§ Mr. Speaker
No fewer than 34 right hon. and hon. Members have applied to speak in the debate. A large number of them are new Members. I will do my best to accommodate as many as possible, but this will depend upon the brevity of the speeches. I have no authority to limit speeches to 10 minutes, but it would be extremely helpful and courteous to new Members if that could happen today.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you selected for debate the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and five other Members who represent the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru? Will there be an opportunity to vote on the amendment tonight or at a later stage during the debate on the Queen's Speech?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows that amendments are not called until the final two days of the Queen's Speech debate. The matter does not arise today.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I am very pleased that at this early opportunity in the new Parliament we will have a full debate today on subjects to which Her Majesty's Opposition wish to draw attention. The fact that within the countries of the United Kingdom and the various regions of England there are various differences is not something that should be a matter of regret, because it is part of the history of our country that these are differences that can be tolerated within the state that is the United Kingdom. The fact that Scotland, incorporated voluntarily within the United Kingdom for over 250 years, has maintained its own national identity during that period is evidence of the basic diversity with which the United Kingdom can be properly associated.
I am aware that the Opposition, in choosing the topic, wish to draw attention to the economic differences that exist and the extent to which they think those differences have been aggravated over the past eight years. However, I think they will appreciate that economic differences within the United Kingdom are not a new phenomenon; they go back to the industrial revolution and the fact that 263 certain parts of England, the west of Scotland and south Wales were at the forefront of the industrial revolution when that social and economic transformation took place. The whole history of the past 60 years has involved the consequences of that industrial revolution and the need to assist the transition that the United Kingdom as a whole has been going through over that period.
Since the 1930s every British Government, including the present Administration, have recognised the need to assist those parts of the country going through that period of economic transition by a regional policy that played, and continues to play, an important and significant part in assisting the economies of substantial parts of England, Scotland and Wales.
The major feature to which Her Majesty's Opposition wish to draw attention is the differential levels of unemployment within the various parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way at this early stage. During the course of his remarks will he be bringing out other differentials between Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom—for example, the higher expenditure per capita on the Health Service in Scotland; the great benefits which have flowed to Scotland under the Government in various methods of regional aid; and the desire that we all have that not only Scotland but other regions of the country should continue to benefit in the next four or five years from the sort of policies that the Government have pursued throughout the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend has simply repeated what I have already emphasised. Under successive Governments various parts of England, Scotland and Wales have received, and continue to receive, special recognition of their distinctive needs, as I believe is right and proper.
The Opposition wish to draw attention to the differential levels of unemployment, but those differentials have existed for many years, and the Labour party and Labour Governments have been conspicuously unsuccessful in resolving them. To date, no Labour Government have left office without leaving more unemployment than when they came to office. [Interruption.] The Opposition may not like that, but it is true. If we are concerned about the very high levels of unemployment that we are presently experiencing, it is fair to point out that the process of mounting unemployment did not suddenly begin in 1979. It began in 1974, leading to a doubling of unemployment under the Labour Government and a subsequent further doubling under the present Administration. In the past year, however, we have begun to see the reverse of that process for the first time in a good many years. I believe that the whole House will welcome that.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Perhaps he will allow me to continue.
We are experiencing an almost unique combination of falling inflation, falling interest rates, a healthy currency and substantially falling unemployment throughout the United Kingdom. As the House is well aware, in Scotland in the past 16 weeks alone unemployment has fallen by 264 more than 34,000. After the interruption caused by the decline in North sea oil prices in 1986, Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom are enjoying a common experience of substantially falling unemployment. I hope that the House as a whole will be only too pleased to welcome that.
The role of the Government has been not merely to provide the economic framework in terms of inflation, competitiveness and industrial relations leading to those falls in unemployment. In the past few years we have also given specific help to those parts of the United Kingdom which have had particular problems. I refer, for example, to the Government's creation of the Locate in Scotland bureau in 1981. In the past six years that body has succeeded in creating or maintaining up to 42,000 jobs in Scotland through a successful policy of inward investment:. We have also seen the transformation of the Scottish Development Agency into what is now recognised, as it was not eight years ago, as the most successful agency of its kind anywhere in western Europe.
The Opposition constantly claim that the Government have neglected the interests of, for example, the west of Scotland. Yet Members representing Glasgow constituencies speak with pride of the transformation of Glasgow in the past 10 years. They rightly believe that Glasgow is miles better than it was and represents the best example of urban renovation that the United Kingdom has seen. Where do they think the resources came from which enabled that transformation to take place?—[Interruption.] I am happy to pay tribute to Glasgow district council and Strathclyde regional council for their contribution, but they cannot claim to be starved of resources when, with capital allocations from central Government, they have achieved the transformation to which I have referred. Much of the transformation has also come about through the work of the housing associations, which have received enormous support from the Government, and through the work of the Scottish Development Agency in the Glasgow eastern area renewal.
The Government decided that the next garden festival should be held in Glasgow, declared Glasgow to be the European city of culture and assisted with other provisions of that kind. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), an honest, fair-minded man, well knows that the transformation of the city that he helps to represent would not have been possible if the Opposition's criticisms had an iota of truth in them.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tribute to my local authority colleagues in Glasgow. He has paraded as one of his achievements the declaration that Glasgow was to be the European city of culture, but what funds were provided for that enterprise by central Government?
§ Mr. Rifkind
That designation was in recognition of the cultural improvements that have taken place. Scottish Opera is funded by the Government.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The creation of the gallery housing the Burrell collection was also assisted by the Government.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Opposition Members may cheer, but not for long.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the Locate in Scotland bureau carried out a survey in the whole of north America on where in Europe, not in Britain, incoming investment wished to go, and that 80 per cent. favoured Scotland provided that there was no change in this country's economic policies and no tax-raising assembly in Edinburgh?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. and learned Friend is substantially correct in referring to that favourable perception of Scotland and of the United Kingdom economy.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No. I have a number of remarks to make and many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. If I give way to everyone who seeks to intervene, that will not be possible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.
§ Mr. Rifkind
In seeking to suggest a divide in the economic opportunities for Scotland and for other parts of England and Wales, the Opposition always concentrate solely on unemployment. I do not deny that that is a major consideration, but I have already commented on the reality behind the charge. If the Opposition believe that there are fundamental problems facing the Scottish economy, before reaching a firm conclusion they should consider the advances and advantages in economic development that Scotland has experienced. Perhaps they will explain, for example, how, between 1979 and 1986, Scotland experienced an increase in manufacturing productivity of 4.9 per cent. compared with only 3.6 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. They may also like to explain how Scottish manufacturing exports outperformed the United Kingdom by 30 per cent. and why the latest figures for gross domestic product per head and disposable income per head are higher for Scotland than for any part of England outside the south-east of England and East Anglia. They may also like to explain why male average weekly earnings in Scotland, which are at the rate of £201, are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, except the south-east of England.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I say to hon. Gentlemen who rise on points of order that they only take time from the debate. It would be far better to let the Secretary of State get on with his speech and thereby enable more Back Benchers to be called.
§ Mr. Rifkind
If, therefore, there is said to be a division between Scotland and the south, hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Scottish constituencies should recognise that our economy is a complex organism and that, within it, Scotland has some major advantages of the kind to which I have drawn attention. Opposition Members should avoid the naive, simplistic definitions which obviously attract an uncultured and unsubtle approach to such matters. That advice is appropriate.
266 Attention has also been drawn to the traditional industries in Scotland and the problems that they have been experiencing. I remind Opposition Members that the steel industry, for example, to which we all attach importance, for years was operating at a vast loss—a loss that amounted to some £500 million a year. Today, that same steel industry is operating at a profit. If we are concerned and anxious to see a future for Ravenscraig within the steel industry, no one is going to convince me or the public as a whole that the prospects for Ravenscraig are not infinitely better when it is part of a profitable steel industry than when it is part of a loss-making one.
There is also the position facing the shipbuilding industry in Scotland. Naturally, I share the concern of all hon. Members about the current problems facing UIE.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not taking points of order in the middle of the Secretary of State's speech.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Lady kindly resume her seat so that we may get on with the debate?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue my speech he may find that some of his interventions are unnecessary.
Although we are indeed conscious of some of the problems facing certain of the yards, let us remember that, within Scotland, Yarrow has been successful in tendering for a major order for frigates from the Ministry of Defence. Govan has been successful in winning major orders for Chinese ferries. Indeed, the chairman of British Shipbuilders paid tribute to the support that he received from the Government which enabled Govan to win that order.
I have some further information which I believe will be welcome news to both sides of the House. As the House knows, the Scottish Transport Group recently sought tenders for a new ferry for its subsidiary Caledonian MacBrayne to serve South Uist, Barra, Coll and Tiree. I am pleased to tell the House that a most attractive tender has been received from British Shipbuilders' Appledore Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow. I have today given approval for the group to proceed with discussions with the yard on the terms and conditions that must be agreed before an order is placed. That illustrates how, under the Government, shipbuilding in Scotland has become sufficiently competitive to win orders that are of importance to our work force.
§ Dr. Godman
Naturally I am delighted to hear the news concerning Ferguson, but I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government have reneged on their promise to place three orders with Scott Lithgow. That promise was made 16 months ago in the wake of a huge order going to Vickers at Barrow. When will the Government honour their promise to my constituents that those small orders—what I called a "sweetie" at the time—will go to Scott Lithgow? "Honour the promise" is what I said to the Government.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman felt able, before his somewhat more explosive comments, to welcome the announcement that I have just made.
267 With regard to the other matter that he raised, he is well aware that there have continued to be intensive discussions between the Ministry of Defence, Trafalgar House and Scott Lithgow with regard to the orders.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman must not assume that responsibility for that delay necessarily rests with the Ministry of Defence. The hon. Gentleman should take account of that fact.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No, I shall not give way.
This debate is part of the Loyal Address in reply to the Queen's Speech. I wish to refer to the two substantive and radical Bills that are included in the Queen's Speech. First, there is a major item of housing legislation. Before Opposition Members give vent to their normal comments on housing, I remind the House that it was indeed during the course of the last Labour Government that gross public capital investment in Scottish housing fell by 37 per cent. During the term of this Government, it has already increased by 13 per cent. I remind the House also that, during the period of this Government, the number of sub-tolerable houses in Scotland has been reduced by more than half. That is a record of which we can properly be proud.
Under the present Government, there has been the largest expansion of sheltered housing and housing for the disabled that Scotland has ever seen. I point out also that we have seen an increase in home ownership in Scotland from 35 per cent. to 42 per cent. over the past eight years. The priority that we now quite properly see is not to think in terms of massive increases in public expenditure. The problem that is primarily before us all at present is to ensure that substantial resources are used in a more effective and efficient way with regard to the peripheral housing estates around many of our towns and cities. The housing legislation that we shall bring forward is specifically geared to increase the choice for Scotland's council tenants and to enable those tenants who wish to do so to form tenant co-operatives, housing associations or other forms of tenure.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The House will be aware that we have issued a consultative document called "Scottish Homes" with proposals to merge the Scottish Special Housing Association and the Housing Corporation in Scotland. If these proposals were to be implemented, it would provide an exciting new way of pioneering the transformation of our peripheral housing estates and the attraction of private sector investment into housing in Scotland in a way that some local authorities have already initiated but on a modest and minor scale. To deal with the problem—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has been here a number of years now. He knows that if the Minister does not give way, there is no point in persisting. Furthermore, it is a bad example to new Members.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Not only our record on housing but the radical measures that will be introduced into the House during the course of the Session will enable us to achieve the transformation that is required.
268 I refer now to education. There, too, we see measures that are of substantial and radical significance to the wellbeing of those who are interested in education north of the border. Already, under the Government, we have seen an increase in the number of youngsters enjoying higher education. More youngsters than ever before in the history of Scotland are enjoying higher education. We find that, since 1979, the number of youngsters who leave school with at least one O grade has gone up from 69 per cent. to 75 per cent. The number of youngsters who leave Scottish schools with at least one higher grade has gone up 27 per cent. to 33 per cent. We have seen how, under the parents charter, no fewer than 93,000 Scottish parents have exercised their right to choose a school within the state sector, a measure that Opposition Members sought to dismiss.
§ Mr. Speaker
As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), I shall not take a point of order in the middle of the Secretary of State's speech. I suspect that it is not a point of order at all. It is an intervention which the hon. Gentleman wishes to make.
§ Mr. Speaker
If this is not a genuine point of order, the hon. Gentleman will be severely jeopardising any future attempt that he may make to speak in the debate. If he persists, will he take that into account?
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This debate is supposed to be on regional affairs, and the Welsh Members in the Chamber are waiting for some mention to be made of Wales and the people who live there. We have heard nothing from this Minister except references to sub-tolerable housing in Scotland. I do not know what sub-tolerable housing is. It is a new definition. Will the Minister talk at any stage about the problems of Wales?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have told the House what has been achieved so far in education. We propose to bring to the Floor of the House a major measure to change substantively and significantly the role of school councils in Scotland to enable parents, in co-operation with teachers and headmasters, to have far more involvement. in the detail of what takes place in each school. We want a partnership between parents and teachers so that our school councils will have executive as well as advisory responsibility. That should be welcomed by all those who have the best interests of education in Scotland at heart. For years, parent-teacher associations in Scotland have called for a more substantive and significant role for themselves, and I believe that the legislation will help to meet their point.
I am conscious of the fact that the proposals in the Queen's Speech are not those which the hon. Member for Garscadden and his hon. Friends would have put before the House if they had won the general election. It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on winning the constituencies that they did at the general election, but, in the most friendly and constructive way, I caution them against drawing too many conclusions from those results. They have the 269 privilege, as do all the other Scottish political parties, of remaining a minority party in Scotland. I acknowledge that the Labour party is the largest minority, but it remains a minority. Scotland is a country of political minorities.
Before hon. Members get too carried away with the support that they received from the Scottish electorate, perhaps I may, in an equally friendly and constructive way, remind the hon. Member for Garscadden about something that he has probably already worked out : that the Labour party's share of the vote in Scotland remains less than it was in 1945, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1966 and 1970 and about the same as it was in 1979. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends believe that, notwithstanding the results of the general election overall, we should implement Labour party policies in Scotland.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that Labour Members fought the election to try to achieve the establishment of a United Kingdom Labour Government. Let us imagine that they had succeeded in that endeavour. Are they seriously suggesting to the House that if they had been successful a Labour Government would have desisted from implementing Labour policies in England? Are they suggesting that Labour policies would not have been applied in the south of England, where 40 per cent. of the British population live? I remind Opposition Members that, although the Conservative party came second in Scotland, the Labour party came third in the south of England. This is not a theoretical proposition, because we know perfectly well that three of the previous four Labour Governments did not have a majority of the seats in or the votes of the people of England; yet at no time was it suggested that that should be a reason why Labour policies should not be implemented south of the border.
The fact is that Labour Members are as unionist as Conservative Members. They fought a United Kingdom election to choose a United Kingdom Government, and they had better acknowledge the result of that election.
Opposition Members also attach importance to the subject of devolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "You used to."] That is correct, but, unlike some others, I analysed and drew conclusions from the result of the referendum. It is not a matter of dispute that during the election campaign in Scotland one of the subjects that was least raised by members of the public with candidates of any party was constitutional change. That was evidenced by the opinion poll in The Scotsman, which suggested that about 96 per cent. of Scots did not believe that the issue would dominate their choice in the election. On a BBC Radio Scotland programme last Saturday, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) admitted that devolution had not been an issue on the doorsteps during the election campaign—
§ Mr. Maxton
Will the Minister acknowledge that I then went on to say that Scot after Scot after Scot was saying to me and my colleagues that we should have a greater say in our own affairs? They do not argue about how it should be established; they tell us repeatedly that they want to have a say in and some control over their affairs.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman says that, but he also says that the matter was not raised with him on the doorsteps. Where was it raised? It was the experience of 270 hon. Members on both sides of the House that issues such as unemployment, housing and health were considered to be significant.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Will the Secretary of State refer to the opinion polls that were conducted specifically on the issue of devolution or independence for Scotland? They have shown repeatedly that, when asked the specific question, up to 80 per cent. of the Scottish electorate want to have some control over affairs in Scotland.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I do not dispute that the opinion polls suggest that. The hon. Lady will also know that the opinion polls suggest that a majority of people does not want the solution offered by the Scottish National party. But I did not see a change in the policy proposed by her party simply because of the odd opinion poll here or there. The hon. Lady and her hon. Friends stuck by their policy, although they lost the leader of their party in the process.
I noticed during the campaign that Labour candidates paid little attention to the proposals for tax-raising powers when they mentioned devolution. It is worth rembering what they would mean, if implemented. If the Scottish block grant were transferred to a Scottish assembly, about £5 billion would be available to a Scottish Executive in a devolved system of government. If a Scottish assembly wished to supplement that revenue with additional tax-raising powers and if, for example, such an assembly wished to increase its revenue by about 10 per cent.—that is not a substantial amount—that would result in a need to increase the income tax paid by the average Scot by no less than 20 per cent. because, using 1983 as the base figure—that is the latest figure for which we have proper details—income tax raised in Scotland amounts to about £2.5 billion. I advise Opposition Members that not only the Conservative party. but the Scottish chambers of commerce and the CBI in Scotland have drawn attention to the enormous damage that would be done to the Scottish economy and to the prospect of attracting investment into Scotland if, as a consequence of the success of the Labour party, such an assembly, or whatever, were created.
I am happy that there should be a debate on these issues throughout Scotland, and between the different political parties, over the coming years—[Interruption.] Opposition Members know perfectly well that this issue was not a major one during the election campaign, nor have they previously sought to draw attention to it.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
In the 1970s the right hon. and learned Gentleman won a great deal of respect from hon Members of all parties, and indeed throughout the country, because he was recognised as a man of principle who resigned from a shadow ministerial position because he was against the anti-devolution stance of the Tory party. What has changed since then, apart from the fact that demand for devolution is even greater in Scotland now than during the 1970s? Has the Secretary of State been bought off by the Prime Minister, who has given him a well-paid job as governor-general of Scotland with no mandate? Why has the man of principle of the 1970s become a man of no principle in the 1980s? Why does he not advise the Prime Mininster that, unless she delivers to the people of Scotland a devolved Parliament with leglislative and economic power, he will resign as Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I always like to listen to the self-proclaimed Robespierre of the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman claims to be a great man of principle who trusts the people, but we all recall that in an earlier incarnation he was the Member for West Stirlingshire. We notice that he was so confident of his popularity in Stirling that he—[Interruption.] The Member for West Stirlingshire is now my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). We know that the hon. Gentleman's judgment on these matters—[Interruption.] If I remember correctly the hon. Gentleman's constituency is now Falkirk, West. However, that is another matter.
§ Mr. Rifkind
There is little evidence that any issues, other than those of the economy and other domestic matters, were put before the electorate in any substantive way during the recent campaign.
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer. However, before I sit down I issue a challenge to the Labour party. First, I challenge the Labour party to remember that its historic contribution was a United Kingdom party that was seeking to become the Government of the United Kingdom. We all know perfectly well that the Labour party's initial conversion to devolution came about because of its fear of the Scottish National party. We all know that when fear of the SNP disappeared, it was replaced by a deep sense of frustration, and because the Labour party could not win the United Kingdom election it wished at least to continue—or rather to achieve—a monopoly of power in Scotland.
I challenge the Labour party to acknowledge that if it is relevant to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, it should remember what it said in its party document on devolution, which was published a few years ago. That document referred to economic problems in Scotland, and stated that Scotland's economic problemsare very similar to those of Merseyside, the North and, indeed the West Midlands. They must be dealt with in a national context, and therefore, in terms of broad United Kingdom strategy, are best tackled by the United Kingdom Parliament.The Labour party should accept that challenge to seek to persuade the people of the United Kingdom. Opposition Members should accept that the issues that matter to their constituents are the economy, housing, health and education, not the structure of government. The Labour party should accept that challenge and recognise, as does the rest of the world, the transformation of the United Kingdom's economy.
Opposition Members have expressed disappointment that there is no reference to devolution in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, there is not a reference to the form of devolution that the Labour party apparently wish to achieve. However, there is a reference to devolution in the Queen's Speech. In fact, it occurs throughout the whole of that speech and affects the whole of the United Kingdom. The devolution that matters to ordinary people is the devolution from local to central Government that we are proposing for council tenants to increase their freedom of choice. The devolution that matters is the devolution that we are offering to ordinary trade unionists to be free of the undemocratic control of the trade union bosses. The devolution that we are offering will enable parents to have a greater choice in the education that affects our people. That is the devolution that matters to the people of the United Kingdom, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I start by congratulating the Scottish group of Conservative Members on their excellent turn-out in this debate. The Government have 60 per cent. of their Scottish strike force on the Back Benches and I hope that all three of them found consolation in the comments of the Secretary of State. I do not think that his speech was one of the more positive contributions that he has made. It had a ragged air of desperation and an atmosphere of "back to the wall". At one point the right hon. Gentleman was reduced to the unlikely pose of pretending to be friendly and constructive. If I may say so, his speech seemed to owe a good deal to Central Office clipping services.
However, I do not want to go in for a display of rhetorical flourish this afternoon. The facts are eloquent enough and the time has come for some plain speaking in this Chamber. I welcome the opportunity to make clear what the Labour party expects from the Government in this term and, more importantly, what Scotland expects from them. Many of my points will be echoed by my hon. Friends from Wales and the north, and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who will deal in detail with some of' the problems of the regions when he replies to the debate.
Britain is undoubtedly a harshly divided country, as was reflected in the polarised political opinions that we saw in the recent election. There are 22 hon. Members who represent the cities of Scotland, including Glasgow, and 20 of them sit on the Opposition Benches. There are 72 Scottish Members of Parliament and 50 of them wear the Labour colours. Only 10 hon. Members represent the Scottish Tory party. They are a bewildered group of survivors who wander in a hostile environment.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The hon. and learned Member appears to have lunched rather well.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I do everything well.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) wishes to consider the question of division in Scotland. Between Eyemouth and Nithsdale there are 23,000 Labour votes and between the Black Isle and Mull there are 32,000 Labour votes. However, there are fewer than 11,000 Labour votes in the whole of Perthshire. If Opposition Members think that they have a mandate to govern Scotland, they have something coming to them.
§ Mr. Dewar
All I can say to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that in his case occasionally excellance shades into eccentricity.
I am particularly satisfied with the absolutely splendid election results for the Labour party in areas such as Dumfries, Inverness and Ross, Cromarty and Skye, which are not normally Labour strongholds, but where we produced results which underline our claim to be a national party in Scotland.
In the pre-election skirmishing there was a good deal of banter, but that has turned into nightmare reality for Conservative Members. I congratulate the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) on their unexpected elevation.
273 They must be astonished to find themselves on the Government Front Bench. Scotland is equally astonished and somewhat dismayed to see them there.
The hon. Member for Stirling will have an exciting life in the Scottish Office. I listened with fascination to the way in which the Secretary of State paraded the high public grant for Scottish opera as one of the Government's achievements. I remember the hon. Member for Stirling publicly protesting at that "waste" of public money. When that great dispute is finally settled and the power struggle in the Scottish Office is resolved, every one of us will want to know which hon. Gentleman will resign. The unexpected promotion of the two hon. Gentlemen—I wish them well—is striking evidence of how hon. Members have had to be promoted into the firing line to fill yawning gaps left by their party's ever-lengthening casuality list.
This is not just a Scottish phenomenon. The Labour party has achieved tremendous results in the north and in Wales. [Interruption.] Wales is left with only eight Conservative Members out of 38 seats and the north with only a handful of Conservative Members. Wales may have something of a persecution complex when it sees the preemptive counter strike with the arrival of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker)—a carpetbagger and, most of all, a reluctant one, bereft of dignity and political prospects.
We must ask why this has happened. It was partly the recession and partly the effects of the depression and divisions in society. It is a proper condemnation of the Government's performance. But it was more than that. It was a rejection in Scotland, the north and in Wales of the assumption that lay behind the Conservative election campaign that those in work do not care about those out of work, that those who have cannot care a brass farthing about those who have not, and that the voters were uninterested in what happened next door, in the next street and certainly in the next town. A feeling of community and togetherness meant that we stood against the policies and philosophies that the Conservative Members represented in Scotland. It was a common inheritance from the past eight years. Unemployment in the north is above that in Scotland and we had to revolt against the indifference that the Government had shown.
Referring to the north-south divide, the Secretary of State said that it went back to the industrial revolution. We should be grateful that he did not follow the example of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who said that it went back to the days of Elizabeth I. Both show an unutterable complacency and failure to recognise that we expect Governments to do something about the problem, not merely to comment in bad historical terms about how long it has existed.
