§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the proposer and the seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, it may be for the convenience of the House if I inform the House that the proposed subjects for debate for the rest of this week and for next week are as follows: Thursday 8 November—foreign affairs and defence; Friday 9 November—industry and transport; Monday 12 November—rights, freedoms and responsibilities; Tuesday 13 November—education and training; Wednesday 14 November—the economy.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.It is a special honour, which I greatly appreciate, to be invited to propose this motion, but I must start this year on a note of sadness. No one who was present on this occasion last year will ever forget the brilliant and amusing way in which this speech was made by Ian Gow. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we miss him, particularly today, but we are happy to recall many memories of serving in this House with such a delightful and courageous friend.
It is to the constituency of Ayr that the honour today surely belongs and I feel greatly privileged to have represented Ayr in the House for 26 years. My predecessor was Sir Thomas Moore who represented Ayr for nearly 40 years with distinction and skill. It also happens, by coincidence, that before him Ayr was represented from 1906 to 1922 by my great grandfather Sir George Younger who rose to be Chief Whip in the coalition Government of the first world war and later to chairman of the Conservative party.
There were still some constituents who remembered my great grandfather when I was elected in 1964 and I am indebted to one of them for an insight into his debating style which the House may feel seems to have been somewhat more robust than mine. He was apparently addressing a large meeting in Ayr town hall at a time when there was much agitation about the big social issue of that day which was whether a man should be allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister. Those who are familiar with "Iolanthe" will recall mention of this issue by the Fairy Queen. My great grandfather, however, was speaking about imperial preference and a heckler continually shouted out, "What about marriage with deceased wife's sister?" Eventually my great grandfather silenced him by responding, "Sir, if elected, I will make it compulsory."
In its origins, the Ayr constituency goes back to the formation of the Scottish parliamentary seats after the Treaty of Union in 1707. There were county seats and borough seats and the constituency was entitled Ayr Burghs until it was officially changed to Ayr 20 years ago. The composition of the constituency has changed in detail many times over the years, but has always been based on 8 the two seaside towns of Ayr and Prestwick. Troon has been excluded at times, but is now firmly back in the constituency, giving a perfect excuse for the Member to attend the Open golf championship as a matter of duty.
The constituency measures about 10 miles by seven, but in terms of numbers of electors it is the biggest constituency in Scotland. I am sure that I shall not be accused of natural bias if I add that by any standard it is in a most attractive setting, looking across the Firth of Clyde to the island of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre, although they are not part of the constituency. Many historical events have taken place in or around Ayr. It has been a royal borough since 1204 and the earliest reference to Prestwick goes back to 1174, but, as those dates are a source of perennial dispute, I will be wise to pass on quickly. The history of the area is so long and varied that I can do no justice to it in the time available today.
Ayr is best known the world over as the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard and one of the great masters of the English language in literary history. Therefore, I have the task of representing Robert Burns in this House which is not quite as much a sinecure office as it sounds. There is the duty of attending innumerable Burns suppers every January. That is usually most enjoyable, although some years ago I endured one such supper which lasted five hours during which the only refreshment offered was orange juice. It was a challenge which I would not willingly repeat.
The duties do not end there. I have a constituent who believes that she is in regular touch with Robert Burns and he is, thus, able to raise matters with me from time to time. It may interest the House to know that Robert Burns is opposed to capital punishment and also, rather more surprisingly, to the televising of Parliament. I am glad to be able to add that I had a telephone call from my constituent last week to say that Robert Burns is now much less unhappy than he was about the community charge. My constituent added that she has now got her rebate fully paid.
I am glad to say that the economy of Ayr is better today than it has been at any time in the past 25 years. Unemployment, as elsewhere in Scotland, has fallen steadily and we have more people in work than we have ever had. We have many small businesses in the tourist and service industries, as Ayr is the major market town in the area with excellent shopping facilities. Tourism is particularly important because of the worldwide attraction of the Burns country, although we wish that the Scottish tourist board would encourage us to market the Burns country everywhere as the unique product that it is.
In Ayr we also have one of the finest racecourses in Britain where many classic races such as the Scottish grand national and the Ayr gold cup are run. Incidentally, its whole future was put in doubt by the effect of the old rating system under which Ayr paid more than twice the rates paid by Ascot. The reform of that system in recent years has been crucial in securing the future of the Ayr races. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for all that he has done in that regard.
We have a considerable amount of manufacturing industry in the constituency. In aviation we have Caledonian Airmotive, a highly successful company which refurbishes General Electric aero engines and exports to 9 Europe and America. It is now expanding its markets to the far east. Last year it was given a Queen's award for exports.
Our biggest industry in the constituency is British Aerospace, which now makes the enormously successful Jetstream 31 commuter aircraft. It exports strongly all over the United States of America. The orders and options currently stand at more than 400 aircraft, 306 of which have already been delivered and 51 will be delivered this year. Jetstream is the world leader for regional commuter aircraft with 50 per cent. of the market and there are now real hopes of progress in the far east market as well. Next year we look forward to the launch of the next aircraft, the Jetstream 41. That will be a highly significant Scottish event, as it will be the first aircraft to be entirely designed and built in Scotland since the 1950s.
That brings me to the most important and most difficult issue that we face—the future of Prestwick airport. That hangs in the balance since the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to allow Prestwick's transatlantic traffic to go to other airports. Most of it has now done so, leaving the best airport in western Europe from an environmental point of view without any significant passenger traffic. I and most of my constituents disagreed strongly with that decision, but we have accepted it, however reluctantly. What we now ask for is positive help from the Government in attracting new traffic by negotiating "fifth freedom" rights where possible and leaning on British airports to allow Prestwick to compete effectively for the new traffic it needs. When air space is increasingly at a premium everywhere it would be foolish indeed not to make use of an asset such as Prestwick airport.
Hon. Members who spend long hours in Committees upstairs may like to know that the fine textile coverings for the chairs on which they sit are made by British Replin, a firm in Ayr. If Committee work should ever become too heated in the forthcoming Session, it might be of some comfort to the more sensitive among us to know that British Replin won a Queen's award this year for producing special flameproof safety fabrics for aircraft.
I am glad to tell the House that in Ayr we feel that our businesses and industries are doing well and that we can look to the future with confidence. In these difficult economic times, it is a welcome change from the past to note that the Scottish economy is at present performing very well. After all the scare talk about the alleged destruction of manufacturing industry, it is remarkable that manufacturing output in Scotland is higher than it has ever been and much of it is in new, high-technology industries, which bring not only jobs but technology for the future.
There are more Scots in employment than ever before. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on the continuing fall in Scottish unemployment. I hope that he will use his newly gained power over industrial training to ensure that maximum training is concentrated on the long-term unemployed, of whom there are still far too many.
I welcome the measures so clearly outlined in the Gracious Speech. They build on the long series of radical reforms that have been put through by Governments led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As a constituency Member, I particularly welcome the proposed Bill to enforce the payment of maintenance by 10 fathers for their children. It has long been a scandal how some fathers have been able to avoid responsibility for their own children.
I also welcome the references in the speech to our role in the European Community. As a long-standing supporter of our full membership, I agree that we have a vital and constructive role to play in improving the way forward to the single market and other reforms. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be congratulated on devising the only credible scheme there is for progress on stage 2 of the Delors plan. He and my right hon. Friends are absolutely right to sign up only to what they can see and evaluate. I do not believe that the House will support major measures that are not fully spelt out. If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government continue to follow that course, they can count on my full support.
The Queen's Speech is different from its predecessors in that it reflects the traumatic world events in which we are involved. The freeing of most of eastern Europe and the collapse of the Warsaw pact have lifted the main threat to peace that we confronted for 40 years. We all hope that eventually it will enable us to spend less on defending ourselves, but I am sure that we can rely on my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence to keep a modern and balanced defence capability through NATO. I include in that the essential need to make some provision to deal with the unexpected. Throughout history it has always been the unexpected that is most likely to happen.
That is exactly what we now face in the middle east. Suddenly, we are confronted with a new, ruthless source of cruelty and injustice which no decent person can ignore or condone. It is important that there has been such unanimity on both sides of the House in the face of that wickedness and the inhuman treatment of our hostages. It has been a great achievement of leadership by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, President Bush and all the diplomats involved that the United Nations has been brought together to take such a strong stand.
As to what happens next, the whole House will profoundly hope that a solution can be reached without further bloodshed. But, as the House is aware, the United Nations Security Council has made quite clear what it insists must be done. It will be our duty to do all we can to play our part, however hard it may be, in fulfilling the resolutions that have been passed.
The House may face difficult decisions during the year that lies ahead. We do our work with the whole nation watching us and they will expect us to be true to our history of opposing cruelty and injustice wherever and whenever we find it. The Gracious Speech gives us a clear lead, and I offer my full support to my right hon. Friend and the Government in whatever lies ahead.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
It is a great honour to second the motion and to follow the excellent and eloquent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). I should like to make it clear to the House that I have already written to my constituency chairman to say so. I am thrilled to say that I have not yet received a reply.
All right hon. and hon. Members know of a well-known booklet—the infamous "MPs' Chart", published by 11 Andrew Roth. Some Members may cringe when they recall their own potted biographies, perhaps regretting some peccadillo from their youth which is recreated every Parliament for publication; but what would one give for the description of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr in that booklet? In what is an independent assessment he is described astactful; charming; warm; loyal; cheerful".I would willingly kill for such a description in Roth—but Mr. Roth has my right hon. Friend bang to rights. I am pleased to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for his friendship over the years and his always excellent advice and guidance.
My entry in Roth begins with the words "beautiful, affluent, but noisy". I hope that hon. Members will have realised that that describes my constituency, not me. My constituents are very conscious of the deep honour that they have received because of my being allowed to second the Loyal Address.
Richmond is a most pleasant part of the capital city. It forms the eastern half of the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, where we are proud to say that the countryside comes to town. I have great pleasure in sharing parliamentary representation of the borough with my hon. and musical Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who is truly a legendary local champion. Who could not be thrilled to represent a constituency that contains the incomparable beauty of Richmond park, the charm and importance of the royal botanic gardens in Kew and almost 12 miles of the River Thames?
This historic place, this birthplace of kings and queens, was represented—with longevity—for the 50 years before me by only two Members of Parliament: Brigadier Sir George Harvie-Watt and the then Anthony Royle, now my noble Friend Lord Fanshawe. When I was first elected I received a letter from George Harvie-Watt out of the blue. It came from his home in Fife; he was then in his late 80s. He was one of those often unsung heroes who occupy the position of parliamentary private secretary to a Prime Minister—in his case Sir Winston Churchill. In return, I rang him up, and he gave me some golden advice. He said, "If ever you cannae think of a thing to say at the annual general meeting of the Richmond division, play the bagpipes. It allus works for me!" I very much regret that I have never yet taken him up on that advice, but I wonder what advice he would have given me on this occasion——
§ Mr. Hanley
Perhaps the mighty wurlitzer would have been more appropriate.
Having been elected in 1983 in a somewhat surprising way with a less than generous majority of 74, I found my first day at Westminster—as I am sure all hon. Members found theirs—a day that I could never forget. With a majority that small, who is to say what tipped the balance? I have to admit, however, that the day before the election there was a showing on television of my father's film, "The Blue Lamp". It was the archetypal bobby-on-the-beat type of movie and, who knows, perhaps it helped. But when I went through St. Stephen's entrance on my first day to take the oath the policeman on the door said, "Mr. Hanley, I am very sorry that your late father is not around to see you come into the House. He would have been very 12 proud, sir." I said, "Thank you sergeant, that is kind of you." He added, "Mind you, sir, I think the shock might have killed him." I am sure that hon. Members have noted the smiles that play on the faces of the constabulary in the Palace of Westminster. Could it be the confidence of a job well done or, more likely, that whatever the result of the next election they will be back?
On that day I learned one of the most important lessons about the House. I sat in the Chamber waiting to take the oath and watched from a modest spot near the back on the Government side as the famous and the lesser known filed past. It was like viewing a walking waxworks or, as one of my constituents said, "It is just like Madame Tussauds except that the exhibits look slightly less lifelike." I sat on the fourth row back and was conscious of somebody sitting down next to me. I turned round and saw that it was the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Startled, I said, "How do you do? I did not realise that you were on our side." My hon. and reverend neighbour said in his unmistakable tones, "Never confuse sitting on your side with being on your side." Hon. Members will agree that that phrase sounds strangely pertinent even today.
One of the welcome experiences of this place that is little known to those outside is that whatever our political differences we respect and even admire many of our foes—that is, as long as they are not in our own party. In researching the last 12 years of Hansard before undertaking this august task, I noticed that one of the regular features of the proposing or seconding of the Loyal Address was the intervention of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller). The House will understand when I say that I would willingly have welcomed an intervention from that source today. I know that we all wish him well. I should also like to pay tribute to Ian Gow whose speech last year was a model of perfection. I wish that I had one ounce of his dedication, his courage or his ability.
The Gracious Speech contains some important measures. My constituents are keenly aware of the responsibility that we all bear to future generations for the preservation of our planet and believe that personal example is vital. The buck stops at home. I congratulate all those in Richmond and Barnes who give of their time and effort to try to repair the damage caused carelessly, often stupidly, and always anti-socially by others. Richmond has won the national Tidy Britain award twice in the past five years and was in the final the past two years.
Richmond people care passionately about their environment and the planning Bill outlined in the Gracious Speech will be of great interest to them. While we recognise the need for smaller housing units as the pattern of family life changes, insensitive building and demolition can ruin our harmonious street scenes. Halting pollution is more than merely a matter of picking up litter or turning to less harmful substances. Richmond and Barnes suffer pollution from aircraft noise. While we welcome the Government's action in recent years to reduce the number of night flights and to phase out noisier aircraft engines, more needs to be done.
We also believe in more efficient public transport. We are grateful for the investment in London Regional Transport and for the new routes that have been planned and we look forward to ways of speeding up travel around the capital, especially on buses, so that they will attract even more passengers. It is a crime that 80 per cent. of all 13 cars that cross Kew bridge have only one person in them. Therefore, we look forward to further progress towards an integrated system of public transport for the south-east.
We also look forward to further progress in adopting the remaining few European directives to achieve the single market and we recognise that Britain is first in the list of nations achieving their responsibilities. I am a convinced European and I have the dreams and hopes of those who would see an even more united Europe. However, I commend to the House and my constituents the responsible and realistic policy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Ministers, who do not sign away Britain's sovereignty and interests on hopes and dreams alone, but base their decisions on solid achievement when the difficulties are conquered and the barriers to success overcome.
My constituents, who have long enjoyed the sight of herds of deer in Richmond park, are keen to protect further the wildlife of our country and to eradicate cruelty to living things wherever in the world it occurs. We are thrilled that salmon have now returned to Teddington lock, although there was slight disappointment when the first one that was caught by an angler, who claimed the substantial prize on offer, proved on closer inspection to have all the characteristics of having come from the deep freeze at Tesco. Since then, genuine salmon have been swimming up the cleaner Thames.
My first parliamentary initiative was to have anglers' lead weights banned, as they did so much harm to the swans that used to be a common sight on the Thames. I am pleased to say that swans are there again. I thank my right hon. Friend the recently appointed Secretary of State for Health, who, when a Minister in the Department of the Environment, was instrumental in that ban and in beginning the essential task of greening the Commons. I offer my heartiest congratulations to him on his elevation, and to all those who sit in this Chamber in their new guises, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), the newest Minister, who represented Richmond in the late, unlamented GLC.
My constituents will also welcome in the Queen's Speech a strengthening of the parole system, particularly if it leads to fewer people in our prisons. They will welcome the promised action on the improved quality in education and new benefits for disabled people. They will also welcome the continuing commitment to improve the quality of the national health service.
I am grateful for this opportunity to second the Loyal Address and welcome the Queen's Speech. However, I am conscious of my mortality, in that seven of the last 13 seconders have failed to return to Westminster in the general election after their contribution. I would far rather suffer the longevity of my other predecessors. In spite of Labour Members, I should love to come back time and again because I can think of no more worthy, important or fulfilling task than to serve my constituents in this hallowed House.
§ 3.8 pm
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
I follow the happy convention of the House by congratulating both the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on two fine speeches in proposing and seconding the Loyal 14 Address. I associate myself with what the right hon. Member for Ayr said about the late lamented Ian Gow. I cannot speak on this occasion without recalling, as I probably shall on many future occasions, on both sides of the House, that Ian spoke in this debate last year. I am certain that no hon. Member could fail to remember his speech with both affection and respect. We continue to miss him greatly.
The right hon. Member for Ayr and the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes may believe that they were selected by the Prime Minister and the Government Whips, or whatever machinery is currently in use, for the honour that they have discharged with considerable merit because of their wit and standing in the House or their more general distinction. I suppose that they would be right on all three grounds. I can tell them, however, the real reason why they were selected.
Having read everything that has ever been written about both the right hon. Gentleman and the lion. Gentleman, I discover that they have extraordinary records. They are without blemish, without eccentricity and without one instance of rebellion. I am sure that they were chosen just to make my job difficult. I hope sincerely that whoever chose them for that reason will not succeed. However, the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman are model Members. Whoever was responsible for their selection may have realised with particular prescience that, on this day in this week, above all weeks, the Conservative party would need models of conformity to address the House, Members who could be held up to all others as examples of how hon. Members should conduct themselves.
The right hon. Member for Ayr, who has a distinguished record, has not only been Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence. Perhaps his most glorious moment came last year when he was a campaign manager, when the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) ran, if that is the operative term, against the Prime Minister. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would describe that as a demanding task. It may be that, after recent tumultuous days he is already out of a job, as the task may not have to be undertaken this year. I am sure, however, that if the job has to be done, the right hon. Gentleman would discharge it with great loyalty.
The right hon. Member for Ayr has a long and distinguished record of loyalty. He is the man who in 1963 stood down from his seat so that Lord Home of the Hirsel could represent a constituency in the House of Commons. Last year, the right hon. Gentleman stood up for the Prime Minister in order to be her election agent. I admire that. I am entirely in favour of such loyalty to leaders.
The dissident past of the right hon. Member for Ayr is rather more chequered. It is said that at Oxford university he joined all the political parties, including the Communist society. I hope that the Prime Minister was not listening to that. If the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in any difficulty about that, he should describe himself as a crypto-Communist. That will not do him any harm at all.
Like the right hon. Member for Ayr, I am fortunate in having a constituent with literary connections. The two figures who are fortunate in communicating with her are Dylan Thomas and St. Paul. Perhaps we could get the right hon. Gentleman's constituent and mine together so that they could have a sort of posthumous literary 15 function. I should think that it would be an interesting lunch, especially with Robert Burns and Dylan Thomas in attendance, with St. Paul looking after them.
Mention of Robert Burns reminded me of what I consider may be an apposite verse on this occasion which was Robert Burns's "To a Louse." It might be subtitled a homily to warn would-be contenders to leadership of political parties:O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie usTo see oursels as others see us!It wad frae mony a blunder free us,And foolish notion.I am not accepting any invitation to Burns night, before the right hon. Member for Ayr runs away with that idea.
The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes was a complete delight. I am sure that everyone would agree with that. The hon. Gentleman has certain advantages. He is the son of distinguished actors, both of whom rightly command admiration. He gave evidence of that in recounting his encounter with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I had a not dissimilar encounter when I shared an office with the hon. Member for Antrim, North in those halcyon days when members of different parties shared offices, and they did not come any more mixed than the hon. Gentleman. On one occasion, he caught me doing a rather bad impersonation of his accent. He said that I was not to worry about that, because impersonation was the sincerest form of flattery. However, he added, "Not that I believe in flattery of course."
A biography describes the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes asAn attractive giant who can display two faces.It is a strange aspect of politics, but I think that that description was intended as a compliment. We were delighted by the hon. Gentleman. He has been described by a grandmaster as the best chess player in the House of Commons, so he is obviously a man not only of theatrical and political talent, but of patience and planning. After his remarkable speech, I can say only that his contract is definitely in the post.
The Queen's Speech contains measures that the Opposition are likely to support. Proposals such as those intended to combat rising crime and trafficking in drugs, to improve the collection of maintenance for children, and to provide new benefits for the disabled will naturally receive our constructive attention. We shall continue to support the United Nations policy for securing a complete and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait; nothing else will do. That must remain the absolute precondition of any progress in any form of any negotiations.
Naturally, the more widely preferred method of fulfilling the United Nations policy is by peaceful means. That is why there is such a strong case for prolonged and sustained sanctions, backed by military deployment, to maintain pressure on Saddam Hussein until he complies fully with international law and United Nations policy. Meanwhile, the Iraqi dictator is playing a callous game with hostages and their families. Everyone is rightly pleased when any hostages are released, but no one can give credence to Saddam Hussein's claim that he is acting out of compassion in permitting such releases. The only way in which that claim can gain any validity is if he replaces his invitations to relatives to visit hostages with the immediate freeing of those hostages.
16 Those who are held and those who care for them are desperate for release, or even for respite, from their anxiety. They know, as well as anyone in this House knows, what Saddam Hussein is up to. They know that if they visit Iraq they will risk injury and exploitation. All that is clear but, frankly, if anguished people go to Iraq to see their loved ones in such circumstances, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we should treat them with understanding and compassion, not condemnation. They are in a terrible position.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)
I agree with my right hon. Friend. Will he take this opportunity to tell the House his views on the outrageous statement last Monday by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) that the families of hostages should "stop mewling and puking"?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In common with many other people, when I heard about the remarks made by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes)—who is in the Chamber—I felt abomination. I reflected further and recalled the origin of the linesmewling and puking in the nurse's arms.I thought it apposite that I should recall the final lines of that play, which I studied for O-level. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge may recall that the quote concluded something like this:Last scene of all …second childishness and mere oblivion;Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste"—and, I would add, "sans common decency and common humanity"—sans everything."—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Kinnock
As we consider the Queen's Speech, we are bound to reflect on the condition of the Government who produced it. After all, it is only a year since we were told that the Government hadThe Right Team for the Future".Since then, no fewer than five members have left the Cabinet team. Some went—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Kinnock
It is deliberate, Mr. Speaker.
Some left that Government team because of family commitments; one left because he had effectively banned himself from playing in Europe; and then, last Thursday, the most recent departure came because of what I think we could call the recurrence of old injuries—as far as I could see, they were back injuries. Over the years, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) has had a great deal to put up with. However, in the end he could no longer take what the Prime Minister had to offer. As the Prime Minister discovered, he was, after all, too big a man to endure any more of her disloyalty to him and her contempt for his convictions.
To the credit of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he took his letter to the Prime Minister privately, and he announced his decision to her face to face, as one would expect from a man whom we recognise to be a man of honour. That is not everyone's way, of course. Although I oppose the Prime Minister, I must say that I feel contempt for those who have fawned on her and even 17 personally been favoured by her, but who now anonymously attack her. Those who snipe at the Prime Minister publicly, but then cast around for surrogates or stalking horses deserve much the same disdain, especially when they write voluminous letters of criticism and then go off to the middle east to see the Palestinians and the Israelis—but, apparently, not to speak to any interviewers. We have a latter-day Samson Agonistes—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I will not have hon. Members pointing at me like that. Let us proceed in good order.
§ Mr. Kinnock
There is an unusual silence from a particular quarter. As I said, we have a latter-day Samson Agonistes—speechless in Gaza. Such people deserve what they get. I think that the current term is that they are being flushed; there never was a more apt use of the term.
The divisions in the Government in part explain their conduct this afternoon. They are divided right down the middle. I suppose that there is a kind of poetic justice in that, after all the great divisions that they have inflicted on our country in their 11 years in power. Yet, despite all the increased division that they have brought to our country, we could still hear the Prime Minister, at her conference a few weeks ago, proclaiming that she wanted to see "an open, classless Britain"; an opportunity society. It is a completely desirable objective, of course. Indeed, I so much agree with it that I could have applauded the Prime Minister myself had I not known that she had spent the past 11 years taking Britain in exactly the opposite direction, away from the open, classless society.
When families are crushed by mortgage payments, when housing waiting lists are endless, when the cardboard cities are growing, how can the Prime Minister talk of an open, classless society? In a Britain in which family and pensioner poverty has grown wider and deeper over all these years, this certainly is not a country that is being made classless. In fact, an underclass is being created.
Does an open, classless society require a poll tax that levies the same on a shop assistant as on a stockbroker? Does the unified business rate which closes businesses and crushes enterprise produce an opportunity society?
How does the Prime Minister think that she is building an opportunity society when child care provision is abysmal, when primary and secondary school classes have no teachers, when so few children over the age of 16 are staying in regular education, when higher education students are forced to live on loans, and there are universities threatened with bankruptcy? What kind of opportunity society is that?
How open can a society be when there are closures again this winter of hospital beds and hospital wards, when, due to the Government's so-called reforms, more than 4,000 beds are being taken out in order to try to balance the books? How classless is a society that has a record 1 million people on hospital waiting lists—unless, of course, they can pay for treatment?
If the Prime Minister truly wants to see what she spoke about at her conference—an open, classless Britain—why did the Government again this year refuse to restore the true value of child benefit? Any Prime Minister who truly wanted to promote a classless society would have taken the opportunity this year fully to implement community care, but the Prime Minister did not do so. She absolutely postponed it indefinitely. In the process, the Prime Minister condemned millions of her fellow citizens, 18 including some of the most frail and needy and those who care for them, to continued isolation and poverty, without care, without proper support and even without respite.
Now, from the Prime Minister who speaks of wanting—[Interruption]—a classless and opportunity society when her main instrument of economic policy—[Interruption.] I am glad that the House is on television. The public can see just how yobbish the Conservative party is.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House knows that here we listen to the arguments, and I ask those on the Government Benches to do just that.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I was asking the Prime Minister how—I hope that she will reply when she comes to speak; she is speaking today, unlike on a previous occasion—she can even speak of wanting a classless, opportunity society when her main instrument of economic management over 11 years has been unemployment, and when once again she has resorted to policies that have brought recession? That recession is, of course, no accident. We have it from the Prime Minister herself that, in her own words, there are "uncontestable signs" that "the economy is working" in the way that the Government "wanted it to". Bankrupt companies, closed factories, reduced investment, rising unemployment are all signs of the success of policy to the Prime Minister. To us, they are evidence of gross incompetence and total failure and that view is shared by millions throughout Britain.
This recession, like all recessions, will eventually come to an end; it will taper off at some time. But it will leave behind weakness—less productive investment, fewer trained people, research cuts and more markets lost. That happened on the last occasion that the right hon. Lady brought recession to this country and it is now happening again.
We cannot afford to suffer such weaknesses at any time, but, with the completion of the single market just over 25 months away, those weaknesses are more disabling than ever. With the movement for economic and monetary union gathering impetus among the 11 other members of the European Community, the weaknesses of under-skilling, under-investment and under-performance take on extra seriousness.
Even though the final form and precise process of economic and monetary union are far from fully determined, the collective will for that union is already strong and cannot be ignored. That is the truth. We do neither ourselves nor the people of this country any favours by trying to evade that will. Recognition of that reality does not mean acquiescence or submission to a process beyond our control. On the contrary, if we face reality, it means working to gain allies for our arguments for growth, accountability and regional balance right across the Community. It means working for agreements to uphold Britain's essential interests. It most certainly means that economic convergence at higher standards of performance are an essential requirement if further movement towards economic and monetary union is to be both practicable and beneficial. To accept anything less would be to accept disadvantage for Britain—and no right hon. or hon. Member could allow that.
With or without the pressures of economic and monetary union, it is vital for Britain to employ positive policies that are similar to those long used by more 19 successful Community countries in education, training, transport and science. A modern Government must ensure for this country that our people and our producers have the same chances as those enjoyed by our competitors and the peoples of their countries.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
How does the right hon. Gentleman square these comments with his remarks in a speech two or three years ago about the single market being an abdication of responsibility and an apology for action?
