§ 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 22 November—industry and the environment; Thursday 23 November—rights, freedoms and responsibilities; Friday 24 November—foreign affairs, European Community and defence; Monday 27 November—health and social security; Tuesday 28 November—the economy.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
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 House of Parliament.I am mindful of the honour done by my constituents through my being invited to make this speech. A year ago, the Leader of the Opposition, quoting the admirable Mr. Colin Welch of the Daily Mail, described my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw)—who had just moved the motion—as aroly-poly version of Dr. Bodkin Adams."—[Official Report. 22 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 13.]The House, and certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), may think that that description applies rather better to me. I am sad to have to confirm that the good doctor is no longer with us—sad, because at each dissolution of Parliament he used to send a £5 note for my fighting fund.
I have always voted against the televising of the proceedings of this House, and I expect that I always will. The brief intervention earlier of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) did nothing to alter my view. Despite my strongly held opinions, a letter that I received —three weeks ago—I believe that a copy was sent to each of us and possibly even to you, Mr. Speaker—made the following preposterous assertion:The impression you make on television depends mainly on your image (55 per cent.) with your voice and body language accounting for 38 per cent. of your impact. Only 7 per cent. depends on what you are actually saying.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that I should enlist the sympathy of the Opposition with that last proposition.
The letter went on—and hon. Members may think that this is an extravagant claim so far as I am concerned:We can guarantee to improve your appearance through a personal and confidential image consultation. You will learn if you need a new hair style—and where to get it—and the type of glasses to suit your face.The House will understand why I considered that I was beyond redemption on both counts.
Eastbourne has been a separate parliamentary constituency since 1885. Then the electorate was 8,000; today it is 80,000. I am glad to report that for 100 out of those 104 years Eastbourne has been represented in the Conservative interest. The solitary lapse took place in 1906, but four years of Liberal representation were more than enough and provoked the highest turnout ever 8 recorded—90.3 per cent.— at the following general election. Since then, Eastbourne has been true blue, and, since 1974, dry as well.
East Sussex has long attracted the retired and semi-retired. Lord Shawcross lives at Friston, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), whose decision not to seek re-election to this place we all deplore, is the squire of Alfriston and Lord Callaghan has his estate nearby. It will be a source of satisfaction to the Opposition, particularly to those who sit below the Gangway, as it is to me, to learn that those three comrades have been able to share in the growing prosperity of the nation created during the premiership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Others have shared in that prosperity. Over these past years, 1,657 former tenants of our borough council have bought their houses or flats. They remember that the right-to-buy legislation was fiercely opposed by the Labour party. I was proud to have had a hand in extending the opportunities for home ownership in the Housing Act 1985.
Last month, phase two of our district general hospital was opened. All the medical wards have been transferred from St. Mary's hospital, which was built in Napoleonic days, to our new hospital. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that our hospital has informed my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health of its intention to seek approval to become a self-governing hospital trust within the National Health Service.
In August 1980, the House gave a Third Reading to the Eastbourne Harbour Bill. Indeed, 180 of my right hon. and hon. Friends stayed up until 6.10 am to vote for it. The House will want to know that construction work on the harbour project is well under way. Jobs are being created in the short and long term. The new harbour will keep Eastbourne in the vanguard—no, ahead of the vanguard—of Britain's increasingly important and increasingly successful tourist industry.
When the harbour is completed, our fishermen will no longer have to drag their craft on to the beach. There will be berths for 1,800 small boats. Miners from Bolsover, entrepreneurs from Newham, North-West, refugees from Brent, East, grocers from Old Bexley, intellectuals, real or imagined, from Chesham and Amersham and the hon. baronet the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), whose reported aspirations to become the Queen's first Minister I am unable to endorse—all these and many more besides—will be able to moor their boat or seek refuge from the storm in the new Eastbourne harbour.
§ Mr. Gow
There is absolutely no way in which I shall give way to a member of the Liberal party.
I must leave the virtues of Eastbourne and turn to the merits of the Gracious Speech. I welcome the commitment to support the remarkable changes taking place in eastern Europe. Speaking in Poland last month, the German Chancellor said that Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Vienna—he made no mention of Leipzig—were as much a part of Europe as London, Brussels, Paris, Rome or Berlin. Dr. Kohl was echoing General de Gaulle's famous concept of a Europe des patries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. It is a concept which I share. I am strongly in favour of the free 9 movement of people, goods and capital within the 12 countries that make up the Community, but I have no confidence in the presumed superior wisdom of the Commission in Brussels as compared with the judgment, fallible though it is, of this elected House of Commons. Recent events in eastern Europe have reinforced that view. If we look forward to the day—as I do—when the whole European family can share in that freedom and democracy which we enjoy, the long-term enlargement of the Community is more likely to come about if the nation states of the Twelve do not succumb to the vaulting ambitions of the supranationalists.
I also welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Europe. We should send a message from this place, to friend and foe alike, that our resolve will never weaken, that those who choose the bullet and the bomb will gain no concessions from Her Majesty's Government, and that their campaign of terror is as odious as it is futile. Terrorism flourishes where those who perpetrate it believe that one day terror will triumph. That is why all of us need to give no hint that it ever will.
The Gracious Speech reaffirms the Government's commitment to pursue firm financial policies, designed to reduce inflation. It is of deep regret to me that inflation is now more than 7 per cent. High interest rates are not the only weapon to defeat inflation, but they are an essential weapon. I hope that the abatement of inflation until we secure our declared aim of stable prices will characterise the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Yesterday the President of Romania made a speech in Bucharest which lasted for six hours and which was punctuated by 67 standing ovations—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is customary to give a fair hearing to the hon. Member moving the motion for the Loyal Address.
§ Mr. Gow
Yesterday the President of Romania made a speech in Bucharest which lasted for six hours and which was punctuated by 67 standing ovations. I am thankful that I was not asked to move a vote of thanks to him, but it has been an honour to have been asked to make this speech. It will be a matter of relief to the House to know that there is no precedent for the mover of the Loyal Address being asked to do so on a subsequent occasion.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
It is a great pleasure to second the motion, but that pleasure is tempered by the problem that I face—following the superb speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). If this were the palace of varieties and not the Palace of Westminster, I would be the warm-up artiste and my hon. Friend the main attraction.
I was surprised to be chosen for this task. The TV Times, which, I think, must be required reading for all of us, carried an article in advance of today's proceedings which was written, one will not be surprised to hear, by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). In that article, entitled "The 10 MPs to watch", he rightly included my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. Equally rightly, he did not include me.
My television experience since I was elected is almost non-existent. I have appeared only twice. The first 10 occasion was when the producer of the programme mistakenly thought that I was Ronnie Corbett. The second was when it was revealed that there were six hon. Members, including myself, who were freemasons.
Following that programme, Sir Clement Freud, who is now an occasional television critic for The Times—hon. Members may recall that before 1987, Sir Clement was an occasional Member of this House—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Sumberg
Sir Clement wrote in his column:Whilst it is possibly a coincidence, the six named Backbenchers are all Conservatives, all of small stature physically, all with limited hopes when it comes to promotion, and they are not even what Mrs. Thatcher calls 'one of us'.However, it would be misleading to leave the House with the impression that I had never appeared on television before I was elected. I can now reveal to hon. Members that there were two such occasions which, oddly enough, were a preparation for my future career here. The first was when I was a contestant on the Nicholas Parsons programme "Sale of the Century". What better training ground could there be for influencing my support for the Government's privatisation policy?
I am conscious that when I sit down in a few moments, the long-awaited parliamentary and television confrontation between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will take place. The Leader of the Opposition and I have three things in common. First, we both have a Welsh grandmother although not, I hasten to assure my hon. Friends, the same one. Secondly, we have the same colour hair, although, as the cameras will shortly reveal, his hair is rather more sparse than mine. Thirdly, we both love and honour the red rose, although for him it is a fading and wilting variety of the bloom, whereas for me it is the old and historic red rose of Lancashire.
My Lancashire constituents will be very proud that their Member of Parliament has been chosen to make this speech today. Bury, South has three distinct townships: Prestwich and Whitefield, which are vibrant communities containing some of the most pleasing residential areas in Greater Manchester, and Radcliffe, an old mill town whose engineering and paper industries combine well with Lowryesque vistas and the beautiful village of Ainsworth. My constituents come from all faiths and backgrounds and they are, as they say in Lancashire, the salt of the earth. I am very proud to represent them here today.
My constituents are supported by two great traditions, one of which looks north to Bury, for which I share the representation with my good and hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), whom I am delighted to see in his place. Bury was the birthplace of the great Conservative statesman Sir Robert Peel, and is the home of the black pudding and a football club which is well on the way to promotion.
The other tradition looks south to Manchester—the city now campaigning to host the 1996 Olympic games—where many of my constituents were born and where many still work. It is a cause of great satisfaction that, since the last general election, thanks to the successful policies of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Government, unemployment—[interruptionl
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must say to the House that this backchat from a sedentary position does not enhance our proceedings.
§ Mr. Sumberg
Since the last general election, unemployment in my constituency has nearly been halved —from 4,052 to 2,194. That is still too high, but my constituents have learnt the hard and bitter lesson from the experiences in government of one of my most distinguished constituents—the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Lord Joel Barnett—and they know that inflation is the mother and father of unemployment. That is why I warmly welcome the Government's determination, as reiterated in the Queen's Speech, to defeat the scourge of inflation, because it is upon that defeat that the prosperity and well-being of all my constituents depends.
Many will also welcome the Government's commitment to a greener Britain. For us in the north-west of England, our countryside and green fields are essential to our existence. The aim of making Britain greener is not, for my constituents, a technical exercise or a media hype; it goes to the core and heart of their quality of life.
One final aspect of the Gracious Speech that I warmly welcome is the reform of our legal system. I know that convention prevents me, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney-General, who is held in the highest regard by the whole House, from commenting in detail on these matters. Suffice it to say that I am sure that we are moving in the right direction for the benefit of both the public and clients.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to say this afternoon, I followed the advice of the Patronage Secretary—better known outside this place as the Chief Whip—who told me to read the seconding speeches that had been made over the years. The research revealed that during the last Parliament two other Members of the class of 1983 with similar majorities to mine seconded the Loyal Address. At the subsequent general election, both lost their seats. The Patronage Secretary is the model of kindness and courtesy and, although I must tell him that I got his message loud and clear, the return to the House of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who was one of those seconders, is proof that there is political life after political death.
Our political lives are being lived at the most exciting and dramatic of times. Recent events in Germany and eastern Europe have shown that history is a constantly moving pattern and that nothing is set in concrete—either literally or metaphorically. Over the past few days' events at the Berlin wall we have all remembered the words of John Kennedy—[Interruption.] That is the wrong quotation. Kennedy said:Some men see things as they are and ask why—let us dream of things that never were and ask why not.It is because I believe that the programme revealed in the Gracious Speech is in accordance with the spirit of that message that I have no hesitation in commending it to the House.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) referred to Sir Clement Freud. I remember Sir Clement Freud when he was a Member of this House. I never agreed with him politically and I had many arguments with him. However, knowing that our proceedings are now televised, was it right for the hon. Member for Bury, South—[Interruption.] Was it right for him to use the occasion to make a snide remark about someone who is no longer a Member of the House and who in fact put in his time here? Although I disagreed with 12 Sir Clement Freud politically, he was a good Member of Parliament. I trust that we will not hear that sort of thing in future.
§ Mr. Speaker
Even before our proceedings were televised, hon. Members will have heard me say that we have freedom of speech in the House and every hon. Member must take responsibility for what he says here.
§ 3.6 pm
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
For those who may be uninitiated in these matters, it is one of the most pleasurable customs of the House that the Leader of the Opposition is allowed on this occasion to pay compliments to the movers and seconders of the Loyal Address. I do that now with my usual passion and enthusiasm, particularly after the usual sparkling performance of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). He gripped the House.
As I looked across the Chamber at the hon. Member for Eastbourne he struck me as one of our number who, like me, has not presented himself at a television charm school for grooming. The only concession that I have made in that direction—I suspect that the hon. Member for Eastbourne is much the same—is to accept a kind and generous offer made to my by one of my hon. and learned Friends who shall remain anonymous. I have been given something called papier poudré which looks to me like cerebral blotting papers which apparently are for mopping one's head. After his ordeal in moving the Loyal Address, I should be more than happy in the most fraternal spirit to pass this paper to the hon. Member for Eastbourne should he require it.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne needs no tuition in charm, gentility or subtlety. I am certain that all those qualities earned for him the not unaffectionate title of supergrass while he worked for the Prime Minister as her Parliamentary Private Secretary. I suppose that that is better than supericeberg.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Eastbourne will suffer no difficulties in this new era of televised democracy from the fact that, like me, he suffers from a certain tonsorial deficiency. He need not worry about that. He need only look along the Government Front Bench to see the deputy Prime Minister, the chairman of the Conservative party, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary to be absolutely assured that luxuriant grey hair is not necessarily evidence of wisdom.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne has so many talents that I have been tempted from time to time to try to convert him, provide him with elocution lessons and a different pair of glasses so that he could double the output of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom the hon. Member for Eastbourne bears much more than a passing resemblance. The hon. Gentleman's speech was a considerable delight—I mean that, of course, in all respects other than political.
Hon. Members heard also from the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), who is certainly an earnest Member of Parliament and who has shown not inconsiderable courage. To his considerable credit, at the 13 time of the 1983 general election he called upon Conservatives in Stockton not to vote for the ex-National Front man, who was the Conservative candidate. Everyone would acknowledge the courage that that took, and would strongly support the hon. Gentleman. I know the hon. Gentleman's wife, Carolyn, who is an extremely active supporter of the campaign for Soviet Jewry, and we have had mutually productive encounters in the course of securing precisely that liberty which, in many ways, is rightly celebrated in today's Queen's Speech.
The hon. Member for Bury, South is also star-touched. Not only is he the consultant for the Northern Independent Bookmakers Association—an office of some distinction and considerable advantage, I should imagine—but—[Interruption.] I will leave the Prime Minister to talk to Brian Walden; it is more entertaining. The hon. Member for Bury, South shares his birthday with Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones. Perhaps after the next election, as the hon. Gentleman graciously hinted, he might become something of a rolling stone. Until then, we shall continue to be informed and delighted by his contributions.
In the Queen's Speech there are proposals, such as those for combating crime and pursuing co-operation with the police forces of other countries, which we shall examine with the aim of supporting. Some other forthcoming Bills, such as those on food safety, environmental protection, and the control of pollution and waste will enjoy our interest in our efforts to try to strengthen that legislation. However, there are other measures that we shall oppose root and branch.
We shall employ a special hostility against the Bill by which the Government will try to implement what they call their reforms of the National Health Service. We shall oppose their plans because, like the great majority of the British people, we know that such proposals will not reform the NHS. They will deform it into a creature of competition—competition between doctors, competition between hospitals, and competition between health authorities, which has no place in a national health system that is trusted and respected by those who work in it and use it—that is to say by the great majority of the British people—because they understand that its motive is service and not profit. The Government do not understand that motive, and they will pay for their ignorance and the contempt that they have shown to doctors, nurses and patients who, over the months since the publication of the Government's proposals, have sought to inform the Government about the realities of a National Health Service which so many distinguished members of the Cabinet fail to use.
In the Queen's Speech we were told that the Government will continue to pursue policies designed to reduce inflation, foster economic growth and promote enterprise and employment. Those phrases have a certain ring of familiarity about them. Indeed, they echo the words that we heard last year, when the Government pledged to pursue policies designed—that was the word again—to bear down on inflation, promote enterprise and foster output and employment. That was the design for this year, the year in which the balance of payments deficit went up to £20 billion, which is 50 per cent. more than the Government's estimate. It has also been a year in which the inflation rate reached over 7 per cent. —50 per cent. higher than the Government had estimated this time last 14 year. There has been an increase in output of 2 per cent.—50 per cent. lower than the Government estimated last year.
It was not the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who made those estimates. He was only the Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time and thus conceivably out of these things or at least away from the liabilities. Those were the forecasts made by the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), whom I am delighted to see in his place and, who as we clearly recall was eventually driven by frustration at the conduct of affairs to resign his position as the second most important person in the Administration—second only to Sir Alan Walters. Still, despite the right hon. Gentleman's departure—
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's courtesy in giving way. This is a wonderful opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to demonstrate not only to the House, but to the nation, whether he understands the finer details of economic policy. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore tell the House which of the Prime Minister's conditions for joining the European monetary system he agrees with and which one he disagrees with, and why?
§ Mr. Kinnock
By coincidence, I am coming to that point and can address myself precisely to the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised, in my own time and in the order of my speech. I assure him that I shall do so.
The former Chancellor has gone, but, of course, the policies remain. One might have thought that any design team with such a record of failure would at least have gone back to the drawing board—but not this Government, not this "team", as the chairman of the Conservative party used to like to call them. For the Government, the design faults simply do not exist. We were told by the former Chancellor last year that rising inflation was a "blip" and 20 months ago the Prime Minister told us that the huge balance of payments deficit was a "freak". Just last week the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom I listen avidly on the radio, was saying that the reduction in growth that we shall experience throughout 1990 was just taking a "necessary pause". So there is no need for anyone to worry—the present conditions are only momentary problems. Of course, they lasted most of 1988 and they have lasted the whole of 1989—and according to the Chancellor's statement last week we are in for another "difficult" year, as he put it, in 1990—but they are still only temporary problems.
I hope that the Chancellor is right. I hope, together with many mortgage-paying Members of the House and every mortgage-paying member of the nation, that the Chancellor is absolutely right and not as wildly wrong in his forecasts as his predecessor was. However, the portents are not good because the present Chancellor, like the last Chancellor and the Prime Minister, still goes on telling us that the economy is "fundamentally strong", that there is "underlying strength" in the economy and that there is great "confidence". When I hear that claim, I have to ask why, if there is such an abundance of confidence, we in Britain have to pay 15 per cent. interest rates in order to buy that confidence?
As for underlying strengths, one has only to look at what has happened to our economy in the 10 oil-rich years 15 of this Government. We see an economy suffering from chronic traffic congestion, delays and danger, as a result of systemic and sustained under-funding. We have chronic skill shortages which generate alarm everywhere, including in the Confederation of British Industry. We have an economy with a falling share of world trade in manufactured goods, an economy where bankruptcies have risen by over 40 per cent. this year, but still the Chancellor says that interest rates will have to stay high enough for long enough—high enough for long enough for what? High enough and long enough to push back businesses to where they were in the early part of the 1980s. What a way to start the 1990s.
There are many phrases to describe an economy in this condition, but "underlying strengths" and "fundamentally strong" are not such phrases. In any case, if our economy is as fundamentally strong as the Government continually claim, why are more people homeless? Why are more people in poverty? Why do Britain's pensioners have a lower state pension than their contemporaries in every major European Economic Community country? Why, if there is fundamental strength in the economy, should child benefit be frozen? Why, if the economy is fundamentally strong, do we have an education system with the highest drop-out rate of all the major European Community countries? Why do we have a lower level of publicly provided child care than any comparable country? Why are our children being sent home from school because there are not enough teachers to teach them in the classroom? In this fundamentally strong economy, why does the Queen's Speech bring forward proposals for student finances that will make access to higher education a matter of debt and default for so many young people? Could not a fundamentally strong economy afford to pay for a proper high speed rail link to the Channel tunnel instead of looking around to see whether the French railways will pay for it? Surely, the Government of a fundamentally strong economy would pay war widows better pensions. Surely they would urgently compensate haemophiliacs who have contracted the HIV virus. Surely, the Government of a fundamentally strong country would at least have sufficient confidence in their case to let the ambulance personnel go to arbitration. That would be a sign of a fundamental strength.
I do not ask the Government to do all the things that I mentioned at once. I simply ask them to do some of them. At present, they are doing none of them.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
When my right hon. Friend refers to the people of eastern Europe and our delight that they have been released from aging authoritarian leaders—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Socialists."] They have been released from— [HON. MEMBERS: "Socialism."] Mr. Speaker, could you make them behave, please?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that the hon. Lady really needs my protection but she shall have it.
§ Mr. Kinnock
There will not be much perestroika or glasnost in Downing street. Hon. Members who shouted "Socialism" at my hon. Friend did so as though it equated with what has existed and still exists too extensively in eastern Europe. If they think that what has been practised in eastern Europe is Socialism, Chile is all that capitalism has to offer. They make stupid exaggerations and distortions which are fast becoming their stock in trade. I shall come to the question of change in eastern Europe later, but it is interesting to see the response of the Conservative party to that question, which I should have thought would substantially unite the House.
Fundamental strength has to be built. It does not arrive by accident. It must be carefully and continuously constructed. The Government have not been about that business. We shall have fundamental strength only if we build strong foundations. A modern economy can be fundamentally strong only if there is proper sustained commitment to education and training, research and development, science and transport and new techniques and technologies. That commitment has not been made by the Government in the past 10 years.
§ Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)
British industry has shown record profitability and investment. What does the right hon. Gentleman call that, if not strength?
§ Mr. Kinnock
If the hon. Gentleman's only estimate of strength is profitability and investment, I advise him to do two things. First, he should go to the conference of the Confederation of British Industry in Harrogate and ask the delegates there for their estimate of transport and training infrastructure and of the Government's support for research and development. The CBI does not hold out any begging bowls but it comprehends a basic fact of modern economic life. It requires partnership between Governments and business to build fundamental strength.
Secondly, if it is investment that interests the hon. Gentleman, I invite him to look at the glorious technicolour of the Financial Times of last Thursday morning. He will see from an economics don using the Government's figures a close analysis of precisely what has been happening to our investment, particularly manufacturing investment, the rate of advance of which is lower than that of any competitor in the modern world.
The Government have not made that form of commitment. The evidence exists not just in the figures, but in daily witness. Managers, workers and, indeed, the general public, because of the crushing of so much British productive capacity at the beginning of this decade and the way in which the Government have stimulated dependence on imports in the rest of the decade, know that they are suffering as a consequence of the Government's conduct of affairs.
Our competitors have been committed to building fundamental strength. They have done so without the bonanza of oil wealth and without selling great national assets such as water, electricity and gas. Indeed, they are buying the assets that the Government are selling from the British people. They have achieved construction and development without any blipping, freaking or pausing. They have achieved that because they believe in preparing for the future. Germany, Italy and France have achieved that because they know that it is the task of modern 17 government to work in partnership with the producers and the people to build fundamental strength. Why is that not shared in our country?
There is widespread fear that because the Government have not made a proper investment in the 1980s, we shall be left behind in the 1990s. That feeling becomes all the more acute as we approach 1992 and, as the Queen's Speech reminds us, the completion of the single market of the European Community. That change, as the Prime Minister knows, is inescapable. We have no choice whether to face it or not. Our only choice is whether to participate constructively in order strongly to influence the change or to be dragged along behind it, as we are being dragged along behind the European monetary system. We are in it, but not of it. The result is that we bear all the pressures of having a currency measured against the deutschmark, without having any of the benefits of stability and credibility for the currency that could be secured by participation in the exchange rate mechanism. I do not counsel that we go in without conditions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Anybody who joined without conditions would be stupid and a paid-up member of the Liberal party. It is essential to negotiate proper conditions and we should negotiate them now.
I was asked which of the conditions laid down by the Prime Minister I could not concur with. The first is the idea that we should secure by interest rate pressure a reduction in the British rate of inflation to the European average before joining. When the Prime Minister makes that stipulation it is her way of saying, "Never". A second condition is the one that she started to develop as she was making lists—apparently without rehearsal with her Cabinet colleagues—on the Brian Walden programme. She wants all our EC competitors to abandon all forms of industrial subsidy. She is saying to them, "We want you to share our supply side weakness." While there may be withdrawals and reductions in subsidy they will not break the partnership between democratic Governments, Conservative and Socialist, and industries, especially when the record shows that it gives them a huge balance of payments surplus with this country.
§ Mr. Kinnock
In a moment.
The balance of payments surplus is £8 billion for the Federal Republic, £2 billion for Italy and £1.5 billion for France. We have even got a balance of payments deficit with the East Germans.
§ Mr. Butterfill
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that our partners in the European Community have signed a treaty which obliges them to eliminate those subsidies?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Yes, I fully comprehend that. I have a simple question for the hon. Gentleman, which he might like to address to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] It is certain to intrigue the hon. Gentleman. If we and our partners are bonded by the aforesaid treaty, why does the Prime Minister have to make a condition out of getting rid of those subsidies? Surely in the natural progress of events, under the great machine that will secure everything, the elimination of those subsidies will take place. If that does not happen, our partners will be guilty of trying to negotiate conditions for 18 their future within the European Community. I counsel that we do the same thing with the same strength and the same determination to get the same square deal.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman's condition that the German economy must be seen to be reflating his way of saying no to the European monetary system?
§ Mr. Kinnock
Not at all. There are conditions with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar. The Federal Republic of Germany has earned a substantial part of its current account surplus from our economy and those of many other EC partners. The Germans have a close vested interest in a Community machinery which will recycle their surplus. That machinery will work to our advantage, it is true, but it will most certainly provide them with the means of sustained and balanced growth and that is in the interests of every person within the EC. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends should show patience towards the Conservative party—I am talking about intelligent co-operation, but the Conservatives understand neither concept.
The result of the way in which we are being dragged along—
§ Mr. Kinnock
I have given way more often than anyone else who has opened for the Opposition on the Queen's Speech. I am sure that you Mr. Speaker, will forgive me, if I do not give way again, as I must get on with my speech because the Prime Minister and other hon. Members will want to speak. I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will forgive me for not giving way, but I have already done so several times.
As a result of getting all the disadvantages of being dragged along and none of the advantages of stability and credibility for our currency we must negotiate entry into the exchange rate mechanism with deliberation and on the basis of sensible conditions. Doubtless the Prime Minister would describe that approach, our joint and broadly-defined position, as being a readiness to sacrifice what she calls "sovereignty." I am far from alone in advocating our entry to the EMS and I understand that anything up to 60 per cent. of Conservative Members of Parliament broadly believe that it would be desirable and useful for us to participate in the EMS.
Sovereignty—self-power, autonomy, independence—is a fine thing for a democratic Government who want to serve their people and their particular interests. It is a useful and necessary implement. But what sovereignty were the Government exercising on 5 October? When the Cabinet met that Thursday morning, it had to wait to see what the directors of the Bundesbank meeting in Frankfurt would do with their interest rates before our Cabinet in Downing street could decide what it was going to do to our interest rates. On that day our sovereignty lasted for about half an hour, from 1.30 pm when the Bundesbank put its interest rates to about 2 pm when the Government put up our interest rates to 15 per cent. We got no advantage from the way in which the Government tried to manage our affairs then. We had about as much sovereignty as Hans Andersen's vain emperor had clothes.