In Scotland 551,000 people are in receipt of supplementary benefit. That is 240,000 more than it was when the Conservatives came to power. The number in receipt of family income supplement increased by 140,000 between 1979 and 1986. Still Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and prate about recovery, success and social cohesion. It rings desperately hollow in the ears of the people who returned 50 Labour Members for Scotland.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was in Edinburgh on 23 June when he made a speech in which he said : 274The future for the Scottish economy is bright. You have embraced the new technologies, new industries, and new opportunities in the service sector. And many of the more traditional industries which have been through a difficult spell are emerging reinvigorated.Perhaps he would like to tell that to the work force at UIE and McKinnons who are at the centre of only the latest pressure point and disaster area in the Scottish economy. I hope that the Scottish Office will ensure that if the important contract from Conoco does not go to the UIE yard it will be because it is genuinely not the lowest tender. Certainly there is doubt about that point.
Scotland is worried about the indifference and irrelevance of the philosophy preached by the Government. The Queen's Speech is completely poverty stricken. Scotland has three lines and two Bills and that in no sense measures up to the crisis Scotland faces. We shall deal with what is there on its merits when it comes before the House. I do not object to the strengthening of school councils, but I want to look carefully at how it is done and what lies behind the proposal. I certainly do not object to improving the stock of rented housing in Scotland, but if that is a euphemism for implementing the plans in the consultative document "Scottish Homes" it has nothing to do with the problems facing my constituents and most people in Scotland who are worried about structural defects, dampness, a lack of choice and the real problem of the savage cuts in housing resources.
In 1978–79 the Labour Government contributed £238 per public sector rented house as their share of the costs; in 1986–87 that contribution had dropped to £52. Sixty-seven per cent. of the housing stock is now outside the housing support grant system.
§ Mr. Dewar
Some anonymous Member says "Quite right". If he looked at how the housing stock in Scotland is deteriorating and saw what that was doing to the quality of life of ordinary Scots, that remark would drip either with ignorance or insincerity.
I favour a variety of tenure and believe that in some cases partnership with the private sector is appropriate. But it must not be a cop out or an excuse for further cost-cutting exercises.
Then there is the question of the poll tax. It is unwanted and unworkable in Scotland and the election result made that clear. It was introduced purely and simply because the Government thought that it would cement their vote and save what they regard as their traditional seats. On Friday The Times drew attention to the considerable worry about the Scottish effect. Many Conservative Back Benchers are understandably uneasy about what will happen south of the border when the same silly road is tramped by Ministers. We on the Labour Benches have no intention of giving up the campaign, of nodding through the statutory instruments or of giving up the unremitting argument to mobilise opinion against a tax which is unrelated to the ability to pay and will be an administrative nightmare.
The Secretary of State suggested that we were obsessed with unemployment. We have watched the alarming and irresistible rise of unemployment figures in Scotland and we are familiar with the same problems and scourge in the north and in Wales. Unemployment has increased and, despite this month's figure, is still increasing. It should be diminished. No one can be proud or satisfied that more 275 than 350,000 Scots are trapped in dole queues. I shall congratulate the Government genuinely and in a heartfelt way if we discover that a downward trend is now starting, but I suspect that a great deal of work must be done before that is established.
Since 1979 we have lost more than 200,000 jobs in manufacturing industry. Last year the Scottish Development Agency and regional development budgets were cut by more than £100 million. Given the problems we face, that is simply perverse. Industrial investment is still about 20 per cent. below 1979 levels in real terms—a position which the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) welcomed in the House as some sort of Government achievement. That was a blinkered piece of loyalty which commanded my rather doubtful admiration and, as he is now a Minister, he has been well rewarded.
A comparison of the third quarter of 1986 with the average for 1979 shows that the index of industrial production and construction is down 4.4 per cent. Where are the signs of industrial recovery there? Male earnings in Scotland as a percentage of the English and Wales average are down 3 per cent. since 1979. I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept that we have a right to look for results. We want to see jobs at Caterpillar. We recognise, and I hope he does, the key position of the steel industry in Scotland, Wales and the north.
I accept that there has been change—there had to be—and that change has, in many ways, been irreversible. In less than a decade employment in the steel industry has dropped from 207,000 to 54,000. In the same period, output per person has gone up from 95 tonnes to 258 tonnes. I do not cavil about that; I congratulate the steel industry on it and I am glad that it has happened. However, we have reached the point of no return in terms of that industry and steel capacity. In terms of Llanwern, Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Ravenscraig we must now stand firm and make sure that the threats—threats there are in plenty—are repelled.
For the sake of expediency and the Prime Minister, privatisation of the steel industry was nudged into the wings during the election campaign. We had the somewhat unlikely spectacle of the alliance being more enthusiastic about it than the Government. I do not wish merely to keep it in the wings: I wish to drive it from this building and away from the stage. I do not believe that privatisation of Ravenscraig can offer any secure future for that plant. Eurofer has suggested a cut in capacity of 15.3 million tonnes. I noted that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw). the former Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, said in the House on 16 March that no reductions within that total would affect steel capacity in the United Kingdom. He went on to say that he could not, of course, prejudge what would happen alter 1988, but we are interested in precisely what happens after 1988. The hon. Member for Pudsey has, in any event, been knighted and dropped and there was hardly a ripple as he went.
We do not want to hear the Secretary of State say that the steel industry is doing well and is making profits. We all recognise and acknowledge that. We want to know that there is a secure future for the major steel plants, and for Ravenscraig in particular. We expect that reassurance soon because the guarantees run out in the very near future.
We expect a stand to be taken to defend what is left of the shipbuilding industry. Govan's recent experience with 276 the Brittany Ferries order is something that should greatly interest the Scottish Office. It is common knowledge that the lowest tender did not succeed and that nationalism appears to have ruled. I take it that the Secretary of State is a good European and I hope that he will pay more than lip service to that principle and will go into battle with good effect on that issue.
Scotland is in a state of discontent, and it does not give me pleasure to say that. The discontent is real, almost tangible. There is concern and unease and in some parts of our society it shades into anger. Today, there has been a delegation in the House from local government and the Scottish Trades Union Council. The delegates from Glasgow must have enjoyed the tribute from the Secretary of State to which I have already referred. The delegation reflects the mood that exists in Scotland. That mood is not some sort of artificial property belonging to a small group of activists. It is something that we meet in our constituencies and as we move around the country. It is a mood that cannot be shrugged aside.
It is not enough for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give us a constitutional lesson and to argue that the United Kingdom mandate is all that matters. He admitted that the United Kingdom is made up of component parts—the very name illustrates that. The system is under stress and the structure under strain because there has been no attempt by the Government to accommodate the needs of at least one part of the United Kingdom.
I believe that devolution is important because it recognises the Scottish dimension. It is not an idea that has come lately to the Labour party. I do not need the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell me why the Labour party was founded or what it stood for. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman goes back to the days of the founding fathers, Keir Hardie, the Red Clydesiders, the Rev. James Barr and the activities of the Parliamentary Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s it is clear that a devolution package—a greater say in Scottish affairs—was built into the thinking of the Labour party. It has a respectable pedigree. In a sense we have come home on that argument. He must accept the genuineness of our commitment, even if he continues to disagree with it.
§ Mr. Forth
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in attempting to open up the argument for constitutional reform in Scotland based on the general election results, Members from other parts of the United Kingdom may wish to go further in reviewing the constitutional position of Scotland? For example, there may be a review of the existence of the Scottish Office and the overrepresentation of Scotland in this House. If we were ever to have some sort of assembly in Scotland, with sole say over Scottish affairs, we would argue south of the border that we ought to deny Scottish Members any say in essentially English affairs.
§ Mr. Dewar
Given the hon. Gentleman's views. I can well understand why he went poaching for a seat in the south. I believe that his remarks will be extremely unpopular with his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office because the last thing they want to do is to suggest that the Scottish Office position and the Conservative party position is the abolition of administrative devolution and of separate Scottish Office responsibility. That seems to be the argument that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) is putting.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend has made a perfectly fair point. Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate—if not, does the Leader of the Opposition appreciate—that if Scotland was ever to achieve the home rule that the Labour party seeks, it would be simply a matter of time before England expected the same home rule and would not allow or appreciate the involvement of 70 Scottish Members in determining domestic English issues?
§ Mr. Dewar
If the Secretary of State is saying that the logic of my position is that there should be parallel developments in the rest of the United Kingdom, I have a fair degree of sympathy with him. I certainly accept that, but it is a matter for those other parts of the United Kingdom which we will have to watch. Does the Secretary of State follow the logic of the argument that, in a United Kingdom Parliament that will continue to be of enormous and overriding importance to the Scottish people—a United Kingdom Parliament that considers defence, foreign affairs, fiscal policy and overall economic policy—there is no sense in saying that one wishes to reduce Scottish representation? If the Scottish representation is right now, it will continue to be the right representation in those specific areas. That is a logical argument that can be broken only by the kind of naked prejudice that we have seen from the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire.
I believe that devolution is a way of buttressing and strengthening the United Kingdom. My position is very different from that of the nationalists. I accept that my mailbag is full and is groaning with invitations to abandon the policy that Scotland voted for and to move into some sort of quasi-nationalist position. The Labour party will not do that and there is no logic in doing so. The Scottish National party did well—there are three reasons for saying that—in a situation in which it was the principal challenger to the Conservative party. However, when it came to a straight contest with the Labour party, the hon. Members for Western Isles (Mr. McDonald) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) sit with me and that is the way Scotland voted. The SNP got 14 per cent. of the vote—less than the polls had predicted, less than it hoped for and expected, but I believe more than it deserved.
The assembly is an option that was endorsed by Scotland on 11 June. How will the Government respond to that? There has been some confusion about their response. Lord Gould, the chairman of the Scottish Conservative party, blows hot and cold—but then he was in the plumbing business. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said that there would be devolution over his dead body. I am not sure whether that was a figure of speech or a promise. In any event, may I reassure him that I do not believe that that is a powerful argument one way or the other?
I suspect that there are many Conservative Members who want to say no but who see little wisdom in dying in the last ditch for the status quo. Many believe that devolution is right and that it is necessary to respond to the public mood in Scotland. I suspect that the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), although he has been discreet and loyal in his statements but who has a long history of interest in this matter, is one of the most distinguished of that group of Conservatives. The Secretary of State was once of that 278 mind. I understand that his conversion is quaintly based on the conviction that Scotland does not want an assembly. He said it again today. That was one of the kernels of his argument and the pillar on which he bases his conversion. However, I believe that it is a challenge to which we must rise. But given the enormous evidence of the voting patterns only a fortnight ago, I am curious as to what sort of evidence the right hon. and learned Gentleman would accept. I should have thought that the results of the general election would take any reasonable jury into our camp.
If the Secretary of State is saying that there is no evidence, he should say what evidence would satisfy him. I believe that Scotland wants devolution. The people take the view that there is nothing wrong and much that is right with more say for Scots over Scottish affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom. They believe that democratic control over administration, to which Conservative Governments have contributed and which is already in place, will improve our political structure, and that there is a right for an assembly to shape the public spending priorities in the massive budget that would be its responsibility. Legislative control over the central domestic issues of Scotland is something that I believe will strengthen the United Kingdom—
§ Mr. Dewar
No. I am almost at the end of my speech.
The House is familiar with the arguments. The question is whether the Government will act on them. The question is being asked increasingly with sharp-edged persistence by growing numbers in Scotland. I give fair notice to the Secretary of State that we in the Labour party will play our part in maintaining the campaign, and I hope that we get help from other sections of the Opposition Benches. That is very much on the agenda, and it will remain very much on the agenda. The process that I envisage is designed, I hope not in vain, to encourage positive thought on the Conservative Benches. It is an effort to concentrate the mind of the Government on the need to respond. I have already said that statutory instruments will be scrutinised as thoroughly as primary legislation and that the poll tax will not in any sense be speeded on its way.
I should like to draw attention to the strange case of the Scottish Whip who is not there. I assume that the failure to appoint a Whip from the Scottish Conservative Benches is an oversight that will be remedied by the Government. I presume that otherwise business will be conducted directly with Scottish Office Ministers. I say that as an expression of intent.
A great deal must be done about the Select Committee. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State boasting about Locate in Scotland. I remember the hard fight against any Scottish voice in those matters that was conducted in the Select Committee by the present Minister of State, but undoubtedly the Select Committee played a useful role and can continue to do so. if the Government are in difficulties over staffing it, I should be glad to add to the normal number of Labour Members of Parliament on the Committee. Why should it not more nearly reflect how Scotland voted? I expect proposals from the Government before the House rises for the summer recess.
We are in a serious situation, and certainly we in the Opposition will take our responsibilities seriously. 279 Everything that we can do within the rules of the House will be done to keep not just the one issue of devolution but the many other areas of concern very high on the parliamentary agenda. The Government cannot get away with business as usual. That would be an extremely dangerous course, and obstinacy would be no service to Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom. I say that soberly and without flourish because I believe it to be true.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
The Gracious Speech will occupy us for some 18 months, but, as has been made clear in all the comments that have followed it, it has set the agenda for this Parliament. Today we are considering the social and economic divisions in our country, but I am sure the House will recognise—indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) reflected it in their speeches—that the most acute manifestation of those divisions is the concentration of relative deprivation in the stress areas of our cities. I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has had much experience in those matters, is to reply to the debate.
I unreservedly welcome the priority that the Government are now to accord to those issues, but let us recognise that we shall be judged now by the standards that we ourselves have set. What arc the objectives that we should have for those stress areas? They are to create communities where the public services are good enough and the private sector choice is wide enough so that people want to live in those areas, so that they are proud to be associated with those areas, and so that the communities are socially sufficiently broadly based in order that increasingly they are able to support themselves. That will never come about when anybody who is able to exercise choice does so in a way that acts against the best interests of the stress areas.
If the ambitious inner-city parent joins the queue for suburban comprehensives to escape from sub-standard stress area comprehensives, not only do the inner city schools suffer, but the teachers get the message, follow the parents and move. If the moment the entrepreneur in the inner city feels that his business is off the ground he accepts an offer to go to the nearest new town or moves his company to the suburbs, it is the inner city that he leaves that suffers. If the skilled worker, anxious to buy his own home, goes to the green field, of course he gains, but he leaves the inner city short of the skills that he takes with him, and the employers rapidly follow the direction in which the skilled worker went.
I wholly support those who want to see excellence in the quality of public provision, but if the majority of people, and the overwhelming majority of trained, skilled, and prosperous people. want ownership, private sector choice and personal opportunity, they will in a free society pursue those things, and find those things. The only people to suffer as that more prosperous element of society exercises a choice and leaves the inner city will be the more dependent members of society, who increasingly will be concentrated in the stress areas because the strong have gone and the more dependent do not have the strength to exercise a choice on their own behalf.
Therefore, the first lesson is clear—that the quality of public service provision and private sector choice and success are interwoven and the link is unbreakable. Many 280 of the Government's programmes are rightly designed to address those issues of choice, opportunity and local responsibility. In housing, education and provision of competitive tendering, the thrust of the policies in the Gracious Speech is clearly right, but I urge the Government to accept two thoughts. In the exchange of generalisations that has to be the characteristic of much of policy discussion, the first may be dismissed as a matter of detail, but I believe that it is fundamental to achieving results.
I do not believe that civil servants in regional offices, looking over their shoulders to London, and overworked Ministers provide that co-ordination of Government resources upon which effective action in the stress areas is based. It has never worked. The new town corporations worked because they were single-purpose authorities, locally based and able to decide without the delaying processes of Whitehall. The urban development corporation ended the inertia of overlapping local authorities and nationalised bodies. In rebuilding the stress areas we need an English development authority to fuse the talents of the civil servants with practical commercial entrepreneurial expertise, to provide a single focus for decision and action, and to bring urgency to the task.
Secondly, Ministers must understand the scale of the task on which they are embarked. In the past few days, every newspaper I have read praise for the London Docklands Development Corporation, which is spending £60 million a year of public money in one of the most exciting urban renewal programmes on earth, and for the Merseyside Development Corporation, which is spending £30 million a year. Yet I keep reading in the same newspapers of Ministers arguing that one cannot solve the problems in the urban areas by throwing public money at them.
The truth is that one cannot solve the urban problem by simply throwing public money at it. Nor can one solve the problems unless one is prepared to use public money to eradicate yesterday's scars, to clear the dereliction and to enable the urban environment to reach standards that make it competitive with the fringe and the south. Nor can one attract the large sums of private money that are now being led into investment in the urban areas unless it is perceived that the Government have the commitment and the confidence in those areas to give them a promising future.
In other words, to attract the private sector the Government must put their money where their mouth is. If the last eight years have proved one thing, it is that the targeted use of public money can generate private investment on a scale greatly in excess of public funds. The private funds will not flow into those areas in any other circumstances—
§ Mr. Heseltine
Many other hon. Members want to speak, so I must be brief.
Finally, I want to make one other point to Ministers who are drafting their legislation. I share their ambitions for the stress areas. I share their view that incomparably the best way forward is in voluntary co-operation with local government. In reality, whatever may be said with a proper display of political responsibility, most local authorities will co-operate and secretly welcome a great deal of what is included in the Queen's Speech. 281 However, not all local authorities will co-operate. Frankly, not all will co-operate under the shadow of the poll tax legislation. Today is not the day to debate the details of that issue. I recognise that I am unashamedly a prisoner of my past. Twice I have advised Conservative Cabinets and shadow Cabinets against this form of local authority finance, and twice, at least, they have accepted my advice. I must say that I have not yet seen any reason to change my mind. I shall listen to the reasons why my right hon. Friends changed theirs. What no one can question is that, as proposed, the issue will be controversial for the whole of this Parliament. Under its shadow, one must question how many parents in stress area schools, or how many tenants on rundown estates, will vote to take their schools or their estates into an uncertain future against the advice of their councillors, communities, unions and the serried ranks of politically motivated activists.
Of course, such people will vote to do so in the more prosperous areas and I shall support them in every way that I can. However, I would not assume that they will do so in the stress areas. They may, but I would advise the Government not to bank on that assumption. Therefore, I believe that, if they do not already possess them, Ministers should take reserve powers to bring about the changes that they seek. This Parliament, this House of Commons and the Secretaries of State are the custodians of standards in this country. From time to time, it is true that we have delegated that responsibility to local government, but even then never exclusively, and never exhaustively.
We have never hesitated to set up new town corporations when a specific task demanded that. We have never hesitated to set up housing associations to compete with local government. Anyone who believes that Parliament left education to the local authorities should remember what happened to the grammar schools. I have seen reform based on the assumption of voluntary cooperation with vested interests tried in this House time and time again, and have seen it fail time and time again.
I beg the Government to remember, when addressing the areas of most acute stress, that the first Government of which I had the privilege to be a member set out to reform the unions by voluntary registration, but the unions would not register. We argued then that council tenants should be able to buy council houses, but not even all Tory authorities gave them the right to buy. We had to legislate to give people that right.
We urged competition for the provision of local government services, but now, in order to make any significant inroads in that direction, we are being compelled to legislate. We urged local government to rebuild its communities, but in the end we had to create the urban development corporations to bring about that opportunity.
So I say to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for the Environment, "Be sure you have the powers to rescue those in society without the strength or without the experience to know how to rescue themselves." There is no shred of constitutional theory that suggests that the will of Parliament should be frustrated by the local political attitudes and arguments that Britain has so decisively rejected in the recent general election.
282 The concentration of relative poverty in inner cities is as old as city life. It is international and historic, and there are no short-term or superficial solutions. That is not to say that there is nothing that can be done. On a limited scale, parts of our inner cities are now being rebuilt. What is happening in the east end of London and of Glasgow and, on a smaller scale, on the banks of the Mersey is not a patching process attempting to slow decline. It is altogether more optimistic than that. It is a partnership of the public and private sectors to rebuild balanced, vibrant and self-sustaining societies. It is literally rebuilding new towns in old cities.
What we now want from the Government is a coherent, national strategy to share the growing warmth of national prosperity with those who have been left for too long, too far, out in the cold.
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said that he was a prisoner of his party—
§ Sir Russell Johnston
—of his past. I am sure that he will always be a vocal prisoner and a problem for the warders.
It would be tempting to follow him in his support for the priming capacity of public money in rundown areas. The debate has been chosen as one on the north-south divide, as between the Government and the official Opposition, and the fact that I intend to focus my remarks on Scotland in no way means that I do not appreciate that that problem is a real and continuing one for the north. the south-west of England, Wales and patches of urban areas, which are otherwise rich, as the right hon. Member for Henley has just said. It is a question of time.
The Secretary of State for Scotland—I note that he has already departed—has said that he will rule Scotland as if the Tories had won 72 of the 72 Scottish seats. That is a strange, depressing view of democracy, which, if it is to work, must involve a recognition of the different attitudes and priorities of groups and individuals in society. I hope that the Secretary of State will not close doors even before they have been politely knocked on. That would be foolish and arrogant. and I hope that the Secretary of State is neither of those things.
During my wanderings through Scotland in the general election, a well-wisher gave me an election address. I wish to tell the House about some of the things that it says :We will set up a Scottish Assembly to make decisions on Scottish Affairs in Scotland.That is categoric and clear.A Scottish Development Fund will be set up, funded by oil revenues, to pay for special projects … An Oil Conservation Board situated in Scotland to determine the future rate of development … Full encouragement to Councils to build more houses to put an end to the long waiting lists … Domestic rates will be abolished within five years and replaced by taxation based on ability to pay.That was the election address of the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), in October 1974. At that time, he was the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. Therefore, what he said in his election address presumably carried not simply the weight of a common-or-garden Back Bencher, but the weight, influence and significance of the chairman of his party. Of course, he has been in the Cabinet for some time.
283 The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) commented on the views of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State well knows that the Conservative party has no record of rigidity about the nature of Scottish government. He also knows, even if he does not like it, that in 1955 the Conservative party polled more than 50 per cent. of the vote in Scotland, the highest vote since the war. I do not think that there are any new Scottish Conservative Members present, but it is worth reminding the new English Members who have strayed in to give a semblance of balance of this and that that that vote has now plummeted to 24 per cent. The Secretary of State ought to contemplate that with some humility, because his party's decline was not sudden and it certainly reflects the dissatisfaction of a great majority of Scots about the way in which the Conservatives have run our country. There has been the rise in unemployment, the restriction on local government and the services that it provides and the decline in manufacturing industry and the response to it.
There was a profound unrealism about the Secretary of State's defence of Conservative policy in Scotland. I do not deny that he is a good debater, but phrases like, "You do not worry about the odd opinion poll here or there on devolution" are so lacking in realism that they are appalling. He even went back to the industrial revolution. One must ask why it is that other countries in the European Community, like Germany with its federal system, have not suffered our levels of unemployment or their differential impact. He talked about housing, but never said that 26,000 families in Scotland are now officially homeless. That is a vast increase on previous years. To suggest that in some way a reform of the powers of school councils will change the education system is quite unreasonable.
The Labour party now claims to speak for Scotland and is pressing strongly for a Scottish assembly. On 30 November 1966, I stood where I am now standing and introduced, under the ten-minute rule, a Bill for self-government in Scotland. That was during the period of office of a Labour Government, but I did not receive very much encouragement. The hon. Member for Garscadden may berate me, but I suspect that if the Labour party believed that a Scottish assembly would produce a Conservative majority it would oppose it root and branch.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman cannot answer that question. Many people write to me saying that we should all get our act together and produce a common position— [Interruption.] I am not talking about my own personal act. While it is true that almost all of the people who write about that are not involved in party politics and do not really understand how they function or the loyalties and motivations that they require—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Garscadden must concede that I have loyalty.
I say seriously to the Labour party and to the Government that they must reconsider their approach to electoral reform. I am certainly of the view that we will never have Scottish self-government without electoral reform. The inconclusive nature of the 1979 referendum did not reflect a rejection of the idea of home rule because people do not normally reject the idea of governing themselves. It reflected the fear of people in rural and semi-urban areas of Scotland to the north and south of the 284 central belt that their legitimate geographical and political aspirations would be subjected to unrepresentative domination by the Labour party. The Labour party may not like that, but it is a fact.
Even in this very good year for the Labour party in Scotland, it got only 42 per cent. of the vote. The Opposition may say that "only" is a pejorative word. I accept that, but 42 per cent. is equivalent, almost exactly the same, as the percentage that the Tories got in the United Kingdom as a whole. If we had proportional representation, the Labour party would have 31 Scottish seats and not 50. The failure to give Scotland a Parliament would lead to a disunited United Kingdom, but a Scottish Parliament without PR would lead to a divided Scotland. Without PR, we will not have a Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
As the hon. Gentleman may know, I support the case for proportional representation. I am interested in the line that he is taking. He is saying in some kind of code that he would be opposed to the establishment of a Scottish assembly unless it included proportional representation. That seems a most bizarre attitude for the hon. Gentleman or his party to take. Perhaps he could clarify the point.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
The hon. Gentleman expresses his personal point of view. He is personally a decent chap, but it is the company he keeps. I did not say anything in code. I say clearly that I would oppose any proposition for a Scottish Parliament that did not include electoral reform, because I do not believe that it would improve the representation of people in Scotland.
I know that there is great pressure on time, so I shall conclude by speaking briefly about the fact that a new Parliament and a new Government should always allow opportunity for reassessment of policy. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will make it clear that the Government, in response to the election and to what is happening in Scotland and in the areas of England and Wales about which I have already spoken, will concentrate on a reduction of unemployment. In the case of Scotland, that means more money for the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board.
