§ Madam Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and that, again, the Members wishing to speak are oversubscribed, so speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm will be time limited to 10 minutes.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:but humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no recognition of the proper role of local government and local democracy, no recognition of the scale of the housing crisis and no proposals to release local council capital receipts, no legislation to establish an Environmental Protection Agency and no measures to improve educational standards and opportunities, but instead represents a further series of measures to centralise power, weaken local democracy and extend privatisation which will undermine the quality and supply of local service provision and do nothing to fulfil the expectations raised by the Citizen's Charter.Let me begin by offering my congratulations to you, Madam Speaker, on your richly deserved election to the Speakership of this House. You carry with you our highest hopes and confidence, and I should like to wish you every success in a long and successful Speakership.
Of all those with good reason to be dismayed by the outcome of the general election, local government has perhaps more reason than most to feel a sense of despair. The return of a Conservative Government means that more than a decade of unremitting hostility to local government from both Westminster and Whitehall is set to continue. Clearly, the Conservative party regards the public sector, not as a contributor to the national well-being, but as a constant drain on national resources, operating somewhere beyond the boundaries of the national economy, virtually a foreign, not to say an alien, territory.
There is no sense that the public sector has anything to contribute, no sense that its services are valued by those who depend on them or that it is a proper partner and support for the private sector. Instead, there has been nothing but antipathy not just to the public sector as a whole, but to local government in particular. That antipathy has meant a series of blows to local 501 government's powers, resources and morale, blows which for some authorities which proved to be unduly recalcitrant meant that they were simply abolished altogether. The blows, to the whole of local government, culminated in the disaster of the poll tax and the straitjacket of capping. The poll tax was in one sense a terrible mistake, but in another it was a deliberate act of malevolence which threatened the very existence, independence and autonomy of local government.
Those who have suffered from that unprecedented onslaught go far beyond the officers, councillors and work force who have dedicated their lives to local government. The real victims have been all those who depend on the services delivered by local government—the homeless, those waiting on swollen housing lists, those looking in vain for home helps, meals on wheels, nursery provision, those expecting decent schools for their children and those looking to local government to perform its traditional functions of guaranteeing clean air and freedom from pollution.
However, the damage has gone still further. It is the very concept of local government itself that has been the true victim of Tory hostility, and the whole of our democracy is the worse as a result. The sustained effort to undermine the independence of local government and to ignore the aspirations of the people of Scotland and Wales has meant that we are now the most centralised country in western Europe. A pluralistic system of government, in which a wide range of opinion could be represented, has given way to an elective dictatorship exercised from Whitehall and Westminster in which the winner takes all.
Local government itself has shown quite remarkable resilience and it is a considerable tribute to all those dedicated men and women that it has survived as well as it has done. However, it can hardly be surprising, in the face of that sustained attack from the Tories during the past decade, that the sense of the value of local government is now at a low ebb.
Over the past year or two, the Department of the Environment has suffered from what might be called the curse of the two Michaels. The first Michael, the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, was the great Heseltinian centraliser. He was the instigator of rate penalties, he was the inventor of urban development corporations, and he was the destroyer of the local authority housing programme. He is still at it—he has set up the urban renewal agency, designed to bypass local government, and appointed an unelected crony to run it for him. His one redeeming feature—his declared hostility to universal—poll tax capping did not survive his second stint at Marsham street. He quickly joined all those of his colleagues who endorsed what he once memorably described less than two years ago as an act ofcentralised power outside our experience.Even the right hon. Gentleman can turn tail, or so it seems.
The second Michael, the ironically titled Minister for Local Government, was the arch defender of the poll tax. He was the man who told the Tory party conference that it would be a "rip-roaring success". He so supported the poll tax that he ensured that it lived on in the council tax.
The first Michael has gone off to the Department of Trade and Industry, where, no doubt, he will try to do for British industry what he very nearly did for local government—and, perhaps, that is the right way of putting it: he very nearly did for local government. It is doubtful 502 whether local government could have survived another Heseltinian term at Marsham street. No wonder that the leaders of British industry are now running for cover.
The second Michael has gone off to the Treasury as Chief Secretary, where he will no doubt demonstrate the same skills at managing the public finances which enabled him to preside over the £19 billion loss to the taxpayer as a consequence of the poll tax debacle. He is hardly the obvious person to carry credibility when he tries to crack the whip over wasteful public expenditure.
With what a heartfelt sigh of relief must local government and the Department of the Environment have seen the departure of the two Michaels; but with what despair must the realisation have dawned that a third Michael had been installed in their place. Indeed, it now seems inevitable that the very term "a Michael" is destined to serve the same pejorative purpose as "Wally" and "Herbert" do in other contexts.