All countries are proud of their sovereignty. Other EC countries naturally cherish it, but their Governments do 19 not confuse sovereignty with vanity. That is not because they are models of humility. No one could accuse the French and German Governments of humility—that is the last virtue of which they are guilty—but they understand the nature of modern sovereignty. They take the view that in our times sovereignty is, as a right hon. and learned Member of this House put it:a form of influence that can be multiplied and maximised by active engagement with others—and not something to be guarded jealously by keeping one's distance from the rest. … That is the way towards a future where, in sharing power with others, we count for more in the world. The alternative would involve becoming, and being regarded as, increasingly marginal to the decisions that matter. Isolation is not an option.For that assessment of modern sovereignty—for that sabotage of the Prime Minister's position—I am indebted to the deputy Prime Minister and the speech that he made two weeks ago in Bath. The speech was made not in the bath—nothing so private—but in full public gaze, in the pumproom, to the Anglo-Spanish conference, and I believe that there were shouts of "Olé."
Isolation, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly said, is not an option. How true, and how unacceptable that must be to the Prime Minister, who says to the Commonwealth conference that if it is 48 against one, "I feel sorry for the 48" and who says to the European summit when it is 11 to one, "I feel sorry for the 11." From what we hear from the United States Secretary of State for Defence over the weekend, the Prime Minister may soon be saying to our NATO allies that she feels sorry for the other 15. When I hear the Prime Minister feeling sorry for the rest of the world, I understand why she has taken to calling herself "we"—it is less lonely.
That expression of view by Defence Secretary Cheney, like the expression by President Bush when he visited the Federal Republic earlier this year and spoke of the Germans as "partners in leadership", is evidence of the way in which the world is changing and how, with care and caution and with a strong sense of responsibility, people are ready to change with it. That is the only frame of mind which equips us to deal with the tumultuous and joyous events of the last 10 days in East Germany and what results from them.
Like every democrat, I greet with joy and optimism the destruction of the wall, of the wire and of the totalitarianism that built them. On 13 August 1961 I was in north-west Germany staying with a family who had come six years earlier from Dresden in East Germany. Hon. Members can imagine how sombre and anxious those people were—then and for many weeks after—about the fate of their loved ones in the east of Germany.
As I saw the wall coming down, I heard a young woman saying to a television journalist, "I went over and then I came back. I went over again and now I am back again. I am going back again and I am coming back here again. Why am I doing that? Because I can." As I listened to that, I felt that it was one of the greatest speeches of freedom that I had ever heard. I am sure that people everywhere, in all the countries of the free world, felt exactly the same.
While we are all filled with the same feeling when we see the people of Prague—youngsters and veterans of 1968—in their hundreds of thousands, we understand the great opportunities that are now opening up for a different quality of relationship between the peoples of our 20 continent. We also know that it is essential to deal with these huge changes with care and co-operation. On these Benches—and, I believe, on the Government Benches—there is a common desire for progress with stability. There are many ways of reinforcing the advance that must take place. The measures include economic assistance and co-operation, political, cultural—
§ Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
When the right hon. Gentleman looks back over the last six or seven years, does he believe that his role in 1983 played any part in the events that we are now witnessing in East Europe?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I have conscientiously worked, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) has, for increased security and stability across this continent all my life, and I shall continue so to do. If the hon. Gentleman is unaware of the opportunities that exist and does not want to use them properly, he is turning his eyes away not just from the past and its conflicts, but from the future and its opportunities.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman shouts out words that could cause his dismissal from this Chamber. I shall take no notice of them but simply say that if he, his arguments and character are so weak, I hold him in contempt.
As I have said, there are many ways of reinforcing the advance that we all want to see. They include economic assistance and co-operation, political, cultural and scientific exchange, which must take place over a broad front, and placing a continual focus on civil and human rights. We must take that opportunity as a country and work with our partners in the European Community towards those objectives.
In addition, NATO and the Warsaw pact both have an essential function as agencies, not only for armed security but for achieving and managing verifiable agreements of mutual disarmament. If the Government want to encourage reform in the Soviet Union, as they say in the Queen's Speech—I am sure that they do because it is important for the Soviet Union and for wide, sure and stable change in the East—it is essential that they actively foster negotiated disarmament. If they wish to help Mikhail Gorbachev they should take this means of enabling him to transfer precious resources of money, technology and skill away from the military machine and towards civil production and consumption. The people of the Warsaw pact—
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall give way in a second.
The people of the Warsaw pact countries have yearned for the sweet taste of liberty, but even that can turn sour unless it brings with it sufficiency and at least the clear prospect of prosperity and choice. That is why we must help in the change—not to determine the fate of others, but to assist them in gaining their own emancipation. It is the responsibility of those of us who are free to nourish the freedom of others. I know that the Prime Minister agrees with that. That is why I say that if she wants the reforms to succeed and become irreversible, she should work willingly with others in NATO to secure negotiated reductions in conventional forces and the negotiated removal of all short-range nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall give way in a moment.
I also ask the Prime Minister to reconsider her approach to change in the Community of west Europe and change in the countries of eastern Europe. A couple of days ago she said:It really would be very ironic if, while we insist that Eastern Europe moves to full democracy and full human rights, that we take the heart of Parliamentary control out of democratic accountability.There will be many arguments in this House and elsewhere about the pace and direction of change in the European Community. Federal union will find few friends among the Opposition. For the Prime Minister to try to equate the efforts of any of the democracies of western Europe with the system in the east of Europe, which is collapsing under the weight of its own inefficiency, injustice and inhumanity, is offensively absurd. The Prime Minister should change her attitude, and change it now, because it helps no one—least of all our country.
As your generation, Mr. Speaker, has every cause to know, before 1939 there were many Europes. Since 1945 there have been two Europes, bitterly divided. Now there are the beginnings of the possibility that there can be one Europe—a continent with borders but without barriers. If our generation can help to achieve that with security, stability and guarantees of peace and liberty, we must make every effort to do so. We must do so for the sake of the younger generations who come behind us in this continent and to repay our debt to people like yourself, Mr. Speaker, who fought so that we could have a choice about these matters.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall not give way because I am coming to the end of my speech and I have given way several times.
This is the last Queen's Speech of the 1980s. Chief among its purposes should have been that of helping the British people to gather strength to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 1990s. At best, it evades that purpose and at worst it directly contradicts it. The Government have ruled the 1980s and have made it a decade of deficit, division and debt. They are out of touch, they are running out of time, and they will soon be out of power.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
May I first join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on the way in which he moved the Loyal Address? He did it in his own inimitable style, dry as always—for which I am eternally grateful—and he used his own particular way of showing that even the Opposition have greatly benefited from periods of Conservative prosperity.
When we were in opposition—which I am sure we shall never be again—my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne was the scourge of the then Labour Government and moved private Bill after private Bill. There was a Bill to sell council houses, one to privatise bus companies, one to privatise the National Freight Corporation, one to privatise Cable and Wireless and a Bill to privatise the British Steel Corporation. Of course, privatisation got nowhere with the Labour Government. The Opposition are Socialists and want clause 4—nationalisation of the means of production, distribution 22 and exchange. I am happy to say that all the things sought by those private Bills have been achieved under my Administration.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) who seconded the Address. He is well known for winning his seat and retaining it against all the odds and he will do so again. The way that he has truly looked after the rights of his constituents both as a constituency Member and in the House will secure him another return. I was glad that he said that during the lifetime of the Labour Government we learned that inflation is the father and mother of unemployment and that during the lifetime of this Government his constituents have profited enormously from having more jobs from which to choose.
§ The Prime Minister
May I finish thanking my two hon. Friends? After that I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
It is of course a happy coincidence that in the year when the Gracious Speech contains important proposals for legal reform, both the proposer and seconder of the Address are distinguished solicitors. As a barrister, I welcome this early start to giving them rights of audience. Both my hon. Friends are to be warmly congratulated.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the Prime Minister tell the House in what respect the account given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer of his departure was inaccurate?
§ The Prime Minister
May I assure the hon Gentleman that I shall deal with the economy in a moment? Perhaps he would take his time. In the meantime, I shall deal with some of the things said by the Leader of the Opposition. I had not proposed to deal with them in my speech but I had better deal with them now. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the National Health Service but omitted to point out that for every £1 that Labour spent on the Health Service, this Government have spent £3. He omitted to mention that we achieved economic growth at a faster rate than our European competitors and that under a Conservative Government that resulted in an all-time record for the number of people in jobs.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about traffic congestion, but he omitted to point out that the previous Labour Government had to cut the amount spent on motorways and trunk roads. Of course they did; they ran the economy so badly.
The right hon. Gentleman then dealt with pensions. He omitted to say that pension rights and the way in which pensions are managed in the EC are very different from here. Moreover, he omitted to point out that it was a Labour Government who were unable to honour a pledge to protect pensions against rising prices. Rising prices would have required a 20 per cent. increase in pensions and they just did not have the money.
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke about teachers he omitted to say that there is a higher proportion of teachers to pupils than ever before in our history. There are also more students in higher education.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about war widows. He omitted to say that this Government freed the war widows' pension from tax altogether and increased the age allowances. They will be increased well beyond the level of 23 inflation next April. The allowance for those aged 65 to 69 will rise by 14 per cent. and that for those aged 80 and over will go up by some 30 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to say that what they had in the Soviet Union was not Socialism. Of course it was—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under previous Labour Governments there has been massive nationalisation, and if the right hon. Gentleman looks back at his speeches in opposition he will see that he wanted more and more nationalisation; massively high taxation, which, again, is a way of taking people's rightful earnings from them; and such massive detailed controls that at the end of the previous Labour Government's period in office manufacturing output was lower than it was at the beginning. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to say that. One would think that manufacturing output went up under the previous Labour Government; it did not. It was lower at the end than it was at the beginning.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we are being dragged along behind the EC. Far from being dragged along behind, we are, for example, ahead in implementing the directives for the single market. Some 68 single market directives should have been implemented by the end of June. France has yet to implement nine; Denmark and the Netherlands 12 and all the other countries more than 12, with Italy at 33. The United Kingdom has the record, with only three measures unimplemented. As in so many other things, we lead the field in Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that competition policy was not an essential part of the single market, but there cannot be varying subsidies if we are to compete on fair terms with others. If subsidies were permitted, the richest countries would have the biggest subsidies and there would be no Common Market, no single market, and nothing extra for us to enjoy.
The right hon. Gentleman then pointed out that there were times when Britain was isolated in her arguments. Yes, we were isolated in the EC when we tried to get a fair deal for Britain for the budget, and we stayed isolated until we succeeded in obtaining the fair deal that had eluded the previous Labour Government. Yes, we were isolated when we tried to reform the common agricultural policy, and eventually we succeeded. Yes, we were isolated when the EC wanted a common withholding tax. We went on with our arguments and eventually we won. What the right hon. Gentleman calls isolation is really leadership and winning the argument.
The new parliamentary Session will witness the start of a new decade. The 1970s was a decade when Britain was in decline; when Socialism meant that we had to be treated like some Third world country and be rescued by the IMF. The 1980s has been the decade when Britain regained her strength and pride. We are no longer afraid of change. We can respond to it with confidence. British industry has been set free to adapt to new ways and new technology at an unparalleled rate.
Businesses can once again get a good return on investment. That is why over the past three years we have seen a 40 per cent. increase in business investment—an unprecedented advance. That is why industries such as steel, newspapers and now the docks, whose equipment and working methods were barely adequate for the 1950s, have been transformed to compete with the best in the 24 1990s. That is why Britain has been getting the lion's share of overseas investment into the European Community. They prefer to come to Britain.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
The Prime Minister talks about pride in our country. What pride does she take in the fact that she is the only Prime Minister since the second world war who has presided over a situation in which teenage children sit homeless and hungry on the Dickensian streets of Britain?
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman listened to the Autumn Statement, he will know that extra sums have been allocated to help homeless people. He will also know that there are something like 1,900,000 more homes than there were during the life of the last Labour Government. But I was dealing with industry. Let me go on.
Output and investment are at an all-time record and profitability is higher than for 20 years. Of course we need high profitability. Where else would we get high investment? Where else would we get the income that enables us to do better for the social services? What is more, people want a stake in success. More people than ever own their own homes and own shares. More people are running their own businesses. This year, an extra new business has been started up every seven minutes.
The ownership of property is no longer the privilege of the few. We have extended ownership ever more widely to the overwhelming majority of the nation, giving them the self-confidence and pride that come from property and choice. The old class-based Labour order is being replaced by one based on merit, ability and effort. That is the new Britain. That is the Britain of the 1990s.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
If industry is so satisfied with the Prime Minister's performance, can she explain the CBI's statement yesterday that all profits are being wiped out by losses on the exchange rate? When the exchange rate goes down profits are wiped out.
§ The Prime Minister
That is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman will know that the CBI has two views about exchange rates. It suits some industries to have a high exchange rate because the raw materials they import are cheaper; it suits others to have a lower exchange rate because they think that it helps them with exports. The only real security for industry is to be really efficient by virtue of its management and the design of its products.
§ The Prime Minister
Far-reaching reforms in education and training are widening opportunity even further. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition—
§ The Prime Minister
Please let me get on with a few more sentences before I give way again.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman told the Labour party conference that education and training are now the commanding heights of the economy. Under this Government they always have been.
Let us look at the facts on education, which is absolutely vital for our future. The national curriculum is making sure that every child has a really good basic education. The new GCSE has been an outstanding success and has produced better exam results. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, there are 210,000 25 more students in higher education than there were in 1979. For every four people taking degrees when Labour left office, there are now more than five.
The last Labour Government did not leave us much of a legacy on training. Our approach has been much more fundamental: to provide good-quality training which will put people into real jobs. This Government set up the youth training scheme and employment training, the largest adult training programme that this country has ever known. Of course the Labour party and its trade union paymasters did their best to frustrate both training schemes, and they denied people these opportunities, but, in spite of their efforts, over 500,000 people have joined employment training and well over 2 million young people have benefited from the youth training scheme.
§ Mr. Heffer
Earlier, the Prime Minister talked about people owning their own homes and how much better off they are under this Government. Would she like to explain that to my constituent who came to see me at my surgery on Saturday? He left the armed forces to work on an oil rig. He bought his own home, but his son met with a serious accident. He had to give up work to look after his child, but is now being evicted from his home because he cannot pay his mortgage. How does she explain to my constituent, and thousands like him, how much better off they are under this Government?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is correct. There will always be people who cannot cope because their circumstances are adverse at the time. That does not take away from the enormous increase in owner-occupation—two of every three families now own their own home. That would never have happened under Labour. That exceptional case, which is hard and gives great cause for sympathy, does not take away from that enormous achievement or from the fact that nearly 9 million people now own shares.
I was talking about training and how the trade unions have tried to frustrate opportunities—
§ The Prime Minister
I should like to get on and make a little more of my speech. I shall give way later.
I was talking about training and how the trade unions had tried to frustrate the training schemes but have not succeeded. Employers are investing heavily in training Britain's work force—to the tune of £18 billion a year, and that is on top of the £31 billion that they invested last year in plant and machinery. Yes, of course we must do better still if we are to compete with Germany and Japan, which is why we are developing a network of training and enterprise councils throughout the country with business in the lead—because business knows how to run business and business can work with the universities on training—and not the arrogance of Socialist politicians who think that they can run everything.
I shall not give the detailed figures, but the Government have devoted extra funds to research. Thanks to the growth in our national income, the Government will be able to spend nearly £3 billion on civil science and technology next year. The science budget will be 25 per cent. higher in real terms than it was under the last Labour Government. That is why there is great strength in our economy. We have growth, excellent investment, good 26 profits, output that is higher than ever before, a high rate of new businesses, a good rate of investment and a good rate of investment in research.
Which hon. Member was first? I gave way to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett).
§ Mr. Fatchett
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way so graciously. May I take her back to the point that she made about education as a source of strength in the economy? She painted the picture of all being well with the education system. Will she explain to parents in London boroughs such as Tower Hamlets why their children are being sent home from school because no teachers are available?
§ The Prime Minister
What a pity they are not in my constituency—I am sure that they would do very much better. We have the very best education, a good local authority, which runs our education system superbly, and the best results. As I pointed out, and will point out again to the hon. Gentleman, there are more teachers in proportion to pupils than at any previous time in our history, and more is being spent on each pupil than ever before. I should have thought that with more teachers and more resources the local authorities could manage those resources better and give a better education to the children.
§ The Prime Minister
May I continue, please? I have to lay out the Government's policies. I will give way from time to time, but I should just like to make a bit of my speech.
Not only have we had extensive growth and created extra wealth but we have shared the success. Economic success has brought unprecedented prosperity to this country. Under the Conservative Government a family with two children, and the husband on average earnings, now gets an extra £55 a week in take-home pay, after allowing for the increase in prices. [Interruption.] Let me repeat: after allowing for inflation a family with two children, and the husband on average earnings, now gets £55 a week over and above what it would have got at the end of the period of the Labour Government. Of course more wealth has been created, but people have shared, rightly, in that success. In terms of what the money will buy, for every £3 that that family had under Labour, it now has £4. That is, of course, sharing the extra success.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way in a moment. I will earmark the hon. Gentleman to be next.
Greater prosperity also means that, as a nation, we can afford the better public services that we now have. Since the Conservative party has been in office, there have been more doctors, more nurses and more patients treated in the National Health Service every year.
§ The Prime Minister
Well, let us shout the facts—[Interruption.] Labour Members are trying to conceal them. Labour does not want to reveal the facts, because they are against Labour. Labour does not want the people 27 to know the facts about extra prosperity and the National Health Service. I will not take the time to repeat them, because there is more good news. Spending on people who are sick and disabled has nearly doubled under the Government, again after allowing for inflation. This October, we gave extra help to the 2.5 million pensioners who need it most and we abolished the earnings rule.
§ Mr. Wilson
The Prime Minsiter has talked a great deal about unique prosperity, generosity to the family and so on. Would she care to make the moral case for what the Government have done to 16 and 17-year-olds, tens of thousands of whom are without jobs or YTS places and who have been thrown out without a penny and—[Interruption.] We hear the reaction of Conservative Members. Will the Prime Minister tell us the moral case for leaving tens of thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds without a penny of legal income on which to subsist?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is not correct, and he knows it. There are more YTS places in every region than there are young people to fill them. There is no shortage of YTS places. We think that it is very much better that young people should take part in training, if they do not have a job, than be left idle. There are plenty of YTS places. Some of those 16 and 17-year-olds with a particular hardship problem—those who cannot go home—have special allowances, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The policy of persuading young people to go to training and not just be idle is the right one and is supported by most people.
Our excellent record on social services has been possible because Conservative policies have led to more wealth being created than ever before and wealth being spread more widely than ever before. That is a very good claim for any Government to be able to make, but we must safeguard and build on these hard-earned economic achievements. Over the past two years, the economy has been growing at a faster rate than we could sustain. The threat of inflation has re-emerged and a large external trade deficit opened up, and action has had to be taken to deal with both.
§ The Prime Minister
Not until I come to the end of this section, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will then give way.
Naturally, home owners and many businesses are concerned about higher interest rates, but they are necessary to cut borrowing and to increase saving. The savers will never forget that, in the 1970s, Labour Governments robbed them of a large part of their savings by letting inflation run rampant. Inflation today is lower than the lowest rate that Labour ever achieved between 1974 and 1979. A rate that was a cause of celebration for the Labour Government because it was low by their standards is a cause of concern for us because it is far too high by our standards. The absolute priority is to get inflation down.
§ Mr. Wareing
Is not the holdback that the Government have introduced on economic growth this year simply the result of 30 per cent. of our manufacturing industry being destroyed at a time when North sea oil revenues were 28 available for investment in it? Is that not reflected in the £20 billion balance of payments deficit? Will the Prime Minister tell the House and the British people when the balance of payments will be in the black again?
§ The Prime Minister
When growth has been too fast, inflation re-emerges. It emerged in 1973 and it has re-emerged now. That is the cause of our having an adverse balance of payments deficit. We could hope that manufacturing industry here would fill more of the demand—and there is no doubt about the demand. I can only point out to the hon. Gentleman that manufacturing industry is in a very much fitter shape. There are no restrictive practices now and it has been, therefore, far more modernised. It has been able to invest in new technology, and there is higher manufacturing output and higher manufacturing investment than the best under Labour.
It is not only Governments who determine the prospects for growth and jobs; they depend on how well businesses keep their costs down. The more that the trade unions press for higher wage claims regardless of productivity, the greater is the threat to our competitive position and to jobs. It is about time that the Opposition faced up to that instead of cheering on every high pay claim and then complaining that we have become uncompetitive. The sheer emptiness of the Opposition's approach is shown by their policy on credit controls. The truth is that in today's open markets, credit controls do not and could not work.
We all receive many leaflets advertising credit and usually they go straight into the wastepaper bin. However, I saw one very interesting leaflet recently which I happen to have with me. It says:the Labour Co-Op Visa card works just like every other credit card … You can choose your own credit limit … Simply tick the relevant box—£1,000, £2,000 or other, please specify … Use it to spread the cost of Christmas, or birthdays or summer holidays".There is a nice picture of the Eiffel tower just to give people all sorts of ideas. The leaflet continues:Use it as a second credit card … Every time you use the card the Co-Operative bank makes a donation to Labour.
§ The Prime Minister
Labour's Front-Bench spokesmen peddle credit controls while their PR men peddle credit cards.
Let us turn instead to the Government's legislative programmes for the year ahead.
§ The Prime Minister
I have rather a lot more to say and I have not spoken continuously so far, but I shall give way just once more.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Does the Prime Minister agree with her Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that in certain circumstances, children should have credit cards? We do not agree.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman reads the report very carefully, he will find that that is not what my right hon. Friend said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is not 29 what he said. He did not say that they should have credit cards. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read precisely what he said.
Let us consider instead the Government's legislative plans for the year ahead. As people have become more prosperous they are naturally looking for an even better quality of life. They are looking for increased choice and improved services and for measures to enlarge their personal liberty. The Gracious Speech contains a full programme of 15 major Bills to address precisely those issues.
Several of the Bills stem from scientific advance, which we are harnessing for the well-being of the nation. Care for the environment has moved to the centre of people's concerns for the quality of life. Science has told us that it is imperative to protect the global environment, and the Government are taking the lead in recognising that concern and acting on that advice.
In this Session, we shall bring forward a new environment protection Bill. Traditionally, the control of pollution and toxic waste has been handled piecemeal—that is, separately in relation to discharges to land, air and water. In future, pollution will be controlled in relation to the environment as a whole, in a new system known as integrated pollution control. I believe that that new system will be copied round the world in years to come.
We shall also provide for a better local environment. That means clean streets and tidy parks. For those selfish people who litter our streets, the maximum fine will increase to £1,000—more than double the present fine. I hope that magistrates will make full use of the powers. The Bill will also place a new legal duty on local authorities to keep streets and public places clean, and individuals will be able to take their council to court if it fails to do that. I am sure that the purpose of the Bill will be welcomed by hon. Members in all parties.
§ Mrs. Ewing
The Prime Minister refers to the control of pollution. Will she tell us the Government's plans for the disposal of low and medium-level nuclear waste—especially as it looks as though the people of Caithness are to have it wished upon them irrespective of their democratically expressed views?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Lady knows that all the technology for the disposal of nuclear waste is known and that it is a case of deciding where that disposal should take place. At the moment, most disposal is at Sellafield although, as the hon. Lady knows, we are also considering other places.
The food safety Bill will also enhance the quality of life. Our laws must keep pace with the revolution that is taking place in the way in which food is produced, stored and prepared. The new Bill will mean that everyone who supplies food to consumers has to take proper care—the due diligence test—to ensure that it is safe. The Bill will improve our powers to respond quickly to unexpected problems.
Perhaps one of the most controversial Bills—although not in the party-political sense—is what has come to be known as the Warnock Bill, following the report of the 30 committee chaired by Baroness Warnock. That Bill responds to the scientific advance in the treatmeant of infertility. It will establish a statutory licensing authority to ensure that treatments such as in vitro fertilisation take place in reputable centres and under proper safeguards. It will forbid research developments such as cloning and the creation of hybrids.
Inevitably, the question of embryo research arouses strong feelings. Some people attach importance to research that can help increase our knowledge of hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Others believe strongly that there should be no further embryo research. These are matters of personal conviction, on which there will, of course, be a free vote of the House.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Many of us are delighted at the news that the Government have announced today, but does the Prime Minister accept that, in diseases such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy experiments carried out up to 14 days' gestation would make no difference anyway because the necessary limb parts, muscles and other parts of the body have not developed by then?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is arguing a point which will arise during our proceedings on the Bill. I hope that people will ask the research scientists their views and obtain a clear opinion on these matters. In the end, it will be a matter of personal conviction and conscience. We may hold different views, but there will be a free vote in the House which, together with what happens in the other place, will decide the matter.
The next theme of the legislative programme is greater choice and better service to the individual. That is particularly important in our public services. The National Health Service Bill, about which the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) had something to say, will implement the reforms that will ensure that the resources and talent devoted to the NHS are used to give patients an even better service and the widest possible choice.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way before I leave this subject.
The hospitals that give the best service to the greatest number of patients will receive more resources. I believe that that is right. General practitioners who believe that they can give better value to patients by holding their own budgets will be able to do so. Together with the improved GP services that we have introduced, the changes should mean that patients will be able to get operations more quickly, hospitals will have a reliable appointment system for out-patients, more children will be vaccinated against disease and that there will be more regular check-ups on people's health. The Bill will also implement the proposals in our White Paper on community care which will enable growing numbers of elderly and disabled people to live at home and will direct more resources and assistance to the relatives and friends who help look after them.
§ The Prime Minister
A doctor summarised our health reforms best—[Interruption.] I want to finish this point and then I will give way. The doctor said:The White Paper proposals are going to lead to better quality and more cost-effective medicine, better decision-making locally and give a considerable degree of power to the patient and their general practitioner.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way to one of the hon. Members and then I will give way to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I will give way to the one who was standing longest.
§ Mr. Grocott
Will the Prime Minister give the House her latest estimate of when she will be so satisfied with her 10-year management of the National Health Service that she will start to use it herself?
§ The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman knows, if there are accidents or disasters, all of us must use the National Health Service. As he knows, that has been shown full well—[Interruption.] In the meantime, some 5 million people pay not only their dues to the National Health Service, but for their own treatment. That relieves pressure on the Health Service which enables other people to get their operations much more quickly. Those people should not be denigrated; they should be thanked.
§ Mr. Ashley
The Prime Minister mentioned community care. Her interest in that is well known and it is not new. She has been concerned with it for 10 years or so. However, in that case, why have thousands of mentally ill people ended up in prisons, in cemeteries or walking the streets? Is that not a shabby reflection on her Government?
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that the new Bill will address those issues—[Interruption.] As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the policy has been to get as many mentally handicapped people as possible out into the community. Sometimes the proper provision has not always been made for them in the community before they have gone out into it. One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that no one shall be discharged from a mental hospital until it is certain that there are proper community care services for them. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be very much in favour of that.
§ The Prime Minister
I have given way. I am afraid that some people are making their own speeches during gaps in mine. I want to get on.
Choice will also be extended in the broadcasting Bill, the main purpose of which is to reform commercial television. There will be new local television stations using microwave or cable. There will be a new channel 5 which will cover most of the country. The new franchises for the existing channel 3 and the new channel 5 will be awarded by competitive tender, but only companies whose programme proposals pass a quality test will be able to bid. The Bill will also give legal backing to the Broadcasting Standards Council, which will safeguard decency and keep off our screens the violence that is unacceptable. Together, those reforms will mean much more choice and higher standards. British television will remain among the best in the world.