I hope that the Government will espouse the idea, originally put forward by the Liberal party, of a rural development fund. That suggestion was later supported by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It also means ensuring that urban aid, despite the separate administration by the Scottish Office, does not pass Scotland by. It also means taking a positive view about Ravenscraig. To use a common EC phrase, I respond en passant to the remarks of the hon. Member for Garscadden about Ravenscraig. Despite certain aberrations that took place during the election, our commitment to Ravenscraig is unquestioned.
Hon. Members have spoken about the poll tax; and the Government should listen to the advice of the right hon. Member for Henley and others. Without question, it is certainly the view across the board in Scotland that the poll tax should be suspended, and it is our position that there should be an urgent and immediate examination of whether a local income tax could be introduced. I still believe, and said several times during the election campaign, that such a tax is perfectly workable and would be infinitely fairer than that which the Government propose. 285 I should like to speak longer, but time is against me and I do not wish to deny an opportunity to other hon. Members who are anxious to speak. The Secretary of State for Scotland has both an enviable and an uneviable office. He is to be envied because he has the power to do things, to decide things. Hon. Members will understand me when I say that I have been here since 1964 and do not find it fun only being able, year after year, to say that we should do this or that. I should like to be in government and do things, and I envy the Secretary of State that opportunity. He should also have some humility. He is not to be envied if the power proves to be a chimera and simply ties him to the chariot wheels of the flawed ideology that Scotland certainly and decisively rejected.
§ Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich)
The tribute that I pay to Ken Weetch, my predecessor as the hon. Member for Ispwich, is not merely conventional. I liked and respected him as an opponent. He served the town and people of Ipswich well and faithfully for more than 12 years and his personal popularity as a local figure was undoubted. However, in the end even that personal popularity could not outweigh the unpopularity of the Labour party and the ideological baggage with which it lumbered him.
To the delighted surprise of the Ipswich bookmakers, and to the consternation of the majority of their clients who had backed him to win at odds of 8:1 on, Ken Weetch was defeated and I—incidentally an expatriate Scot—find myself here in his place.
Those incautious gamblers who backed Ken Weetch to win at 8:1 on would have done well before placing their bets to visit the council estates and check the way the wind was blowing. In those Ipswich council estates opinion moved decisively in the Conservative direction and ensured my victory. Not unconnected with that is the fact that on those same Ipswich council estates the social and economic divisions of the past are fading fast.
If there has been one measure in the past 20 years that has done more to bring to an end social and economic divisions in this country it is the Housing Act 1980, which first gave council tenants the right to buy their homes. On some of the estates in Ipswich, no fewer than one in three of the houses have been bought by tenants. Those estates are no longer divided economically and socially from the rest of the town. Owner-occupiers and council tenants live side by side, to their mutual benefit.
However, the favourable social and economic developments on some of those council estates are offset by the acute shortage of housing for rent. The very fact that Ipswich is a fast growing and prosperous town has led to a surge in house prices which has put home ownership well beyond the means of too many first-time buyers.
Those who need a year or two to save for a deposit before buying a home of their own, those young people who want to leave home and set up on their own, those who need emergency accommodation because of a personal crisis such as a marriage breakdown, those who wish to move from areas of high unemployment to obtain jobs and meet the skill shortages that many Ipswich enterprises now face, all look to the privately rented sector. Sadly, for the most part, they look in vain.
286 In Ipswich and elsewhere in many towns and cities there is a desperate shortage of privately rented accommodation. The statisticians tell us that the privately rented sector in this country has shrunk to 8 per cent. That contrasts with 43 per cent. in West Germany and 32 per cent. in the United States. The Rent Acts are the main factor to be blamed for that. That legislation has suffocated the privately rented sector. It has damaged the very people that it was set up to protect. Just how pernicious the Rent Acts have been was revealed in what happened in 1974 after the Labour Government extended the protection of the Rent Acts to furnished tenancies. The direct result was that no fewer than 410,000 private dwellings ceased to be available for rent and another savage twist was added to the decline of the privately rented sector.
The weakness of the privately rented sector undermines the efficiency of the labour market. It exacerbates the problem of homelessness. It restricts choice. It discourages people from moving. It traps them in their existing accommodation and it reinforces economic and social divisions.
The time is long overdue for the revitalisation of the privately rented sector of the housing market. Such a revitalisation is one of the keys to sustaining the revival of our national economy and to breaking down social barriers. That is why I warmly welcome the proposed legislation to extend the scope of assured and shorthold tenancies and to reduce rent controls.
§ Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
I listened to the speech made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine)—another new Member—with interest. As a new Member, I have the privilege to follow the former Member for Durham, North-West, the right hon. Ernest Armstrong, who many hon. Members will know had a deep and abiding respect for all kinds of people, whatever their creed, colour or background. As Mr. Armstrong demonstrated in the House, he has a particular respect and love for the people he so faithfully and loyally represented for 23 years, the people whom I now seek to represent, the people of Durham, North-West. Mr. Armstrong also showed his abiding commitment to parliamentary democracy in the House, and he showed that to the House when he acted as Deputy Speaker for six years. I have learnt many things from him. However, the most significant thing that I have learnt is the importance of listening not just to what we hope people are saying, but to what they are really saying. I want to urge that quality on the Government.
The people in the north are looking for signs that the Government are listening, that they understand the seriousness of the problems that we face, that they have the will to tackle those problems and that they have the imagination to develop policies to address those problems. How can I persuade the folk of the north and of Durham, North-West that the Government understand the seriousness of the problems that they face when the main attempt to address industrial regeneration in the north in the past three weeks has been an exhortation for us to care more about the recreational activities of Japanese businessmen?
I assure the House that if Ministers want to visit Durham North-West they will find leisure facilities in abundance. We have dry ski slopes and we even have the 287 first wet ski slope in England. We even have golf courses. However. we do not have jobs. The same local authorities that have striven to ensure that the environment is as good as it can be for the people have witnessed the loss of more than one third of manufacturing jobs since 1979. How can I persuade the folk whom I represent that the Government have the will to tackle those problems when, according to Government figures, the levels of deprivation in my constituency equal those of any inner city ward? Yet last year we were told that we no longer qualified for priority cash because the people lived not in cities, but in towns and villages. Indeed, we were told during the election campaign that Consett was a boom town. We also heard that, on normal measures of deprivation, Consett rated as the poorest town in Britain. The reality is that my people do not believe that they are living in a boom economy.
Will I be able to persuade my people that the policies that are set out in the Gracious Speech have within them the imagination to tackle the problems that they face? In many respects the most radical policy in the Gracious Speech that addresses my constituency is the proposed poll tax. All my people will face at least a 30 per cent. rise in the amount that they have now to pay yearly in rates. No one can persuade me or the folk of my area that that will liberate us. It will mean that we shall be paying more for poorer services.
Nor will the policy that is aimed at punishing young people who refuse to undertake aimless training schemes liberate them. On Friday evening, a 17-year-old came to see me. He is desperate to be given the opportunity of real and meaningful training. He had complained to his YTS employer that day that he felt that continually creosoting fences was not increasing his skill as a painter and decorator. Understandably, the employer said, "Well, son, if that is your attitude, you can leave. There are plenty more who want your job." This young man does not want to leave the YTS. Instead, he wants real training and the opportunity to develop skills in which he can have pride. We are asking for real jobs and for real training.
Our experience tells us that the problems of poverty, unemployment and deprivation cannot be solved by the free market or by remote manoeuvrings in Whitehall. The public squabbles during the last week of the Departments of the Environment and of Trade and Industry over which one will have responsibility for the new inner city policy fills us with foreboding. We want a system of government that recognises the importance of matching resources with need. We need more resources in the north, and the people of the north have voted overwhelmingly for the right to have a much more powerful say in their own future. We have voted for that, for the development of regional government and for ending the social, economic and political divisions in our society. We have voted for the right to play a role in the reconstruction of wealth-creating industries in the north.
Durham, North-West and its people have laid the foundations for Britain's economic prosperity. Folk in Durham, North-West dug the coal and produced the steel and they are not looking for handouts. We want the opportunity to demonstrate our loyalty and to use and develop our skills by being at the centre of industrial regeneration. Only when areas such as Durham, North-West can once again feel that they are part of building a prosperous economy can we begin to talk about the United Kingdom.
288 On 11 June the Government won the general election but lost the nation. The north and the nation generally are looking for an understanding of the real social and economic divisions in our society, and we are looking to the Government for a commitment to changing them.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
It is my duty as well as an honour and a pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) and the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) on their maiden speeches.
My hon. Friend spoke of the changes that are taking place in his city, which I know well, as I was brought up in it. He succeeds a Labour Member who was, and is, a fine man. I am sure that there is no doubt about that in all our minds. However, as my hon. Friend said, despite his personal qualities and popularity, he was unable to stand against what my new hon. Friend rightly identifies as the tide of ideas and the change that is taking place in communities such as Ipswich, which is sweeping away the old collectivist solutions of the Labour party of the past. Those solutions have little relevance to the modern problems that we have to solve.
The hon. Member for Durham, North-West spoke with feeling and strength about her area. Again, she follows an excellent Member, Ernest Armstrong, who was a friend of many of us. It will he a hard act to follow, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will rise to the challenge.
Although the debate began with a furore about Scottish affairs, I hope that those who come from areas where the Labour party is not quite so prominent as in Scotland will be allowed a word or two this afternoon and evening. As I understand the opening speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the demand is that Scotland should have control of its own affairs. That is not a new demand. Indeed, it is a familiar one that takes many of us back to the great parliamentary rows of the late 1970s.
§ Mr. Howell
Yes, indeed. If the behaviour of those on the Opposition Benches during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is any guide to the way in which the Scots would run their own affairs, it could well be that devolution would leave the rest of us much better off. I dread to think, however, what it would do to the poor Scots. I recognise—I am sure that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends do as well, and more than have been given credit for doing so—the colossal problems that have faced, and do face, the Scottish economy in the huge restructuring that the modern information technology age is forcing upon that immensely able country. I recognise also the jarring social difficulties that ensue. I greatly admire the undying enterprise and energy of the Scots that is being demonstrated in parts of the area. I am sure that the hon. Member for Garscadden wanted only to illustrate the difficulties and not to damn the enterprise and energy that are being shown. That is a reasonable position for an Opposition spokesman to take.
Miraculous and marvellous things are taking place in the Scottish economy, and some of us have the privilege of examining them closely. Despite these developments, the realism is that Scotland will need considerably more 289 cushioning and help in the difficult times ahead. It used to be said by the braver and bolder Scots in the Parliaments of the late 1970s that Scotland would be all right if there were devolution because oil revenues would see it through. We then became involved in a terrific argument about which side of the dividing national line the great oilfields of the North sea really lay. Although oil prices may look firm in this morning's newspapers, there is no doubt that 12 months from now we shall begin to see extremely low oil prices. All the oil industries of the higher-cost areas of production will be in great difficulties, and these will have to be faced by the nation unitedly, as a whole kingdom. That is why I think that in the years ahead more cushioning will be required to ensure that our Scottish friends, brothers and cousins come through all their difficulties. I very much doubt whether that cushioning will be available if there is devolution and a tax-raising assembly in Edinburgh.
Those are the general remarks that I want to make about Scotland. I want to concentrate on the theme of alleged, and, in some instances, clear, divisions between communities, groups and families in their circumstances and outlook. I want to bring the rest of Britain into my remarks.
I shall begin with the interesting maiden speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), which he delivered on Thursday evening. I was not in the Chamber at the time, but I have since read the report of his speech. I have considerable sympathy with a part of his thesis, which is one that we should all hear more of and examine. It is based on leaving local communities alone as far as possible so that the local government, business and enterprise of an area can work together. Let there be as much diversity as possible and as little imposition of national conformity in the way in which we develop enterprise and new jobs. That is the theme that should be allowed to flourish.
When the hon. Member for Brightside said those things, he struck a good chord. As we move to the new industrial stucture and the new labour market patterns of the 1990s, which will be greatly influenced by new technology and electronic communications, it will become easier, rather than more difficult, to allow greater local variety in a whole range of policies and to allow communities to do their own thing.
In that sense, I part company from my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who spoke of the need for an English development agency. That is not the right level at which to tackle the problem. I salute my right hon. Friend's experience and energy, but his proposed solution sounds too general. We need to allow greatern diversity between communities. Perhaps local town or area development agencies would work, but let us not have another vast layer of bureacracy to spend money and achieve very little.
I suspect that most of us would agree with the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Brightside, but thereafter his thesis begins to come apart. He asks for areas to be left alone, while at the same time recognising—he did not say so, but I am sure that he does recognise it—that the nation's taxpayers, most of whom are on low incomes, because that is the nature of our taxpaying structure, fork out £12.8 billion each year, which is about half the total expenditure of the local authorities.
290 As long as the taxpayers finance half the activity of local government, the House and the Government have not merely a right, but a duty, to intervene to ensure that their money is used effectively to produce results and is not wasted. The taxpayers' criticism so far must be that, while there has been much sincere effort—even on the part of the Left-wing councils which some of us have some fun condemning as "loony"—to use the billions of pounds for development, their methods have failed. When they were left alone they did not succeed, even with vast resources, and they must not be surprised that taxpayers from the south, the midlands, the north, Scotland and Wales have begun to wake up and ask, "Is this the right way in which to carry on our affairs?"
The hon. Member for Brightside says that his preferred formula is the continuation of what he describes as "the democracy that has existed for generations" in local government. I have to tell him that he and his colleagues have moved into a world of fantasy and fairy tale. The thinly-based democracy with a narrow voting base that has been called local democracy in England, Wales and Scotland has not proved to be a particularly democratic force. On the contrary, it has proved to be a very divisive force. Time and again the obvious divisions between one city and another—not just between one region and another—have resulted from highly divisive local government.
I am convinced that if we want to overcome divisions we are right to start by tackling the issue of local government reform in all its difficult elements. Some people say that rushing into local government financial reform will lead to grave difficulties, that it will not win votes, and so on. However, as a Parliament, we have to tackle the reform of local government and local government finance. We must put a stop to the non-democratic squabbling within local government to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley referred and eliminate the appalling undemocratic principle of taxation without representation, which has dogged and dominated business in all the great cities of the United Kingdom for far too long. That is why we must turn to major reforms.
This may not be the time to go into detail about the community charge. There will be plenty of time to do that in the long nights to come. However, I ask my right hon. Friends to learn one lesson from recent history: do not repeat the mistakes of 1972. In 1972 I was a member of a Government who sought to reform local government. Our error was to reform the structure without touching the finance. I now fear that we are about to reform the finance without dealing with the structure. If we fail to link the two together—sequentially, if not in the same package—we shall make our task infinitely more difficult. That is why we must address our minds very quickly to the functions of local government, which are ill defined and which, for many years, have not been properly structured or set out. In particular, we must re-examine many of the statutory functions placed on local government by central Government. If they are really statutory functions conferred by central Government, perhaps central Government should pay.
Above all, we must re-examine the cost of the education services—the biggest of all the functions placed on local government by central Government—which has undermined local democracy more than anything else. We are on the verge of recognising the truth of something that has been argued by some of us for almost a decade. It is 291 that education should not be financed through local authorities, and therefore the total expenditure of the local authorities should he much more in line with what they raise locally, whether by the old rating system or by a new community charge.
That is one area in which we must apply policies to overcome divisions. What are the others? The Opposition tell us that this is a divided nation. What is the most visible division of all?
§ Mr. Maxton
The right hon. Member spoke about the community charge, or poll tax as we prefer to call it. I am not clear whether he supports, or opposes, the poll tax in principle. That was not at all clear from what he said.
§ Mr. Howell
It is not meant to be at all clear to the hon. Gentleman. I am not making a speech about the poll tax. I am merely suggesting to my right hon. Friends the principles on which they should proceed, although if the hon. Gentleman presses me further I must say that I happen to believe that the rating system has run its day and that a per capita tax may well make sense. However, no new form of finance will make sense if we do not reform the structure at the same time.
I return to the most obvious division of all in our society—the blight of the great public authority estates across the face of this kingdom. They above all else have symbolised division. The most unifying and constructive legislation put through the House in the past few years has been that encouraging tenants to purchase their own houses. That policy is followed closely by the proposals in the Gracious Speech to help those who remain in rented accommodation to change the structure of their tenancies. Closely behind that, if we can achieve it, comes the even more unifying possibility of carefully and sensitively decontrolling the entire structure of the rented accommodation sector. No moves could contribute more to assist unification and to overcoming the kind of divisions about which we hear so much.
The hon. Member for Brightside said that our best hope of achieving unity lay in giving everyone the opportunity to earn, but we must also give everyone the opportunity to own. It is essential to proceed as fast as possible to spread ownership, as well as earning opportunities, to all corners of this kingdom and to every level of income. Obviously that involves not merely expanding existing planned privatisations, but going very much further and widening the opportunities for millions of workers to own shares in their firms.
When I was a Minister, I authorised the privatisation of the National Freight Corporation. The entire staff bought shares and today the owner of a single share finds that its value has increased 41 times over. The National Freight Corporation has given workers an incentive and an opportunity to create one of the most dynamic freight organisations in Europe, out of a rundown rump of the nationalisation experiments of the Socialist past. Let us continue with that and carry it into electricity, and, in due course, let is give the mine workers an opportunity to share in the equity and prosperity in the excellent parts of the coal industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Energy will think carefully before ruling out the possibility of bringing to the coal miners the ownership, prosperity and opportunity that we were able to bring to the workers in the National Freight Corporation.
292 Yet another sector where we are wrongly accused of division is over taxation. High taxation, not low taxation, creates divisions in our society and has done so in the past. This opinion has been borne out in study after study, in country after country, and is validated by the most recent study from the World Bank into 20 different nations, one of which is the United Kingdom. It shows that those countries with lower taxes have higher growth and a wider spread of prosperity than those with higher taxes. We are baffled, as we were in the last Parliament, as to why Labour Members, and Government critics outside. call for higher taxation in the name of caring and unity, when all the evidence is that high taxation is a divisive force.
The other great divisive element that we have to tackle is the unreformed welfare and social security system, which is a discouraging and divisive system. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government must set about reforming the structure of social security payments and linking them with tax reforms. The modernisation of those linked systems is an essential priority for the Queen's Speech for the 1988 Session.
I am heartened to see growing support in all parties for the concept of the basic income guarantee, a benefit that will be paid to all regardless of their other income status and whether in or out of work, and which will be insulated from other earnings, with all reliefs and other benefits consolidated within it. I believe, and have done so for some time, that this is the only answer. I see powerful new support within both the Government party and other parties beginning to recognise that this is the only way out of the appalling mishmash of the poverty trap into which we have wandered in recent years.
The cry of those who say, "Division, division" against the Conservatives is that two tiers or classes have somehow been created. If we stop and listen, as the hon. Member for Durham, North-West said we should, everything will show that it was the collectivist age that created two classes—the planners versus the planned, the local government bosses versus the bossed about, officialdom versus the individual. The new age into which we are moving, the electronic and information age, will take all that away and allow growth, not merely of the political democracy, which we must keep and expand, but of the economic democracy, in which we all own as well as earn. That, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said at the end of his speech, is true devolution, the true democracy of the 1990s and the next millenium. That is what the Government should be dedicated to achieving.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Govan)
I am pleased to be called now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the two maiden speeches that we heard, one from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) and the other from my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong). Each speaker had great confidence and assurance and each paid a well-deserved tribute to their predecessors. We look forward to hearing them again, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West, who spoke with the authentic voice of the north of England. I hope that what she said will be listened to by Ministers.
This debate is not just about Scotland; it is about Wales, the north of England and the regions of the United Kingdom. It seems remarkable that the Secretary of State for Wales has not bothered to attend the debate, except for 293 five minutes or so. I know that the Under-Secretary is here, but we expected to see the Secretary of State. He is treating the House with contempt by not being here.
This is a divided nation. This is certainly true politically, as was shown by the election results, but it is also divided in terms of fundamental attitudes towards the Government and the kind of society in which people want to live. In Scotland there is a deep resentment against the Tory Government, a resentment that in many cases goes into actual hatred of what the Government have done in the past eight years. That is a fact. I hope that Conservative Members who do not represent Scottish constituencies will appreciate that I am stating a well-established situation.
The vast majority of the people in Scotland feel that this Government and their policies are of no relevance to Scotland. This is part of the background of, and part of the reason for, our demand for devolution. It is not the only thing that we are demanding, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made clear today. We are living under an over-centralised system of government, and I have taken that view for a long time. It comes partly out of my experience at the Scottish Office.
To answer a point made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, I point out that I would welcome English Members demanding decentralisation for the English regions. It would get unanimous support from Scottish Labour Members. We need regional government for England just as we need it for Scotland. As a first step, we need regional development agencies on the same lines as the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies—as advocated in the election manifesto of the Labour party in the last election—starting with the north of England, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside. The Scots are firm in their support for these plans.
We know that the Secretary of State for Scotland used to be a supporter of devolution. He said that after the 1979 referendum he analysed the situation and came to a different conclusion. What he means by that is that, after he analysed the situation, he decided that his own self-interest could best be served by reneging on his previous commitment to devolution. Now he is a rump Secretary of State and there is little Scottish support on the Benches behind him. They have no moral authority or any real standing in Scotland.
The Secretary of State may bluster as he likes at the Dispatch Box, as he tried to do this afternoon, but that is not relevant to the situation. He has no real authority in Scotland and the people of Scotland understand that. At least this afternoon he did not say—as he said of his previous team of Ministers—that his team at the Scottish Office is the best ever team of Ministers. He did not have the impertinence to say that. It is a case of the second-rate being replaced by the third-rate, or even the fourth-rate. That has been recognised in Scotland.
One of the issues at the election was the poll tax. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) say that when in government he had twice recommended against the poll tax to his colleagues. He is not present now. It is a pity, in view of his strong views against the poll tax, that he voted in favour of the Bill to introduce the poll tax to people in Scotland. I suppose that was on the basis that, while it was not good enough for England, it was good enough for Scotland. There are 294 fundamental objections to the poll tax, into which I shall not go in detail because we shall have ample opportunity to discuss it if and when the Government bring forward a Bill to introduce the poll tax into England and Wales.
I want to give a word of caution to English Tory Members, some of whom, we understand, are rather reluctant supporters, if supporters at all, of the poll tax. The poll tax was introduced in Scotland as a great popular measure. It would save the Tory party in Scotland, and the spineless bunch of Conservative Back-Bench Members that we had in the last Parliament all supported this. There was not one qualification or one speech questioning the poll tax legislation for Scotland. Where are they now? The Minister who introduced the Bill lost his seat, and many of those who thought that the poll tax would save them are, I am happy to say, no longer with us. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is hanging on by a thread, and the rest have disappeared. The poll tax is simply another of the Government's devices for weakening the powers of local authorities as part of their authoritarian attitude towards local authorities that has been the hallmark of everything that they have done in Scotland, in England or in Wales in the past eight years.
English Tories ought to be warned that this is an unpopular measure and that it is opposed by the local authority associations and by all those who understand or have any real experience of dealing with local taxation. It is a highly unpopular tax among the people who will be affected by it. It is recognised as another device for making the poor poorer and for introducing a tax that is basically in the interests of the better off. I agree with the right hon. Member for Henley that it will certainly not do anything to help the inner cities.
I was delighted with the tribute that was paid by the Secretary of State for Scotland to Glasgow on its transformation over the past few years. It has been a transformation of image. Incidentally, it had nothing at all to do with the Government, but with the Labour Lord Provost, one of my local councillors, Michael Kelly. Glasgow's image has been considerably improved, which I welcome. Unfortunately, the reality is still grim. One of the wards in my constituency has a male unemployment rate of more than 40 per cent. In parts of my constituency virtually every young person is unemployed—not just 20, 30 or 40 per cent. unemployed. They do not believe that the image of Glasgow has been transformed in any meaningful way.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that, when talking of the inner city of Glasgow, it is the height of hypocrisy for the Government to express concern when only three months ago they brought an end to the Glasgow eastern area renewal project when it was only half completed? Does he agree that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) raised a good point earlier when he said that the Government should put their money where their mouth is and introduce similar projects in inner city areas throughout the country?
I could not agree more. I initiated the GEAR project. It was the first major urban redevelopment project anywhere in the United Kingdom. I am glad to say that I initiated that in 1976 and, as my hon. Friend said, it has been brought to a premature end. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done in GEAR and in 295 other inner city areas. The real problem for local authorities in those areas over the past eight years has been the constant cuts in rate and housing support grants. With additional money, many of the problems we are facing in the inner cities at present could be resolved. Without that additional money from the Government there is no way of resolving those problems, even by tinkering with structures. Those problems will not be resolved on the basis of the Government's proposals, as I understand it, to superimpose something over the heads of the democratically elected local authorities. Again, I say that it will not work without the co-operation of the local authorities.
