their rates.
I also warn my hon. Friend the Minister to watch out for empire building among treasurers' departments in respect of the collection of the community charge. I was a Minister when we reformed local government in 1973 and the water industry in 1974, and I recall the proliferation of new empires that resulted from those necessary reforms. My hon. Friend will find that, in many parts of the country, treasurers' departments are looking for larger offices, more computers and larger staffs and leading their councillors to believe that all that is essential to collect the community charge. I hope that he will create a league table so that we can compare the costs and staff of the most efficient and prudent authorities and the manner in which they collect that charge with those of the less provident authorities.
Secondly, I turn to the environment. For my sins, I was an Environment Minister for four years. I welcome the reference to the environment in the Queen's Speech, as I welcomed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's speech at the Mansion house, but I hope that the House 72 will not conclude that we are starting something new here. This country polluted its environment earlier and to a greater degree than almost any other country, but, for that reason, we made a start on tackling our environmental pollution much earlier than anyone else. I believe I am correct in saying that the alkali inspectorate was established in this country in 1904. In 1970 we set up the world's first department of the environment. In 1972 we led the world conference on the environment that set up the United Nations environmental secretariat. I might even have signed the relevant declaration in Stockholm.
Britain does not lag behind, but, for the most part, it has been in the lead in environmental policies. It is a matter of pride that we have cleaned the air over our great cities more than anyone else and that there are now fish in the Thames. It is recognised worldwide that we introduced the first effective legislation on toxic waste and that we have made important progress in providing compensation, and in some cases insulation, against excessive noise. The United Kingdom has a proud record in that respect.
Of course we need to go further. I therefore make three observations to my hon. Friend the Minister which stem from my limited experience.
First, the job of doing what is required to tackle pollution, instead of just talking about it, is very much a matter of practical operations and not simply of great speeches or of passing complex laws. Protecting the environment is a matter of the environmental health inspector poking about in the incinerators, of the river pollution officer doing his stuff on the river bank, and of the work of all those unsung heroes of environmental management whom we are fortunate to have in this country. So let us put more emphasis on the practicalities and on the public and private sectors working together than on making grandiose speeches.
Secondly, the Government should not allow themselves to be pushed into absolute standards. It is easy to state that the number of permitted grains that can be admitted to the air shall be X, or that the level of nitrate pollution shall be Y. Far better to follow the time-honoured approach of the best practicable means. The absolute standards that we have seen in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, can sometimes be counter-productive. An absolute standard is created by the legislature. Many businesses cannot immediately meet that standard without stopping production and laying off their employees, causing unemployment.
The result is not progress, but an adversarial relationship between the Government and the industries that are to be controlled. But an adversarial relationship, and the litigation that goes with it, achieves very little progress in the environment. What matters is the collaboration of industry and the Government, which is best achieved by the British approach of the best practicable means. I hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be pushed by Europe or by the Greens in this country away from our experience of the best practicable means.
Thirdly, we can tackle pollution only if we have the resources. It used to be said that growth was the antithesis of a good environment. My experience is that it is only when a Government create those conditions for economic growth where the revenue is available that the environmental job can be properly done. That is why I welcome the fact that, as we now have those improved revenues, the Government can contemplate the movement 73 of more resources to the improvement of our beaches and our air and to toxic waste disposal. However, none of those things can be done unless the resources are first generated and our people are prepared to pay the price for cleaning up the environment.
My next point follows from that made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about security. I welcome the prospect of a stronger and perhaps more comprehensive Prevention of Terrorism Bill. I echo my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in making an appeal to the Opposition. The House should not be divided on this issue. Over the years I have regretted the fact that, on three-line Whips, the Labour party has so often voted against the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I am aware of, and respect, the anxieties of Opposition Members, but I hope that the House will take a united position on terrorism. When the House is divided on this matter, the message that goes out is wholly injurious to those in the security forces and the police who seek to protect us against those evil men.
I welcome the prospect of legislation that will require candidates in Northern Ireland to declare that they are opposed to terrorism before they stand for election. However, I find it strange that we shall do that in one part of the United Kingdom, but not throughout the country. It goes without saying that candidates standing for election to this House hardly need to make such a declaration—I have never had any doubt about that—but I find it passing strange that we shall insist on a declaration of anti-terrorism for those who stand for election to the House in one part of the United Kingdom, yet not insist on the same requirement for all candidates. I do not like this discrimination that will be applied against our future colleagues who may come from Northern Ireland.
My further comments lead me in the opposite direction from that of the hon. Member for Walsall, North. I understand why the Cabinet has concluded that it wants to put the Security Service on a statutory footing. I see the many advantages of that, but I am not sure that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will also see the pitfalls along the road upon which they have embarked.
First—I can say this from my experience of police operations in Britain and Northern Ireland—it is exceedingly difficult to conduct a police operation, especially one that on occasion has to be covert, if there are exchanges in the House about it. I would be the last person ever to want the House to be gagged—in any event, it could not be—and I know that for the most part hon. Members will conduct themselves with restraint when they know that an operation could be under way and that unwise remarks in this place could compromise the lives of those involved. None the less, remarks can be made in the House on the basis of newspaper stories, speculation or while making party points in the heat of the moment, which we all do. But we shall be embarking on a dangerous track if, even in this House, comment is bandied about on security operations that are under way.
My second anxiety is a parliamentary one and is based on definitions—
§ Mr. Winnick
I shall be brief. I recognise some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned about security operations, but it is not likely that the House would be told beforehand of such operations. We are aware of the fight against terrorism and we recognise it. I ask the hon. Gentleman to deal, perhaps only briefly, with some of the challenges that have been made, such as the Cathy Massiter statements. As I said earlier, people have been harassed—their telephones have been tapped, for example. This has happened because of political views, not because of military-security operations in Northern Ireland. One example is the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman).
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I do not go into those matters at length. They require a much more detailed answer than I could give at this moment.
My second anxiety is a parliamentary one that is based on definitions. A statute must be precise. I am sure that the parliamentary draftsmen, among others, will recognise that. But how are we to define such concepts as the defence of the realm? Against whom is it to be protected? What is national security? Who is to be the judge? How do we measure subversion? How do we apply these concepts to individual cases? When the Bill is considered in Committee, ways must be found of determining the meaning of the defence of the realm, national security and subversion, for example. lit will be interesting to examine such a Bill in Committee, but I hope that I am not a member of the Committee.
I have thought much about these matters and I am as keen as anyone on accountability to the House. Indeed, I have been accountable to the House. I recognise, too, that there are many in the police and security services who want a statutory basis for their activities. I can see no way, however, in which a Committee, whether it is comprised of lofty Privy Councillors—heaven only knows why they should be different from anyone else—or other hon. Members, could effectively undertake the task of surveillance of the Security Service. Nor do I see how one or more of Her Majesty's judges could take on that role. In the end, I am driven to the conclusion—this applies to whichever party is in power—that we have to trust the Home Secretary. At the end of the day, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are accountable to the House. I do not see a way of interposing between the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the House another group that is designed to second-guess what the Security Service is about.
During the summer I spent a deal of time assisting—I make no bones about it—someone with whom I had the good fortune to be at Yale university. George Bush has done better than me, but I was glad to give his campaign such support as I could in one of the key areas of the United States. It is a fact that the Anglo-American special relationship has never been so strong as it is now. I say "never" even though I think back to Winston Churchill's day, when we were the only ally of the United States. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the United States was our only ally on the Atlantic front.
Today, however, the Japanese, the Germans and many others are allies of the United States, yet it is the British who stand higher than them all. The reasons are in part the restoration of our economic strength, the strengthening of our defences and the resolution that we have shown in the 75 pursuit of our own interests and those of the alliance; but there is another factor that is relevant to the special relationship. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has established a most extraordinary personal-political constituency across the United States.
This is a British matter, not a partisan one. It is good that our Prime Minister, whether one talks to someone in Atlanta, San Francisco, Florida or Iowa, is regarded as a person of immense importance to the world. I cannot quantify to what extent that leads some American importers to prefer, perhaps, to take a Jaguar instead of a Mercedes. I cannot say whether it leads to the marginal decision of an American tourist to visit London rather than Rome. I wager, however, that this personal factor is worth many billions of dollars to Britain. We should be glad of that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on achieving this extra-special relationship on our behalf.
The special relationship that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has developed with President Reagan has been an important one—I believe that she will be able to extend it into the presidency of Mr. Bush. The more she can do so the better. I say that for two reasons. First, the United States is gradually switching its attention from the European front towards the Pacific, and to a lesser extent to South America. More of America's economic growth is on the Pacific coast and more of the pressures and tensions are to the south of it. But for us it is of great importance that the Americans should remain committed on the European front, and it is the present Prime Minister more than anyone else who can achieve that for us.