32 There will also be the Courts and Legal Services Bill, to which I was about to refer, but I will move on rather more quickly. It will be an interesting Bill which will help clients more often to have the advocate of their choice, and it will hasten the conveyancing process.
The Government's programme will also enlarge personal liberty through further reform of trade union law. The employment Bill will give a right of redress to a person who is denied a job because he does not want to belong to a union. It will also make secondary action unlawful. Hitherto, the law has been uncertain on that point. The Bill will deal with wildcat strikes, by requiring unions either to repudiate them or to put them to a proper secret ballot. Doubtless, that will be strongly opposed by the Opposition, but it will be widely welcomed by the British people, as will the rest of our programme.
I now refer to the single market in the European Community. The Gracious Speech pledges us to achieve a real common market in Europe by the end of 1992. Many important matters remain to be tackled, such as opening up protected markets, in particular for telecommunications, air transport, road haulage and financial services—we are prepared to have ours open, and do in many cases, but they have not yet opened them in Europe—and reducing subsidies and other obstacles to fair competition. One expects fair competition in the Common Market, not unfair competition through different subsidies. That has always been one of Britain's priorities, and we are working with the Commission to achieve it. It has the crucial role of ensuring that all member states play by the same rules and implement their obligations. When it comes to implementing single market directives—I have already given the record—we lead the field in Europe. We have implemented a bigger proportion than any other country.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The Prime Minister told us about the aspects of the single market of which she approves, but there is another aspect, and that is the adoption of the social charter which complements the single market. What parts of the social charter does she reject?
§ The Prime Minister
The parts that we are firmly in favour of are those that will lead to the creation of new jobs and will not upset competition and competitive costs. The parts that we reject are those that will add great burdens to industry, reduce our competitiveness, and ensure that someone outside the European Community gets the orders and the jobs. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the Granada lecture of Sir Leon Brittan. It will tell him all the reasons why it is wrong.
Ability to compete will determine our economic success. That is one reason why we object to the present draft of the social charter. As I have said, it will lead to the export of jobs to other more competitive countries and will also infringe a principle with the terrible jargon name of subsidiarity, which means that the Community should not set out to do those things that nation states can best do for themselves. It is still possible for our approach to succeed if others are willing.
The Gracious Speech reaffirms Britain's commitment to progressive realisation of economic and monetary union. We strongly support the first phase, which is due to start in July next year and is based on freeing financial markets and services and abolishing exchange controls, which we have already done. The debate on 2 November—I was not quite certain whether the Leader of the Opposition had 33 read it in detail—left no one in any doubt that Parliament will not accept stages 2 and 3 of the Delors report. They would remove from Parliament's control powers that are central to its very existence—the crucial matters of economic and budgetary policy. The right hon. Gentleman, almost alone among the Opposition, seems willing to remove such powers. From my careful reading of the debate, I did not get the impression that that was the view of the House.
§ The Prime Minister
I would rather get on, if I may.
The Government have put forward alternative ideas to enable the Community to extend economic and monetary co-operation without intruding on the parliamentary powers of member states and without introducing a new bureaucracy that is not democratically accountable. People who deal with these matters should be democratically accountable, although the right hon. Member for Islwyn did not seem to realise that. Our ideas have been welcomed by many people, among them the president of the German Bundesbank and I am sure that as the debate in Europe develops, aspects of stages 2 and 3 of the Delors proposals will increasingly be questioned by others in the Community as well.
The right hon. M ember for Islwyn and the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address spoke about East-West matters. The Gracious Speech also commits us to encourage reform in the Soviet Union and to give every possible support to the remarkable changes taking place in eastern Europe. The Government warmly welcome those changes—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Most courteously the Prime Minister said earlier in relation to a question about the explanation given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer that she would return to that subject. My point of order is, should Ministers, however powerful and however senior, say that they are going to deal with something in a speech and then not do so?
§ The Prime Minister
We have dealt with the economy, for the success of which we have a great deal to thank my right hon. Friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If I might now get on with my own speech—[Interruption.] The Government warmly welcome the changes that are taking place in eastern Europe as a great step for freedom and democracy. Every bit as remarkable as the changes are the speed and suddenness with which they have occurred. We very much hope that other eastern European countries will soon follow the lead of Hungary, Poland and now East Germany. May I add how strongly the Government deplore the violence used against peaceful demonstrators in Prague at the end of last week in which British journalists were also hurt. By all accounts, the situation was better last night—
§ The Prime Minister
In consideration of other hon. Members who wish to speak, I should like to complete my own speech on this matter.
The Government see two main tasks in the period ahead. First, we must do everything possible to encourage and sustain genuine democracy throughout eastern Europe—
§ The Prime Minister
But in the euphoria of the moment, we must not underestimate the magnitude of the task. By genuine democracy, we mean not just the outward trappings, but the underlying substance, free elections in a multi-party system—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the whole House heard the Prime Minister say that she wanted to get on with her speech and that she was not going to give way at this point.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think that any hon. Member has given way more than I have—[Interruption.]
By genuine democracy, we mean free elections in a multi-party system, together with all the freedoms that were set out in the Helsinki final act. That will certainly not come about quickly. Indeed, in some east European countries to achieve genuine democracy and economic reform may well take years, so great are the changes required. Britain is already helping Poland and Hungary, but we are ready to do more as part of an international effort.
Our second task is to enable these great changes to take place in conditions of stability in Europe so that no country feels its security, its alliances or its borders threatened as a result of them. We should remember that these changes would not be happening were it not for President Gorbachev's courage and vision. All of us have a strong interest in seeing his reforms in the Soviet Union succeed.
These matters were discussed by the European Heads of Government at a successful meeting in Paris last Saturday evening at which this approach received wide support. We all welcomed changes in eastern Europe and agreed that the Community should continue to give them every possible help. The particular urgency of Poland's and Hungary's needs was recognised. The European Council in Strasbourg, in just over two weeks' time, will decide on the additional help that the Community can offer—
§ The Prime Minister
—covering not just financial help, but further food supplies and training. We shall also consider the possibility of extending to eastern Europe European Community programmes in areas such as technology and education. Britain's recent suggestion that we should consider the various options for bringing eastern Europe into closer association with the Community will also be studied and discussed further at Strasbourg.
§ The Prime Minister
At the same time we agreed that NATO and the Warsaw pact remained the basis for defence. Their borders are not on the agenda and we shall continue to abide by the Helsinki final act. Without NATO and the European Community the great events in eastern Europe would surely not have happened.
The meeting in Paris was excellent and had a satisfactory outcome. The next step is a meeting of NATO Heads of Government on 4 December when President Bush will report on his meeting with President Gorbachev. Before that, I shall meet President Bush at Camp David later this week.
The Leader of the Opposition regards events in eastern Europe as yet another excuse to weaken our defences by getting rid of nuclear weapons, even though they are a fundamental part of NATO strategy. It is because of NATO, because we have kept our defences strong, because we deployed cruise and Pershing against the Soviet SS20s and because we convinced the Soviet Union that it could never succeed in intimidating or threatening the West that we are witnessing these great changes in eastern Europe.
Times of great change are times of great uncertainty, even danger. We must be prepared for any threat, however unexpected. Events have demonstrated conclusively that we are winning the battle of ideas. We must ensure that subsequently we do not lose the peace. Our nuclear deterrent and the collective security provided by NATO remain the cornerstone of our defence.
Our reaction to recent events will shape Europe and the wider world for decades ahead. Against the background of a sure defence, our programme set out in the Gracious Speech to enlarge opportunity and enhance the quality of life and well-being of our citizens is the right one for Britain and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to be guided by you. On 1 November, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was asked to comment on the suggestion that credit cards should be made available to 12-year-olds, replied:If they have sufficient credit, it would be possible,"—[Official Report, 1 November 1989; Vol. 159, c. 312.]Will you give the Prime Minister the opportunity to correct the record?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member could make that point if he were called to make a speech. That would be in order. It is not a point of order for me.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
It is perhaps symbolic that, according to their usual tradition, Conservative Members are walking out at this juncture. The Gracious Speech will be seen as the moment when the Conservative party walked out and turned its back on the challenges now facing Britain.
By tradition I am required to congratulate the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) on moving and seconding the Loyal Address. I do so warmly and happily. Their speeches amused us, particularly the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne, although the latter part was 36 perhaps more political than we have come to expect. The hon. Member for Eastbourne is well known in the House both for his courtesy and for his plain and fair speaking. He might have lived up to that reputation better if, when he congratulated himself and his party on the sale of council houses, he had added that in 1973 the then Liberal council of Eastbourne was the first in the land to sell council houses. That was long before the Government came to power.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady should be the first to know that if the right hon. Gentleman does not want to give way, she must resume her seat.
§ Mrs. Currie
On the contrary, Mr. Speaker. The matter concerns me. Is it in order that the leader of one of the Opposition parties should get his facts so wrong? The first council was Birmingham.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I congratulate the hon. Lady on having finally managed to make her intervention before the television cameras are switched off.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne might have lived up to his splendid reputation if, when he congratulated himself on the Eastbourne village harbour project, he had added that the project was only resurrected by the Liberal council of Eastbourne against the opposition of the Conservatives on the council.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Member for Eastbourne might also have added that the Liberal council supported him in his splendid work with Lord Tordoff in getting the Bill through the House.
The hon. Member for Bury, South spoilt his speech by a gratuitous, unnecessary attack on Sir Clement Freud. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) for putting the record straight. The hon. Member for Bury, South commented on the "part-time" attendance of Sir Clement Freud. [Interruption.] His comments certainly threw some doubt on Sir Clement Freud's attendance record. I checked to see who made the greater number of speeches last Session and found that Sir Clement Freud spoke 18 times and the hon. Gentleman six times only.
We all listened to the Prime Minister's speech with great interest. Her most remarkable statement was at the beginning when she said that "we" will never be in opposition. I remind her that this is a democracy. A little more humility and a greater understanding of her electoral mortality might lead to better government in Britain and rather less abuse of power, which has become the hallmark of this Government.
37 Both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister were right to lay down as a criterion for judging the Gracious Speech the fact that this is the last Gracious Speech of the decade and maps out the programme for the first year of the next decade. It is right to look at it in those terms. What are the fruits of the decade that will always be known in politics as the Thatcher decade, and will they measure up to the requirements that face Britain in the 1990s? If that is the measure, any rational judgment of the speech must lead to one conclusion only: as a programme for the first year of the next decade it is peculiarly sad and visionless, often irrelevant, and at times downright eccentric. I do not say that in a spirit of negative opposition—[Interruption.] As Tory Members know, this party has supported and commends many steps that the Government have taken. They have taken steps that needed to be taken and should not now be undone. We supported the Government on the democratisation of the trade union movement, on enterprise and on liberalising the markets. They were good steps. But we are measuring the speech not against what the Government have done in the past, but how the Government measure up to the task in future.
At the heart of the programme for the first year of the next decade lies a vacuum. Where the Gracious Speech speaks, what it says is irrelevant to our future needs, and where it does not speak—for example, on training, reinvestment and Europe—is where Britain desperately needs a lead. It is a Gracious Speech full of leftovers. It reflects the fag end of the Thatcher decade.
I should like to consider what the programme might have addressed. It might have addressed the regeneration of our industrial base, one fifth of which is calculated to have been wiped away in the recession which the Government visited on us in the first years of the decade. Is it not a peculiarly brutal comment on the Government's legacy that they entered the 1980s with a vicious long-term recession that damaged British industry and that they end it perched on the edge of another recession? I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer shaking his head. Perhaps it should not be called a recession. He will tell us that it is not a recession. How shall we refer to it? Will "stagnation" do? His own figures show that growth next year will be only 0.75 per cent. Given the Government's record on accuracy, is he so confident that a tiny plus will not end up as a substantial minus at the end of the year?
The Government say—indeed the Prime Minister said this today—that that is the price of success. The House should remember that when we entered the 1980s we were told that we had to have hard years and a recession because that was the price of past failures. Now we are told that we must have hard years and a recession because that is the price of success. It would be a sick joke were the truth not so painful.
Our overall production has only now just blipped above its 1979 level—after 10 full years. Our world market share has dropped and continues to drop. Inflation is higher than that in any of our major competitors. Interest rates are higher than those of our major competitors. Wages are running ahead of inflation faster than in any of our major competitors.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I shall give way in a moment.
38 We now have a trade deficit of record proportions. It is a full £6 billion above the Government's prediction of only six months ago
§ Mr. Arnold
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what a mythical Liberal Government would do to control wage inflation?
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman has heard our past statements. We would wish the Government to enter the European monetary system, which would mean that we could begin to control inflation, and therefore wage rates, without using high interest rates. I am here to discuss the Government's programme—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Gentleman will know that I do not have time in a relatively short speech to put forward all the alternatives.
The Government tell us that the success story is investment. But the record shows that investment, as a percentage of gross domestic product, has now only just blipped above the 1979 level. With interest rates at their present level, who can doubt that investment levels will begin to plunge again?
The Government describe all this as an economic miracle. It is not an economic miracle; it is an economic mirage. One could describe it as a miracle only if one was entirely prey to one's own propaganda and capable of deluding oneself about the real state of the economy and industry. The Government have shown themselves adept at such delusion.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Given that two entirely incompatible views have been put forward on this subject, one by the Prime Minister and the other by her former Chancellor, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the House of Commons is entitled to know what inaccuracies the Prime Minister believed were present in her former Chancellor's statement?
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman is pressing a point that he has persistently pushed for some time. Yes, the House of Commons is entitled to know, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that it will not get to know, such is the secrecy of the Government and such is the Prime Minister's refusal to fulfil her duties of accountability to the House by telling the whole story.
Given the economic situation, one would have thought that the Gracious Speech would have contained some programme for industrial regeneration. There is no commitment, however, to increase training above its present inadequate level. One need only listen to what has been said by the Confederation of British Industry to appreciate that the present level of training is inadequate to meet the needs of our economy and industry in the future. There is no commitment to increase long-term research and development, which is desperately needed by industry. After the next year of stagnation or, if it turns out that way, recession, industry will, once again, come out weaker than it went in.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
What does the right hon. Gentleman think about the lack of attention given in the Queen's Speech to the regional disparity in economic performance between the south-east of England and other areas where unemployment is between 10 and 12 per cent. compared to 2 per cent. in the south-east? Does he agree that that omission reflects the uncaring nature of the Government towards areas such as Wales and Scotland?
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. That regional imbalance clearly shows that the Government have no long-term policy for industrial regeneration in the key areas of industry and of our country where that industrial base must be made to go grow again.
The Gracious Speech might have talked about the homeless—there are now 100,000. In the Autumn Statement the Government announced a programme to deal with this problem, but it amounts to the building of no more than 15,000 flats or houses. That building, measured against the 100,000 homeless, accounts for a mere 1 per cent. difference in a two-year programme. From our surgeries we all know the sum of human misery caused by housing problems. Those problems are not confined to the homeless, but relate to those who live in squalid, damp and inadequate accommodation. Look at the masses of money held by every council in Britain. South Somerset district council has £18 million available to spend on housing, but it is not allowed to spend a penny. Given this huge problem, the Government have produced a mere sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound in our social fabric.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I must make some progress, and I have already given way three times.
The Government's programme for next year might have addressed the problem of poverty in Britain. Year in, year out of the Government's 10 years in office, the gap between the richest and the poorest has grown wider and wider. Recently I saw some figures that showed that, between 1979 and 1985, there has been a 91 per cent. increase in the number of children living at or below supplementary benefit level. In the Gracious Speech the Government have turned their back on the poor, as they have on the haemophiliacs and the war widows.
The Government have also turned their back on the pensioners. The Leader of the Opposition asked why the level of old-age pension in Britain was lower than that of any of the advanced industrial nations. The answer is plain and evident. It is because the Government have taken away from every pensioner couple £17.35 a week as a result of changing indexation in 1981 from wages to inflation.
§ Mr. Ashdown
No, I shall not give way.
That change has been a massive earner for the Government. Figures have suggested that, in the past year alone, taking money away from pensioners has earned the Government £4.1 billion. That money has been taken on the back of the poorest pensioners in Britain. Second only to privatisation, taking money from pensioners has been the Government's greatest "little earner".
The Gracious Speech might have included a programme of sufficient scale to address the problems of education. That programme might have acknowledged that the number of young pupils between 16 and 18 who go on to further education is now lower than that achieved by almost all our major competitors. About one third of our 16 to 18-year-olds, 33 per cent., go on to further education compared with 50 per cent. in Australia, 77 per cent. in Japan and 75 per cent. in Canada. We could have 40 had a programme to raise those participation rates, but all we are offered are student loans. Those student loans will inevitably result in discrimination against women, the disabled and, above all, the poorer families. That scheme will lay the basis for a divided higher education system serving a divided nation.
The Government claim that the purpose of their health programme is to put patients first. If that purpose was achieved, we would support the Government. We believe that there is a case for reforming the Health Service to make it more sensitive to the needs of patients. We would like to see some legislation to introduce a patients' charter to cover rights of access and the length of time spent on waiting lists. If the health reforms follow the White Paper, however, accountants, rather than patients, will be put first. The reforms are not about removing bureaucracy, but about taking that bureaucracy away from the health authorities and transferring it to doctors' surgeries. Above all, we believe that the proposed legislation will be used—I do not lay this charge on the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State—perhaps by a future Secretary of State or by a future Government to provide a two-tier Health Service. One tier will be for the rich who can pay, and the poor will have to make do with the rest. If the proposed legislation follows the White Paper, we shall oppose it. We believe that a basic principle must not be breached—the free provision of health care for those in need and at the point of delivery.
We welcome the environment Bill, but only if it is about action and not rhetoric. It must contain measures and it must not simply be about monitoring. We have produced our own alternative environment Bill, and when the Secretary of State drafts his Bill I hope that he will at least cast a glance at our own as it contains some useful measures. If the Government produce a measure which is about action, we shall support it. But if it is only about motherhood and apple pie, we will demand the necessary changes to make it effective.
The broadcasting Bill to which the Prime Minister referred is of deep concern to my party because we believe that the exercise of the free market principle in broadcasting in the way that the Government propose will inevitably result in a decline in quality and in the destruction of much of the regional base of our broadcasting network.
We welcome the principle of a food Bill, but what sort of measure will it be? If it is an effective piece of legislation, we shall support it. But if it is toothless, as it shows every sign of being—if it does not allow a proper system of registration for food outlets, does not provide proper sanctions for those who infringe the legislation and if it has enshrined at its heart the conflict of interest that the same Department which deals with success and prosperity for farmers must deal with the security and safety of food for consumers—it will be flawed at the outset and will result in the Government continuing to play Russian roulette with the British consumer.
In foreign affairs, the speech seems to shift from the irrelevant to the downright eccentric. The Government say that they will encourage reform in the Soviet Union. Leaving aside the extraordinary statement that the Government will seek to interfere in matters which are internal to the Soviet Union, and leaving aside the question of how that matches up to the Prime Minister's rhetoric about seeking to assist Mr. Gorbachev, one wonders at the brass neck of a Government who say that 41 they will encourage reform in the Soviet Union when they have stood against every kind of democratic reform in this country—[Interruption.] That is indeed so. They have stood against any kind of reform in favour of fair votes, against providing a parliament for Scotland and Wales, against any kind of devolution, against a Bill of Rights, against freedom of information—yet they have the brass neck—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) intends to give way.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, hon. Members who wish to intervene must resume their seats.
§ Mr. Ashdown
What a brass neck the Government have to propose to back reform in the Soviet Union when their record on reform at home is so miserable.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Hon. Gentlemen who are on their feet can save their energy. I shall not be giving way again during my remarks.
This remarkable Gracious Speech says that the Government willplay their part in the search for a settlement in Cambodia". What does that mean? Does it mean that they will continue to train guerrillas and saboteurs who will effectively come under the command of the Khmer Rouge, whose job it is to put back the revolting regime of Pol Pot?We then find that the Government commit themselves to playinga full part in the United Nations, and in the Commonwealth.How will they do that? Will it be by continuing always to be isolated in a minority of one at every world meeting? The Prime Minister traipses round the conference centres of the world—a sort of international pariah—always ending up in a singular and isolated position. She was isolated in Madrid on the issue of monetary union; she was isolated in NATO on the issue of the modernisation of nuclear weapons; she was isolated in the Commonwealth on the issue of South Africa; she will be isolated in Strasbourg on the issue of playing a part in the integration of Europe.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman must realise that I am not giving way.
Time and again we hear the doublespeak of the Government. By "playing their part" they mean using the Prime Minister as the singular and sole block to the march of history and the integration of Europe, to tackling the issue of apartheid and in dealing with the whole question of disarmament. But one has to read the lines about Hong Kong to appreciate the Government's doublespeak at its most clear. They claim that they willvigorously and with determination … restore confidence in Hong Kong".42 I believe that that means that the Government will resolutely stand by their betrayal of the people of Hong Kong and the betrayal of the rights of our passport holders to exercise the use of those passports effectively. In that betrayal they will be supported by Labour Members, who agree with them to the bottom line in refusing to allow proper rights to British passport holders in Hong Kong.
Indeed, the Government's whole approach to Hong Kong is an extraordinary exercise in doublespeak. An East German who drives his Trabant car to West Germany by way of the Czech border is described as a champion of freedom. He is given 100 deutschmarks, in due course receives a house and is praised by the Prime Minister. But if the tyranny from Communism from which one seeks to escape happens to be Vietnamese and one sails in a leaky boat across one of the most dangerous seas in the world and by chance arrives in Hong Kong, that action categorises one as an economic refugee to be forced on to an aircraft—whether one is a man, woman or child—and flown back to the very tyranny from which one has fled in fear of one's life.
For the East German Government, it is wise to open their borders since this is the way to stop their people travelling a handful of miles to a nation with a higher standard of living. But for the British Government, it is stupid to honour the rights of Hong Kong passport holders, because that would immediately cause millions of Chinese to board aircraft and fly to a country 8,000 miles away which has a higher level of unemployment, a slower growing economy and where order in the streets is infinitely less reliable. What nonsense. What double standards!
The issue of Europe betrays a lack of vision at the heart of the Gracious Speech. Twice before in the last two or three decades this country has been faced with a choice, once under a Labour Government and once under a Conservative Government. The question was whether we would play our part in Europe. Twice before we said no. Twice before our nation suffered immeasurably in consequence. We are now faced with that choice again. If the Conservatives or Socialists have their way, we will say no again, with immeasurable consequences to the future of Britain.
Britain must play a full part in deepening the unity and strengthening the democracy of Europe. Only within a strong and unified Europe shall we be able to deal with the problems that are now being unleashed and cope with the opportunities in the East—for example, of nationalism and of restructuring a security and defence system which will assure the peace of Europe in the future. Only within a unified Europe will Britain's interest in the long term properly be achieved.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I shall not give way; I am coming to the end of my speech.
We know the Prime Minister's style when it comes to Europe. It is the style of the garrulous next-door neighbour who is always leaning over the fence, always criticising in the most raucous voice she can find what the neighbours are doing. My party believes that it is time to stop shouting over the garden fence and to join a unified European house.
Democracy and freedom are on the march all over Europe. Yet those are precisely the values that are under 43 threat in our nation from a Government who know nothing of the need to reform our own antiquated political system and who have systematically eroded the freedom of our citizens. The Government's failure to face up to Britain's role in Europe marks out clearly their lack of vision. The Government have ended their usefulness to Britain. They are burnt out of ideas and have lost their way as to how to ensure that Britain faces up to the challenges of the 1990s.
It was said in the 1980s that this was the Government of TINA—"There Is No Alternative". As we enter the 1990s we have another TINA—"There Is No Agenda". The Government have no agenda for economic regeneration, healing the terrible divisions in our country or what part this nation should play in the structuring of the new Europe. This programme has shown that, though the Conservatives have provided the Government of Britain in the 1980s, they have nothing to offer this nation in the 1990s.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I warmly support and endorse the proposals in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her superb speech. She has every reason to feel confident about the next general election. With my right hon. Friend as our leader and Prime Minister, I have no doubt that we shall be successful again.
I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and found it both confused and confusing. At one stage he called for the Government to spend money on the Channel rail link, yet he seems to have forgotten that it was a Labour Government who, in 1975, cancelled the Channel tunnel altogether. Such selective memory seemed to run as a thread throughout his comments.
I shall refer to three issues in the Gracious Speech. The first relates to defence. It is becoming fashionable to believe that the changes that are happening in Europe have created a position in which defence can be put as a secondary item on our agenda. I believe that defence and our ability as a nation to defend ourselves are perhaps more important than ever before and of the highest priority. If we find that troop levels in western Europe are being reduced, the independent nuclear deterrent will become even more significant if we are to play our part in keeping western and world peace.
There can be no doubt that Labour Members who seem to pretend that we should rethink the whole of our defence policy and throw away this precious unilateral and important defence mechanism have got it completely wrong. We need more than ever before to reinforce our belief in a proper British nuclear deterrent over which we have control.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I shall give way in a moment.
There is much reference in the Gracious Speech to the economy. I wholeheartedly support the Government's determination to pursue firm financial policies. Since the crash of October 1987 we have seen across the western world the possibility of economic depression looming, as it did after the year in which I was born—1929. I 44 congratulate the Government on the fact that after that crash they made the absolutely correct assessment of the position and made it clear that credit and expansion would be available to ensure that the recession and depression of the 1920s—cured only by rearmament during the second world war—never again beset us.
We all know that it is impossible to fine-tune an economy. The Government clearly took a broad-brush approach to a devastating situation. However, we have come through what could have been dark years with a growing economy. The fact that the Chancellor is now taking action to control that growth is wholly sensible. We saw a previous Labour Government trying to spend their way out of trouble and creating a mountain of debt and roaring inflation for this nation. Therefore, I completely agree with the economic policy currently being pursued.
There are those who talk about the devaluation of our currency—the pound sterling—as some sort of panacea to solve everybody's difficulties at once. However, 40 per cent. of our imports—including North sea oil—are paid for in dollars and if we allow our exchange rate to fall we shall be looking inflation straight in the face. When the previous Labour Government were in their last years of office and sterling was in serious trouble, the countries with the two strongest currencies in the world—the deutschmark and the yen—were flooding Britain and the western world with goods.
Therefore, the idea that devaluation will somehow produce a bonus for exporters is entirely wrong. In the short term it may do some good, but when we have to build the next set of orders and raw materials have to be paid for, we shall immediately find that devaluation is no cure-all, but the high-road to economic ruin. A high and sensible value for our national currency is essential if we are to have a strong economy.