I welcome private as well as public capital in those areas. One has to work with the democratically elected local authorities. The idea that the Government can come in, sweep them aside and do the job, having deprived them of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money over the past eight years through reductions in grants, penalties and the rest, is a complete non-starter. We need additional resources for those areas. When GEAR was initiated it represented additional resources for Glasgow. It was not in substitution for money that we filched from the local authorities; it was genuine additional money. Unless we get that genuine additional money and the co-operation of the local authorities, the scheme will not work.
One hardly needs to go over the Government's record on unemployment, because it is so absolutely appalling. There has been so much fiddling with the figures over the past eight years that no one believes them. Again, I have to say that as a fact. A significant proportion of the population of Scotland do not believe that the reduction in unemployment in Scotland that the published figures showed in the last month is a real reduction. It is another fiddle with the figures. If the Government fiddle with the figures 19 times, or whatever it is, over eight years, at the end of the day nobody will believe what they are trying to tell people.
The rundown of manufacturing industry in Scotland has been absolutely disastrous. Privatisation now threatens the steel industry. The British Steel Corporation has wanted to close Ravenscraig on a number of occasions. If it had not been a nationalised industry and if we had not been able to bring political pressure to bear, it would have been closed long before now. That is the reality. After privatisation there is no way in which we can save Ravenscraig. The idea of Scottish Ministers trotting out the suggestion that if we privatise British Steel we can save Ravenscraig is nonsense. That is recognised as nonsense by the people of Scotland. and that is why one of our demands following the election is that we get a firm and absolute commitment to Ravenscraig. We do not want a commitment to Ravenscraig until 1988; we want a firm and absolute commitment, particularly as we now have one junior Minister at the Scottish Office who spoke in favour of closing down Gartcosh and who I believe is in favour of closing Ravenscraig as well.
We also want commitments on shipbuilding—an important industry for my constituency. We want to know what has happened about the Brittany Ferries order. That should have gone to Govan Shipbuilders, which put in the lowest tender. Instead, it went to a French yard. We want a determined regional policy from the Government, because, whether we like it or not, an inexorable pull to the south-east of England will be considerably increased by the Channel tunnel. I fundamentally oppose it and hope 296 that it never happens. There is no doubt that it may be good for the south-east of England, but it will be no good for Scotland or the north of England. Vast resources are being put into the Channel tunnel.
This afternoon the Secretary of State for Scotland said that we are all agreed on regional policy. Here is how the Government agree on regional policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) received a written answer on 12 May, just before Parliament was dissolved. Regional development grant expenditure in Scotland in 1986–87 was £170 million. In 1987–88 the provision is down to £69 million. In Great Britain it is down from £512 million to £211 million. The Secretary of State had the impertinence to stand at the Dispatch box this afternoon and say that the Government are committed to a strong regional policy, but they have cut back on regional aid over the years. That is part of the reason why we have those disastrous unemployment figures in Scotland, Wales, the north of England and in other areas at present. While this policy continues we shall continue to see a more and more bitterly divided and politically unhealthy nation.
The Government fought the election on a theme of selfishness: if one had a job, one did not care that others were unemployed; if one was decently housed, one did not care that others were living in slums; if one could afford private education, one did not care what happened to the state system; if one could afford private health, one did not care what happened to the National Health Service. That was the theme of the Government during the election. Tragically for the country—certainly for Scotland, Wales, the north of England and many other disadvantaged areas—that appeal to selfishness resulted in the Government we now have. We reject that philosophy of selfishness. I speak not just as a Scottish MP when I say that we shall do everything in our power in the House and elsewhere to frustrate those policies that seek to continue more bitterly than ever to divide the nation.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and about the way in which the title of the debate is phrased—social and economic divisions of the nations and regions of Britain"—because it is right that we should debate the problems of Great Britain as a whole and not each of its separate parts. I have been distressed by some of the secessionist comments of the Opposition and I hope that they will not regard me as breaking the precedent of a maiden speech by referring later in my remarks to some of the more positive things that are happening in the north of England.
I wish to talk about what the north of England can do to help to heal some of the divisions of our nation but also the help that we require in achieving that objective. I am in a fortunate position in being able to address the House on this subject today because it reflects well on the work of my predecessor, Sir Edward Gardner. But for the way in which he looked after the constituents of Fylde, I doubt whether they would have had the confidence that they showed in me by returning yet again a Conservative Member of Parliament for that delightful part of Lancashire.
Sir Edward is a parliamentarian of note and I am sure that he will be well remembered by the House for three particular contributions to our public life. First, he was 297 chairman of the Conservative Back Bench committee dealing with the preparation of the British Nationality Act. Many of the committee's recommendations were taken up by the Government and became part of the legislation. Secondly, there was his pioneering work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I believe that his visit to the United States on behalf of the House and the message that he brought back to the House and to the country about the dangers of drug abuse in the United States served us well in the development of policy on a problem which bedevils many of our big cities. I am pleased that the resulting legislation will take away the benefit and profit from drug trafficking. I believe that it will serve this country well. Finally, there was Sir Edward's own Human Rights Bill. Sadly, it was narrowly defeated in the House, but I believe that he won many plaudits from his colleagues for the way in which he presented that Bill.
Having succeeded Sir Edward as Member of Parliament for Fylde, a constituency of some 64,000 people, the most oft-asked question to me is where Fylde is. It lies between Preston to the east and Blackpool to the west. On its southern boundary is the river Ribble. To the north, above the M55 motorway, lies the rural part of the constituency, comprising many large, well-run dairy farms. To the south, the signs of success are clear in the employment opportunities offered by British Nuclear Fuels through its pioneering work in the nuclear industry, and by the headquarters of the British Aerospace military aircraft division, part of the largest complex of aircraft building in western Europe. Guardian Royal Exchange is a further major source of work in the area and an example of the way in which the electronic city has transferred work down the telephone line to the north-west. For Members seeking leisure and relaxation, I should mention our many wonderful golf courses, soon to be graced at Royal Lytham by the open golf championship next year.
Watching the election results on television on election night, pleasing though they were, I was distressed at the picture painted by the media of the northern half of the country as being entirely a Socialist enclave. I must immediately disabuse them of that. There are still many Conservative Members serving constituencies in the north of England and some of us were lucky enough to be returned with increased majorities, which suggests a vote of confidence in what the Government have achieved. Nevertheless, one should not go away with the idea that everything is positive in the north of England. When I worked on the border of Merseyside at a time when there were difficulties in the great city of Liverpool, I was asked many times on the telephone whether the whole of the north of England was like that. In such circumstances, one begins to appreciate the problem of the south's perception of the north. Sadly, I must tell the Opposition that many of the actions of Socialist and Labour-controlled local authorities have done no service to the regeneration of the northern cities.
I am extremely pleased that the Government have chosen as a centrepiece in the Gracious Speech the message of inner city regeneration. It will focus attention on the northern half of the country. I hope that it will also give people a chance to look at other parts of the north where there are good, progressive stories to be told. First, however, let us consider some of the divisions. As I have said, there is a division of perception. The north is not a 298 homogenous part of the country. There are the proud counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire and much good work has gone on there. The north of England is the pivotal point of Great Britain. One has only to look at the motorway network to realise that the north of England is at the centre of this united kingdom. That is an important point in influencing industrial decision-making.
Sadly, people have the idea that the north is a long way away. Ever since I drove round a roundabout in Slough and saw a large sign saying "To the north", I have wondered whether it does not start further south than we realised. In the counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire. Cumbria and Northumbria up to the Scottish border there are splendid leisure facilities and low-cost housing. So often when one brings people to the north they say, "We never knew it was like this." That is an example of the division of perception that we must try to avoid.
Then there is the division of opportunity. One of the problems for which the south must answer is this. The hearers of new wealth in the City, not so far from this place, flaunt their BMWs and Porsches and I do not begrudge their expertise in earning the money which allows them to do so, but it is very difficult when one talks to a northern entrepreneur struggling to raise venture capital who looks south at the sometimes misjudged use of some of the wealth created down there.
Finally, there is the division of history. Much of the north has declined because many of its industries were old. Driving around the periphery of Liverpool, Sheffield or Newcastle upon Tyne, where I worked, one cannot fail to be touched by and to appreciate the fact that there are still major problems to be tackled. In practical terms, much can be done to tackle the problems. First, there is the question of linkage. I believe that the great business houses in the south, such as Marks and Spencer, can do much by doing business with companies in the north—I worked for a company near the small market town of Ormskirk—in developing new products.
Horticulture is something of a Cinderella in the industrial sphere and it is not often mentioned, but the technology links and the input by Marks and Spencer meant that the company for which I worked was able to develop new strains of tomato. This had two results. It pushed back imports from Holland and it created jobs in the north and north-west of England to provide the market place in this country with a much-needed new product. That is the kind of development that can take place and I appeal to all Ministers who have dealings with our great business houses to emphasise that they should "think north" in their purchasing policies because they have the mechanism to transfer wealth back from the south to the north, as was the case historically from the industrial revolution until the decline of some of our great industries.
Secondly, Ministers should emphasise the positive aspects. So often on doorsteps during the election campaign I was asked what I was doing for the north and when I would get Ministers to come to the north. I should like them to visit some of the successful areas. I have mentioned British Aerospace and Guardian Royal Exchange. A smaller company in my constituency—Neoplants, of which probably no one has ever heard—has pioneered he technique of using new plant material to grow nursery stock for export to the United States and Holland.
299 If ever there were an example of taking coals to Newcastle, that is it. They have created about 40 to 50 new jobs, using new non-electronic technology. They have taken an old part of the horticulture industry and they have regenerated it. That is the sort of success story that is happening in the Fylde constituency. That is the kind of success story that the rest of the country should learn from and listen to. It will show people that the north is not a blighted area and that there are good points to attract people to locate in our part of the country.
I emphasise the point that was made by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong). She said that we have to learn the art of listening. I learnt the art of listening. I listened to what local business menthe ones who have brought work, the ones who are expanding business in the north, the ones who are creating jobs—said. They said to me, "Please concentrate on the subject of venture capital. Will you please use all your influence to say to the bankers of this country that it is safer to invest in St. Anne's than in Sao Paolo?" There are companies desperate for money, but the perception of the north is not always the most attractive for venture capital investment.
Secondly, business men have said that many of our companies are benefiting from our positive economic policies that have enabled them to be more competitive in exporting. They have said, "Please maintain that competitiveness." They have also said, "If we can be given the opportunity to run our businesses and be efficient, we will win orders." That is a more positive message from the north of England—a north of England that is rebuilding and is using new technologies to create new jobs.
As an hon. Member who represents a Lancashire seat, I passionately believe in the message that the north can support the healing of divisions within the country. I support the measures in the Queen's Speech. They will speed that process still further.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
In addressing the House for the first time, I am fortified by the remarks of a friend who said, "Facing the House of Commons should be no problem after preaching in the Wesleyan chapel in Dinas Powis." The chapel is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower), where I preached on many occasions during the 1970s.
At the outset of my speech, I pay tribute to my predecessor in the Bridgend constituency, Mr. Peter Hubbard-Miles. He was the first Conservative to represent any constituency in the county of Mid-Glamorgan. Tribute must be paid to him for that signal achievement, which of course I hope will he the last. He showed his independence and fighting spirit during the selection process before the 1983 election, when he successfully took his local Conservative and Unionist Association to court and managed to stop the foisting on the constituency of a person who was rumoured to be a friend of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the present Conservative party chairman. In 1985, at Westminster, his talents were recognised when the then Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Nicholas Edwards, who has left this place, appointed him as his parliamentary private secretary. Although he no longer represents the Bridgend constituency, he still has an interest in it. He represents a part of it—Porthcawl—on the council of the county of Mid-Glamorgan. Once again, he had the signal 300 achievement of being the only Conservative on the council—a solitary role that he manages to play with some success for the people in Porthcawl.
It is undoubtedly an immense privilege to represent the Bridgend constituency at Westminster. I am proud to say that, since 1979, I have represented it and eight other south Wales constituencies in the European Parliament. Indeed, my election to the European Parliament in 1979 was a proud moment for my family, and for my father in particular. When I visited him in the summer of 1979, he recalled with some delight the congratulations that he received from all and sundry in his home town of Brecon on his son being elected to the European Parliament. However, when I visited him at Christmas in 1979, his tune had changed. The Prime Minister had been on the warpath in Dublin in November demanding a considerable rebate from the European Community. The atmosphere had become so inflamed that my father did not dare tell anyone that he had a son in the European Parliament.
Unfortunately, such is the content of the Gracious Speech that I fear that my father will suffer from another bout of Prime Ministerially inflamed feelings as the vast majority of people in Wales seethe with hostility at the prospect of a lorryload of Bills that will do nothing to cut unemployment, enhance the quality of life or the expansion of personal liberty and freedom of choice of people in depressed regions such as Wales, the north and Scotland.
My constituents in Bridgend will be particularly saddened and even driven to despair by the absence of specific and direct Government action to deal with unemployment. At the latest count. 3,381 people were registered as unemployed in the Bridgend constituency, even on the Government's restricted and much-altered definition of unemployment. The true figure is probably well over 4,500. If the army of unemployed people from old mining villages such as the one in which I live in Celli Cribwr, from decimated steel communities such as Cornelly, from commuter communities of the beautiful coastal belt such as Porthcawl, and from the old market town of Bridgend, whose light industry-based growth has seen it expand towards villages such as Laleston and Coity, were to have marched on the jobcentres in my constituency on 8 May—the last date for which official figures are available—they would have found 292 jobs posted around the jobcentres. There are over 3,000 registered unemployed but fewer than 300 job vacancies.
With figures such as that, can the Government seriously believe that their management of the economy has been a success? The Government may misguidedly think so, but the voters of Bridgend, Wales, the north of England and Scotland do not. They emphatically rejected the fairy tales about economic miracles when the marks of unemployment, poverty, dole and desolation were, and still are, to be seen hard by the doorsteps of those in well-paid work and those in not-so-well-paid work who are thankful to have any job at all. What hope of jobs can my constituents in Bridgend look forward to as a consequence of the Gracious Speech? Quite bluntly, none. Not a single measure will create jobs in Wales, and quite a number will cost jobs—for example, the privatisation of water authorities.
Only this weekend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), told) business men in his constituency that public expenditure. as a proportion of national income, must be reduced. 301 Along with the unattributed remarks of Treasury officials, who say that brakes will be put on public spending, it bodes ill for the regeneration of already deprived regions.
In 1978, £137 million was spent on regional policy in Wales. This year, planned expenditure is £88 million and next year it is £33.6 million. Yet unemployment in Wales is more than double what it was in 1978. The Government must spend more, not less, on regional policy. As in Wales, so in the Bridgend travel-to-work area, where unemployment has more than doubled. The current figure is 14.9 per cent., which is almost 50 per cent. higher than the United Kingdom figure. Yet in November 1984 the Bridgend travel-to-work area was the only one in the United Kingdom to be chopped from the top to the bottom of the regional aid ladder. It was the only special development area to be downgraded to assisted area.
My plea to the new Secretary of State for Wales, who I am sorry has been unable to attend this important debate, is to review the status of the Bridgend travel-to-work area and upgrade it to a development area, which would be in keeping with the unemployment from which about 4,000 of my constituents suffer.
§ Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
I am delighted to pay tribute to the two fluent maiden speeches that the House has just heard. When I was elected to the House in 1970, I took the advice of the Whips, who told me to hold back and not to make my maiden speech for some months. I admire the robust independence of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who have defied that advice—if the Whips are still giving it—and have decided to make their maiden speeches early and well.
The hon. Member for Bridgend paid tribute to his predecessor. I and my right hon. Friends are grateful for the gracious way in which he referred to his political opponent and to the uniqueness of his position as the Member who represented Bridgend in this House and represents Porthcawl elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde referred in appropriately felicitous terms to his predecessor, Sir Edward Gardner, a distinguished lawyer and courteous and kindly politician who won respect from hon. Members on both sides of the House. His tribute was received extremely well by those of us who knew Edward as a friend and colleague for many years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, speaking as he did in a constructive, forward-looking, optimistic and confident way about the opportunities and the growth in the north of England, served that area of the country well. We look forward to hearing again from him and from the hon. Member for Bridgend, who spoke passionately about the problems of unemployment in his constituency.
The opening speeches in the debate concentrated upon Scottish issues and problems. Members of Parliament from Scotland get a fair share—perhaps more than a fair share—of the time of the House. As a London Member of Parliament, I have not complained about this, nor did I object when, in previous Parliaments, Labour Members from Scotland imposed Labour policies upon England. But the behaviour of some Opposition Members during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gave me cause for concern 302 about the intolerance and singlemindedness of their attitude. The special case of Scotland, which the House has always properly recognised. has been overemphasised by some Opposition Members—I suspect to the disadvantage of the causes that they hold dear.
The problem with today's debate is that we have to select only one or two items from the wide range of subjects mentioned in the Gracious Speech. It is undoubtedly true that the problems of the regions. the separate countries and the inner cities can be resolved only in the context of a sound and growing economy. Although the collectivist and highly interventionist policies of the Labour party have been proclaimed by Labour Members today, I have no doubt that if they were implemented they would weaken the economy and make it much more difficult to solve many of the underlying problems which are part of our history and which it will take considerable effort and time to resolve.
A major theme that flowed from the general election was a recognition in the United Kingdom, and especially in England, of the economic progress and strength that have occurred under this Government. We have low inflation, steady growth from the depths of the recession of 1980–81 and a welcome reduction in unemployment. In my constituency, it is down by more than 20 per cent. since August last year. I reject the comments of the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian), that the figures have been fiddled. Whatever may be said about the adjustments to the figures during the lifetime of the Government, no adjustments have been made during the past 12 months or more. The change during that period flows from the realities on the ground. It is irresponsible of a former senior Minister to make such criticisms of civil servants, who compile those figures properly and impartially and are not subject to political direction.
I welcome the bullish forecast of the London Business School this morning. My only worry is about the rapid growth in domestic credit. The aggressive marketing by banks and retailers of their credit cards sounds a warning note which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues will examine carefully. Continued economic strength is essential to deal with our social problems.
One area in which London is disadvantaged is its hospital service. No one can deny the significant extra funding of the National Health Service since 1979. The figures were mentioned often during the election campaign. When the Government came to power in 1979, a little less than £8 billion was spent on the Health Service. Now the figure is £21 billion, which represents a 30 per cent. plus increase in real terms. But the extra is not evenly distributed. Primary care—the general practitioner services, which are not cash limited—has taken an increase of well over 30 per cent. in real terms during the past eight years, which has left less than 30 per cent. for hospital and community health services.
The Resource Allocation Working Party proposals which were first adopted by a Labour Government when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was Minister for Health, and which were carried on under Labour and Conservative Governments, have meant that the extra resources have gone more to the north, the north-west, Scotland and elsewhere than to London and the south-east. Sub-regional RAWP, as it is called, has meant that that trend has been accentuated in the south-east of the country with more resources being 303 allocated outside London than in the London area. The net effect of that has created special problems and difficulties for London. In real terms, little if any increase in resources has gone into that area during the past five or six years.
Other factors, especially the recent sharp rise in house and flat prices in the London area, have combined to create problems in the recruitment and retention of nurses. The West Middlesex University hospital in my constituency is short of more than 100 nurses. That has led to ward closures, cancelled operations and lengthening waiting lists. Of course, the fact that there are such staff shortages, which go wider than just nursing staff, places an extra strain on the staff, which exacerbates the problems of retaining hospital staff. Special action is required. The Government's ready acceptance of the nurses' pay award, its full implementation and the Government's provision, from the contingency fund, of the necessary extra money for meeting the costs of the pay award have helped.
However, in London specific extra measures are now urgently required. My plea today is for early action by the Ministers concerned. It makes no sense for hospital services, where the equipment and premises have a high value, to be unused or inadequately used because of staff shortages. I know that the patients who are made to wait for treatment or whose operations are cancelled feel strongly that further action is required.
Public service pay in general will and does continue to present problems. This is an area with which I was especially concerned some years ago when I was Minister of State for the Civil Service. I am sorry that greater progress has not been made in adopting the recommendations of the Megaw committee concerning the future determination of Civil Service pay. I welcome the agreement reached by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which is my own union, and I am glad that the Society of Civil and Public Servants has called off its strikes, which I did not think were justified. I hope that there will be some useful results from the discussions which the leaders of that union propose to have with officials and perhaps Ministers as well. I hope also that the Civil and Public Services Association—the biggest of the Civil Service unions—will overcome the terrible burden of a Militant-dominated executive. I reiterate my support for Megaw-type systems of pay determination and hope that the unions concerned will agree to them.
I turn now to rates and to the community charge, or the poll tax, which seemed to be mentioned in almost every speech today. I must confess that the short paragraph on page 63 of the 77-page Conservative manifesto which dealt with this issue was not the most burning issue of the campaign in my constituency. Indeed, the only comments that I heard about rates came from people who complained bitterly about the sharp increases in rates that had been imposed by the Labour leaders of the Ealing and Hammersmith councils—65 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively. My constituents were anxious that nothing similar should happen locally and were pleased that a Conservative Minister had rate-capped the London borough of Hounslow.
I have always thought that the doctrine of the manifesto was somewhat bogus. Indeed, I argued as much in the 1974–79 Parliament when I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment held a similar view. As I have said, it was a pretty bogus doctrine 304 at the best of times. Therefore, I was surprised to hear my right hon. Friend using the manifesto argument in such a simplistic form on the radio last Friday. In any case, he got it wrong. The manifesto did not say, as he said that it did, that we would replace domestic rates "with a community charge." The manifesto said that we would replace domestic rates with "a fairer community charge." The word "fairer" is of considerable significance and is the nub and the heart of the matter.
When I was a Treasury Minister we considered carefully and with great diligence the proposition of a poll tax or a community charge. However, we judged then that it would not be a "fairer" tax. Of course, I stand by those conclusions. However, what seems to have happened since then? Presumably Ministers have become convinced that it would be "fairer" and a satisfactory replacement at least for the domestic rating system in Scotland because that was the legislation that they brought before the House. I was prepared to go along with that—[Interruption.]—yes, I voted for it—and in one of my regular newsletters to constituents I wrote:Domestic rates in Scotland are to be replaced with a community charge (poll tax) system which if successful will be implemented in England after the General Election.That was my view and I stand by it. However, I am not at all happy with the suggestion that parallel actions should be taken for England at the same time. We should see how it works out in Scotland, or perhaps we should suspend its implementation until all the many serious snags that are now being spelt out in the press and elsewhere, including our debates on the Gracious Speech, are resolved.
My constituents are certainly fed up with and deeply critical of the present domestic rating system. However, it would be a betrayal of their interests to replace this unpopular but in revenue terms efficient and effective tax with anything other than a "fairer" alternative. I reiterate the word "fairer." That must be the Government's objective in meeting the clear statement that was set out in our manifesto.
There is no specific reference in the Gracious Speech to environmental issues. However, my constituents are affronted by a major planning application for a massive development involving hundreds of acres in and around Osterley park in west London. Much of the land is designated metropolitan open land and it is inconceivable that permission for all or part of these plans should be given. My constituents and other local residents in the neighbouring areas are likely to be faced with heavy legal costs in resisting the plans at a public inquiry. I understand that powers exist under which the Secretary of State could refuse to entertain a planning appeal that is clearly at odds with the development plan. I wish that he would do so in this case. Such action would give a clear and welcome signal that the Government remain absolutely determined to maintain and, where appropriate, extend the green belt and other areas of open land which are so prized by urban dwellers.
My final two points are short House of Commons issues. The first relates to Members' pay. After the unseemly and unhelpful ministerial actions four years ago, I hope that there is no truth in today's story in The Times about the Prime Minister's intentions. The compromise proposal, linking Members' pay to a Civil Service grade, which was agreed in July 1983, should be endorsed. If Ministers decide to deploy the pay roll and Parliamentary 305 Private Secretaries' vote otherwise, I hope that sufficient PPSs will refuse to co-operate so as to frustrate such a foolish action.
The second House of Commons point relates to television. I have consistently voted to allow the cameras into this honourable House, and I hope that we shall all be given an early opportunity to consider and vote on this matter in this Parliament. It may well prove an interesting Parliament and prove well worth watching.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) that we have listened to two interesting maiden speeches. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) who made rather an assertive speech. I do not know much about Fylde, but I recall that one Bill Beaumont came from there. He once led a rare flukey victory over Wales at Twickenham, and he now appears on television. I am sure that we shall hear a good deal more in this place from the hon. Member for Fylde.
I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), and his sincerity and concern for the unemployed of Bridgend ran through it. He is one of the splendid new intake from Wales to these Benches. He brings to the House experience gained in the European Assembly, and over the years he will make a significant contribution to our deliberations.
The theme of today's debate is the social and economic divisions between nations and regions of the United Kingdom—what has become known as the north-south divide. Listening to the opening speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland I would have thought that this debate was just an apology for the Government's dismal record in Scotland, but from personal knowledge I can report to the House that after eight years of this Thatcher Government Wales is certainly in a parlous state. What is more, the proposals in the Queen's Speech are entirely irrelevant to its needs.