The Americans certainly need to deal with their deficit. I doubt whether they can do so by cutting defence expenditure. Nor will they be able to do it by cutting welfare expenditure, because their country, like ours, is greying and more will need to be spent on the elderly and the sick. Their best hope is to reduce their deficit by reducing the proportion of their governmental revenue that is used to pay interest on their existing debt, just as we have in Britain. We have a good record, because for the first time in my life the public sector borrowing requirement has been replaced by PSDR, or public sector debt payment. America needs to do the same, to reduce each year the size of its public debt and therefore the proportion of its revenue that is used to pay interest on the debt. So Britain has something to offer, and I believe that out experience can and will be offered tactfully by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her relations with Mr. Bush.
I wish my right hon. Friend well, as I wish the Government well, in the new programme before us.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I am very pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker and somewhat surprised that I have done so this early. I want to contain my comments to paragraphs three to six of the Gracious Speech. My points will have a direct relationship to the comments made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who referred to the particular relationship between the Prime Minister and the United States and the influence that the United States has on our policies and we have on theirs.
76 I want to refer particularly to the comments in the Gracious Speech about themaintenance of national security and the preservation of peace with freedom and justice.Justice seems to demand assurances of honesty, candour and some consistency. The sixth paragraph states that the Government intend tocontinue to play a full part in the work … for peaceful solutions".It seems that we have reason for hope, especially if we remember the comments made by Mikhail Gorbachev when he landed in Brize Norton on his way to the United States. Many people thought that his comments were very encouraging. Mr. Gorbachev said that the Soviets had a secret weapon, in that they could deprive us of an enemy. That is an important statement.
The NATO Alliance was founded almost 40 years ago to counter a threat which was thought at the time to be a threat to democracy; some people still believe that today. Although the Warsaw pact did not exist 40 years ago, it was thought that the Eastern bloc countries posed a threat to Western democracy. Western democracy had to be preserved, so the Alliance was founded.
Within the context of the relationship referred to by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, let us consider some attitudes within the Alliance. The international seminar for opinion leaders was held at the NATO defence college between 26 October and 28 October of this year. I cannot get more recent than that. In the inaugural address, Dr. Fred Iklé, an eminent military analyst who has received two of the Pentagon's most prestigious awards, stated categorically that Mikhail Gorbachev was charming and capable, but that he might change, and that he was not "eternal"—Dr. Iklé's word, not mine. He also said that, if Mr. Gorbachev did not become Stalin No. 2, he might be followed by Stalin No. 2. In other words, Dr. Iklé clearly believes that the Russians are unreliable and may cheat on their word.
I want to balance the statement from Dr. Fred Iklé with one from Dr. Robert McGeehan, one of the seminar leaders at the college. Quoting him from memory, I believe he said: "We didn't expect the Soviet Union to accept the zero option; we should have removed it from the table a long time before." He said that the Russians caught us by surprise. That is a clear admission of the cynical tabling of a proposal simply for public relations advantage. Bearing that in mind, it is all the more credit to Mikhail Gorbachev for realising the opportunity and seizing it while he had the chance. Furthermore, in case anyone thinks I am being partisan, it is all the more credit to Ronald Reagan for standing by the commitment. However, where does that discovery leave us when we consider the so-called modernisation of the weapons which will be removed by the INF treaty, which has caused so much trouble?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would accept that modernisation suggests an extension, but is that true? We must consider that modernisation involves transforming weapons from land-launched to air and sea-launched. That is not really modernisation. It moves weapons into a different class. Instead of mutually agreed disarmament, the Russians have beaten us to it. They are dismantling more weapons more quickly—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is trying to intervene from a sedentary position. In my tender 77 years, I am going deaf. I try as best I can to hear the hon. Gentleman, but sadly I cannot. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I am not ignoring him. If he chooses to intervene, I will gladly give way.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Of course I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman's statement that the Soviets are dismantling more. However, they have a great many more to dismantle. We must have asymmetrical reductions.
§ Mr. Cook
I am so pleased that the hon. Gentleman took the groundbait. He has put on record the fact that, although we claim to have negotiated from a position of strength, the strength was on the Soviet side. There was no concession to the deployment of cruise or Pershing, as the hon. Gentleman has already conceded. The Soviets had more and they could have hit us harder than we could ever have hit them. The concession is one really to common sense, good logic and care about creation.
I promise the House that I will not drop names. However, I freely admit that I am not well informed or an expert on anything. I consider Helmut Schmidt a man of fair experience, and one would ignore the words of such an experienced statesman at one's peril. His comment on the so-called modernisation and need to match developments that are allegedly taking place in the Soviet Union—allegations which are entirely baseless and unfounded—is that the Soviet Union has no intention of replacing the missiles it is dismantling. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is right, the Soviets would not need to do that, because they have too many anyway.
I want to refer once more to the statement made by Dr. Fred Iklé to the opinion leaders in Rome. He said that glasnost was not working. The Soviets are still keeping their budget secret. He said that they would not divulge the budget and then said that they have amassed $300 billion-worth of arms more than we have.
I ask you—I mean the House, Mr. Deputy Secretary; I would not ask you because that would make my question personal and I would not put that onus on you for all the billions of dollars that there may be in the world—how can Dr. Fred Iklé possibly know that they have $300 billion more than we have if the Soviets are so secretive about their budget? How does that square with the revelations recently about projects such as stealth technology, which have been funded covertly without the knowledge of the Senate or the House of Representatives? Who keeps the budget secret?
Is the truth not more reasonable—that Soviet accountancy, implicit in their economic order, is of such a kind that the Soviet Union cannot publish figures in the same way that we do because it does not examine its income and expenditure in the same way that we do? Is not that statement an honest assessment of the differences between the two systems? It is not secrecy but a difference in the language of accountancy. We can hardly expect the Soviet Union to change the basis of its language overnight.
The contradictions that I am trying to put before the House must be clear to all, but I must continue. Dr. Iklé went on to tell us that technology transfer flows in one direction—from West to East. In other words, technology is developed by us and, somehow or other, gained by the Soviet Union. Yet, at the North Atlantic Assembly's plenary session in Hamburg last week, as part of my duties I had to attend the scientific and technological committee. The expert rapporteur on technology transfer told us— 78 wonder of wonders—that five times more licences are bought by us from the Soviet Union than the Soviet Union buys from us. So much for the technical flow being from West to East. Moreover, those licences cover a broad range of technologies—ceramics and metallurgy as well as weaponry.
It is no good the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) sitting there in splendid isolation with his arms folded shaking his head in disbelief. I make him the same offer that I made to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds: does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
I do not see what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to prove. Perhaps the Soviets do not need to purchase more than five times as many because they already have the information.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman clearly has not heard. I shall go over the point once again.
Dr. Iklé, a prestigious spokesman on behalf of the Alliance, said in an inaugural statement to the seminar at the NATO defence college in Rome that technology transfer is from West to East. The expert rapporteur, speaking to the North Atlantic Assembly's scientific and technical committee, proved, quoting figures and examples, that the technology flow is much greater from East to West.
My point, if the hon. Gentleman can latch on to it, difficult though it may be for him, is that untruths are being recorded here. Untruths are being passed to so-called opinion leaders within the Alliance. If the Alliance is meant to withstand the threat to democracy, should it not be based on honesty, candour and consistency which provide the basis for the justice to which I referred when I began? I shall pass on, as the hon. Gentleman seems finally to have understood my point.
§ Mr. Cook
Do I have to repeat myself? The statements that I am referring to were made directly to me, one by an expert witness to the North Atlantic Assembly's scientific and technical committee, the record of which can be checked—I shall even provide the hon. Gentleman with a written copy of that submission when it has been translated—the other by Dr. Fred Iklé, a spokesman for the Pentagon. The Soviet Union did not have to feed me any information on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman amply illustrates the unheeding stance of some politicians, few though there are on the Conservative Benches, who cannot accept the logic of something even when it hits them between the eyes. I shall try to give the hon. Gentleman some ammunition if he chooses to keep his ears open more carefully.
The licences cover a wide range of matters, particularly powder metallurgy techniques, on which we are not quite as advanced as the Soviet Union. At the time, there was a suggestion that the reason why we buy five times more licences from the Soviet Union than they buy from us was—
§ Mr. Cook
There we are: the hon. Gentleman is one jump ahead of me. Yes. The Soviet Union was so much cleverer at stealing them from us—and selling them back? Do we really believe that? Are we so secretive in our society—this society that we defend—that we allow people to steal them from the closeness of our chests and then flog them back to us? If that is true, either it is a comment on the ineptitude and inefficiency of our counter-espionage—if it exists—or it means that our spies are not so very clever at stealing them back. If this inefficient Marxist-Leninist suppressive system is so bad, how has it managed to do this? Furthermore, if people over there reject their system so energetically, why are they prepared to give us the secrets if we are prepared to give them the secrets? It is all frivolous argument—
§ Mr. Cook
—but it is fair comment on the kind of bigotry and bias that we see displayed by some Conservative Members, when they are here.
Dr. Fred Iklé went on to say that there was no question but that we could continue to resist the threat. He said that our Alliance would have the economic strength, especially if we included Japan. That was an expert spokesman for the Alliance. I want to ask the representatives of Her Majesty's Government when Japan was invited to the North Atlantic table and by whom. No one at the plenary session of the North Atlantic Assembly in Hamburg last week had any knowledge of it. How would such a quest to include Japan in the Alliance square with the pious statement of intent—the quest for peaceful solutions—contained in the Gracious Speech? How can we be seeking hands of friendship and at the same time be adding partners to make the counter-threat more ominous?