I reject the idea that has been put around this afternoon and on other occasions that joining the European exchange rate mechanism is a cure-all for our difficulties. We have one of the most important currencies in the world. It is one of the great reserve currencies, is totally convertible and, compared to the others in Europe, has the unusual characteristic of a substantial oil component. Given that there is still exchange control on the European continent, if we, with our own problems, derived as I have just explained from the best possible intentions, were to place our currency in that organization—designed originally by the Germans for currencies with like characteristics—there is no doubt that, far from creating stability and easing our difficulties, we would create horrendous problems for ourselves.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Does my hon. Friend know that at a meeting of the West Midlands industrial council about 10 days ago the very question about whether to enter the ERM was posed and not a single person from any sector—import, export, retail, commerce or warehousing—had any desire to enter the ERM?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend's remarks because that is another reason why I would consider the exchange rate mechanism to be completely obnoxious. I have been a Member of this House for many years and I remember the struggles that Governments of all parties had with fixed exchange rates. I remember the problems of defending a fixed rate and I even remember the then Prime Minister telling us on the 45 day of sterling's devaluation that he was not talking about the pound in our pockets. Of course he was, because inflation started to climb almost immediately.
Having got out of that quagmire of fixed exchange rates and allowed the Government, together with financial institutions, to determine sterling's proper level, putting ourselves back into that trap of a fixed exchange rate, able to move only 2.5 per cent. either side of a straight line, would condemn everyone in this country to a wholly unacceptable standard of living. We would be burdened with problems and would have to take all sorts of actions, dictated to us by people we had not elected who would decide how our economy was to be run. I am certain that to surrender our control over the management of our economy would be an unmitigated disaster.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend and I take exactly the opposite point of view. His position seems peculiar in the light of the Government's commitment to enter the EMS as soon as the situation is correct. My hon. Friend's arguments against entry are on the principle and not on the practice.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I remind my hon. Friend that we are already in the EMS. I am talking about the exchange rate mechanism, which is different.
Much has been said about balance of payments problems. However, it has not been mentioned that as a result of the tragic accidents in the North sea, with which we are all familiar, between 12 and 15 per cent. of North Sea oil has been shut in. When that oil comes on stream, it will have a substantial and beneficial effect on our balance of payments.
The Gracious Speech mentions "green" legislation. All of us in the New Forest welcome anything that can be done to protect our environment. I spent many years in the steel and related industries. One must recognise that there is a point at which the installation of environmentally friendly machinery starts to become unprofitable. I thoroughly welcome legislation that will encourage and perhaps force environmental improvements in industry and in waste disposal and so on. However, we must look seriously to see how we can help industry financially to bring that about. Not long ago the presence of acid rain was denied by the Central Electricity Generating Board. It is now probably one of the biggest issues that we have to face. While green legislation is the right way forward, I urge the Government to make sure that industry is helped where necessary to bring the ideas to fruition.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I admire him for the actions that he has taken in relation to the New Forest. Does he share the concern of some of us about the possible break-up of the Nature Conservancy Council? Is he aware of the powerful case argued by Dr. Derek Ratcliffe, the former chief scientist of the council, against any break-up of the NCC, which is a distinguished and effective organisation?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue but I do not want to go into it too deeply, because the New Forest is an unusual part of England. It is not a national park and therefore does not have the sort of controls that exist in other parts of the country for similar areas. Our situation is unusual in that the government of the New Forest is the Forestry Commission and an elected court of verderers. That is an 46 excellent way to manage the forest and it works well. However, I understand that some people would like to make changes. I shall have discussions with the relevant Ministers about that in the near future.
An important part of the Nature Conservancy Council is based at Lyndhurst in my constituency. I have nothing to say against the work of the NCC but we must recognise that a proliferation of organisations are managing environmental protection. It is in everybody's interests to concentrate these important bodies in a more effective single entity that can achieve results. In the New Forest there are the bodies to which I have referred such as the Forestry Commission, the court of verderers and the Nature Conservancy Council. However, there are also local authorities and a range of other bodies concerned with protection. We must consider honing those down to a handful of effective bodies rather than continuing with the hurly-burly of bodies that have grown up over many years. I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not wish to go down the path that he has described.
The Gracious Speech mentions the restructuring of the coal industry. I should have liked to see something about legislation for British Rail which is, after all, another nationalised industry. The line running through Clapham junction is one of the main arteries between my constituency and London. In the excellent report on the Clapham rail disaster, Sir Anthony Hidden spoke about the need for a new look at some of the British Rail legislation. For the last 10 years or more I have been sponsoring British Rail Bills. As the House knows, they are private Bills. The private Bill mechanism is now getting into serious difficulty. One of the proposals of the Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman was that British Rail activities should be brought into line with those relating to motorway construction. It is high time that that was considered.
I am not convinced that using the private Bill machinery for such a technologically advanced industry as British Rail is the most satisfactory way to proceed. Sadly, we have seen the difficulties that have resulted from accidents in the rail system. Those difficulties are increasing all the time and we should seriously consider a new Bill to change the way in which British Rail obtains its powers. That would ensure that safety and the other matters to which Sir Anthony referred are most carefully considered. The sponsor of a private Bill always faces the difficulty of having sufficient and adequate information to make his case. Ministers play a passive role when British Rail Bills are discussed. It would make more sense if they took a more active role in shaping the railway industry of the future.
I commend the Gracious Speech to all hon. Members. However, if we are to have legislation about coal we should have legislation for the railways as well.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I add my congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. We have heard about the glories of Eastbourne and the marginal nature of the constituency of Bury, South. I am sure that my party will do something about that constituency at the next general election.
The content of the Gracious Speech was much as anticipated. We are to have more controversial legislation, but it was noticeable that there is not so much as usual.
47 There are political reasons for that. I support any moves to combat terrorism, whether national or international. Likewise, I support moves to improve food safety, especially after all the scares of recent months.
There are highly contentious proposals to reform the National Health Service–including, if the White Paper proposals are followed through, restrictions on general practitioners and provisions to enable hospitals to opt out of the state scheme. The Opposition believe that those proposals are steps towards the privatisation of the service. There have been many protests from the general public. Doctors have been up in arms. People are fond of the NHS. They agree that it has been underfunded and, in support of their arguments, they point to long waiting lists, closed wards and the general rundown of our hospitals. There is a glaring example of that in Glamorgan, which the Secretary of State for Wales should investigate without delay. Many NHS employees are paid only a pittance.
The creation of the NHS was perhaps the greatest achievement of the immediate post-war Labour Government. It was carried through the House by the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan, opposed by the Conservative party. Mr. Bevan came from Tredegar, at the top of the Sirhony valley in what was then known as Monmouthshire but has since been renamed Gwent. In that town, before the NHS was established, there was an embryonic service known as Tredegar medical aid. The motto on the door of its headquarters read:The health of the people is the highest law.I commend the wisdom of that slogan to the Government.
Rather than dwell on the proposals contained in the White Paper on the NHS, which can only have the effect of undermining it, the time of the Secretary of State for Health would be better spent in resolving the ambulance dispute. A dedicated group of people in a vital public service have been driven to industrial action in support of their perfectly reasonable pay claim. The ambulance men are asking for parity with the other emergency services —the police and the fire brigade. Nevertheless, they have pledged to be bound by any independent arbitration decision on their claim.
One of my constituents, an 11-year-old schoolgirl, has written to the Prime Minister about the ambulance men's dispute. She was badly injured in a car crash a while ago and is now recovering in hospital. Emma Herbert of Penhow was impressed by the dedication of the ambulance crew who attended her. She wrote:Dear Mrs. Thatcher, I am writing to you because three weeks ago I was hit by a car. The ambulance men were kind and helpful. After their work they came to see me. They all have a hard job and they do it well. They keep calm, which is hard to do. Please can you give them more money because at the moment people's lives are at stake?There is no need for me to embellish the words of that little schoolgirl—they speak for themselves, and they highlight the fact that the Secretary of State is remiss in his duty in not submitting the ambulance men's claim to independent arbitration so that this long and dangerous dispute can be quickly settled.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I assume that my hon. Friend was referring to the East Glamorgan general hospital. As the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is now 48 present, will my hon. Friend repeat what he said? The Government should investigate the situation in east Glamorgan immediately because people's lives are at risk.
§ Mr. Hughes
That situation is a glaring example of the run-down of our hospital system. I said that the Secretary of State for Wales himself, not the Under-Secretary of State, should make haste to that great hospital and ensure that whatever is wrong there is sorted out, including the provision of sufficient funds for the hospital's proper administration.
Another controversial item in the Gracious Speech is the further reform of industrial relations and trade union law. The object, as in previous legislation, is to make it more difficult for the trade unions to defend the interests of their members—and that comes from a Government who have been so concerned about trade unionists' rights in Poland and in other countries of eastern Europe.
During the previous Session of Parliament the Government pushed through no fewer than 31 Bills, including the privatisation of our water authorities—an obnoxious measure if ever there was one. That was followed by the sale of the electricity supply industry; linked to that was the disclosure of the previously hidden costs of nuclear energy. Now we have the suggested impending resignation of Lord Marshall who was to play such an important part in that privatisation venture.
The Government have grown used to trampling over all opposition and simply failing to see reason. They have had 10 years of relatively unrestricted power. What have they achieved, and what are today's proposals likely to achieve? Let us look at the scoreboard, the economic indicators. The regional imbalances are as great as ever—as people in Wales, like those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, know. That is the reality, despite all the honeyed words and the gift-wrapped packaging from the Secretary of State for Wales.
Unemployment is still higher than it was in 1979, despite all the changes in benefit regulations and in the method of compiling the statistics, together with a proliferation of part-time jobs. The trade deficit, as a percentage of our national income, is likely to be the highest ever in the industrial world—£20 billion is the speculated figure for this year, despite all the cushioning effects of North sea oil revenues. Measures in the Gracious Speech are not likely to do much to rectify those dreadful figures.
Interest rates stand at 15 per cent.—double the German level. They have been raised 11 times since June 1988. Every 1 per cent. on base rates adds £250 million to industry's costs. High interest rates damage the economy by making it more difficult and expensive to borrow in order to invest. That in turn makes it more difficult to tackle the underlying causes of the balance of payments deficit and our inflationary tendencies. There is little help in the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech.
The latest inflation figures announced last Friday showed a fall from 7.6 per cent. to 7.3 per cent., but the overall trend is still upwards, despite a year of high interest rates. Mortgage rates are sky high. The Halifax, our largest building society, has raised its mortgage rate to 14.5 per cent.—the highest since November 1981. Those exorbitant rates have created havoc in the housing market. First-time buyers have no chance at all. They will not get much help from the document being debated today, and the proposals in the Autumn Statement will give them only 49 peanuts. The proposed Bill to introduce student loans will damage the interests of children from working class homes. It is no wonder that it is bitterly opposed by students and their organisations.
All the Government's controversial proposals in the Gracious Speech and in previous ones will have little effect on Britain's economic malaise. The harsh reality now is that we have an economic crisis, and there is a big question mark as to whether it will deteriorate into a major recession with all the hardship that that would cause.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
My hon. Friend is a good Welshman and I am sure that he is as disappointed as I am that Wales was not mentioned once in the Queen's Speech and, worst of all, that after a decade there is still no sign of a Welsh assembly for the 1990s until the Government are voted out of office.
§ Mr. Hughes
We shall have to wait until a Labour Government are elected at the next general election, I shall certainly support that proposal.
In conclusion, when we consider today's proposals in tandem with the Government's record, it is clear that there has been a redistribution of wealth in Britain in favour of the rich and better off. That is the achievement so heartily praised in The Sunday Telegraph on 15 October, when the editor proclaimed:All-important has been the blow dealt by Thatcherism to the politics of compassion.He could say that again. He could tell it to the homeless, the pensioners, the war widows, the disabled and the unemployed. He continued:No longer need people be ashamed or guilty of being rich. If anything the boot is now on the other foot, with the poor expected to feel the shame.What a Government, and what an indictment!
The Gracious Speech and the general political situation demonstrate that the Government are on the ropes. At the next general election they will be suitably despatched, and Labour will have the task of restoring Britain's economic fortunes and creating a fairer society.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I come to the House today from a sombre, sorrowing, shocked and deeply pained Province. While today's speeches have been characterised by matters of serious national concern, I regret that none of the speakers found time to consider a running sore at the heart of our society today—terrorism in our midst and the deaths of the past few days. It grieves me greatly that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats—if that is their correct title—and other Members have not addressed their minds for at least a few moments to the tragedy that is upon us.
First, I should like to put on record the deep gratitude of the Ulster people to those from outside the Province who have come to their aid as members of the security forces and who have suffered as a result. The people of Ulster think today of Sergeant Mudd, a man who lost both his legs in a murderous, vicious and devilish attack upon him and his wife. When one remembers how that sergeant served in Northern Ireland to protect all sections of the community, including Gerry Adams the leader of Sinn Fein, one can understand the viciousness of the attack that has been launched by that evil cancer of the IRA and others.
50 I also pay tribute to the heroism of Lance Corporal Stephen Wilson aged 23, Private Donald Macaulay aged 20 and Private Matthew Marshall aged 21 of the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute regiment who were cruelly and viciously gunned to death. I should like to put on record that the evidence shows that those who did them to death came from the Irish Republic, have returned to that safe haven and are free to go about further business of killing. I utterly repudiate the suggestion by Charles Haughey that there is not a safe haven for IRA activists in the Republic. We all know that that is where they come from and that is where they return after committing those acts of barbarism. I would not like anyone in the House to reach the conclusion that the Ulster people do not feel deeply and grieve deeply with those families who have passed through that dark and terrible valley of affliction.
I must mention two other victims. Robert Glover, the Moneymore business man who served all sections of the community and gave employment on a vast scale to Protestants and Roman Catholics, left three daughters all under eight years of age. One should think about that widow and those little ones who have lost their father. The reason given by his murderers was simply that he was supplying building materials to those serving the security forces, the police and the Army. Yesterday, I walked behind the coffin of David Halligan aged 57, knowing the anguish and grief of his family, and his contribution to society. For 18 years, in a difficult area, he put his life at risk as a serving member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and before that he served in the Ulster Special Constabulary. Those acts of barbarism, those killings and the result of them must be highlighted in this debate.
I find appalling, and galling to the people of Northern Ireland, the reference in the Gracious Speech to Northern Ireland, which says:In Northern Ireland, my Government will maintain its support for the enforcement of the law and the defeat of terrorism.As an elected representative for Northern Ireland, I find that hard to stomach. Some days ago, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a speech in which he announced to the people of Northern Ireland that the IRA could not be militarily defeated. I want hon. Members to judge the atmosphere in the Province when he announced that the Government cannot win the war against terrorism. Why let those people die? Why are the Government not prepared to announce that they will surrender? It is time that they were honest with the people of Northern Ireland.
I know quite a lot about Ulster people, but I do not want to bring to the House merely my own findings. I shall read a report of what was said by an Irish Presbyterian minister who preached at the funeral of Robert Glover:Responsibility for the death of Moneymore businessman Mr. Robert Glover must be laid at the door of the Secretary of State, mourners were told at his funeral this afternoon.Mr. Peter Brooke had given an open invitation to the IRA to continue their vile activities, the Rev. James McCormick told mourners at the town's First Presbyterian Church.If anyone wondered what the IRA had to achieve by such an atrocity, Mr. Brooke had supplied the answer, said Mr. McCormick. 'A couple of weeks ago the Secretary of State more or less told the IRA that eventually the Government will give in. … Well, we have a message for Mr. Brooke. Sir, if you have not the nerve or the desire to win this fight, then go home and let us have someone who has and who will. And if you were, as many think, merely uttering the thoughts of your leader, say to her that we will not talk or give in to such people.'51 The Belfast Telegraph report goes on:The minister was referring to Mr. Brooke's remark that he believed that the IRA could not he defeated militarily and that talks with Sinn Fein should go ahead if the IRA laid down its arms.The House should know that what that minister said is reflected throughout the community, and the Primate of the Church of Ireland expressed similar sentiments.
I pray to almighty God that hon. Members will seriously face up to the situation that confronts us, because while other national and international issues are important there is one thing that is of the utmost importance—the right of people to live, which is being taken away.
Running parallel with the present situation is the mounted attack on the Ulster Defence Regiment. There seems to be a conspiracy between the Dublin Government, members of the Social Democratic and Labour party and others to try to blacken a noble company of men who are serving their country as best they can, many of whom are paying the price for their loyalty to all sections of the community. That is why I tabled a motion today. I shall close by reading it because it sums up the feeling of people in the Province. It says:That this House, recognising the gallantry of the members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who, at great personal risk, serve on the front line in the battle against terrorism, remembering the courage and devotion to duty of so many of its members who have been murdered by Republican terrorists and sympathising with their loved ones, and affirming that all citizens must be subject to the law, rejects the campaign spearheaded by the Dublin government and nationalist politicians to discredit and destroy the entire regiment because of allegations, not yet proven, against some of its members; aware that according to the honourable Member for Foyle, Irish Republicans have been responsible for the deaths of 250 times as many people as the Ulster Defence Regiment, deplores calls by Irish ministers for the regiment to have no contact with the public; deplores the treating of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment by the Stevens enquiry team as if they were terrorists; sympathises with their families who, because of the recent Stevens directed operation of mass arrest, now live in fear for their lives and those of husbands and sons serving with the regiment; does not consider that the future of a regiment of the British Army is a proper subject for meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference; and is implacably opposed to any interference whatever in the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment at the behest of the Dublin government.I trust that tonight, as we leave the House, we shall all remember the plight and sorrow of many families and that as politicians we must do something about this matter, which calls for the urgent attention of the House.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I promised that I would be short, and I have made my speech.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) admirably described the gravity of the security situation in Northern Ireland and gave some of the reasons why it has deteriorated so rapidly in recent weeks. I fully support what he said, particularly about the future of the Ulster 52 Defence Regiment. The fact that he dealt with those matters enables me to move on, perhaps to suggest some more basic remedies.
It is a general feature of public affairs that regional parties are often accused of concentrating entirely on local issues. The inaccuracy of that charge is demonstrated by the fact that at the annual conference of the Scottish National party and the Welsh National party concern for regional affairs did not prevent them from—or obliterate their interest in—discussing events on the European stage. That interest, which they have displayed on the wider stage, is confirmed repeatedly in their contributions in the House.
At my party conference four weeks ago, I confronted the delegates with the following questions. I said:At last year's Conference the talking point was Europe in 1992. Today that is old hat because no one can predict what the map of Europe will be like five years from now.Will Germany be renunited? And what will be the effect of that on the EEC? Can Eastern Europe remain divorced from the rest of the continent and remain shivering outside what Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Gorbachev call 'our European home'?Can any known force resist the tidal wave of souls seeking freedom after fifty years in bondage?Four weeks before the dramatic events in East Berlin, the Ulster Unionist party which I lead—and it was not alone in this—was looking ahead and assessing the impact of those events on our nation and our part of it. We shall not be deterred by the inconsistencies of this Parliament and this Government, but we will expect them to explain how they can demand respect for the ballot box in eastern Europe but ignore the verdict of the ballot box in a Province of this kingdom which, after all, gave birth to parliamentary democracy. We have heard no suggestion that any one of the eastern European nations should substitute for Communist rule another diktat giving a permanent influence to a foreign Government or protecting power status through a secretariat situated provocatively in the centre of its capital city. I hope that events in eastern Europe will persuade Britain to put its house in order.
An earlier Ulster leader, Lord Carson, begged the House of Commons to treat us "as you do yourselves". Unfortunately, Parliament ignored Carson's plea and, worse still, proceeded to make us different and then to blame us for being different. If Parliament cannot yet bring itself to treat us like other British citizens, is it too much to ask that it treat us as it is preparing to treat the Poles, Hungarians and Germans? On all sides, we hear demands for the removal of the diktats imposed without the consent of all those peoples and for the ballot box to reign supreme. I suspect that, but for the multiple interventions in his speech, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) might have supported some of the suggestions that I intend to make.
§ Mr. Winnick
I totally oppose terrorism in all forms —the Provisional IRA as well as the terrorist killers on the other side—and I believe that a united Ireland can never come about through terror. As for Carson, did not the Irish people as a whole make the point before the first world war that Ireland should receive its freedom, but the House of Commons and the House of Lords refused to accept the right of Ireland as a whole to be free? If there is a comparison to be made, surely the Irish people would say that they were the victims of the denial of their freedom while home rule was being advanced by so many people in the House of Commons at the time.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Yes, but Lloyd George granted to Ireland what he hoped would be two home rule Parliaments—north and south. He hoped, like many people in Whitehall at the time, that the northern Parliament would take itself out of the orbit of the United Kingdom, but Carson and Craigavon knew better and decided otherwise. That remained the conviction of the majority of the people, Protestant and Roman Catholic alike. That is why 16 out of 17 constituencies in Northern Ireland elect Members to represent them in this House which governs the whole of the United Kingdom.
When the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) intervened, I was about to say that Ulster people support the laudable aims for the eastern European nations, but they ask themselves why they are denied those rights. We have done our best to pave the way for their restoration. In January 1988, the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I handed to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland outline proposals for a workable alternative to what was, even then, a failed agreement. No fault was found with that plan. The Prime Minister stated that she regarded it as constructive. However, because it would have rendered obsolete the hideous diktat mechanism and its secretariat, the two Governments could not bear to think about it. They were as unyielding as Herr Honecker before the Gorbachev visit and, even now, they might never have heard of East Berlin. Their stubbornness constitutes a massive road block on the path to devolution, because no devolved structure could hope to survive under the stifling dead weight of article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
For the foreseeable future. I suppose that one can expect the diktat oppressors to keep on saying no, but as I am sure that the Government will want to be consistent —they are not always consistent, but let us give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they will be consistent in this case—with their laudable support of democracy in Europe, I can see a way of assisting them to escape that contradiction.
Without reference to the Anglo-Irish Conference and Agreement and without endless all-party wrangling and round table conferences, the Government can take two steps on the road to restoring democracy to Northern Ireland. First, with minimal legislation, they can restore to district councils real powers over a wide range of functions not subject to political dispute or vulnerable to manipulation by majorities or minorities.
The second step concerns Parliament. Again, only minor amending legislation would be required to sweep away the monstrous colonial rule Order in Council procedure which was introduced as a temporary device when Stormont was abolished in 1972. Its perpetuation for 17 long years constitutes a standing reproach to this Mother of Parliaments and arguments for its retention have lost any validity that they ever had. If the Poles and East Germans are entitled to parliamentary democracy, there can be no justification for denying it to the parliamentary representatives of a part of the United Kingdom.
The stabilising effects of those two modest steps would have a significant impact on the most grievous and urgent consideration of all—the defeat of terrorism, referred to in the first sentence of that paragraph of the Gracious Speech dealing with Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
The right hon. Member knows that I am at one with him in my feelings about the hour and a half of debate that we get on an Order in Council. Surely there is a better way of dealing with it than that. The solution is for the political parties in the north of Ireland to start to talk and then to have their own forum, administration and means of making decisions, rather than going through the present subterfuge of pursuing integration while running away from the reality that we could have our administration if the right hon. Gentleman's party, among others, would sit down and talk.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The Ulster Unionist party, which I lead, and the Democratic Unionist party, which the hon. Member for Antrim, North leads, have made it abundantly clear that we will gladly do that once we are released from the iron cage of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and article 4 is no longer valid and no longer imposes on us in a Stormont Government not only how we should behave but what powers devolve to us.
I know that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) will have studied carefully and spotted the significance of a little phrase never before used in legislation affecting Northern Ireland. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will confirm that in his time the words used were "transferred matters", whereas the words used in the agreement are:only 'certain matters' may be devolved".I have it on good authority from a senior Government servant that those "certain matters" will be decided by the Anglo-Irish Conference and what the conference gives, the conference can—and perhaps will—take away. I should like to carry the argument further, but I am pressed for time.
The Government pledge themselves tomaintain its support for the enforcement of the law and the defeat of terrorism.They will have to do much more than merely "maintain" support; they will have to increase support for the security forces if they are to achieve the declared aim of a distinguished member of the Government, the present Foreign Secretary, who said of terrorists when he was Home Secretary in March this year:They are professional killers … No political solution will cope with that. They just have to be extirpated.On 2 November, at the last Northern Ireland Question Time, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said in reply to me:I gladly give the assurance that I am at one with my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary on that matter." [Official Report, 2 November 1989; Vol. 159, c 452.]I understand that the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated only a few hours ago in a public speech that he is determined that the IRA will not be allowed to win. However, there is something to add to that. It cannot be allowed to be thought that it should end in a draw. The IRA and all other terrorist movements must be eradicated—or, to use the word of the Foreign Secretary, extirpated—before there can be peace, progress and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
We are meeting today for the first time after various atrocities, including those referred to by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, the murders of the three paratroopers at Mayobridge and the Colchester atrocity. I hope that the words of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are a 55 signal that there will be consistent concentration on the introduction of more effective tactics and, if necessary, more changes in the law to assist the security forces in their gallant efforts to eradicate terrorists.
Necessary though all those measures are, they need to be underpinned by a constitutional offensive. There must be an end to the constitutional ambiguity of successive Governments—and especially the Government of the past 10 years—of which perhaps the most disastrous example was provided by the present Government when they put their hand to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. The Whitehall thinking behind that failed experiment was flawed from the start. The idea was to concede a half-way house to the Irish Government's objective of a united Ireland. The Dublin Ministers of the time were frank enough to tell us that that was their aim and they boasted that they had received joint control over a part of the United Kingdom. However, the objective of Irish unity is shared with the IRA so, unfortunately, a concession to Dublin in 1985 was also a concession to terrorism and it happens to be a concession for which the IRA claims all the credit. That fatal signal of 1985 must be cancelled out, as must the Government's statement of that day, when the Prime Minister said:We entered into this Agreement because we were not prepared to tolerate a situation of continuing violence.The Government and all the citizens of the United Kingdom have had to tolerate even more violence over the intervening four years under the agreement. When one considers that the agreement has failed to achieve its other aims—peace, stability and reconciliation—Britain as a nation will have nothing to lose by its demise, which would be a small price to pay for an end to the slaughter of British citizens, service men and civilians. I beg the representatives of Her Majesty's Government on the Treasury Bench to recognise the urgent necessity of removing from the minds of terrorists the expectation that their objectives will be achieved in whole or in part.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
Like the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), I also propose to deal with the problems of eastern Europe, although from a different perspective. I want first to pay tribute to the calm authority with which he spoke, which commanded the attention of all hon. Members, even those of us who do not fully agree with him.
It is a delight to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales sitting on the Front Bench. I have the pleasure of observing regularly how conscientious he is in carrying out his duties.
There are many items in the Gracious Speech that I await with glad expectation, although I await others, notably the arrangements for community care, with a great deal of anxiety. Although not much was said about it in the Gracious Speech, I am also bound to say that I am increasingly unhappy about the plight of elderly pensioners for whom the state retirement pension constitutes the major part of their income. However, important as those considerations are, events in eastern Europe dwarf our proper concerns about domestic issues.
What is happening in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, even at last in Czechoslovakia and above all in the Soviet Union itself is of greater significance than 56 anything that has happened in Europe since 1945, or even since 1917. These events present us—us in the United Kingdom, us in the European Community and us in the West—with huge opportunities and huge dangers. How should we respond? Should we now move faster towards a closely integrated European Community, or should we slow up the process of integration?