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman may want to take up that point with a few of his own right hon. and hon. Friends, because we know that the Prime Minister, who now denounces the process, is the same person who, when I spoke on that occasion, was whipping and guillotining through the House, with all the trappings, the Single European Act. That ensured that she arrived in Rome the weekend before last with total inconsistency built into her view.
In 11 oil-rich years, the Conservative Government have never made, and will never make, the commitment necessary to build the productive strength of our economy by investing in people, and by supporting industrial effort—as other Governments in the European Community do. Success and strength in the Community require a partnership between industry and Government. This Government live to deny that partnership. They have a huge balance of payments deficit, high inflation, rising unemployment and falling manufacturing investment to prove those 11 years of utter waste.
Success in the Community is largely a matter of economic performance, but it is equally, and crucially, a matter of political approach. Now we have it on the very best and most experienced authority, in the evidence of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, that the Prime Minister very definitely does not have the right approach to change in the Community. He has let it be known that the "mood" that the Prime Minister has "struck", in his words,most notably in Rome last month, and in the House of Commons last Tuesday, make it more difficult for Britain to hold, and retain, a position of influence in this vital debateabout the future of the Community. That is the candid assessment of a former Foreign Secretary and deputy Prime Minister. It was not a petulant reaction to the Prime Minister. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not built like that. On the contrary, his words and his decision were cool and deliberate—and all the more damning for that.
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in the most precise terms, was that the Prime Minister's conduct of affairs makes her unfit to represent us in the councils of the European Community. There could hardly be a more serious charge against the Prime Minister, coming as it does from someone whose loyalty to the Conservative party is renowned and who has been closely involved with the right hon. Lady for many years, including her European Community involvement.
Of course, the right hon. Lady is guilty as charged by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. She proved that again last Tuesday. She is incapable of making the 20 alliances that Britain needs. She is incapable of making the arguments that are essential to the exercise of our influence at this time of great change.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Last Tuesday we saw two versions of the right hon. Lady. The first version appeared with the statement that she read, with its emollient words aboutthe Community going forward as Twelve.Doubtless, we shall see the same sort of performance from the right hon. Lady in that role this afternoon, when she reads her speech. But there was an altogether different version of the Prime Minister when she answered questions after her statement. It was that more authentic version which brought the resignation of the deputy Prime Minister, the despair of many in his party who agree with him, and the division within the Government that cannot now be healed or concealed.
Of course, there are those who will nobly try to come to the right hon. Lady's rescue. The Foreign Secretary, in his typically gallant way, did that on Monday at the Confederation of British Industry conference. He said some things that recommended themselves to all responsible and sensible people. For instance, he said:No one is seriously expecting Britain to submerge our Parliament … into a Federal state.He said that there is no "dread conspiracy" against us in the Community. He said:We can fight our corner for British interests without frightening ourselves with ogres.Those are all rational statements.
But does the Prime Minister, who said last week that the European Commission was "striving to extinguish democracy," agree with her Foreign Secretary? Does the Prime Minister, who is fixated by what she callsback doors to a federal Europe,agree with her right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary? Of course she does not. Everything she says and does proves that she does not agree with the Foreign Secretary.
If she shared the Foreign Secretary's rational view, and if she stopped claiming that Euro-ogres were combined in "dread conspiracy" to "submerge our Parliament," she would have nothing left in her repertoire of stridency. Of course she might still have the deputy Prime Minister. Even more important, she might not have 11 other European Community countries united against her in a way—I quote the right hon. and learned Gentleman again—thatmakes it more difficult for Britain to hold, and retain, a position of influence".To make that change——
§ Mr. Kinnock
To make that change to a rational, constructive and influential position, the Prime Minister would not have to accept federalism or anything so outlandish. To become communautaire, she would not have to be compliant in any way. Nobody else is. To accept that fact is not to "surrender"—her word. It is to face up 21 to the realities of change in the European Community and then to do everything possible to shape affairs in a way that will bring maximum opportunity to Britain.
§ Mr. Kinnock
No, I do not intend to give way.
It is if that course is not adopted and pursued that the prospect of submission arises, as isolation brings impotence and effective exclusion from the main course of change that is already under way in the European Community and on the European continent. That way, under this Prime Minister and this Government, lies relegation to the second rank of the European Community. That is understood not only in the House but by the majority of the British people. They are not given to celebrating the process of European development in any demonstrative way, but they most certainly do not want to be left out of it. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I ask hon. Members not to point across the Chamber but to listen, please, to the arguments. That is how we conduct our business.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The realities are understood not only in the House but by the majority of the British people. They are not in the business, as I said earlier, of celebrating with great demonstrativeness the process of European development, but they do not want to he left out of it. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. [Interruption.] Order. This is disgraceful behaviour by those who sit on the Government Benches. Remarks of that kind, which in any event we cannot hear at this end of the Chamber, do not contribute to our debates and are very disruptive.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It is a well-known law of politics, Mr. Speaker, that as the stock of the Conservative party falls, so do its good taste and manners.
The British people are determined not to be left out of the process of development in the European Community. It is not fear or defeatism that guides their view: it is realism. They know from their everyday experience at work and in their wider lives that their future is with the European Community. They know that they will not get their fair chance on the sidelines.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East has testified, and as so many other people know, that is just where the Prime Minister, with her European policies, is putting our country, just as she is doing it with her economic, industrial and social policies and her style of government. That is why the British people are rejecting both the Prime Minister and her party. They know that the condition of our country now is the result not only of the way in which the Prime Minister has led her party but of the way in which it has followed her—lamely, tamely, accepting every excess and endorsing every extremism. The Conservative party could and should get rid of the Prime Minister now, but whether or not it does so the British people will get rid of this Conservative Government at the next general election, as soon as they have the guts to call it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that those who sit on the Opposition Benches, who asked me to call Conservative Members to order, will now behave themselves and allow the Prime Minister to speak.
§ The Prime Minister
I join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on their superb speeches to move and second the Loyal Address. They did it so well that it is difficult to say anything that can even match their superb judgment of the situation. I thank in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr for his warm tributes to Ian Gow. We remember him especially on this day for the remarkable way in which he moved the Address last year. We remember him always for his staunch support of liberty and justice and for his tremendous interest in Ulster. My right hon Friend the Member for Ayr has been one of our most distinguished Secretaries of State for Scotland and then for Defence. It speaks volumes about his equable good humour wherever he worked that the only nickname that he ever acquired from those who work for him was "Gentleman George", and it is a very good one.
My right hon. Friend comes from quite a long political dynasty in Scotland. He spoke of one of his ancestors who was Chief Whip under Lloyd George in 1922. That Chief Whip had the unique distinction for a holder of that office of bringing down his own Government. That was not as reprehensible as it sounds because he put a good Conservative Administration in place of the coalition t hat fell. My right hon. Friend has recently become chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland which, of course, continues to issue a parallel currency. He may have a good deal of advice to give us in the future.
The House also greatly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. He has been a diligent Member of Parliament for seven years and his reputation in Richmond is such that his majority in 1987 was no less than 24 times what it was in 1983. As far as I am aware, he is the only Member of Parliament to appear every week on television dressed only in his birthday suit. That is not as bad as it sounds since he was only six months old at the time and he retired from that work at 18 months for fear of being typecast as a baby.
As is traditional, the Leader of the Opposition was rightly complimentary about the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. As is traditional also, he was less than complimentary about me. If I might say so, I thought him rather confrontational, indeed strident in his tone, mood and style. The House will not expect me to complain about that. In fact, I gave him some good marks for his combative style, but I gave him none for content. As one of his professors recalled of his essays as a student:He could always turn in ten pages about nothing. But he found it difficult to write two pages about anything.The right hon. Gentleman has given his usual speech. He totally overlooks the economic resurgence that we have brought about in the past 12 years. Indeed, one wonders what country he has been living in. 23Until 1979 we were in the corporate state era. It was an era of relative economic decline and social disintegration. We enter the 1990s with the supply side of the British economy in incomparably better shape than at any time in our history.Those are not my words. They are the words of the director general of the Confederation of British Industry. [Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
Yesterday, speaking about alternative socialist policies, the director general said:Let there be no going back to the days of industrial relations chaos, to the bogus sham that was the corporate state, to useless so-called agreements that no one could deliver where it matters on the ground at local level, to nationalisation. Let there be no going back to local rates, the principle of representation without taxation for householders, to the poisonous politics of envy. Let there be no going back, in short, to the dreary, dreadful days of failure",under socialism. One hon. Gentleman who thought that the words were mine called out, "Ask the CBI." I am quoting the CBI—the people who know who to run industry. [Interruption.]
Yes, as the Leader of the Opposition said, we need to get inflation down, and we shall bring it down. I shall refer to that in a moment, but first let us consider what—[Interruption.]
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I and my hon. Friends can hear nothing of this debate—[Interruption.]—could you arrange for sound to be conveyed to the monitors in our offices so that we can sit there to hear debates rather than waste our time coming here?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are all well used to the cut and thrust of debate on these occasions, but we must give each other a fair hearing. The Leader of the Opposition had a fair hearing and I call upon Members on the Opposition Benches to show the same courtesy to the Prime Minister.
§ The Prime Minister
Let us first consider what has been achieved. Nearly 400,000 extra businesses—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Those who are watching these proceedings will draw their own conclusions—[Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition had a fair hearing. Members on the Opposition Benches should show the same courtesy to the Prime Minister.
§ The Prime Minister
Nearly 400,000 extra businesses have been created and every week more businesses are being created than are failing. We have had fewer strikes than at any time since the war. Two million more people are in work than when the Labour Government left office. Business investment is at a rate unprecedented for 50 years and living standards are up by a quarter. Our industry is better managed and better equipped than ever before—from cars to steel, to chemicals, to aerospace, to electronics. New industries are growing up and industries that scraped by under Labour are flourishing under the Conservatives. We are seeing the re-industrialisation of Britain.
Moreover, the brightest and best of our young people——
§ The Prime Minister
I shall continue because I have not been able to get far. I will give way before the end of this section.
The brightest and best of our young people now want to go into industry and commerce. They want to set up business for themselves and that is the best guarantee for British prosperity in the 1990s and beyond.
Britain has had nine years of sustained economic growth when our economy grew faster than anywhere in Europe. Indeed, our growth became too fast and it was fuelled by too much borrowing and too little saving. As a result, inflation has risen and oil prices have pushed it up further.
§ The Prime Minister
One moment. The economy needed to slow down, but such was the sheer strength and vitality of the expansion that it has taken some time to rein back the momentum. But we are now getting on top of inflation. The growth in money supply—[Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
The growth in money supply is well within target, savings are rising and inflationary pressures are being squeezed out.
§ Mr. Bell
Opposition Members cannot conceive that the picture the right hon. Lady has painted is the picture that is presented to the nation today. Has the right hon. Lady read today's report from Touche Ross and Co., the auditors, which says that this is the worst year of recession since the war? It reports that there have been more company closures this year than in any year since 1945. How does that square with the record that the right hon. Lady is presenting to the House?
§ The Prime Minister
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear because of the noise—[Interruption.]—but all the figures that I gave were facts. Which one does he say is wrong? On bankruptcies, I pointed out that 400,000 new businesses had been created since 1979. There are still far more new businesses being created than there are numbers failing. That is the answer.
Once inflation has been brought down, the British economy will be far more capable of beating the competition and generating wealth than ever before. That will happen because, first, our industries have been restructured and they are stronger and, secondly, because we have kept our public finances sound, unlike some other countries, for example America and Italy, which have run up enormous budget deficits. We have repaid £26 billion of national debt, so when the economy expands again it will not be burdened with the kind of borrowing that Labour Governments produce. In just one year the Leader of the Opposition's party managed to borrow today's equivalent of £50 billion.
The right hon. Gentleman refuses to recognise what a transformation there has been, but other countries recognise it—for example, Japan, whose businesses invest twice as much in Britain as in any other European country. Of America's top 100 companies, 96 are investing here. And, yes, what of Germany? German business invests more here than it does anywhere else in the Community. That is not because we offer more handouts, but because Britain is the most free enterprise, free trade country 25 anywhere in Europe. It is because British talent, inventiveness and good industrial relations make this a country worth investing in and because we have turned our back on socialism.
Our industrial strategy is a strategy for an enterprise economy. It is a strategy for setting industry free to prosper with laws to guarantee fair competition here and in Europe; for securing free trade the world over; and for rewarding hard work and success by lower tax on earnings, savings and profits. It is a strategy for putting trade unions in their rightful place, under the control of their members and encouraging an ever-widening capital and property-owning democracy. That is the right industrial strategy.
The Leader of the Opposition and his party have a rather different view. They still believe that prosperity can be created by politicians rather than by enterprise. They would makestrategic interventions in key sectorsof industry. In other words, they would take money from successful firms to hand it out to failures. They would restore a host of powers to union bosses to damage industry and bully their members. They would bring back nationalisation—taking power back from the managers who know how to run the business and giving it to socialist politicians who do not.
The ex-communists in eastern Europe are far more advanced in their economic thinking than the backward-looking British Labour party which the right hon. Gentleman leads. The eastern European Governments are now encouraging private ownership, reducing price controls, boosting competition and promoting enterprise. What is more, they are coming to Conservative Britain to learn how to do it. Wherever one looks, those who have experienced socialism most are the ones who like it least.
The right hon. Gentleman has suddenly set himself up as an expert on all things European, although as late as 1983 he was still saying "We want out of the Common Market". Recently the right hon. Gentleman and his friends criticised us when we went into the exchange rate mechanism, even though he had been urging us to do just that. We joined the ERM to give still more discipline to the fight against inflation. Indeed, that is its main purpose. But not for Labour. It wants to change the ERM to give it less discipline. Or, as it puts it, less "deflationary emphasis"—in other words, to join the anti-inflation club, and then change the rules to undermine it.
§ The Prime Minister
In a moment or two.
The Leader of the Opposition also managed to criticise us when we cut interest rates, although only three days earlier he was urging us to do just that. But then he is always saying, "Cut interest rates"; he did it when inflationary pressures were rising. He is like a stopped clock. It is bound to tell the right time eventually, but it is completely useless unless there is someone else around who actually knows the time of day.
We cut interest rates at the right time, as all the indicators published since have shown. We will make further reductions only when we are sure that it is right to do so.
§ Mr. Beith
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way and for the assurance that she has just given about the care she will take over interest rate policy. Why 26 is she so reluctant to join the real anti-inflation club, the one that combines a single currency with an independent central bank? Does not she realise that many of the industrialists whom she has praised see a single currency as the natural extension of free enterprise and a free market?
§ The Prime Minister
I shall come to that point in greater detail, but I shall of course respond to the hon. Gentleman now. First, the exchange rate mechanism, with the deutschmark as the leading currency, is itself anti-inflationary. We know that. The only alternative certain anti-inflationary currency would be the hard ecu, which is precisely what we are proposing, and which I shall come to later.
Rising prosperity has brought an enormous expansion of choice in the goods and services that people can buy. It has also enabled far more to be spent on our public services, particularly education and health. But choice must extend to public services, too. Those services do not belong to Government Departments, health authorities, town halls or trade unions. They belong to the citizens who pay for them with their taxes.
Our reforms, passed during this Parliament, are now giving people more choice. Parents, not the local council, can now choose the school they want their children to go to. They are not restricted just to local authority schools, because every school now has the choice to become an independent state school. Patients can choose their doctor and doctors can choose the hospitals to get their patients treated sooner and better—[Interruption.] Of course, the Labour party does not like this. It hates choice being given to people——
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way in due course.
At the same time, we are devolving power away from the centre and giving it to those on the spot who know what has to be done. Schools and teachers can now decide how to spend their own budgets. More money will go straight to the classroom and less to the town hall. Hospitals can now govern themselves and GPs can have their own budgets. We are taking direct action to improve standards.
In health, we have introduced a medical audit to ensure that hospital treatment everywhere is up to the standard of the best. In education, the national curriculum and testing will reassure parents that their children are learning the basic subjects and skills that they need. The Government are determined both to promote more vocational education and to retain high standards of A-levels. One does not raise achievement by watering down standards. These are the reforms that we have put in legislation; now we are pursuing them, and they will greatly benefit children and patients.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
Does the Prime Minister recall that she began this section of her speech by referring to past reforms carried out by this Parliament? Does she agree that one of the most radical reforms—there have not been many—agreed by this Parliament was the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986? Does she further agree that 6.5 million disabled people and their carers will have some difficulty believing 27 the Government's pledges today when they know that nearly five years later that Act has not been fully implemented? When will it be implemented?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman knows that most of its sections have been implemented and he will be familiar with the fact, even if he does not say it, that the Government have spent, in real terms, more than twice as much as the previous Government on the disabled. No previous Government have such a good record on the disabled——
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way later.
In training, too, we are adopting the same principles. There will be more choice for those who want training. That is why we are giving young school leavers a voucher worth up to £1,000. There will be more responsibility for those who want to provide training locally. That is why we have set up training and enterprise councils across the country, led by local businesses, which know better than any what skills are needed. Every one of those reforms has been opposed by the Labour party.
The Labour party wants to abolish self-governing hospitals because the National Union of Public Employees says so. The Labour party wants to abolish independent state schools, city technology colleges and assisted places because the National Union of Teachers says so. The Opposition have fought our training reforms time after time—because the Trades Union Congress said so.
The Leader of the Opposition is fond of talking about supply-side socialism. We know what that means: whatever the unions demand, Labour will supply.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman before dealing with the legislative programme. I then wish to go on to deal with some of the arguments about Europe; and, after that, the Gulf.
§ Mr. Michael
Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how she can come here today saying sweet words about education and the care of the disabled when the Government have decided to abandon care in the community and have made no attempt to grapple with demographic changes in that area and when all parents know that she has abandoned all promises to the education system? She has even abandoned her Secretaries of State for Education, having been through three in a year.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. He knows that community care has not been abandoned: certain parts are already being implemented through local authorities, and other parts will be implemented when the local authorities are fully ready to take over those great responsibilities. [Interruption.] What about the money? The Opposition are in no position to talk about money. They waste it time and again and do not know how to conduct the nation's finances. As I said earlier, in one year it got so bad that they borrowed today's equivalent of £50 billion. Of course, they do not mind 28 handing power to other people. They handed it over to the IMF. They had to, because they could not manage it themselves.
I shall now deal with the legislative programme. The Gracious Speech identifies 15 of the Bills that will be brought before the House in the fourth Session of this Parliament. The new programme has three main themes: to carry forward the fight against crime, to strengthen family responsibility, and to improve efficiency and safety in transport. The programme also provides for more privatisation; improving the town and country planning system; new pay machinery for teachers; new benefits for the disabled; strengthening existing anti-terrorism legislation; and a new approach to conservation and the countryside in Scotland.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way in a moment. The fight against crime will be carried forward by a criminal justice Bill [Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
That Bill is designed to ensure that the severity of the sentence matches the seriousness of the crime and the need to protect the public, and to make the sentence served by serious offenders more closely related to the sentence that is passed.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way when I have gone a little further in my speech.
The child maintenance Bill will establish a child support agency responsible for assessing maintenance and enforcing payment. This will be used for everyone who is living on benefit. It will be available for any other case where one of the parents concerned wishes to use it.
The second Bill, the maintenance enforcement Bill, will enable the courts to require regular payment by standing order and to order the attachment of the absent parent's earnings at the outset rather than having to wait until he or she has defaulted. The new system will provide much greater stability and independence for the parent who is left and it will safeguard the well-being of the children.
Four Bills in the coming Session will help to improve efficiency and safety in transport. First, the highways Bill, will encourage privately financed roads. It also deals with a major cause of urban congestion—holes in the road. Hon. Members will remember the song by Flanders and Swann "The Gasman Cometh". It was the gasman on Monday, the electrician on Tuesday, the phone man on Wednesday and the water man on Thursday. This Bill requires the utilities to do their street works at the same time and to repair the road quickly and properly.
Secondly, the road traffic Bill will improve traffic management and punish bad drivers. Thirdly, we propose a trust ports Bill. Since we abolished the dock labour scheme, productivity in our ports has soared. Ports are expanding and new business is coming in. There has been a demand from many of this country's 60 trust ports to be privatised, so that they, too, can modernise and expand. The trust ports Bill will enable that to happen. Fourthly, the planning Bill proposes better compensation for compulsory purchase, particularly for those whose homes are affected.
29 This is a slightly less heavy programme than the programme in the Session that has just ended, but I doubt very much whether there will be any complaints about that. I give way to the hon. Member with the booming voice.
§ Mr. Haynes
I knew you would give way to me, ducky. The Prime Minister and the Government have been promising, but have let the side down, to do something about mining subsidence. Why are no measures to deal with this included in the Gracious Speech, despite all the promises? On behalf of my constituents, I want to know.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member can live in hope. It all depends on how quickly we get through the 15 major Bills. In the last Gracious Speech, 15 major Bills were forecast, but we passed 45 in all. Therefore, although 15 are forecast in this Speech, there is room for more.
§ The Prime Minister
I must continue. I have given way far more than did the Leader of the Opposition, which is not surprising, because there is far more content in the Queen's Speech than in anything of which he spoke.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the resignation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). We very much regret—[SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: "We?"]—We, the Government, very much regret that, after his long—[Interruption.] How small-minded can one get? I am told by my hon. Friends that one can get quite a lot smaller than that.
We very much regret that, after his long and distinguished service as Foreign Secretary and his contribution, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to laying the foundations of Britain's economic success, my right hon. and learned Friend has resigned. If the Leader of the Opposition reads my right hon. and learned Friend's letter, he will be very pressed indeed to find any significant policy difference on Europe between my right hon. and learned Friend and the rest of us on this side. My right hon. and learned Friend makes it clear that he does not want to see a single currency imposed on this country. Nor do we. He wants to see Britain playing a full part in Europe's future monetary arrangements. So do we. As I said in my statement to the House after the European Council in Rome last week:Britain intends to be part of the further political, economic and monetary development of the European Community.My right hon. and learned Friend was also anxious that we should not be left behind on European monetary union, but, as I said in my statement to the House,When we come to negotiate on particular points, rather than concepts or generalities, I believe that solutions will be found which will enable the Community to go forward as Twelve. That will be our objective".—[Official Report, 30 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 871.]
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman should never hope for that.
The truth is that the Leader of the Opposition is trying to cover his own embarrassment about Europe. Judging by their speeches and interventions, many Labour Members seem to think that the Government are absolutely right on Europe: so do a large number of his party's supporters in the country. They do not want to see Parliament's powers 30 steadily and relentlessly diminished. They do not want to see sterling disappear. They believe in Britain. And they know that there are times when one has to stand up and be counted in order to uphold that belief.
§ The Prime Minister
I wish to continue the argument, but I shall give way later.
Yes, there are some people who want a federal Europe, and they would be prepared to sacrifice a large part of our parliamentary democracy to get it. They would positively like to hand over our financial affairs and responsibilities to another body, an unelected Commission or European central bank. The fact is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) immediately recognised when the Delors plan was published,It is clear that economic and monetary union implies nothing less than European Government … the United States of Europe".So said my right hon. Friend, and that was very clear.
But when the Leader of the Opposition comes to saying precisely where he stands, he is very obscure. Is he a secret federalist?
§ The Prime Minister
There is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman desperately yearns for the approval——
§ The Prime Minister
I wish to finish the sentence. I have given way far more often than the Leader of the Opposition would ever dare to give way. I shall continue and finish the argument. Perhaps the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) will do me the courtesy of listening.
There is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition desperately yearns for the approval of those who are federalists, including the socialist President of the European Commission—who once told the European Parliament that before long 80 per cent. of economic decisions would be taken in Brussels rather than by national Governments. That is not very surprising, because socialism stands for intervention and central control.
The Leader of the Opposition has an uncomfortable suspicion that a majority of people do not want a federal Europe. So the right hon. Gentleman is in a dilemma. He likes to set his policies according to the prevailing wind. But he is not quite sure which way it is blowing. So he resorts to his usual tactic: the less he has to say, the more he says it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman really going to flannel? The answer is yes—I heard it. Why did he flannel, as he did on radio last week, when asked about a single currency? He tried to pretend that we could have it and keep the pound sterling as well. He seems to think that the issue can be solved by having the Queen's head on an ecu whose value is determined elsewhere. Does not he understand that the essence of a single currency is to deprive Governments of the right to issue their own currencies?
§ The Prime Minister
Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that the value of the single currency would not be determined by this Government or Parliament but by a 31 European central bank, which would not be accountable to the House? The answer is no. The Leader of the Opposition does not understand this essential point, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbitt) put so well in the House last week when he said:The mark of a single currency is not only that all other currencies must be extinguished but that the capacity of other institutions to issue currencies must also be extinguished".—[Official Report, 30 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 875.]Let no one make the mistake of believing that what emerged from the Rome European Council was a fully worked-out strategy. It was just dates and deadlines.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who is an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, should be the first to know that if the Prime Minsiter chooses not to give way, he must resume his seat.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way at the end of this argument. Clearly, some Opposition Members have not been listening, or they would have known that I was talking about a single currency. Some of the things that have been shouted from a sedentary position show that they have not grasped even that.
As I said, what emerged from Rome was just dates and deadlines. The President of the Bundesbank is reported to have said three days later:This outcome is not, in my opinion, a proper basis for such a far-reaching decision as the introduction of monetary union in Europe. In particular the way this communiqué"—that agreed in Rome—describes the second stage of monetary union is almost incomprehensible to me. We do not need a new institution to co-ordinate monetary policy; we are already able to do that today.Yesterday the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stated:However one looks at it, the entire Delors plan plus subsequent text is half baked. At the Intergovernmental conference in December, the Heads of State and Government should not discuss dates for stage 2. They should first seek an answer to the question: what is stage 2?The Foreign Minister of the country that will be the next president of the Community, and who will chair the intergovernmental conference, said at the Rome meeting:It was a useless Summit and we shall pay the consequences".We are the only country to have put forward a fully worked-out proposal for the way ahead—not for a single currency, but for a common currency that can be used alongside national currencies. We have no bureaucratic timetable; ours is a market approach, based on what people and Governments choose to do. If use of the hard ecu by people and commerce became widespread, it could, over time, evolve towards a single currency—but there could be no question of giving up our pound sterling unless and until Parliament and people at that time so decided. This Parliament should not pre-empt a choice that should be for future Parliaments and future generations to make.
32 The Government whom I lead answer those questions clearly, fearlessly and coherently, even if that does sometimes mean being in a minority in the Community.
§ Dr. Reid
I am grateful to the Prime Minister. I shall not call her ducky—I am not that intimate. There is one question that people want answered. If there is such a degree of unanimity, why did the deputy Prime Minister resign? When the former Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned, the Prime Minister said on the Walden programme that she did not know why. Does she know why the deputy Prime Minister resigned, and will she tell us?
§ The Prime Minister
That question should be addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East. I am discussing and debating a single currency that we do not want imposed upon us. It was not clear from what the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said in this debate, nor in all his flannel on radio, whether he was for or against it. The Government are for a common currency and Britain is the only country in the whole of Europe which has a fully worked-out strategy for the second stage.
We want Britain to be part of a successful, prosperous and free-trading European Community. We want to work closely with our European friends: all our instincts and our history lead us that way. We want the European Community to be strengthened by being open to all the countries of Europe, including those of eastern Europe as they embrace democracy and as their economies become strong enough.