This third Michael is in many respects even worse news than his predecessors and homonyms. This, after all, is a man with a record. This is the man whol guided the poll tax legislation through the House and who still apparently is able to recall that experience without visibly blushing. This is the inventor of the system of standard spending assessments which the whole of local government now regards as hopelessly complicated, unfair and unworkable, and which the chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has even today urged the new Secretary of State to modify—a system which had the great and unexpected merit of being able to discern that more snow was likely to fall in the borough of Brent than in the wastes of Cumbria.
This is the man who demonstrated the same tact and sympathy for local government when he was at Marsham street as he went on to show to the trade unions when he went to the Department of Employment—the man who, through his opposition to the minimum wage, demonstrated his touching faith in the proposition that our economic salvation lay in having the worst paid hairdressers in Europe.
This is the man who counted it a success at the Department of Employment to preside, month in and month out for all but three of the 27 months that he served, over an increase in the unemployment total and an increase in the economic failure and human misery which that figure represented.
This is the man who now returns to the scene of the poll tax crime and threatens to kill off local government for good. When local government desperately needs a builder and healer, it has been saddled with a Secretary of State who could not telephone the speaking clock without picking a quarrel with it.
We can expect more of the same, yet even the new Secretary of State might quail when he discovers what his predecessors have thoughtfully bequeathed to him by way of a replacement for the poll tax. The poll tax was unfair and unworkable, and there is unlikely to be one Conservative Member who would dispute that simple assertion. But the council tax threatens to outdo the poll tax on both counts. It retains all the worst features of the poll tax—the unfairness, the head count and the need to keep a register—but it throws in for good measure the doubts and difficulties of a totally untried property tax compounded by a botched valuation process.
I predict that the council tax will be to this Government what the poll tax was to the last. The anger of all those who 503 must suffer it will be all the greater when they realise that the Conservatives have refused to learn the poll tax lessons.
Then there is the problem of reorganisation. Undaunted by past Tory failures, the new Secretary of State will apparently press on with the proposals he has inherited, proposals which will mean that local government will be plunged into chaos and unprecedented confusion as a local government commission trundles its way around the country in a leisurely and piecemeal fashion for perhaps 10 or 15 years. At any time, local government in some parts of the country will be expected to remain dual in structure, whereas in others it might become at some time in the future—or it might already have become in the recent past—unitary in structure.
The Opposition agree that a simpler and more accountable structure for local government is desirable. We support the idea of a commission which will consult widely and take into account the variety of local interests and needs. But we have the gravest misgivings about a process which is manifestly designed to allow a partisan Secretary of State to abolish Labour-controlled county authorities while preserving those under Tory control.
The new Secretary of State is hardly helped in his task of grappling with this nightmare by the fact that the lieutenant with whom he has been saddled is a Thatcherite ideologue. It is a matter for regret and surprise that that lieutenant is not beside the Secretary of State on the Treasury Bench this afternoon. The new Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities is an heir to that decade-long Thatcherite tradition of regarding local councils as outposts of rebellion that have to be subjugated rather than legitimate guardians of local democracy and pluralism. He is hardly likely to restrain a Secretary of State from pursuing that Government's vendetta against local government.
In case we are tempted too far into gloom, there is a little light relief at hand. There is always the Prime Minister and his citizens charter, which we are reliably informed is to be relaunched yet again. It has already had more relaunches and come-backs in one year than Frank Sinatra has had in a lifetime.
The problem with the citizens charter is that, having thought up the title, the Prime Minister's powers of invention deserted him. Perhaps that is why he has asked the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to take responsibility for the matter. We are told that the right hon. Member for Bristol, West is not one who wears his learning lightly but is something of a philosopher. Just as Bishop Berkeley asserted that he could prove the existence of the tree in his garden even when he could not see it, so I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will prove, at least to his own satisfaction, that the citizens charter really exists, even though no one else doubts that it remains stubbornly lodged in the Prime Minister's imagination.
Whether real or imagined, no citizens charter can possibly produce the better-quality services and the more effective remedies that are promised if, at the same time, the public sector is constantly reviled, starved of resources and told that its only future lies in it being privatised. The citizens charter will remain a diversion from the real task. 504 The fact that it featured not at all in the recent election campaign shows just what the Prime Minister's colleagues really think of it. Until we have a Government who place a proper value on the public sector and on local government, the citizens charter will remain an ineffectual piece of paper.