The position is rather different as we have a new Secretary of State—an Englishman into the bargain—who did not obtain a single Welsh vote. It has been suggested that his appointment is an insult to Wales; it is certainly an indication of the way in which Wales is being treated by the Government. It is an additional insult that he is not present on the Front Bench for this important debate. Finally, his appointment illustrates the paucity of a talent among Conservative Members representing Welsh seats.
The new Secretary of State faces a formidable task and he will do well to remember that the Labour party holds the overwhelming number of parliamentary seats in Wales. I would like to take this early opportunity to draw his attention to the vexed question of mass unemployment which now afflicts Wales. According to the Government's own recent submission to the EC, the overall activity rate in Wales is lower than that of any other region of the United Kingdom and it is expected to remain so in the immediate years ahead. By 1986 the number of people in Wales with a job fell to 901,000—a drop of 175,000, or no less that 17 per cent. That is the lowest figure since records began in 1948.
It is difficult to get a true figure of unemployment compared with 1979 because of the 19 changes in the 306 method of compiling the statistics. All the changes have had the effect of understating the true level of unemployment, but, despite that, the official figures tell a depressing story. In June 1979, 80,032, or 7.3 per cent., were out of work in Wales. In October 1986 the figures had risen to 174,105, or 14.1 per cent. There has been a minor adjustment downwards in the feverish activity that took place in the run-up to the general election.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that unemployment in Wales has been falling over past 13 months and that it has been falling faster in Wales than elsewhere?
§ Mr. Hughes
Only today the London Business School pointed out that the recent reduction in unemployment owes more to the restart programme than to rising employment. Moreover, it also reports that this trend is likely to continue.
The cost of unemployment is simply phenomenal. It has absorbed much of our North Sea oil revenues, which should have been spent on regenerating British manufacturing industry. Wales has lost 36 per cent., or 113,000 jobs, in manufacturing industry. By contrast, in the past three years south-east England has benefited by a 15 per cent. growth in banking, insurance and finance. Those figures illustrate what we mean by the north-south divide.
Between 1979 and 1985 the average wage in Wales decreased in real terms by 4.1 per cent.—the biggest drop of any region—whereas London's average wage over the same period increased by 6.2 per cent. Unemployment has risen faster in Wales than in any other region, which completely contradicts the Government's argument that lower wage levels mean more jobs. Wales has the lowest average wage of all 20 British regions and it has the highest share of people earning less than the minimum wage. Two thirds of women working full time earn less than the EC statutory minimum wage. Whereas wages in the south-east have soared, it can be said with some justification that it has been at the expense of Wales.
The people of Wales have faced other penalties. For example, water charges have risen at more than double the inflation level in the past three years; rates have increased above the rate of inflation thanks to Government cuts in the funding of Welsh local authorities: and council rents have risen faster than inflation. The proportion of wages spent on rent has increased by 50 per cent., from 6 per cent. to 9 per cent.
The housing crisis in Wales is almost as catastrophic as unemployment. Wales has a much higher proportion of' older housing than any other part of Great Britain. More than 40 per cent. of Welsh homes, nearly 450,000, are more than 65 years old compared with 30 per cent. for Britain as a whole. Many people in Wales are living in housing conditions which were considered unhealthy more than 100 years ago. It is obvious and apparent that urgent action is needed to tackle this problem. What is more, a housing drive makes social and economic sense.
Of course, there is regional aid. However, in 1984, to cut that aid in half was a cruel decision. It watered down efforts to renew the Welsh economy after a catastrophic period of closures and redundancies, particularly affecting our traditional industries. I suggest to the new Secretary of State for Wales—I trust that the Minister of State 307 will convey my message—that the original regional assistance should be restored, and indeed increased, if there is to be any realistic attack on unemployment and depression.
Education in Wales reveals a similar dismal picture. Government cuts have led to inadequate supplies of books and equipment. Buildings have been neglected, classes have been disrupted and the negotiating rights of the teachers' trades unions have been taken away. The Gracious Speech contains the new proposal that parents should pay for the little extras. Of course, that will adversely affect poorer families. The proposal for schools to opt out is causing concern. The director of education in Gwent, Mr. Geoffrey Drought, has warned that any school that opts out could leave itself extremely exposed and could live to regret that decision. Likewise, central Government could close a school at the stroke of a pen and local communities will lose out.
The proposal within the Gracious Speech that is perhaps causing the greatest concern is that for a new method of financing local government, which has become known as the poll tax. A few days ago my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition forecast that that poll tax will bring chaos and lead to the breakdown of local government. For me the most revealing insight has come from reading that the Prime Minister stands to gain £37 per week on her retirement home in Dulwich; the Secretary of State for the Environment will be £19 per week better off; and the Secretary of State for Transport will clear up a staggering £120 per week on his two homes. By comparison, the rates bill of the poor depressed families in the Rhondda valleys—where the wealth was produced to generate the industrial revolution of this country—and the average householder, which was £145, will increase by 300 per cent. to £580. That is the rates bill for a family of four. Where is the justice in this?—the traditional hwara-teg.
All in all, the people of Wales find that the Gracious Speech shows a lack of concern for their needs. The north-south divide in Wales is in jobs, pay, wealth, housing, education, training, youth, middle age, old age and the lack of opportunities for our people. The brief resume of facts and figures that I have given should serve as a reminder to the incoming Secretary of State for Wales of the uphill task that he faces.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)
I have the great honour of having been sent to this House by the electors of south Dorset to follow in the distinguished footsteps of Viscount Cranborne, known to all hon. Members as Robert, who is clearly a man of eloquence, intelligence and, perhaps more than any other, integrity. He has a love of south Dorset, and the constituents of south Dorset certainly have a great regard and love for him.
My constituency is an easy one about which to eulogise. Whereas other hon. Members may find some difficulty in saying what a wonderful place their constituency is, there is no one who could deny that south Dorset is a beautiful place in which to live. In case right hon. and hon. Members and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not booked your holidays, perhaps I can tell you a little about south Dorset.
My constituency extends from Studland and Swanage to Weymouth and Portland, and to the north it goes as far as Bere Regis. We have some of the finest beaches, coves and cliffs in the whole of the country. Hon. Members will 308 be well aware of Lulworth cove and the naked beauty of Studland. Perhaps that should be the naked beauties of Studland, where there is a nudist colony.
My constituency boasts the Purbeck hills and the white horse that people know so well as they travel in and out of Weymouth. Brownsea island nestles in Poole harbour. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) gives up most of the harbour area to my constituency. We have nature reserves in Arne, Lodmore and Radipole.
We are lucky to enjoy not only the beauties, but the natural resources of south Dorset. We possess the Purbeck stone and Portland stone that built most of London. We also possess ball clay and the Wytch farm oil wells. In fact, I probably represent the constituency with the largest amount of oil reserves. We play an enormous part in the defence of the realm. We are home to the Bovington and Lulworth camps; the tank firing ranges and training camps. We possess a naval dockyard and a naval helicopter station, where Prince Andrew is stationed. As regards law and order, the Dorset police headquarters are in my constituency. There is a prison on Portland, the Verne, as well as a youth custody centre.
Industry should not be neglected. Many people believe that among such beauty one would not find a thriving industrial sector that covers the electronics and service industries. The constituency houses the Underwater Weapons Research Establishment on Portland and the Nuclear Research Establishment at Winfrith Heath. South Dorset also has a working nuclear power station. Our farming community on the land covers sheep, cattle and corn. Fishing at sea is still a major industry in south Dorset.
Tradition says that, on these occasions, new Mernbers should be non-controversial. I had thought that with my name, Ian Cameron Bruce, I might be entitled, especially with my ancestry, to talk about Scotland. Obviously, Opposition Members would find that extremely controversial, given everything that they have said today. I thought that I might even talk about Wales, because I was born in Llantwit Fardre, in Glamorganshire. It was good to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). However, to speak about Wales would have been controversial. There are some who would like to see schisms within the country. Perhaps they would like to split me into little pieces. I also thought that perhaps I might talk about Ireland, because I have an Irish mother, but I thought that that might be too controversial. Instead, I asked the permission of one of my hon. Friends, the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), who has been elected to the House as the first Conservative Member for that worthy constituency in Yorkshire, to make some comparison between that constituency and the one that I have the honour to represent. Our constituencies illustrate the north-south divide.
For the past 12 years I have lived in Colne valley, which covers Huddersfield and the surrounding areas. I ran an employment agency that covered all sorts of people. from the unskilled labourer to the managing director. I have to spend a great deal of time canvassing in that area. One hears the attitudes that are often expressed, particularly by Labour Members who come from the north of England. They always say that on the doorstep the most important problem is unemployment. I agree with them. They tell us that there has been a terrible rundown in industry and that 309 there is a lack of job opportunities. Again, I agree with them. They envy me my southern constituency, the land of milk, honey and jobs.
On the doorstep in Dorset, South, one hears a different story. People tell us, "We are OK. We can look after ourselves. We do not need extra jobs. We are really going places." Of course, there are not enough houses to go around. Everybody wants to get into Dorset, South. The people think that it must have been hell for me living in the north of England, with all the deprivation that they hear about, particularly from Opposition Members. They want to do more for the north. They were even foolish enough to select somebody who lived in the north, so that they could give a little extra help to the north of England.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will think that those attitudes are typical, but when one gets at the facts, one finds the situation interesting. What are the facts? In Colne Valley, 3,679 people are unemployed. Incidentally, both constituencies have just over 70,000 voters. Clearly, that level of unemployment is much too high, and in my employment agency I did a great deal to try to put that right. But what of Dorset, South, the place with no unemployment problems! Are 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 people unemployed? It is none of those figures, but 3,968. We have 300 more people unemployed in Dorset, South than are unemployment in Colne Valley. The north-south divide exists, but it exists in people's minds and their attitude to whether they go out and help themselves or whether they do not.
We in the House need to deal with facts, not with myths. I should like to give a few other strange facts from my experience of running an employment agency. We did a great deal to try to get unskilled labourers into jobs—the young people who had great difficulty getting jobs. Let me give a straight statistic, which has no political significance. It is simply one that we used in the employment agency. If one wanted somebody to start work in the morning to do an unskilled labouring job, one had to phone seven people to find one person who would be available to start work in the morning. If one wanted somebody to do the night shift, the statistic was 12 people.
What about skilled building workers? We are constantly told about the half million people in the building industry who are unemployed. I suggest that hon. Members try to find some of those half million people to start work on a building site—people with skills. I am sorry, but they do not exist.
There is a myth that young people do not want to work. In fact, it is the married man with several children who is the most difficult person to persuade to take a job. There is a difficult problem with the over-50s. We as politicans constantly shout at the Government, "Let us spend more money," but unfortunately it is the employers who will not take people on, however well they have been retrained. It seems that they do not want to take on somebody over 50. We have to work at that, to get the employers to think otherwise.
Running an employment agency for a dozen years does not give me all the answers, but I think that I have some idea of what the questions should be.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I am not sure of the proprieties of it, but I should like to say that 310 we have just heard some words that will go down in history. We know the famous words of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—that the unemployed should get on their bike. We now have the answer to the north-south divide—that it is all in the mind. I am not so sure, and in my maiden speech in the House perhaps I can deal with some of the issues that burn in that part of the north which is the country of Scotland, from which I come to the House.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. I am privileged to be here and to be able to make this speech. For someone like me to stand here where Charles James Fox once spoke so loud as to be heard beyond these walls, for someone like me to stand here where the great pioneers of the Labour party and the Socialist movement—Keir Hardie, James Maxton and John Wheatley—stood and made the Socialist case is a proud moment for me. That I can stand here in this place where Aneurin Bevan gave his coruscating indictment of the economic system so beloved of Conservative Members is a great privilege for me, too.
That privilege has been afforded me by the electors of the Glasgow, Hillhead constituency who, when they did so, performed a singular act of historical importance, in that it was the first time that Glasgow became a wholly Labour city, proving, as the Secretary of State for Scotland said, that not only is Glasgow miles better, but it has miles more political common sense.
I think that it is appropriate for me to pay tribute to my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Hillhead, an outstanding Member of the House, the right hon. Roy Jenkins. He had rare political gifts as an administrator, a biographer, a political historian, and an elegant and witty orator, but above all as an outstanding occupant of two of the great offices of state—Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Secretary of State for the Home Department. Mr. Jenkins' gifts have made a significant mark on this country over four decades. Although he has now retired to work in the shadow of dreaming spires of Oxford university, where he was elected as its chancellor, I venture to hope that there will be no mean spiritedness when the opportunity next arises for Mr. Jenkins, through another place, to re-enter these Houses of Parliament.
My constituency is at one and the same time a beautiful and historic yet troubled place. It ribbons along the great river Clyde, where once the great shipyards of the upper Clyde built ships of steel, which sailed the seven seas, laden with the manufactures of what was once the workshop of the world—west central Scotland. There is just one shipyard left in my constituency, Yarrows, which faces the future more fearful than it might have been, given the Government's determination to proceed with the Trident submarine programme and the mortal threat that that represents to the idea of a 50-ship surface fleet, in a Navy that is so necessary to defend our country and to protect and ensure the survival of that vital source of skilled employment in my constituency.
Our once proud Albion motor manufacturers, of world renown, a symbol of industrial strength, has been reduced by the Government's economic policies to a mere shadow of its former self. It has been forced to seek succour in the arms of foreign competitors, pygmies by historical comparison, to secure for itself a place in the market.
311 Our great universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, one wholly in my constituency and the other with parts in my constituency, are fearful of their future. They are fearful about their future funding, and about the commercialisation of their great enterprise of learning, about which we await developments with interest. They are fearful of the future for those who study within those great seats of learning, and of how those who study will sustain themselves through their courses and the studies that lie ahead of them. They are fearful of the low student grant which may soon become a student loan—it will begin as a difficult loan and perhaps end as an impossible loan, not only to repay but ultimately even to obtain. Such a system would, of course, eventually alter dramatically the whole basis of access to higher education in this country. "If you can't pay, your are kept at bay" in an education system which increasingly, if the Government's plans come to fruition, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said the other day, will know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
My constituency is chock full of hospitals that have struggled these past eight years to keep bodies and souls together. There are overworked and underpaid staff of all kinds, from the best doctors to those often unsung heroes in the hospital system who clean the floors, porter and cook the food and who receive some of the pious eulogies that the Government sometimes dish out. All the underpaid and overworked workers in those hospitals now face the future in dilapidated buildings with outdated equipment, wondering if they will be as safe in the hands of the Prime Minister as they have been these past eight, mean, penny-pinching, painful years.
My constituency also contains the leafy environs of Broadcasting house, the headquarters of the BBC in Scotland. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will recall that earlier this year those solid and hallowed doors were booted down in the middle of the night by policemen who were sent—abused—on a political errand to intimidate professional journalists of the highest standards, at the top of their profession, and prevent them from doing their duty to their trade, their employer and the public. There may not have been any jackboots, but it was a scene reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. There may not have been any dark glasses, but it was a scene reminiscent of Greece in the early 1970s. It was a disgrace of which the Government should feel ashamed, and for which they have not yet atoned.
For those reasons and many more, my constituents face a fearful, anxious and troubled future. Since 11 June, however, it has not been only a state of anxiety and a sense of fear that I have detected on the streets and in the city of Glasgow. There is a state of slowly mounting, burning anger, because my constituents face a future for which they have not voted. Their anger is because the people of Scotland now face a future that they have thrice rejected. They are angry because the Gracious Speech appears to offer no recognition of, or concession to, the fact that there is in this country a Scottish dimension to the electoral result.
When I heard earlier that apology for a speech from the right hon. and learned Member who graces the office of Secretary of State for my country—it made no concession or genuflexion of any kind to the fact that there was a constitutional crisis in my country and his—I thought that I was listening to the wrong man making the wrong speech in the wrong debate. The Secretary of State's 312 Government have no mandate in my country and do riot speak for its people. It is true that the Labour party does not speak for the entire country either. There are other parties that have levels of political support in Scotland, but, taking us altogether, some 80 per cent. of the people of my country have rejected the Government who none the less sit in governance over us in New St. Andrew's House. If that is not a constitutional crisis, I do not know what is.
It is not too late for the Secretary of State and the Government to hear the voices of anger from the Scottish people. It is not too late to allow our people that for which they voted in the referendum in 1979 and at three consecutive general elections—an assembly in Edinburgh dealing with Scottish affairs. The argument that they have not demonstrated their desire for an assembly is so hollow that I cannot believe that someone of the Secretary of State's intellect believes it. Almost 80 per cent. of the people of Scotland supported parties that stood for some measure of Scottish devolution.
It is not too late for the Government to listen and to turn. Our people are canny. They are slow to rise, but when they have had enough they will rise like lions arid their anger will be heard within these walls.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
It is a genuine pleasure to be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) on their maiden speeches, which were different in style but both outstanding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South paid a most apt personal tribute to Robert Cranborne and to his affection for what is obviously a lovely constituency, about which my hon. Friend clearly has encyclopaedic knowledge and for which he has a real feeling. He also showed a real and interesting insight in the contrast that he drew between the Huddersfield area and the north and the south, both in terms of the facts and of attitudes. I am sure that that will be a theme to which he will wish to return in the course of this Parliament, and I know that the House will look forward to hearing him on future occasions.
The hon. Member for Hillhead paid an excellent tribute to Mr. Roy Jenkins, one of the great parliamentarians, historians and Ministers of this generation, and also a man of great personal courtesy. I join the hon. Member for Hillhead in expressing the hope that Mr. Jenkins will have the opportunity, if he wishes, to contribute to the proceedings of Parliament in another place.
The hon. Member for Hillhead comes to the House with a reputation for eloquence and hard work. He will not expect me to agree with some of the points that he made, but his speech showed knowledge, firmness, commitment and the fluency that we expected. I shared a meeting with the hon. Gentleman during the election campaign. It was a rally of the striking civil servants, held on the Tuesday before election day. It was an occasion that might be described as a wee fraction restive. Not only did they boo me, which is entirely to be expected, they even booed the hon. Member for Hillhead; but he sailed through that occasion with no difficulty. While we may not agree with what he says, we look forward to hearing from him and from the other hon. Members who have made excellent maiden speeches in the course of the debate.
313] I should like to comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). His speech contained the general Opposition theme about the so-called north-south divide. We know that the SDP and the Liberals are not on speaking terms these days, and it appears that some members of the Labour party do not consult each other on these matters. We know that, because the theme wholly conflicts with a recent interesting article in the London Daily News by someone whom I understand is to be the next leader of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). He said:Firstly, it is important to avoid the simplistic notion that what has happened is simply because of the so-called North-South divide.A detailed analysis of the polls shows that the regional differences are not a product of geography but reflect the different class composition of different areas of the country.He went on to analyse that, and some Opposition Members would do well to read the article. Earlier in the debate some hon. Members shouted, "We won, we won. I shall quote further to them from the article by the hon. Member for Brent, East. He said:The grim truth is that Labour's result in this election is worse than 1983. We have piled up votes in our traditional areas where there are few seats left to gain and slipped back further in the areas of Britain where the population is growing and the vast majority of marginal seats exist.That is the truth of this election.
I should like to concentrate briefly on the Scottish situation and the so-called doomsday scenario that we appear to be in. Of course, the situation in Scotland is potentially serious. It is not a constitutional conflict, but if the political trends of the general election were to be repeated in a future general election, clearly there would be a potentially major constitutional conflict that would be much more serious than the matter of who wins seats. It that came about, it would create a serious problem for the next Conservative Government to tackle. It is important that that does not come about.
If such a scenario occurred—the trends are that such a scenario is clearly possible—a future Conservative Government should not take the path of devolution, a path to which I am totally opposed. There are scenarios to which the House of Commons could quite rightly and properly say that it must go for the least unattractive option. That option would be the end of the Act of Union and an independent Scotland. That scenario is not as unacceptable as has often been suggested, and I say that for two reasons. First, I understand that the SNP accepts the union of the Crowns. Secondly, it accepts that an independent Scotland would be a member of the European Community and for that reason could not pursue extreme Left-wing policies. That would not be because of the constraints imposed by the European Community, but because of the freedom of the Community and the ability of people and businesses to move to and from Scotland as they wish.
It is crucial that the Government take the right decisions in order to avoid that scenario and to regain the confidence of the Scottish people. We are faced with an historic choice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is receiving a great deal of advice on what to do about Scotland. Most of the conventional advice will be to have a bit of devolution. He will be told, "Let us have a wee scheme, perhaps not as 314 good as the other schemes. Let us have a bit more public spending, a wee bit more on the Highlands and more bridges to nowhere." He will be told, "Let us have more press releases about the gallant Scottish Office fighting the Treasury." That conventional advice is the basis of the policy that has gone wrong. Traditional paternalism has gone wrong in Scotland, and the policy does not work for a number of reasons.
Mention has been made of public expenditure being high in in Scotland. The hon. Member for Hillhead said that Glasgow does not have a Conservative MP. Nor does the Highlands. But both of those areas have done relatively well out of public expenditure since 1979. There is a direct, positive relationship between those two facts. High levels of public expenditure have created a dependence culture in those areas. When there is a problem and people ask what the Government will do about it, it is said that all that is needed to solve the problem is more public money. That has built up client groups in those areas whose whole ethos and existence is geared to asking for more Government money as the answer to everything. We should now fight not on these grounds but on strong Conservative grounds and principles.
I fought the Eastwood constituency openly and explicitly in my election address and at every public meeting as the anti-assembly candidate, and it was on that basis that I was elected. Of course. devolution is popular with the chattering classes—politicians and the media. However, there is much wisdom from the Labour party on the subject of devolution. I should like to quote from the South Wales Echo, which is constantly at the top of my in-tray. In the edition of 25 February 1978 the present leader of the Labour party said:The irony of devolution is that it will 'smash beyond healing' the unity of Britain. People who light fuses must expect explosions. These devolution proposals offer a maximum of risk with the minimum of gain to the Scots people.That was the right hon. Gentleman's opinion then and it was correct. There has been no answer to the west Lothian question or to the question about the role of Scottish MPs. Any move towards an assembly would be the slippery slope towards separation. If it worked well, the demand would he for more powers; and if it worked badly, the demand would still he for more powers. It is a recipe for continuing constitutional conflict and chaos.
I commend to the House the detailed proposals for Scotland that are contained in the Queen's Speech and hope that the Education Bill will prove to be rather more than is presently indicated. In Scotland we must stand firmly on strong Conservative grounds.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I follow the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) with some incredulity. I have never heard a Scottish Member argue so eloquently the case for fewer resources to be applied to his own constituency and to his own country. No doubt he comes to the House with some shattering lessons from the general election. He will have plenty of time to contemplate what happened to his 11 colleagues from Scotland who disappeared from the Conservative Benches.
I congratulate hon. Members on their maiden speeches of which I have heard six this afternoon. They all added something to the debate and I should like especially to congratulate two maiden speakers. 315 The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) made a sincere speech and showed his knowledge of the European Community. His speech also showed his preaching experience in the Wesleyan chapels of Wales.
One of the most impressive major speeches was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). In his eloquence, he delivered the genuine message that is to be heard in Scotland. It is high time that that voluble message was heard in this Chamber. The hon. Member articulated that message more clearly than any other hon. Member. Perhaps the speech of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) represents the other side of the same coin. It carried foreboding in the warning that there is a mood in Scotland not to take no for an answer. There must be new thinking, whether it be new thinking from the hon. Member for Eastwood—which I would not accept—or from the hon. Member for Hillhead—which I would accept.
I have to remind myself that we are debating the social and economic divisions of the nations and regions of Britain. Having listened to the person purporting to be the Secretary of State for Scotland who opened the debate, I could have believed that this was a "Scotland only" debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman uttered the desperate squeals of a man who had just had his right leg run over by a steamroller. Understandably, anyone experiencing that would concentrate only on his right leg. I am not sure whether I should complain that the Secretary of State did not address the problems of Wales or of the regions in England. After all, he and the Government have no mandate to speak on the problems in Wales. But then, of course, they have no mandate to speak on the problems of Scotland either.
The other startling fact to appear in the debate is that the person who purports to be the Secretary of State for Wales graced the Chamber for only a few minutes, not for the opening speeches from the Front Benches, but to hear his wet friend the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) speak about his version of the poll tax. If the Secretary of State for Wales was taking Wales seriously, he should be sitting in the Chamber and not in the Tea Room of the House of Commons when such a debate is taking place. There is also little point in the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts), coming to the Chamber 15 minutes late because he also missed the opening and vital parts of the debate.