However, we also want to preserve our national currency and the sovereignty of this House of Commons. That, I believe, is what Britain's interests require and what the people of Britain want. It is by setting out clearly what we believe in that we stand up for Britain's interests—as this Government have done over our budget contribution, over agricultural surpluses, over the single market and, most recently, over the GATT negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did a superb job at the seventh meeting. Had we behaved as France and Germany did, we would have been accused of being non-communautaire. We cannot secure the sort of Europe that we want through a policy of always going along with what others propose simply for fear of being left out. Nor can it be secured by the contortions and convolutions of the Opposition. The truth is that they know that our policy is right, but they dare not say so.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision taken yesterday by farm Ministers would not have been taken if she had not been so determined at the Rome summit to spell out the priorities of the common agricultural policy?
§ The Prime Minister
That is absolutely correct. If my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I had not insisted on raising the GATT issue at the last Rome European Council and also insisted that it be returned to farm Ministers, there would not have been a satisfactory solution. As it is, it will still be difficult to negotiate at the GATT round, but at least now there must be such negotiations between us and the other groups.
A few weeks ago the House was recalled to debate the situation in the Gulf, brought about by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Government's strong stand—both at the 33 United Nations and in the sending of British forces to the area—was supported from all parts of the House. Since that debate the United Nations Security Council has passed further resolutions, repeating that Iraq must withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait and that the legitimate Government must be restored. Sanctions have been further tightened, with an air embargo to complement the maritime blockade. The Security Council has said that Saddam Hussein and those who obey his orders will be held responsible for their treatment of Kuwait and its people, as well as their treatment of the foreign nationals held hostage.
It has also been said that Iraq will have to pay compensation for the unspeakable damage caused to people and property. Britain and others have argued that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapon capability must be eliminated, so that it can never again threaten world peace.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes; it is in connection with the unspeakable damage. What is the Prime Minister's response to the serious statements made by Jordan's King Hussein about the ecological damage that he envisages in the Gulf? I simply ask: what is the British Government's comment on that?
§ The Prime Minister
It is quite a simple one. If a tyrant is never to be fought in order that freedom and just ice may be restored, there will be far more tyrants in the world, and freedom and justice will be extinguished. If we followed King Hussein's argument—to which I listened with the greatest respect we—should never have fought Hitler, and we should not be having this debate today.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I have nearly finished, and I want to pay careful attention to this most important matter, which dominates us during this year.
At the same time, the build-up of Arab and western forces against Iraq has continued. Our own 7th Armoured Brigade—the Desert Rats—is in place, commanded by one of the most distinguished and fearless fighting soldiers in the British Army, whose experience goes back to Korea. I am sure that the whole House will wish him and all our forces godspeed.
However, even though condemnation by the international community grows stronger, even though sanctions are steadily tightened, and even though the people of Iraq are being subjected to unnecessary hardship to satisfy their dictator's lust for power and conquest, there is no sign that Saddam Hussein is prepared to relinquish his hold on Kuwait, or that he will stop the brutalities—the murder, rape, robbery and pillage—that he and his forces are inflicting on Kuwait and its people. He continues to hold our people hostage, in defiance of every rule of law and every standard of decency and civilisation. The tension and anxiety that the hostages and their families must feel weigh on every one of us.
For three months now we have given sanctions, and other peaceful pressures a chance. We have given Saddam Hussein the opportunity to withdraw and to end these 34 abominations. Democracies are always reluctant to use force or to threaten it. However, we also know what happens when dictators are allowed to get away with aggression.
Time is running out for Saddam Hussein. The implacable message from the House must be this: either he gets out of Kuwait soon, or we and our allies will remove him by force, and he will go down to defeat with all its consequences. He has been warned.
§ The Prime Minister
Both at home and abroad the year ahead will be demanding and decisive. We on this side face it with confidence.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I start on a slightly unusual note by saying that we have been debating for two hours and I shudder to think what those watching on their television sets will have thought about the way in which the House has behaved during those two hours, including the events of the past 10 or 20 seconds. The House will not have done itself any service by what has happened and by the way in which the two major and important speeches have been listened to by hon. Members.
In many ways, the behaviour of the House in the past two hours only too clearly typifies what we and so many others in Britain believe is wrong with our democratic system. At this important moment, when the country is in economic crisis, when the Government are split and when we face an important set of decisions, for the House to have dissolved into the kind of bear garden that we have seen in the past two hours is a disgrace to all the things that we stand for.
Let me comment, as is the convention, on the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). I hope that the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes will forgive me for starting with him, but his speech amused me greatly. It was an exceptionally witty and funny speech which delighted the House. It is a matter of understandable, but no doubt deliberate, neglect that in his warm words about his constituency in Richmond and its beautiful environment he omitted to mention the architect of that environment, his own council, on which, if I recall the figures rightly, there are 48 Liberal Democrats and four Conservatives—our majority was increased at the last local government elections. But we forgive him that.
I was particularly fascinated by what connected the right hon. Member for Ayr and the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes. One complained about too much aircraft activity and the other about too little. It occurred to me that they might do a little swap between themselves, to their mutual benefit. I notice that the right hon. Member for Ayr is nodding.
I was speculating with my colleagues about why the right hon. Member for Ayr had been chosen. Was that a recommendation made to the Whips by the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor? I was interested, because the right hon. Gentleman is the living disproof of the Prime 35 Minister's claim that one cannot have a single currency with a separate pound. His bank issues a pound which does not have the Queen's head on it. He is the living disproof of what the Prime Minister was just arguing. It occurred to me that that might be some subtle hint from the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor to the Prime Minister about the unsuitability of her argument, to which I shall return.
How does one describe the Queen's Speech? It is a sad little programme for the last year of a Government who have claimed to be a reforming and radical Government; a programme which is definite, precise and active about a number of rather small measures—important but small in the scale of things—but where it should have been precise and definite on the great issues, such as Europe, it is instead confused, opaque and indecisive. On the other great issue—the environment—there is not a word. There is a mention of it in the foreign affairs part of the speech, but otherwise there is not a word—complete silence.
The Queen's Speech is sad because the Government's internal problems have caused them to fail to look to the great issues that we are now facing. We are at a time of enormous change, and it is a profound tragedy for Britain that we have a Government who have run out of steam and vision, and who are widely perceived throughout the country—as we shall see in tomorrow's by-elections—as running out of time.
It is sad for the country that a Government who have been the engine of radical reform now find themselves frozen in inactivity in the face of enormous problems.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman intervenes early in my speech, and we have already listened to contributions that have taken two hours. Nevertheless, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and perhaps to two or three other interventions, but there must be a limit to them.
§ Mr. Dickens
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he would have heard her explain that this Government have a reputation for putting more legislation before the House than they are able to include in the Queen's Speech. By that yardstick, we do not seem to be a Government who have run out of steam. A lot of legislation is with the parliamentary draftsmen and therefore could not be included in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Ashdown
We all understand that there is always a lighter load in the last term of any Government, so that they can keep open their options for a general election. That is not unusual. I am complaining not about the lightness of the legislative load but about the Government's lack of clarity on the great issues that face Britain, pre-eminently in respect of Europe.
The Government claim to have vision, and the Prime Minister has displayed vision in the past. I may not have agreed with it, but I do not underestimate her achievements in Britain or the strength of her personal ability. The truth is that her vision has now run out and the people of Britain know that to be true.
The Prime Minister gave a typically vintage performance. The right hon. Lady is always at her best when she 36 has her back to the ropes and comes out fighting. Like an old fighter, when the bell rings she is able to go through all the movements—but one wonders whether she knows any more what they are for. The right hon. Lady stands at the Dispatch Box and duffs up the Opposition in her usual style, but to what purpose? One of today's national newspapers depicted the Prime Minister as a beached whale, and she does seem strangely out of kilter with the mood and problems of the 1990s.
No one doubts that the right hon. Lady was a voice for Britain in the 1980s, or that she may have been the voice for our country then, even if I did not agree with it. It is odd that the Prime Minister, who was once the great harbinger of change in our country, is now the biggest single bulwark and block against it. She is frightened of changing our constitution, and of the changes that we need to make to deal with the environmental problems that confront us. She is frightened most of all of the change that we must now face if we are to be part of the new Europe.
It will come as no surprise to the Prime Minister that my view, and that of many others, is that the best thing she can do now for her own reputation, the country, and her own party, is to resign—to stand down. I guess that she will not do that. She will not take my advice or that of right hon. and hon. Members on her own Benches—we all know that. She will continue to fight through, but her party will suffer as a result and, more important, Britain will suffer, too—nowhere more so than in the area of Europe itself. We face in respect of Europe the most important strategic decision since world war two. We have faced that decision twice before in the last half century. Twice before we turned our back on Europe, and twice before we paid a very heavy price for doing so. I believe that we would pay an even higher price in future. The forthcoming intergovernmental conferences are vital for Britain and it is crucial that it plays its full part in them. We want a clear vision from the Government—not a suck it and see, wait to see how it turns out attitude.
So far, the Government have stumbled from one cobbled-together formula to another, to hide their divisions. I noted that the Foreign Secretary found a new formula when he appeared on the Walden programme on Sunday, when he drew an analogy with making a choice of motor car. He seemed rather pleased with it, and congratulated himself, thinking that it was a neat analogy. Ingenious minds will always find new formulas to cover a Minister over a few days or weeks, but the future of our currency is too important simply to draw an analogy between it and the way that fashions are followed in the motor trade.
Another technique that the Government use when they fail to find the formula or words to cover their current divisions is to set up Aunt Sallys of their own making and then proceed to knock them down. The most recent example came from the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, when, in her Boadicea voice, she said, "We will not have a single currency imposed upon us." But who wants a single currency imposed upon us?
§ Mr. Ashdown
Of course I do not. There is no question but that the House and this country will decide whether we go along with that, and no one can take that away from us. 37 To pretend that Mr. Delors, any of our European partners, my own party, or anyone else is in favour of the imposition of a single currency is simply nonsense.
§ Mr. Ashdown
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will hear the details.
The Prime Minister prides herself on facing reality, so I hope that she will face the reality that Britain has embarked on an inexorable process that will take us into Europe, with political integration, economic unity, and a degree of political cohesion that the Prime Minister cavils at. I remind the right hon. Lady of President Gorbachev's words that what one cannot alter one should seek to influence. Of course Britain has a case to argue. Monetary union will not be simple. It is not an easy option. I t will be difficult and painful for Britain to adjust to monetary union, but it would be a good idea if the Prime Minister turned her attention to how this country should cope with some of those difficulties.
I do not propose monetary union because I believe that it will be a panacea for all our problems. In many ways, it is the least worst option open to us. But any option that involves isolation or Britain travelling in the slow lane of a two-speed Europe will be much more painful. The Prime Minister ought to be arguing Britain's case with all the verve and zest that she sometimes deploys—but inside the councils of Europe rather than standing outside them, making her arguments by way of insults and abuse from the touchline.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The right hon. Gentleman used the words "the least worst option." Does he agree that, in practice, that very often amounts to imposition? His party has accepted vast areas of legislation being moved from this House, and, given that his party also favours European monetary union in principle—on which no other party has a mandate—does he not believe that, by the turn of the century, the Crown, Parliament and people of the United Kingdom will be subject to the institutions, and particularly the courts, of what will amount to a new European state?
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that Parliament, by passing the Single European Act and in accepting the rulings of the European Court, has already moved in that direction. The question is how much farther we go down that road. I shall return to that point later.
The Prime Minister does this country no good, or its business interests any service, by seeking always to fight against the tide instead of turning that tide—as the other Community nations will do in the forthcoming intergovernmental conferences—to her own country's advantage. The Prime Minister does this country no good by giving the impression—although I know that it is not her real view—to our European partners in particular that she wants to row this country out into a secluded corner of the north Atlantic, where she can go on playing at being Queen Canute for ever. That does her and the country no good.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)
The right hon. Gentleman's views, and those of his party, on the future of the Community are well known and he has always been consistent about them. That is not a reason to make a travesty of the views held by Conservative 38 Members. Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the Prime Minister was absolutely right to insist that we cannot possibly take far-reaching decisions in this or any other area of policy without a clear idea of what such decisions involve?
§ Mr. Ashdown
I shall come to that matter. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we have no idea of where the Major plan, as we now know it, will end up. The Prime Minister is telling us that we might or might not end up with a single currency.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Yes, we do want a single currency. That is exactly right. We are aware that we should like that to be our destination. We may be a minority in the House, but we are in the mainstream of this debate in Europe, whereas the Labour and Conservative parties are isolated on the touchline over this issue.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I shall give way once more in a moment. I know the Prime Minister's strengths, and I understand what she has sought to do, but I do not believe that she does this country any favours by allowing us to be dragged backwards, struggling and kicking into Europe, deliberately refusing to play any part in shaping the Europe that we are dragged into.
§ Mr. Cryer
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that by Europe he means the European Economic Community—12 states out of about 40? Does he agree that it is rather arrogant to keep referring to Europe when the Community represents a minority of European states? Can he confirm that the Liberal party is actively seeking a single western European state?
§ Mr. Ashdown
That is the last time that I shall give way. The first point that the hon. Gentleman made is a good one, and I accept it. I mean the European Community, although I, my party, and many others in Britain hope that the Community will expand into a broader Europe of the sort that he was talking about. Yes, we believe that there will have to be a political dimension in Europe. We are not ashamed of believing that, and I remind the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that that view represents the mainstream majority view in every other European country, so I do not say it with any shame.
I do not wish to detain the House too long. I have given way four or five times and I shall not give way again until I have advanced my views further.
The Prime Minister was talking about a single European currency—it was argued that we must move towards one. If the hard ecu plan is a transition mechanism to the imposition of a single currency, it is a perfectly sensible and practical way forward. However, I think that the way that the Prime Minister has argued her case has blown any possibility of the hard ecu plan being considered seriously by our European partners.
On the question of sovereignty, I was fascinated by the Prime Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Any hon. Member who says that the option is between a single currency and a proud, independent, autonomous, imperial pound is talking nonsense. The truth of the matter is that under ERM, as before it, the choice is not between a single and an independent currency but between a single currency, 39 over which we shall have some influence, and a dominant currency—the deutschmark—over which we shall have none. One has only to consider the situation last year when we put up our interest rates. The faceless men in the Bundesbank took the decision and Britain followed on half an hour later. We are like a cork, bobbing behind the deutschmark. According to the Prime Minister, the choice will be between being a sub-currency of the deutschmark, as she described it to my hon. Friend, or having a single currency, with its institutions, in which Britain will have some influence. That is the truth of the matter.
The question of sovereignty again arises with the independent, central bank. I find something deeply offensive about the comments of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I see that he is not now in his place, and I apologise for mentioning him without warning, but I find that he is particularly offensive on that matter. I have heard him say that if we have a central bank we might as well get rid of elections. What absolute nonsense.
Let me remind the House that most other European democracies—most of which would bear ready comparison with ours and appear better—have independent central banks. It is offensive to say that that is somehow inimical to the operation of a democracy. The Prime Minister put forward the argument that somehow or other an independent central bank undermines the sovereignty of Parliament.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Does any hon. Member believe that we have any sovereignty on such a matter, when we know perfectly well that it is not the House that decides on interest rates but the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? The House has been weakened to such an extent that effectively it is a poodle. By having an independent central bank we would be damaging the Prime Minister's sovereignty—we would be diminishing the Prime Minister's sovereignty to reduce interest rates on the eve of the Conservative party conference for the good of her party and not for the good of the nation, and that cannot come too soon. We would be diminishing the Prime Minister's sovereignty over debauching the British economy before an election to purchase votes, for which we would all pay the price afterwards. That is not a type of sovereignty which I am afraid to abandon and I am surprised at the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I have no doubt that he complained about the political act of reducing interest rates before the Conservative party conference. I am surprised that he does not object to such sovereignty. To use the words of Sir Leon Brittan—backed up by the Chancellor—when he was in a similar position, an independent central bank, as has been established in Germany and so many other democracies, is a solid rock upon which a genuine counter-inflationary policy can be based. The Government tell us the opposite.
§ Mr. Spearing
Surely the right hon. Gentleman has got democracy wrong, despite the name of his party. If he wishes to bring a Prime Minister to book, and her party does not do so, it is a matter for the House, in a general election. A central bank, which is what he wants, 40 undermines the Prime Minister's sovereignty, and replaces it with its own. Surely it should be replaced by the sovereignty of the elected Members of the House.
§ Mr. Ashdown
If, after 11 years in Opposition, the hon. Gentleman believes that he, as a Member of the House and of the Opposition, has any control over the Prime Minister's actions through the House, all I can say is that he is living in cloud cuckoo land.
I agree with what the Prime Minister had to say. It is true that Britain's tragedy is that the two main political parties are equally divided, confused and uncertain about Europe. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to cast his eyes over the section of the Queen's Speech that covers European issues. He will discover that the words used by the Government are words that his party could subscribe to. The Queen's Speech says that we will "contribute constructively" to the debate, without saying where they want to arrive. We now understand that the Government want a central bank—a shift of position—but they want it to have the very attributes that would make it impossible, unworkable and unattainable. They want a central bank under total democratic control and committed to beating inflation. We all know that every other nation in Europe would refuse such a central bank for very good reasons, in the same way that they have refused the Prime Minister's own proposals.
The Gracious Speech mentions the USSR and it was right to do so. I am sure that I am not saying anything that is new to the Government, but I stress that the internal problems of the USSR are now such that they must give us grave cause for concern. However much we admire Mr. Gorbachev, in the weeks or months ahead there could be chaos, dissolution and civil war, which would necessarily alter all the cosy perceptions that we enjoy about the east-west relationship. That is another reason why the coherence of the European Community needs to be strong. We must create the unity and stability in the west that will be able to cope with the total chaos that could develop in eastern Europe.
In what I thought was a chilling passage, which worried me greatly, the Prime Minister referred to what we should now be doing in the Gulf. That passage of her speech reflected something that has caused deep concern both to me and my colleagues and, I believe, to many others—a mood for war. It is growing in Britain, the United States and elsewhere. The psychology of war is growing in people's minds. We on these Benches accept unflinchingly the need to take military action. We support the Government unflinchingly. Not to do so would mean that we were prepared to accept that Saddam Hussein should be allowed to hang on to the ill-gotten gains of his tyranny. We do not accept that.
We accept the need to ensure that the military option is kept open. That means that Governments must remind Saddam Hussein and the public that that option is still on the cards. There is no point in surrounding Saddam Hussein with a ring of steel unless it is backed up with an iron political will. That does not mean, however, that war should be entered into precipitately, lightly, easily or as the result of unstoppable public momentum. It must be entered into as a careful and considered act. War is a terrible option. It would result in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of young men. It would also bring to an end 41 any long-term prospect of peace in the middle east and probably all our hopes for the establishment of a new and saner system for the preservation of world peace.
Let me make clear the stance that my party adopts on the circumstances in which military action should be used. It should be the last option, not necessarily the next option. It should be undertaken only when sanctions are seen to have failed. I do not believe that sanctions have yet been seen to have failed or that they have yet had the full effect. Military action should be undertaken only as an expression of international consensus against Iraq and absolutely not on a unilateral or bilateral basis. I say that not because that makes us safer but because it makes us stronger in the defeat of Saddam Hussein.
Moreover, military action ought to be taken—in this case there was a hint in the Gracious Speech which I found helpful—against the background of our beginning to map out not our war aims—we are all united that they are the fulfilment in full of the United Nations resolution—but our peace aims. It is important for the Government to say what they believe those aims should be. That would strengthen our hand and diminish Saddam Hussein's. We should say clearly that our aim is not just the freedom of Kuwait but the resolution of other problems in the middle east—the Palestinian problem, the problems in Lebanon and, in the longer term, the creation of a regional security structure that would probably be backed up by the allied forces, though perhaps naval rather than ground forces, under United Nations auspices.
I urge the Government to make clear their views and to work towards establishing international agreement on those peace aims. If they did that, they would strengthen our hand, diminish Saddam Hussein's ability to make mischief and increase the long-term prospects for peace or the successful prosecution of a war, if that should come about.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I am listening intently to the right hon. Gentleman, and it seems to me that he may not realise the full extent of the atrocities that are being committed in Kuwait. While we are waiting for sanctions to work, what eventually shall we be able to liberate in Kuwait? How many people will be slaughtered in the meantime? What will be the effect on oil production in the distant future in that part of the world? Sanctions have been given long enough to work now.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says and the agony of those in Kuwait, just as I understand—and I know the Prime Minister does, too—the agony of those whose loved ones are held hostage out there. On this issue, however, as on the hostage issue, on which the Prime Minister has adopted the correct, resolute line, we must keep at the front of our mind what will be the basis of a successful operation, not what will solve the problems, difficulties and agonies that some people face at the moment. My argument about giving sanctions time to work is not, I say again, because I want to adopt a safer or softer line but because I want it to be a strong line. We shall not obtain the international consensus that is needed to ensure Saddam Hussein's defeat unless we are prepared to take that action at that time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, for 21 months I wore the emblem of the Desert Rats in what formed a tank crew. Therefore, I know that he will give me not a yah-boo answer but a straight answer. May I ask him 42 the same question that I put to the Prime Minister? If one is concerned about the planet, is it an option to have 50 billion barrels of oil value, as King Hussein puts it, causing destruction over a 500-mile radius? Such an ecological disaster would surpass Chernobyl. Is that really an option?
§ Mr. Ashdown
I must give the hon. Gentleman the same answer as the Prime Minister gave him. If we do not tackle Saddam Hussein now, there will be a much greater ecological disaster coming down the track at us. The problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not small, but that greater ecological disaster in two or three years' time would involve the use of nuclear weapons, which Saddam Hussein will then have. Whatever environmental damage may be done now, the failure to defeat Saddam Hussein would result in much greater loss of life and damage to the environment. We must keep at the forefront of our minds our determination to do what is necessary to defeat Saddam Hussein. Easy options and a response to agonising personal situations is not the way forward, comfortable though that might be.
The Gracious Speech lacks content. It has a hole in its middle concerning Europe and it says little about other issues. I wish that the Gracious Speech had put forward a really tough line that would lead to the enterprise economy that Britain needs. It ought to have marked out the creation of a really strong competitive force in Britain and told us what will be done about British Telecom's duopoly in order to break up BT and introduce more competition into the marketplace. It ought also to have told us what is going to be done to encourage small businesses in order to build up enterprise in the nation.
I wish that the Gracious Speech had contained a Government programme that would lead to investment in education. I do not doubt that quality of education is necessary, but we must start to invest again in training and education. If we do not do so, the country will die and it will be a very slow and painful death.
I wish that the Government programme, as outlined in the Gracious Speech, had told us about the tough things that we shall have to do if we are to save our environment. I wish that it had outlined an energy conservation policy. It ought to have begun to address the democratic deficiencies by initiating some of the constitutional changes that are needed—parliaments for Scotland and Wales and changes to the voting system that are so desperately needed if we are to modernise our democracy. None of those matters is to be found in the Gracious Speech, however.
There comes a moment during the lifetime of any Government when the rot sets in irretrievably. I wonder whether during the last few weeks, starting with Eastbourne, then the deputy Prime Minister's resignation and the by-elections on Thursday, the rot has set in. If Conservative Members do not recognise that fact, the public, I believe, are beginning increasingly to recognise it. The Gracious Speech shows it. This is a programme not so much for a fag-end Government as for a dead-end Government. I do not understimate what they have achieved, but the sooner that they go the better. Britain needs a Government who are prepared to look to the future and to take some of the tough decisions that are needed for the future. The Gracious Speech shows us clearly that this is a Government who can now do no more than defend the past.
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
I should like to join those who have paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for the felicitous way in which they proposed and seconded the reply to the Loyal Address. This is the first evening of the Queen's Speech debate and, rather like the last night of the proms, it is redolent with tradition. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) waiting to make a speech. It is an annual event and, whatever the political and economic situation and changes and however rich and varied the kaleidoscope, his speech is always the same. It contains his compelling judgments and I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing him.
I want to talk about the Gulf, but by way of digression I shall refer to what has already detained the House extensively this afternoon and that is our relationship to the European Community. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has disadvantaged himself of the good-natured advice I was about to give him, but doubtless he has——
§ Mr. Biffen
Exactly. Can one have better comrades than the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)? Their leader needs a few homespun points, not in too much detail.
There are two basic issues which should be the property of the British public come the next general election. The first is how we are to fashion the European Community with its present membership so that it can adapt to respond to the profound challenges of widening Europe to include all the countries to the east. I say that in the approving presence of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) because I have already noted his remarks on the subject.
That is a central topic. Over the coming decade or so, we shall have to face the issue of how to secure European collective security in circumstances wholly different from the existence of a nuclear-backed NATO and the Warsaw pact. We shall have to devise our own political and military solutions covering the whole of Europe. That political challenge is every bit as important as how we arrange our economic and social affairs within the existing Community.
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman in a while. I am just working myself up.
The desire to move to a Europe of partnership, working upon existing national institutions, which turns aside from all the centralisation implicit in a single currency, is precisely the Europe that holds out the best chance of reconciling the interests of the countries to the east as well as those of the existing Community. I ask the hon. Member for Bolsover to pass on in condensed form that message to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I realise that I have spelt it out in some detail. The Leader of the Opposition's answer to that question is crucial to the Labour party's standing and the choice it offers whenever the general election comes.
Second, and parallel to that, is the question of what institutions we think are appropriate for European 44 co-operation. A generation ago, General de Gaulle said that he thought that it should rest upon national institutions, because they had the right to command and the power to be obeyed. That simple but rather majestic phrase cuts through all the rhetoric about sovereignty and so on. It is a good, hard, practical point. The more we arrogate decision taking to centralised European institutions, the more we rely upon national bureaucracies to secure their enforcement. Thus, the Community loses its homogeneity in the point of execution. It takes on the culture of the country concerned.
I make that point in no hostile sense to any country. However, the relevant question is which Community countries have the largest unofficial or black economy. That will give us some idea of the parity of enforcement and the sense of equity. At the end of the day, if people believe that they are within a law-making framework which is inequitable in its application, French farmers will be merely the beginning of the outrage. That is also a point for the Leader of the Opposition on which I should like a simple reply, and I can think of no better couriers than the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Bradford, South.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
The points raised by the right hon. Gentleman are quite legitimate and I can assure him that, whenever his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is persuaded to call an election, we shall put all our policies clearly and succinctly to the electorate. The quicker we get that opportunity the better.
§ Mr. Biffen
That commitment from the Opposition Front Bench is an early gain in the debate. The hon. Member said that my points are legitimate and that they will be comprehensively answered at the time of the next general election. There is much to be gained from the debate starting now.
I want to consider the fearsome situation developing in the Gulf. Since the House was recalled on 6 and 7 September, when it gave a most measured assessment of events, matters have not moved forward any more happily. We must acknowledge that the United Kingdom is playing no more than the role of adviser. We are not there as a factor of major military action. Although our role will be important and it will be carried out with the utmost distinction, we would delude ourselves if we thought that we had even as much influence on the United States as Prime Minister Attlee had in the Korean war. We have a much more modest role, and anybody in the House who speaks on the subject should have that degree of conscious humility.
I want to talk about the rhetoric involved. I do not think that anybody has any misunderstanding about the full-hearted commitment in this country to seeing Saddam Hussein withdraw from Kuwait. Our position is clear beyond challenge. Indeed, it is remarkable how, under the United States leadership, the whole coalition of interests has held together. In those circumstances, I hope that Heads of State, military leaders and everyone else will continue to stress their absolute determination, but not go beyond that. I would have thought that the point had already been made. In terms of rhetoric, I wonder if it was of assistance to the allied cause in world war two that we called for unconditional surrender in Germany. I wonder whether it helped to a degree that would have offset the harm it undoubtedly did for the German resistance inside 45 that country working against the Nazis. Absolute rhetoric in these circumstances should be watched with great caution.