The arguments for pressing on with integration are overwhelming, and on that I find myself in agreement with every Conservative Member of the European Parliament as expressed in their letter to The Times at the end of last week. First, the steadily integrating European Community has proved a magnet and an inspiration to the people of eastern Europe who are longing not only for freedom but for the higher standard of living in the West, which owes much to the existence of the European Community. The second consideration is more compelling and even less open to argument. With its enforceable rules, its proved arrangements for settling internal disputes between members and its voluntary acceptance of some limitations on national sovereignty, the EC offers an example and a home for the newly emancipated nations in eastern Europe and for the emerging nationalities in the Soviet Union itself.
There is a real danger of conflict between those newly liberated nations. We have only to look at Armenia and Azerbaijan to see what could happen elsewhere. Such conflicts can no longer reliably be contained by pressure from Moscow or Washington and could rapidly spread. The best safeguard against such dangerous developments is to draw the countries gradually towards an organisation such as the European Community in which rules of behaviour between countries are freely accepted and effectively enforced and in which no country insists on the right to push its national interests to the limit. That, too, must surely be the safest home for an eventually united Germany.
Of course, the Prime Minister is quite right to insist that at this juncture nothing should be done in western Europe that could make Mr. Gorbachev's task more difficult. I share the concern of Ministers that Europe should not be exclusively preoccupied with its internal affairs or build its prosperity regardless of the effect on eastern Europe or the Third world. I would not want to be a citizen of a united Europe that shrugged off its direct responsibility for poor people living in poor countries.
It is one thing to show some caution lest we go so fast and so far in western Europe that we damage the chances of freedom and prosperity in eastern Europe. It is quite another thing to use the revolution in eastern Europe as a pretext for blocking all progress in western Europe, particularly when that pretext is being used as cover for outright hostility to the European Community and all its works. The Prime Minister's distaste for everything that emanates from the European Community is little hidden. She is not to be fed on a diet of Brussels, as she made plain during the European election campaign, and nothing in the carefully restricted references to Europe in the Gracious Speech corrects that impression.
The Prime Minister can claim the support of a majority of the population for her aversion to Europe, as was shown in the poll published in The Independent on 18 February. That poll showed the British as having less regard for the European Community than other European peoples. Of course, it must be said that the Prime Minister 57 herself has played a major part in alienating our people from the Community—of which, as she admits, we are, and we intend to remain, members.
The Prime Minister's policy of whipping up dislike of an organisation to which we have no choice but to belong may score well in the opinion polls—although it did not do us much good in the European elections—but I cannot, for the life of me, believe that it makes any sense in practical terms. On the contrary, it is all of a piece with the preposterous notion of allowing the European currencies to have a free-for-all against one another, which the luckless Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary have been forced to table to block efforts to create a European monetary union.
If we object that a European monetary union means a surrender of sovereignty, what on earth are the implications of this plan? It can mean nothing else but unconditional surrender to the deutschmark. How on earth would that preserve British sovereignty? And if it be further objected that there is to be no proper democratic control over progress towards economic union, just how is the idea of democratic control assisted by leaving it to bankers to slug it out in a free-for-all? The whole idea is preposterous and it is hard to understand how Ministers as sensible and knowledgeable as the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer can have lent their names to it.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
For reasons that I understand, my hon. Friend is critical of the posture and views of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her attitude to Europe. Did my hon. Friend note that today she prayed in aid the Granada lecture of Sir Leon Brittan in answer to a question about the social charter? Does my hon. Friend recall the contents of that speech, in which Sir Leon said:Britain should now concentrate on negotiating both the text and the status of the document with a view to making it acceptable"?Is it not encouraging that the Prime Minister prayed that document in aid? If that is Sir Leon's view and the Prime Minister's view, it is very good news for those of us who support progress towards monetary union, with a revised social charter as part of it, as implicit in the Single European Act.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I, too, was greatly encouraged by that reference, which I took to be a reference not merely to the lecture but, perhaps by inclusion, to what Sir Leon Brittan had to say at the CBI conference yesterday.
It is vital and urgent that the European Community should play its full part in shaping the events in eastern Europe that offer so much hope and so much danger. Is Britain going to stand on the sidelines throwing stones —if I may borrow a phrase from the Foreign Secretary —or are we going to get involved in the making of history?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who I have heard referred to in recent weeks as a stalking horse. I feared for his safety when I saw the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and others sitting behind him, but he escaped without damage and if he continues to make such speeches, he may not only be the stalking horse; he may be in with a chance.
58 I wish to associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who is unfortunately not present, before referring to the Bill to restructure the coal industry. It will come as no surprise that that is my chosen subject. I was surprised and somewhat concerned that, with the exception of the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), who referred to the Bill to enable him to mention British Rail, no reference has been made to the proposal. If my calculations are correct, the Prime Minister referred to every one of the Bills except the British Coal Bill. That may have been an oversight or it may have been deliberate. Perhaps the right hon. Lady did not think that it was serious enough to merit a reference.
People in the mining community, including those in my constituency, regard the Bill as the first step towards privatisation. I should have welcomed the Prime Minister's comments on it. I attempted to intervene in her speech, but she was concluding her remarks and decided not to give way. We are scratching in the dark when it comes to discovering what the Bill will mean. We have our fears. There has been no secret about the privatisation programme with which the Government will continue if they win the next election, which is very unlikely, and it is fairly obvious that the coal industry is to continue to be rapidly run down. If the Bill is intended to enable the Government to continue with that policy, mining communities and miners who will lose their jobs will be seeking some real assurances.
We in the mining community fear that, although the Bill deals ostensibly with the financial reconstruction of the mining industry, its impact could go wider than that and that provisions in the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 will be amended to extend working hours in coal mines.
We fear that the licensing of private mines will be extended so that they can employ 150 people instead of 30. We are aware of the situation in those private mines; their accident rate is three times that in British Coal mines. We also want to know whether the Government are considering wiping off British Coal's debt in the way that they wiped off British Steel's debt some years ago. The House will be aware that in the last financial year British Coal made a working profit of £5 million. Of course, it continues to operate at a heavy loss because of the massive debt around its neck.
We will want to know whether the coal Bill contains more financial provision for redundancy payments. A Cabinet document is floating around which suggests that, apart from the 20,000 plus job losses this year, there will be another 30,000 losses over the next three years or so. If that is so, in three to five years, British Coal will be providing only 60 million tonnes of coal to the electricity generating industry. If that is so, there will be an increase in imported coal of 50 million tonnes. That means that the coal mines in this country will be run down. We would be relying on imports of between 25 million and 30 million tonnes of coal a year.
The moment that this country cannot meet the demand to generate electricity from our own fossil fuels, we will be in the hands of our international competitors. I am certain that even primary schoolchildren will be aware that, once we cannot meet our demand, the people we rely on to provide that fuel will put up their prices. There will be no more cheap coal; the Government must be aware of that. If we accept that the Government are aware of that, why are they going down that road? We can conclude only that 59 they are doing it purely and simply because of political dogma. Although that may not apply to all Conservative Members, it is clear that there is political hatred of the miners and their leaders.
The coal industry has been run down rapidly since 1984. It has lost more than 100,000 men. While that has been bad enough for mining communities, we now face something even worse. The average miner who was made redundant since 1985 was aged 50 or over. He received a reasonable redundancy payment. Apart from a lump sum payment, he was guaranteed nine tenths of his wages until he was 65. That is why there was not a great deal of trouble in the industry when those men were losing their jobs.
It is now a different ball game. The average worker in the mining industry is now aged 34. He has no financial protection in terms of a weekly payment. Many of those young miners have, in accordance with Government policy, taken out mortgages to buy their own houses. Indeed, many have bought local authority houses. These young miners are raising young families. They now face the prospect of losing their jobs, and they are afraid that they will not be able to meet their mortgage commitments arising from higher interest rates.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
The Government have not given enough thought to the severe effect of redundancies on communities and on the families of those made redundant. As my hon. Friend is aware, several thousand railway workers in my constituency were paid off. We have evidence of suicides, of severe depression and of men in tears asking their former employers to take them back. There has not been enough study of the effects of redundancy on communities.
§ Mr. Lofthouse
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point.
Over the next three to five years it will be ludicrous if we cannot meet our demand for coal while young miners are out of work and struggling to live. As Sir Robert Haslam told the Select Committee on Energy only a fortnight ago, we cannot put a pit in mothballs. Once it is closed, it is closed and there is no going back.
If we import 5 million tonnes of coal and close down 5 million tonnes of capacity in this country, that is equivalent to sterilising 25 million to 30 million tonnes of coal. We are talking about sterilising 90 million tonnes of coal a year. That is criminal. It is disgraceful that anyone should sterilise energy in this country which will eventually be needed.
We will want to know whether the new Bill considers financial aid for people whose properties are suffering from subsidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) has done much work on that subject recently and no doubt he will want to go into it in more detail later. We also want to know whether the Bill will refer to funding for research and development on clean coal burn such as the Grimethorpe project. If we are to play our part with respect to the greenhouse effect, it is essential that there is funding for research and development.
I want briefly to refer to the consequences of the rapid rundown of the industry in areas like my constituency. I accept that many mining communities are in the same position. My constituency forms part of the Wakefield metropolitan district council area, which is represented in 60 this House by my hon. Friends the Members for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) and for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe).
The district has a long history of coal mining dating back well over 100 years. My constituents and their families before them have for many years worked extremely hard on behalf of their country, often in atrocious conditions, to mine coal. Their reward has been a severely blighted environment, high unemployment rates and substandard living conditions.
In 1979 there were 20 pits, employing 17,000 people, in the Wakefield metropolitan district council area. By 1984 there were 16 pits with 15,000 miners. There now remain only four pits with 3,500 miners. More than 75 per cent. of our mining jobs have been lost over the past five years. In 1981, 15 per cent. of the Wakefield work force worked in the coal mining industry. It is now estimated that only 5 per cent. do so.
My constituency was once a proud mining area. In 1981, 28.45 per cent. of jobs in Castleford were coal-mining jobs. There are now no pits, only industrial scars and men out of work. Official unemployment in the travel-to-work area of Castleford and Pontefract is 9.4 per cent.—the September figure—which compares with a national average of 6—7 per cent. and an intermediate assisted area average of 8–6 per cent. within the Wakefield metropolitan area, and 11,764 people still officially unemployed. Unfortunately, the demise of the coal industry seems set to continue. Only recently we heard of the loss of 30,000 jobs, if the leaked document is correct. Ten Yorkshire pits have been identified as being at risk. There is the continual fiasco about the role of nuclear power and the cost-effectiveness of fossil fuels in the generation of electricity. I have already referred to that matter and I need add no more.
On top of that, the Government seem intent to encourage the importation of foreign coal. That is highlighted by recent efforts to introduce a private Member's Bill to extend ports at Immingham and elsewhere. There is a firm policy on behalf of the Government and British Coal. The contracts that are to be signed by British Coal and by the electricity supply industry will result in the production of 65 million tonnes of coal, reducing to 60 million in three years. They cannot do that immediately because there is no capacity in our ports for them to do so.
What are the Government doing to assist my constituents and others in the Wakefield district to overcome problems arising from the devastating decline in the coal industry? The area has no reasonable selective assistance. It is not an urban programme area and, as such, is not a priority area for city grant. For example, Ackton Hall colliery near Featherstone, the colliery at which I worked for most of my life, employed about 1,400 miners until it was closed in 1985. A planning application was made by British Coal and granted by the local authority for general industrial development covering 4.33 hectares —about 38,000 sq ft—of industrial floor space, albeit to minimum standards, all of which is occupied by more than 20 units creating about 100 new jobs.
So far so good. Demand has exceeded supply. The developers, who have since acquired the site from British Coal, want to add a further 150,000 sq ft of industrial floor space, but the project is not viable without city grant. Despite intensive lobbying by Wakefield metropolitan district council, it still appears most unlikely that city grant 61 will be given. If the existing development can be used as a guideline, more jobs will not be created. How can an area suffering such massive job losses not be classed as a priority area and have preference for city grants? Since 1985, we have not received one penny in grant. We have not been able to persuade the Government to grant the area assistance area status to enable us to get grants from the Government and from Europe.
In September, the Wakefield council signed a memorandum of agreement with AMEC Regeneration Ltd. to record their intention to identify and implement a rolling programme of development projects for the economic and social regeneration of the Wakefield area —a true partnership approach involving the private sector. That is on top of the authority's continued efforts to advise the private sector and involve it in coal regeneration. The council is therefore following Government guidelines on involving the private sector, yet they have given no tangible recognition of that fact. When will my constituents and others in the Wakefield district benefit from regional assistance so that the area can become an urban programme area and receive priority for city grants?
It is true that the Wakefield metropolitan district council was recently successful in obtaining objective 2 designation under the European structural fund. I readily give the Government credit for assisting in that. We are now almost one third of the way through a three-year programme, and discussions are still taking place between the Government and the European Commission about the amount of additional money that will be available for regeneration purposes.
§ Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the local authorities which have reached category 2 are again having tremendous difficulties with the Government, who are refusing to relax the rules on European assistance? Local authorities are getting nowhere with regeneration because of the required additionality which is being blocked by the Government.
§ Mr. Lofthouse
I am aware of that. I am attempting to make that point.
The mid-Yorkshire operational programme, which covers the Wakefield metropolitan district, has been in the Government's hands for several weeks, but the programme has not been forwarded to Brussels. Why not? Other programmes have been forwarded to Brussels. I call on the Government to give a firm guarantee that areas such as Wakefield will benefit from reform of the structural fund. Although much is made of available funding, nothing has come forward, and one year of a three-year programme has elapsed. That is nothing short of a disgrace.
I represent an area whose work force has proudly been part of the country's hardest and dirtiest industries. Over a short period, the vast majority of the work force have been left jobless, with appalling conditions and a blighted environment. Worse still, the workers and those in related industries have been given little hope for the future. We have high unemployment rates that refuse to go away. However, our local council openly encourages joint initiatives with the private sector for local regeneration. It recently entered into a formal partnership with a major regeneration company.
There is some hope that money from Europe will eventually materialise to enable regeneration projects to be 62 implemented. But, to replace the 12,000 jobs that were lost in one industry alone over the past five years, we need more than hope. There is not much hope when we face a future in which the Bill that was referred to in the Gracious Speech will mean a further rapid rundown and loss of jobs in the mining industry. We need tangible evidence of central Government support for and availability of additional Government funding so that the local authority's partnership with the private sector can regenerate the local economy and provide work and self-respect for my constituents in the knowledge that they are playing a part in improving life for themselves and for future generations.
The Government once believed that they could replace coal by nuclear power, but that idea has now gone out of the window. If the mining industry is to be run down, the Government have an obligation, through the Department of Energy, the Department of Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry, to do something that they have not bothered to do hitherto, and that is to encourage alternative employment in mining communities that have already been savagely run down and can take no more job losses. The Government have an obligation to provide jobs to replace lost mining jobs and to provide for the youngsters in our area who face a bleak future.
§ Mr. David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this early stage in the new Session of Parliament. I hope that the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) will not mind if I do not follow the points that he has just made. They are obviously important points for his constituency, but, as both he and the House will appreciate, I am not very knowledgeable about the details of his constituency.
We are now almost certainly past the halfway point in the present Parliament. We have just completed the second of two heavy parliamentary Sessions during which a great deal of legislation reached the statute book. The country now needs a period in which to assimilate that legislation. I was hoping that there would be a lull in the legislative programme in the coming Session, but, judging from the Gracious Speech, that does not seem likely. I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I for one—and, I suspect, many others—will not complain if one or two of the proposed Bills are discreetly dropped during the Session.
However, I welcome some of the measures that are being introduced. The Bill to reform the National Health Service will, I hope, result in an even better Health Service than we have at present. The Government showed their commitment to the National Health Service in the Autumn Statement last week with a further substantial increase in funding. The Bill that seeks to improve the efficiency of the NHS further underlines that commitment. The green Bill and the food Bill show that the Government are sensitive to public concern, and both will be widely welcomed.
In general, I welcome the fact that the Government are proceeding with the reform of the courts and the legal services. However, I am a little concerned about the proposals relating to conveyancing. I hope that the 63 legislation will ensure that competition between legal practices and institutions is fair and that the interests of the clients of the institutions will be fully protected.
The Bill arising from the Warnock report will be of a rather different nature from the rest of the legislative programme because, although it will be highly controversial, that controversy will not be on a party political basis. I await the introduction of that Bill with some interest, and not a little trepidation.
The Gracious Speech referred to eastern Europe and to co-operation with our European Community partners. In the international sphere there is no doubt that Europe—both East and Westx2014;will be the dominant issue in the forthcoming Session and probably for some years to come. The dramatic events in eastern Europe, and especially in East Germany, bear witness to the wisdom of the policies of this country and our allies since the end of the war. Although the changes in eastern Europe are happening very much more quickly, unexpectedly and dramatically than anyone envisaged, most people in the West believed that eventually the Communist empire in eastern Europe would disintegrate. I hope that that is what is happening, but we cannot be absolutely certain, and that is why the Government are right to respond cautiously to events in eastern Europe.
However, if a cautious response to developments in eastern Europe is wise, it does not follow that a cautious approach to developments in the European Community is equally wise, especially if the response to those developments appears negative. No one knows what will happen in eastern Europe in the next few months, far less in the next few years. The tyranny of Communist bondage could be reimposed, although that seems unlikely. However, even if the process of liberalisation continues, the present extravagant hopes of many of the people of eastern Europe will not be fulfilled. Democracy should enable greater economic efficiency to take place, but that will take time and living standards are unlikely to rise significantly in the near future. Consequently, eastern Europe is facing a period of difficulty, uncertainty and turbulence in the short and medium terms.
In such circumstances, Europe needs the strength and stability of the European Community more than ever before. Europe needs the European Community as an example to the countries of eastern Europe of a group of nations in which the petty nationalisms of the past have been submerged in the pursuit of wider interests. Europe needs the European Community, the members of which are integrating their economies and achieving the greater prosperity that will enable them to help the countries of eastern Europe to develop free economies, as Marshall aid did for the countries of western Europe in the years immediately after the last war. Europe needs the European Community as a political union that will attract and eventually incorporate all the countries of eastern Europe within its ranks. As the admirable letter from some Conservative Members of the European Parliament in last Friday's edition of The Times stated:The challenge for the Community is to grow strong enough, deep enough, and flexible enough to embrace, and provide a secure and stable framework for all the German people and the lands of East Central Europe by the turn of the century.64 If the European Community is to be able to fulfil that role, the process of integration must go ahead. I believe that this country should play a constructive and enthusiastic part in that process, of particular significance to which is economic and monetary union. I have long believed that Britain should join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system, although ensuring that sterling is linked in at the right level and is neither undervalued nor overvalued. I take that view because I think that exchange rate stability is very much in the interests of our manufacturing industry and that as a consequence exports would be encouraged. I also think that membership would be anti-inflationary and that as long as we stay out of the exchange rate mechanism, our influence in the development of the European Community will not be maximised. I hope, therefore, that we will join the exchange rate mechanism within the next few months.
After that, we should join in serious negotiations with our Community partners about stages 2 and 3 of the Delors report. I know that some of my hon. Friends view that with horror, but the fact is that a European central bank will be established and a common monetary policy will be implemented. Community exchange rates will be irrevocably linked and the Community will have a single currency—and all that may well happen much sooner than some people think.
I have no objection to those developments. Indeed, I believe that they are all desirable. A central bank, a common monetary policy and a single currency are all features of the British economy and if they are desirable within the United Kingdom, why are they not desirable within the wider European Community?
Some people claim that economic and monetary union will give us less control over domestic economic and monetary policy. If we are honest, we have to admit that we do not exercise much control over that policy now. Usually, we can react only to events elsewhere and that is becoming increasingly the case as the advantages from North sea oil decline. As full members of an economic and monetary union, we could exercise more influence in determining Community economic and monetary policy and this would mean that we would have more influence on the economic and monetary environment in which we operate than we do now. Far from losing sovereignty, by pooling it with others we should gain more sovereignty over our affairs that we have today. To those who express perfectly legitimate anxieties that economic and monetary union would not be subject to democratic control, I would say that that should be a matter for the negotiations. This is of course part of the broader question of democratic control within the European Community which worries many hon. Members who are strong supporters of the Community but do not regard the Council of Ministers as the last word in democratic institutions.
For this country, the question about economic and monetary union is simply whether we shall be involved in the negotiations or whether we shall stand aloof of them and eventually be forced to accept a fait accompli which is not altogether in our interests because we did not participate in its creation, but which we cannot afford not to join. Surely over the years we have learned the lessons of our reluctance and sometimes our failure to participate in negotiations within the Community. I hope that we shall participate fully and positively in the negotiations on economic and monetary union. It is in our interests, those of the Community and the wider Europe to do so.
65 Important as the future of Europe is, the Government will be judged in the year ahead on the performance of the British economy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a heavy responsibility. Last week, he presented his Autumn Statement along with the economic forecasts required by the Industry Act 1975. The forecasts made gloomy reading, particularly those for the balance of payments and inflation. Of those two problems, the balance of payments is by far the more serious. In 1988—89 we had a deficit of £14.5 billion. In the current year, we shall probably have a deficit of £20 billion. The deficit forecast for next year is £15 billion. I have no idea whether that forecast is correct. Recent experience suggests that it will be an underestimate, but I hope that that will not be the case.
The important matter is not the accuracy of the forecast but the fact that for three successive years Britain will have had a deficit which is unsupportable in the medium term and may well be unsupportable in the short term. The effect of those massive deficits is to weaken our net capital position and so reduce Britain's fundamental economic strength. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not intend to rely on his anti-inflation policy to correct the balance of payments deficit. I do not doubt that our present inflation problem has made the deficit worse, but its significance as a contributory factor should not be exaggerated. The deficit appeared before inflation started to rise, so the balance of payments deficit should be regarded as a serious problem in its own right and action to remedy it should be given priority. Specific action is required now.
Interest rates are too high and should be reduced. The chronic nature of the current account deficit, along with the long-standing deficit in trade in manufactured goods, suggests that sterling is overvalued. High interest rates keep sterling at an unnaturally high level. As a result, British exports are dearer in the world markets and so more difficult to sell, while imports into Britain are cheaper and so easier to sell. A fall in interest rates would mean that less hot money would be attracted into Britain and the pound would tend to float downwards. Exports would become cheaper and rise and imports would become dearer and fall, so the deficit would decline.
At the same time, domestic consumer demand must be reduced to make room for an increase in exports and a reduction in the demand for imports. That would necessitate an increase in both direct and indirect taxation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will grasp the nettle and increase taxation in his spring Budget, no matter how politically unpopular that may be in the short term. I hope that he will refrain from further tax cuts until the balance of payments deficit has been eliminated. I do not like tax increases any more than anyone else, but I am convinced that tough action now is essential if the balance of payments deficit is to be eliminated and if we are to pay our way in the world again. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not be found lacking in that respect in his next Budget.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) in these debates. I believe that we spoke in the same order last year. I always enjoy his speeches, not least because he is unafraid to criticise Treasury Ministers and 66 never misses an opportunity to highlight his own anxieties. To Opposition Members he is the one exiled Scot representing an English seat who is welcome at Scottish questions. He sometimes asks more sensible questions than Conservative Members who represent Scottish seats.
I was particularly interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the international context of the Gracious Speech. Earlier today, when members of my party were asked by the press to comment on the content of the Gracious Speech, we spoke about Scotland in Europe and the implications of the changes in eastern Europe. Some members of the press said, "Please talk about Scottish affairs." It is a strange attitude to expect a Scottish Nationalist to talk only about Scottish issues.
The implications of world events are particularly important. Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I believe that a new dimension of the European Community and a Europe of the peoples is the way towards peace, stability and economic prosperity. I accept that it is difficult to know how to proceed as we face upheaval in Europe. Some of the comments made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers in the Cabinet depressed me because they implied that they wanted to remain within the cosiness of NATO and the Warsaw Pact and that upheaval in attitudes in eastern Europe would destroy that cosiness. They must look at the young people of both western and eastern Europe. Recently, we have seen amazing pictures on television of youngsters from eastern Europe standing on the Berlin wall. Youngsters in Britain saw people just like them-denim-clad, with the same hair styles and the same hopes and aspirations. We owe a great deal to those young people when we consider future policy.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I am listening to the hon. Lady's remarks carefully. Will she consider what happened in Tiananmen square in the People's Republic of China where young people sadly and regrettably went one bridge too far and did not learn from the Poles who sought to work within a system? Will she reconsider what she said about the future of young people?
§ Mrs. Ewing
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. If we were to follow all his arguments we would open up a huge debate. Those who rule older countries have a responsibility to take into account all these aspirations and not to deny democracy, as happened so horrifyingly in Tiananmen square.
We must be careful that we do not place undue boundaries at the start of our negotiations. When people say that German unity is not on the agenda, they place a boundary on our discussions. The Germans will decide through free, democratic elections whether Germany, east and west, is reunited. We have a long way to go before we can guarantee free democratic elections, but the boundaries of freedom will not be set by people who hang on to 19th century imperialist traditions. I hope that we shall move towards a Europe of the peoples. Britain oft en sounds as if she-I say she to represent both Britain and the Prime Minister who represents us in this way at international organisations-had not moved away from 19th century concepts of superiority and imperialism.
Domestic issues are important to us all. On a day like this it is tempting to speak about particular constituency issues or about the omissions from the Queen's Speech. We always hope to see items appear which, sad to say, do not.
67 Whatever we may think of its content and of proposed legislation, a reference to the economic problems that we face has been omitted.
Our economic position will underpin all our discussions this Session. High interest rates have an impact on young couples who struggle to pay their mortgage, on small businesses which try desperately to survive and, in my area, on the hard-hit fishing industry where the situation is so critical that many of our youngest and best skippers will be forced out of business. [Interruption.] I am glad that one of the Scottish Office Ministers has come to listen to the debate. The Government, particularly the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), tell us that we in Scotland need more of the same medicine. That is a patronising, unsympathetic approach to our problems. The Scottish economy is not overheating. The medicine doled out is for the south-east which is overheating. We are not even having a spoonful of sugar to take away the bitterness of the medicine.
We are the only country that has discovered oil, yet ended up worse off. Many hon. Members have spoken about the importance of North sea oil revenues. I have never wavered from my belief that it is Scotland's oil and that that would be recognised in international law. Any Scottish Government with access to the revenues of the past decade would not have squandered them, as this Government and their predecessors have. We would have invested in infrastructure and created jobs to take us into the 21st century.
When Opposition Members tackle the Prime Minister about the homeless, the disabled, pensioners and ambulance men with their derisory 6.5 per cent. pay offer, she turns round and gives reams of statistics. She gives no sign of human sympathy for the problems that many of the poorest and weakest in society face as a direct result of her policies.
If the Prime Minister has difficulty understanding the political scene in Scotland, it is perhaps because she approaches the Scottish psyche in the wrong way. There is a different philosophical approach in Scotland. I should like to quote from William Mcllvanney who is not a member of my party and from time to time is highly critical of it. In a speech in September 1987 he summed up the difference of the Scottish approach when he said:If we wish to remain Scottish, we will refuse to be coerced into measuring the worth of one another on the Dow Scale. If we wish to remain Scottish, we will have contempt for judging a man by how much money's in his wallet or a woman by the cheques she writes.He goes on to define the humane tradition of Scottish philosophy and says that if we want a new measurement of people,You will measure them by the extent of their understanding, by the width of their compassion, by the depth of their concern and by the size of their humanity.That it why there has been a huge divergence in voting patterns north and south of the border. Thatcherism with its greed and lack of compassion is rejected by our people.