While Dr. Iklé was making those comments, Dr. Robert McGeehan was making other statements at the seminar in Rome. He said that Gorbachev's secret weapon was to say yes. He went on to say that that terrified many military analysts. I have been trying to highlight the contradictions. In other words, many of the military analysts from NATO admit their terror—"terrified" was Dr. McGeehan's word—that the threat that they have used as a justification for increased expenditure on arms was to be removed. I could accept their terror at the threat being removed if it was prompted by the threat of their jobs being removed, but I do not believe that it is as simple as that.
If we are conscientious about our work, we should all endeavour to put ourselves out of jobs. We should seek to remove the need for legislation. If we create an equitable society, there should never be a need to make laws again. If we seek to achieve an educated society, we should seek to educate people to such a standard that they never again need educating. We should try to work ourselves out of a job, but here we have senior NATO military panellists saying that the secret weapon of saying yes terrified many of them.
They have used that threat as an excuse to increase arms expenditure, which has meant profit for the United States in particular. Now the United States is calling for more burden-sharing. I can understand why it is doing so, because the United States' budget is in an unholy mess. Nevertheless, if there is to be any serious, clinical, logical burden-sharing, we should first identify the size of the 80 burden. To do so, we must engage in genuine threat assessment. We must calculate precisely the nature of the threat, from which direction it comes, its size, how best to counteract it, and how much such counteraction will cost. Only when all those factors have been calculated can we talk sensibly about burden-sharing. Currently, we are applying a logic that will serve only to put more profits in the pockets of the armourers.
The American budget cannot stand the cost, and we know that the Soviet budget cannot either, because the Russians have already been driven by economic constraints to the peace table. Nor can our country stand the cost. So a first priority of burden-sharing must be genuine threat assessment.
Dr. McGeehan was good enough to define deterrence: as a means of discouraging even the thought that a military adventure may have a pay-off in the West. He stated that the Soviet Union has 11,000 strategic warheads, whereas the United States has 14,000. I believe that he included in that, as single units, multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles. In any event, that is some deterrence—deterrence times 50, or enough to wipe out the whole world 50 times over. Yet the Soviet Union states unequivocally that it has a policy of "no first use". The Alliance refuses to make the same commitment, and we insist on a Mexican stand-off based on "We dare if you dare" rather than "We won't if you won't".
We already provide any potential enemy, and not only the Soviet Union, with a nuclear deterrent. It is free to them but very costly to us. It takes the shape and form of every nuclear power station on our territory. The strategic use of a conventional attack on such targets would not result in nationwide deprivation of energy supplies but would incur nationwide nuclear contamination. Dr. McGeehan added that deterrence, to be credible, must display a readiness to engage in active use.
We do not need nuclear weapons to pose a nuclear threat to the Soviet Union, because it has 150 nuclear power stations, the exact locations of which we already know. Is not an armoury of 150 Chernobyls enough for anyone? Is that not sufficient deterrence? If one operator going beyond the bounds of a procedure manual can cause the problems that Chernobyl did, surely one or 150 strategically placed ICBMs would cause untold havoc. There is no justification for the nuclear weaponry that Dr. McGeehan mentions. Nevertheless, he adds:No matter how much asymetrical conventional disarmament takes place, we will still need nuclear weapons as a deterrent because they deter.We do not need them. They are provided by our potential enemies for us, as we provide them for our potential enemies.
Dr. McGeehan also commented:INF can be a real threat to the Alliance.I am sure that he did not mean that in an adverse sense—or I hope he did not, because moves towards peace are bound to remove the threat and thus the need for the Alliance, even though that in turn would increase the threat to Dr. McGeehan's job.
I have tried to point out the contradictions between the stances adopted by some north American spokesmen with whom the Prime Minister has a particular relationship, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who has left the Chamber. I have given the bad 81 news, and now I hope to give the good news. I quote the West German Premier, Mr. Kohl, speaking at the plenary session in Hamburg last Thursday:Trust must be built up everywhere, in every area of concern.He added:We must insist on the exclusively defensive task of our armed forces, which the West has always maintained should be their aim.That was confirmed by NATO's secretary-general when he addressed another, lengthier session:We want less and not more weapons. This alliance has always been a defensive one. We only keep the minimum force necessary to keep our own security.That suggests that the emphasis is returning to the original need for the Alliance. So not all is bad faith, thank God. I say that not as a profanity but as a fervent prayer. It is a necessary assurance when one reads the trailers flaunted by this lapdog press of ours, in reporting that there have already been warnings—if one is to believe such stories—to the Queen that she ought to reject any invitation from the Soviet Union, if one is forthcoming.
I am astounded at the mental gymnastics that have been in evidence since those reports, in an attempt at justification. We have heard some here tonight from the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), who frequently waves the Union Jack. I do not blame him for that; I too have fought for the Union flag. But if we are dragging up bits of history from 70 years ago about the killing of the Romanovs—presumably by the Gorbachevs—we are finding a strange barrel to scrape.
The hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but I hope that he will read Hansard tomorrow. Perhaps he should be reminded that since that sad epoch—I do not approve of what happened to the Romanovs—the people of whom we are speaking have fought side by side with us to resist the Fascist threat that sought to establish the Third Reich. In so doing, they lost 21.5 million of their population.
§ Mr. Cook
I have not said anything about the hon. Gentleman yet, but I am about to. He sits there smirking and nodding and accusing the Soviets of coming into the war only after they were invaded. Many accusations are made against the Soviet Union for not keeping international treaties. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a history lesson.
Rightly or wrongly, the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Would you—I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker; I know that you would never be so treacherous, although I am not at all sure about other hon. Members—would the hon. Member for Langbaurgh wish the Soviet Union to have broken that treaty, simply to justify the illogicality of his argument today? It was Germany that broke the treaty; and, in a way, was it not fortunate for us that Germany chose to do so? At that time we had few other allies who were able to come directly to our aid. Were we not lucky that Herr Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and that the Soviet 82 Union came in on our side? Does that not make it even more preposterous to rake up the Romanovs at this point in history, to try to justify a smack in the mouth of Gorbachev while at the same time extending the hand of friendship?
I also remind the House that the Spanish royal family has already seen the good sense of extending the hand of friendship. But from the few hon. Members who have chosen to occupy the Conservative Benches this evening—no more than a handful—we are hearing some sort of justification for rejecting the Soviet Union's advances of friendship, perpetuating the cold war mentality within the United Kingdom Parliament. I could expect that from other nations, but here, where we pride ourselves on sound logic and common sense, I find it depressing and more than a little frightening that hon. Members should seek to return to that 1950s mentality.
§ Mr. Holt
May I examine the logic of what the hon. Gentleman is saying? It was the gullibility of the Russians and the belief that they would not be attacked by the Germans that caused them to sign that agreement. If we were to take Gorbachev at face value in the same way., we could well be invaded as well.
§ Mr. Cook
Having been to the school in 1940, the hon. Gentleman will know a good deal about what the Soviets had promised the Germans, and what the Germans had promised the Soviets. Is he now saying that, although it was the bad faith of the Germans that brought the Soviet Union into the war; although the Soviets were our allies for five years; although we supplied them with arms in the Atlantic convoys; although our service men received awards for bravery for taking them those weapons; although the Soviets received bravery awards for using them; although we jointly defeated the threat to Western democracy posed by the Axis—is he saying that, after all that, the Russians are capable of bad faith, despite having lost 21.5 million of their population?
§ Mr. Cook
I have never heard such nonsense in all my life. It is absolute rubbish. That is the mentality that threatens the prospect of any improvement in relations between East and West. It is the mentality that threatens detente. We are in danger of erring on the side not of caution but of insult.
We must remember that we have had 40 years of cold war—40 years too many. If we throw an opportunity such as this back in the face of the Soviet Union, as the hon. Member for Langbaurgh seems to wish us to, it may be the last opportunity that we are ever given. Surely all hon. Members have more sense than that.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) on the subject of the Soviet Union, because I have a personal interest in that country. In reply to his last remark about the cold war, I should like to put it on record that a day or two ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the cold war had come to an end, and she gave credit to Mikhail Gorbachev for bringing it to an end. That of itself would tend to undermine the hon. Gentleman's entire speech, but I shall not rub it in.
My personal interest, incidentally, stems partly from having learnt Russian at school and then as a postgraduate student at Moscow university. While I was there in 1961, the Berlin wall was being built. I remember the Russians, with their great resources of humour, asking each other whether this meant that we were about to have a war. The answer was no, there would not be a war, but there would be such a hell of a fight for peace that there would not be a stone left standing. We are now in a period of a fight for peace and we seem to be doing well.
However, before I pass on to the main point of my speech, I should like to remind the hon. Member for Stockton, North that what happens in the Soviet Union depends not on his speech, my speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's speeches, the speech made by Fred Iklé or the speeches or actions of the President of the United States of America, but on the Soviet people.