Clearly we are moving inexorably to the next stage in the confrontation with Iraq. I am not trying to value-judge how that is being handled by the United States or her allies, both European and Arab. Do not let us be under any misapprehension: a movement to military conflict is not merely an extension of United Nations authority by other means. It is a most substantial crossing of a rubicon. Let us be clear: conflict has an uncanny knack of changing its objectives. In 1939, we went to war for the territorial integrity of Poland. By 1945, the objectives were transformed by commitments under the Atlantic charter, and the territorial integrity of Poland was cynically dropped at Yalta.
We cannot ring-fence the Kuwaiti situation. Military action inevitably opens up a far wider series of connections. There are those who argue, as did the leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats, that one must look for a regional rearrangement. I agree that any regional rearrangement at once involves the Palestinian issue, and that cannot be dealt with without the full engagement of the United States. However, I would happily make a list of things that could be secured by a regional pact. It would include much stricter control of armament supplies in the area. Nonetheless, let us be under no misunderstanding that a regional pact of that character is a most formidable objective to set oneself.
Our only hope is that, with the military planning that appears to be proceeding, there is also a degree of political and social judgment, so that, at the end of the day, it will not be one more sickening example of winning the war and losing the peace.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I, too, congratulate the mover and seconder of the reply to the Loyal Address. The right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was humorous although, understandably, sombre in his remarks about the Gulf, whereas the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) was simply full of wit and humour.
I was worried by the Prime Minister's remarks about the Gulf. To many of us it seemed to be virtually a declaration of war. Sanctions should be given time to work and force should be the last option. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).
I agree with some sentiments in the Queen's Speech, although I appreciate that the reality is different from them. Paragraph 1 at the top of page 4 refers to a subject which is dear to my heart. It points out that legislation will be introducedto provide for a second Severn crossing.I am glad because the bridge is vital to the economic future of Wales. I regret that it is to be built by a French-backed consortium, that both bridges will be controlled by the same consortium and that it is expected that ever-increasing tolls will be collected. That proposal is ridiculous.
Many people in my constituency in the town of Caldicot and in other parts of south-east Wales work on the other side of the channel. Already they must earn nearly £14 a week to pay the £10 a week toll charges. That 46 is before they even get their car out of the garage. Many of them are redundant steelworkers who accepted the advice of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and got on their bikes to find fresh employment, yet this is how they are rewarded. There are endless hold-ups and delays on the bridge. To ask motorists to pay tolls when they eventually reach the crossing is scandalous. The arrangments for the vital Severn crossing are an insult to Wales, but that is typical of this Government's attitude.
In mitigation, I ask the Government to introduce the Bill for the second Severn crossing as essentially a Welsh Bill. It is our principal artery. Secondly, will the Government reconsider the fictitious debt of the first bridge which is a tremendous liability to the Welsh economy and is a reason why tolls must be persistently increased?
Paragraph 1 at the top of page 3 of the Queen's Speech states:My Government will continue to work with our Community partners to complete the Single Market.I recall that on Tuesday 21 November 1989 the Queen's Speech said that the Governmentwill continue to work with our European Community partners … to enhance economic and monetary co-operation.Any impartial observer would be right to point out that today that does not seem to be the case. The culmination of this "co-operation" was the Rome summit about a week ago when Britain was left in a minority of one. I understand that there are deep divisions over Europe in the Conservative party. I have little sympathy with the Prime Minister's attitude.
For years in this House and outside it I have opposed British membership of the Common Market. At the time of the referendum campaign I was chairman of the Labour party's Common Market committee. I spoke at numerous meetings. We warned, for example, of the inequities of the common agricultural policy, which today costs a family of four £17 a week. In that campaign, we were simply overwhelmed by a barrage of propaganda, lies, threats and false promises. Lord Stokes, then chairman of British Leyland, told us in full page advertisements how many thousands of cars he would sell on the continent. We have now been in the Common Market for almost 18 years, yet when travelling on the continent it is surprising to see a British car on the road. Meantime, our roads are flooded with Volkswagens, Mercedes, Renaults, Fiats and so on. According to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, we now have only 3.7 per cent. of total world car production, and most of that 3.7 per cent. is produced by overseas-owned companies. Germany has 13 per cent. of total car production. Our astronomical balance of payments deficit tells the rest of the story.
During that referendum campaign firms intimidated their employees. There were notes in pay packets saying that a no vote would mean that the worker would be out of a job. I am sorry to say that the Labour Government joined in and helped to load the dice to bring about a yes vote.
Where was the Prime Minister when that was going on? If my memory serves me right—I stand to be corrected—she went on holiday. Likewise, who has been at the head of the Government for the past 11 and a half years and 47 signed agreement after agreement culminating in the Madrid summit which binds Britain ever more securely to the Common Market?
The Labour party's attitude is perfectly understandable. We say that we have gone too far down that road. Year in, year out, we are getting more embroiled in the tentacles of the Common Market. We have to make the best of it and act in a spirit of co-operation while at the same time fighting for Britain's best interests. The pace of integration is undoubtedly quickening and I do not like it. The Prime Minister has a lot to answer for.
The Government's record has been a disaster in many other areas. What about inflation? Last year in the Gracious Speech, the Government promised topursue firm financial policies designed to reduce inflation"—[Official Report, 21 November 1989; Vol. 162, c. 5.]This year, on page 3 of the Gracious Speech, we read:My Government will maintain firm financial policies, strengthened by the Exchange Rate Mechanism, designed to reduce inflation.What has happened in those 12 months? Inflation has soared to 10.9 per cent. and the Chancellor is now making pious promises to reduce inflation to 6 per cent. by the end of the fourth quarter of 1991. I wish him well, but I should also remind him that 6 per cent. is still double the current German rate of inflation.
On page 4 the Gracious Speech states:My Government will continue to take action to improve quality in education.In all modesty, I must say that such action is long overdue. In Wales, we now have the worst teacher shortage after that suffered in London. Aneurin Bevan once told us that any British Government who could bring about a shortage of coal and fish in our country were pretty remarkable. The same argument could apply to teachers in Wales. We were once known as the land of teachers and preachers. Some years ago, for every three teachers produced in Wales, only one taught there. My relatives suffered as a result of that and had to go to teach in Brimingham and London. Today, however, teachers are voting with their feet and are getting out because of the shabby way in which they have been treated by the Government. Standards in education, far from rising, have continued to fall.
One could go on about soaring crime rates and the underfunding of the national health service, which has led to ward closures and deteriorating standards of health care. It was also recently announced that 4,000 more beds will be taken out of the NHS. The Prime Minister said that the health service was safe in her hands, but those words have a hollow ring today.
What are the Government doing to protect the environment? I believe that charity begins at home because Wales is becoming the dustbin of Europe. We know about what is going on at Caerleon, Pontlottyn, Cwmcarn and Pontypool. Hardly a week goes by without some incident involving dangerous chemicals, and it is a source of anxiety in our communities. More firms are poised to establish in Wales, but I think it is time to call a halt.
According to a report published earlier this week by the Child Poverty Action Group, 10 million people are now living in poverty. What about the iniquities of the poll tax? Is it any wonder that there is a leadership crisis in the Conservative party? Is it any wonder that even the CBI is fed up? A few days ago, the deputy Prime Minister 48 resigned. He had a most tolerant nature, but he could no longer stand the style of government adopted by the Prime Minister.
The Labour party does not want the Prime Minister to resign. We are confident that, whenever the right hon. Lady calls the general election, she will be suitably dispatched to make way for a Labour Government who will make a major effort to restore Britain's economic fortunes and create a more just society.
§ Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I agree with the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) that we should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on their superb speeches. That is as far as I can agree with the hon. Gentleman, except to say that Wales produces the most marvellous speakers.
It is appropriate that the first paragraph of the Queen's Speech confirms our friendship with two great powers, the United States and the Commonwealth. Those powers contributed much in the war to our victory. Now that we are working so closely with America under Mr. Bush, it is appropriate that a visit should be paid to the United States.
As we all know, the role of NATO has changed because of a change in Soviet attitudes. We must now reconsider the size and role of the new NATO and how it is deployed. I believe that NATO should be a peace force throughout Europe and the world. It should, however, always keep its eye on Europe because, as has already been said, one never knows what might happen in the Soviet Union or elsewhere. NATO should become an international force for the preservation of peace wherever trouble may start—in Europe, Asia or anywhere else.
We must always retain our nuclear deterrent. We are all aware that countries throughout the world are developing nuclear weapons and it is essential that we retain our own. In the past, we were able to tell the Soviet Union that it was simply not worth that country using its weapons. The retention of such weapons is a strong reason for preventing other countries from developing similar weapons. Countries should be aware that the ownership of such powerful weapons could lead to immense destruction, including the destruction of those very countries themselves.
We must ensure that NATO is an effective peace force and that we retain our nuclear weapons. They are essential to maintaining our security and persuading other nations that it is not worth spending money and time on developing such weapons.
The Government are right to insist upon an unconditional implementation of the resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council. All troops should be withdrawn from Kuwait, and independence should be restored. We must, however, consider the hostages. Today, I received a message from a constituent whose husband is interned in Iraq. We hope that the crisis will be solved through sanctions, but it is important to remember that all this time people are suffering immense privations, troubles and torture. All that time, we are sitting back waiting for what we call the final solution.
The House will recall the statements by Gorbachev about giving independence to Hungary, Romania and 49 other eastern European countries. Now democracy is beginning to develop in those countries and, if they can prove that democratic status, they may eventually become members of NATO and the European Community. It will be a long process and cannot be done overnight. One cannot change communism into capitalism in 24 hours—it takes a good many years.
As regards sovereignty, this Parliament cannot bind future Parliaments or generations by decisions of such magnitude that they change the powers of Parliament, alter its powers or completely change the political complexion. When we pass legislation, we should not rush in but go gently and slowly and ensure that what we do is to our advantage, not our disadvantage. By doing that and thinking things over, we shall be much better off.
I shall be brief, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. The Gracious Speech laid emphasis on education, health and social services. I welcome that, because it is terribly important. Education, social welfare and particularly health build a nation. We are crying out for educated people to learn the new techniques on which manufacturing industry is created. We should push ahead and ensure that we give encouragement by increasing such services and ensuring that young people undertake further education.
We need an orderly society. Not only must we fight crime and drugs, but we must encourage parental control. As I have said frequently, making parents responsible for their children's conduct is one step towards creating an orderly society. Children who are being guided and properly brought up and whose parents are responsible for their conduct will be this country's citizens. They will decide our country's future and the way it is run. It will be their decision.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
In the concluding passages of her speech, the Prime Minister used words that can only be interpreted as a warning that this country will soon be going to war with the United States against Iraq. I agree with the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) that Britain is a junior partner. In the last debate on the subject, I said that we were a minor factor. However, we are more than advisers, because in the past two days the British Government have agreed that British forces are to be under the operational command of the United States. Therefore, we shall be dragged i n at the moment when President Bush decides that he wishes to go to war with Iraq. The House will not be consulted in any way because war making in Britain is by royal prerogative, exercised by the Crown without a requirement to come to Parliament. In the United States, there is a requirement that a declaration of war has to be approved by the Senate, and war powers legislation limits the President's executive power. We have no such safeguards.
This is our first opportunity in the new Session to discuss the Gulf crisis. It is the first opportunity to do so since the recall of Parliament on 6 and 7 September, since when a great deal has happened. I shall relate what has happened in the past two months. First, the military build-up has gone on apace. An enormous American military force has already reached, or is likely to reach, a total of 250,000 men in Saudi Arabia, to which have been added some British forces which, although not inconsiderable in their strike power, in no way compare in numbers 50 with the American forces. Other countries have also been brought in and the clear message has come from the President and the Prime Minister that the sanctions may or may not work, but the most effective method is to threaten war. Whether, in the last passages of her speech, the Prime Minister was using psychological warfare to warn Saddam Hussein that war was inevitable or whether war is really being planned, we shall not know It is an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war.
However one looks at it, it is almost certain that, having moved a force of that magnitude to the middle east, the President will have to use that force. Although political decisions determine the deployment of military forces, when those forces have been deployed, the generals say to their political masters, "Use us or withdraw us." They cannot be left there for ever. That is another reason for anxiety.
We know that President Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons, the American forces have formidable weapons, including chemical ones, the United States has nuclear weapons, the British forces there have nuclear weapons and the operational command of those forces will be under the United States. Therefore, it is at least possible that it will be open to an American President to instruct the British forces to use their nuclear weapons, were that to be thought operationally necessary. In those circumstances, the House is bound to ask: what is the proper response to the situation? Is it right that the only way of dealing with this crisis is by threatening war, and possibly making war, when the military position makes that possible, the forces are fully deployed and the weather conditions are right?
Since the House last debated the matter, world opinion has changed rapidly from the mood of high belligerence when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The original basis on which troops were sent in was to defend Saudi Arabia. As the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North properly said, according to the speeches made by the President and the Prime Minister, the objectives of the campaign have already been totally transformed. Now, they include not only the total withdrawal of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait—as the United Nations quite properly demands—but that compensation should be paid, there should possibly be a war crimes tribunal in which President Saddam Hussein would be arraigned before a world court and his military capacity should be destroyed.
It is not uncommon in military circles now to hear talk of the "nightmare scenario." What is that? It is that Saddam Hussein might actually withdraw from Kuwait. If he were to do so, the Anglo-American case for attacking Iraq would have disappeared, as would the other objectives of securing compensation, destroying his nuclear and military capacity or bringing him to a war crimes tribunal.
It is hard to rely on public opinion polls, but there is no evidence from those that I have seen of the readiness of the British people to go to war outside the United Nations. It is strange that the Prime Minister, who has laid such emphasis on United Nations action, should be contemplating a war that would not be under the United Nations' authority. I am no international lawyer, but it is arguable that article 51 of the United Nations charter says that armed force can be used in self-defence only up to the moment that the United Nations takes the matter on board, which it has already done by imposing the most rigorous sanctions on Iraq.
51 Anyone who knows anything about the Iraqi economy will know that sanctions are immensely powerful in a country that is a major oil producer and whose exports of oil go through two pipelines, one in Turkey and one in Saudi-Arabia—both of which have already been cut by sanctions. If war is undertaken outside the United Nations and the charter's provisions, we too shall be in breach of international law. Those are some of the factors that have influenced public opinion against war. In the United States, there has been no great readiness to support the idea of war even from those on the extreme right—the old isolationists,—who see no great American interest in a war with Iraq. I must refer also to the American peace movement and to some courageous people in the United States armed forces who, as conscientious objectors, have declined to go to the Gulf because they do not believe that this is a just war.
In this country, the opposition to war is also strong. In the rest of the world it is growing rapidly, and for obvious reasons. First, the increase in the oil price since the crisis began is already beginning to have catastrophic effects on third-world countries that have depended on supplies of oil at the old price. If a war broke out, the price of oil would go to $100 or $200 a barrel, and that would bankrupt the third world. Many Asian countries have had nationals working in Kuwait and Iraq sending back their remittances. Those remittances have stopped, and that has already had a serious effect.
No one in his senses can believe that there would be genuine world support for what President Bush and the Prime Minister appear to mean to do: to go to war. One reason for that—we had better speak plainly—is the total lack of moral authority on the part of those advancing the argument. I do not want to be personal in these matters—I do not have to be. The United States invaded Grenada, and Reagan's memoirs show that the Prime Minister was not fully informed. That was an act of international aggression. The United States went into Panama, and 3,000 people were killed—that was a breach of international law—on the basis that Panama was America's "back yard". I hope that I will not be misunderstood when I say that it could be argued that Kuwait was Saddam Hussein's "back yard", if geographical location is to be used as justification for greater powers occupying smaller ones.
§ Mr. Cryer
The Government are not in a strong position to argue about Saddam Hussein with the rhetoric employed by the Prime Minister, given that they have been lacklustre in their opposition to the advance of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who incorporate the odious regime of Pol Pot, whose previous activities make Saddam Hussein appear a positive saint.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend gives us another example—I had one or two more myself—and I do not dispute what he says.
We armed Saddam Hussein when he was attacking our then enemy—Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. No action has been taken on the Palestinians, although Israel has for a long time disregarded United Nations resolutions about the west bank and so on. The moral authority for a war does not exist. The independent, scholarly journalist Anthony Bevins went to the India Office library and 52 published, a week or two ago, the fact that, in 1958, Selwyn Lloyd, then Foreign Secretary, suggested that Britain should take over Kuwait and turn it into a Crown colony, and went to Washington to win the assent of John Foster Dulles, then United States Secretary of State to that scheme.
Whatever may be the realpolitik of power, there is no moral authority for a war against Iraq. No one in the world believes that Bush or the Prime Minister is moved by a sense of duty in matters of this kind. The crisis is about oil; everyone knows that it is about oil. Hence the lack of support that might otherwise have been expected.
What would be the consequences of war? I have never been a supporter of Saddam Hussein or of his invasion of Kuwait, but he has a large army, seasoned in an eight-year war with Iran and working in territory that he knows well. He has the capacity to destroy the oilfields—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) sought to raise with the Prime Minister in her speech. If the oilfields of the middle east are destroyed under a massive scorched-earth policy—as could easily happen—apart from the ecological factors that concern my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, that would destroy the world oil economy.
Moreover, if Saddam Hussein is attacked by the United States, however long he could hold out against American forces, he has another way of guaranteeing his place in Arab history—by attacking Israel, perhaps with chemical weapons. Israel has nuclear weapons. If she were attacked with chemical weapons, after their historic experience at Masada—anyone who knows the Jewish story knows how strong that feeling is among the Jewish people, who also remember the holocaust—the Israelis might strike Baghdad with nuclear weapons, and then where would we be?
I do not deny that being decisive is a factor, but I will not listen to the Prime Minister speak as though this were a recurrence of pre-war appeasement. I have read the captured German Foreign Office documents and I know that there was no appeasement of Adolf Hitler by the Chamberlain Government: Chamberlain supported Adolf Hitler. The record of exchanges between Lord Halifax and Hitler at Berchtesgaden in 1937 show that Lord Halifax congratulated Hitler on behalf of the British Government on destroying communism in Germany and on being a bulwark against communism in the Soviet Union. So the meaning of the word "appeasement" has changed.
I want to be positive and constructive. I believe that the initiative taken by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was absolutely right. I have disagreed with him on other matters, and I still do on certain important issues, but I was struck by what he said in his broadcast with Brian Walden. When he chose to go to Baghdad on a humanitarian mission, that decision was taken against the background of his firm belief that the matter must be resolved by negotiation—a point taken up eloquently a moment ago by the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North, every word of whose speech I agreed with.
This is not a matter of left and right or of Government and Opposition. My right hon. Friends have taken a strong view on this matter, from which I differ. This is a matter of the House using its historic function to warn and advise—functions that used to be exercised by the Crown because it had nothing else to do. Now we have nothing to do but warn and advise, and so we should.
53 Willy Brandt spoke more boldly than the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. He said that he had gone on a political mission. I do not mean to belittle what the right hon. Gentleman did; he went on a humanitarian mission and, with his enormous experience of the exercise of power and of the middle east, he was able to talk to Saddam Hussein and no doubt convey privately to the Foreign Office his assessment of the prospects for a settlement.
Willy Brandt has been bolder. It is disgraceful that the British Foreign Office apparently tried to persuade the German Government not to send him. He is an outstanding world statesman, highly regarded all over the world, and he went to see Perez de Cuellar. I made inquiries yesterday and rang up New York to find out what the Secretary-General's office thought of the mission. Without endorsing it in the usual sense—the Secretary-General cannot do that—that office welcomed these contacts.
We must seek a settlement, primarily and immediately in respect of the Kuwait crisis. My opinion is that the hostages do not guarantee security from military attack for the Iraqi Government. They may say somewhere in Baghdad that, while they have the hostages, Bush and the Prime Minister will not attack them, but I do not believe that that is right. With President Bush so bent on a military solution, if he also kills the hostages, he will blame Saddam Hussein. If all the hostages were released—not only those who might be on humanitarian grounds—that might open the way to real negotiations and be the best thing that could possibly happen.
Whatever the outcome of the UN resolutions, there is a border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait, and there would be one even if Iraq had not invaded. We drew the frontier of Kuwait on a map after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Iraq was left without control of the islands that would give it access to the sea and suffer from the strange way in which the oilfields are owned and controlled, which presents problems for Baghdad. That will still be the case after a war, whatever regime is in place. I made it clear in the debate in September that I supported the action of the Security Council. I said that it was the first time since the end of the cold war that there had been unanimity. I support the sanctions. But I see the United Nations mainly as an agency for peaceful negotiation and not just as a cover for a war by one nation to recover oil that has gone to its current enemy.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)
Plainly, the right hon. Gentleman speaks for a significant proportion of the Opposition. Does he recommend that the multinational force of British, American and Egyptian troops, as well as troops from the many other nations that are there, should now withdraw in order to bring about a peaceful settlement? That seems to be the tenor of his argument.
§ Mr. Benn
That is a perfectly fair question and I shall answer it as best I can. We all start with Saddam Hussein in Kuwait and the American forces that are there, and we must ask what we do next. My argument is solely about whether we should carry the logic of military force through to attack, which I fear could happen in a week or two. The military people talk about a "window of opportunity", as if this were some game on a sand table at a military establishment. They say that the opportunity for an attack comes when the weather is right and before Ramadan.
54 I am 100 per cent. opposed to that sort of thinking. If negotiation and not war is to be the instrument of policy, then clearly one would aim for a reduction in the forces that are there. But I do not think that the Americans ever intend to leave Saudi Arabia. We had a base at Tel el Kebir in Egypt. It was established in 1888 and we came out in 1956. However, within a week, we were back again at the time of Suez. I served in Egypt during the war and was part of what was seen by the Egyptians as the British occupation of Egypt.
This is a matter of great complexity. I entirely support the action of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. I also support what Willy Brandt has done, and I support the drift and thrust of the speech by the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North. The House must consider the matter, because before we debate it again the war may have begun. Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the French Defence Minister, spoke of 100,000 dead in the event of war. Compare that with the suffering of people in Kuwait, which nobody disputes. The Pentagon, with its usual statistical forecasting, has forecast 30,000 American casualties within 12 days of the war beginning, of whom 12,000 would be dead.
Are we to sit here calmly waving our Order Papers at a Prime Minister who contemplates such an action without considering the alternative? The function of the House is to discuss the matter.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Half a million body bags are supposed to have been sent to British and American forces. That reinforces my right hon. Friend's argument. He spoke about my question to the Prime Minister which she did not answer. I make no apology for raising it with him. The King of Jordan, a serious man, spoke about the ecological disaster and said that 50 billion barrels of oil would go up in flames with unknown consequences. Since no Red Adair is likely to appear, because he would be unable to work to put out the oil fires, what would happen?
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend emphasises my point. The consequences would be catastrophic. The price that would be paid in human suffering and death would far exceed the price that is now being paid.
If I speak with passion on the matter, it is because I have been here a long time. On the day that I was elected to Parliament, Truman said that he might drop an atom bomb on China. I was here at the time of Suez and heard Hugh Gaitskell talking about the war and witnessed his courageous stand against it. I was here at the time of the Falklands war and the Libyan bombing. Such great conflicts against contemporary bogeymen do not in the event turn out to be quite what they were made to appear.
I am not sure that we are being told the truth, anyway. We were not told the truth about Suez. People will surely remember that we were told that our troops had been sent to divide the Israelis from the Egyptians, even though we had colluded with the Israelis to attack the Egyptians. That is now on the record, and nobody disputes it. How do we now know that events are not part of a long-term plan to gain control of the oil for the United States?
I urge the House to be measured in its response and not to go along with the old idea of a jingoistic campaign, complete with families kissing the sailors as the task force leaves Plymouth. It will not be like that at all. It could be like the old crusades, because there is an element of jihad on both sides. It could be a conflict with the Arab world 55 for which we should pay a heavy price for many years—even if we succeeded in the military victory that is contemplated. We have interests there, and it is a small world.
Nationalism and nuclear weapons could be the recipe for the destruction of humanity. We must negotiate and reflect on the different interests and try to resolve them, because the United Nations is about the peaceful settlement of disputes and not about an excuse for a military operation on the margins outside the Security Council.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the present power of Saddam Hussein is in many ways the product of the policies of Britain, the United States and France towards Iraq? He has been given about £1 billion in loans since the end of the Iran-Iraq war. He was consistently supported during that war, and at the time of the genocide against the Kurdish people in Halabja, very little was done by the British Government to protest. Indeed, the Government increased trade with that regime.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend draws attention to my point that there is no morality in state politics. Therefore, to call morality in aid to justify another military attack does not carry authority. It does not have my support and does not convince me or many other people who have no love for the Iraqi regime.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in all the talk about casualties on the battlefield, we lose sight of a much bigger casualty because the war, however quickly it is won by the west—if the west wins it at all—will precipitate a major world recession? That will mean unemployment and will cause terrible damage to western nations, but in the third world it will mean famine and death, in which battlefield casualties can be multiplied 10 or 100 times. If there is a war in the middle east, millions of people in the third world will die from poverty and famine, which will be worsened by the recession that such a war will trigger.
§ Mr. Benn
I agree with my hon. Friend. Those who vote for the policy of Washington and London must carry responsibility for the consequences that my hon. Friend outlines.
My argument is an honest one, widely shared by people of different opinions in many countries, and it will prevail. However, it will take time to prevail, just as the sanctions may take time to produce the climate for a settlement.
I wish that the Foreign Secretary would go to Baghdad to discuss the matter. I wish that other Foreign Ministers would also go there, instead of going round mobilising the military alliance. That is what diplomacy is about. Because of the vacuum of leadership on the diplomatic side by the Government, it is left to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and to Willy Brandt and others who choose to go. Until we bring diplomacy to bear on these problems, we shall head inexorably towards a war, with the consequences that have been clearly spelled out.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spoke about the potential for war in the Gulf and the problems there. The matter has obviously occupied the House in the immediate aftermath of the Gracious Speech. We were enthralled by both speeches on the Loyal Address, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not continue with that argument.
I should like to speak specifically and shortly about the fifth paragraph in the Queen's Speech which deals with domestic policies and the proposed planning Bill because there has not been such a Bill in the House for 22 years. This is a great opportunity for hon. Members to take an interest in a matter that concerns them all.
Another problem is that we have no allocated day in which to discuss local government, and this evening presents us with an opportunity to debate the contents of the proposed Bill. The Bill gives us an opportunity to make major changes rather than, as is so often the case with planning Bills, tinkering with and tidying up the system. The priority must be to facilitate the building of sufficient homes for the population, wherever people wish to live and where jobs are, and to do so without destroying the countryside, while using land in the most efficient and effective way.
We need more houses, but how many more and what size should they be? The Government statisticians told us a few months ago that we shall need 464,000 houses in the south of England alone by the turn of the century if we are to house the people who want to live there. In the last few weeks, others have said that the Government statisticians are wrong because the population is falling.
Another problem is one of size. The general view is that there are many more single people living alone—the elderly, single parent mothers and young people in their teens and early twenties. However, the baby boomers having families require three-bedroom homes. There is a dispute about whether we should build more single homes or more three-bedroomed houses.
Where shall we put them all? In the past, planners stuck new houses on the periphery of existing towns and villages, but people do not like this. It eats into the countryside and overloads the infrastructure. Perhaps we should consider the arguments put forward by a number of planners that we should build new, small villages and towns like the new towns built in the 1930s and 1940s, so that they can be well planned and designed and have proper infrastructure. This brings me, like the Prince of Wales, to the question of design. As he pointed out, poor design is at the root of people's dissatisfaction with modern developments. They object more to the design of buildings than to expansion of towns.