The debate on the Queen's Speech takes place against a background in Wales where the Government won only eight of the 38 seats. The Government received no mandate from the Welsh electorate for the programme that they have put forward in the Queen's Speech. If any party received a mandate in Wales, it was the Labour party. The people in Wales are looking for policies that will answer their social and economic needs. They want policies that will respond to their aspirations. None of those policies is forthcoming from the Government. The Government have been rejected overwhelmingly by the people of Wales. They have no right to put forward policies in the Queen's Speech that take so little notice of the needs of my country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) spoke on Thursday about the question of no mandate, the devastating effects of the proposed education changes and the cuts in public expenditure and on defence. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) also spoke on Thursday about Scotland's 316 rejection of the Conservative Government. I want to underline one basic question. From where do the rights of hon. Members and of the Government emanate? I should have thought that all Opposition Members would agree that they emanate from the people. Any sovereignty that we possess is sovereignty that we have borrowed for a limited period from the people who have elected us. To that extent, if Scotland and Wales clearly show in the results of a general election that they wish to follow a different course, the representatives of those countries should have the right to follow those courses. At the very least, they should be allowed this sovereignty on a level of government which already exists in our two countries. By that I mean that the Scottish Office exists for Scotland and the Welsh Office for Wales. Those offices have considerable power over everyday issues for the Welsh and the Scottish people.
Perhaps Conservative Members were right to claim that the question of devolution was not raised on the doorsteps. However, electors asked what action was being taken, for example, to attain different policies on unemployment. We must remember that unemployment matters are the responsibility of the Welsh and Scottish Offices. Different policies on housing were requested and indeed we have suffered a devastating series of housing policies in Wales over recent years. Matters relating to health, education, roads and agriculture are all the responsibility of the Welsh Office. Water resources and the privatisation of the water industry are also matters covered by the Welsh Office. They are matters of everyday concern to the people who elected an overwhelming majority of non-Tory Members in Scotland and likewise in Wales.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
The fallacy behind the remarks of the hon. Member is that he forgets that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. What would happen to the hon. Gentleman's party whose percentage of the vote declined to 7.3 per cent., although he has an extra Member?
§ Mr. Wigley
It was very condescending of the Minister to say "although we have an extra Member". We were one of the few parties to have a 50 per cent. increase in the number of Members in the House. If the Opposition parties had all done the same, that would have been a better result for the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Conwy bases his concept of sovereignty on the inherent sovereignty of an institution. He believes that the House of Commons, and not the people, has the sovereignty. He believes that that sovereignty is indivisible and that it comes from the top downwards. That perception of sovereignty differs fundamentally from my perception and that of other Opposition Members. We believe that sovereignty comes from the people. The United Kingdom may be united in terms of nomenclature, but if the political pattern is so different in Scotland and Wales from the overall pattern in England—and particularly the domination of southeast England—unless the institutions of Government adapt to the reality of the difference in political aspiration, we are building up a head of steam which will cause enormous problems. The Government must take that message on board now and begin to think seriously about how, if they are to retain a United Kingdom, they will do so in a way that allows people to develop their own solutions to their own problems. They should be able to do this in line with their own values and with the way in 317 which they want to share the burdens of their own communities among themselves and not to put all the burdens on those who are last in the queue for jobs, the poorest or those who have to bear the greatest burdens in the community.
The people of Wales and Scotland have rejected the Government and the contents of the Queen's Speech. The different circumstances are most starkly seen with regard to employment. Conservative Members claim that unemployment is falling in Wales. My goodness, the level of unemployment in Aberdare is 21 per cent., in Holyhead it is 22 per cent., in Cardigan it is 24.6 per cent. and in Fishguard it is 25.2 per cent. Are those levels of unemployment acceptable after eight years of this Conservative Government's policies? Yes, circumstances are different in other areas. In Crawley the unemployment rate is 4.3 per cent., in Basingstoke 4.8 per cent. and in Winchester 4.4 per cent. In the face of that, the Conservatives try to tell us that there is no difference. The difference can be seen in the dole queues in my constituency and the constituency of the hon. Member for Conwy. If the hon. Gentleman visits Bethesda or Bangor, the hon. Gentleman knows in his heart of hearts that a generation of young people are confined to the dole queues.
I accept that there are housing problems in southern England. However, they are not the problems that are suffered in Bethesda, Llanberis, the Rhondda valley or the Cynon valley. Those areas have the worst housing stock in western Europe and successive Governments have failed to solve the problem. What will the housing Bill mentioned in the Queen's Speech do to solve the problem? I suggest that it will do precious little.
The Government have brought forward proposals for water privatisation. They said that they cannot move forward with a Scottish assembly because it was not mentioned on the doorsteps. How many people on the doorsteps were shouting for water privatisation during the election campaign? Very few, I suggest. The idea of giving away hundreds of millions of pounds of public assets to justify a return on capital for those who will come in and make a quick buck or to increase the price of water to such an extent as to put a huge imposition on water ratepayers in Wales is wrong.
We have heard rumblings from Conservative Members as well as from Opposition Members about the implications of a poll tax. I am certain that there will be no welcome for a poll tax in Wales. There is no need to look in the crystal ball to assess the feeling in Scotland. If Conservative Members would only open their eyes they would see what the future portends in Wales as well.
The positive measures that the Government have brought forward will damage my country. The issues that have been omitted from the Queen's Speech will also damage Wales. The lack of commitment, provision or mention of anything for disabled people is yet again typical of the Government from whom we have suffered for eight years. The lack of commitment to a Welsh language Act, despite the noises made by a former Secretary of State for Wales, the lack of any sign of a coherent regional policy to produce jobs and the lack of any mention of the needs of pensioners will damage Wales.
318 If any issue stands out from the election campaign, it is the needs of pensioners and the priority that should be given to them.
We have had a general election in which parties have been returned in Wales and Scotland that want a very different Government from that which we have been afforded. The overwhelming majority of the seats in Wales and Scotland have not been won by the governing party. Yet if all the seats in Wales and Scotland had gone to the Labour party we would still have had a Conservative Government. The question is whether the Labour party can protect the interests of Wales and Scotland within the present institutions of government. I have grave doubts whether that is possible, and in saying that I am not criticising the Labour party. Instead, I am criticising our centralist institutions. If democracy is to remain in these islands, the sooner that we have institutions that serve the needs of our people the better it will be.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
As I am the first Ulster Unionist Member to speak in this new Parliament, I wish on my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues to pay tribute to the right hon. Enoch Powell, who was narrowly defeated in South Down in the general election. He represented that constituency conscientiously and with great distinction for many years. His departure from the House is a great loss to Northern Ireland and to Parliament itself. I hope that means will be found before long to enable his great intellectual capacities and parliamentary gifts to continue to be available.
I have listened with interest to the passionate speeches that have been delivered by hon. Members representing constituencies in Wales, Scotland and other parts of Great Britain. Their speeches present a sorry picture of a divided United Kingdom. There is not merely a division between the north and south of Britain: there is a division between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the north of England, the midlands and the home counties of England. Never before has a Westminster Government governed such vast regions of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of those who live in those areas.
In the general election the people of Scotland decisively rejected the Conservative party. There are not enough Scottish Conservative Members to form a majority on the Scottish Grand Committee. Similarly, the people of Wales emphatically rejected the Government and the new Secretary of State for Wales had to be plucked from an English constituency. There is nothing novel in that, because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland represents an English constituency. It does not stop there, because every other Minister in the Northern Ireland Office represents an English constituency.
In his opening speech the Secretary of State for Scotland seemed to rule out devolved government for that country. He said that devolution was not an issue in the election. There must be a difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland, because proportional representation was never an issue in any general election in Northern Ireland. It was never mentioned by the Government of the day, but that did not stop the Westminster Government introducing such a radical measure in Northern Ireland. We have the farce that electors in Northern Ireland have two different voting systems. There is one system for the Westminster Parliament and a different one of proportional representation for local government, for a Stormont 319 Parliament if there is one, and for the European Community elections. If that is good enough for Northern Ireland, why has that voting system not been introduced to England, Scotland and Wales by previous Conservative Governments? It is high time that the Government dropped their hypocritical and patronising attitude to certain regions of the United Kingdom and ensured that we in Northern Ireland are not pushed apart from the rest of the nation.
The previous Conservative Government never raised the issue of the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the people of Northern Ireland. That was not done in any election. Instead, the agreement was forged behind the backs of the majority of people of Northern Ireland. It was forged with the Dublin Government and representatives of the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland. The agreement amounts to a major constitutional change in part of the United Kingdom, yet it was brought into existence without any prior consultation with anyone representing the majority. The majority were excluded by the Government from the consultation that preceded the creation of the agreement.
Against that background, it is no use the Government saying that devolution was not raised in the recent general election in Scotland and Wales. I have supported devolution for those two regions in the past and I shall continue to do so in future. I fear that many hon. Members will feel alienated, as will those whom they represent, by the Government's patronising attitude. It seems that the Government believe that they know best and that they must decide. instead of the people, who are supposed to have the democratic right to express an opinion.
A great wrong was done to Northern Ireland by constitutional changes that were never put to the people of Northern Ireland. About 1 million people have been deliberately deprived of their fundamental democratic right of consultation. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is a bar to political progress and the sooner it is replaced the better it will be for Ulster and the entire United Kingdom.
The excuse for the London-Dublin accord was that, according to the Prime Minister, it would bring peace, stability and reconciliation. That was a shabby excuse for a shabby exercise. It was an admission of the failure of successive Westminster Governments to defeat the Provisional IRA. I have struggled throughout the years that I have been a Member of this place to bring about reconciliation in Northern Ireland and to achieve political progress. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies has any control over the battle against terrorism, for that is solely a matter, regrettably. for the Government. Yet my parliamentary friends and I go through the agony, which no one else in the House experiences, or which very few do, of witnessing the slaughter of civilians, of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and of members of the regular Army. A murderous sectarian campaign continues unabated.
There was an attempt on Saturday by a Republican terrorist organisation to murder the wife and children of Jim Nicholson, a former Member representing Armagh and Newry. That was another horrific example of what the decent people of Ulster have to endure daily. The intended victim was Jim Nicholson, and it is fortunate that he and his family were not victims of the IRA. Only the week 320 before he had telephoned me from his home to congratulate me on my victory over a bogus Unionist who stood against me in my constituency.
We express thanks that the terrorists did not succeed on the occasion to which I have referred, but the threat of death hangs over everyone in Northern Ireland, day and night. That is something which those living in this part of the United Kingdom cannot understand or appreciate. That is why I do not have much confidence in the Government or in the statement in the Gracious Speech that the Governmentwill work unremittingly for the defeat of terrorism.We have heard it all before. I have heard it over many years as a Member of this place. I said shortly before the previous Parliament was dissolved that death and violence will continue in Northern Ireland despite the Government's boasts and expressions of determined action against the evil terrorists. They issue press statements, or statements are leaked from the Northern Ireland Office, and it is left to the poor soldiers and police to remain on the front line while Ministers are safely ensconced in their cantonment in Stormont castle.
I pay tribute—I cannot do this often enough to the courage and gallantry of members of the Army and the police as well as to the civilians of Northern Ireland, who have shown the utmost restraint in the most difficult circumstances. Each fresh atrocity further divides the community in Northern Ireland, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement has contributed to that unfortunate division.
As a result of the persistent campaign by the Unionists' elected representatives, backed by a hurt and angry Ulster people, the Government now realise that they have made a blunder over the agreement, which has achieved very little in Northern Ireland. The Government now wish to get out of the present political impasse, but only—and this is the trouble—if they can do so without losing face, nationally or internationally.
As Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I strove constantly and strenuously during that body's lifetime to bring the political parties together. I urged the SDLP to enter the Northern Ireland Assembly, because I thought that the climate was right for political progress. Sadly, the SDLP said no to my overtures, just as it said no to the Government who had introduced the initiative of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Had the Government had the courage to devolve powers to one or more of the scrutiny committees at Stormont, the Assembly would have been transformed into a vibrant body, representing and working for the entire community. However, when the SDLP boycotted the Assembly, the Government capitulated. When a minority representation said no to their initiative, the Government capitulated. Then they decided to scuttle the Assembly, even though it had been of benefit to the Ulster people, and even though that meant repudiating the Ulster Unionist majority.
None the less, I have never given up the hope of bringing both sections of the community in Northern Ireland together, and those who voted for me in the recent election share my ambition. Yet there are already mischief-makers about in Northern Ireland who are intent on blocking political progress for their own devious political purposes. They are accusing the Protestant clergy in Northern Ireland of preparing the way for a royalist sell out by encouraging talks between the constitutional political parties. Those negative people, who pose as politicians, are intent on labelling any Unionist who 321 engages in such talks as a traitor, but in truth it is those negative people who betray Ulster and the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland.
Let me make my position perfectly clear. I am for talks between the representatives of all the constitutional parties to find an acceptable alternative to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I am for reconciliation; to me it is not a dirty word to be avoided in all political discussions. I believe that Protestants and Roman Catholics can live together in Northern Ireland and, indeed, I hold out the hand of friendship to all law-abiding people, irrespective of their religious or political affiliations. I am in favour of a devolved Parliament at Stormont, which would bring together all those who condemn violence and who wish to work together for the good of Ulster and its people.
What a challenge there is for the politicians of Northern Ireland, at least for those who shun violence and wish to bring peace and harmony, where at the moment we have hatred and division. That task must be undertaken, because we have to battle against unemployment, which is a scourge in Northern Ireland. We have to battle, too, against deteriorating health and hospital services and do something to stop the break up of industry in Northern Ireland. We need more jobs, and we need to encourage more firms to come and work in Northern Ireland. Above all, we must work to provide a future for the young people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
You have called me to speak at rather an apt time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been watching with interest this evening and counting the relative strengths of the Scottish Nationalist party and Plaid Cymru, on the one hand, and the Scottish Conservative contingent, on the other. As the debate has worn on, the relative strengths have to-ed and fro-ed. At the moment, with five hon. Members on our Benches and only two Scottish Conservative Members, we have the most satisfactory result of the evening so far.
I confess that I have been playing my game of spot the Scottish Tory for some time. Their number has been as low as one and as high as seven during this debate, but for most of the time there have been four Scottish Conservative Members in the Chamber. For some time, I thought that the Secretary of State for Scotland had laid down his particular 40 per cent. rule on his own contingent of hon. Members.
My first duty is to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, who was known in the House and elsewhere as a robust character. He came to the House late in life, but I know that he played a full part in its debates, and I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement.
Banff and Buchan, the constituency for which I now have parliamentary responsibility, is a constituency of robust characters, as one would expect from an area that depends for its livelihood on fishing, farming and oil and the industries related to them. My constituency has robust characters who work with their hands and get their faces dirty. They are involved in producing, making and catching things. They are people engaged in the manufacturing and primary sectors who are the real creators of wealth. If Government policy was orientated more to the primary and manufacturing sectors of 322 industry, rather than to the rentier economy produced by the Conservative party, the long-term health and welfare of this country would be better served.
I shall examine in turn the problems facing the three basic industries of my constituency—farming, fishing and oil. I notice that a good deal of attention was paid in the Gracious Speech to the problems of the inner cities, and I welcome Government initiatives on that serious problem. However, in Scotland we do not have a serious inner city problem. In our major cities we have problems on peripheral housing estates, but we have, too, an enduring and extremely serious problem in our rural communities. I do not think that the Government realise the extent to which the decline in farm income is causing such problems for the rural areas and I hope that they will turn more of their attention to that as the Session progresses.
Conservatives claim that theirs is the party that reduces business taxation. If that is so, I hope to hear soon that they intend to abandon their plans to levy additional taxation on the fishing industry in the form of light dues—the dues paid for navigational lights. At the moment, the Government propose to remove the traditional exemption from light dues from the fishing industry while retaining that exemption for the owners of yachts and pleasure boats. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) would be very relieved to hear that, but I think too that he would join Opposition Members in arguing strongly that we should not impose an additional tax on working fishermen while those who own pleasure boats and yachts remain exempt. Light dues, which relate to a public service concerned with public safety, should continue properly to be met from the public purse.
We have heard some interesting remarks from the Secretary of State for Scotland who, since the turn of this year, has ascribed all the problems of the Scottish economy to the decline of the oil industry in Scotland. That is a remarkable feat, given that Scotland has lost 180,000 manufacturing jobs since 1979.
If the Secretary of State thinks that the impact of the oil downturn has been so serious in Scotland—it has cost us 30,000 jobs—why was it that the Government argued so forcibly for, welcomed and encouraged the decline in oil prices, which has caused these grievous burdens for the Scottish economy? Since 1979, successive Chancellors have received from the Scottish oil industry in revenue terms and in 1987 prices the sum of £70,000 million—approximately £14,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland. Those Chancellors have been very sure that that should not be Scotland's oil revenue, but, when it comes to a downturn in the industry, there has been no doubt that Scotland should have the job losses. For these three industries—farming, fishing and oil—I will argue at every opportunity in the Chamber, and I will argue for a stronger defence of their welfare.
I move on to the political position facing Scotland and the reaction of Scottish Members to the Gracious Speech. Without doubt the Gracious Speech is interesting not for what it contains about Scotland but for what it does not contain. There is no sign that the Government will make any concessions to Scotland following their massive defeat at the polls. That position was encapsulated by the Secretary of State who, in an interview on Scottish television last week, said that the Gracious Speech is the same as that which we would have had if the Conservative 323 party had won 72 Scottish seats instead of 10. That betrays the arrogance and contempt with which the Conservative party now proposes to treat the Scottish electorate. in its view, it does not matter what we in Scotland say or do, how we vote, how we think or how we learn from our experience of the policies under which we suffer. That position is not sustainable in the longer term. How long it is sustainable will depend on the level of opposition from Opposition Members.
A number of questions have been asked about the importance attached to self government by the Scottish electorate. If the election results do not provide a convincing answer to that question, I have here the results of an opinion poll commissioned during the election campaign. The Conservative party has an interesting and geographically split view of opinion polls. It believes in them in England when they show that it is winning, but it does not believe them in Scotland when they show that it is not winning.
I remember earlier this month when this opinion poll was released. I was sitting in a television studio with Mr. Michael Hirst, who did not believe the contents of the opinion poll. The results of the poll showed that the majority of Scottish Conservatives were about to lose their seats, although the Secretary of State for Scotland had said that such opinion polls were unreliable, that this could not happen and that the Conservative party in Scotland would increase its representation. In fact the poll has been proved correct in its analysis of how many Scottish Conservatives would lose their seats.
It also asked people how important they regarded the setting up of a Scottish assembly. No fewer than 62 per cent. thought that it was very important or quite important. Only 25 per cent. argued that it was not very important or not at all important.
We take opinion polls as we find them, but it is an incredible proposition from a party reduced to such a rump in Scotland, as a result not just of this but of a series of elections, to argue that it has the divine right to interpret the wishes of the Scottish electorate more than any other party, or particularly the party that won the Scottish election—the Labour party.
Like many new Members I am engaged in moving home, and as I was clearing out some of my files I came across some yellowing pages of newspaper cuttings from the period immediately before and after the general election of 1983 in Scotland. In them, a number of Scottish Members of Parliament were making the case that the rights of Scotland should be respected—a case with which I agree. They were called "Labour's new dogs of war," and they included the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). They argued that, by their efforts, they could impose the will of the Scottish people on the House and that they would manage to extract for the Scottish people a measure of Scottish devolution. We are now four years on and the dogs of war not only have not bitten very hard but have lost their bark.
I scrutinised with some interest the speech made by the hon. Member for Cathcart on Thursday, in which he came up with the incredible proposition that the Conservative party has half a mandate in Scotland. His argument was that the Conservative party has a mandate over such sectors as the economy and United Kingdom matters, but 324 does not have a mandate over specifically Scottish Office issues such as education. It is an incredible argument that the Conservative party has the right to destroy the Scottish economy but does not have the right to destroy the Scottish education system. It is not a case of half a mandate. The Conservative party either has or has not a mandate in Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr Wigley) has put the case for the rights of parties coming up from the people. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has argued eloquently why the Conservative party has no mandate in Scotland. For the benefit of Tory Members, I shall repeat it. The Tory party does not have a mandate in Scotland because Scotland is a nation and as such has a right to determine its own political destiny.
I will repeatedly argue for independence for Scotland within the context of the EEC. I recognise that that is not the majority view in Scotland, although opinion poll evidence shows substantially more support for that position than for the position favoured by the Tory, party—the status quo. Scottish people have the right to choose the amount of devolution or self government that they want. Therefore, I am prepared to argue that, because the Labour party won the election in Scotland, it has the right to insist on its plans for the Scottish people being put into effect.
The basic question is: how will the Conservative party be made to do this? The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in his quick-fire speech, was long on description of the condition of Scotland, but short on what he and his colleagues are going to do about it. The most with which he threatened the Conservative party was a few late nights for the reduced band of Scottish Conservatives. Incidentally, I am told that in Labour party circles at the moment the hon. Member for Garscadden is considered as something of a radical. If he is a radical, I wonder how conservative the rest are. I do not know what he does to Tory Members, but if I were in their position he would not frighten me.
The same applies to the eloquent address of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). He cannot convince the Conservative party, Scottish Conservative Members or the Secretary of State for Scotland, by argument or appeal, to change their position. The Scottish Conservatives are a lost cause. They have lost their ability to argue their case before their fellow countrymen and women.
I find remarks about the largesse of the London Treasury to areas such as Scotland, Wales and the north of England amazing, as Scotland has an annual surplus of revenue over expenditure of £3.5 billion. I cannot, therefore, take seriously the idea that Scotland is subidised by the London Exchequer.
I hear other remarks about the history and geography of Scotland which make me realise why so much of the Gracious Speech is devoted to the English education system. I suspect, however, that, in looking at the state education system in England, English Conservatives are looking at the wrong sector for additional education on economics, history and geography. I seriously suggest to Conservative Members representing English constituencies that the nations of Scotland and England have a close and long history. Sometimes it has been a troubled history but it has always been a close one. At this juncture in our affairs, when there is a dramatic political divergence 325 between Scotland and England, and indeed between England and Wales, would it really hurt them so much to concede a little justice to the Scottish nation?
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Sir William van Straubenzee represented the Wokingham constituency for almost 28 years, and during that time he showed himself to be a tireless correspondent and letter writer, a doughty debater and an elegant and witty speaker. In representing all of the people of Wokingham, I shall do well if I live up to his high standards as a parliamentarian and a fine constituency Member of Parliament. During his career he served in the Department of Education and Science and in the Northern Ireland Office, and in later years in the House he intervened frequently on education matters when his wisdom and knowledge were highly prized. Recently he gained the affectionate nickname of "The Bishop" for his role in trying to sell the mysterious ways of the Church to those here on earth gracing these Benches. It is with great affection that I step into his shoes, with the hope that I can live up to his high standards.
The constituency that Bill van Straubenzee won in 1959 was a very different place from the one that I have inherited. Geographically it was much broader, and in tone and style much more rural. So much so, as the new Member in 1959, one of Bill's first and most important tasks was to go and meet the local farmers. He equipped himself with a strong stick, and with not a little apprehension, because he knew nothing whatsoever of farming. He went to the occasion and confined himself to nodding wisely, making a few encouraging noises and from time to time tapping his stick. He subsequently learnt that this had been a great triumph—the farmers said to each other, "Well, you know, our new Member doesn't say much, but he can certainly recognise a good cow when he sees one." That is a skill that I need much less.
The Wokingham constituency now comprises the three large and important settlements of Wokingham town, Woodley and Earley, where recently has been constructed one of the largest new private housing developments anywhere in Europe. To the north of those three big settlements lie the delightful villages of Twyford, Ruscombe, the Remenham, Wargrave, Sonning and some of the other smaller settlements. To the south lie the villages of Winnersh and northern Crowthorne, the village I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay).
The main problem we face is the tremendous success of the enterprise economy in the Thames valley. The pace of growth and development has been such that it begins to produce strains on roads, hospitals and education facilities. I should like to say how much I welcome the initiative to be launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to cut the waiting lists. I remind him that high growth areas of the country need that additional resource to take care of population growth as well as the advance in medical treatments, which we all welcome.
In the Wokingham constituency we also experience the problems that the area of the Thames valley to the east of Reading into London is now really a unified labour market where wages are high and where there are many attractive job offers available. Whereas places a little 326 further east than my constituency enjoy the benefits of London weighting or outer London allowances for housing and for the competitive forces in the labour market, Wokingham has no such luxury. I urge the Government to look carefully at the possibility not of introducing complete regional pay, but of re-examining the geographical confines of London weighting and outer London weighting and also the amounts involved because we have difficulties in recruiting people of the right skills. If we can find them in other parts of the country, we have problems in housing them because of the high cost of housing.
Above all, the success of embracing an enterprise culture and the success of the Government in lowering taxes and getting growth and prosperity running again in so many parts of the country is more than relevant to those hon. Members representing inner urban constituencies that still suffer dereliction or poverty. There is common ground between us, because many of us representing vast growing areas would dearly love to see some element of that growth passing instead to those inner city areas where there is already public infrastructure and the need for more jobs and development. Therefore, we particularly welcome the Government's concentration in the Queen's Speech on setting forth a series of bold measures to tackle the problem of inner city decay.