The wisest observation that has been made on Mr. Gorbachev's future in the past few weeks has come from a secret source—the deputy head of the Central Intelligence Agency. He said that Mr. Gorbachev had not yet begun to tackle the serious problems in his country. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North would agree, those problems are predominantly fundamental economic problems, such as the structure of prices in the Soviet Union, rents, labour and labour mobility. Mr. Gorbachev, in his wisdom, has been rather cautious about confronting those problems head on.
The deputy head of the CIA also said that Mr. Gorbachev was trying to switch over gradually from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right-hand side. I shall not go into detail on his remarks because I do not want to detain the House, but I must say that there is a certain wisdom in those remarks. Before becoming too excited about our ability to influence events in the Soviet Union, we should remember that Mr. Gorbachev faces severe problems and, try as we might, we cannot influence them, even at the margin.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) is right. He has described the range and depth of problems that Mr. Gorbachev faces in changing 84 the nature of Soviet society. That is an enormous task, and we must understand how long it will take him. To make accusations of bad faith, as has been done this evening, and to express a lack of belief in Mr. Gorbachev may put his efforts in jeopardy. We must offer the embrace of friendship and give an incentive, and that has been acknowledged by the announcement today of visits to psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union. The Russians are opening their society to us. Does the hon. Member for Buckingham agree that that is positive proof of their anxiety to match us move for move?
§ Mr. Walden
As I said earlier, I am tempted to discuss this matter further, but I shall not do so because I have other matters to raise. Ultimately, it is not a question of whether we believe in Mr. Gorbachev. That is a rather sentimental formulation. What matters is whether Mr. Gorbachev will survive, and we have no means of knowing or ensuring that. I draw the conclusion that we must maintain our defences as well as the most intimate diplomacy that we can contrive. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's personal success in relations with the Soviet Union and the invitation to Mr. Gorbachev to come to this country—which he has accepted—are proof that the Government are doing what they can, within the strict limits of the possible, to ensure that Mr. Gorbachev's efforts are welcomed in this country.
I shall now follow my own logic of concentrating on what one can do to help oneself. I want to deal with a strictly domestic matter. In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty said:My Government will continue to attach very great importance to protecting our environment, both nationally and internationally.Clearly, that refers to greater and more global matters than the one with which I shall deal in my speech.
I want to talk about a concrete matter, concerning the environment, in my constituency. Last week, I opened an exhibition in the village of Tingewick, just outside Buckingham. It concerned a bypass which the villagers of Tingewick have been trying to secure for many years. I am pleased to see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport on the Front Bench this evening, and I express my personal gratitude to him for agreeing to come to look at the situation at the end of this week. Many hon. Members have problems concerning bypasses and I do not underestimate the problem that my hon. Friend faces in that respect. However, I must stress that the problem in Tingewick is a special one and not simply a matter of local agitation. It is almost a desperate matter for the villagers of Tingewick.
I shall give the House some flavour of the problem, and place on record the fact that there have been three deaths and six injuries so far this year in Tingewick. A recent survey has shown that 13,639 vehicles passed along the A421, on which Tingewick lies, in one day alone and, of those, 1,899 were heavy goods vehicles. It may require a little imagination for those who do not live in a village to understand what that means. I should like to quote the words of a local resident, Mrs. Rumble, who wrote:The main street through the village is very narrow and winding"—the main street is 16 ft across; a little wider than the Gangway of the House—.
therefore a HGV travelling at 30 mph and faster produces a suction of air that nearly blows an adult pedestrian from their 85 feet to say nothing of a child. In wet weather conditions, the spray from the vehicles soaks pedestrians and property in a muddy film. The speeding cars through Tingewick produce a hazard to our residents, especially the children for even though a pedestrian crossing has been installed, very often cars in a hurry fail to stop. The pedestrian crossing has been been put out of action on occasions because of passing traffic mounting the pavement and knocking out the traffic light. Large vehicles and cars park on the pavement, restricting access to pedestrians.We in the village obtain very little rest from the above problems, at night or at the weekend. Locally on a Sunday a regularly held Sunday market boosts the traffic during Sunday morning, and it seems that Sunday afternoon is set aside for wide and difficult loads to pass us by!I could multiply such descriptions. For the benefit of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, I should like to recall one or two details of the history of the attempt to secure a bypass in Tingewick.
In 1981, Buckinghamshire county council did not consider that there was any likelihood of providing Tingewick with a bypass in the next 15 years due to financial restrictions and greater priorities elsewhere in the county. In 1982, the county council included the Tingewick bypass in a 15-year plan for possible major projects. In 1983, the traffic count showed an increase from 600 per hour to 1,200 per hour. I shall come to the reasons for that later. In October 1984, the Tingewick bypass was included in a five-year plan to begin in 1989-90. Then, in March 1986, news broke that the bypass would be delayed because of the latest expenditure restrictions. Those facts paint the picture—the villagers' hopes of relief were raised and shortly afterwards dashed.
Why am I raising the matter of a small community in the House? Clearly, it is partly because it is a constituency matter to which I attach importance. However, a wider issue is at stake. One reason for the massive increase in traffic through that small north Buckinghamshire village is Milton Keynes. We all know that Milton Keynes is a great success and that it has some splendid roads of its own, but the access routes to Milton Keynes are suffering—not benefiting—from the town's success.
As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport knows, when the M40 is extended, one of the natural links between the M 1 and the M40 will pass through Tingewick. In other words, one faces the prospect of those two massive arteries, which run north to south through the United Kingdom, having as one link a 16 ft spread of road with massive lorries passing along it. I am not exaggerating when I say that the wing mirrors of those lorries pass within inches of the pedestrians on the narrow pavement. That is intolerable and inhuman and something must be done.
I am fully aware that there is a problem about priorities: my hon. Friend has a problem about priorities and Buckinghamshire county council has a problem about priorities. However, I should like to remind my hon. Friend of one or two figures that I have obtained from the county council. A recent letter from the policy and resources committee chairman states:
The County Council is faced with a continuing decline in its capital allocations set by central government. Last year I referred to the decline in the Council's transport capital allocation from £9.1 m in 1984–85 to £4.6 m in 1987–88. For 1988–89 the allocation is £2.7 m and thus the rate at which the Council can carry out the many desirable road schemes is further reduced.Obviously, I have looked at the county council's priorities and naturally I should like to see Tingewick at the top of the list. However, in all fairness I must note that 86 we live in a thriving area of the country. That means that the weight of traffic in the areas around Aylesbury and High Wycombe is growing—and so too, are the problems. Therefore, I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to the critical situation in the village of Tingewick. It is a small place. I have 120 villages in my constituency, but I have never seen anything as had as the situation faced by the inhabitants of that village. In saying that, I do not want to underestimate the problems of other areas which are also suffering from the welcome economic growth of the whole area. Winslow on the A413 is having a pretty bad time and the inhabitants of Waddesdon on the A41 have a pretty difficult time also.
I could raise other matters now with my hon. Friend, but I prefer to do so by correspondence. All our problems relate to the growth of traffic in the area. I refer especially to the village of Turweston, which was a quiet community of 140 people whose lives have now been changed by the Brackley bypass. I shall get in touch with my hon. Friend in the hope that he can do something to lessen the noise and pollution there.
What I am saying is pretty close to what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), in that I welcome the results of the Government's economic policies as I see them in my constituency, whether in Milton Keynes or in Aylesbury. However, my hon. Friend the Minister has a difficult task because he must ensure that the indirect effects of economic growth on the environment are well understood by the Government and that the Government are prepared to put in the resources to enable people to benefit from the expansion instead of having their environment adversely affected.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
Over the next few days many things will be said about the Gracious Speech, and over the next 12 months Bill after Bill will be brought before the House, and I can promise that they will be opposed vigorously by the Opposition. For month after month, we will be subjected to legislation from the Government that will freeboot our civil liberties, destroy what is left of the welfare state and make even more scapegoats of minority groups.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is not in his place, because he made a few comments about terrorism and I should like to put it to him that a terrorist is a terrorist. Opposition Members are not very impressed with that kind of speech when we see the Conservative party invite a well-known terrorist such as Calero from Nicaragua to one of its fringe meetings. I should have liked to ask the hon. Gentleman, "When is a terrorist not a terrorist?"
The Gracious Speech holds no promises of a peaceful and secure future for my constituents. It offers more and more of the same—despair for the homeless. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) is no longer on the Front Bench because I have with me some shameful headlines from the local press that he shares with me. Those headlines refer to the rising rate of homelessness and to the "shame of Christmas homeless" in Calderdale. I regret that he is not here to hear me, because my constituency of Halifax shares the same local authority as his constituency and we never had a problem with homelessness until this Government took office.
87 We are not an inner-city area. We are a small industrial town—no, a reasonably sized, not too small, industrial town—and we did not know about homelessness until the disastrous policies of this Government were introduced. I see nothing in the Gracious Speech to alleviate the problems that we now face. I see nothing in the Gracious Speech to help industry. Constituencies such as mine still rely on manufacturing industry to a large extent for employment of the majority of our people.