My view is that design should not be left to developers. Some people believe, as I think the previous Secretary of State for the Environment believed, that the market should decide design, but that would mean no planning constraints, because, for real choice, people buying homes would have to be able to choose between a well-designed or a badly-designed house. As the planning regime is so strict, people have no choice. They have to buy whatever is available. Therefore, the whole community must be involved in design and even if we cannot legislate for design, we can legislate on quality. Both should be part of 57 local plans and local plans should be compulsory. Only 10 per cent. of local authorities have local plans, and they should be under a statutory obligation to have them.
If there are current local plans, Department of the Environment inspectors should follow exactly what they say and should not depart from them. Enforcement must be tightened up because there is no point in having local plans if they cannot be enforced. Too many people in South Hams build first and seek retrospective planning permission. Some 90 Back-Bench Conservative Members representing rural communities have formed what is loosely known as the SANE planning group. All of us have the same problem of people building first and then seeking retrospective planning consent. We have to do something about that so that developers no longer buck the system.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying and I recognise the problem that he described. Would he go so far as to say that penalties should attach to people who develop without planning permission, as that is the only way to deter them from acting outside the law?
§ Mr. Steen
My hon. Friend has set out one device—the market device of charging people if they do not obey the law. There are also problems with stop notices, which the forthcoming Bill must strengthen. The stop notice procedure is so lengthy and laborious that the person could have built the house by the time that the notice is served. If developers build without planning permission, local government must have the power to take down such a building. In my constituency, in the village of Moreleigh, it took about six years for a building to be taken down. It was then found that the local authority had not carried out the procedure exactly as the law spells out—these matters are always complicated—and now it is being sued. We must find a way to strengthen the system so that developers do not buck the system.
We must ensure that the countryside remains the country. Some 87 per cent. of the country is countryside. Let us keep it that way. Already, in the south of England, only 83 per cent. of the country is countryside, so efficient land use must be a priority.
In the cities, about 150,000 acres of land is vacant, derelict, dormant or under-used, and it is all in the public sector. There is also a lot of unused land in the private sector, but there are 88,000 acres on the land register set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment to highlight how much land was in the public sector and not being used. The Government would increase that figure if they extended the criteria by which derelict, vacant or dormant land in the public sector could be added. There are tight conditions on this, and local authorities can avoid putting land on the register by saying that it will be needed in two years' time for building roads. The categories of land should go, and all land in the public sector that is vacant, dormant or under-utilised should be on a land register so the House knows how many acres of public land is available for development.
At the same time, the private sector should list how many acres of under-used land that it has, although there will not be the same compulsion to do something about it. The Government may have to use a stick and carrot approach with the private sector so that, for example, if it does not use land, it will be charged additional rates. 58 Measures should be taken to ensure that public sector land is fully utilised. Totally wasted land must be used up first, certainly before any more green field sites are developed. I hope that the Bill will enable some of the vacant land to be sold off fast.
Planning is a major political issue. We have not got it right. It is getting worse, and we need to do something about it fast. I am delighted, for myself and for my constituents, that the Bill foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech may give us a chance to tackle the problem.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
Not for the first time, we face a Session that is unlikely to be dominated by legislation, although if I looked at the legislation programme for one thing it was to find provision for no-fault compensation for haemophiliacs who have the HIV virus, almost certainly as a result of a blood transfusion from the national health service. It is regrettable that they should have to be going through the courts and that we are not legislating to help them in this Session.
On the dominating issue, many hon. Members are aware of the significance of what the Prime Minister said about Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait. The Prime Minister has, quite properly, put the House on warning that, without notice, we could find ourselves engaged in a war in that region. It was Clausewitz who said that surprise is the root of all military activity. It is an action where there can be no major warning. Indeed, if there is a major warning, our forces will be put at serious risk. There must, of course, be a measured approach. Before the point of entering into combat, it is always possible that a negotiated settlement will suddenly and surprisingly emerge as a possibility, but the judgment has been made—I think it is a fair one—that, on present prospects, Saddam Hussein has no intention of withdrawing from all the territory of Kuwait, that sanctions, though they have been supported by the world community, are not biting in the time scale that was thought to be sufficient, and that the outrages that are taking place day by day in Kuwait make it necessary for us reluctantly now to consider seriously the possibility of having to take up arms against Iraq. If that decision is taken in the next few days or weeks, it will have my full support, sadly. I believe that it is necessary now to contemplate that.
The dominating issue is Europe. Perhaps for the first time in the House, the vast majority of us are not debating whether Britain should or should not be a member of he European Community. Instead, we are considering the type of Community in which we want to be fully involved and the sort of Community to which we want to contribute constructively.
Over the past week I have read the press—the top people's press, particularly—and listened to the BBC and there were times when I came close to despairing of this country. It seems that we have begun to generate an atmosphere where it is not possible to negotiate on behalf of the country without that being trivialised, with such negotiations being seen entirely in terms of party politics or what they mean in the context of a general election.
Given the situation that developed in Rome, were the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary right, in substance, in rejecting the document to which the other Eleven were only too happy to put their names? I say 59 emphatically,even to the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), who recently resigned as Leader of the House, that they were correct. There are substantive and vital issues that affect Britain and the House and, more importantly, the entire European Community, and they had to be addressed. To the members of the chattering classes, who have never negotiated anything—practically none of them has ever negotiated within the European Community—I say that there are times, regretfully, when it is necessary to make it clear that there are issues that might raise the likelihood of exercising the veto.
We cannot have it both ways. Let us be blunt and call a spade a spade. A federalist Europe is now on the political agenda. Jacques Delors, the President of the Commission, is an out-and-out federalist. Michel Rocard, the French Prime Minister, is a federalist. The French President, for the first time since President de Gaulle, who prevented a federal Europe developing when there was the original Six, is showing some signs of being ready to take steps that might lead inexorably to federalism.
These are substantive issues which are not really related to sovereignty, which I think is a bad word. The question is what structure could we happily live with and from which Europe could contribute to global values. There are some who believe that a tight Europe of 12 countries with a defence element and a security element would be a super-state. They believe that they are signing up to be a great power again. That might tempt me if that is what I thought would be the result. If a federalist bureaucratic dream or nightmare, depending on how individuals regard it, were ever to take place, what would emerge? In my judgment, we would see a neutered animal, not an ogre. It would be an entity that would never be able to challenge from time to time the one super-power that is likely to dominate over the next 30 years—the United States. If the United States were to retreat into isolationism, it would not be possible for such an entity to replace it. We would have lost the sinews of nationhood, which allow great decisions to be taken.
Within a community of Twelve, I think that the consensus would lie with Germany. It would not be German in the sense that some people fear a Germany of the past. The Germany of the present is reluctant to exercise global responsibilities and to take risks. It would be a mercantilist Europe. It would be an insensitive, rather inward-looking and introspective Europe.
Let us say that such a federalist state existed in 1980. How would it have responded to any of the great challenges that have emerged over the past decade? Can anyone believe that that federalist Europe would have deployed Pershing missiles and cruise missiles in negotiating first with Brezhnev, secondly with Andropov and thirdly with Gorbachev? Forget it. It would have ducked those issues.
Would it have been possible in such a structure for Britain to respond to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands? Forget it. We would have been locked into a consensus that would have been in favour of negotiations. It would have lacked the steel, the sinews and the capacity for nationhood to be exercised in what I believe was a just cause.
60 We now face Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Would a federalist Community of Twelve have responded in the just sufficient level of Britain and France? Forget it. It would not have dreamt of doing so. There are those—the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is one; unfortunately he has left the Chamber—who would not wish a federalist Community to respond in that way. The right hon. Gentleman is against the European Community for other reasons. I want to see the Community become a unique organisation. I hope that it will not try to be a united states of Europe. That would be nonsensical. The way in which the United States of America emerged from the original 13 founding states with a common ethos, a puritanical morality and a common language was very different from the way in which the European Community developed and will develop.
Is it a crime for a British Prime Minister to say some of those things? Is that something for which we have to castigate her? She makes it clear that she believes—she is right to believe—that the British view of the European Community must be listened to and that Britain will not be bounced by 11 other nations.
I do not want to go back to the 1940s at any length, but it must be said that, at a time of grave peril, nationhood gave us sinew, strength and courage. I remember my mother telling me that throughout the second world war she never once believed that Britain would be defeated. When we read the history of that period, it is amazing that anyone could have gone through it without believing that we could be defeated. My mother was not alone. I believe that we all had the same feeling. Even I as a young child never thought of defeat. That attitude stemmed from being proud of the nation and from a readiness to take a lone stand. Let us not decry nationhood, for that is not the way that Europe will develop.
From time to time, Europe will curb the powers of independent nations, and rightly so. Those powers can be called sovereignty if one wishes. The subsidiarity principle that has been brought forward is a right one. We should determine to do at a European level only what needs to be done at that level. I hope that Mr. Delors, the great advocate of the subsidiarity principle, will start practising it. The European Community still gives us the opportunity to develop a unique structure that will lead to greater unity, greater integration and a defence identity, but it should still respect nationhood.
Countries do not always know when they are losing their nationhood. As has been said, it is not like virginity lost. We soon sniff out the important issues. That was de Gaulle's genius—he sniffed out what was on offer and sensed that it meant that France could not exercise the powers and the prerogatives of a proud and independent nation. I hope that President Mitterrand discovers that quickly, because he has made a mistake about what Germany is likely to become over the next 20 years. He fears a Germany of the past.
I ask Jacques Delors and others: are we really expected to contemplate what is currently on offer? Is associate status to be given to Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia without the promise of full membership of the European Community? That would be a moral outrage. This and other European countries have a moral responsibility to offer Community membership to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Chancellor Kohl, who has shown great wisdom during the past few years, reminded the Heads of Government that there would not have been a breakdown 61 of the Berlin wall had not the Hungarian Foreign Minister and Government been prepared to lift the border restrictions and allow people to cross into Austria.
Are we to forget what we acquiesced in during that most disgraceful period—the destruction of Czechoslovakia? Are we to forget that the German-Polish border is one of the most sensitive in Europe? It was right that the present border was ratified in treaty form, and will remain. However, if there is an economic difference across the border, if there is a marked discrepancy in the prosperity of the German people and the Polish people, there will be tensions across the border.
Is it a crime for the British Prime Minister to point out those issues in Europe? Is it wrong to say that enlargement is a vital necessity, morally and strategically important, and economically and demographically necessary? We should tell the leader writers of the top people's newspapers that during the past week they have written more rubbish than is right or proper. If I were a Tory, I would say something to the BBC about its nine o'clock news. Are anonymous Tories to be the top item on the news, when they do not have the guts to come forward and say that they will stand for the leadership of the party, or even to admit that they might be possible names? I have some contempt for that sort of journalism.
I wish to highlight the real and essential questions for the intergovernmental conference. The combination of the Prime Minister's abrasion and the skills of the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will be good. One of the tragedies is that, for too long, the hinge of foreign and economic policies has not been operating properly. A former Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, rightly took the view that the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor arid the Prime Minister should not disagree in Cabinet without each knowing full well beforehand that they disagreed, and without their having tried seriously to resolve their differences.
It is difficult to conduct negotiations in the Community unless the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary are a tight and compact team. That has not been the case during this Government's term of office. Perhaps that is now to be the case, and perhaps better arrangements have now been made. The fundamental issue is the imposition of a single currency. We must explain what that means. Business people say that we must have it because of transaction costs. However, once we explain that transaction costs are a phenomenon of a moving exchange rate, and that if exchange rate stability is achieved by other means transaction costs will be less of a problem, they begin to show some interest. We must also explain that there is a world of difference between a common currency and a single currency.
I disagree with the Prime Minister in that I can envisage circumstances in which it would be in the British national interest to join a single currency which the majority of the large nation states agree to sign up for. On a calculation of advantage, we might decide that not to do so would do so much damage to the City of London that it would be worth taking a risk on some of the other issues—such as whether Euro-Fed would impinge too greatly on the way that successive Governments have conducted their monetary and fiscal policies. However, that is a decision for the sovereign state.
I do not decry the views of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, or the fact that his party is federalist. Of course, one of the differences between the former Liberal 62 party and the SDP was that the SDP resolutely refused to become a federalist party. Nevertheless, it is good that our political party puts forward that argument. I do not share its view, but I accept that it is sincerely held.
If we decided to join a single currency, as we decided to join the exchange rate mechanism, I would accept that. However, there would be two consequences of being forced to sign a treaty that states that on a certain date we will take on a single currency. First, we cannot anticipate the circumstances in which that treaty, on that date, will come into being; and, secondly, we would surrender all exchange rate control. Until we can see clearly the nature of the beast in operation in phase 2, it will be hard to be certain that a system comprising central banks—or Euro-Fed—which will be the tighter organisation needed for those that enter a single currency, are operating independently and actually have an anti-inflationary bias. The detail is everything. Is it a crime to hold out for the detail and to argue that those are fundamental questions? Of course it is not. The way that we discuss such issues is getting out of all proportion.
What of the European view? A sensible senior European recently told me that Britain would never use its veto. I told him not to be kidded by reports in our press and by the gyrations and absurdities of the Tory party during recent weeks. We will be ready to use the veto. Indeed, when the Labour party fully considers the issues it, too, may want to use the veto. I profoundly hope that it will study these issues. Strongly though I welcome the conversion of some of its leading figures to the European Community, I am always wary of a convert. There is an enthusiasm for the convert's cause that may carry away the Labour party. It would be wiser to stick to its traditional view that these issues are fundamental and need to be closely monitored. We should not, like the Prime Minister, imply that Britain will never be part of a single currency, but instead accept that it is an option, as was joining the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. If Britain so wished, such a further grouping would carry with it membership of Euro-Fed.
There are other questions. If, as I profoundly hope, the Community is to be enlarged, we must deepen the institutional mechanisms for making decisions and make other changes within the Community. If we want a Community of 20-plus, it would be absurd to believe that every nation, let alone the larger nations, should have two Commissioners. However, there is a great deal to be said for changing the nature of the Commission. I should not mind getting rid of the idea that each country should have its own Commissioner. The concept should not be linked to national representation.
The balance between the powers of the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the national Parliaments is all-important. It is again an issue where detail matters, and it would be wrong not to give our partners warning of that. Italy is quite happy to sign up for a federalist state. Mr. Andreotti is only too happy to do so. Many Europeans and, indeed, many prominent Members of this House—such as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—are federalists. There is no question about that; he does not often say so, but he is one. There are others, too.
Unfortunately, this is the word that dare not speak its name. Now let us have it out. The Liberal party is a party of federalists: we know where its members stand. Let us hear where more people stand. The leader of that party has 63 a perfectly reasonable view, although I do not agree with it. It is an honourable view, and we should discuss it. It is the responsibility of Parliament to explain the issue to the people, not to trivialise it and say that it is all a question of Mrs. Thatcher's style. For goodness' sake, if the Tory party is not used to her style, it has had a long time to get used to it. Of course it is abrasive; of course it is sometimes counter-productive.
There was a time when Lord Carrington negotiated an extremely good agreement—indeed, it was the best available. However, the Prime Minister rejected it. Then the European Community said that it had had enough, and three or four months later he—poor devil—was sent back to accept the very same agreement. There will come a time when the Prime Minster will have to know when to compromise, and to recognise that she is not going to get everything. It is a tough negotiation; it is a matter of give and take.
Europe is a vital question for the Labour party. It hopes to win the next general election, and if the Conservative party continues to conduct itself as it has done in the last few weeks, the Labour party's chances will be raised considerably. It is in the Labour party's interest for this issue to be dealt with on a non-partisan, non-political basis. If the Labour party gains power with a narrow majority—and it certainly would be narrow—it will find it immensely hard to face some of the difficult questions. It is essential that we build a degree of bipartisanship on this crucial issue.
The issue of Europe often goes across party lines. I am delighted that I voted against a three-line Whip in 1971, when we were deciding whether to enter the European Community. I relish the idea that the issue can be discussed—in the House, at least—on its merits, and on the substance.
We have been charged with a major responsibility in the House: to stop trivialising this great issue, and to discuss it in a serious and constructive way. In the process, perhaps we can give a little education to the Press Gallery, the television pundits and others. We should make it clear to the EC that a British Prime Minister will be entitled to negotiate, along with the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor, with the authority to exercise our one safeguard—that we will not sign a treaty that we think takes us in a direction in which we do not wish to go. The Community must proceed by consensus when big treaty steps are being taken.
I hope that we will not shirk the necessity to have a defence element within the Community, but not to exclude NATO. Heaven knows, with Turkey acting as it has recently over Iraq, there is a great need for an organisation that links us with Asia Minor and the United States. A genuine Community will have a defence element, and there is nothing for us to be ashamed of in that. In my judgment, the majority of its members will operate a single currency by voluntary commitment; Britain may well be one of them. However, a single European currency, by statute and on a certain date, is designed to stop the enlargement of the Community to include Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. That, in this House, of all the Parliaments in the EC, should be totally unacceptable.
§ Mr. David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
Let me add my voice to the congratulations that have been expressed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). In my 20 years in the House, I have heard most—if not all—of the proposers and seconders of the Loyal Address. Today we were given a treat: both speeches were—by any standard—of a very high order. If at any time the electors of Richmond and Barnes were foolish enough to dispense with the services of my hon. Friend, there would certainly be a career open to him in the profession of which his parents were such distinguished practitioners.
The House has just listened to a very interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). I am bound to say that I found his speech rather depressing. The right hon. Gentleman left the Labour party over defence and Europe; I find that strangely inconsistent with some of the remarks that he made today.
I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about some of my hon. Friends and their conduct. I remember that vote in 1971, when he voted in favour of the principle of our membership of the Community. I must remind him—before he becomes too righteous—of what he did on Second Reading of the European Communities Bill later that year. We all have things that we would like to hide, but that was not the right hon. Gentleman's finest hour. He is, however, quite right about the nature of nationhood. As one who was born in Scotland but is no longer living there, I do not think that the Scots have in any way lost their sense of nationhood, although they are—and have been since 1707—part of a unitary state in this country. Nationhood is not incompatible with membership of a closely integrated larger political unit. It is just as well to remember that, and to realise what might eventually happen in Europe.
It is, in fact, about Europe that I wish to speak. When I spoke in the debate on the Loyal Address last year, I said that, in the international sphere, there was no doubt that Europe would be the dominant issue in the forthcoming Session, and probably for some years to come. Clearly, I was wrong to limit that to the international sphere. Since then, the domestic scene has been rocked by the resignation over Europe of two Cabinet Ministers, one of whom was the deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps I may say how deeply I regret the resignation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). There can be no doubt that the Cabinet has been weakened by his departure.
The Gracious Speech states that the Governmentwill contribute constructively to the inter-governmental conferences on Economic and Monetary Union and Community institutions".I hope that that will be the case; however, recent events have cast at least a little doubt on the matter.
It is now nearly 30 years since Dean Acheson said that Britain had lost an empire but had not found a new role in the world. I thought that we had found a new role in the world, and that that role was in the EC; and that we were participating and playing a full role in the building and development of the new Europe. However, during the past two years—and especially during the past fortnight—some doubt has been cast on that. Instead of trying to deal with the problems of the real world—which, for Britain, are its problems in Europe—there seems to be a growing 65 tendency for some of the popular press and others elsewhere to wallow in nostalgia about a day and age that is long past: a day and age when Britain could stand on its own. We cannot do so now, and it would be folly to try. Future generations will not forgive us if we do.
Consequently, I have no doubt that the most important question facing Britain today is our relationship with the EC. It is far more important than any of the legislative proposals in the Gracious Speech, important as some of them are; it is far more important than the outcome of the next general election, important as that undoubtedly is. It is important because it is through the Community—and only through the Community—that Britain can effectively achieve its political and economic aspirations, and fulfil its destiny. It is important because the Community is in the process of implementing decisions in connection with the single market. That, after all, is now just over a year away. It is important because the Community is about to take decisions about economic, monetary and political union, and Britain must be in a position to make a positive and constructive contribution in the negotiations and to ensure that Britain's real interests are protected.
I find it astonishing that the issue of sovereignty should have been resurrected once again. That issue was widely discussed in the great debates that took place in the House in the early 1970s about our membership of the EC, and I thought that the argument had been laid to rest. I thought that, apart from a few nitpicking lawyers and hardline anti-marketeers, it was accepted that what was important was not the form of sovereignty but its substance. I also thought that it was generally accepted that in the world of interdependence, where the most important economic, monetary and political decisions are heavily influenced, if not determined, beyond the boundaries of nation states, in anything other than small matters it is only the form of sovereignty that rests with nation states; the substance rests with the continental powers, such as the United States of America, and the developing unions of nations, such as the EC.
That means that, if we wish to exercise real sovereignty over our affairs, we can do so only through full membership and full participation in an integrated EC. It is only by pooling sovereignty in the EC that we can gain influence over its substance and so have influence over what happens to us. If anyone doubts that, I remind him of the events of 5 October last year. On that day, British interest rates were increased to 15 per cent. immediately after and as a direct consequence of an increase in German interest rates. We enjoyed the form of sovereignty by raising interest rates, but neither the Government nor even less Parliament exercised any sovereignty on the substance of that decision. It was determined in Germany by the Bundesbank.
At this stage, no one knows exactly what form a European central bank will eventually take. But had there been one last October, there would certainly have been a British presence there. Britons would have been involved in the decision-taking process on interest rates. Indeed—who knows—the governor may even have been a Briton. A European central bank would certainly have involved a bigger British input than we had because we had none at all in the substance of that decision.
Commenting on the argument about sovereignty in the spring/summer 1990 issue of Crossbow, Sir Leon Brittan wrote:I suspect that that is a view"—66 about sovereignty—put forward by politicians for politicians, rather than one that has deep popular roots and, in any event, what sort of expression of sovereignty is it to have to chase after the Bundesbank within minutes of its unilaterally deciding to put up interest rates?That leads me to the question of economic and monetary union. As I understand the position, successive Governments have accepted the principle of economic and monetary union going back many years. In the communique issued by the Heads of State and of Government of the countries of the enlarged Community at their meeting in Paris in October 1972—I repeat 1972—there was a commitment to establish an economic and monetary union. According to the communiqué, the necessary decisions were to be taken during 1973 to allow the transition to the second stage on 1 January 1974 with a view to its completion not later than 31 December 1980. There appears to have been some slippage in that timetable.
Further commitments to EMU were made in the solemn declaration at Stuttgart early in the 1980s, in the Single European Act, and again at Madrid last year. I assume that those commitments were not entered into lightly. Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an interesting and constructive contribution to the EMU debate with his proposal for a hard ecu. He accepted that that proposal might lead to a single currency. In the light of the Chancellor's proposals and his speech, I am afraid that I just cannot understand the strong opposition in some quarters to a single currency. It is the inevitable logic of the Chancellor's proposal.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that taxation, monetary policy, interest rates and the money supply would be determined not by this Parliament, and not even by the European Parliament under my hon. Friend's suggestion, but by an unelected, unaccountable body of civil servants and bankers?
§ Mr. Knox
As Lord Jenkins said in the Observer on Sunday,the question is whether the deutschmark dominates under purely German control or whether we and others share in a European control.The nature of that European control has not yet been decided. We do not know its precise nature, but whatever else is true, it is manifestly the case that at present, as the example that I have just given of what happened in October last year shows, no control is exercised within Britain.
It is clear that British industry and commerce, and particularly our banking and financial sectors, will be gravely disadvantaged if the Eleven proceed with economic and monetary union and we are left out. I hope that the Government intend to play a full part in the intergovernmental conference and in all other negotiations on economic and monetary union. Following the Rome summit, that will not be easy. A much more positive and 67 constructive approach must be adopted. A willingness to compromise must be exhibited and a different mood must be struck, to use a well-known phrase.
Far too often in the past we have mishandled our relations with Europe. We have stood aloof of negotiations, had no influence on them, and then been forced to accept the decisions reached because we had no alternative. Had we participated in the negotiations, British interests would have been taken into account and the outcome would have been more to our pleasing and more in our national interest.
Economic and monetary union is vital to Britain. Britain probably has more to lose if we are not involved in it than other countries. Britain certainly has more to gain from it than other countries. Exclusion from any arrangement, even if it was only temporary, would do immense damage to British interests—and I emphasise British interests. It would certainly prevent the City of London from achieving its full potential in Europe. This time, we cannot afford to be left behind.
I want to make a final brief but important point about Europe. I frequently hear hon. Members, including members of the Government, expressing concern about the democratic deficit in the EC. As a strong supporter of the Community, I share that concern. But what is being done about that? Britain, because of its history, has a unique contribution to make in the democratisation of the Community and its institutions. We have more experience of democracy than have any of the other member countries. Instead of complaining about the lack of democracy in the Community, is it not time that we started to do something about it? A constructive British initiative in that respect is long overdue.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on their speeches, which represented a pleasant episode of a kind that does not happen often in the House. They lived up to the speeches that I have heard over many years. Neither the right hon. Member for Ayr nor the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes is in his place, but my remarks are meant most sincerely.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox), and especially so on this occasion, because I agreed with most of his remarks, particularly in respect of Europe. That topic, and to a lesser extent the Gulf crisis have monopolised today's debate, so I shall not dwell too much on either subject tonight.
I do not claim for one moment to be a expert on Europe or the Gulf, but the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), for all his expertise and experience as a former Foreign Secretary, must acknowledge that we are in Europe as the result of a national referendum. While we must continue to negotiate the best terms for Britain, I am sure that the 11 other members of the Community will not allow this country to bring progress to a standstill—and I am equally convinced that no one in this country wants progress to be halted.
I opposed Britain's entry into the Common Market, but I accept that, as we are now a member, we must be realistic 68 and get the best out of it that we can for this country. How that is to be done is another question. However, I hope that the Prime Minister will get off her high horse. We all know about her personality, and no doubt she meant it the other day when she said "No, no, no" to surrendering British sovereignty, but she must realise that someone else could be leading the negotiations in the not too distant future, when it could be a different ball game. I do not argue with the constructive advice given by the right hon. Member for Devonport, but now that we are in the Common Market, we must take a more positive attitude and secure the best possible deal for Britain.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spoke persuasively, as he often does, but I have never heard him or any other right hon. or hon. Member who shares his views explain satisfactorily what will happen if the negotiations and diplomacy over the Gulf crisis fail. I am sure that no one in this country really wants war. It is a prospect too dreadful to think about, and everything possible must be done to prevent war. However, what is to be done if diplomacy fails? Are we to allow Saddam Hussein to remain in Kuwait, saying, "We have done everything that we can, and we must not start a war," or are we to remove him by force.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I share with my hon. Friend the hope that war can be avoided and, like him, I hope that sanctions will be given time to work. However, I share also my hon. Friend's view that under no circumstances should the criminal regime be allowed to get away with invading and occupying Kuwait. Where is the slightest evidence that Saddam Hussein is prepared to negotiate about withdrawing from Kuwait? Has he not made it clear time and time again over the past few months that he considers Kuwait to be the 17th province of Iraq and that under no circumstances will Iraq withdraw, now or in the future?
§ Mr. Lofthouse
I share my hon. Friend's views. We must never forget that, if Saddam Hussein is not removed, he will one day be in possession of nuclear weapons. What room will there be for negotiations under those circumstances, knowing his character as we do? Now is the time to settle the Gulf crisis, hopefully by negotiations and diplomacy.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
Is the hon. Gentleman speaking of settling the Gulf crisis or the situation in the middle east?
§ Mr. Lofthouse
The Gulf crisis was really the subject of earlier speeches. Hussein has occupied Kuwait by force, with the intention of seizing control of other Arab states and the oil wells that go with them.