I take the opportunity to affirm the Labour party's passionate belief that local government is essential to the efficient delivery of local services. It is essential to the accountability that local communities demand from Government. It is essential also as the properly pluralistic counterbalance to the overweening power of central Government. We shall do all in our power to sustain local government over the coming difficult years of continued Tory rule from Westminster.
It is not only local government that will suffer over the next four or five years. The Government's record on housing, education and the environment should alert us to what we should now expect in those areas. Housing is one of the most shameful failures on even this Government's blotchy record. Homelessness has soared, repossessions are at record levels, the housing market is in a slump, rents are being forced up by Government diktat, the number of houses built is the lowest in any peacetime decade this century, and the construction industry is in deep recession. Yet there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to suggest that the Government have the slightest intention of tackling any of these problems or have any inkling of their urgency.
There is not even a recognition of the absurdity of the restrictions imposed by Tory central Government on local authorities that have their own money by way of capital receipts, their own land, a clear housing need to meet and a clear political will to meet it. They are prevented by the Secretary of State, as they were by his predecessors, from building the houses that people so desperately need. This money does not have to be borrowed; it does not have to be raised by new taxation. It is money which already exists and which everyone in housing, in local government and in the construction industry agrees should be invested in meeting housing need. Only the Government remain outside that common-sense consensus.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech to show that the Government recognise the pressing nature of the environmental problems that the country and the rest of the world face. The promise of a new environmental protection agency, the only constructive thing that the Prime Minister is ever known to have said on the subject of the environment, has been dashed by the publication of the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of capital receipts, he will recall, as we do, that when the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made his proposal, which the hon. Gentleman is repeating today, he was slapped down by the shadow Chancellor. Is the hon. Gentleman taking a slap at his right hon. and learned Friend, or has there been a change in Labour party policy?
§ Mr. Gould
If the hon. Gentleman has risen to his feet to defend an arcane Treasury rule which stands between common sense and the nonsense that we have to endure now, I recommend that he re-examines that rule so as to ensure that money which exists, which local authorities 505 want to spend on housing and for which there is a clear housing need is spent for that purpose under prudent conditions.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Would it not make much more sense to use the capital receipts to put roofs over the heads of the homeless than to bail out, as the Department of the Environment and the President of the Board of Trade are doing, a broken-backed Canadian company, run by the Reichmann brothers—Olympia and York? The Government intend to transfer large sums of taxpayers' money to that Maxwell-type company, which owes !12 billion to the banks. This tawdry Government would sooner bail out that corrupt organisation than allow Labour-controlled local authorities to build houses to put roofs over the heads of the homeless.
§ Mr. Gould
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is quite remarkable that the white knight who appears to be riding to the rescue to help with the cash flow problems of Olympia and York is not only the same person who initiated the London Docklands development corporation and who invested so much of his reputation in its success; he also happens to be the recently departed Secretary of State of one Government Department and the current Secretary of State of another which are both apparently contemplating paying large sums in rent to Olympia and York for otherwise unlettable office space. My hon. Friend has done the House a service by bringing this issue to light this afternoon.
As I was saying, the Prime Minister's promise that we should have an environmental protection agency was dashed as soon as we saw the text of the Queen's Speech. The Bill to set up such an agency is significantly missing from the legislative programme. We are left by way of an environmental agenda for the new Secretary of State only with the familiar spectacle of a Secretary of State protesting his virtue in public on issues such as global warming but working behind the scenes to support a reactionary United States Administration whose main purpose seems to be to frustrate any effective action. The new Secretary of State will have to make a strong break from the limitations imposed by his predecessors if he is to establish his green credentials and pursue real achievement on the environmental agenda.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the results being produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a result of satellite observations are casting serious doubt on the concept of global warming and that that is why the President of the United States is taking one step back from precipitous action and expenditure which could seriously damage the industries in his country?
§ Mr. Gould
I fear that the hon. Lady's outfit is the only green thing about her. The truth of the matter is that she and, perhaps, who knows, President Bush are members of a tiny minority which flies in the face of the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence collected through the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change which shows beyond all doubt that we would be stupid in the interests not only of future generations but of our own generations if we were to ignore the precautionary principle and failed to give the environment the benefit of the doubt. The doubt is being extinguished day by day as we learn the lessons of global warming, ozone depletion 506 and acid rain. It is regrettable that the hon. Lady should use her position on the Back Benches to deny what is now, I think, universally accepted by reputable scientists.