The references in the Queen's Speech to justice, freedom and peace gave me a glimmer of hope. I have already touched on the importance of international events for peace, but how can we talk about peace when we still believe that nuclear weapons are the way to guard it? I 68 appeal to Labour Members: how could they give up unilateral disarmament at a time when it could have contributed so much to the debate for international peace?
It is not in Scotland's interests to have debates on whether there should be three or four Trident submarines on the Clyde. We do not want any. Scotland is already seen as a prime target in a nuclear war. We are the battleship for NATO, carrying the bulk of the warheads, and it is time that that stopped.
Dr. John Reed (Motherwell, North)
Given her commitment to Scottish independence, will the hon. Lady tell us whether in this dangerous nuclear world the Scottish people would be safer with three Trident submarines on the Thames than they are at present?
§ Mrs. Ewing
The hon. Gentleman is trying to be too smart for his own good. We know that we have the prospect of Trident on the Clyde because when it was suggested that Polaris should be on the Thames, there was an outcry and it was sent to the Clyde—next to Glasgow which is a major conurbation with all the problems that that brings. I wish there were no nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom or the world. Throughout the world people are starving to death and children cannot get a decent meal because all this money is being poured into weapons of destruction. It is a disgraceful abuse of money.
In this House a great deal of lip service is paid to the concept of freedom, yet there is no freedom for the people of Scotland or Wales, although they have expressed through elections their desire for their own Parliaments. Only one in five Scots supports the Government, whereas four in five support parties which stand for the establishment of self-government. It is strange that Scotland—this ancient nation of ours—should be the only country to have two Parliament buildings but no Government.
I could spend a good deal of time talking about all the proposals relating to justice, but I shall mention a couple only. If there is to be justice and an opportunity for freedom of discussion I hope that, this year, Scottish legislation will not be treated with the contempt that it was during the previous Session. We still do not have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Scottish Office is the one Government Department which is not subject to the scrutiny of Back Benchers. Surely that Committee should be established this Session.
I hope that when we consider legislation on the National Health Service Ministers will bring forward legislation to deal specifically with the NHS in Scotland. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that the Scottish Office has responsibility for health, but, at the same time, not bring forward legislation to retain that responsibility in the Scottish Office. I hope that such a Bill will be introduced and that Members representing Scotland will have an opportunity to discuss it. Scottish legislation should go to the Scottish Grand Committee for full scrutiny rather than be foisted upstairs to a Committee packed with acolytes who dutifully follow the Thatcher line to ensure that the democratic views of Members representing Scotland are voted down.
On student loans, no mention has been made by anyone of the fact that the Scottish degree system is based on the concept of a four-year honours course. If the top-up loan system is introduced there will be particular difficulties for students in Scotland, but, as well as that, the system will 69 present problems—already referred to by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown)—for women, the ethnic minorities and the disabled. Such are the implications behind those heinous proposals. The Government have admitted that those proposals will not save one penny piece this century.
It is ludicrous that we should force our young talented people away from university and higher education by asking them to take debts upon their shoulders. At the same time, however, the Government say that they want to encourage access to education. That is doublespeak. It is illogical for the Government to argue for access to education and, at the same time, make that access more difficult.
We still do not know what preferential treatment, if any, will be given to Gaelic broadcasting, which is an important minority language in Scotland. Despite the efforts of hon. Members representing all parties, we still have had no response from the Home Office about the details of those proposals.
I have already submitted a substantial document expressing my concern at the proposals in the White Paper relating to reform of the legal profession. I hope that the Minister of State, Scottish Office will ensure that his colleagues are aware of our concerns. I want to know from the Scottish Office whether the proposed Bill will deal with miscellaneous provisions or whether it will be a straightforward Bill dealing with the proposals outlined in "The Way Forward". An important point is at stake here and it would be a constitutional outrage if a whole series of other issues were tagged on to such major changes to the Scottish legal system. The Minister should know that the Law Society of Scotland, among others, would share my constitutional outrage at such a proposal.
There are many other points that I could raise, but I believe that I have touched upon the key ones. The economic aspect of our work here will be all-important. How we approach, jointly and individually, the issues confronting us in Europe and the way in which we deal with legislation here are equally important.
As a Nationalist, I do not believe that the arguments will be won for us in this Chamber or in the Committee Corridors. Our battle is to win the hearts and minds of the Scottish people and to make them party to the vision of an independent Scotland within the European Community and, through it, the international community. This place stultifies and denies democratic discussion and debate about the issues confronting Scotland. We cannot resolve our problems until we are back home in our Parliament and that Parliament has direct access to the international community.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I shall be as brief as I can, but when one has the privilege of speaking on the first day of the debate one has the opportunity to deal with the entire Queen's Speech.
I was especially grateful that the Gracious Speech made security almost the first and foremost issue. It places great priority on national and Western security. Recent changes in Europe are far greater than those experienced in 1917 and 1945. In 1956 I was in Hungary with the freedom fighters and then we had no idea that such changes were possible. Even up to a year ago that was still the prevalent feeling, and the complete change that has come about has 70 been a surprise to us all. One of the factors behind that change was the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Poland. That was a great help in encouraging people to understand that the West looked towards those people achieving their freedom.
One must not, however, be drawn into a false security as there are many difficulties. Gorbachev faces great difficulties in his country, with its different nationalities. Incidentally, the east European countries have disputes among themselves. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say that we should not go too quickly and that we must take it gently. We could set off something between those countries that we would regret. That is why I believe my right hon. Friend was so wise.
We must encourage democratic change not only in the Soviet Union—a much more difficult task—but within Poland, Hungary and East Germany and we must realise that the reunification of Germany, dangerous though it may he, will take a long, long time. It will not happen today or tomorrow. We must not count on that at the moment.
The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) was right to say that the demonstrations in those east European countries are demonstrations of the people. We must avoid inflaming those demonstrations so that internecine war breaks out. That is why I repeat how important it is to keep a cool head. Also, we must not forget that we must work for peace. That is our most important job. Those two objectives are not antagonistic, but march together. The security of the Soviet Union and of our country and their respective strengths make it impossible for a war to break out. We must retain that balance.
The European Community can help by supplying the east European countries. I know that the supplies for Poland, however, are getting into the wrong hands in many cases. One of the difficulties of supplying such countries is to get the goods into the right hands rather than in the Communist commissars' pockets or mouths. Such practices are not unusual.
If we have co-operation in Europe we can then set an example to other countries. Slowly and surely we can draw them into us. That will not happen tomorrow; it is a slow process. It requires patience and leadership. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown leadership, wisdom and judgment in her approach to those matters, not only by visiting Gorbachev, but by keeping in with the Americans, and she has ensured that things work coherently.
Cambodia has been mentioned. It is a far more difficult problem than that presented by eastern Europe. I have been to Cambodia, but now the forces involved are so complex that it is almost impossible to arrive at a solution unless some sort of international settlement is achieved.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the Khmer Rouge forces are at least as bad as the Nazis were in the last war and must not be supported? Will he further agree that the American intervention in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile is doing nothing for the status of Western democracy?
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Lady is right to say that it is almost impossible in countries where four or five factions exist to bring them together and reach a solution. That applies however much international force is brought to bear. 71 Consider, for example, Cyprus. Clearly the problem in the countries to which the hon. Lady refers is more difficult even than the problem in Europe.
I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the renewed attempts that are to be made to combat terrorism and to secure the release of hostages. I do not think that any hostage releases can take place until there is peace between Israel and Jordan.
Enormous problems face us in relation to crime and drug trafficking. These problems must be tackled because the situation is becoming extremely serious. The sources are mainly in the South American countries and, from conversations I have had with ambassadors from those countries, it is clear that ample machinery exists easily to convert the products into drugs. We must consider not only what action should be taken against the drug barons, but how to provide occupations for the growers of the raw material. In other words, there is the dual problem of stopping the activities of the drug barons and providing other work for those who grow the raw plant.
In dealing with the environment, our most important task is to establish that toxic waste is not dumped. We must also establish cleaner cities, and I was glad to hear the Prime Minister refer to the £1,000 fine that will be meted out to people who break the law in that respect.
I hope that the education scheme will provide youngsters with the right type and proper balance of education that will enable them to face the challenges. Technology is making the challenges different all the time. Let us not forget that it is difficult to balance technological education with cultural education. Nor should we forget that it takes time to learn the technology on which our youngsters will be dependent for their livelihood.
I will say about the National Health Service only that when our policy has been completed it will be a question of patients first. There will be a better service for patients than has ever existed before, with much less being spent on administration and overheads.
We are told that in the coming year we shall face a difficult time. Perhaps we shall. Even so, we shall get through it and, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, who has become not only a national but an international leader, we shall win through.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
I shall discuss some issues with which the Gracious Speech does not deal as well as some to which it refers. After all, the one is often as revealing as the other. The Gracious Speech contains no prospect of relief for those in Britain who have suffered most as a result of earlier Conservative legislation, to say nothing of any prospect of relief for those such as I who are suffering from sore throats. There are no proposals which would begin to repair the damage that has been done to our manufacturing industries.
Ten years ago I worked in a factory on Tyneside. It was part of what is now known as NEI. That one factory then employed 10,000 people and led the world in its field. Today, after 10 years of Tory rule, it employs fewer than 2,000 people and has lost its world lead. That story is painfully familiar on Tyneside, where the Government's policies have ravaged our industries—and I do not refer to 72 outdated smokestack industries, as ignorant Government apologists often allege, but to important industries relevant to the modern age.
The nations of the world still need ships and power generation equipment. Companies such as Plessey and Marconi, far from being outdated, were at the forefront of technology. Yet such important foundations of our local economy have been eroded in the past 10 years, and there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to suggest that the Government recognise that fact, let alone intend to do anything about it. But hon. Members who represent the area will continue to press for meaningful action, and—perhaps this will be some compensation—I look forward to the announcement that the recently proposed centre for the study of climatic change will be located in my constituency, as I had suggested that it should be.
There is also no suggestion that the Government intend to do anything about the social effects and the devastation of the northern economy. Unemployment is still running at 19 per cent. in my constituency, which has the dubious distinction of having the worst two wards for unemployment–at 31.4 and 22.3 per cent. respectively —in the whole of Tyne and Wear. Such jobs as exist are generally part-time and low paid. The training schemes are, in general, unsuited to the limited opportunities available or to the long-term interests of the trainees. The only recognisable strategy of the Department of Employment is to reduce the unemployment figures by any means possible—except, that is, by the provision of meaningful, useful and decently paid work.
There came to my advice surgery recently a lady pensioner living on her own who was desperately worried because the Government's social security changes, which affected her housing benefit from April, had only recently caught up with her. She explained how her rent card was showing arrears of £81. It was the first time in her life that she had ever been in arrears with her rent. She is desperately worried by that. She receives a total income of £49.51 per week. By the time she has paid rent of £14—51, gas £4.50, electricity £3.08, telephone—her only lifeline —£3, and television licence stamps £1.25, she is left with £23 a week to feed and clothe herself and look after her home. Entertainment, other than the television, is among the luxuries that she cannot afford. I heard nothing in the Gracious Speech or in what the Chancellor said last week to bring comfort to that lady, or to the thousands of pensioners like her who have been so badly neglected by the Conservatives that their living standards are far behind most of their fellow senior citizens in other European countries.
Despite the rising and worrying rate of crime, there are no proposals in the Gracious Speech to deal with the deteriorating social conditions and the political atmosphere that lies at its roots, feeding and encouraging it. While I agree that international crime and drug trafficking must be tackled—there are references to that in the Gracious Speech—the crime that concerns my constituents most is taking place on the streets and in the housing estates.
Private security firms are welcomed by the Government as a method by which the private sector can contribute towards crime prevention, but Ministers turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the underpaid operatives and the dangers to which they are subjected. In a case in the north-east recently, two security guards, a male and female, both of whom were over the statutory retirement 73 age, were attacked and robbed of the money in their charge by criminals carrying shotguns. At the same time, the Northumbria police force continues to appeal unsuccessfully to the Home Secretary for fair and adequate resources to meet the growing problem and to deal with petty crime, vandalism and hooliganism.
As I listened to the Gracious Speech, I was reminded of the Prime Minister, for like the right hon. Lady's speech today—which was lacking in the characteristic abrasiveness and arrogance to which we have become used—the eloquence of the delivery of the Gracious Speech disguised the sinister nature of its content. Two Sundays ago, The Sunday Correspondent published an interview with the Prime Minister in which she said that people wereentitled to dignity, liberty and choice".Where is the dignity for those youngsters who are driven to begging and sleeping rough on our city streets? Where is the dignity for those old people who, once again this winter, will be virtual prisoners in their own homes, afraid to go out after dark yet unable to afford even the basic comforts indoors? Where is the choice for those families who, as Christmas approaches, face Government-inspired increases in rents and mortgages as well as having to finance Christmas? Is it any wonder that the Prime Minister's empty rhetoric is beginning to turn the stomachs of some of her most senior colleagues? We heard from one of them today. That is happening to such an extent that the appropriate anecdote for the Prime Minister must be that she was only the grocer's daughter, but she was well past her sell-by date.
If it is not clear from the Prime Minister's empty words, it is certainly clear from the Queen's Speech that the Government neither listen to nor care about the opinions of British families. The proposals to go ahead with controversial reforms of the National Health Service, despite almost universal opposition, are a stark example of the "I know best" attitude of Tory Ministers and, particularly, the Prime Minister.
My right hon. Friends have promised total and unremitting opposition to the proposals inside and outside Parliament. I can confirm that the opposition will be massive and sustained from the hon. Members and people of Tyneside, where the Health Service is considered to be an essential and integral part of the community, not some adjunct to be messed about in the interests of the dogma of Tory competition policy. Those hospital managers and others who seem to be of the opinion that the service is theirs to do with as they will had better get it into their heads that the service belongs to the people and neither they nor the Government have any mandate to make the kind of changes proposed without the approval of the people.
I also regard the proposals for broadcasting as particularly worrying. Having served on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which produced a good report on the subject, I believe that the proposals as outlined confirm some of the Committee's worst fears. There is no clear method of protecting, let alone improving, quality. The proposals for television could be seriously damaging and bring about an advertiser-led or sponsor-led regime, leading to a diet of soap and low quality imported material and presenting a real threat to the important regional structure which has been built up in the commercial sector in this country.
As with the Health Service, the Government show little regard for informed opinion and put their idolisation of 74 free enterprise above all other considerations. If they have their way, the land of hope and glory will become the land of soaps and Tories. There are undoubtedly great opportunities in the new broadcasing technologies for improving the services available, for widening choice without damaging quality, and for the introduction of interactive services which could transform the lives of the disabled and housebound, to say nothing of the opportunities for business, education and entertainment.
I welcome the new innovations and the new services, but they must be properly integrated into the present system, which is widely acknowledged to be the best in the world, and they should not be allowed to trample over what has taken years to develop. Television has developed at a relatively slow rate in this country and has benefited from that. Any attempt to make rapid, ill-thought-out changes could cause irreversible damage.
I cannot stress too much the importance of a regional structure based on communities with strong cultural ties. We in the northern region are becoming increasingly concerned at the tendency for people of influence from outside the region to propose changes in our regional boundaries for the provision of regional services. The latest example of this is the proposal to merge Northern Arts with Yorkshire Arts, a proposition which will be vigorously opposed in both regions. We shall therefore be watching closely to see what the broadcasting Bill proposes in terms of regional coverage.
The introduction of new services presents opportunities to assist regional economies by directing investment where it is most needed. In that respect, we in the north will be looking to the Government to see that the new channel 5 is located in the northern region to help begin repair some of the damage to which 1 referred earlier.
The proposals to legislate yet again to restrict even further the legitimate activities of free trade unions and people at work is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister's applause and encouragement for Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland.
The Government have been picking away at civil liberties and human rights for the past 10 years, leading to a reduction in the abilities of ordinary people effectively to challenge authority and its paymasters. The attacks on the trade union movement are part of this process and the proposals in the Gracious Speech demonstrate that the Tory party will go on eroding and reducing effective protest until they return the workplace to the system of masters and minions which was such a feature of I he Victorian era so admired by the Prime Minister. While the powers of the eastern bloc are having to concede the right to protest, consultation, dignity, liberty, choice and democracy, the British Government are moving in the other direction so that people will be chained to the workplace, unable to make effective protest or invoke democratic decisions.
The proposals expose as a complete sham the Government's policy of giving the unions back to their members. Having taken away from the union leaders the power to call for industrial action, and found that it has not worked, they now propose to take away from the members also the power to make decisions, by democratic means, in matters relating to union membership or working conditions.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is it not significant that on the question of giving the unions back to their members—
§ Mr. Skinner
I am facing Mr. Deputy Speaker. Which camera should I be addressing?
Has my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) considered that when the Tory Government talk about giving back a trade union to its members, what happened in the case of the ambulance crews—whom the Labour party supports—was that the trade union leadership accepted 6—5 per cent. but the membership decided to turn it down? The Government have the cheek to condemn those ambulance crews for turning down the union leadership's recommendations when the union members took the decision.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is at least half-facing the Chair and I could hear what he said. However, it is customary to address the Chair during speeches and interventions.
§ Mr. Clelland
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) makes an excellent and topical point. The Government, having taken away the trade union leaders' power to make decisions and given it back to the members, they now condemn the members for taking decisions with which the Government do not agree. It is clear that the Government are interested not in democracy or in the membership making decisions, but merely in getting the decision that the Government want.
Food safety is also a worrying issue and it is right that the Government should at last propose to do something positive about it. However, unless the responsibilities for food and farming are separated, the inevitable conflict of interests in having a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will continue, to the detriment of the consumer in view of the strong farming and manufacturing lobby within the Tory party.
The inclusion in the Queen's Speech of proposals to introduce a Bill dealing with the environment are to be welcomed. We wait with interest to see exactly what the Bill contains, but at least it will provide the opportunity for detailed discussion on this vital issue. However, if statutory duties are to be placed upon local authorities to deal with dogs, litter, and so on, these must be accompanied by the necessary financial powers and resources. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot impose extra duties on councils and then accuse them of so-called overspending. If we are to clean up our environment, local authorities must play a central role.
I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the recent Audit Commission report which stated that the Government have been undermining local authorities' status and responsibility for the past 10 years. The report called for more freedom for local authorities to act in the nterests of local people and accused the Government of being an obstacle to inner city 76 regeneration because of their attitudes and policies. The Secretary of State for the Environment should pay special heed to that advice if he wants to give his green Bill the status that it deserves.
No Bill can be called a green Bill if it does not address in a meaningful way the problem of global warming, and it will not be meaningful if it ignores energy efficiency and conservation. If the Bill is to be credible it must contain the proposals supported by the Select Committee on Energy requiring the electricity companies to implement and encourage energy efficiency and conservation measures and to see to it that the Director General of Electricity Supply has the necessary powers of enforcement. I suspect that that is a vain hope, however, because such an interventionist approach goes against the Government's whole philosophy, to say nothing of the problems that it would bring to their already bungled electricity privatisation programme.
The Government's "hands off, leave it to the private sector" approach has led to Britain becoming less well educated, less healthy and more polluted. In terms of our cities, Britain is generally a more unpleasant place in which to live than many of our neighbouring European countries. That is the state of the nation after 10 years of Tory rule—what a record! The Government's attitude clearly shows that, far from acknowledging the real problems and responding to the desires of decent British families, they are happy to wallow in the cesspool of Tory philosophy, to pander to the whims of the Adam Smith Institute and to worry about the problems of the electorate only when an election approaches. It is clear from the Queen's Speech that an election is not contemplated in the near future. No doubt next year's Gracious Speech will be designed to soften up the voters. Perhaps we should look forward with great eagerness to the next Loyal Address because it may well be the last before a general election. If that is so, it will the last one from a Tory Government for a long time.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), who spoke about the problems of Tyneside and especially about the problem of unemployment. There is massive unemployment in many parts of Northern Ireland and it is exacerbated by the campaign of terror that is waged against people, factories and jobs. However, it is not just a matter of losing jobs, because lives are lost as well.
For more than 20 years the people of Ulster have suffered terribly from a diabolical and vicious campaign of terror that has taken many innocent lives. Hardly a family in the Province has not lost a relative or does not know someone who has been murdered by terrorists. My condemnation of terrorism applies not just to the Irish Republican Army but to any terrorist organisation that parades under the name Loyalist. There can be no democracy, peace, freedom or prosperity in Northern Ireland until the evil of terrorism is extirpated.
Sadly, in the last few days more civilians and members of the security forces have lost their lives. The sympathy of all hon. Members goes out to the relatives of those people. They are not the only ones who have had to mourn during the past 20 years and, sadly, it seems that many more families will mourn the loss of loved ones in the days to come. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when 77 I say that at times such as this I feel deeply for the members of the security forces and the Ulster Defence Regiment and officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We praise their courage and dedication because without their service many more lives would be lost.
When people in England mourn the loss of a son, that loss is also mourned by a vast number of people in Northern Ireland. There is no point in appealing to the better nature of terrorists because they have no better nature. There is no point in directing Christian pleas to them because they get their satisfaction not only from the money that they obtain from their terrorist activities but from the pleasure that they get from killing and mutilating people in the Province and in Great Bitain and, as we know to our cost, in Germany and other parts of Europe.
I have a liking for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and therefore felt particularly sad about his awful statement that the IRA cannot be defeated. Those are not words which the leader of the Province should direct to the people and the security forces in Northern Ireland. In June 1940, when Britain was facing its darkest days and possible defeat, Churchill said in this Chamber:We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,".—[0fficial Report, 4 June 1940; Vol. 361, c. 796.]Sadly, there now seems to he a different attitude towards terrorism. I hope that on reflection the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will change his mind and realise, as his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, that the IRA must be extirpated from the community.
I spoke about the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is a scandal that a political decision was taken to arrest some of its members on the basis of allegations about leaks. I deplore leaks from that regiment or from any other regiment. One of my constituents, a young man who was on a course in Scotland, came home late one night to his young wife and baby. At 6 o'clock the following morning he was rooted from his bed by the police who had arrived in Land-Rovers with radios blaring. Everybody in the area knew what the police were after. After 12 or 16 hours this young member of the Ulster Defence Regiment was released, but of course he has been fingered by terrorist sympathisers. They know where he lives and he now has to leave that area and take his wife and child somewhere else. He was lifted as if he was a common criminal with a long list of crimes to his name, yet this young man was doing his best to serve his community and had done nothing whatever wrong. That is now absolutely clear.
I expect the Government, through the security forces, to defeat the terrorists in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. I look to constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland to join together to plan the future of our Province. The politicians there cannot shirk their responsibilities. As we have heard, all over eastern Europe the old order is giving way and the people, especially the young, are striving for change. They wish to see a better future for eastern Europe and desire to rid themselves of the shackles of the past. The barriers of hate and suspicion are coming down. I hope that in Northern Ireland, which is on the periphery of Europe, hate and suspicion will be dissipated as soon as possible.
I believe in reconciliation, and I was sorry when the leader of the Official Unionist party and the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who are not here at the moment but who were here earlier, refused my offer to 78 chair talks at a meeting of the leaders of the constitutional parties in the Province. They refused to participate in such talks, and I was surprised at the hostility of their joint reply to my invitation. That invitation was dictated solely by the need to make progress and to bring about reconciliation in Northern Ireland. My invitation was accepted by the leader of the Alliance party and the leader of the SDLP.
We must get together as soon as possible. There is no point in getting caught in some sort of time warp from which there is no escape. We have to say to the people of Northern Ireland, and especially to our young people who wish to see change, prosperity and jobs, that it is time to prepare for the future. Therefore, I urge the leaders of the other two Unionist parties to change their minds and, for the sake of the people of Northern Ireland and the future of our Province, to get together with other constitutional parties in political talks.
Our wealth is in our young people. As much as possible should be done to provide for their future The Government should invest in the best education for our young people so that they can develop their talents to the full. A devolved Parliament at Stormont would provide a training ground for young politicians. They need to gain experience in matters affecting Northern Ireland and to be able to make the difficult decisions that have to be made on the allocation of money.
My first speech in the Chamber was about the elderly, and I have referred constantly to them ever since. We owe our senior citizens a debt of gratitude. They have worked all their lives in the community and, in the evening of their lives, they deserve dignity and comfort. They should receive more than their present pension. Each senior citizen should receive an extra £10 a week. Many pensioners have the greatest difficulty in managing on their pension with the current cost of heating, food and clothing. Their problems are not fully appreciated.
In addition, the home help service should be restored to what it was before the recent massive cuts took effect. I have nothing but praise for home helps. They are like close relatives to many of those whom they look after. We should ensure that the elderly have someone who will go into their home, give them a meal, clean their room, change their bed clothing and help them in every possible way. That is the best way of caring for the elderly. They should be helped to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, with all their belongings about them. I feel deeply about the elderly. We must show care and compassion for them.
Finally, I want to refer to a personal matter. Last month, at the Conservative party conference, the Conservative party decided to organise in Northern Ireland, particularly in my constituency of North Down. That decision placed me in an invidious position which, lamentably, I felt made it necessary for me to cross the Floor of the Chamber. However, I have received a most generous gesture from Conservative Members. I was deeply moved by a letter signed by 86 Conservative Members. I am told that many more would have signed it if it had been brought to their attention.
That letter makes it clear that most of my Conservative colleagues in the House do not like the prospect of a Conservative candidate standing against me in my constituency. It is an honour for me to represent my constituency, with its men and women, young and old—great people. That letter, and the views expressed to me personally by my Conservative colleagues, have made it 79 clear to me that my proper place in the Chamber is on the Conservative Benches, and on these Benches I shall remain.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) about the tragic loss of life in Northern Ireland and share his wish for a peaceful solution as quickly as possible. Many soldiers have lost their lives in Northern Ireland and many of us have constituents who have lost their sons there.
It is regrettable that we are now having to use the Army to solve the problems that have arisen from the ambulance men's dispute. In another walk of life I was an industrial relations officer. The ambulance men's dispute is a classic example of how not to deal with such an industrial situation. When an industrial dispute cannot be resolved in any other way, it should go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
The Government seem afraid that arbitration will not look at all the problems. The Secretary of State for Health highlighted the fact that the Health Service has already accepted a 6.5 per cent. increase. But of course that would be taken into consideration. The amount of time and energy that has been spent on various other things would also be taken into consideration. All the aspects that the Secretary of State highlighted would be taken into account. Therefore, there need be no fear of arbitration.
We have had a classic example of how to escalate an industrial dispute. First, the Secretary of State used emotive language when it was completely unnecessary. Therefore, it can only have been intended to exacerbate an already desperate situation. When an industrial dispute is limited to a particular area, it should not be allowed to go beyond that area. However, the Secretary of State allowed it to extend to the provinces. Therefore, he now has a first-class industrial dispute on his hands. Either the Secretary of State is inept in handling industrial disputes, in which case he should not have touched it, or he wanted such a dispute. If that is so, we must ask why. It is no news that the Government are in desperate trouble, economically and otherwise. The polls show that. They needed to divert attention from that problem. The ambulance men's dispute has probably been used deliberately to distract attention from the Government's problems.