I must admit to disappointment at what has been omitted from the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) intervened during the Prime Minister's speech, in his usual manner, to express concern about the Bill on mining subsidence, which, while not the subject of any promise, was expected to be included in the new Session's business. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will call me to order if I start to refer to a Bill that is not part of the Gracious Speech, but perhaps I may continue, given that the Gracious Speech concludes with the words,Other measures will be laid before you.Since 1957, British Coal operated a policy on mining subsidence compensation that existed until 1975, when it 69 was superseded by the Coal Industry Act 1975. That legislation placed an obligation on British Coal to restore houses damaged by subsidence to their former state as soon as possible. In special cases, national compensation was payable where the cost of the repairs was in excess of the value of the property.
For many years, that scheme did not operate satisfactorily, because different British Coal areas interpreted it in different ways and people in certain areas allegedly received better treatment than others. The scheme's shortcomings were highlighted in evidence given to the Select Committee on Energy in 1986 by the Coal Board's chairman, Sir Ian MacGregor, when it was shown that the cost of the scheme to British Coal was £250 million, and that £200 million of that had gone in compensation payments in Nottingham—and only £50 million for the rest of the country. I know that Nottingham suffered from severe damage, but criminal charges were made against some individuals, and I understand that some people went to prison.
The Government had already decided to set up an inquiry—eventually called the Waddilove inquiry—prior to the problem in Nottinghamshire. In 1983, the Waddilove committee reported and made 65 recommendations, many of which were welcome to people in mining communities whose properties had been damaged. In 1987–88, the Energy Select Committee inquired further into the subject of subsidence and found that the Government were still sitting on the Waddilove report and had failed to take any action on it. The Committee decided that it would make a further investigation into mining subsidence problems caused by British Coal.
The Committee set about its inquiry by taking evidence from experts from various parts of our coalfields, from people whose property had suffered from subsidence, and from British Coal. The Committee reported on 17 July this year, and made 21 recommendations.
The Government's response to some of the Committee's recommendations has been encouraging. The then Minister acknowledged the problems and promised that a Bill would be introduced at the earliest opportunity. He did not specify when, but people in mining communities expected it to be this year. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
I hope that the Government will introduce legislation on subsidence as part of the other measures that are to be brought forward. I had some encouragement from one of the Prime Minister's answers this afternoon. If that is the case, I ask the Government to take the recommendations of the Select Committee into consideration. That Committee had the privilege of listening to the experts. While I do not expect any Government to legislate on everything that a Select Committee finds, much of the advice and the recommendations by such Committees is wise. I feel sure that, if the Government had taken the slightest bit of notice of the Select Committee's report on the privatisation of electricity, they would not have got themselves into the mess that they got into in the early days. The Committee advised the Government to put the reins on and to go steady. If they had done so, they would have produced more satisfactory legislation.
The Committee did not consider one important aspect of subsidence—the blight which affects the damaged areas. I accept that this is a difficult problem. For example, two or three homes in an area can be badly damaged while 70 neighbouring houses are untouched, but owners of the neighbouring properties will be unable to sell their homes because they are in a blighted area.
An example has come to light in recent weeks in a litte village called Darrington in my constituency. Homes are expensive there, and most of them belong to people in the professional classes, who now find themselves in difficulties because their expensive homes have been damaged. British Coal has dealt with their claims. However, a gentleman came to se me the other day and said that bungalows on either side of his property had been marketed at £125,000—that is a high price for my constituency—but had been damaged to such an extent that British Coal had bought them. His bungalow lies in between them. He has been made redundant from the mining industry and has found a job in Lancashire, but because his bungalow is situated between those properties and is in an area which is subject to subsidence, he cannot sell it. That is a major problem. I hope that, if and when the Government introduce a Bill to deal with subsidence, they will consider that matter.
In some cases, houses have been repaired but have been left with a tilt. British Coal has no obligation to pay for that. British Coal has offered two of my constituents, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Wilcox, £2,500, which it later increased to £3,500 to pay for the tilt. That would appear to be fair, until one considers that houses in the area are valued at between £33,000 and £35,000. British Coal has had to buy some of the houses in the area because of the tilt. There is no obligation upon it to do so, but it has taken that decision in the case of certain houses.
British Coal is advertising for sale three of the houses which have suffered subsidence. In the advertisement, it states that, owing to mining subsidence, it is selling the properties for £11,500, £12,000 and £10,000—houses which had a market value of £33,000 before they were damaged. However, British Coal is only offering my constituents £3,500 in compensation, despite the fact that its advertisements acknowledge that it will only be able to get £10,000 or £11,000 for them. That is unjust. It is not fair that an owner-occupier can only get £11,000 or £12,000 for his house but is offered only £3,500 in compensation by British Coal. That is not on.
I hope that the Government will seriously consider introducing a Bill which will give British Coal the statutory obligation to rectify the matter. It does not seem as if they will, but politics is a funny old game. If a Tory Government return after the next election, British Coal will be privatised. If that happens, private owners will have no obligation—according to my legal advice—to compensate under present legislation in the same way that British Coal has an obligation to do.
This is a serious matter. I hope that the Government will note the points that I have made and introduce a Bill as soon as is humanly possible that incorporates them.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), just as it was to be on the Committee that he chaired which considered the Employment Bill last Session. I agree fully with what he said about the proposer and seconder of the motion and also with what he said about the Gulf. He reminded us that if international disputes are solved by force rather than 71 negotiation, the United Nations authority is completely undermined. The spirit of 1945, when the United Nations was set up in San Francisco, is also undermined.
If one is considering redrawing the map of the middle east, the first thing, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, is for Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait and for the United Nations to conduct international negotiations. It should never be forgotten that Kuwait is recognised in international law and by the United Nations as a sovereign, independent state. There is no point in arguing about the Ottoman empire and what happened then. One has to deal with what has happened since 1945, which is what the hon. Gentleman did.
This may be the last Queen's Speech before the general election. I hope that it is not. So many reforms have been implemented that the maximum amount of time is needed before the electorate can see what benefits they bring. A further Session of Parliament, starting in November 1991, would provide the Government with more time to demonstrate their general competence in handling issues as they arise.
The Queen's Speech contains, as I see it, four transport Bills. They are prefaced by the words:My Government will promote improved efficiency and safety in transport.I hope that the Government will try to make better use of the transport system that we already have. There is a limit to the amount of motorway and bypass construction that there can be. We should experiment with new traffic management schemes and try to improve the flow of traffic on the existing motorways. If that means a reduction of speed limits in certain areas at certain times, so be it.
I welcome also the absence from the Queen's Speech of trade union legislation and local government reform. Both should be left well alone so that the major changes that are already in place have time to take effect.
The Queen's Speech also contains the sentence:Other measures will be laid before you.I hope that they are not, unless there is a great national emergency. The absence of trade union and local government legislation and a general reduction in the number of Bills would provide us with more time for exploratory debates in which to consider issues not so much from the point of view of legislation but from the point of view of our general philosophy and how we run our democracy.
We should look again at reform of the House of Lords. I am passionately in favour of this country always having two-chamber government. Single-chamber government is terribly dangerous. We should seek agreement between the parties on how to proceed. The Liberal Democrats have taken an interest in the question and there have been occasions when we have reached agreement with that party in the House of Commons. It is much more difficult to reach agreement locally. When general elections take place, I should like the percentage of votes that parties get at regional level to entitle them to a topping up system in the House of Lords.
Regional policy is now based on employment creation through improved competitiveness. That in turn requires employment cost-effectiveness, especially in small firms. If we want that to continue, as I do, it needs to be buttressed by greater regional representation in our Houses of Parliament. I should insist on whoever was sent here from 72 the regions, as a result of the parties obtaining a percentage of the votes there, being decided by the parties in the regions. I do not want a magic circle at the centre to decide who is to sit in the reformed House of Lords. It is vital that the second chamber should be given a more secure place in our constitutional system.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Although the hon. Gentleman says that is it hard for the Conservative party to reach agreement with the Labour party on the issue, he knows that the Labour party has a clear view about reform of the House of Lords. It believes that the new structure of the House of Lords should incorporate democratic accountability, based on the regions and proportional representation. If, however, there is not to be an inner circle at the centre, the hon. Gentleman will have to devise a properly democratic method of reform. It is no use mucking around at the edges.
§ Mr. Madel
I do not regard mucking around at the edges as being the same as the regional parties—the powers within the regions—deciding who goes to the House of Lords. To take East Anglia as a region, everyone in the region knows who makes a contribution to political life there. People know who has stood for Parliament in East Anglia or who has served at district or county council level. East Anglia forms a natural region. The parties in that area would be perfectly capable of topping up the House of Lords with representatives, based on a percentage of the popular vote that they obtained there.
I mentioned how pleased I am that there is to be no new trade union legislation. That does not mean, however, that we should do nothing. I know that the Government did not like the TUC's initiative on wages, but we do not need to discuss just a wages policy. If we cannot agree about that, there is a whole host of other issues on which we could and should reach agreement with the trade unions. We should pay special regard to the fact that constant changes in the market place require new skills and therefore new training. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced recently that the training and enterprise councils can now introduce their own voucher schemes for adult trainees. There will, I hope, be more regional training, based on co-operation between management and trade unions at regional level. It would provide an opportunity for closer contact between the Government and trade unions.
To that must be added the constant flow of directives and suggestions from Brussels, to which this country must respond. It would be so much better if the response was based on agreement between management and unions. All members of the EEC have their own history of employment, training and the management of industrial matters.
Eastern Europe provides a marvellous opportunity for industry in this country to gain export orders and thus a real share of the market. It is also a tremendous challenge. I single out the components industry, which supplies the engineering, motor car and truck industries. It will be relatively easy for firms in eastern Europe to produce components. We do not want our competitive edge to be lost there. That is why, above all, management and unions must see to it that components are manufactured in this country both effectively and competitively. We must also ensure that those who do the work on the factory floor are properly trained.
73 I welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech thata Bill will be introduced to establish new machinery for negotiating the pay and conditions of school teachers in England and Wales.There will be, in other words, a new salaries Bill. I should like the Government to think hard about one issue. In the teachers' contracts, I should like proper attention to be paid to the fact that many young people could do their homework better at school than at home. Conditions for studying at home are not ideal for many young people. If, however, homework is done at school, teacher supervision will be required. Teachers will therefore have additional work to do. I have discussed it with them locally. They say that in principle it is fine, but that their contracts of service must reflect the fact that they will be carrying out additional supervisory duties at school because homework is being done voluntarily there by some pupils. I hope that that will come about under the new pay machinery.
I hope that there will remain a clear recognition that changing the A-level will be possible one day, but that there is nowhere near enough evidence from the performance at GCSE level to say that we should make that change now. We need more time to see how the results of the GCSE reflect a pupil's ability to go on to A-levels.
The greatest need is to rethink how best to use teachers' time. If we wish to see developments on such a broad front together with quality teaching, we have to create the space in two ways. First, we must reduce teacher load so that there is time to devote to development as well as to lesson preparation, teaching, marking, examining, tutoring and all the extra-curricular activities. We could do that by a limited duration injection of additional resources to create what I would call thinking and planning time within the timetable.
Secondly, we need to increase non-teaching support staff so that teachers do not have to carry out so many routine clerical tasks. There may be a serious shortage of teachers—no doubt we can argue about that—but there is no shortage of support staff. An increase in the number of such staff and better use of them would mean better use of teaching time and, inevitably, better results in the classroom, more people going on to higher education and a greater standard of living in this country. If we can work out an efficient and effective use of teachers' time with an attractive salary package plus a clear recognition that the local authority sector must always be promoting a sensible balance between efficient school management and a fair allocation of resources, we will see rewards in education and advantages for young people. That will be brought about as a result of the new Bill and the changes in the curriculum.
I would not want this occasion to pass without paying special tribute to my right hon. Friend the new Leader of the House for all he did as Secretary of State for Education and Science. He started to win back teacher support and enthusiasm for discussing with the Government how best to improve the education system.
A fourth term of Conservative Government is perfectly possible. The Christian Democrats in Germany have done it. Dr. Adenauer was returned as Federal Chancellor four times basically by having a policy that steadily increased prosperity and avoided any drastic upheavals. The Opposition certainly cannot guarantee prosperity and there would be plenty of upheavals if they came to power. The choice at the next general election is between 74 gradualism or upheavalism. The British people know what they would prefer; they must make sure that they get what they want.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I welcome this opportunity to make a brief and limited contribution to the debate. Prior to my being called, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asked me whether I intended to speak about Northern Ireland, the middle east or Europe. I said, "Yes." In effect, however it is dressed up or presented, we are talking about the same thing in those three areas of contention.
The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) made an excellent speech as, he may remember, he did last year and the year before. In this type of debate it is essential to raise an issue that is not tied to the big issues being dealt with by everybody else. I commend the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford for the admirable way in which he presented his important case.
I should like to refer to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—[interruption.] The right hon. Member has just entered the Chamber and I now realise that I have got it wrong. I mean the speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). I know that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield will forgive me for that confusion.
§ Mr. Mallon
He certainly could, but I am sure that he will appreciate that it was not done with malice.
I was astounded to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Devonport. It was the most virulent anti-European speech I have heard for a long time. I wondered on what side of the House I was sitting. Every single word of his speech smacked of a limited appreciation not just of the Britain or Europe in which we live now, but the nature of the world in which we live. I found it astounding and anachronistic that someone with the right hon. Gentleman's experience should have put that on the record in the way that he did and at the time that he did. However, it was followed by a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox). He presented one of the most enlightened and clearest speeches on European membership that I have heard for a long time.
I should like to pursue that line, but, coming from the north of Ireland, it is difficult to do so. I come from probably the most troubled part of Europe and it would be remiss of me not to make some specific points. I tried to do the same last year, as I have every year since coming to the House. It is essential that those of us who represent the north of Ireland should do so within the democratic forum to which we are elected. It is important to ask our colleagues in the House to listen to us. We ask them to agree or disagree with us because that is the essence of democracy and we ask them to look at what is probably the most difficult problem that has been facing Parliament for 21 years. I do not wish to denigrate the importance of the problems in Iraq or Kuwait, the European issue or any of the greater international problems. However, for the past 21 years Parliament has been trying to bring about peace in the north of Ireland. Therefore, although I would 75 dearly love to pursue the debate on the middle east and Europe, I must draw the House's attention to the single most pressing, immediate and long-standing problem in the north of Ireland.
I want to make three observations. I know that there will be opportunities to expand on this and there will be opportunities ad infinitum to make the same speech again, because one of the awful certainties about the north of Ireland is that, as the years pass, someone will be making the same speech. Someone will be making the same speech next year. I hope that it is me, but I cannot predict that. I can say that, unless something is done, someone will be standing in this place making the same point and trying to convince this democratically elected House of the nature and extent of the problem.
First let me deal with an injustice in the north of Ireland, as all hon. Members will certainly appreciate. As soon as I mention injustice hon. Members' shoulders go up because they anticipate that I shall be pointing out that I do not agree with legislation, which I do not, as I shall show later, or talking about some aspect of the violence. I am not, but in other ways I am. One aspect of the violence is deprivation. It was not invented by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Ulster Volunteer Force or any paramilitary organisation. The violence of economic and social deprivation has existed since the northern Irish state was founded. It still exists to such an extent that according to this morning's papers, which published figures on poverty for European Community countries, the north of Ireland figure is 28 per cent. compared with about 16 per cent. for the next nearest country. The definition of poverty took into account all the social security available. The figure increases to 38 per cent. if child poverty is included.
That violence does not stem from an action or a reaction of the Government or of a paramilitary grouping. It stems from the human and political condition in the north of Ireland and I ask the Government to do something about it. Every year that passes with a child poverty level of 38 per cent. will be reflected in the figures on violence and paramilitarism. They are there for all to see. They are a matter of European record and on record within this Parliament. I again implore the Government, as I do every year, to consider that factor.
Neglect and poverty are among the greatest factors of violence in Northern Ireland. It is the violence of not allowing people to have the standard of living to which everybody should be entitled. Sceptics will say that it is there if people choose to get out of bed and work and that if they want work they can find it and have a decent standard of living. Let me tell the House again that this is an endemic problem. If only the people of England, Scotland and Wales knew exactly how much of their taxes were poured down the drain in Northern Ireland every year to try to find a security solution to a problem which is not one of security, they would react strongly. Millions of pounds have been spent on trying to find a solution to a problem which is not the problem facing us.
I can extend the argument to income support, family credit and the new range of social security benefits. The House must remember that, before claiming benefits, the people of Northern Ireland are 30 per cent. poorer than anyone else in the area governed by this Parliament. 76 Therefore, if there is to be parity with the other regions, the people of Northern Ireland will have to have a 30 per cent. increase. That is in addition to the 38 per cent. child poverty trap, which speaks for itself.
Secondly, when I read the Gracious Speech it did not surprise me that the only reference to the north of Ireland related to more, bigger and better emergency legislation. After 21 years will anybody say, "Hold on, we have had the most stringent emergency legislation and unlimited financial resources to pursue a security solution. We have had a strong Army presence coupled with the UDR, the police and the reserve police and all the resources that go with that, yet the Gracious Speech tells us that we shall have more of the same"? That 21 years is a rake's progress, starting from a negative position and, at the expense of British taxpayers, slowly pursuing something that does not exist. It is like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; there is no security solution to the problem.
There is no way in which this Government or a Government formed from either side of the House can obtain a security solution to the problem, irrespective of the type of legislation or the amount of money thrown at it. Throughout that period it has been shown clearly that such legislation, which will be debated in Committee for two months, will not solve the problem. Please try to realise that there is no security solution to the problem.
I am tempted to draw conclusions from the recent debate on the Gulf, but I will not, because that is not to compare like with like. As someone who spends week after week trying to pick up the pieces caused by violence and this type of negative legislation, I know that in another year, five years or 10 years another Government will be in office debating another Gracious Speech which, at most, will contain another piece of emergency legislation, unless we realise that that will not solve the problem. That is difficult for a Government and a Parliament who believe that problems can be solved by force.
I was intrigued that the right hon. Member for Devonport laughed when he talked about his mother's reaction to the concept that the war might be lost. There is a feeling in Parliament and the country that with enough ammunition, money and people in uniform, we will win. We may win, but will we lose, because, at the end of the day, there is an absolute distinction between salvaging the political dignity that is achieved by security solutions and force of arms, and achieving the solution to the problem, as we set out to do.
The third issue I want to raise is an unpopular one. Occasionally I am howled down in this House and within my party for raising it, but it must be said and the more often, the better. What is the objective of the Government, my party, other political parties in the north of Ireland and the Government of the Republic? Is it to beat the IRA or to create peace? We must continually ask that question. After 21 years in politics I do not believe that I have to convince anyone of my detestation of the IRA and its violence. What is left to me in my remaining years as an active politician? Am I to stand here and repeat my detestation of violence and the IRA or should I try to create conditions that will contribute to solving the problem? We must all answer that question. The longer we go without facing up to the three fundamental and difficult issues I have raised, the longer we will put aside the time when we can start to solve the problems. It will not be easy for anyone.
77 In the debate on the Gracious Speech last year I set out four things that must be undertaken if we are to get to grips with the creation, or re-creation, of a political process that will cope with the problems of Northern Ireland. Those four conditions are even more crucial today. It is too easy, however, to hide behind cliches. If one asks anybody on this side of the water or in the Republic what they mean by solving the problem, they answer that we should "Get together". We get together every day of the week, but those people mean we should get together politically. But what does that mean? They take it to mean devolution, but those people should examine what that means. Does it mean that I could set about solving the problems in the north of Ireland or does it mean that I should attempt to solve those problems, if I chose foolishly to do so, under terms decided by the House? That is the fourth issue that this House must address.
Devolution was tried in 1921 and it lasted until 1973. It failed between 1921 and 1973; it failed in 1973 and 1974 and it failed again when the then Secretary of State, James Prior, tried, foolishly, to impose it. That proposed solution has failed ever since.
I ask the House to have the courage to look some of its sacred cows in the face. I know that I shall be hung because of that statement. I know that there will be those on the Benches around me who will pick up Hansard and say, "He doesn't believe in devolution. He does not agree that it will solve the problem". Let me reiterate what I have said: I do not believe that it will solve the problem. We should not waste our time, that of any Secretary of State or of anyone else pursuing a line of approach that I firmly believe will not solve the problem.
We should sit down and look at what has failed us in the past. We must consider the elements with which we must cope, some of which I have mentioned today. We should consider some of the structures available to us, not least the European structures to which the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands referred. It is not as though we have been too damned lazy to look at possibilities in the past—I know you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for putting it in those terms—but it is almost as though we have been frozen in time when attempting to solve the problem.
If we can attempt to settle European and other world problems through the use of new and different structures, what is wrong with trying to work out why we have failed so often in the past? I put that argument last year, the year before and the year before that. I hope that I shall be here next year to restate it. I hope that someone on these Benches will always make that argument until we encourage this House to start to face up to the reality of the problems. Until we do, we are hiding behind knee-jerk reactions. We all have such reactions when we condemn violence every week. Two weeks ago that violence cost the lives of 11 people and in recent months 15 people have died in my constituency.
It is right that we should condemn such violence and for everyone to know how we feel, but that is not enough. A change is needed. We must consider solutions that have not been tried before. In that way we can start to solve the problem and then there will be no need to speak about it next year and no need for knee-jerk reactions.
§ Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I know that a number of us have been here for many hours and must be tired; I shall therefore try to make my remarks as brief as possible.
I never listen to the Queen's Speech without marvelling at the continuity of English history, so unlike that of many other countries, and also rejoicing at the pageantry and symbolism which emphasise our roots in the past and our cohesion today in this kingdom. For all the political differences that are built into our parliamentary system, we are still one nation. What differences there are we settle here by discussion and argument and not, generally, by rioting in the streets. There is also still, except for a few regrettable cases, respect for the law of the land throughout the country.
The Gracious Speech ended with the customary wish for God's blessing on our counsels. That led me to think of the present spiritual state of the nation. We all hope for a strong moral lead from the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I also hope and pray that the next General Synod will not tear the Church of England to pieces with its enthusiasm to make women priests. It will certainly be necessary for the House to scrutinise most carefully any measures that come before it from the General Synod.
Despite what we heard about poverty in Northern Ireland, in most parts of England—certainly in the part of the world that I represent—there has been an enormous improvement in the standard of living of ordinary people in the past 20 years. I fear that that has led some to believe that heaven is with us here and now. In supermarkets £50 and £20 notes seem to be used all the time. Because of that feeling, some believe that there is not much need for the after-life about which people like Wesley used to preach when times were much harder in the 18th century.
In all walks of life I constantly meet very good people, but now, unfortunately there is some lowering of standards. There is some greed and materialism about, particularly in parts of the City of London and in a small section of industry, as witnessed in recent legal cases. I also encounter now, compared with some years ago, appallingly bad manners, particularly from some car drivers. Many of our towns and cities are still dreadfully disfigured by litter, dirt and graffiti. Nevertheless, taken all in all, and I travel a great deal, this is still the best country in the world in which to live. But we must continue to improve our environment.
I welcome the smaller number of substantial Bills in the Queen's Speech. I believe that the country longs for a period of good and steady government and better public services, and I am glad that those are emphasised in the Gracious Speech. In relation to those services, the country does not necessarily need more taxpayers' money; it needs better leadership and management at every level. There is a longing for law and order. The disgraceful prison disturbances some time ago and the recent riots in London should never have been allowed to happen.
As I have told successive Home Secretaries for many years, we shall never have a proper police force until we get back to the old system, as under Lord Trenchard, of a properly recruited and trained officer class. There is also a crying need for management in the health service, the post office and the railways where colonels' jobs are often done by corporals.
79 We have heard much this afternoon about the threat of war in the Gulf. As Christians, we must hope that if there is to be war, it should be a just war. We heard a fluent speech from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who, as we know, is only human and has a strong built-in anti-United States bias. He said that war, if it came, would be all about oil.
It is true that oil certainly comes into the war, but many of us from both sides of the House think that the war is all about trying, for the first time since 1939, to stop aggression. We all know that if aggression had been stopped before 1939 there would not have been a world war. Now we have a simply marvellous opportunity with the Security Council, including Soviet Russia and even China, supporting a concerted effort to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. That is a new and most important development in world history.
We all hope that the sanctions will become more and more successful. However, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield did not answer the question about what alternatives, except force, there would be if sanctions did not work. As we know, Saddam is not willing to negotiate or leave Kuwait. That places our leaders in a difficult position. There is an absolute necessity for Kuwait to be repossessed and compensated for the wrong done, but I also hope that soon after that the problem of Israel will be settled at last, once and for all, with Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories and having its boundaries recognised by all Arab nations. I am glad that that was mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I know that this country has sent the cream of its armed forces to the Gulf. From my recent experience in the United States, I believe that the American forces there are better led, trained and fitter than they were in Vietnam some years ago, and are all professional soldiers, not conscripts.
There has been some controversy, in which I have recently been involved, about the behaviour of some of the families of hostages and some hostages. No one can be so unfeeling as not to appreciate the dreadful position in which those people find themselves. I drew attention to the fact that some of them, not all, have appeared on television in an emotional state with the apparent object of changing not only British foreign policy but United Nations policy—to weaken the united resolve and in some way deal with Saddam. They wonder how, if that is not done, any progress can be made.
I was pleased that today my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence said that they were proud of most of the hostages. Only a minority of people have appeared on television and behaved in what I regard as an unsuitable way. Many of us have known grief—I certainly have—and when it occurs it is best expressed in private, not on television. Those were the perfectly fair points that I was trying to make.
Today's debate has been mainly about Europe and its future. We heard a most remarkable speech from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). It was one of the best speeches that I have heard in my 20 years here and certainly one of the best from him. I hope he will forgive me if I say that it seemed like a speech from a good old-fashioned Tory.
80 There have recently been unseemly differences in the EEC about the Uruguay round of trade negotiations and farm prices. There has been extraordinary humbug spoken with some of the EC nations prattling about unity, the unified nations and federalism, while not agreeing at all on fundamental matters and risking fearful trouble with the United States. That smacks of humbug. I meet the Governments, representatives, and peoples of Europe on a regular basis so I know what I am talking about. We must remember that our history, background, laws and way of doing things are different from those on the continent. In France, there was the dreadful, appalling revolution with the frightful sacrifice of innocent people and then the shameful episode of extensive collaboration with the Germans during the German occupation. We all know about Hitler's excesses in Germany. Both those countries are now quite different and I am in favour of the strongest co-operation with European nations. I believe, as de Gaulle did, in a Europe of nation states. I also believe in making the EEC work, but we must look carefully at the small print and to what we are to be committed.
We do not want this ancient assembly to be reduced to the status of a parish council. We do not want fundamental changes made with our money, trade, factories, life or details of our life by bureaucrats in Brussels, however well-intentioned or well-paid. We must change the system before we get in with them. That is perfectly sensible, and that debate is becoming more and more known. A number of nations, particularly the smaller ones, very much agree with us about that.
Another problem facing the Government is the increase in Government expenditure. The Opposition appear to think that the more taxpayers' money that is spent, the better. But the more taxpayers' money that is spent, the less there is for the private sector which pays for everything and on which we all depend. I fear that the Government will find it hard this year—we shall hear tomorrow—to control expenditure at the same time as reducing inflation.
In my view, there is a recession—we must call it so. I know that because of what is happening in the factories of the west midlands. Fortunately, however, it is a much less serious recession than that of the early 1980s; fortunately, too, companies now are much more efficient, much fitter and much more able to cope. I hope and pray that the recession will be short, and I look forward after Christmas to a further reduction in interest rates.