It cannot be right that there are people in council blocks, tower blocks or medium rise blocks without hope of an improvement in their housing conditions. It cannot be right that there are acres near the heart of Manchester, Newcastle or in some of the less advantaged London boroughs crying out for commercial or industrial development that, for some reason or another, has been blocked when opportunities have arisen to return prosperity to those once great city areas.
The Government are right to put forward two particular proposals. The first is to give tenants the right to choose different styles of housing and to set up tenants' co-operatives. That should improve the lot of those in inner city housing. It is also right that urban development corporations should take on the task of rebuilding and restructuring industry and commerce by facilitating the massive influx of private capital that those derelict areas so clearly need.
I hope that hon. Members believe in the United Kingdom and understand that the debate in the House is to try to better conditions in all towns, villages, regions and nations within the United Kingdom. I hope that hon. Members will accept that there are many of us on the Government side of the House who, with good will, say that we wish to see those areas of poverty and dereliction cleared and improved. We invite Labour Members to study the reasons why the south-east is so prosperous and why it has embraced the enterprise economy with such success. I hope that they will ask whether, together with some public money and a lot of private initiative, we can kindle exactly the same kind of success in those inner city areas where the prosperity has not yet reached.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
One of the pleasures of the debate on the Loyal Address is to hear the maiden speeches. It is a great pleasure to follow the convention of congratulating the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on his extremely impressive speech. I am certain that we shall hear much more from 327 him on similar lines. We have just heard an extremely elegant speech from the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). His reputation preceded him to the House. We all know of him as one of the major thinkers of the Conservative party. I believe that he invented monetarism. I believe that he is a true believer and a high priest of the monetarism theory. Therefore, all of us expect that he will climb the greasy pole of politics in an effortless way, and we expect to see him quite soon in the Government. Whether it is from the Front Bench or from the Back Benches, the whole of the House will be extremely pleased to hear from him again at an early opportunity.
There were two sentences in the Gracious Speech that leapt up off the page. They were:In all these policies, my Government will have special regard to the needs of inner cities. Action will be taken to encourage investment and to increase enterprise and employment in those areas.As one who has been talking about inner cities for years, to no avail, I am astonished. It is as though an entirely new Government have appeared, eager to undo and repair the ravages of a neglectful and damaging predecessor. But who has been running things for the past eight years? What have eight years of Conservative policy done for the inner cities? If the Government intend to do something, what has kept them? If they really believe all this, why did they not do it in the last two Parliaments, instead of doing the opposite?
Everyone knows that it is Conservative policies that have caused and exacerbated the decay of the inner cities, and that instead of investing in them the Government have drained £20,000 million in rate support grant out of the inner cities. Do the Government intend to reverse all that? Where is the evidence for that? So what have we now—a twinge of conscience, a change of heart, an admission that they got it wrong before? The Prime Minister announces in a grand manner that she is actually willing to visit some of the inner cities. She makes them sound like foreign countries, with herself as some latterday female Dr. Livingstone, an intrepid explorer venturing into the equivalent of unknown darkest Africa. One wonders whether she might travel by train for the first time in her premiership and perhaps even meet some ordinary people. The royal family has a much better record of visiting inner cities than she has.
Today's debate is about the divisions in our country—never have they been so acute—between Scotland, Wales and England, and between the north and the south. But it is not merely a geographical division—that would be too simple. It is a yawning gulf which the Government are widening by aiding the haves and clobbering the have-nots. It is a division between rich and poor, whether in north or south, and it often shows itself in the chasm between the inner cities, whether north or south, and the leafy suburbs, north or south. The starkest divisions of all are probably contained in one city—London—where ostentatious wealth is flaunted cheek by jowl with the worst poverty in the country. This is not always noticed by Members of Parliament, whose knowledge of London is sometimes mainly of Euston station, Heathrow airport, Buckingham palace, Whitehall and Westminster.
No area has been more grievously hit by the Government than the London borough of Newham, which has found itself on the wrong side of the divisions which have opened up and are tearing us apart. Newham 328 faces acute social, economic and environmental problems experienced by few in comfortable Britain. Government statisticians tell us that only one of the 365 local authority districts in England and Wales suffers worse urban deprivation than Newham. The Department of Education and Science, after taking account of the socio-economic background of pupils entering the schools—their ethnic origin, those from large families or from one-parent families, those taking free school meals, and so on—said that those children were the most socially deprived in all of the 96 local education authority areas in England.
There is a deepening housing crisis, with some 47,000 unfit dwellings and the fastest increase in homelessness in London. There is a high birth rate and a large projected increase in population, and a large increase in the number of elderly people, with the services that they require. We have a large and diverse ethnic minority population—the fourth highest percentage in England and Wales of residents of new Commonwealth origin, many of whose first language is not English and many with special needs. Newham also suffers from high unemployment—under 6,000 in 1969, but now, on any realistic assessment, about 20,000, or one in five of the male population. More than 70 per cent. of jobs are in declining industrial sectors. and currently only I per cent. are in sectors which in the Government's view offer most scope for the future.
Many of Newham's environmental problems arise from the 19th century, when the east end provided the location for London's undesirable industrial and domestic infrastructure—the noxious industries, the sewage works, gas works, power stations and docks, which are now no more. Around these were built tightly packed 19th century workers' housing and what are now very old. school buildings, with an aging infrastructure of roads and sewers all in need of repair. I have seen all those problems, of an intensity experienced by few other parts of the country, get worse under the Conservatives, with absolutely no understanding or sympathy from Government.
Cuts in central Government rate support grant led to a cut of 5 per cent. in education expenditure last year. This meant a reduction of 122 teaching posts, that clothing grants were cut by 50 per cent. and that school meals charges were increased. Classroom equipment and materials are not being replaced, buildings are deteriorating rapidly and, inevitably, standards are suffering. Unless there is a change in Government policy, there will have to be even bigger reductions this year. How is that supposed to benefit or strengthen the nation? Further constraints on housing expenditure will lead merely to more decay, with consequent despair and vandalism. In such stress areas, there are great pressures on the borough's social services department. If Newham's already low expenditure in this area is cut back further, as it would have to be as a result of the Secretary of State's proposed expenditure level, the results are likely to be horrifying.
The Gracious Speech talks of "investment", "enterprise" and "employment" in the inner cities, but what is the Conservatives' record? While the Government's friends make millions overnight in the big bang City, a few miles away in Newham the number of people forced to eke out an existence on meagre supplementary benefit has doubled under the Conservatives, unemployment has more than trebled—up by more than 300 per cent.—and 329 more than a quarter of those unemployed have been unemployed for more than two years. That is the reality that belies the Government's rhetoric.
The intensity of Newham's worsening housing crisis is largely Government manufactured. In 1979, at constant prices, Newham's housing investment programme allocations was £43.1 million. The Conservatives then cut it each year, until in the current year it is only £16.8 million. During that period the accumulated cuts in resources for housing amounted to more than £150 million. Is it any wonder that there are 12,000 people on the housing waiting list and hundreds of homeless families in sordid bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Had the council been able to build at the average rate attained under the Labour Government, there would be an extra 2,000 houses.
The other side of the tragedy is that the resulting acute shortage of houses pushes up prices in the private sector. A council survey showed that, even without this year's 25 per cent. increase in housing prices, a two-bedroomed house cost on average more than £51,000, a three-bedroomed house more than £61,000 and anything larger than that more than £78,000. This means that residents would have to be earning more than £19,000 to buy a two-bedroomed house, more than £22,000 to buy a three-bedroomed house, and more than £28,000 for a four-bedroomed house. Only 3 per cent. of the borough's residents could afford to buy a three-bedroom house, so with no council houses and the private sector priced out of reach, people are set to stay on the waiting list for ever while the number of homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation goes up all the time. Yet we all know that it costs twice as much per annum to keep a family in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than to build a new council house.
There are thousands of unemployed people who could build council houses, so why on earth do the Government not overcome their dogmatic aversion to public housing and bring unmet needs and unused resources together in a great housebuilding and renovation drive? It would make economic sense and would be one of the quickest ways to tackle unemployment and improve life in the inner cities. But where are the signs that the Government are willing to do that?
Nothing will ever be right in these areas until something is done about the chronic levels of mass unemployment and the abysmally low levels of income that it brings in its train. That is the heart of the matter. At Christmas I was touched to receive a card from the Broadwater Farm Youth Association, which I had visited with the Select Committee the previous year. During my visit I was introduced to many "youths", who were willing to be so-described and, indeed, still considered themselves as such at the age of 26 or 28 because they had never had a job, and one cannot mature and become adult without a job and the independent income that goes with it.
The Select Committee found clear evidence of racial disadvantage in the labour market. Black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as are white people and unless something positive is done we shall have a black underclass, completely alienated and shut out of our society. They will feel that they have been kicked in the teeth and we shall have to hope that they will not return the compliment.
330 Positive action must be taken. The simplest way is through contract compliance on equal opportunities by firms coming into the inner cities. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Minister of Trade and Industry, who I know has a positive outlook on racial matters, will pursue that policy or its equivalent. If his colleagues do not like the name, they can change it, but I hope that they will pursue a policy of that type.
One of the growth industries in the inner cities is crime. The Government have created the conditions in which it breeds. Common sense tells us that there is a connection between the growth of unemployment and the growth of crime, even if the connection is not automatic. One of the deterrents to criminal behaviour is what one may lose by being caught—the loss of one's job or perhaps of one's home—but what happens if a person has no job or is homeless? What happens if there seems to be nothing at all to lose, and no stake in society to jeopardise? Who can be surprised at the growth of crime in the festering, despairing conditions that have been created in recent years?
What do the Government propose to do? They describe as their showcase, and invite us all to admire it—the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did that today—the London Docklands Development Corporation, but local people must be excused if they withhold their plaudits, for they have seen no benefits. Their interests have been ignored. Their needs are simple—jobs and houses for rent. They have had neither. The LDDC has acted as a Government estate agent, selling off land, including council land, to the first and highest bidder, with scant regard for local people. The astronomical prices for accommodation charged by private developers prices accommodation beyond the reach of locals.
As for jobs, a parliamentary reply to me on 27 January this year revealed that the 1981 census of employment, the year of the LDDC's inception, showed that there were 12,400 jobs in the docklands area of Newham. The LDDC's most recent survey shows that, in February 1985, the number of jobs in the same area was 9,746; in other words, a reduction of 2,654 jobs. As the LDDC is unelected and not responsible to local people, it increases their feeling of powerlessness. Local communities are regarded as nuisances to be displaced. Is that to be the pattern of the future?
The acid test is whether the Government are willing to work with local government as an equal and active partner, recognising that their elections and manifestos are as valid and have as much moral value as their own. Or is local government to be suppressed—as was the GLC—and unelected, unaccountable Thatcher placemen moved in to disfranchise local people and privatise public housing and public education, encouraging those who are able and willing to opt out of public provision, leaving just sink schools and welfare housing on the American model for what would then be second-class citizens? A genuine partnership between central and local government would be welcome. We all know that existing city action teams and task forces are largely cosmetic and have had little real effect. We need a thoroughgoing inner cities programme that is commensurate with the size of the problem—one that would work with local people and their elected representatives, not against them.
The Government should approach the inner cities with prudence and sensitivity. They should listen to Labour 331 Members of Parliament, as elected representatives. Are the Government capable of listening? Can they appreciate that a vote in Newham must have equal value to a vote in Finchley'? The Government obtained 43 per cent. of the national poll. The Labour vote in Newham, North-East was 52 per cent. Of the 60 council seats in Newham, Labour has 59. The Government have absolutely no mandate to ride roughshod over local opinion that was so clearly expressed in inner city areas. We want a partnership to assist. But alien occupation and coercion from outside would surely mean the Government overreaching themselves in the arrogance of power. Before the Prime Minister acts in such an autocratic and hubristic manner, she might reflect that President Reagan seemed to be all-powerful at the time of his election two years ago. Prime Minister Macmillan's Government seemed to be impregnable in 1959, and look what happened to them. If the Prime Minister over-reaches herself in that manner, the same will surely happen to her.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and the remarks that he made at the beginning of his speech about the two maiden speakers who preceded him, even though I can follow him in nothing that he said afterwards. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (M r. Redwood) are different from other hon. Members whom they have followed in the debate, but they are none the worse for that. Both of them spoke in kind terms about their predecessors, both of whom will be much missed in the House, particularly Sir William van Straubenzee, who was a friend to many Conservative Members.
We come fresh from a general election that was dominated as never before by media coverage. It was described to me as being rather like the Olympic games coverage that is normally shown on television, with only one race at the end of the fortnight, and that was the 100 metres. Despite that, the electorate stayed firm throughout the proceedings, the debates and the hustings. I wonder why the media concentrated so much on the possibility of a hung Parliament when hardly any opinion poll in the whole of the three and a half weeks suggested that it would be.
The polls generally were extremely accurate, but some were highly questionable. I hope that the Government will look at the need to maintain standards among those who publish opinion polls. I invite them to ask the Market Research Society to propose the standards and then to legislate to make it an offence to publish polls that do not conform to them.
My constituents welcome the Government's concern for the inner cities. They ask the Government not to allow any indulgence in labels. Parts of Swindon, my constituency, has 30 per cent. male unemployment. Areas such as Pinehurst, in the central part of the town, has prostitution problems, and those who go in pursuit of prostitutes cause great harassment to the people who live there. The people in the central area were pleased to welcome the Home Secretary when he visited them. They hope for legislative action on the abuse to which I referred.
I commend to the House the national business rate, if only because it will help the businesses in my constituency which can look forward to the possibility of an 11 per cent. 332 reduction in the rates that they will pay—a saving of £3.5 million. I urge such companies to regard it not as a windfall but as the seedcorn for future expansion and job creation. We wish to see unemployment in Swindon go down beyond the 3 per cent. improvement that took place last year. Swindon will lose its competitive advantage. Therefore, there is a need for strong marketing of the town's natural attractions for industry. The work force must be made ready for employment opportunities.
I hope that in time industry in Swindon will welcome and help with the possibility of a city technical college and that a free hand will be given to the technical college to be out of the control of the local education authority. I hope that we shall see further moves to get all young people into training schemes when they leave school and that we shall make the dole no alternative to young people.
Already we have good links between companies and schools in Swindon. W. H. Smith has set a lead in the constituency in the link with Hreod Parkway school, and others must follow. This important start must be built upon.
The word "built" leads me to say that another aspect of the Queen's Speech which should be welcomed in the House is the move to create more private rented housing as an alternative to the Socialist council monopoly on rented housing that disfigures too many parts of the United Kingdom.
The debate has been about the divisions within the United Kingdom, but the major division now is between those in the private sector and those in the public domain. When one tries to explain the principle that one can spend only what one has earned, those in private enterprise understand because they have grown up in such a culture. It is much harder to explain it to those who are dependent upon the state. I know that because before I became a Member of the House I worked for the state in a nationalised industry. I recognise that, even today, after the Government have moved about a third of public industry back into the private sector, four out of the six largest employers in my constituency are still in the public sector.
Nowadays most strikes are in the public sector. We can carry on explaining the message to those people or we can speed up the rate at which we shrink the public sector. That is the way to get rid of the divisions that still exist in our society, and, in so doing, we shall get rid of one of tile last remaining reasons for voting Socialist. That is the task to which the Government should set their hand. I hope that, at the end of that process, which may not come in this Parliament but which will undoubtedly come under Conservative Governments in the future because the Labour party is now unelectable, those of us who regard the United Kingdom with pride will not have to listen to the national anthem being booed at sporting fixtures in some parts of the United Kingdom.
I wholeheartedly support the proposals in the Queen's Speech.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)
The four years that I waited to get back into the House of Commons passed much more quickly than the five and a half hours during which I have been sitting here trying to speak in this debate. This is not a maiden speech, but it would be proper of me to observe the convention of a maiden speech since it is my first as Member of Parliament for Eccles.
333 My predecessor, Lewis Carter-Jones, represented Eccles from 1964 until this year. He never sought self-aggrandisement in any form. He was devoted to the constituency and to several causes, especially to the elderly disabled and handicapped. He also made a big contribution to debates on the aircraft industry. He was very well thought of in the constituency, and he will always take a great interest in what happens there.
For me, I suppose that I could simply say that I had 17 years of Mars bars and now I hope that I will have 17 years of Eccles cakes.
Eccles was a very different constituency when Lewis Carter-Jones first went there in 1964 from what it is today. Then it was a prosperous area with many traditional industries, very little unemployment and many opportunities in terms of apprenticeships and training for young people. That is not so today.
Unemployment is one of the big divisions in our society, and it brings many problems with it. It divides us in terms of health. It divides us in terms of opportunities for our children. It divides us in terms of housing. It divides us in terms of jobs for women. In my constituency, many women are engaged in part-time work where previously men, as the householders, were in full-time work. That is another big division between regions. The general prospect on the basis of the Gracious Speech is that those divisions will grow. Those who already live in the better-off regions will improve their lot and the lot of those who are excluded from those regions will get worse all the time.
Before the general election, my predecessor and one or two others had discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the outcome of the privatisation of the royal ordnance factories, especially the one at Patricroft. The Ministry made many soothing noises, on paper and verbally, to Lewis Carter-Jones and others to the effect that they had very little to worry about and that privatisation would make little difference to job prospects. Hardly was the election over than those of us who are concerned about the royal ordnance factory at Patricroft received notice of 250 redundancies to take effect almost immediately. When we visited the factory last week, they could hold out no prospect of an end to redundancies. The prospects of job opportunities in the area are extremely grim. I could reel off, but because of time I will not, the names of the factories that have had to close or restrict the number of people whom they employ in recent years, let alone since 1964.
I mention this especially because it ties up with what my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said about compulsory job training for young people. Even if I agreed with it—I do not—there is no sense in talking about compulsory training for young people unless there is something to train them for. In my constituency, compulsory job training for young people aged 18 or under will simply mean giving them no alternative but to accept such training because there will be penalties if they do not—penalties on their families because of the withdrawal of benefit. However, they know that it is all a pretence.
Whose children will be the ones who will suffer under the compulsory training schemes? That is where the big divide comes. In the main, it will not be the children who are represented by those hon. Members from prosperous 334 areas who have already spoken. The children who will suffer will be those from areas such as mine and similar areas.
There is another division that has not been mentioned. Young people are divided into those who have money and the opportunity to go on to further and higher education—good luck to them—and all the benefits that that can bring, especially later in the employment market, and those who are unable to do so. They are being conditioned now, while they are at school, to go on to a youth training scheme. That robs them of all ambition because the schemes that are talked about and outlined in the Gracious Speech have no link whatever to any form of jobs in a constituency such as mine because there are no jobs and there will not be any jobs unless the Government are prepared to do something.
I note that the TUC has already withdrawn its support from the job training scheme because it describes it as "token training". The Government are not giving the Manpower Services Commission any resources to enable it to do its job properly. When the Government started the youth training scheme they were anxious to have the support and co-operation of the TUC and the trades unions. The Government should now listen to what they are saying because they are worried about the effect of compulsory training, or pseudo training, on young people.
While I was out of the House, especially during the past 18 months when I was the director of a trade union child care project which last year considered child abuse and this year is considering drugs, solvent abuse, alcohol addiction in young people and related matters, the thing that struck me more than anything else when talking to young people was the pervading feeling of cynicism among them and their parents about the training schemes. Society should be worried that young people aged 16, 17 or 18 are already cynical. Indeed, the attitude of some employers, even good employers, is one of cynicism. That also affects the lecturers and training officers because even if they are good—many of them are—they know that the job training scheme is a massive scheme that pretends to be something that it is not. The entire scheme is a shabby expedient to try to hide something unpleasant—youth unemployment—and it is one of the big divides in our society and one of the biggest dangers that we face.
If the Government and the MSC are serious about wanting to do something for young people, their first responsibility should be to plan for the future of the young people of 10, 15 or 20 years' time so that they may have a vision and prospects. If there is no vision and no hope, and if one feels that one does not have any prospects, one cannot identify with the society in which one lives. One would not feel that one owed society anything or had a responsibility to it. That is the danger of cynicism, but that is what we are teaching our young people today.
Massaging the unemployment figures and compelling young people to take up schemes will do little to lower their degree of cynicism about them unless there are proper prospects at the end of them. If firms continue to close in my constituency at the rate that they have closed during the past few years, the Government will be unable to kid young people that what they are offering them has any relation to their future role in society or to the jobs that they are likely to get in the future.
My big fear relates not simply to today's youngsters, who are on the schemes, about whom I have spoken. I fear that what is happening to them will rub off on the boys 335 and girls who are in our schools today, and who, in turn, will grow up with little hope, prospect or expectation. We should all deplore the lack of educational content of many of the youth training schemes. They pretend to be something that they are not.
The big divide between those who stay on at school and then go to further and higher education and the young people who are mostly represented by Labour Members and who are forced into pseudo training schemes is becoming one of the biggest concerns of our society. If the Government are serious about wanting to tackle such stress and differences, they will take that matter extremely seriously. We cannot afford to have thousands of young people, already cynical at the age of 16, without hope and retired from society before they have even had a chance to develop their full potential which I and many others always believe to be the goal of education and training.
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)
The debate has been about the economic and social divisions, popularly called the north-south divide. We heard a great deal of nonsense in the weeks preceding the election about this so-called divide. If there were a north-south divide, I would not be here and we would not have the same number of Conservative Members for the north-east before and after polling day. Nor would we have had speeches, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), which was excellent. He represents the heart of the northwest and eloquently drew attention not simply to the problems, but to the opportunities of the north.
If there is a perception of a north-south divide, it is the growing one in all parts not simply that the north has problems, but that the south increasingly has the right answers. Therefore, to those of us who want to see the north, particularly the north-east, become more like the south, sharing in the prosperity, opportunities and enterprise that have been created so successfully in the south, the Government's re-election is welcome. In no region are policies of enterprise, ownership and greater personal freedom more needed than in the north-east. New enterprise is vital. We have lost far too many jobs.
Ten years ago our region was dominated by the old heavy industries—not simply state industries, such as coal, steel, shipbuilding and rail engineering, but declining engineering and other industries dependent on grants. Only 10 years ago one third of all those in manufacturing employment in the north-east were employed in plants each employing more than 1,000 men. We were chronically short of small and medium-sized businesses which are vital to new job creation.
After eight years of this Government, some 6,000 new companies are registering for business every year in the north-east and there is a healthy surplus of those that survive each year. They will provide the new jobs of the future.
The first company I visited in Darlington after my election in 1983 was Kohlangaz, which makes coal and log-effect gas fires. At that time it employed 12 people and had a small factory on an industrial estate. I returned during this election campaign and found that the company now employs 72 people, has three factories and hopes to employ more than 100 people by the end of the year. The company has benefited from the privatisation of British Gas, lower business taxation, an expanding economy and the increased consumer spending that comes with it. The 336 expansion from 12 to 100 employees may seem small, but it is only in that way that new jobs will be created in the north-east.
Wider ownership is also vital to the north-east. Our region has had far too small a stake in its own future. We have had the lowest proportion of home ownership, the highest number of people working for state industries and the lowest proportion of self-employed people. Over the eight years, some 65,000 families in the north-east have bought their council homes. More than 100,000 people are now self-employed and one man in six in the north-east now owns shares.
Greater personal freedom is also important in the north-east. More than any other region we on Tyneside and Teeside have witnessed the blight of municipal, expensive Socialism. We need to free our people from that blight by cutting personal taxation, by reforming social security to eliminate the disincentives and by improving choice for all.
The Gracious Speech is important in its radicalism. The great achievement of the previous Parliament was to widen ownership—to give people who could afford to buy their homes, who could afford to buy shares and who could afford to buy private pensions, the opportunity to do so. The programme sketched out in the Gracious Speech is radical in a different sense. It deals directly with those who are, as yet, unable to buy their homes, unable to buy shares or to take out private health care or make private provision for their children's education. In this legislative programme my right hon. and hon. Friends have recognised that those who cannot afford to go private need not be denied the increased choice and higher standards that those who can afford to go private purchase with their money.
The Bills on housing, education and competitive tendering in local government will enfranchise those who have to rely on state schooling, public housing and local council services with a much greater choice than they have ever enjoyed before. I believe that that is absolutely right. Why should poor people without the financial ability to move into the catchment area of a more popular school be denied the same increases in the standards that other people can purchase? Why should they not be entitled to a greater variety of schools that will be competing for pupils and improving the choice that is available? Why should tenants in tower blocks or on unfashionable estates, who cannot afford to buy their homes and would be unable to sell them if they could afford to buy, be denied some stake in the ownership of their properties?
I am delighted that the measures proposed in the Gracious Speech, open enrolment for a greater variety of schooling, housing action trusts and more steps towards ownership for those not fully able to buy, will give those people much greater opportunity and thus much greater true power.
I hope that, at the of this Parliament, when those measures are on the statute book, they will he common ground, in the same way as our initial measures for extending ownership and allowing people to buy council houses and buy shares are now almost common ground across the Floor of the House. I hope that, by the end of this Parliament, the steps that we have taken to increase opportunity and choice for those as yet unable to make private provision will likewise be common ground between the two parties. If that is the case, no region will benefit more than the north-east where historically we have had 337 a lower proportion of ownership and made a much lower degree of provision for ourselves in matters such as private health and private education.