What I do see in the Gracious Speech is the statement:"firm financial policies designed to bear down on inflation.In real-speak that means a continuation of high interest rates, a strong pound and all the other disastrous policies that are leading industries into trouble yet again. It is not an understatement to say that a first-year economics student would recognise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his policies are heading manufacturing industry towards another 1981–82. That part of the economy is in a mess, and no matter how much the Chancellor huffs and puffs—and he does that regularly, like an inefficient geyser—on or off the record, the fact is that these are worrying times for towns and constituencies with a large manufacturing base.
In a recent Adjournment debate on textiles and the clothing industry, I raised several matters of concern. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to satisfy workers or managers. Only today I received a letter from the British Clothing Industry Association Ltd., the British Textile Confederation, and the Knitting Industries Federation, which reiterates what I have said. The letter states:.
But we now share a growing apprehension about the level of activity over the coming months and beyond. On the export front, where we have had considerable success, the strengthening of sterling has made it difficult to maintain the pace of advance. At home, the effect of higher interest rates is likely to depress consumer and retail demand. The weak United States dollar has materially increased the competitiveness of imports, particularly from those countries in the Far East whose currencies are linked to the dollar, and this has had a twofold impact: pressure on the market place, and pressure on prices and margins, reflected in some areas of the textile industry by short-time working, closures and redundancies. There is concern about future orders across a growing area of our joint industries.I reiterate that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to reassure people. There is no promise to come clean on the real level of unemployment so that regions such as mine can qualify for EEC grants. It has continuously annoyed me that our unemployment figures are fiddled. That is to the detriment of areas such as mine when they apply for grants. Halifax is like the hole in the middle of the doughnut. Firms move out and relocate where they can get EEC grants.
The industries that I have mentioned have fought back hard since the 1980s, when the Government's disastrous policies threw them into recession. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) is present. She quite rightly referred to the Government's policies as Mappa Mundi. The south-east figures largely in the Government's policies, and the rest of us must manage with breadcrumbs.
We read in the Gracious Speech that yet another Bill is to be brought forward—they now total about 50—for the destruction of local government. Yet again, housing is to be on the agenda. When future generations study the Tory Government's record over the past decade, they will quite 88 rightly wonder how a Government who are so blessed with wealth from North sea oil, and with Treasury coffers full of money that was stolen by selling off public assets—the Government have been selling Britain by the pound, and they intend to continue to do so—could preside over such shameful levels of homelessness and real unemployment.
The Gracious Speech refers also to the conduct of local authorities. Having been a local councillor, I felt a chill on hearing that ominous phrase. I wonder whether Bradford is a threat to the rest of us.
On the subject of Bradford, I congratulate the elderly woman who, today, successfully obtained a judicial review. The case against the council that is trying to sell the home in which she is a resident will be heard in the High Court. What kind of people think that it is good to sell off a residential home with people in it? What kind of thinking goes into such a dehumanising process? The people involved are not even allowed the dignity of remaining with their landlord—the local authority. They are to be parcelled and sold off like baggage.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is not present. Recently, in the press and other media, he has been articulate in advocating care of the elderly in the community. I welcome him to the side of the angels. Opposition Members have been saying that for decades. We are genuine in our demand for decent community care for the elderly, but we want an intensive care package across the whole spectrum, and that includes the National Health Service. Why on earth can there no longer be a long-stay bed for an elderly person? Why is there a cut-off point for NHS beds for elderly people? I include local government and the voluntary sector, all of which are experts in such care. The Government have shut down NHS long-stay beds for the elderly.
My local health authority and the hospital in which I worked for 10 years tell us that there are no waiting lists for the care of the elderly. That is absolute nonsense. If we never put anybody on a waiting list, of course there are no waiting lists. It is as easy as that. We want an intensive care package. For years we have argued that to hand over money to the private sector to care for the elderly in residential accommodation, when they have not been assessed by medical practitioners or by the social services for a place in certain accommodation, hurts the elderly, because they do not have access to real rehabilitation or reorientation with a view to going back into the community, and they are simply used as a means to earn money for private individuals. That harms the elderly, it is wrong, and it is economic nonsense for the taxpayer.
It is expensive to care for the elderly. For a long time private homes have benefited by the Government cutting services for the elderly, particularly for those in residential care. It has not been the right kind of care. It is not as good as that which can be given by fully trained staff and people who have expertise. Recently, the Audit Commission rightly pointed out that billions of pounds have been wasted.
§ Mrs. Mahon
No, I shall not give way. I wish to finish my point about the elderly.
The elderly were subjected to a great deal of stress and anxiety during the past couple of weeks when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was flying a kite about targeting the benefits that are enjoyed by pensioners. I 89 could give the Chancellor many good reasons for having universal benefits, and millions of pensioners could also do so. Universal benefits are cheaper to administer. As Conservative Members claim to be interested in cheap administration, I should have thought that they would be convinced by the facts that the Government's surveys have shown. Universal benefits have almost 100 per cent. take-tip. That is important. What is better than a 100 per cent. take-up?
Means-tested benefits create poverty traps, but I emphasise that the main point about universal benefits is that they do not stigmatise. If people persist in arguing that the well-off will benefit, the answer is quite simple—take it back at the other end in taxes. Our elderly people have been through two world wars and have worked or been unemployed through the depression. They could teach us a great deal. Do not subject them to stress and anxiety. We must not even consider subjecting them to the stigmatised means test that we had before the war.
I was interested in the article in The Independent yesterday, by Peter Kellner, about universal benefits. I recommend that it be read by Conservative Members and, if I had anything to do with it, I would make it compulsory. Mr. Kellner says:So far, however, ministers have only been playing in the foothills of this particular mountain range. Universal benefits, like universal public services, are part of what makes a wealthy society civilised. Moreover, despite claims to the contrary, their overall impact is redistributive in the right direction. Greater selectivity sounds like a sensible idea, but the greatest gainers from such a policy would not be the needy; they would be the fit, childless rich.
§ Mrs. Mahon
I would give exactly the same advice as I would give to anybody who believes that it is all right to care for old people and make a profit from it. I do not believe that a civilised society should go down that road. Elderly people should be cared for with dignity and with the best possible care from the state.
§ Mrs. Mahon
No. I want to move on. I have given way on the point.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government will take action to raise standards throughout education. On the Government's record, I would challenge that. The Tory reality of recent years has been to destroy the chance of higher education to any youngster from a working-class background. For proof, we need only look at the cuts in student grants, at the cuts in benefits for working-class students, who are struggling at university, and the recent proposal that student loans will be all that will be on offer. Higher education will become university for the rich and compulsory YTS for the remainder. I must say, too, that nothing in the Gracious Speech convinces me that the YTS is a credible training scheme for the vast majority of youngsters.
90 In this morning's post I received a survey from the Economic and Social Research Council entitled "Jobs for Young People—A Picture of Diminishing Opportunity". Its conclusions were:Increasing numbers of young people aged 16–17 are entering the job market without the skills and qualifications that employers now require. As a consequence, Britain is rapidly developing a fundamental mismatch between the skills supplied by young people and those demanded by employers. The Youth Training Scheme has failed to redress this mismatch, and has in some ways perpetuated it.The report continues:The research argues that realistic job prospects for young people continue to look bleak. It goes on to suggest that for as long as training schemes such as YTS encourage early school leaving and fail to provide young people with the skills and qualifications now demanded by employers, these prospects can only worsen. The research concludes that a policy to encourage greater youth participation in higher education is urgently required in order to meet employers' demands for a more highly qualified young work force and stem an increase in the proportion of young people who are long term unemployed and, potentially unemployable.I repeat that I believe that a vast majority of the YTS schemes have not fulfilled the Government's claims. This important piece of research will be discussed over and over again in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) outlined an alternative Gracious Speech that would benefit women. My hon. Friend made a remarkable speech, and I am only sorry that the House was not full at the time.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) appeared to me and my hon. Friends to be operating in some kind of time warp. He praised the Prime Minister, I believe, in the context of the Prime Minister being a woman. I point out that nothing in the Gracious Speech will do much to help the vast majority of women in my constituency. I highlight the position of one section of the work force that I met recently home workers. I listened as the workers, mainly women, told me that they earned as little as 20p an hour in the enterprise culture that the Prime Minister and her Government have created. They are being paid Third-world rates and their plight is the ultimate in exploitation. I dread the next 12 months and their effect on the vast majority of women. In the past year we have seen cuts to the NHS, to local government and to education—all of which hurt women.
Selling off the water and electricity industries is a shameful proposition which will be fought tooth and nail by the Labour party. Water belongs to all of us and it is not the Government's to sell off to anyone. It is life-saving and desperately necessary to us all. Conservative Members should note that, if and when profits take precedence over producing a safe water supply, history shows that disease ignores boundaries. Cholera killed those on top of the hill, just as it killed those at the bottom. For that reason, those who owned the wealth in the 19th century wanted a public water supply.
To sell off the electricity supply industry is an act of criminal folly. A couple of weeks ago I sat here and listened to an excellent debate on the disposal of nuclear waste. Hon. Members from both sides of the House, apart from the new junior Environment Minister, agreed that the current proposals for the land disposal of radioactive waste were lacking in scientific and technical justification and had more to do with political decisions.