Most of what is in the Queen's Speech is wise and will be well thought of by the public. I welcome the determination to make fathers pay for their children, and to strengthen family ties in whatever way we can. One of the most appalling social problems facing the nation is the enormous number of divorces and the huge and growing number of illegitimate children, with all the worry, sadness and expense that they cause.
I also welcome the Government's firm stand against terrorism and their intention to replace and, I hope, to strengthen existing anti-terrorist legislation. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said that we must not have only an anti-IRA policy: we must have a general policy. Of course we must, but unless we beat the IRA there can be no future for Northern Ireland.
I said some time ago that I was slightly worried that some politics was being talked in pubs. I am afraid that there is still a little talk, although less than there was. There is too much criticism, too much in the newspapers, and too much examining of ourselves and looking at our entrails 81 every few hours. There are too many news bulletins. One must get on with life and not take one's temperature all the time. I blame the press and the media—the BBC and the other television companies—for all the unnecessary fuss about the leadership of my party. It is damaging not only to my party but to the nation. If some of my colleagues are foolish enough to want to stand against the Prime Minister, let them come out and say so. Let us hear their names and know who they are instead of having these grey men pushed forward like dummies.
I have seen quite a bit of life in peace and war. I know something of men and women and I have enough sense to know—I had it long before she was our leader—that our Prime Minister is an outstanding person in this country and throughout the world. Criticism of her is mostly extremely unfair. I am certain as time goes on that she will both remain our leader and win the next general election.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) is one of the characters in the House. When I first came here, the main Tory character was Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport, who I believe died recently and to whom the hon. Gentleman is a worthy successor. We are used to the hon. Gentleman's extravagent remarks, but I think that it would have been appropriate if he had apologised for his remarks about the families of the hostages. He said that grief should be private. That may or may not be so, but the hon. Gentleman should understand the deep grief and anxiety of families who do not know whether they will see their loved ones again. The hon. Gentleman should, on reflection, have withdrawn his remarks.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge is often referred to as the Member for the 17th century, but he displayed one very 20th century feature today. However much he may criticise the media, he likes to get his bit of publicity, and he is well aware of the likely impact of his closing remarks.
It would be hypocritical to deny that the considerable disarray in which the Government find themselves causes the Opposition a certain amount of satisfaction. When Governments are in that position, it would be odd if the Opposition were not pleased. Outside the Chamber, Tory Members are talking not so much about the Queen's Speech but about the intense factional fighting in their ranks. If, as the Prime Minister continually claims, there has been and is no difference between her and the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), why did he resign? We know from the newspapers how he was treated in the past 12 months—the petty humiliations, the pin pricks and so on. We know of the contempt in which the Prime Minister held the man who had at least the title of deputy Prime Minister. It is unfortunate that a Prime Minister should treat a Cabinet colleague in that way.
It is no secret that the Opposition—and, I imagine, a good number of Conservative Members—believe that two civil servants, Mr. Charles Powell and Mr. Bernard Ingham, have far more influence over the Prime Minister than has any member of the Cabinet. I am sure that. no Conservative Member would deny that there is a kitchen Cabinet of tremendous power. It might be said that we should not attack those who cannot defend themselves. 82 Perhaps that is so, but it is surely the abuse of the power that they have been given by the Prime Minister which leads us to mention these two particular civil servants.
I hope that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) will not mind my saying—I cannot be doing his reputation much good by saying it—that I much admired the courage that he showed last year. This may be regarded as mischief-making, but I would say the same if it happened in my party. The hon. Gentleman stood against the Prime Minister knowing that he had no chance and that he might be subjected to all sorts of smear campaigns. He took his courage in his hands and faced the onslaughts of his constituency party—onslaughts which he probably guessed would come. All that takes courage, and we need courage in this House.
There is a great difference between the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who says all sorts of things but keeps on saying at the last moment that he has no intention of standing against the Prime Minister. Yet everyone knows that the right hon. Gentleman is determined to become leader of the Tory party at the first opportunity, although whether he will do so after the events of last week remains to be seen.
The Queen's Speech refers to improvingthe working of the economy",but the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge was honest enough to admit that we are in a recession. It is certainly hitting the west midlands. The hon. Gentleman said that it did not have the same impact as the one of 10 years ago, and he is right—so far. But 10 years ago there was devastation in the west midlands and the black country—I notice the hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement. In the past fortnight three firms in my constituency have announced that they are to close. We are again facing plant closures and large-scale redundancy, with all the hardship that that entails.
Instead of being assisted to face the even stronger competition that will undoubtedly occur from 1992 onwards, industry is being penalised by high interest rates and an economic climate that is not at all conducive to the much-needed revival of British industry. How many more firms in the west midlands, the very heartland of manufacturing industry, will close in the next six or 12 months? How many more redundancies will there be? The reference in the Gracious Speech to improving the working of the economy is nonsense.
The Gracious Speech also talks about improving the quality of health and social services. One of the reasons for the Government's deep unpopularity is the way in which the national health service has been underfunded during the Government's lifetime. Conservative Members are not likely to nod in approval of that, but they know it as well as I do. We have seen ward closures and lengthening waiting lists and there is a perception among ordinary people that the Government have no enthusiasm for the NHS. That is why poll after poll has shown that the electorate has no confidence in the Government's handling of the NHS.
Opting out is nonsense. The district general hospital in my borough is obviously within the structure of the national health service. Why should it come out of that management structure? Why are people not allowed to have a say about whether it should come out? My borough council organised an opportunity for people to express their views. There was an overwhelming majority against 83 opting out, but the Government seem to have taken no notice whatever. The unions in the Manor and Groscote hospitals organised ballots among the staff and, again, there were large majorities against what are described as self-governing trusts. The consultants were the only people allowed by the health authority to vote and 30 of them, I understand, voted against while 12 were in favour. Where is there any kind of mandate for the Government to go ahead and allow the district general hospital in my borough to opt out? I hope that the Government will not proceed with that, because it would be in defiance of the wishes of ordinary people who have clearly expressed their view.
There is no mention at all of housing in the Gracious Speech. I do not know about the experiences of Conservative Members, but most of the people who come to see Labour Members and those who write to us are concerned about housing. The problem is clear. People who are not able to afford a mortgage and could not do so even if the interest rate was much lower have nowhere to live, and that will continue unless they can be provided with public rented accommodation. Under the Government, even the number of houses built by housing associations has declined. The response of Ministers is always the same. They say that there will be a revival of the privately rented sector. What revival? I agree that some such accommodation has appeared on the market, but look at the rents that are being asked. If people could afford such rents they could get a mortgage in the first place.
It is wrong and unjust that a relatively large section of the community which is not in a position to buy should be penalised and forced to live in totally unsatisfactory accommodation either in bedsits or with parents or in-laws. I have said before and make no apology for repeating that people who come to my surgery, let alone those who write, plead with me to do something to help them. Many of them have children. I write to the local authority, but it has a long waiting list. Because of Government policy, no council accommodation has been built in the borough for more than 11 years. That is the picture all over Britain; it is normal. Why should such people be penalized? What crime have they committed? They are not able to buy property and, therefore, have to wait years before there is any chance of accommodation. When accommodation is offered it is usually a flat, and families with even two children who live in flats have a very remote chance of a transfer to a council house. Those are the domestic problems that we face and they are certainly not being solved by the Government.
On the subject of the middle east, it will come as no surprise to anyone, and certainly not to any of my hon. Friends, to know that I loathe war as much as anyone. When I spoke in the House about the invasion of Kuwait I said that sanctions should be allowed time to work and that if they did not work force would have to be used, although I hoped that that would be with the authorisation of the United Nations. As I said in an intervention, there has not been the slightest indication since the invasion of 2 August that the criminal regime in Iraq has any intention of withdrawing from Kuwait.
Some people say that we should negotiate and send the Foreign Secretary. For what purpose? Almost daily we are 84 told that Kuwait is the 17th province of Iraq and that it must remain so for ever. What is there to negotiate about or what purpose would be served? The regime of Saddam Hussein clearly has no intention of withdrawing. Whether sanctions will in time do the trick remains to be seen.
I am not Johnny-come-lately to these matters. Some of my hon. Friends may ask why Tory Members were not concerned about the criminal regime in Iraq before 2 August. I certainly was. On 5 April I had an Adjournment debate in which I was assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I think that he and I have different views about what should be done about the invasion of Kuwait. On 5 April, following the execution of a journalist in Iraq, I spoke about the terror and the atrocities occurring in Iraq. I referred to the slaughter of Kurds in March 1987, the gassing, which was a crime against humanity. The Government did not seem to take much notice, any more than they took much notice of the crimes committed by the military in Argentina before the invasion of the Falklands. Many Labour Members, including me, were very worried about the situation in Iraq before the invasion occurred.
The criminal regime in Iraq has committed untold numbers of crimes against its own people and it has invaded Kuwait. All the reports show, and certainly the Amnesty International report confirms, that there has been outright terror in Kuwait. Can we be surprised at that? If Saddam Hussein carries out such crimes and atrocities against his own people, why should there be surprise when such terrible crimes are committed in Kuwait?
I agree with those who say that we should resolve other problems in the middle east. I have said before that I certainly want to see a solution for the Palestinians. I repeat that if the Jews have a right to a state of their own—which they have—the Palestinians have the same right. The Palestinian problem will not go away. However, the tension between Israel and the Palestinians is not an excuse for inaction by the international community over Kuwait. The criminal regime must be forced out of that country. If that can be done by sanctions enabling us to avoid war no one will be happier than I. However, I cannot and will not rule out the use of force. It would be a crime not only against the people of Kuwait but against international order if we concluded that we must accept the status quo.
The Government are tired and demoralised and they have lost the country's confidence. There is much speculation about whether the election will be next year or in 1992. No doubt the Government will cling on to the bitter end, rather like the Government elected in 1959 who went on to the last moment in 1964. It will not make any difference. This is a Government who have lost the confidence of the electorate and who should leave office. They will not do so; they will cling on to office, but there is every sign that they will be defeated at the hustings and be replaced by a Labour Government.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-est)
One of the compensations for the rather disjointed debate that we have on the first day of our debate on the Queen's Speech is that it gives hon. Members the opportunity to step out of character. I am not accusing the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) of doing that, but he has stepped out of the stereotype that is the generally held view 85 of him among Conservative Members. I thank him for his kind remarks about me, but I assure him that I do not intend to sip twice from the poisoned chalice.
Talking of stepping out of character or stereotype, the remarkable speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was an even more dramatic demonstration of his advance towards the Conservative Benches than anything we have had before. I was only sorry that the Prime Minister was not present to nod her vigorous assent to every word that he uttered, as she invariably does to every word uttered on this topic by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore).
I deeply regret the departure from the Government of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). His resignation gravely weakens the Government. It diminishes the respect in which the House is held. He is a major loss and I very much hope that we will not see rumbling into action the propaganda machine that has already convinced us that the Government's economic troubles stem from the tenure of 11 Downing street by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). He was regarded as a brilliant Chancellor and unassailable, but he is now branded as the author of all our misfortunes. I have a nasty feeling that the same process will be put to work against my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East, to whom my party, the Government and the country owe so much.
My right hon. and learned Friend wrote a brilliant article in the magazine International Affairs, the Chatham House publication. That was the occasion of the difference with the Government which led to his decision to resign. He set out the role of this country in Europe and the part that national sovereignty should play. Together with the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend has defined a policy towards Europe for this party and our Government. It not only unites the Conservative party but takes with it the majority of the Labour party, as well as pretty well the whole of the Liberal Democrats.
It is a policy of British involvement in everything that happens in the European Community, taking our full part in it, alway being present, seeking to deflect it when it runs in directions that we consider harmful to our national interest, to slow it down when it seems to be going faster than we can accommodate, but always going with the stream of European developments. That policy unites the Conservative party and commands widespread support across the Floor of the House.
There is an alternative policy. It is one which the Prime Minister, when she ceases to be Dr. Jekyll and becomes Mr. Hyde, seems occasionally to incline to, although there was little evidence of it in her speech today. It is an appeal to the anti-Europe, anti-foreigner sentiment that lies in the psyche of many British people. Such a policy, based on dislike of Europe and everything that emanates from it, could win support from the Daily Express and The Sun and might even receive a ramshackle majority in the House. I very much hope that it would not be a majority that would include the right hon. Member for Devonport, but I am jolly sure that it would secure the support of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney.
Such a policy, however temporarily attractive it might be, would split the Tory party from top to bottom and might, before long, also split the Labour party. It would be disastrous for the country and for Europe, and all the 86 more disastrous for my party if it were seen, as it would be seen, as an attempt by the Prime Minister to bolster her leadership and improve her electoral prospects.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will make no attempt to use the Gulf crisis as a means of scaring off any challenge to her leadership or reversing the party's decline in the polls. President Bush stopped short, but only just, of exploiting the Gulf crisis to improve the chances of Republican candidates facing election. It is fortunate that the Prime Minister's tough stance and her declared readiness to approve the use of armed force to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait cannot be seen in any way as motivated by her desire to retain the leadership of or to turn the electoral tide for the Conservative party.
However, having said that, and being convinced that, if we do go to war in the Gulf to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait, it would be a just war, one has to recognise that that is not the same as saying that it would be a wise war. The consequences of a conflict of this sort in the middle east are impossible to predict. It would be wise to take careful note of what King Hussein of Jordan is saying about the possible fallout from a war such as this. Even if it were instantly successful, and Saddam Hussein were instantly evicted from Kuwait and toppled, what would pour into the vacuum thus created? It takes a fantastic degree of optimism to believe that this chain of events would lead to, or facilitate, a peaceful solution to the problems of the middle east.
I have no fault to find with the way in which the Prime Minister and the Government have conducted policy in the middle east up to now, although there have been occasions when I have regretted the extravagance of the Prime Minister's rhetoric about putting Saddam Hussein in chains. I doubt whether any hon. Member has any criticism of the Foreign Secretary or of the way in which he has handled this matter throughout. However, I am a little concerned that the course of the debate in the House may lead the Government to suppose that they now have an undisputed mandate to go to war. It looks to me as if the House has given that mandate. I am not yet convinced that the people have given any such mandate.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Much of the Queen's Speech is extremely predictable. There will be a little more privatisation and some more anti-social legislation, and Britain will descend further into a rather nasty, greedy, uncaring and grabbing society. That is what we have seen over the past 10 years. It is necessary only to step outside this place and to walk for about 10 minutes to see exactly the results of 10 years of Conservative Government. Young people are sleeping on the streets outside the Savoy hotel while inside there are people with money to burn. There are those who are paying £400 a night for bed and breakfast while on the streets people sleep in cardboard boxes. That is the epitome of the Government's achievements over the past 10 years.
Is the House aware of the many derelict, elderly men who try to get into Westminster hospital each night because they have nowhere to live? Is it aware also of the young people who queue outside Salvation Army hostels around London? Is there an awareness of the number of people who come to hon. Members' surgeries demanding their rights, including a roof over their heads, which we cannot provide for them? The borough in my constituency, 87 like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), is building hardly any houses because there is no money to enable it to do so. There is plenty of money, however, for other purposes.
The social injustices that the Government have created will cause them to lose the next general election. The people will express a wish for a return to the concept of a welfare state that provides a safety net for everyone, with a health service that is free for everyone at the point of use. These are important issues and they will come to the forefront at the next general election.
There are important world issues that the House seldom discusses. Poverty in Britain and throughout the world is of overwhelming importance, as is environmental destruction here and around the world. Linked with these matters is the pressing issue of world peace, which, again, is seldom discussed in the House.
In the previous Session, the Government introduced the Environmental Protection Bill, which completed all its stages. It was laudable in the sense that it was designed to ensure that people would drop less litter and it provided for more recycling of goods. I could not disagree with those aims, but, unfortunately, the boat was missed entirely. The Bill did not deal with the basic issues. It did not focus on what we on the planet are doing and the environmental destruction that is inevitable unless there is a change of course and a change in our attitude towards the world's natural resources.
I shall quote from a Friends of the Earth document entitled "Feel the Heat". It was produced recently by Andrew Dilworth, Friends of the Earth's international officer. One passage reads:On current emission trends, the IPCC predicts a rate of temperature change of 0.3°C per decade. This is 'greater than that seen over the past 10,000 years'. Some greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and CFCs) stay in the atmosphere for long periods. To hold concentrations of these gases at their current levels 'would require immediate reductions in emissions from human activities of over 60%' …Obviously emissions cannot be cut by 60% overnight, but the challenge for politicians around the world now is to reduce emissions sufficiently to limit the amount of warming and the speed at which this occurs.The Prime Minister speaks at every international conference on global warming that takes place anywhere in the world. I think that the right hon. Lady is the first Prime Minister that Britain has ever had who is scientifically qualified and who understands the importance of the issue. She understands what is happening, but the Government hold back on agreements on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.
§ Mr. Sayeed
The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the past 10,000 years. Vines are no longer grown in York, but when the Romans were in York they grew vines. They made good wine there, and they did not get there by motor car.
§ Mr. Corbyn
That is a clever and witty argument. What the hon. Gentleman says is correct. Vines were grown in York and wine was produced there in Roman times. Many remnants of old vineyards are to be found on the south downs, which at one time was a more fertile area than now. There was a time when Britain had a warmer climate. Over the past 2,000 years there has been a climatic shift throughout the world.
88 Research has taken place in Antarctica and deep ice cores are able to produce an exact replica of what was in the world's atmosphere 1,000 to 2,000 years ago. There is incontrovertible evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate. Unless we are able to reduce them, the consequences will be truly horrendous. The central states of the United States will become desert areas, and so will large parts of the Soviet Union. Many countries will be lost through rising sea levels. Climatic changes will have devastating effects throughout the world. Half of Bangladesh will disappear because of rising sea levels. These are extremely serious issues and they can be tackled only by international agreement and only if we are prepared to make necessary changes in the running of our economy instead of treating the earth as something from which we can always dig things without worrying about the consequences.
I hope that the Government will show that they are giving serious consideration to these issues when they produce their environmental protection Bill this Session. Instead of trying to undermine the Antarctic treaty system by bringing forward proposals to allow mineral exploration, which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe will lead to mineral exploitation, they could make a good start by saying, "Enough is enough and we shall go no further. We shall continue to undertake scientific exploration, but we shall seek to preserve the ecology of the continent. We shall try to preserve the living organisms around it as well as the southern ocean, which is an important originator of oxygen into the atmosphere." I should like to think that the Government will change their heart and say at the Santiago conference that Britain will support a wilderness park in the Antarctic rather than continuing the mineral exploration.
The factors to which I have referred in the context of the world environment are crucial, but it must be recognised that the results of environmental destruction are different in different parts of the world. We complain, rightly, about the level of air pollution in London because of the amount of traffic and the lack of planning. The same complaints are made in other major cities. We complain also about toxic waste disposal and nuclear waste disposal. It is right that these complaints should be made.
It is true, unfortunately, that, in effect, we are exporting pollution to poorer parts of the world. That takes place in a dramatic form in the exporting of toxic waste to poor countries in west Africa. They accept it and process it because it is a way of obtaining foreign exchange. It is often processed badly, however, and that causes incalculable damage to those countries. Likewise, the drive to obtain foreign exchange has led to disaster in India, for example, in the form of the Bhopal accident some years ago. That sort of accident is repeated day after day throughout the poorest countries in the world. There is a clear link between poverty in the poorest countries in the world and environmental destruction, especially with the economic regime that the world is under at present.
The greatest single issue facing two thirds of the world's population is the debt that so many poor countries have to the banking system, primarily that of western Europe and the United States. Debt has grown enormously over the past 30 years and it is now over a trillion dollars. It has grown in part because commodity price increases have not taken place. In real terms, many farmers in poor countries are receiving less now than they were 30 years ago for tea, coffee, bananas and many minerals. At the same time, 89 interest rates have increased to higher and higher levels. The only way in which a poor country can stay afloat is by borrowing money, and that increases its indebtedness.
The gross national product of Mauritania, a poor African country, is $440 per head, while external debt per head is $7,071. It is inconceivable that Mauritania can ever repay its debt. It is impossible for that to be done. The gross national product of Zambia is $250 per head, while debt per head is $889. The effect of such debt in many countries has been an enforced invitation to the International Monetary Fund and the World bank to come in and make recommendations on how the economy should be run, and they have always proposed similar solutions. These have been to increase export earnings and the inflow of foreign investment by selling state assets and cutting social expenditure to the extent that in Bolivia, for example, the problems of the people are becoming, worse, not better. We should be aware that 16.7 per cent. of all babies born in Bolivia die within a few months of their birth. In Peru. 34 per cent. of 12 to 17-year-old students do not attend schools or colleges because they have been closed on the orders of the World bank and the IMF, with the aim of running a market economy mirroring what the IMF thinks is right.
In our debates on overseas aid, it is always assumed that, by some means or another, the northern industrial countries automatically transfer resources to the poorer, predominantly southern countries. That is not true. The average figure for the real money that flows each year from the poorest to the richest in the world is $50 billion. It is a gigantic world economy that drags the resources and the wealth out of the poorest people in the poorest countries and feeds them into the banking systems of Europe and north America. When the Prime Minister talks about changing the trade arrangements and ensuring that the Uruguay GATT round reaches a successful conclusion, she is really talking about a free world market in food, which would he devastating for the poorest people in the poorest countries. She is talking not about protecting the poorest people in the poorest countries, but about their destruction.
I believe that the indebtedness of the United States Government directly led to the deaths of thousands of children throughout the world. It exported its economic problems to the poorest people in the poorest countries. We need to understand that a world imbalance leads to poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and environmental destruction. The destruction of the rain forests in the Amazon has not necessarily come about because everybody in Brazil is hellbent on diving into the rain forests with an axe, a chain saw or a big skidder device for cutting down trees. It has happened partly because it is a way of increasing export earnings and the indebtedness of that country. Exactly the same process happened in Malaysia and west Africa. The economic strategy that the IMF pushes on to the poorer countries of the world means that we are financing the destruction of the rain forests and those who live in them. It is time that we woke up to that fact.
Politics in this country are dominated by debates about our relationship with Europe and the Eurocentralism that goes with that. I am firmly an internationalist, so I am not necessarily opposed to Europe. However, I am opposed to a fortress Europe that basically creates wealth for itself at the expense of the world, creates an undemocratic control of government for the whole of Europe, and, in truth, 90 works only for the good of multinational corporations and banking systems. It will cause further imbalances in world poverty and world trade arrangements. I view the free market of 1992 not as an opportunity, but as a disaster for very many people throughout the world. I believe that Europe will contribute to the economic problems of the world.
I do not agree with the sort of racist nonsense that has been published in the Sun and other newspapers during the past few weeks. It is a disgusting way to report matters. However, I believe that the drive towards a market economy in Europe will create poverty on the rims of Europe and an inner-colonialism in which western Europe will act as a sort of colonial master for eastern Europe and much of the rest of the world. It is about time that we began to take an international and global view rather than shut ourselves into a Europe that does not act in a socially just and reasonable manner. I hope that the debate will now begin to turn on those matters.
The other issues that currently dominate our discussions are arms expenditure and the possibility of a Gulf war. This year, Britain will spend £20 billion on aims. I have never been a supporter of NATO. It was set up after the war partly because the United States wished to develop a much stronger economic interest in western Europe, which in turn largely led to the cold war. NATO was a product of the cold war. The Warsaw pact is at an end, so surely it is time to end NATO. Do we really need an alliance directed towards the supposed enemy of the Soviet Union when even the most virulent supporters of NATO agree that it is no longer any threat?
The cat came out of the bag during the debate on the defence estimates last Session, when speaker after speaker used the phrase "out of area activities by NATO"—in other words, beyond those agreed in the 1949 treaty. I am referring to the sort of activities currently taking place in the Gulf. In many ways, what has happened in the Gulf is disastrous. I have never been a supporter of or an apologist for Saddam Hussein. Indeed, I recall many lonely occasions in the House when I spoke against Saddam Hussein, his genocide against the Kurdish people and the way that the British Government were financing the re-arming of Iraq. Indeed, the chemical weapons being manufactured in Iraq largely comprise chemicals made in western Europe and north America. Some £1 billion was loaned to Saddam Hussein by British banks, with the agreement of the British Government. His power is largely the creation of western Europe and north America. I do not support him and I do not think that he was right to invade Kuwait.
I do not accept that either Kuwait or Saudi Arabia represents the zenith of democracy anywhere in the world. In Saudi Arabia women are denied the vote, while in Kuwait few people have the vote. There is a huge underclass of people from the third world doing the work and carrying out the economic activities. Those countries are feudal establishments. The only purpose of sending troops to the region is to defend and guarantee oil supplies. I find it difficult to accept that the United States is merely defending a small country against a larger country. If that were true, why were Grenada and Panama invaded? What was the Vietnam war about, other than a powerful United States wishing to extend its control and influence throughout the world?
There must be a negotiated settlement to the problems of the middle east. That means that the rights of the 91 Palestinian and Kurdish peoples must be recognised. There can be no peace in the region until their rights are accepted. If it was good enough in 1918 for Woodrow Wilson to recognise the rights of the Kurdish people, why cannot those rights be recognised now? If the shooting starts and there is war in the Gulf, the retaking of Kuwait will not be a clean, clinical operation—it will be a filthy and long war with hundreds of thousands of dead, and at the end of that war there will still have to be negotiations on the future order and the future government of that area and those countries.
Before we begin shooting, before we let slip the dogs of war, we should pause and try every possible way to achieve a negotiated settlement that will bring peace to the region. Many people are wrapping themselves in the Union Jack and in khaki hoping that they will gain cheap support by pushing this country into war. I do not want a war. I do not want the working-class youth of Britain, the United States and Iraq killing each other in the deserts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
We live in remarkable times. We have the technology and the ability to achieve so much, but at present we are using that technology and that ability to maintain two thirds of the world's population in some degree of poverty, and to allow an unprecedented rate of environmental destruction of our own planet. At the same time, the Government are pledging themselves to the idea that the only salvation for all the world's needs is provided by market forces and voodoo economics. Those ideas have brought the world to its present plight, and created the current environmental destruction.
We need an understanding that there must be planned trade and planned production—production aimed at the needs of people rather than the wastefulness of the wealthy in western Europe and north America.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will understand if I do not pursue his arguments; I wish to raise other matters. However, I must say that I profoundly disagreed with many of his remarks.
I wish to refer to two sentences in the Gracious Speech. The first states:My Government attach the highest priority to national security, and to the preservation of international peace with freedom and justice.The second states:My Government will continue to uphold the purposes and principles of the United Nations.In that context, I wish to raise a matter that is referred to relatively seldom in the House. It is the aspiration of the Baltic peoples—the populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—to independence and freedom from the Soviet Union. During the summer, I had the opportunity to visit those three Baltic countries on a parliamentary human rights delegation, together with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). It is appropriate that I should raise this matter in the House today, because Mr. Lennart Meri—the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Estonia—has spent this week in London. I am glad to say that he met my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary 92 earlier in the week, and this evening he addressed an all-party human rights group meeting in the House of Commons.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance to the Baltic people of such a meeting. For some 50 years, there has been a group of remarkable people in Britain—members of the British Baltic Council—who, through 50 years of Soviet domination of their countries, have kept alive the hope of their nations for ultimate freedom and independence.
Let me remind hon. Members that the population of Estonia is 1.5 million; 65 per cent. are Estonian, and the rest are mainly Russian. In Latvia, the population is 2.5 million: only 53 per cent. are native Latvians, the rest being Soviet citizens. In Lithuania the population is 3.4 million, 80 per cent. being Lithuanian. Those three countries are a totally different case from the other Soviet republics. They were occupied by the Soviet Union, and it is part of the second world war's unfinished business that they are still not independent.