This is the Queen's Speech of a Government who have nothing to offer by way of new ideas and who have, therefore, fallen back on old prejudices and bad habits. It is the Queen's Speech of a Government who are incapable of learning lessons from past failures, who are prepared to contemplate with a stony face and an equally stony heart the misery of the victims of their policies, who continue to give priority to their own ideological shackles rather than the human plight of the homeless and the disadvantaged.
Life will be very hard during the next four years under this Government for all those whose interests are habitually ignored by the Government. Life will be hard for those who look to good quality public services for the homes and schools on which they and their families depend. Life will be hard for those who want to see a vibrant local government and a truly effective democracy.
We pledge ourselves in opposition to fight the fight for all those people and to assure them that our aim is nothing less than a Labour Government who, unlike this Government, will defend the interests of those people and will serve the whole community.
§ 4.2 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard)
I add my welcome, Madam Speaker, to the many that you have already received on being elected to your great office. It is with some relief that I have discovered that as from 1 April responsibility for your accommodation passed from the Property Services Agency, and, therefore, my Department, to the House of Commons Commission. In the unlikely event of there being any complaints, I emphasise that it is to the commission that they should henceforth be addressed.
My delight at speaking from this Dispatch Box for the first time as Secretary of State for the Environment is enhanced by the presence on the Opposition Front Bench of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). It is a long time since we last crossed swords in the House, but I have never ceased to admire the subtlety with which the hon. Gentleman: has manoeuvred through the delicate shifts in position that he has been seeking to make during the past few weeks.
In the early hours of Friday morning, after the local election results were known, the hon. Gentleman excelled himself. Desperately looking for crumbs of comfort, he said of his party's performance, "At least it gives us a low base from which to recover in a few years' time." I make this offer to the hon. Gentleman: I am fully prepared to work with him over the years to help him and his party to achieve a lower and lower base from which they can seek to make ever more spectacular recoveries in the dim and distant never-never land.
We heard an interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. I am not sure quite how much good it will do his leadership bid. The most significant point in it came when he totally evaded the pertinent question on capital receipts put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). We know of the sharp difference in view which emerged during the general election campaign between the hon. Gentleman's team and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) who, fortuitously, has just left the Chamber.
507 I am prepared to give the hon. Member for Dagenham another opportunity to answer my hon. Friend's question, or to answer an even simpler question. Given that the Opposition amendment places such emphasis on capital receipts, why is it that it is not signed by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East? Is that difference of view still continuing, or is it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot bring himself to put pen to paper next to his rival for the Labour leadership—the hon. Member for Dagenham? I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, to allow him to answer any of those questions.
The Gracious Speech emphasised the importance that the Government attach to the protection of our environment. No issue is more crucial to our future. It needs to be addressed at all levels—local, national, regional and global. Within the Government, the responsibility for addressing environmental issues, at all levels, rests with my Department. That is no accident of administration. The decision to bring those elements of the machinery of government together in one Department was taken in 1970, during the run-up to the Stockholm conference. That decision has stood the test of time.
In exercising those responsibilities, I shall be guided by three principles—opportunity, responsibility and partnership. When our debate was opened last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke of the need to maintain a country in which everyone may realise his or her aspirations—everyone. There can be no forgotten few—nor can there be any exclusion zone in our inner cities or on any of our housing estates; no no-go areas where the writ of opportunity does not run.
This evening, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will talk about the opportunity for people to choose where to send their children to school. We must also extend and enhance the opportunity for people to choose and own their homes; to gain access to effective public services, efficiently delivered; and to enjoy a local neighbourhood environment that is not blighted by a pall of neglect—neglect that has often been the hallmark of so many of the inner city areas controlled by councils run by the Labour party.
As we offer opportunity, we must encourage responsibility. Ultimately, those whose aspirations remain unrealized—and those who are not always able to formulate their aspirations—must accept some responsibility themselves. Government can provide the framework—the people themselves must make the most of the opportunities that arise.
That is one of the elements of the partnership that we seek to provide: partnership between public and private sectors, central and local government, and the business community and voluntary organisations—above all, partnership with the people who have felt left out of opportunity, and whom we must bring within its reach.
We cannot and we shall not accept as permanent features of our society the degradation that has disfigured the physical environment and the very lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
I am surprised that the Secretary of State does not choke on his own words. Perhaps he will explain how local communities are meant to exercise responsibility when 86 per cent. of their local services funding comes direct from the 508 Department of the Environment and the remaining 14 per cent. is also determined by the Government, through the capping regime. How are those who were elected last Thursday expected to exercise their responsibilities and to provide opportunities when the Secretary of State determines their finance, legislation and virtually every action?