On Sunday, The Observer gave us an insight into the cost of disposal, which gave the game away. That article talked about burying high-level waste, which is a 91 frightening thought. As I understood it from the debate, we had not yet come to a decision on that dreadful and dangerous proposition. If such a decision has been made, we are entitled to know where that waste will be buried. No doubt the NIMBY—not-in-my-back-yard—and NIMTOO—not-in-my-term-of-office—arguments will be deployed. Who will pay for its burial, and what guarantees will be given once the nuclear industry is owned by the French, the Germans or the Libyans?
Will YTS trainees oversee the vitrification of high-level waste? Will those who have been forced on to employment training schemes be found driving the waste up and down the country? We deserve, and we shall demand, answers. I do not believe that the Government have any coherent policy for the disposal of nuclear waste. Previous Governments have accepted responsibility for the waste, but this Government do not appreciate that the deadly waste is with us for thousands of years. It is the utmost folly to continue to produce it.
I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health is here guarding the pot. I was an auxiliary nurse for 10 years and I have had some experience in the NHS. I had a super job caring for the elderly and those with mental illness. I have a great deal of expertise in recognising that illness in those who are unaware that they are suffering from it.
Many of my colleagues were enrolled nurses, staff nurses, midwives, sisters, domestics and porters. They represented the full range of health care workers and were all decent and hard-working citizens. The Secretary of State for Health—I am sorry that he is not here—greatly insults them with his arrogance and his contempt for their grievances about the imposed, stupid regrading scheme. It will not wash. The nurses will fight back. They expect and deserve better treatment.
§ Mrs. Mahon
No, I shall not.
I should never have believed that so much damage could be done by so few to such a brilliant service. The Government have deliberately starved the National Health Service. They have deliberately created a situation where children and babies on waiting lists die. They have decided that there will be no long-stay beds for the elderly, whatever the illness or suffering. History will judge the Government, and the people will turn them out of office.
Before that day comes, we shall fight the Government. I am not intimidated by the odds, and nor are my hon. Friends. I come from a proud stock of people who created the wealth of this country. My mother was a textile worker and my father was a bus mechanic and a bus driver. They taught me the true values of Socialism and of caring for each other. Their skills and courage were shown through two world wars, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said. We are a proud people. We recognise the enemy that we are up against. We certainly recognise the damage contained in the Queen's Speech. I owe it to those who went before me to fight those dreadful proposals, and I promise the House that I shall.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
It has long been my ambition to cheer up the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). My previous attempt was rather unsuccessful. I came across a piece written about a moving speech that she had made, in which she was highly praised, and I brought it to her attention. Unfortunately, I discovered that that piece was in a paper published by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, so she was not allowed to read it. Perhaps I shall have betterluck—
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
If the hon. Lady will contain herself and be patient, I have better news for her. I may be more successful this time, because I shall follow her part of the way down the road to advocating the advantages of universal benefits. Who knows?—this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I should like to speak on a subject that will loom very large in the Government's programme as foreshadowed by the Gracious Speech as they press on with the reforms of social security. That subject is the relative effectiveness of universal as opposed to means-tested benefits for ensuring a decent standard of living for pensioners, the sick, the disabled and low-income families with small children. I can begin even-handedly, by delivering a slap in the face to both the serious political parties.
To listen to the efforts by the Labour party to exploit the Chancellor of the Exchequer's thinking aloud on the theme of means testing is a weird experience. After all, it is supposed to be the party that wants to help the poor. When a senior Minister produces some ideas, however ill presented, for doing so more effectively, the Labour party's first and only concern is to grab as much short-term political advantage as it can get.
As for the Government, they are for ever telling us how pensioners are so much better off than they have ever been. Statistically, I have no doubt that that is true, but it is not the impression that many of us get when we meet some of the pensioners in our constituencies. All the time, we run into elderly people who are having a real struggle to make ends meet and who can do so only by going without most of the things that make life worth living. But there are also many pensioners, thank goodness, who are doing very nicely indeed, as they deserve to.
Hundreds and thousands of pensioners have one, sometimes two, pensions on top of the state pension. They have savings that yield an investment income. There is much talk about the disadvantages of higher interest rates, but one should bear it in mind that for those who have savings, higher interest rates mean a higher income. Above all, those people are now the unencumbered owners of their homes, having paid off their mortgages. In short, they are basking in well-deserved prosperity. So numerous and prosperous are they that they are unwittingly inflicting a real injustice on a smaller, although substantial, number of their fellow pensioners. They are boosting the average income of pensioners to a high point.
The Government are able to boast that pensioners' incomes increased by 23 per cent. between 1979 and 1986—a rise twice as swift as that of the population as a whole—and that their real incomes from savings and occupational pensions rose by no less than 59 per cent. What is more, they can and do make a further claim for the pensioners at the other end of the scale. We are told that 93 the real income of the poorest pensioners has increased by 20 per cent. in real terms during the same seven-year period. I rejoice to hear that. It bears out my own observations. I find little evidence of grinding poverty among my poorest pensioners.
However, there will always be a few who slip through the safety net, and I met such a couple the other day. He is a cancer patient and is unable to work; she has to look after him. They are below retirement age. They have no income but have paid off their mortgage. The sum they are expected to live on by way of income support is £52. I do not see how they can live on that. They could sell or mortgage their house and live off the proceeds, but if they did that, they would lose their income support, would have no reserves for emergencies and would lose what is left of their self-respect.
I digress; the point I want to make is that, with a few exceptions, the poorest have been well protected. The better-off are better off than ever before and the average is therefore high. Somewhere in the middle is a substantial group which is doing rather badly. The income and level of savings of people in that group have left them above the base line for any means test. For the most part, those people are Tory voters. The Labour party is not really interested in them, and the Government are rather smug about them. The Government can always claim—I always claim this when anyone complains to me—that they were far worse off under Labour and will be far worse off again. That is true, but it is not good enough.
To charge the Government with robbing the poor to pay the rich is the sort of silliness we expect from the Labour party. The true charge is that they have helped the very poor partly at the expense of the rather poor. The rather poor include a large number of pensioners and others who live by the values that the Government like to preach. Many of them have small savings or a tiny struggling business and prefer to take low-paid jobs than to be a little better off on state benefits. A nasty feeling is growing that the Government do not care as much for those people as they might, considering that the majority are or were Tory voters and that many of them are Tory party workers.
For such people, the surest, although not the cheapest, way of bringing much-needed help is by a straight increase in non-means-tested benefits such as retirement pensions for the elderly and child benefit for families. Ministers mutter about scattering grapeshot, and we hear a lot about duchesses using their benefit for some frivolous purchase or other. However, the retirement pension is taxable and child benefit could be made taxable. It is not seemly for a Government who have slashed taxes at the top end to complain that the tax system is no longer an effective method of taking benefit from those who do not need it.
One of the Government's and the Prime Minister's most uncritical admirers has been Mr. Ronald Butt, who writes regularly in The Times. If I were a Minister, particularly the Prime Minister, I would be troubled to read what Mr. Butt wrote in The Times on 10 November:By its recent actions and by other clues to its thinking, the Government is supplying material that its opponents will produce at the next election as evidence supporting their main charge against Mrs. Thatcher. This is that, … the Government has little instinctive concern for a broader concept of social justice embracing those who have a comparatively hard time in a relatively undramatic way.Later in the article, he says:
94Nor is it a help to point to the 'well-off pensioners who own their own houses which they have to live in with a relatively small disposable income. All that does is to incur the suspicion that while the tax cuts given to encourage the enterprise of the very rich are sacrosanct, when it comes to finding money for those in real need, the cash may have to be found from those in the category just above the really poor.That is a worrying quotation. The Government claim with some justification that they have made some progress in eliminating the poverty trap, whereby someone who manages to earn a bit more will end up with rather less. They have managed to juggle the figures, at any rate for those able to work, so as vastly to reduce the "why work?" syndrome. They cannot honestly claim to have achieved as much for the pensioners, the disabled and those who care for sick relatives. All those people are caught in a poverty trap that is getting steadily deeper, often as a direct, although unintended, result of the Government's efforts to get more help to those who need it most.
The list of benefits available to those who can give proof of low income seems to get longer by the month. There are means tests for income support, housing benefit, dental and optical treatment and now, unhappily, dental and optical tests. There are means tests for prescriptions, for hospital travel costs, for nursing home fees, for funeral payments, for help with fuel costs and with insulating and draught proofing costs, for legal aid and for rates relief.
I accept that this tangle of means-tested benefits results from attempts by successive Governments to target help where it is most needed, but all too often the target is being missed. The multiplicity of these benefits means that only those who are sharp or exceptionally well advised get all the benefits to which they are entitled. For that reason., the take-up rate is much lower than it should be, and for some benefits it is unacceptably low.