This is a time of great change. We have just seen the post-war division of Germany come to an end. The Baltic people feel compelled to remind the rest of the world—and I wish to remind the House—that that reunification by no means spells the definitive end of world war two. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are still victims of that war, and the Soviet-occupied Baltic states are still an unresolved consequence of the second world war. However, their Governments clearly state that they are bound to Europe—a wider Europe than just the Community—by common bonds of culture, heritage and history. Their aspiration is that they should be enabled to take their rightful place in a united Europe.
The Baltic states want equal rights for European security and co-operation; they want to assume their own responsibilities as members of the commonwealth of free nations—as, indeed, they once did during their 18 years of full independence between 1920 and 1939. The specific request, to which they want a response now, is that they should be given observer status at the forthcoming Paris conference on security and co-operation in Europe. It is essential that the west gives what encouragement it can to the resolution of a matter which has to be settled between the Soviet Union and the Baltic republics.
But it is equally important that, with all the other major issues in the world today, so many of which have been referred to during this debate, we do not allow the position of the Baltic states to be forgotten by the free world, or allow our wish for Mr. Gorbachev's success in the Soviet Union to override the importance of pressing the Soviets and reminding them that their occupation of the Baltic states is illegal and has been so recognised by all British Governments since the war.
The record of all British Governments is clear on that issue, but we need to turn that recognition into reality now that the opportunity for their independence exists. They must not be swamped by the wider issues of the break-up of the other Soviet socialist republics from the centre because, I emphasise again, their position is very different.
The Danish Foreign Minister has said that Denmark supports the efforts of the Baltic republics to give real content to their formal independence. He hopes that, before long, they will take responsibility as fully fledged participants in international co-operation.
The Icelandic Foreign Minister recently told the United Nations General Assembly that independence is the only 93 solution to the dispute between Moscow and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He said that those three republics, whose independent statehood has been recognised by the international community, should now become a reality.
We hon. Members who visited those republics this summer were enormously impressed by not only the realism of Ministers and others whom we met there, but by their dedication and commitment to achieving independence. It is their only real hope for building up a more vigorous and effective economy. If they remain part of the enormously complex Soviet economy, it will be even more difficult for them to raise their living standards and establish the trading and manufacturing links with the west that they so badly need. As small independent nations they had an effective record of economic development in the years between the wars. Their people have skills and abilities and they can feed themselves. The Scandinavian nations are clear examples of how small populations can achieve high living standards, running their economies in a western mould, and there is no reason why the Baltic states should not do the same.
Therefore, I appeal to my party in government to make every effort to give encouragement and support to the correct and proper aspirations of the Baltic people for independence.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) all the way to Latvia, Estonia or even Lithuania. I shall stay within Europe or, as it is more popularly referred to in the context that I am talking about, the Common Market.
I found the Queen's Speech curiously disappointing. In some ways, the Queen would have done better to have recorded it on an 0896 number and let us all ring in to hear it. She could have stayed at home and not bothered to come through all the traffic. The speech was not up to the trappings. It was rather like Woolworth's used to be before the war with everything neatly laid out and nothing costing more than sixpence. It presented a series of measures dredged up from the Whips' cupboard which are of no great importance, and which will be easy to jettison in a cut-and-run general election. As a menu for the new Session, it will produce a very disappointing meal.
The Session will be preoccupied with Europe and the Common Market, which are confusing and frustrating issues because both parties are split over them. Government Members are clearly split over Europe from top to bottom. If I am to be honest, I must admit that our party, too, is split—although it split more from bottom to bottom than from top to bottom, because the split exists at my level and is less important because it is the Government who must make the decisions.
The Prime Minister's problem is that she understands the Common Market only retrospectively. She agrees to a measure such as the Single European Act and then regrets it at her leisure. In the constant process of inwardly, downwardly pulsating, in getting closer to Europe, there is never a line to stand on. The Prime Minister has no line, and nor have her supporters in the Conservative party—specifically the members of the Bruges group, who always say, "Thus far, and no further", until they receive the next nudge down the road, at which point they lunge forward and repeat, "Thus far, and no further".
94 Many more measures and pulls have yet to come from the Common Market. I note that its tone towards us has changed from, "Come on; be in; share the decision-making and influence the decisions," to, "Come in, or you will be left behind and we shall go ahead without you." We shall be dragged willy-nilly, struggling and resisting, but always getting the worst of all worlds, into a deeper relationship. The Common Market will pull at us, and the Ministers in the white coats will take the Prime Minister by each arm and pull her with them in that remorseless process.
The Opposition, by their concurrence and actual advocacy of the exchange rate mechanism and European monetary union, will make matters easier for the Government, by giving them an opportunity to steal our clothes with every advance that they make into Europe. So it will go on, with the Prime Minister left bemused, and the public left confused.
We seek to repair the damage that has been caused by Britain's membership of the Common Market by achieving closer and deeper integration into that institution. Let there be no doubt that we have suffered massive industrial damage. A trade surplus in 1970 of about £4 billion at 1989 prices has turned into a deficit of £16 billion, and 98 per cent. of our world deficit is with the Common Market. That turnround of about £20 billion has been caused by exporting at least 1.5 million jobs to Europe. That is the cause of our industrial and unemployment difficulties.
In addition, we are forced to accept an agricultural protection system that increases food prices in Britain, cuts off our natural trade associations, and introduces distortion into our relationship with developing countries. We are compelled to pay for the damage thus sustained with a contribution that is now running at £2.3 billion net. All that for a country that has a massive foreign trade deficit.
It seems pointless to seek further strengthening of a relationship that has already caused so much harm. That harm has been done because we never had a clear idea of our interests. They are not sovereign but economic interests. Britain needs to rebuild, widen and expand the industrial base on which the paraphernalia of an advanced industrial society rests—services, the financial sector and jobs. That base creates not only employment but the surplus for growth and for public spending, and pays our way in a world in which our deficit is in tradeable goods.
We cannot continue to consume at this rate unless we produce to pay for consumption. Quite simply, our problem is that the industrial base, on which everything rests, has shrunk to the point where it is barely viable; it can barely support the superstructure of an advanced society. It is a telling point that our industrial manufacturing rate is now about 20 per cent. as a proportion of gross domestic product, compared with 30 per cent. in West Germany and Japan. That difference is crucial, as it is the difference between success and failure.
Unless the industrial base is rebuilt it will be impossible for any Government to advance living standards, improve the lot of the people, improve public spending and so generate the standards, the well-being and the health and education services that are required by an advanced industrial society. We will be faced with the problem of cutting back—cutting our coat to suit meaner cloth—unless we can expand and rebuild that base.
95 The industrial base is effectively weakened by the wider unities. It is not the same for a weak economy entering into wider unities as it is for a strong economy. A strong economy, such as that of West Germany, can power through the burdens, difficulties and problems, but we succumb to them because our industrial base is weaker.
Essentially, the Common Market is a forum for competition between national economies—a competition which we are losing. It is not a machinery for giving aegrotats or for lending support to failures, but a forum for intensified competition.
The market weakens its peripheries: the logical process is to attract development to the centres of population. As the market does that we face a choice. As a weakened peripheral country our interests lie in strengthening central institutions so that they can begin the work of redistribution. The problem is that the West German economy, powerful though it is, is looking east and will not be prepared to pay for the sort of redistribution network that would be necessary to give us benefits from stronger central institutions. If that is not available our only alternative is to act for ourselves, to pursue our own interests and build up a strong industrial base. Primarily, that means retaining essential powers to control our exchange rates, interest rates, budget policy, and money supply.
The exchange rate is absolutely crucial to the process of securing our comp itiveness and to rebuilding the industrial base. We have entered an exchange rate mechanism which is in any case a folly, because it is pointless to gear economic policy to a fixed exchange rate. The exchange rate is simply a market clearing mechanism. To try to gear economic policy to that is as sensible as trying to control the weather by nailing the needle on the barometer—it is as daft as that. Yet, that is what we have undertaken to do by joining the exchange rate mechanism and especially by joining at an overvalued exchange rate.
The real exchange rate against the deutschmark is now about 22 or 23 per cent. up on the second half of 1986 and it is more than 50 per cent. higher against the dollar. Imagine the problem that that causes for industries competing in the German or American markets. Our industry has a 23 per cent. or a 50 per cent. hurdle to leap before it can even restore the competitive situation to what it was at the end of 1986. It is an impossible job and it cannot be done. Industry is being forced to break itself in an effort to do something which is impossible in the first place.
Overvaluation of the pound is the cause of our deficit. The pound must come down substantially if we are to compete and close such a deficit. Overvaluation is the cause of our failure to export sufficient goods. It also leads to too many imports. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) gave statistics which showed that the decline in the proportion of gross domestic product in terms of exports between 1979 and 1990 is about 3.5 per cent. That has not happened in France. Its share of exports, in terms of GDP, has increased. It has not happened in Germany, either. That is the test of failure. Our exports fail because of overvaluation. Until we reduce that overvaluation and become competitive in terms of exchange rates, we shall be unable to survive.
96 Industry is being asked to hold its wage costs, but industry is not responsible for inflation. The wages of workers in manufacturing industry have gone up less every year than the wages of those who work in every other sector of the economy. However, industry is told to cut its costs, squeeze labour and to jettison research, development and investment, although they are all necessary if industry is to survive. It has been told to make itself lean and trim in order to over-leap the 23 per cent. burden that was imposed by the Government's decision to go into the exchange rate mechanism at an overvalued exchange rate.
Industry cannot do it. It means, in effect, shelling our front-line troops. Our manufacturing industry is in close competition with the manufacturing sectors of other economies. However, it is to be clobbered by bankruptcies, increases in unemployment and by the squeeze and deflation that the Government have introduced and which they will strengthen as a result of the overvalued exchange rate.
Just as happened between 1979 and 1981, there will be closures. Our lack of competitiveness now is the same as it was then. The exchange rate is as high in real terms as it was then. The terms of trade are as bad as they were then. Exactly the same process is taking place as happened in 1925 when Winston Churchill took sterling back to the gold standard at an overvalued rate. The consequences will be exactly the same as they were then because the advice that the Government are giving to management is exactly the same as it was then: cut your wage costs. It cannot be done. Businesses will go to the wall. Our front-line troops will be shelled in the struggle for industrial survival.
Winston Churchill said then that he wished that industry were more content and finance less proud. Entry into the exchange rate mechanism, particularly at that level of overvaluation, is the final triumph of the City and the financial sector. They have triumphed over industry. The City and finance want ERM because they want to become the financial centre for Europe. That is why they were so keen that this country should join the ERM. That, too, is why they are so keen on economic and monetary union. They want to be the manipulators of money for Europe.
By doing so under those conditions and at that rate the Government have imposed a ruinous burden on the manufacturing sector, which is vital to our economy. Industry will be further weakened. Deflation is the enemy of the improvement of everything. The City has won. It is impossible to expand the economy; it has to be deflated if we are to get down to West German levels of inflation. We are entering into the same long-term deflation as France and Italy went through. The result will be the same rise in unemployment. Economic and monetary union would make it even worse. A balance of payments gap will be replaced by a standards gap and by the need to cut wages and costs even more in order to stay competitive.
The prospect is gloomy indeed. We are locked into a wind-down and we cannot break out of it. We are locked into the old lurching process of stop-go. This is the last stop; there will be no more go. We cannot expand the economy. We cannot control or manage the exchange rate.
Market forces would help a country that had endured a period of overvaluation. As the oil resources ran out, as the underpinning was removed and as the balance of payments made its effects felt on the exchange rate, the pound would come down. Market forces would bring it down. They cannot now operate because the pound is 97 pegged in the exchange rate mechanism. We shall be reduced to the same relationship to Europe as Northern Ireland has to the United Kingdom.
We shall have closures and bankruptcies. They are going on now. I do not think that the Government understand the damage that they are doing to the real economy and to the manufacturing base of this nation. It is a national disaster. The only consolation is that they will be thrown out of power as a result. They might be able to save themselves by an Australian solution. I am not referring to the merger of Sky and BSB, although the Australians have a shrewder gut instinct and a cruder grasp of issues than the English with all their mock gentility. I am referring to the solution adopted in extremis by Australasian political parties. It was adopted by the Liberals in Australia and the Labour party in New Zealand when they junked a failing leader and brought in a glamorous alternative. Fortunately for us, the Government will not do that because the failing leader is too tough, the party is too nerveless and the glamorous alternative lacks the guts. He isWilling to wound, and yet afraid to strike".The Government are stuck with the Prime Minister and locked on the path of decline and electoral disaster. We will come to power but I am afraid that it will not be the sort of power I would have wanted. We have had a miserable 11 years in opposition seeing every balance shifted to meanness, wealth and selfishness—towards the better-off and away from the people and the causes that I represent and want to see prosper. I want to come to power with the ability to put that right and shift the balances back. I want to come to power with a Government who can begin to rebuild the industrial heart of the nation so that we can obtain the expansion that we need to improve the quality of life and the services that are important to the people. Altruism and a sense of community flourish in a wealthier society. We have to generate that wealth and that is the first responsibility of a Labour Government.
I do not want to come to power to endure again the miserable experience of 1964 to 1967 of jettisoning everything that the party believes in to maintain an untenable and indefensible exchange rate at the behest of somebody else.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
In a slimline Queen's Speech, I am pleased to see that the question of compensation for the compulsory purchase of land will be addressed again. I am sure that it is right to examine whether we have got the balance between developer and dispossessed person as right and fair as it should be. I speak from some experience, as I have a major public works development—an airport—in my constituency. I have seen the effects of that. It could be said that the British Airports Authority was generous in its approach to land owners. Nevertheless, it was not able to go as far as ensuring that some of the gain coming from land taken for something such as an airport is shared by the person whose land it was. We have now to look at this again to ensure that we achieve a more equitable arrangement.
It will be more costly to achieve those developments, but I think that it may make it easier to carry them out if those whose land has to be taken in the national interest—as perceived by the Government of the day—are given 98 at least some reasonable reward for the fact that they are losing something precious to them and which has perhaps been an important staple of their life.
We are also intending to introduce legislation to deal with teachers' pay and conditions. I welcome that. Clearly, it has been a source of discontent within the teaching profession that they have not had negotiating machinery. I was not convinced that negotiation was absolutely essential, provided that there was a system of salary determination in place which recognised the importance of teachers in society. I said to teachers who asked for the return of their negotiating rights, "What is wrong with a pay review body if it could deal with the problem?" The system, which will come before the House, restores an element of negotiation and I hope that it will be well supported by all parties, not just political parties, so that we can put sensible arrangements in place.
It would be remiss of me if I did not say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if we are to have a decent framework of negotiation for teachers' salaries we must also have sufficient resources to ensure that we extinguish those last feelings of discontent in the profession. Teachers still feel that they are undervalued, particularly in areas such as mine where living costs are extremely high. I hope that with this machinery we can find a flexible system which will enable us both to have all the qualified teachers that we need and to ensure that their morale is high and they have their rightful status.
I am pleased to see the commitment to continue to work for the regeneration of our cities. My interest in that stems from my chairmanship of the trustees of the Community Projects Foundation which is supported through the voluntary services unit of the Home Office. The Government do not make as much as they could of having such an organisation on their books. We have developed a body of skill and professionalism which could be used to greater effect in the regeneration of our inner cities. We already have some input, but it could be greater. The concern must be not just to refurbish buildings, streets and neighbourhoods, but to ensure that the living environment and the way in which the community works is effective, constructive and right for people, not just something pleasant to look at. Community development can go hand in glove with renovation and it should be a better fit than it may have been so far.
I am sorry that, alongside the commitment to continue with the regeneration of our cities, there is not a similar commitment to the regeneration of our rural areas. That is in the forefront of the minds of my constituents. We have achieved a European Community position on agricultural subsidies, but, as the Prime Minister has admitted. the Community still goes into the GATT negotiations in a weak negotiating position. We may not be able to come out of those negotiations with the deal that we should like and that has serious implications not only for our farmers, but for the whole rural community.
If we are to make sense of agriculture, we must develop new means of managing the countryside. We must find a way of leading farmers away from simply being producers of food and towards being full-time custodians of the countryside. That seems to be the only attractive, practical way in which their skills, expertise and love of the countryside can be put to work.
The changes that may necessarily come about because of the changes in agricultural support and the outcome of the trade talks have great implications for the countryside. 99 I hope that besides the measures mentioned in the Gracious Speech we shall recognise the need to support the changes in the countryside. We no more want a derelict countryside than we want derelict towns and cities.
I want to concentrate my remarks on that part of the Gracious Speech that refers to a constructive contribution to the intergovernmental conferences on economic and monetary union and the Community institutions. How we conduct our relations with Europe now has added political significance. I do not believe there is much doubt, however, that the argument about our membership of the EC was settled in 1983. The election that year was fought on the issue of continued membership of the Community and the result was decisive. Since then the Labour party has been easing itself back into the modern world, doubtless helped by its leader who now likes to believe that he has been constant in his support, nay enthusiasm, for the ideals of the EC.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
We did not join a static entity. There might be plenty of scope for argument about how far and how fast development within the EC should take place, but it was always clear that the process promised ever-closer union of European peoples. Whether that union was arrived at by inching our way forward or by taking great strides was left to succeeding politicians and others to determine. If there was doubt about that commitment it was surely removed when we went into the negotiations that led to the Single European Act, which simply underlines what the Community is all about.
Two intergovernmental conferences are shortly to be held, which are another stage along the road towards closer union. I do not imagine for one moment that those conferences represent the final stages of that union—they are simply a means of considering further ways in which to move forward. Many years will elapse before any finality or perfection in our arrangements for the Community is likely to be achieved.
It is important to know the mood of the British people as the background to our approach to Community affairs. I believe that there is a general assent to our continued involvement in a developing Community. Perhaps not everyone understands the details and the implications, but there is a general assent to the fact that we are a member of the Community and that it is not a static body, but one which is evolving towards closer co-operation and perhaps even something called union. I do not believe that the people want the Government to cause the country to turn its back on those developments. There is a will to go on even if people are unsure exactly where we are going. The concept of Europe acting in a more united way attracts rather than repels our fellow countrymen.
Admittedly, I do not represent a constituency such as Newham, South and I know that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has different views from me on this subject. It may be that every second constituent he meets has a furrowed brow and asks questions about the composition and powers of the European central bank. Perhaps such questions influence his views on this subject. However, I know that I am not getting letters from constituents who are worried about economic and monetary union, the development of the Community 100 institutions or even political union. I may get plenty of letters about the welfare of horses and ponies as a result of negotiations for the harmonisation of standards from the European Community, but on the more strategic issues there is hardly a letter. At constituency meetings, I am chided more about an apparent reluctance by the country to co-operate more closely with the European Community and a worry about Britain's possible isolation if such co-operation is not shown. I do not believe that a brake is being put on what the Government are trying to do. People in my constituency are worried about the country's reluctance to go forward, not about over-enthusiasm.
The general support that may be expressed for the Community is not a green light for everything to be done without qualification or a sign that the Government can sign up for anything. When people come to focus on details, it is possible that the mood will change. When we agreed to go into the European Community, I do not know whether people believed that we were going to be faced with the idea of a common currency, but I hardly think that it is a burning issue in the country. I have not received letters stating that we cannot contemplate that at any cost. As I go around the country I have not noticed that the bridges over our motorways are daubed with slogans, "Save Sterling—Save our Pound". If that is the test of the strength of public feeling, arguably there is still more interest in whether a certain Mr. G. Davis was innocent or guilty. As yet, there is no motorway built in the direction of Southend, but if there were, we might see such slogans—I do not know.
Far from there being any outbursts of anger, I detect a strong undercurrent of support for the idea that we might actually move towards a common currency and even perhaps beyond that in time, if our plans mature, towards a single currency. It is a matter of how the issue is expressed. When people look at the coins in their pockets or handbags, particularly the pound coin, I do not believe that they always reckon that they may be looking at five different versions of it. They put their hands in their pockets and produce a number of coins that look the same in general appearance and so they treat them the same, as does everyone to whom they give them. There are various ways to consider the idea of a common currency and eventually a single currency, because coins can look alike while having national characteristics emblazoned on them.
Support will be greater rather than lesser for the idea of a common currency and a single currency when people realise that to move in that direction is not necessarily to have the familiar pound sterling and its supporting currency swept away from them and something else imposed on them, but there are clearly different ways in which to approach the matter. We should not be frightened by the idea that something alien will be thrust upon us.
If the question of a common currency raises no difficulties, I should have thought that there was almost total indifference among the British public on the question of the European central bank. I do not believe that many people are going about their daily lives desperately worried about which type of bank, constituted in which particular way, will lay down the monetary rules to which we must work. It is too fanciful for words to imagine that this is a daily anxiety of the British people.
These are technical matters, and there is among the people a willingness to urge the Government to press on with their efforts to find the right formula for the next stage 101 of economic and monetary union. The Government are not being pulled back by people desperately worried about a common or a single currency or about a central European bank. The people believe that it is right to carry on and that it would be wrong to give up.
This view is probably more strongly held by young people than by the population at large, for understandable reasons. The opportunities that they have had in their education and to travel have given them a different perspective on Europe and on the importance of the European Community—many of them have grown up knowing nothing else. They are extremely enthusiastic about forging ever closer co-operation between the countries of the Community. I have little doubt that young people would take a generous view of other countries joining the Community in the fullness of time.
It is a diversion to bring sovereignty into this argument; it confuses the issue, which has to do more with technical, mechanistic discussions about whether we need a central European bank, how it should be controlled and what it would mean for the currency.
To most people sovereignty probably means our having the power to take decisions for ourselves. If questioned in public opinion polls people exhibit a natural desire to want to retain the power to take decisions for themselves.
This happens at various levels. There are no greater defenders of their sovereignty than parish and town councils. I have heard uncharitable things said by members of parish councils about the next tier of government above them. It will be said in a village in my constituency that the district council is made up of people who do not understand the villagers, who know what is best for their village and who should take the decisions. But if sewage works, new roads, new houses or even airports are to be built, decisions on them cannot be taken at the parish level.
Just as the parish complains about the district, so the district complains about the county council, which in turn will complain about national Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and I share a county council and have received representations from it about the iniquities of the Government, who do not understand, so the councillors say, the special needs of Essex. Of course it is our duty to try to represent those interests. However, the Government's responsibility is to view the national scene.
It is understandable that hon. Members should be extremely suspicious about our powers being taken away, but what powers would we retain for the House? The plain fact is that power has shifted away from this country and away from all nation states. A trivial but topical example illustrates my point: the merger of Sky and BSB. There appear to be imperfect powers available to control that merger, because it is becoming physically impossible for single Governments to control some of the technical developments that have taken place. Major events beyond our shores can still have tumultuous effects on this country, and we on our own cannot control those events. The fact that we are a sovereign Parliament does not stop them happening.
Increasingly we have seen our room for manoeuvre diminish. It is not very satisfying to be left with what might be termed no more than the power to wriggle. There is nothing dignified or edifying about such a situation. We have to come to terms with the modern world. We might also ask where sovereignty has got us over the years. If we 102 look at the performance of British Governments and the Parliaments that have supported them over the past 45 years, can we say that our economic performance has outshone the performance of our neighbours in western Europe? That is manifestly not the case.
The Government have been chided by the Opposition for not being custodians of as great a progress as they should have been. With all the power that we think we have, we have not been able to demonstrate that we can do much better than other democracies in western Europe. So-called sovereignty and total power form a very imperfect balance. We cannot demonstrate that, by attempting to retain sovereignty, we have achieved more for our people than we might achieve if we sought new arrangements in which sovereignty was pooled by linking hands with other Governments, thus giving us more actual power.
I get slightly suspicious when I hear Heads of Government extolling the virtues of Parliament. I hope that that will not be taken the wrong way by the Government. Through the ages Executives have found the legislature a bit of a nuisance. Parliament is an irritating obstacle to Governments who need to get their business through. There gathered are the representatives of the people who ask awkward questions and block progress and try to defeat what the Government in their wisdom are trying to do. When I am told that I am part of an essential process I scratch my head and wonder whether I am living in the real world. I wonder whether the words that I use now or that I may use in future will have the impact that I should like them to have on the Government and the development of their policy. I am not sure that we should be completely persuaded that we have magical powers in our hands in Parliament and that the Government are keen to see us use them and, for that reason, we should hesitate about entering any kind of pan-European arrangement.
The confusion has been made worse because, in discussing sovereignty, we have tied it up with national identity. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) referred to that when he alluded to his native Scotland. My hon. Friend is a good European, but no one could possibly mistake him for a Welsh man or an English man. He is distinctly a Scot and Scotland is a proud nation within our United Kingdom. The idea that our national identity will disappear or be submerged is mischievous nonsense.
Whatever arrangements we make, and I am not advocating any in particular, in moving closer towards our Community partners, the last thing that we shall lose is our national identity. We may, in a calculating way, give up some power, but we are not going to give up our identity or our culture. Therefore, we shall remain a distinct nation state, whatever the constitutional bonds with which we choose to tie ourselves to the Community.
Much of the difficulty over moving towards the next stages of economic and monetary union is caused by the fear that somehow even to inch in this direction is to be slipsliding towards federalism. I was greatly disappointed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). He is pitching his tent in a curious place, given his former views on this matter. He is now truly a political itinerant, and I am not sure whether his roots are anywhere in terms of his political affiliation or his philosophy. I was shocked by his denunciation of certain developments within the Community.
103 I beg leave to doubt that, as a result of the discussions in the intergovernmental conference, we shall end up in some kind of sprint towards a federal state or any other composite form of political union. I believe that the results that will emerge, after many months, will be more modest and more pragmatic than that. I hope that we shall see the beginnings of a greater Community approach to defence matters and some tightening up of co-operation in foreign affairs. To believe that we shall go leaping in the dark into a federal union or anything like that is to envisage genuine cloud cuckoo land, and I doubt whether anyone wants to inhabit that.
When I hear that the proud republic of France is ready to dissolve herself into some form of federal united states of Europe, I shall begin to believe that the time for the United Kingdom and other countries to take a decision has arrived. Until I see that compulsion on the part of France and certain other of our friends in Europe, I shall not believe that this is a practical reality lurking behind every bush waiting to strike at us. Therefore, it is wrong to condemn the sentiments and the talk that naturally goes on about the way in which the Community might develop in political terms.
There is a belief that we have to build a great Europe, and it is wrong to mock those who hold that belief because to do so spoils the atmosphere that makes it possible to achieve greater co-operation in many other important spheres. Clearly, the next sphere on the agenda on which we are hoping to make proper progress is that of economic and monetary union. Political union and developments in 104 that direction will proceed at a much slower pace. There should be progress, but the idea that this will lead to a destination that is so frightening that we must put at arm's length practical questions of how we run the economy of the single market would be both unrealistic and a grave mistake.
I do not see anything terrible about looking at new arrangements in the format of both of these intergovernmental conferences. We should have enough humility to concede that the arrangements that we have in this country for running our economy may not be the best that they can be. They may be capable of improvement and we may be able to find a better way, in conversation and co-operation with our European neighbours.
If the public are prepared to be open minded on these matters, as I believe them to be, industry and commerce will be more certain and determined that this is the right approach for us. It is not in the interests of our industry, on whom our future wealth depends, that we should be spurning the idea of moving forward on economic and monetary matters.
We should not set our face against EMU or currency developments. It is right to consider the possibilities positively and I welcome the Government's assurance that they will contribute constructively to the IGCs. We must hope that they will do so and we must demonstrate goodwill and respect for the aspirations of our partners. Only in that way will we get a deal that is sensible, workable, in British interests and in the interests of all of Europe.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.