The Government say that there will be extra money for paramedics and so on, but that that can be offered only when the dispute is over. Therefore, it is essential that the ambulance men should go immediately to arbitration to settle their dispute and then talk about the future.
The ambulance men's problem did not start yesterday, last week, with this Government or with the previous Government; it started at the beginning of the 1970s when the ambulance men were not classed as an emergency service. The Secretary of State says that they cannot be an emergency service when sometimes they do not turn out, only go to certain cases and act as carriers for old ladies going to hospital. However, I once belonged to the fire service and that is exactly the same. Firemen do not fight fires 24 hours a day. They fight fires when they occur and for the rest of the time they do other work. Ambulance men work in the same way. If the dispute can be settled by 80 arbitration, the running of the ambulance service and how it relates to other emergency services can be discussed to make sure that such a disastrous dispute never happens again. It is so unnecessary. I believe that the final stage of any conciliation machinery or service should be arbitration. I have discussed the matter with ACAS and it agrees entirely. Therefore, that argument must have some merit and should be considered.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
Before my hon. friend leaves the ambulance dispute, will he consider that the Secretary of State, the Government and Tory Members may have another motive? There is talk of privatising the ambulance service, perhaps in the new legislation, cutting away the essential services that sustain the welfare of the injured, the aged and the sick. I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered that it may be a subtle move to introduce privatisation into the ambulance service.
§ Mr. McKay
I agree with my hon. Friend. I had not thought of that, but it is certainly a possibility. Perhaps the Government plan first to cause a problem, then to say that the system does not work and to propose another system. If they cause a problem with the ambulance service they can then say that the system has broken down, the Army has to be brought in, the service cannot be sustained and, as it appears that the present system is not working, perhaps it can be made to work through privatisation. That is a classic Tory party solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) spoke about the mining industry. I doubt whether anyone working in the mining industry worked in it under private ownership. [Interruption.] I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford did and so did I. We were pleased when the blue flag was raised at the top of the winding tower because at that moment the mining industry came into its own. From then on, the mining industry became a top industry in terms of mechanisation, work force and health and safety.
Under private enterprise many short cuts were taken to encourage massive production at the least possible cost and that cost lives. The nationalised industry stopped those short cuts, mechanisation was introduced and maximum output was achieved. Now, the output per man shift is the best in the world for that type of deep mining.
Since nationalisation the mining industry has been bedevilled by three words. The first was "uneconomic". At one time, one had only to call an industry uneconomic and it closed. That was in Lord Robens's era in the 1960s. The second was "reorganisation", which meant that parts of the industry disappeared. The latest word is "restructuring" which means exactly the same thing. But it also means that the Government intend to parcel up the industry in a restructuring programme in preparation for selling it off. God forbid that that should ever happen. If it does, once again the health and safety of people at work will be called into question. Under private enterprise the industry will move back to the maximisation of profit rather than safety. Therefore, there will be an urgent need to strengthen the inspectorate to ensure that that does not happen. It would also be necessary to protect it through legislation.
Moving on to another problem that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and 81 Castleford, throughout my constituency mining subsidence has caused massive devastation. The people who work in the industry accepted the problem of mining subsidence, as their well-being was protected in the closures that it caused. There were fairly generous compensation settlements and the National Coal Board took a flexible attitude in dealing with subsidence. However, in the past few years its attitude has changed and it has tightened up its offers of compensation so that the flexibility that I and my hon. Friends have been able to use is no longer available. In addition, British Coal has sometimes refused to accept liability, hiding behind the fact that the mine workings had occurred some time ago so the damage could not have been caused by subsidence. So British Coal has been judge and jury.
Under privatisation, or perhaps before, it will be necessary to set up a tribunal to act as an ombudsman to adjudicate on problems associated with subsidence and to ensure that proper compensation is paid. Such a tribunal would take the matter out of the hands of British Coal and people would get a fairer deal.
The Waddilove report has been available for some time. Irrespective of the pressure applied and the questions put to Ministers and the Government, they have refused to bring the Waddilove report before the House. The reason for that is well known to most of us. Its implementation would cost money and the Government cannot afford to put the report into practice as it would kill any share issue to people who might invest in the coal industry.
All those matters relate to each other and it is time that we had a clear statement of fact and intent. I and many of my hon. Friends will fight the privatisation of the coal industry tooth and nail. It would be the worst step ever taken for the coal industry and for the country. While we have our own coal industry we can depend on it at all times.
I now turn to the problems of independent television and radio. If we are not careful, we shall fill up television with a load of rubbish. We have to ensure through legislation that we protect religious services and school services and those that have been provided not simply for entertainment but for education. If we are not careful, those services will go out the window and we will end up with more Mickey Mouse programmes than ever. The people who run television will say that they can fill the programmes with Mickey Mouse and make quite a substantial profit and many people will like that. But television was not made only for entertainment. If it had been, we probably would not have the House of Commons televised as it is now. I am saying that tongue in cheek, because our proceedings should be televised.
§ Mr. Skinner
Labour Members are concerned about the new broadcasting Bill and the proposal for more adverts because we want to safeguard the integrity of the BBC. If there are more adverts, I can visualise that there may be widescale sponsorship. The Secretary of State for Transport may appear selling cherished number plates to produce a parliamentary programme. I am not saying that it would make a lot of money, but one can see how far it could go.
§ Mr. McKay
The mind boggles. There could be rows of Members of Parliament wearing T-shirts that say "I love 82 Lucy is next." We have advertising on the football field, so I see no reason why we should not have it in the House of Commons.
I should like to say something about a measure that does not appear in the Gracious Speech but about which hon. Members will be well aware—concessionary television licences for aged persons. When the Government last made changes, they made matters worse because when people who had a concessionary television licence moved house they lost it, and there is no way of getting it back. At some dwellings we have had the spectacle of one person being entitled to such a licence but another having to pay £71.1 cannot think of anything more ridiculous. The Government can act instantly to make matters fair for every aged person, irrespective of how or where they live. Aged persons should not be discriminated against, but should be given a concessionary television licence. I do not know whether the broadcasting Bill will assist with that.
I bring to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends the fact that the Labour party made a promise and is committed to phasing out the television licence for all aged persons within the lifetime of a Parliament. I want: to put that on record to ensure that when we win the next election we legislate for that immediately.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is it not right that, far from the Government doing what we all know to be right and exempting pensioners from the television licence fee, on 16 January 1987 they voted down by 21 votes my private Member's Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and other Labour Members voted for in the Lobby? Had my Bill become law, all pensioners, without qualification, would now be exempted from the television licence fee.
§ Mr. McKay
My hon. Friend is right. I am sure that in this Session a Bill will be brought forward for concessionary television licences for aged persons and others. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) once fought tremendously for other people who ought to be entitled to a concessionary television licence.
The Government are to introduce an environment Bill. They said that they want the co-operation of local government. Despite the way that they have treated local government over the past few years, they will be begging for that co-operation. Environmental procedures and measures need money, which can come only from central Government. If the Government insist that it comes from local government, it will place an additional burden on ratepayers, who will have sufficient problems when the poll tax comes into force next year.
Over the past five years, all the collieries in my constituency have closed. All the miners in my constituency work at collieries on its periphery. Much dereliction remains in my constituency. To attract new industry to the area, we must consider developing green belt land. Rightly, people are up in arms about using green belt land for industrial purposes. However, 98 per cent. of my constituency is in the green belt, and previously all the jobs were underground. Unless we are given money to clean up the derelict areas, industry will not be attracted to the area. We have the necessary infrastructure, such as roads—a new one is to be built very soon and a skilled work force. Our young work force is not, as the Prime Minister suggested, idle but is waiting for jobs. We have 83 3,900 people unemployed, and 357 jobs available. People are not idle; there is simply no work for them. Through the local council, central Government and private enterprise, their circumstances can be improved. Local government needs the co-operation of central Government, and not the other way round. If we receive that co-operation and some money, the area will lift itself up by the bootstraps. The local chamber of commerce and the local authority are prepared to rejuvenate the area. We need only a little more from central Government, and then we can make it go.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
My contribution to this important debate will be brief. I am always pleased to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) because he is an utterly sincere man. I know that he brings much wisdom to the House and that he serves his constituents well. I am sad to learn that he may not be standing at the next election. It will be a loss to the House if he is no longer with us.
I draw attention to what I consider to be a vital sentence in the Gracious Speech. In the other place, Her Majesty said:My Government will continue to attach the highest priority to national and Western security and to the preservation of peace with freedom and justice.How right she was to say that on behalf of the Government, and how sad it was that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) seemed to fail to realise that because we have maintained modern, technologically advanced conventional weapons and developed nuclear weapons since the war we have made the world a safer place, perhaps contributed to the reductions in tension that have occurred recently and also made a contribution to the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the barriers between the East and West. It would not be inappropriate to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the work that she has done and for the relationship that she has developed with President Mikhail Gorbachev, and to President Reagan for the major contribution that he made in breaking the ice with President Gorbachev and establishing much greater understanding, which has certainly reduced world tension.
§ Mr. Winterton
President Bush will make his own contribution, but he has been in office for only a few months. I reserve judgment on him until we see precisely what role he will play. With my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister being the pre-eminent statesman in world affairs, he has much to do.
Having served in the Federal Republic of Germany when I was in the Army, and having served for a year of that period in Berlin, before the wall went up, I am delighted that the wall has come down. We must be extremely careful in handling this sensitive situation. We do not want to upset the negotiations on reductions in conventional arms or nuclear weapons which, I hope, will take place between East and West. We want to encourage democracy in the eastern European countries, and not just in Poland and Hungary, where limited democracies are in place, and in the German Democratic Republic. We want to go further and encourage democracy in Bulgaria, 84 Czechoslovakia and other countries which have been under a totalitarian system for far too long. We are trying to ensure that their current form of government is replaced by a multi-party democratic parliamentary system. Once that is achieved, we can consider the next step. Until then, it is irrelevant nonsense to talk about the reunification of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.
If we are to ensure that there is progress in those countries which hitherto have been behind the iron curtain, we will not interfere with what is happening in them; we will encourage them. I should like the European Community and other groups of countries to give them financial assistance to build up their economies. We know that the one way to guarantee democracy is to have a healthy, expanding economy. The Prime Minister's handling of this sensitive situation is right.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a great danger in Mr. Gorbachev's initiatives in that, in addition to the good things that have happened, he has opened a Pandora's box? Rampant nationalism is emerging in the Soviet Union and other places, spelling great danger not only for future Governments there but for the rest of the world.
§ Mr. Winterton
I fully accept that point. I hope that people will listen to what the hon. Gentleman has said. This is why we must handle the situation carefully. We must not undermine the security of the Soviet Union. If we do, the tanks will roll back into eastern European countries just as they rolled into Tiananmen square in the People's Republic of China.
What happened in China is a great sadness to me. The country was advancing rapidly. Unfortunately, as I said in an intervention, the students did not follow the example of Poland and Solidarity. They went one step too far, crossed one bridge too many, and, as a result, the hardliners are now back in power. This will result in problems not only for the people of China, in terms of their freedom and their desire for justice and democracy, but for this country and others in respect of Hong Kong.
I am 100 per cent. with the Government in what they seek to do within the European Community. It is interesting that the European Economic Community is now called the European Community. I wonder who took the decision to change the title. I was always in favour of an economic community, but I have considerable reservations about a political community and the federation which people such as Jacques Delors are seeking to foist on all the independent countries that comprise the European Community.
It is appropriate that I should support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her stance on the exchange rate mechanism. At the weekend, the president of the Bundesbank fully supported her attitude, saying that it was out of the question that we should join the exchange rate mechanism at this time, with our present inflation rate and balance of trade deficit. Our Prime Minister has been vindicated by one of the most powerful people in Europe.
I am deeply worried about one matter in the Gracious Speech—the Bill to improve the National Health Service and the management of community care. Of course, all hon. Members and a majority of people outside the House want a more efficient, more patient-sensitive Health Service. We want better management of the substantial 85 amount of money allocated to it. I wonder whether the proposals likely to be contained in the Bill will achieve the objectives in the White Paper. I have my doubts about that.
Although the guru who advanced the proposals that the Government have taken on board—Professor Alain Enthoven, an American academic—fully supports the idea of self-governing hospitals, he is concerned that the Government have not carried out a pilot project or experiment. He has stated many times that budget-holding practices with 11,000 patients are unworkable. He believes that a much larger grouping of practices and patients is vital if that system is to work. I need not remind the House that that guru has opposed the granting of tax relief for medical insurance for the over-60s. He does not believe that this will help the Health Service, attract more people to the idea of taking out private medical insurance or release additional resources for the NHS. The Select Committee on Social Services, of which I am a member, fully supports him.
Why will not my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, listen to those who have looked into these matters deeply? Why are they not prepared to reach an accord with consultants and general practitioners? Why do they not set up in the East Anglia health authority region—which, dare I say, gestated my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard)—pilot projects on self-governing hospitals and budget-holding practices? Such projects could operate in isolation from the rest of the country and within two or three years we could ascertain whether the proposals will bring the benefit that the Government expect. I hope that, during the passage of the Health Service legislation on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee, the Government will carefully take note of the amendments which are tabled, all of which I hope will improve the Bill and thereby provide a better Health Service.
Our treatment of pre-1973 war widows is grossly unjust. I have campaigned for about 10 years to get them a better pension. These people have given their all in losing their loved ones and having to bring up a family without a father, the head of a family. They deprive themselves of the opportunity of getting work because often they stay at home to look after their children, so they are not able to have an occupational pension, with all the security and spending power that it gives so many people. Last Session, virtually half the House signed an early-day motion supporting the case of the pre-1973 war widows. I hope that in the new Session the House, in its wisdom, will legislate to give justice to the war widows.
The economy is important to all that the Government seek to do in making progress, providing infrastructure, improving education and improving the Health Service. I have long believed that the sole use of interest rates to deal with inflation is counter-productive and inflationary in itself. In the process, it makes our manufacturing industry less competitive and it is a disincentive to investment. What happens if we now destroy further sectors of our manufacturing base? We have to import more goods. What happens if we do that? We exacerbate the balance of trade and further increase our present balance of trade deficit. What happens if there is a bigger balance of trade deficit? It puts pressure on the pound. What happens if 86 there is pressure on the pound? The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately put up interest rates and we are back in the vicious circle.
In his Autumn Statement, my right hon. Friend the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has perhaps heralded his intention to look at other ways of dealing with our problems and to use not only monetary measures but fiscal measures, and 1 warmly welcome that.
§ Mr. Winterton
I refer to indirect taxes. I should not encourage my right hon. Friend to increase direct taxation, but I should counsel him not to reduce direct taxation any further.
The economy is critical not only to the country, but—dare I say it to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench—to the future of the Conservative Government. We have two and a half years in which to get it right. The mere use of interest rates to deal with inflation will not be the answer. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will use fiscal measures as well as monetary measures and will consider whether it is appropriate for the Bank of England to call in deposits from the clearing banks to take some of the hot money out of circulation, failing which—
§ Mr. Winterton
I propose that we should reintroduce capital allowances, which the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer phased out far too early. If we do that, our manufacturing base will expand, our balance of trade deficit will be reduced and we shall once again have a healthy economy. I entirely endorse the views expressed in the past 24 hours by the Confederation of British Industry. Given the chance, British industry can respond and this country can be great again.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to speak on this historic occasion and I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that any agency fees, royalties or copyright money received will go directly to the Speaker's art fund. This is a historic occasion because it is the first day of the televising of the House of Commons and it is, therefore, much more of a tragedy that the Gracious Speech did not match the occasion. The word that leapt to mind when I first read the Gracious Speech was "vacuous", but, on reflection, that word seems far too substantial.
I later listened in amazement, anger and frustration to the Prime Minister's defence of the Gracious Speech and her party's programme for this Session. I listened with frustration at the complacency she still shows in the wake of 10 years of the economic destruction of our manufacturing industry. I listened with anger to her utter refusal still to accept one iota of responsibility for Britain's ills and I listened with amazement when I realised that the Prime Minister and some of her colleagues—apparently not all of them—continue to live in a fairytale world of their own making a million miles distant from my constituency in Lanarkshire.
However, the Prime Minister's speech helped to explain a comment made by one of her erstwhile colleagues a fortnight ago. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) warned the Prime Minister that she was in grave 87 danger of becoming "semi-detached". It was not clear on that occassion whether he was warning the Prime Minister against becoming semi-detached from the Cabinet or from the European Community. After her contribution today, all is clear. He was warning her against becoming semi-detached from reality, and nothing illustrates that semi-detachment from reality better than the Queen's Speech. I must, of course, make it plain that I do not blame Her Majesty the Queen, who had to deliver the speech with a straight face. I do not blame the actor in this role, but we are entitled to call for the author to own up to the mistakes. It reminded me of the playwright who when asked how his play had been received commented that the play was a great success, but the audience was a dismal failure.
For the Prime Minister, the audience is always a dismal failure. If the audience is the Commonwealth, it is out of step. If the audience is the European Community, it is out of step. If it is NATO, it is out of step and if it is the Scottish people, they are out of step. At the next election, the whole of Britain will no doubt be out of step. If we want to find out who is really out of step with reality, we should look at this substantial document—the Queen's Speech.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) drew attention to the great changes that are taking place throughout the world. I entirely agree with him about the need to retain stability in international affairs and arms control, but I should have thought that with the rate and extent of change, especially in eastern Europe, and with the massive initiatives that have been taken—unilaterally on occasions and multilaterally on others—we should have had something more than one line saying:My Government will work for balanced and verifiable measures of arms control.If that is the only line that the Government and Parliament can produce in the face of the enormous and unparalleled opportunities for advances in world peace and nuclear disarmament, this House fails the nation.
Let us consider the words:My Government will continue to … reinforce budgetary discipline; and to carry forward the reform of the common agricultural policy.Anyone who has studied the subject for the past decade will know that we have achieved hardly any—if any—reforms of the common agricultural policy.
The next paragraph continues:My Government will continue … to work for a peaceful solution … in … a settlement in Cambodia.That is possibly the most disgraceful sentence in the whole of the Queen's Speech. Everyone inside and outside Westminster knows that in practice the Government have been offering succour and support to a regime that ranks alongside only the Nazis in the evil it has done and in the holocaust that it has inflicted on the people of Cambodia.
The Government pledge themselves tomaintain a substantial aid programmeto the Third world. The reality is that they have halved the aid programme to the Third world. They commit themselves to pursuingfirm financial policies designed to reduce inflation".Under the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, they doubled inflation. They commit themselves topursue their policies for reducing crime".In reality, they have doubled crime in 10 years.
88 They commit themselves toprovide for a wider choice of broadcast services".They could have been more forthright and they could have said that in the world of broadcasting profits would be put before standards. I know that the Prime Minister told us today that quality will be ensured by rigorous monitoring. Monitoring can mean anything. I have pointed out in the House before that I was unfortunate enough to see a Scottish goalkeeper called Haffey monitor the ball going into his own net nine times at Wembley. The problem was that he did not do anything to stop it going into the net. If we are to have such monitoring, the Prime Minister's promise that quality will be the watchword in the independent, profit-seeking broadcasting corporations will go for nothing. "Coronation Street" will not be replaced by "Quality Street" when they privatise the whole of the broadcasting industry. It is the first step towards skid row for standards in British broadcasting.
Perhaps the most weasel words of the lot were:A Bill will be introduced to supplement students' grants with loans.The word "supplement" is not a printing error. In all honesty if words mean anything, the words used should have been, "substitute student grants with loans". As inflation increases, the real value of the grant will be eroded and for it will be substituted loans—which the banks do not want, the students and their families do not want and the country does not want. The only person who seems to want it is the Prime Minister, who has as her mentor in another place Lord Joseph, one of the great minds of the 17th century who appears still to exert a tremendous influence on the Government's education policies.
Finally, the Government say:A Bill will be brought forward to improve the National Health Service".As another lady who wielded enormous power without responsibility said two decades ago, "They would, wouldn't they?" No one inside or outside the House actually believes that the Prime Minister's aim is to improve the National Health Service; it is rather to undermine the National Health Service.
Just as important as what was in the Queen's Speech is what was not in it—the dogs that did not bark in the night. There was nothing about investment, infrastructure, skills or training. We heard the same old rhetoric and the same old remedies from the same old Prime Minister. Nowhere are those remedies more painful and unpalatable than in my constituency of Motherwell, North and in Scotland generally. Remedies designed to cool down an overheated economy in the south-east of England are unpalatable enough in the south-east of England. When imposed upon what is, at best, a lukewarm economy that has just come out of the last recession, they are not only unpalatable but excruciatingly painful.
Much of the industry in my constituency and throughout Scotland has been devastated over the past 10 years. That is why the Prime Minister is willing to talk about almost anything except the Scottish economy when she comes to Scotland. She came to Glasgow and gave us a lecture on Adam Smith and political economy. She came to Edinburgh and gave us a sermon on the mount, preaching from the Bible. When she came to Perth she made one of her most bizarre political contributions ever, which I have drawn to hon. Members' attention as a matter of civic duty because it does not reflect on the Prime 89 Minister's political judgment alone. She came to Perth and gave us a great history of that well known Scottish folk hero, Julius Caesar. She said—I kid the House not—If Julius Caesar were to land on our shores today, he would have no hesitation in saying 'I came, I saw, I invested."'That could not have been produced by a speechwriter. Any speechwriter who was on the books and being paid would have been hard pushed to think that up, but it is what the Prime Minister said in Scotland. If Julius Caesar were alive today, he could not possibly be a director of the Caterpillar corporation, which disappeared from Scotland with the investment. He would certainly not be the investment manager of the Wang corporation, who has just gone to Ireland, and he would certainly not be the strategic investment manager of British Steel, because if one industry has had its investment undermined in the past 10 years it is the steel industry.
We in Scotland are not asking for more than our fair share. We were promised a fair deal under privatisation and we have not had a fair deal. On Monday next week the representative of the Clydesdale tubeworks will be here. Over the past two years the works has increased productivity, decreased customer complaints, reduced delivery dates and improved quality. The thanks for that has been a blank refusal by British Steel management to invest the necessary money in mills to allow us to compete with the Japanese and maintain markets in the North sea. That is not so much a slap in the face as a stab in the back for the Scottish industry and Scottish steelworkers. That is the way in which effort is rewarded in the Prime Minister's brave new Britain.
It is not only industry in Scotland that has been thanked in that manner but people in Scotland and throughout Britain. Let me give an example from my constituency—possibly the most moving example that I have come across since I became a Member of Parliament, and certainly an illustrative one. It concerns a constituent of over 80 years of age who is suffering from pneumoconiosis. That is not a disease which one gets through an idle life, or the sign of a childhood wasted in a billiards hall. It is the product of many years spent in the bowels of the earth producing coal for the benefit and profit of others.
My constituent also served during the second world war. When the war came along, he did not ask what his country could do for him or even what he could do for his country; he merely went out and did it. At the age of 84, that man had his housing benefit reduced by £16 a week and had imposed upon him a poll tax that he could not have afforded to pay even had his housing benefit remained at its previous level. That is how people are thanked in the Prime Minister's brave new Britain.
In the midst of this economic and social decline, what have we heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Has he been fighting his corner, like the Secretary of State for Wales? The answer is no. He has been too busy fighting not Scotland's corner but Scotland's handicap, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the real power base of the Conservative party in Scotland—who insists on imposing on the people of Scotland a dream that is alien to all their culture and all their values. I have a message for Conservative Members—especially those who do not understand the political situation in Scotland. The people of my country do not share the dream of the Under-Secretary. To them it is not a dream; for millions of 90 them it is a nightmare. That nightmare is now beginning to dawn on people in other areas of the country, including the south-east. I look forward to a Gracious Speech two or three years hence in which the Labour party can begin to lift for the first time the darkness—of this long decade—not only from Scotland but from Britain as a whole.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said in his opening remarks, this is a momentous day for Parliament. As one of the Conservative Members who voted for the televising of Parliament to give us a wider audience and to invite viewers into the Chamber, I welcome the opportunity to take part in our first televised debate. I hope that the public will see through some of the noise and realise that, although we may not always agree and there is great emotion in our argument, we are, on the whole, good-natured.
I wish to respond to two of the points made during the debate, to which 1 have been listening since 2.30 pm. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about war widows and support wholeheartedly his campaign for the better treatment of pre-1973 war widows. He has argued eloquently the case for such a measure, and I shall support him in pressing the case with the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear to the Government that we want equal treatment for war widows.
We have heard three very moving speeches from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. They referred to the dreadful terror inflicted on the Province and on our armed forces and their families. There are several military establishments in my constituency and people have been expressing grave concern about security arrangements. I call on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to review the security of all British bases, including those on the mainland, and the protection that we afford the families of our soldiers. That is a matter of grave concern to them and to all of us.
The common theme running through the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Gracious Speech is one of consumer interest. There are five key issues in which the Government are putting the interests of the consumer at the centre of the stage. There are Bills about broadcasting, legal reform, the Health Service, food safety and environmental protection.
It is right that we should put the consumer at the centre of the stage. We are responding to consumer concerns. The Leader of the Opposition, supported almost word for word by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), tried very hard to suggest that Britain's economy is in worse shape now than it was in 1979. People in Britain know that that is not true. There may be problems which remain to be tackled, and they were realistically outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement last week. The British people know that progress has been made.
We have heard selective references to the CBI debate yesterday. I attended that debate, and I urge those who are unsure of the CBI's view of the state of the economy to read carefully the keynote speech made by the director general of the CBI, John Banham, who made it absolutely 91 clear that there is no need for us to talk ourselves into a recession. At the same time, he made it clear that the CBI has some differences with Government policy. However, his message was perfectly clear with regard to the underlying strength of the economy, the prosperity of the nation and the amount of industrial investment that we have seen over the past few years.
When we consider consumer interests, we should not be surprised at the increased prosperity that we can see all around us. I listened very carefully to speeches made by hon. Members from Yorkshire and from Scotland. I recognise that there are problems in our inner cities and that regeneration is needed in some of our industrial areas. Reference is made to that in the Gracious Speech. Generally speaking, most people recognise that there is increased prosperity which we must guard. As a result of that prosperity, people are considering quality of life issues.
The Government are responding to concerns about standards of decency and taste and about sex and violence and particularly about bad language in broadcasting. That is why we need a broadcasting standards council. The Government want to maintain the quality of existing channels in a more competitive environment of commercial and multi-channel television.
Some legal reforms are long overdue to improve the accessibility of the legal system especially in civil matters. It has been far too costly and cumbersome for many people to take civil action. Improving access and more speedy settlement of court cases is necessary and can be achieved without undermining justice or sound judgment.