I welcome the Minister's announced intention to launch a campaign to improve take-up, but perhaps it would be better to spend the money on improving and simplifying benefits. Much of the trouble stems from the announcement by the then Secretary of State for Social Services, now the Secretary of State for Employment, at the Conservative party conference in 1985 that he and his fellow Ministers in the Department would during the next six months carry out what he described as.
the most comprehensive review of the social security system since Beveridge.The very idea that three busy Ministers in their spare time from dealing with the day-to-day business of their Department and their constituency and other engagements could match the monumental achievement of Sir William Beveridge for several years during the war boggled the mind. Nevertheless, they did a surprisingly good job. The Social Security Act 1986, the end result of their labours, is about 80 per cent. good. But 80 per cent. good is not good enough, partly because the Ministers did not have enough time or commitment to follow through all the implications of the changes that they made.
But there was another much more fundamental reason. The remit of their inquiry did not include the tax system or social security contributions. It is no earthly use even attempting to reform the social security system without an equally basic review of the impact of contributions to national insurance, and of the impact of taxation, not only on those on low incomes but on those who pay no tax at all.
Until the Government show readiness to tackle these components of the problem, they are not serious when 95 they talk about targeting benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) made a gaping hole below the water line of their professed intentions in this regard when, according to The Independent on 7 November, he said of the Government's intention to phase out child benefit because it was going to rich people who did not need it:.
If higher rate taxpayers do not need £7.25 per child per week child benefit, they don't need the £30 a week they get in married man's tax allowance. Still less, if they are mortgagors, do they need the £28 a week they get in mortgage interest relief.I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of these anomalies and that he regards them as morally indefensible. The trouble is that, even if they are morally indefensible, they are politically unassailable, as witness the sudden embarrassed silence that descends on the Labour party when anyone talks about the absurdity of mortgage interest relief. It is rather like the reaction if someone at a meeting to outlaw cruel sports were to suggest that fishing should be included.
The Gracious Speech should have contained an announcement that the Government, in their pursuit of the perennial will-o'-the-wisp of effective relief of poverty and distress—a will-o'-the -wisp that has eluded Governments not just for decades but for centuries—would initiate a comprehensive review of the social security system, benefits and contributions alike, and of the tax system, including all allowances and with particular reference to the very high marginal rates at the bottom of the scale, where, almost uniquely in western Europe, the taxpayer pays the full standard rate on the very first pound of taxable income.
Nor do I believe that this is a job that can be done by busy Ministers in their spare time, even if Treasury Ministers form part of the team, as they surely should. I believe that this is a matter for a Royal Commission, something that has become unfashionable. I do not know whether anyone has a memory long enough to recall what such a thing is, we have not had one for such a long time. This is the time, and this is the issue, for such a prestigious, wide-ranging inquiry. It may take two or three years, but better that than a botched job carried out in six months.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
What worries me is that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) may be one of a dying breed of Conservative Members who produce arguments in favour of universal benefit and child benefit that are critical of their party. The Gracious Speech shows that we are into a further stage of the policies that the Government have been pursuing ever since they emerged in 1979, and the policies that it sets out are in line with principles that are so different from those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
The Gracious Speech has not appeared in a vacuum. It follows legislation passed in the last Session. No legislation influences the shape of what we are now getting more than that concerning the poll tax. I shall refer briefly to the poll tax to establish certain principles, against which I shall examine the Gracious Speech. From 1 April next year, the poll tax will be a reality in Scotland, and registration for the poll tax will start in England and Wales. That means that the franchise will be cut, as has already happened in 96 Scotland, because of the link between the poll tax register and the electoral register. For the first time since the extension of the universal franchise, people will be required to pay a tax to qualify to vote.
People's civil liberties will be invaded by the poll tax registrar in his search for people missing from the register. The central authority of the Secretary of State for the Environment, as with that of many other Secretaries of State in respect of other legislation introduced by the Government, will be greatly enhanced to enable him to control the legislation. Local government will become a sham because its powers will have been taken away, and that will be the end of local democracy. Above all, the poor will be asked to subsidise the rich. The poll tax will have a serious effect and we shall have poll-axed people who will be seeking to respond to the other measures introduced by the Government.
How will the franchise be affected by the measures in the Queen's Speech? People will become more disenchanted with the political process and will believe that politics have nothing to offer them. Those who still qualify to vote under the poll tax may turn away from the political system.
I stood for election in a constituency in whch there was a sharp divide between the areas of Conservative and Labour dominance. In Labour areas, there was great enthusiasm to get rid of the Government. I fear that those people who are incensed about what has occurred will, when blow after blow has been rained upon them, become apathetic and disappear from the electoral game. That might be in the Government's interests. A Member such as me might lose his seat, and that should worry Parliament considerably. Candidates may seek to represent both sections of society, but some people may feel cowed and may not wish to be represented by them. A Government who depend on the apathy of the public should be concerned about their position; and they are certainly not acting within the spirit and traditions of parliamentary democracy.
The Queen's Speech contains recommendations for further public expenditure cuts and hopes for further tax cuts. The rich, who have already received a considerable tax reduction from 60 per cent. to 40 per cent., may be able to look for even greater rewards in the future. Those rewards will be provided through taxes on public services and cuts in much needed provisions in working-class areas, such as Barrow hill, in my constituency, where few people have second pensions.
As a result of the proposals in the Queen's Speech on local government capital and housing finance, the poor will be asked to subsidise those poorer than themselves. As a result of the privatisation proposals, ordinary people will be asked to pay market prices for water and electricity. Those prices will be based upon the principles suggested by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) in a televised debate during which she said that a person in a desert would pay a fortune for a drink of water. Presumably a person caught in a blizzard would be prepared to pay a fortune for protection from the blizzard and for warmth. In other words, he would be prepared to pay a high price for electricity, or the highest that he could pay, to look after himself. In such instances individuals would pay what the market determined, and in many instances the market would break them.
The imposition of the poll tax will hit civil liberties, but other damaging measures are now proposed. It seems that 97 a national membership scheme will be introduced for football followers. Football fans are to be dealt with on the same footing as terrorists in Northern Ireland. It seems that their actions are seen to be the same. Football fans are to be a race apart. They will carry passes, unlike opera fans and theatre goers who, presumably, are seen as proper people within our society. Some will not wish to carry passes. Presumably they will be told that they can watch all the football they want on television. That is rather like Marie Antoinette telling the people that they can eat cake. The issuing of passes is irrelevant to the circumstances of football fans, and the notion is based on ignorance of the life that they lead and the interests that they have.
Power has been taken centrally by the state, and we are to have more of that in the measures that the Government plan to introduce in this Session. There will be controls in addition to those that are contained in the Education Reform Act 1988. The Secretary of State for Education and Science will have powers to introduce teaching by rote despite education being the enlivening and extending of the intellect in helping individuals' minds to develop. Education is not about telling children to repeat ABCD as and when required or to produce answers to certain pre-determined questions.
The state will take more power unto itself in replacing section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. That has been made clear already in the White Paper that has been discussed by the House.
With centralised power, local democracy will have more blows rained upon it when it is already a dying body. A Bill will be introduced to control the conduct of local authority business. The poor will have more taken from them, against all the norms of Western democracy. We did not get the welfare state without developing a democratic system in Britain, with similar developments in the Western world generally. The welfare system will not disappear, except by abuse of the democratic system itself. The Government were elected to office but they have not acted upon any democratic principles. They have not considered the views and values that exist in society. They have chosen not to defend democratic pluralism.
The Government are prepared to attack democracy by controlling public expenditure, attacking local government, privatising essential services, placing more pressures on the unemployed, messing around once more with the Health Service and introducing privatisation where and when they can. In addition, the Government promise through the Gracious Speech to interfere with the social security system.
The poor will begin to find that they are being pushed out of the political game. The Government's programme is an offence to democracy and adds to past abuses. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the measures that are proposed for Northern Ireland. Poverty, unemployment and chaos are more serious in Northern Ireland than in any other area administered from Westminster.
Where is the Government's proposed devolved assembly? Such an assembly would regularise the political scene in Northern Ireland. Where is a Bill of Rights, which would protect the citizens of Northern Ireland? Where are the measures to introduce and stimulate a decent economy in Northern Ireland to help to introduce full employment? Instead, we are offered a measure about fair employment. Fair employment will work in a fair weather system when full employment has been established in front of it. That is 98 the action that must be taken. Northern Ireland can only be thankful that at least it does not yet have the poll tax to contend with.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I welcome the proposals outlined in the Gracious Speech, as will many of my constituents. The state opening of Parliament was quite magnificent, but I trust that more and more hon. Members will realise that the concept of televising our proceedings is a great mistake. I understand that an experiment took place yesterday to test the lighting in the Chamber, and a silence has fallen over those people who witnessed it. I can only repeat that we would all regret the televising of our proceedings.
During the American elections, the Republicans accused the Democrats of being liberals. That charge struck a chord. Tonight I accuse Opposition Members of being conservative and reactionary. That was highlighted by the speech of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). His was a sad and entirely negative speech, but of course, that is the theme of the Labour party today: it is bankrupt of ideas and believes that the general public will swallow the nonsense that the Labour party is the listening party. The Government decide what they believe is best for the country and do not consider short-term popularity. That is the best way to proceed.