The Gracious Speech and the Bills outlined within it will liberate the north-east and end the monopolies in education, housing and town hall services that have so bedevilled its people.
§ Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)
One of my pleasant duties in winding up the debate this evening is to make reference to the many maiden speakers who have taken part in our debate.
Before I do so, may I say how welcome it was to see my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) in her place once again. In the inelegant language of the Whips' Office, she is known as a retread, but a more attractive retread there has never been. I am extremely glad to see my hon. Friend back. I echo the compliments and tributes that she paid to her predecessor, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, who was a particularly well liked Member.
It has been my experience in the House of Commons that each year the Members seem to get more intelligent than they were in the Parliament before—
§ Mr. Smith
The Secretary of State may find that flattery is a useful device now and again. I have not noticed it in his repertoire, at least on the evidence of his speech today, but I can say genuinely, even if it is flattery, that I very much enjoyed today's maiden speeches.
I shall refer to the Conservative maiden speeches first. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine), the son of a former Labour Member, paid tribute to Ken Weetch, another much respected and much loved Member of the House, who represented that constituency, as the hon. Gentleman said, with rare distinction for a very long time, keeping the beacon of the Labour party alive in an area of East Anglia where its support has not been traditionally strong. The hon. Gentleman made a polished and capable contribution. I am sure that in future debates he will be able to draw upon the expertise in housing that he demonstrated.
The hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who succeeded Sir Edward Gardner, gave us an interesting survey of the industrial potential of his constituency. We appreciate the great importance of enterprises such as British Aerospace that are located in his constituency.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce), who has a Scottish name, disclosed that he was born in Wales of an Irish mother. Despite that, he made an interesting contribution. He made what I regard as a controversial remark, to which I shall refer, but that is not a fatal defect in a maiden speech. I am not sure that he understood how controversial it was, but we enjoyed his contribution, as we did that of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who succeeded Sir William van Straubenzee. He told a story about Sir William. While it was amusing, it brought to my mind the story that Sir William often told about arriving in the House of Commons to be met by a Tory Whip who pronounced his name incorrectly. He corrected the Tory Whip and said that the name Straubenzee rhymed with MacKenzie. He was then sent 338 off to the Scottish Grand Committee. There was more aptness to my recollection than I thought at the time, because that may be the fate of several Conservative Members who cross the path of the Patronage Secretary in ways of which he disapproves.
We also had a contribution from the newly elected hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), whose reputation comes before him. Those of us from Scottish constituencies have had the pleasure of exchanging views with him on the hustings. He made an effective contribution, which shows that he will be a prominent performer in our debates in future.
There were some important and significant speeches by my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, first from my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who succeeded her father in the constituency. Ernie Armstrong was a popular and well-respected Member of the House. I have had the pleasure of knowing the hon. Lady for some time and I knew that she would make an effective contribution in the House. We now have the pleasure of seeing in the House the able daughter of a very distinguished father.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) had considerable parliamentary experience as the Member of the European Parliament for South Wales, which included the constituency that he now represents in the House. In his speech he displayed a sound understanding of the economic and social problems of the area. I am sure that his speech has marked him out as someone of quality who will contribute effectively to our debates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) is a fellow countryman of mine and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for many years. He paid a gracious tribute to his predecessor, Roy Jenkins, in one of the more stylish maiden speeches that I have had the pleasure of listening to since I came to the House of Commons. He brings great experience of the Third world to the House of Commons, but on this occasion he chose to talk about the problems in his own constituency. He talked particularly movingly about those who contribute to the workings of our National Health Service. We look forward to the contributions that he will make on future occasions on other subjects about which he is equally expert.
The debate then moved on to an interesting passage in which there seemed to be a series of ex-Tory Ministers all telling us how difficult the poll tax would be, how it had not been thought through carefully and how many problems were associated with it. I have just been checking the Division lists, and every one of them voted without the slightest problem for the Scottish poll tax, including the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He was not only opposed to the poll tax, but told us that he had consistently advised the Conservative party, in Cabinet and in shadow Cabinet, how dreadful a device it would be. I thought that, to appear sincere, he might at least have left the Government by the time the Abolition of Domestic Rates etc (Scotland) Bill was given its Second Reading.
We have heard much about whether hon. Members speak for the whole of Great Britain or for different parts of it. Many hon. Members cheerfully voted for a Scottish provision about which they would have been much more careful if it had affected their own constituencies. That will 339 be borne in mind in the inevitable debates that we shall have about the future constitutional government of this country.
I return to the hon. Member for Dorset, South who, in his maiden speech, made a remark that particularly caught my attention. He said that he thought that the division between the north and south of the country existed only in people's minds. Clearly there are complications in the north-south division. There are archipelagos of deprivation in the south, and those of my hon. Friends who represent London's inner city constituencies can testify eloquently to that, as, indeed, can my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), who did so in his contribution. Of course, there are some enclaves of prosperity in the north, too; but to pretend, as I believe the hon. Member for Dorset, South did—as the Prime Minister certainly often does—that there is no north-south divide is to create the impression that the person who makes the remark lives in a different country from the rest of us.
I find it astonishing that one has to take time out in these arguments—from reading the Queen's Speech it is clear that one must—to demonstrate that there is a deep division between the north and the south. Do not Conservative Members comprehend that 94 per cent. of all jobs lost since 1979, in the worst period of unemployment that we have endured this century, were lost in the part of Britain to the north and west of the line between the Wash and the Severn? Is it not appreciated that the precipitous decline in manufacturing industry—I hope that it is appreciated, and I am trying to make sure that it is understood by the Minister and others—has wrought particular havoc on the manufacturing regions of this country?
The matter should not be settled by statistics. Those with eyes to see can go to Victoria coach station and see people making that long distance journey from jobs in the south to homes and communities in the north. Those who, unlike the Prime Minister, travel around Britain by train and enter the backs of our cities will see the piles of rubble, the factories with the empty broken windows and the cleared sites where once families and communities earned a decent living and contributed to the wealth and prosperity of the country.
Those who have eyes to see can see in this country all too clearly that there is a deep and anxious division between the nations and regions that have suffered under this Administration and those that have prospered. I do not believe that that division is inevitable or God-given: it is man-made. The accentuation and deepening of the division since 1979 results from a series of economic, social and political choices for which the Conservative Government are responsible. In particular, the abandonment of regional industrial assistance as a concept and tool of Government coincides almost exactly with the precipitous decline in employment opportunity and in manufacturing output.
Simple statistics, however, are useful. In 1978–79, the last year of the Labour Government,£800 million was spent on regional grants. By last year, it was down to£400 million to£500 million. There was a slight blip, not unexpected in the year before an election, when it moved up.
I am afraid that the prospects are much worse. Last year we spent£512 million on regional development grants. That is down to£211.1 million in the expenditure 340 planned for next year, a fall of £300 million. In England, it will fall from £253 million to £108 million, a cut in one year of £145 million in the regions of England. In Wales it will go down from £88.9 million to £33.6 million, a cut of £55 million in one year. In Scotland it will go down from £170 million to £69 million, a cut in one year of over £100 million.
I added the cuts and found that the regions and nations of Britain have lost £2,000 million since 1979. That is the difference between the actual level of regional industrial assistance and that which would have been carried forward, even at the same levels of expenditure from 1979 onwards. As we know from the public expenditure rolling programme, cuts are projected up to 1990 and by then we will have lost £3,500 million. It beggars belief that we can take £3.5 billion out of the nations and regions of Britain and expect no economic consequences to flow therefrom.
For some curious reason, the Conservative party dislikes public expenditure. Clearly it is in favour of private expenditure, but when public spending is introduced it takes on an entirely different connotation. I think I speak for the vast majority of people and certainly for the Opposition when I say that we want expenditure in our constituencies. We do not care too much whether it is public or private, and it will be all the better if we can get an intelligent combination of both, with public sector expenditure leading in private sector expenditure. I think that the right hon. Member for Henley glimpsed that theory in his contribution to the debate. It is part of the responsibility of Government to make sure that the regions and nations of Britain that are in economic and social difficulties are given the maximum Government assistance in order to recover.
No doubt when he replies to the debate the Minister will tell us about various plans and schemes that are foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. He will tell us about urban development corporations and, no doubt, about various extensions of the urban programme. On regional development grants alone, we are to lose £300 million in the coming year. I very much doubt if the Minister will be able to tell us that all his schemes laid end to end arid multiplied by five will come anywhere near the £300 million that we will lose.
No doubt the Minister will deal with task forces and new urban development corporations and will list a whole panoply of new initiatives. A new one will be produced every fortnight, but they will all have small amounts of money, will all be centrally directed, and will have centralised appointees to run them. The local authorities, whose members are locally elected people, will be ignored in the various initiatives that the Government will produce. They will all be there, spatchcock schemes, surrounded and cocooned by public relations presentations, but all lacking the essential commitment of resources, which is the only way in which we can make a fundamental difference to the creation of employment.
Instead of entering into a partnership with the elected local authorities, as any intelligent Government would do, this Government will seek to undermine the local authorities by going behind them and appointing special corporations of various kinds. They will superimpose Government schemes, again with a strong emphasis on centralised control and appointment. The Government have abandoned responsibility for creating an economic and social policy that can unite the nation. The fault is probably an intellectual one, and it goes back to the 1983 341 White Paper on regional policy. In that White Paper the Government announced that they believed that the purpose of regional policy was social and not economic. I shall quote from paragraph 16 of Cmnd 9111, issued in 1983. It says:The Government believe that the case for continuing the policy is now principally a social one with the aim of reducing, on a stable long term basis, regional imbalances in employment opportunities.Since 1983, the Government have not been very good at reducing regional imbalances in employment opportunities, because they have got steadily worse in every year since. However, that is not the main point that I wish to make. To approach regional policy from the point of view that it is a social palliative is entirely the wrong attitude.
Our concept of regional policy is that its purpose is to create economic opportunity, not to operate as a social palliative. It is to use the resources of the people and the institutions and industries of the regions and the nations of Britain to help the whole country to recover and to restore our economic wealth and prosperity. That is a far better concept of regional policy and would mean that the Government would enter into partnership with the public and private sectors, the areas and their elected representatives to ensure that we achieve success in the country.
That is what a Government with any imagination would do. Such a Government would set up the development agencies in the English regions along the lines of the Scottish Development Agency. Such agencies make sense for Scotland and Wales and are tolerated by a Conservative Government. However, they are denied to the north-east, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside. Even in terms of the Government's practices and philosophies, what conceivable sense is there to deny such agencies to the regions? The Secretary of State for Scotland boasted about the Scottish Development Agency this afternoon. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will tell us why he does not listen to the Secretary of State for Scotland and establish development agencies in the English regions.
The English regions, Scotland and Wales are crying out for developments with new technology and for special training initiatives to give opportunities to the many young people denied opportunity on a grand scale. We want a Government who intervene on purpose, actively, directly, intelligently and shrewdly in partnership with others to create that difference which the country so desperately needs.
Of course the Government will blame others for what has gone wrong. They will not accept any responsibility. I believe that increasingly the country is understanding the issue. People who live in the south understand that it is a problem for them as well as for the people who live in the north, in Scotland and in Wales. If we continue in the present way, the southern economy will be constantly overheated. Excessive inflation will he engendered as a result and the Government are supposed to be concerned about that. There will be great problems in filling the public services. The odd situation exists whereby we have difficulty in filling those services when there are so many unemployed. There will be assaults on the environment, and people in the south often complain about that. I do not know why we continue to encourage industrial 342 development in areas where people do not want it when other areas are desperate for it and when it could be managed more sensibly and consistently and with a feeling for the environment.
There is also a terrible problem with house prices. When I recently looked up the figures I discovered that the average price for a semi-detached house in London is £76,230. The price for a similar house in Yorkshire is £26,320. There is a difference of £50,000 in the price of the house that the average person is likely to buy. No wonder problems are acute in this country.
We used to hear a lot from the Conservative party about the immobility of labour caused by council house policy. We have not heard a cheep from them about the immobility of labour caused by the fact that people cannot move easily from the north to the south. When people follow the advice to "get on their bikes", it is not the bike that they get on but the long-distance coach because they cannot afford the rail fares. Many have to live in the south away from their families and communities and a great deal of what they earn is used to pay for accommodation and transport. Does it not make much more sense to bring the jobs to the people rather than to drive the people all around the nation like industrial gipsies in search of employment?
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East reminded us that there are more problems than simply the division between north and south. There are problems with the rich and the poor and problems of the inner cities which we will debate as the Gracious Speech debate continues. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East said that the Government seemed to have just discovered the problem of the inner cities. One would hardly have thought that this was a Government who had already had two terms in office and had been in power for eight years. They seem to have discovered suddenly that there is a problem in the inner cities.
The problem was drawn to the Government's attention in 1985 by the Church of England report "Faith in the City". It was derided before it was read as pure Marxism. What was Marxism in 1985 seems to be Government policy in 1987 and the matter is now on the agenda for Government action.
In his telling speech my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East reminded us that the north-south divide is overlain by other divisions. There are divisions between the rich and the poor and they create other divisions in society and accentuate and deepen the north-south divide.
It is the acceptance of responsibility that is clearly missing from the Gracious Speech. The view is held increasingly faintly in some parts of the Tory party that the party stands for one nation, but the evasion of responsibility, the destruction of opportunity and the toleration of separate development within one country betrays the Tory party's better traditions as well as failing our nation. As this Parliament proceeds, we on the Opposition Benches, especially those of us who have been returned with increased majorities that reflect the feeling of those whom we represent, will speak with force, determination and vigour. We shall fight for those whom the Government neglect.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
It is not 343 unknown for me occasionally to agree on certain matters with the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (M r. Smith). Occasionally, we agree on one or two political issues rather too often for our respective political good. On this occasion I agree with everything that he said about today's maiden speeches. I have to say—[Interruption.] I left the Chamber shortly after the right hon. and learned Gentleman left his place, and I returned shortly after he did. I have heard as many maiden speeches as he has. including that of the most attractive retread whom we now have to get used to as the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor). It begins to date me in this place when I discover that I am listening to maiden speeches from Members whose fathers served with me. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) and the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) made speeches of which their constituents as well as their parents will be proud. I look forward to hearing more from them.
I have worked or debated previously with some of those who have made their maiden speeches today. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was well known to me before he took his seat, and I am delighted to be able to congratulate him on his maiden speech. My maiden speech was replied to by Bill van Straubenzee from the Government Dispatch Box. I should like to repeat all the praise that has been given to Bill van Straubenzee, who was a good friend of mine in this place. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham will make a great mark on the House and achieve the success that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) was good enough to say was likely to be his.
As I have campaigned in Scotland, I have faced the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). There are some who say that I have probably contributed to his success. When I listened to the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech, I was not surprised by his polish and professionalism. It is obvious that he will make a contribution to the party that he represents. At least there is a consistency in the views of the hon. Gentleman and of the Scottish Nationalist party towards England and this Parliament. That cannot be said about the views that are expressed by Scottish Labour Members. They seem now to be extremely keen on devolution and assemblies. That can be said even of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadcien (Mr. Dewar). The hon. Gentleman came nearer than anyone else who has spoken from the Labour Front Bench that I can remember to conceding that Scottish Members, in his vision of things, might give up their involvement in English education, English housing and other domestic matters here. That smacks of opportunism when it comes from a Scottish Labour MP.
Scottish Labour Members are wrong if they believe that their position in Scotland is matched in England. They try—[Interruption.] I know that a quarter of the Labour party is assembled in the Chamber in the form of the Scottish Labour party. The Labour party should realise that its problem lies in England. That is what contributes to the distress of Labour Members, especially Scottish Labour Members.
Several hon. Members have tried to say that the political problems that have occurred in Scotland have occurred also in England. The north-south divide has been referred to occasionally, and wrongly, in political terms as well as in economic and other terms. The position is not 344 the same in England. We gained a seat in Stockton. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) confirmed by his presence that the Conservative party held Darlington. We held constituencies that we won in 1983 in the north of England. We held both seats in Bury, and both in Bolton. We held Hyndburn. We held seats in Nottingham. We represent inner-city constituencies in London and Leeds.
The Conservative party is reasonably strong in the north of England and Scottish Labour Members are distressed because their party has been virtually wiped out south of the Trent. They know that there is not the slightest prospect of a Labour Government ever being returned to the House with an overall majority as long as the Labour party loses every seat in the midlands and in the south of England south of the Trent, except for a few London constituencies. It even lost Thurrock and Walthamstow. That is the extent of Labour's advances in the south. The idea that there is some argument about where the mandate lies in different parts of the country seems irrelevant. It is simply a way in which Scottish Labour Members console themselves for the wounds inflicted upon them by the failure of their English colleagues.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)
We are pleased to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is widely travelled and has been to Scotland. Will he explain why, following his visit to Scotland, Conservative party representation there dropped from 21 Members to 10?
§ Mr. Clarke
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) explained clearly some of the problems in Scotland. Those problems will have to be overcome if the Scottish economy is to sustain the recovery that it is now achieving. An English visitor to Scottish platforms can have no doubt that the terms in which the economic and political debate is conducted in Scotland are still some years behind those that pertain in England. The realisation that it is by stimulating the wealth-creating process in the economy, by encouraging an enterprise economy, by increasing the efficiency of industry and winning markets for goods and services that economic success has been achieved in large parts of the country north and south of the border is not so readily appreciated in parts of Scotland as it is in the south.
I agree with my right hon. Friends the Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham—let alone my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the midlands, the north and Scotland—who did not deny that there are patches of the country that are not sharing in the general and increasing prosperity. Those patches are not universally to be found in the north of England or in Scotland. We have come through a period of considerable economic change, which has brought success most quickly to those parts of the country that have attracted modern high tech industries that are based on service industries. That success has come, too, to areas that are most rapidly attracting new smaller business and have expanding medium-sized businesses. The process of change has been most painful in those parts of the country with the heaviest concentration of older, heavy industry. They have gone through a drastic and sometimes heartbreaking process of change from which they now have to recover.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham in his analysis. We have a national economy 345 that is plainly thriving, with rapid economic growth, stable and low inflation and falling unemployment across the country. We now have to concentrate on ensuring that the success that we can achieve by reviving the wealth-creating process and encouraging and stimulating the enterprise economy is extended to the depressed towns in parts of the north and Scotland and to the inner-city areas, which run the risk of being excluded from economic advance if we are not careful. None of this is new, and none of the problems were being solved when the Labour party was in office. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East put forward a rather ludicrous view of the north-south divide and the jobs lost. He relied on figures that define the north of England as including Cheltenham and Northampton. He also used a most curious definition of the proportion of jobs lost. When he turned from why he thought that large parts of the country had unacceptably high unemployment to how it might be tackled, he went back to regional policy and regional development grant and the activities of his Government in the late 1970s.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has the reputation of being one of the more thoughtful members of the Labour party, said that all he wanted for Scotland was public or private expenditure—he did not mind which—to cure the problems. In the late 1970s I was on the Opposition Front Bench and shadowed regional policy. I observed the expenditure of huge sums of money which he described so lovingly on regional development grant in the late 1970s. The Government were pouring money into regional development grant because unemployment was rising and the first of the processes of change from which we are suffering was beginning. It was ineffective because it was indiscriminate. Most of it was going to the oil industry in Scotland, when the oil industry would have invested in eastern Scotland anyway. It went to capital investment that was costing jobs because it was capital-intensive and enabled firms to shed labour.
I welcome the changes that we have made to regional policy since that time. Along with others, I pressed for it in the late 1970s. We were right to look at the map of assisted areas and concentrate on those with the greatest need, to concentrate regional assistance on the cost per job created, to look for the labour-intensive industries instead of the capital-intensive industries and to extend regional assistance to cover service as well as manufacturing industries. There is a lack of balance between service and manufacturing industries in parts of the north and in Scotland, which has been part of their problem.
Those are all improvements. It shows how bankrupt of original ideas the Labour party is north and south of the border that its principal spokesman merely cites that the Labour Government spent hundreds of millions of pounds on regional policy at the end of their period in office and implies that such differences of economic activity that now survive can be solved by expenditure. That means any expenditure, such as going back to the hundreds of millions of pounds for regional grant spent in a way that even trade union research groups now attack as having destroyed as many jobs as it created.
We have made our regional assistance more selective, and we should look at ways of doing so, so that we can concentrate on factors that stimulate lasting jobs and a modern economy, rather than just subsidising capital investment for its own sake. We must look at how we can 346 use the English Industrial Estates Corporation to make a contribution in the assisted areas and in urban regeneration.
It is not only that when talking about these matters the Labour party looks back to all or any expenditure and rejects the changes since. Other new ideas have been coming from our side of the House on urban regeneration and regional policy, for the last several years, and not as a new thing, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-East and others have suggested. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley started the precursor of what are now urban development corporations and set up the first task force on Merseyside.
London docklands is one of the most spectacular examples of urban regeneration that can be found anywhere in western Europe. It is pathetic that Members can still be found to get up and attack the achievement in docklands. I have seen, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-East has seen, the dereliction before and the development that is now going on. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to attack the number of jobs created by using figures that he knows are out of date, because he was talking about the number of jobs created up till 1985.
Urban regeneration grant and the use of urban development grant do what the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East said we should do—use public sector investment to lever private sector investment into building new commercial developments in the cities. That we have done. Those are instruments of policy introduced by this Government that were not there when the previous Government were in power.
We must tackle not only the need to clear derelict land, on which we have doubled expenditure, and the need to develop new buildings and attract private sector investment into new commercial developments on the cleared land, but the problems of the people who live in inner cities and the depressed towns, where industrial change has hit them hard. That we have been doing.
The Manpower Services Commission's various training schemes were again derided by Labour Members. After the election, several of them went through the recitative of seeking to dismiss YTS, job training schemes and other things as though they had some alternative. I do not know what their alternative was. The hon. Member for Eccles referred to her cynicism and that of her constituents about those training schemes, without suggesting what should be put in their place.
In the last 18 months the Government have been encouraging and working with the Manpower Services Commission to make those training schemes more suitable for the residents of the inner cities and to give people in the inner cities more access to the good quality employer-led training schemes that we are now introducing. That should happen to job training schemes as well. Through the MSC we have been encouraging the growth of self-employment. Self-employment has been growing most rapidly in parts of the north of England, not just in the south. The biggest increase has been in Yorkshire and Humberside. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) laughs at the idea of more people being self-employed because they will not then belong to trade unions and thus maintain his political base in Scotland. Therefore, he disapproves of that kind of employment growing in a modern economy.
It is true of the other inner city initiatives that we have tried to concentrate the combined effect of our policies on 347 people who live in the inner city areas to give them the motivation and the skill that they need to take part in a modern enterprise economy.
§ Mr. Clarke
No, I will not.
Again, the task forces have been criticised by people who have not taken the trouble to find out what they are doing in the eight inner city areas in which we have established them. First, they are helping to get better value for the huge amounts of money spent in those inner city areas for the residents of those inner city areas.
§ Mr. Clarke
They have experimented in new ways of increasing the skill and motivation of people who live there; attaching training schemes to urban regeneration schemes so that local labour can be trained and employed in the rebuilding of their own area training people for new jobs that are created in commercial developments near inner city areas and avoiding the danger that those commercial developments might not provide employment for those who live in the most deprived parts of the cities; and working without the national organisations, such as Full Employ, which concentrate on training for ethnic minority youngsters in jobs of particular relevance.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I, too, hope that it is, Mr. Speaker. We have been listening to the right hon. and learned Member for 17 minutes. This is supposed to be a debate about the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. He has not yet mentioned Wales once.
§ Mr. Clarke
No, I shall not give way on an intervention. The hon. Gentleman is trying to prevent my mentioning Wales.
§ Mr. Clarke
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about Wales and will not listen to the answer. Since March 1986 unemployment has fallen more rapidly in Wales than in any other region of the United Kingdom. The figures show that in 13 consecutive months unemployment has been falling. Over the past 12 months unemployment has fallen more rapidly than at any other time in a decade. Unemployment has been falling more rapidly in Wales, in the north-west and in the Midlands as a result of a combination of the policies that I have described. Those policies are aimed at building on the back of a substantial revival in the national economy and paying particular attention to ways in which we can stimulate the wealth-creating and economic processes of the regions of the country and of the inner cities as well. It is a combination of those policies that we need to pursue, together with the policies on education and housing that are needed more in our inner cities and in our depressed towns than in the rest of the country.
Our priority in our third term of office will be, having revived the national economy, to ensure that the benefits of a property-owning democracy and an enterprise economy reach those parts of the country that they have not yet reached. The reaction of the Opposition is pure cynicism, pure defeatism and pure opposition to what we propose. Their own policies are to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in regional grant on any capital investment and give rate support grant to Left-wing local authorities to provide public sector employment in their cities. They are bankrupt of ideas both north and south of the border. They have been bombarded by initiatives and—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.