During the lifetime of this Parliament, the Government have responded to patient and public demand for even higher standards of patient care. We want better amenities, shorter waiting lists, less inconvenience and wider choice. The White Paper on community care was published last week, and we have the opportunity to offer elderly people the greater dignity of spending more of the life that remains to them in their own homes. The Government's commitment to the NHS is foursquare. There can be no doubt about that when we consider the massive injection of additional money promised by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. That is the strength of the Government's commitment to the Health Service.
We have been able to respond generously to the NHS and we have also been able to reduce the debt with which this country has been saddled for many years especially when the Labour party was last in government. That reduction speaks volumes for our sound fiscal judgment in dealing with the economy and the public purse. The increased money that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last week for the Health Service and education equates roughly to the amount of money that we have saved in national debt interest, proving that under our stewardship we can make resources available to deal with the problems with which the people want us to deal.
The food Bill must surely be a direct consequence of concern among consumers and genuine producers for higher standards of food safety and hygiene. People have a right to know what they are buying and eating. The Bill will present opportunities to root out unscrupulous producers and to promote British food production. They will be two major benefits of the measure.
92 There is public anxiety about the future of our environment, both domestically and internationally. That anxiety is influencing consumer judgment about the nature of our way of life, particularly our motoring habits, the petrol we use, and the exhaust emission controls which we fix to our vehicles.
We must be environmentally sensitive and we must consider how to deal with the by-products of industrial waste. Consumers are demanding proper waste disposal and the recycling of waste. They can see the problems. The environmental protection Bill will present a tremendous opportunity to deal with waste problems. Consumers will demand that suppliers of goods and services consider that matter. There is an opportunity to strengthen public confidence by greater public access to the details of pollution control. Consumer concern for green issues is proving to be the engine of change. With all those measures, the Government's response is clear and incisive.
Critics of the Government's consumer interest philosophy suggest that the Government rely too heavily on market forces—that is, that the market is king. That is not the case. In the forthcoming measures there will be considerable regulation to protect consumer interests while widening consumer choice. The key to success is in balancing those factors. For example, the Government's decision to protect the Channel 4 remit demonstrates a determination to protect quality and minority interests in television. Nevertheless, hon. Members will agree that the Government must listen carefully to those who have expressed genuine concern that the objective of greater consumer choice is not undermined by fragmentation or reduced opportunities.
Viewers will not feel that choice is widened if a break up of the Channel 3 network leads to a loss of popular programmes. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North referred to "Coronation Street". I do not envisage that televising the proceedings of the House of Commons will prove to be an alternative to "Coronation Street", no matter how much some hon. Members try to make a soap opera of our proceedings.
We must take care not to disturb the fabric of the legal profession to the extent that the availability of independent professional advice might be lost, such as might occur in market towns in our rural areas. In particular, when widening conveyancing opportunities, we must recognise that there are potential conflicts of interest and that estate agents or building societies should not act for both sides in a property transaction.
Health Service reforms must not lead to a loss of key services. Some people have said that the public are opposed to the Government's plans for the Health Service. Rather the public oppose the misrepresentation of the Government's intentions. When we consider supervision by local authority agencies, we must be careful to ensure that there is a level playing field and that the private and voluntary sectors will not be decreased as a result of public sector provision by local authorities. There must be fairness in supervision and inspection.
Food and product labelling must be honest if the public and consumer are to have confidence in it and if that confidence is not be undermined by false and misleading claims. In addition, I ask the Government not to include too much bureaucracy in the food protection Bill. The consumer can be trusted. Hon. Members may recall our arguments earlier this year with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the future of green 93 top milk. Thankfully, we won that argument. We can trust the consumer, but the labelling must be accurate and honest. Doubtful or even spurious claims about environmental protection or food safety must never be allowed to become barriers to free trade or fair competition. Scientific advice is essential and it is therefore right to put the interests of the consumer first.
We must have a balance in this and those who will understandably want to express their point of view on the Government would perhaps do well to put consumer interest before self-interest when pressing their arguments. As Conservative Back-Bench Members look at suggestions for improving these Bills, we would do well to judge what is said about our measures on those lines.
I appreciate that time is pressing, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall refer only briefly to three other points. First, part of the Queen's Speech refers to the war against drug trafficking and drug abuse. Hon. Members who serve on the Select Committee on Home Affairs have spent a great deal of time this year considering the drug problem both in north America and in this country. We shall shortly publish our major report on this matter to the House.
In my judgment, in our fight against crime there is no greater prize than that which would be gained by successfully tackling the problem and scourge of drug abuse. Those who suggest that we should legalise drug abuse must never be allowed to win their argument. I am sure that the House will return to this issue again. Although it is not a matter for legislation, I greatly support the rapid response that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made in his previous capacity as Home Secretary in answer to some of our representations.
Although they may have nothing to do with the legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, two issues will dominate Parliament's proceedings in the months ahead—the economy and Europe. I do not think that many of us have the experience to suggest the time at which we should enter the exchange rate mechanism and on what terms. We all recognise that the Prime Minister is right to say that, when the terms are right, we will go in. I have listened to several debates in the House on this matter, which has been referred to again today, and no one seems to want to say precisely what the exchange rate should be. To those who advance monetary union and who want a speedy solution, I point out that for some years we as a Government have been arguing for the dismantling of the green currencies, which cause considerable concern to our farmers and to agriculture. The very people who are now saying that they want to speed up things have significantly dragged their feet over many arguments about the green currencies.
If there is to be some change in the rapidity of our progress towards European monetary union, let those advocating such progress advance it. The green currencies will be dismantled by 1992, but why wait until 1992? The green pound in our sheepmeat industry is 15 per cent. right now, which is of great concern to the sheep producers in my constituency.
I strongly believe that interest rates have gone up far enough to enable us to deal with the inflationary process. I very much hope that the next move on interest rates will be downwards.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) began by referring to the plight of the war widows. Labour Members support any campaign to improve the pensions of those unfortunate widows. We should like Conservative Members to insist that the Government provide time to discuss that matter and, when those discussions cease, we should like them to join us in the Lobby to ensure that the Government carry out the philosophy that they have propounded today. I hope that the hon. Member for Ryedale will put pressure on his colleagues to provide time to discuss the matter and to join us in the Lobbies.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the television presentation of these proceedings, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay). My hon. Friend also raised the question of pensioners' television licences. Opposition Members have pressed for concessions for all pensioners, but the Government have withdrawn support to pensioners who are in receipt of concessionary television licences. I hope that the Government will examine the matter and reinstate concessionary television licences. They should also examine energy standing charges for old people, which is a further problem affecting a substantial number of old people.
The time restriction makes it difficult to speak about all the issues raised in the Gracious Speech. I particularly wished to comment on the broadcasting proposals. We must ensure that the quality of regional services is maintained and that radio and television programmes a re improved.
I should have liked to dwell on the National Health Service Bill and scientific developments in human fertilisation and embryology but, as I am restricted, I shall address my remarks to the mining industry, which will face serious problems if the Government do not take action in the proposed legislation to prevent a dramatic drop in output from deep mines. A secret document leaked to Parliament suggests that privatisation of the electricity generating industry will lead to 18,000 job losses. There would be a further 12,000 job losses, making a total of 30,000, if the Government's programme is allowed to continue in its present form. We shall oppose and fight any legislation that speeds up colliery closures. The leaked document says that the consequences of the Government's programme could be "utterly devastating".
Selby coalfield has particular problems. One of its main problems is industrial relations. A further Bill to curtail trade union powers will not ease industrial problems in Selby where morale among the workers is low. The Secretary of State for Energy must give the Selby coalfield special consideration. Events in that coalfield have repercussions on other communities. My constituency is greatly affected. There used to be no dirt to be disposed of from Selby coalfield, but because of mismanagement there is now 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes of dirt a year. Instead of being disposed of in north Yorkshire where the collieries are, it will be disposed of in my constituency. The dirt will fill two miles of the River Calder in my constituency. That is causing anxiety in my area. If, as Tory Ministers claim, green issues are a priority and the preservation of rivers, humans and wildlife is important, to kill 2 miles of river is 95 alien to that philosophy. I urge Tory Members to think carefully about the issue. It is creating great problems in my constituency.
The Minister responsible for land reclamation visited my constituency in October. His visit was given publicity and he made certain statements. Three weeks ago I wrote to him and asked him to meet me to discuss what he has observed throughout Wakefield, particularly in my constituency. I am still waiting for a reply. When he was responsible for water meters he promised to meet me to discuss the problems my constituents faced as a result of compulsory water metering. The meeting never took place. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will not shy away from meeting a Member of Parliament whose constituency is affected by an issue for which that Minister has direct reponsibility. I hope that he will give me an audience, but if he does not I shall raise the matter on the Floor of the House. I am sure that it will be in order for me to do so, if the Minister is not prepared to discuss the matter with me.
There should be an inquiry into the disposal of dirt from Selby coalfield for the next 25 or 30 years. West Yorkshire is already blighted by old coalfields and it appears that we shall continue to have colliery blight as dirt is moved from Tory-controlled north Yorkshire into Normanton.
We have heard a great deal from the Prime Minister and Tory Members about how much must be done to secure progress and improvements in inner-city areas. We have read that the Government intend to introduce legislation to help them. I hope that more resources will be channelled into inner-city areas and that the Secretary of State for the Environment will not transfer resources from rural areas to urban areas, as has happened so often under this Tory Government. When help is promised it is invariably at the expense of some other part. I hope that resources will be produced and assistance given where it is needed.
Problems associated with community services, housing and health occur in rural as well as inner-city areas. The only way in which the people of those rural communities can be helped is by the application of additional resources. I hope that the Government will do that and that they will give genuine rather than pious promises to improve services.
I draw the attention of Conservative Members to the problems associated with the sale of the Crown Suppliers and the Property Services Agency. We must consider security when we consider privatising those establishments. I am reminded of what happened to the Canadian Government when their budget provisions were printed by private enterprise because their equivalent of the Crown Suppliers had been sold. Following the publication of the budget proposals a leak occurred before Parliament had met to discuss them. The whole thing was a shambles. I hope that the Government will note what happened in other countries when similar organisations to the Crown Suppliers and PSA were privatised. Security is important and the Government must pay regard to it when considering such privatisations.
I have referred to three issues. The first was the mining industry, with particular reference to Selby coalfield and the problems caused to nearby communities. People who 96 went with all sincerity to work in that coalfield are now coming back to communities in search of rented accommodation, but it is not there. Problems are arising in the towns near the Selby coalfield to do with not only housing, but community services and health care provision. I also drew attention to the resourcing of the inner-city and rural areas. My final point related to the sale of the Crown Suppliers and the PSA. I hope that Conservative Members will take serious note of those issues.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), whose qualities I got to know during the Committee proceedings on the water privatisation Bill. I share particularly his concern for mining areas where pits are shut and services are needed. I honour his commitment to that industry.
Today's most Gracious Speech had one lack that seemed to be filled almost automatically from the Tory Benches—many other things are filled automatically from the Tory Benches. There was no mention of the ordination of women. At times today I felt I was surrounded by candidates for women bishops: many of us were wearing scarlet. There were at least two candidates for Catholic bishops, wearing a pinky version of scarlet. I felt that one hon. Lady wanted to be the first female cardinal as she was wearing a glorious red and black hat. At least three people were rooting to be the first Protestant bishop. I do not have that particular desire. I may be wearing hunting pink, but I am hunting a different sort of target. I am hunting not the snark, but the nanosecond.
My desire is to make the Cabinet computer literate so that it will be calculating in hexadecimal. My latest slogan must be, "The better Budget is in binary". We have one large significant gap in an otherwise perfect Gracious Speech. We have no Bill to outlaw computer hacking, computer viruses and computer eavesdropping. I cannot let this most important day pass without drawing the attention of the House to the urgent necessity for that crucial legislation.
This might be a subject to which, for once, we could address our intellects without significant party differences because it affects us all, whether we are talking about great international interests, as some hon. Members have done during the debate, whether we are addressing national interests, or whether we are talking, as many hon. Members have done, about our constituency interests.
I begin with the last aspect, which must be our fundamental reason for being here—looking after the interests of our constituents. In that context, a number of worrying factors emerge as the Government rightly move ahead rapidly with the computerisation of services to the electorate. The Government are, properly from the nation's point of view, computerising 22 million social security records. They will be on line with local staff looking after local people's computerised social security records.
We are moving ahead extremely rapidly with an even larger concept, and that is computerising the National Health Service. Much has been made today of improvements to the NHS. The Government propose 97 steps which they believe will make the service better, while the Opposition believe that those steps will not improve matters.
One aspect of that issue is constant to all parts of the House, an aspect that may not have come to the notice of some hon. Members. Soon all our constituents' health records will he on computer. The vulnerability of people is readily seen when one thinks how crucial are people's health records.
Tomorrow I shall go in a small and modest delegation to see the Prime Minister about the plight of haemophiliac AIDS victims. If one's health record is on computer, the knowledge that one has AIDS can be available without one wishing it to be available to people who might wish one harm. In France AIDS victims have had that knowledge acquired without their wish and have been blackmailed. The great problem with AIDS is that it demolishes not just one's ability to earn, but all the normal financial props of life such as insurance for health and housing.
Having considered the constituency interest that hon. Members should have with the coming computerisation of services, let us consider the matter in terms of the national interest, where there are questions of secrecy and confidentiality affecting not only individuals but companies and financial institutions.
In the City of London, the entire money market could be paralysed in about 20 minutes by a determined computer hacker. That shows how this afternoon's complaints about the so-called dearth in manufacturing industry pale into insignificance compared with the way in which our largest earner, the City of London, could be under such a threat. Yet we have no legislation to which companies can turn when under attack in such ways.
Internationally, it is a crucial topic. Hon. Members will appreciate how it affects the security of the nation and NATO. Over a period of 18 months, three West German hackers penetrated 25,000 NATO computers, including some in the United Kingdom, and the perpetrators sold those secrets to people who are not our allies.
I paint that scenario rapidly, as other hon. Members wish to speak. The English Law Commission followed the honourable route of the Scottish Law Commission and published an outstandingly good report in October this year which recommended to the Government that they should outlaw hacking and the planting of viruses. It did not go as far as I would have wished because it failed to recommend that electronic eavesdropping—that dreadful modern evil—should also be outlawed. It failed to offer a strengthening of police powers or to propose that the submission of computer evidence in court would be necessary to make the proposed legislation stick.
Even as the Law Commission's report stands, its recommendations are first class and would provide a framework which would at least enable companies and individuals to turn to the law if the integrity of their computer systems—which now hold 8 per cent. of the world's international knowledge—had been attacked, subverted or in any other way put at risk.
I urge the Government to look again at this gaping void in our protective legislation and to make good the deficiency in an otherwise perfect Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Apart from the last few words of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), we can agree with the general sentiments of her remarks. The Queen's Speech will undoubtedly provide a bitterly disappointing year for many people in this country. It will prove so for British industry and those employed in it. It will also be a year of misery for mortgage payers because there is no prospect that the high interest rates will be brought down soon.
A number of Conservative Members rightly referred to the balance of payments deficit. The main headline in tonight's Evening Standard said that there would be no tax cuts in next year's Budget. I think that we can take that for granted; the question is whether there will be a few tax bribes in the Budget before the next general election. There is undoubtedly in the country an anti-Government and anti-Tory feeling. I believe that this feeling will grow and consolidate in the period leading up to the next general election.
There was a reference in the Gracious Speech to legislation to control pollution and waste. My borough, Walsall, has suffered enough from the processing of toxic wastes, and residents feel strongly that the borough and the west midlands generally should not be the dumping ground for such waste. We shall expect comprehensive and tight legislation to give local authorities the powers to deal with firms such as Leigh Interests which has plagued my borough. It will be interesting to see whether the proposed legislation will be strong and comprehensive enough to deal with the toxic waste problems faced in so many parts of the country.
The Queen's Speech made no mention of those people needing adequate rented accommodation. I shall make again the point that I have made before, and I make no apologies for doing so: there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who desperately require rented accommodation. Certainly, on their income and with the high interest rates they have no chance of buying. Even when interest rates were lower they were the sort of people who could not afford to buy. There is no reason why they should be forced into taking out a mortgage. This is why there are more homeless people than ever before in the post-war years and why there will be more families homeless and in bed-and-breakfast hostels this coming Christmas than in any period since 1945.
All that was offered in the Autumn Statement was that, as a result of certain measures, over two or three years, 15,000 new dwellings will be built by housing associations. That is a drop in the ocean. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) was right when he mentioned in his intervention during the Autumn Statement that what is required is the ability for local authorities to build. They were allowed to do so over many years, including the pre-war years, let alone the post-war years, under successive Administrations. No council dwellings have gone up in my own borough for 10 years, and the same is true unfortunately for many parts of the country.
Am I not right in saying that most of the constituents who come to see us and write to us raise housing problems? The Government put forward no remedy, but constantly boast about the number of rented dwellings that have been sold off. What about building council dwellings to replace those?
99 There is a reference to hospitals and I say again that if there is to be any opting out, which I strenuously oppose, there should be balloting. That is necessary before schools can opt out and before council houses can go into housing action areas. The Opposition fought for that, but the Government refused to accept our argument. An amendment was passed in another place and the Government finally gave in. If balloting is right for schools and housing, why should it not be right for hospitals? The main hospital in my borough, the Manor hospital, which has recently been extended, is on the list for opting out. There should be a ballot and local people should be allowed to decide. The medical and non-medical staff in the hospital should also be allowed to have a say. I am willing to abide by the decision because I am a democrat.
There is, of course, a simple reason for the Government's refusal to allow a ballot. It is that they would lose overwhelmingly. I have not received a single letter in favour of opting out, but I have received many letters opposed to the Government's proposals to make hospitals self-governing, as it is described. The British Medical Association and the joint consultants committee have argued strenuously against opting out and have put forward reasoned arguments. It is a pity that the Government will not listen.
Turning to international matters, I am certainly pleased about the changes that are taking place in eastern Europe and I am glad that Stalinist rule has come to an end in East Germany. I am also immensely proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated last week and again last night in Czechoslovakia. It takes great courage to demonstrate in a dictatorship and the people in Czechoslovakia made it clear that they want in their country the sort of changes that have now taken place in East Germany and in Bulgaria.
I was proud to take part in the debate in the House after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, although I was not proud of the event that prompted the debate. The House was called back in August 1968. I was one of those on the Labour Benches who deplored what had happened and I said that the Soviet Union had no right whatever to intervene by force in the internal affairs of another country. I praised what Alexander Dubček had tried to achieve in the seven months before Russian troops entered Czechoslovakia on the infamous night of 20–21 August 1968. The Russians now concede, I understand, that that action was wrong. We described it at the time as a criminal action. The present Czech leaders have no legitimacy because they are the collaborators of 1968. I hope that the struggle by the ordinary people in Czechoslovakia for elementary rights, the sort of rights that are enjoyed in democracies, will be successful. It is rather ironic that Stalinists who always spoke about "the masses" are now finding in eastern Europe that it is the masses who say that they want to enjoy basic freedoms.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says. Will he acknowledge that in countries such as the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia problems such as homelessness and poverty that seem to be endemic and inherent in our capitalist society have largely been eliminated? My hon. Friend should not enjoy 100 too enthusiastically the cacophony of attack that is now being made on countries such as the German Democratic Republic.
§ Mr. Winnick
If my hon. Friend is saying that there have been some positive gains in housing and social security in those countries he is probably right. What has not been achieved, as I am sure my hon. Friend would be the first to concede, are elementary political rights. People want to live in freedom. Fortunately, the demonstrators in East Germany succeeded in what they set out to achieve and after last week's demonstrations in Bulgaria we have now had the demonstrations in Czechoslovakia.
The Opposition's commitment to democratic freedom and liberties is total and consistent, as my hon. Friend knows. We are not hypocrites. Unfortunately, Conservative Members, including the Prime Minister, seem to be blind to the dictatorships that exist in various other parts of the globe, such as South Africa and Chile. I have not heard many protests, if any, about the death squad actions which resulted in the murder of six priests in El Salvador. Those death squads were undoubtedly organised by that country's Government.
The Opposition are concerned with basic freedoms, and if it is right for us in western Europe to have parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, it is also right for the people of eastern Europe. But it is also right for the people of El Salvador and Chile. Let us not forget that when a coup took place in Chile in 1973 against the elected Left-wing Government there, some Conservative Members not only approved of what happened but argued that it was necessary in the circumstances. Therefore, we do not need lectures from Tory Members when it comes to civil liberties.
I spoke about Czechoslovakia in 1968. I was involved at that time in the protests against the way in which the junta took power and ruled Greece. Some Conservative Members found excuses at the time for what the colonels did in Greece. As I have said, our commitment to freedom and civil liberties is total and consistent, and that applies to South Africa as well.
I want to conclude, as I began, by saying that this will be a disappointing Queen's Speech for so many of our people. High interest rates and other measures being taken by the Government undoubtedly mean that unemployment will grow again. The homeless will have no remedy and many more people, including families, will live in squalid conditions in bed and breakfast hostels, or a few yards up the road in the open or, like so many of our constituents, have to live with their in-laws or their parents having been told by the local authority that they will have to wait literally years before they stand any chance of being rehoused with their spouse.
Far too many of our peoples will continue to live in poverty and near poverty, and we know only too well the difficulties faced by so many pensioners as a result of the Government's actions over the past 10 years. This is a Government dedicated to the interests of the rich and the prosperous, and they deserve to be defeated at the first opportunity, at the next general election.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
The most Gracious Speech contains proposals which will take us through the next decade to the year 2000. It was very much a speech looking to the future. What a stark contrast was the speech 101 of the Leader of the Opposition, who was clearly living in the past. Many speeches made this afternoon by Opposition Members have been full of gloom and doom. I am hard put to find one Opposition Member who had a good word to say for any of the proposals in the Queen's Speech. What a negative attitude that is. Moreover, Opposition Members have personalised the debate and focused their attention and their obsession on one person—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
How much longer will the Opposition be able to get away with not putting forward any positive policies? We have heard about their policy reviews. All the various departments have reviewed their policies. When shall we hear what their policies are?
The Leader of the Opposition intervened during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make some reference to wanting to spend more money on this and that, and one of my hon. Friends asked whether that meant that the Opposition's policy was to raise taxes. As Socialists, you should he proud to say that, but to continue without articulating your policies is a fraud on the general public. You have got away with it for two and a half years—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman would speak through the Chair.
§ Mr. Amess
The Opposition should be much clearer about their policies than they have been so far. I do not believe that the general public will allow them to get away for much longer with their reluctance to articulate precisely what their policies are.
The one thing that has marred a splendid occasion today has been the televising of our proceedings. I regard this place as the Mother of Parliaments and I feel that after today things will never be the same. We have not entirely been ourselves today. In many respects, we have behaved in a way that we think will please our constituents, who may see us on television. We are engaged in a serious business. We were not sent here to entertain the general public, yet we have succumbed to the vanity of the television screen. I very much regret that, and if in six months' time we are given the opportunity to vote for the continuous televising of our proceedings, I hope that we shall vote against it.
I was particularly astonished by the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition about reforms in eastern Europe. The right hon. Gentleman seemed intent on rewriting history. It really is a bit rich for a supporter of CND to lecture us on what we should do next. Had we followed his policies, we should not be embarking on the momentous events that are taking place in Europe. It is crass hypocrisy for Opposition Members to pretend that their lack of a defence policy would have got us to this point. It is a bit much, too, for the Leader of the Oposition to give advice to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Throughout the world, people are rejecting Communism and Socialism. I very much hope that the British people will continue to reject Socialism as espoused by the Labour party.
I was delighted to learn from the Gracious Speech that a Bill is to be introduced to improve the National Health Service and the management of community care. Basildon and Thurrock health authority has already put forward our hospital for consideration as a self-governing trust. 102 Basildon and Thurrock health authority is willing to work within the Government's proposals on the Griffiths report. The way in which the Opposition and the BMA have misrepresented our proposals is an absolute disgrace. I should have hoped that there would be common agreement in the House that it was sensible for consultants to deal with their patients through proper appointments, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon. I had hoped for more constructive opposition from the Labour party than the nonsense that we have heard today.
Above all, what has given me most pleasure is the reference in the Gracious Speech to abortion and embryo research. There is not much point in being a Member of Parliament if one is not concerned about life. We all recognise that life is the most fundamental and important thing. If it is not, why on earth are we spending time discussing legislation which is supposed to improve the lot of the British public? Since 1968 something like 3 million babies have been aborted. I recognise that I take an absolute view of these matters. I believe that life begins at conception, but I am realistic enough to recognise that the majority of hon. Members do not share that view. It is nonsense to hear hon. Members speaking of special baby care units in their constituencies being under threat. How can it be right for abortions to be carried out up to 28 weeks, when in each hospital in our constituencies special units are trying to keep babies alive at 23 or 24 weeks? That surely must be nonsense. I hope that there will be a free vote on the issue. It will be a disgrace if a political party puts pressure on its members to follow a Whip. I hope that there will be a free vote on this issue of conscience among the political parties.
I am glad that the Government have chosen this Session to honour their pledge to introduce a Warnock-style Bill, with alternative clauses on embryo research—one allowing the use of human embryos as guinea pigs for up to 14 days and the other outlawing such practices altogether—on which we shall be allowed a free vote. When the Powell Bill was introduced, I well remember Professor Jerome Lejeune arousing the fury of the pro-experimentation lobby by telling parliamentarians that current developments in medical research suggested advances into the research of genetic diseases which would not involve the use of human embryos. I shall vote against any experiments on human embryos. I applaud much of the work of scientists, but I do not trust them to stick to the law for experimentation up to 14 days. I defy any hon. Member to come up with a plausible scheme to police such experimentation.
Much concern has been expressed about environmental matters. People are concerned about the ozone layer, the Amazon rain forests, lead-free petrol and many other matters, but whenever the words "litter, graffiti and vandalism" are mentioned, their eyes just go up into their heads. The state can do something about the ozone layer and the other matters that I mentioned, but it is within the power of each of us to do something about litter, which is a disgrace in this country. People regard it as a joke, but I think that litter is a disgrace.
§ Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)
Will the hon. Gentleman say what has happened to Mr. Richard Branson, whom the Prime Minister introduced amid some publicity some time ago to deal with the litter problem? What became of that initiative?
§ Mr. Amess
I understand that he is doing an excellent job throughout the country and that work is still being done on the project.
I commend to the House a campaign that we are running locally called "I love Basildon". Its aim is to state that we are building a fine town and that we wish to keep it that way. Recently, a number of Opposition spokesmen have visited my constituency. They seemed to regard Socialist-controlled Basildon district council as some symbol of virtue for their party. I give them a general warning that in future they should be briefed before they arrive in Basildon. Only last week, the shadow Leader of the House, whom I much admire, opened our new civic centre. He was not briefed that the civic centre cost £18 million, and that we did not have any money to pay for it. He was not briefed that, on the very day it opened, it could not house 350 members of staff. He was not briefed that we have opened a civic centre which does not contain a council chamber. In future, councillors will meet not in a council chamber but on a stage in a theatre.
The shadow spokesman on housing recently met one of my local councillors and was presented with a number of petitions about the transfer of housing from the Commission for the New Towns to the local authority. He had not been briefed—
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.