I was pleased to note the commitment in the Gracious Speech that the Government willcontinue to pursue firm financial policies designed to bear down on inflation.Over the past few months, we have heard hypocrisy from the Socialists, who have performed a gigantic U-turn over Europe. We have also seen their hypocritical stance about inflation. We will never let them forget how high inflation was between 1974 and 1979. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) said that he came into the Conservative party during the 1970s as a result of that high inflation. I joined the party in the 1960s; I decided to become active in the Conservative party as a result of the Labour Government's mismanagement.
I am pleased that the Government are determined to continue their policies of sound financial management. Basildon is experiencing an economic boom. When I became the Member for Basildon five years ago, nearly 10,000 people were unemployed in the constituency. There has been a reduction of more than 50 per cent., and now fewer than 3,000 people are registered as unemployed.
Business is booming in Basildon. More and more firms are coming to the town and I am delighted that Basildon has become the most successful new town in the country as a result of the Government's policies. Basildon is a beacon for the south.
I was also pleased to note the references in the Gracious Speech to Mr. Gorbachev's visit. Earlier this year, I visited Moscow under the auspices of Christian Solidarity International. Our task, together with an American Congressman who led a party, was to try to obtain the release of a number of prisoners of conscience. We took the list given to us by Keston college of over 100 prisoners of conscience. I applaud the way in which the Soviet authorities have reacted.
Only last week I met Konstantin Charchev, chairman of the Soviet Union's Council for Religious Affairs, and congratulated him on the announcements made over the past few weeks and months about prisoners of conscience. 99 However, I also raised with him the fact that our delegation was not entirely happy about the circumstances of Vasili and Galina Barats. We still need further assurances about their circumstances. When we visited Galina Barats in the Soviet Union, she was confined to the 18th storey of a tower block under house arrest and food had to be lifted up the side of the tower block in a bucket. We were not satisfied with the assurances that we were given on that.
I am sure that the Government are sensible to be cautious in their approach to glasnost and perestroika. We applaud everything that Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do in the Soviet Union, but his position is not entirely secure, and the sensible thing is to proceed cautiously.
I welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech for a national membership scheme to control admission to football matches. I never thought that the deplorable incidents that took place during a football match this weekend would happen in my lifetime. We should take note of the scheme that has been implemented for the past two years by the chairman of Luton football club, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). In the two years that that scheme has been operational in Luton, there has not been one arrest. Hon. Members might object to certain parts of the scheme, but I am sure that such objections can be ironed out.
§ Mr. Graham Bright (Luton, South)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, not only have there been no arrests in Luton in the past two years, but the whole atmosphere of the town has been changed? Shoppers can now go freely about their business when Luton is playing at home. The scheme has not only reduced violence but has transformed the environment of an area with a football club in its vicinity.
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend represents a Luton constituency and is well placed to give us an informed opinion on how that membership scheme is working. As a House, we should fail in our duty if we did not try the scheme to see whether it has any effect on the violence at our football grounds.
I also welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech to continue to raise standards in education. In my constituency of Basildon, standards in education are improving all the time. I was honoured to be invited to a prize-giving ceremony last week at the largest comprehensive school in Basildon, where I gave out the first GCSE examination certificates to those young people. The parents and the teachers were proud, and above all the young people to whom I was giving those certificates were delighted with their achievements. GCSE has been a success in Basildon and it has been a success throughout Britain. Therefore, I applaud the Government's commitment, as outlined in the Gracious Speech, to continue to improve education in Britain.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
Just to underline what my hon. Friend has said, is he aware that I had the privilege yesterday of visiting a comprehensive school in Kirton in Lindsey in my constituency and the first thing that the headmaster said to me was how the Labour-controlled education authority's attitude had changed? Once upon a time, he had received diktats from the county education authority on all sorts of nonsense, 100 such as not wearing uniforms, and so on. Today, the education authority is so concerned that schools might be on the point of opting out that it is bending over backwards trying to ensure that it can persuade the headmaster in this case that the authority can give him everything that he wants. That is a benefit of the legislation now on the statute book.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The comments of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) have nothing to do with the Queen's Speech, which contains no reference to schools opting out. I have sat here patiently for six hours without being called, and what is occurring on the Government Benches is a conspiracy against free speech.
§ Mr. Speaker
The debate on the Loyal Address is traditionally a wide one, but I remind right hon. and hon. Members that they must not stray too far.
§ Mr. Amess
I refer to that part of the Queen's Speech dealing with child law. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health on the Front Bench. All right hon. and hon. Members will welcome the Government's commitment to reform child law. It is a sensitive area, and I know that the proposals brought before Parliament will strike a balance between the interests of the child and those of the family. All right hon. and hon. Members will have been presented with sensitive cases with which they have had to deal. The proposed legislation is long overdue and I hope that there will be all-party co-operation to ensure that the legislation ending up on the statute book is in the best interests of all those children coming before the courts. Such legislation is even more necessary in the light of Cleveland.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Heath that I am disappointed that there is no mention in the Queen's Speech of any intention to legislate for embryo research. The Warnock report was published about six years ago.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Edwina Currie)
It was published in 1984.
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend reminds me of the correct date of publication.
Many right hon. and hon. Members feel that time should be given to tackling the problems surrounding embryo research. Although I applaud everything that scientists in this country are doing, I am not satisifed that, in their eagerness to push barriers forward, they are not doing things about which people such as myself, holding strong views about the matter, are not entirely happy. I hope that the Government will tackle that subject.
As to abortion, there were 174,000—
§ Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Like the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), I and my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) have been sitting here patiently for a number of hours. It is one thing listening to Conservative Members speaking about matters to which the Queen's Speech may refer, but it is another listening to them addressing subjects that are not included and eating 101 up the time of the House, so that Opposition Members cannot make valid contributions. That goes beyond the bounds of good conduct.
§ Mr. Speaker
It has traditionally been the case that the first day's debate on the Loyal Address has always been wide and not tied to any specific subject. There are no wind-up speeches tonight, and it has always been legitimate, particularly on the first day, to draw attention to matters that right hon. and hon. Members feel should be in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. McCartney
Will you, Mr. Speaker, give Opposition Members an assurance that those of us who have been sitting here for six hours will be given an early opportunity tomorrow to catch your eye or that of the Deputy Speaker, so that they may make their contributions?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows, because he has often heard me say it, that those right hon. and hon. Members who sit patiently through a two-day debate—and this is a five-day debate—have a much better chance of being called on succeeding days.
§ Mr. Amess
The House will know that I was referring specifically to the part of the Gracious Speech that states:Other measures will be laid before you.I was perhaps anticipating that, if my speech was persuasive, further measures might be announced.
The reference in the Gracious Speech to the National Health Service is another reason for me to be pleased that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health is on the Front Bench. She will know what an excellent job Basildon hospital is doing, and what superb health care it is providing throughout the district. The Health and Medicines Bill—I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee—has been taken up willingly by Basildon and Thurrock district health authority, and my hon. Friend will be glad to know that the authority has already won a number of contracts to provide occupational health care for Essex police, GEC Avionics and any number of others.
Car parking is being charged for, which so far has brought in revenue of—
§ Mr. Amess
I welcome the Government's commitment to continued improvement in health care provision, on which they embarked last year.
I am delighted that the Government are to introduce legislation to stop local authorities being extravagant and getting people into debt. There is no worse example of debt 102 burden than can be seen in Basildon. Year after year, the council has spent money that it does not have. It is the only local authority to have built a brand new theatre costing £11 million. Of course, we have not the money to pay for it, and through creative accounting, the authority has presented the books in such a way that Basildon's ratepayers will be in debt for a considerable time.
I am also very concerned about the handover of Commission for the New Towns property, as the Local Government Bill will enable local authorities to compete on an equal financial footing with housing associations. The House will understand why my constituents and I were outraged to learn from a press release that the local authority clearly will not co-operate with the legislation:
Basildon Council will not co-operate with housing associations, trusts or private landlords trying to take over Commission for New Towns homes. That was the message from last week's full Council as members voted to reaffirm the district authority's opposition to any transfer of Basildon's 15,000 CNT properties against the wishes of tenants.Basildon is supposed to be a hung council, but it is not a hung council at all. It is an amalgamation of Socialists who are not prepared to come out—
§ Mr. McCartney
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I do not intend to cause any further problems, but the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman were dealt with over the past 12 months in the debates on the Housing Bill, soon to become an Act. Everything that the hon. Gentleman has said in the last five minutes is covered by that legislation, so what he is saying is not relevant to this debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I heard the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) say that he was drawing attention to those elements of the Queen's Speech concerned with local government.
§ Mr. Amess
My constituents know that we must legislate this year to enable them to compete on an equal financial footing.
The local authority has wasted further money in staging a firework display. Only about 20 local residents turned up to discuss the authority's proposals, but coachloads of outsiders were brought in to see the taxpayers' money go up in smoke.
In conclusion, the American public has recently "won one for the Gipper". We are proud in this country that we have the greatest Prime Minister since the war and the greatest world statesman. We can be proud of the proposals in the Queen's Speech.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.