§ Mr. Howard
If the hon. Gentleman will show a little more patience, he will have an answer to his question. It is astonishing that Labour now seeks to criticise the Government for the proportion of local government spending that is provided from central funds. Year after year, when that proportion was diminishing, we were criticised for providing less money to local government from central funds. Now that we have made a substantial increase in the proportion provided by central Government, we are being criticised on precisely those grounds. The Opposition had better at least start to get their act together, and introduce some semblance of consistency into their criticisms.
There is nothing inevitable about the decline of the inner city. Just as we can all be sucked into a cycle of decline, so too it is possible to create a virtuous circle leading to opportunity and prosperity. Much has already been done. Through the establishment of urban development corporations, task forces, city action teams, housing action trusts and programmes such as estate action and city challenge, we have made a difference. More needs to be done, however: not by instructing the people who live in such areas what to do; not by taking decisions away from local people; but by involving, engaging and empowering them—by giving the people more power and responsibility over their own lives. That is at the heart of our approach.
The programme outlined in the Gracious Speech represents only the first stage in a series of measures that will extend throughout the current Parliament. The housing, land and urban development legislation represents another important step forward in the Government's strategy for revitalising the inner cities. Its centrepiece is the proposal for the creation of an urban regeneration agency. I am delighted that Peter Walker has agreed to become the agency's first chairman if Parliament approves the measure. The fact that a man of his stature has been chosen is a clear signal of the great importance that the Government attach to the work that the agency will carry out.
§ Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the 10 years of operation of the enterprise zone in my constituency should be subjected to an inquiry and evaluation? Nearly £3 billion of public funds has gone into the area in the form of direct and indirect subsidies, but fewer than 3,000 jobs have been created. My constituents have been subjected to the delights of the totally inefficient docklands light railway, and, now, to the tottering financial tower of Canary wharf. Should not an evaluation be carried out to see whether we have been given value for money?
§ Mr. Howard
I do not think that many people would recognise the figures provided by the hon. Lady. Many more jobs have been created than the number that she gave. If she wishes to make any assessment of the value that is attached to enterprise zones, she need only talk to people in all parts of the country—including those in 509 Labour-controlled local authorities—who are only too enthusiastic about the establishment of enterprise zones in their areas. I do not think that the hon. Lady's view of enterprise zones would obtain universal or general support.
§ Mr. Skinner
Can we get one or two things straight? Olympia and York—that busted flush of a company, now !12 billion in debt—is now looking for a lifeline. Through the Secretary of State and the President of the Board of Trade, the Government are going to hand out a lifeline to a company that is gasping for financial breath.
I want an assurance from the Secretary of State today that the Government will not hand out any taxpayers' money to Olympia and York by transferring offices to Canary wharf. If they do, they should be surcharged, just as any Labour authority would be surcharged for spending an excessive amount. It is high time that the Government came clean, because the affair stinks to high heaven.
§ Mr. Howard
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that any decison made by my Department, or by any other Department, about the relocation of civil servants will be made on strict value-for-money grounds. We have been advised that the best value for money that is currently available can be found in docklands—not necessarily on Canary wharf, but in docklands—and we are looking for accommodation there; but, as I have said, our decision will be made on strict value-for-money grounds. If the hon. Gentleman's request for an assurance was at all serious, he would recognise that such an assurance has now been given.
§ Mr. Gould
The House will have listened with great attention and not a little unease to the Secretary of State's weasel words. Will he confirm what I imagine he meant to convey but did not have the courage to make explicit—that his Department is looking for office space in docklands and that it is negotiating with Olympia and York to rent office accommodation from that company? If the answer to that question is yes, or even if it is not quite a "yes", will he enlighten us as to which other Government Departments are contemplating a similar relocation?
§ Mr. Howard
There is absolutely no mystery about this matter. Everybody knows that the building which is occupied by my Department in Marsham street is to be demolished—a decision of my predecessor which I enthusiastically support and endorse. I do not know anybody who has the misfortune to work in that building who has any doubts about it. That means that we have to look for accommodation for a large number of people who at present work in Marsham street. We shall make our decision on the basis of the best value for money available, and no other consideration. We are at present considering a number of offers of accommodation that have been made to us, including offers of accommodation elsewhere than at Canary wharf and other than that owned by Olympia and York, but the properties on offer certainly include some owned by Olympia and York. We shall look at all those offers and make our decision on a strict value-for-money basis.
§ Mr. Gould
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for at least carrying us to the point where we now know that one of the offers being considered is that made by Olympia and York for accommodation at Canary wharf. The Secretary of State has said several times that the real consideration 510 will be value for money. However, he must surely also take into account the whole question of administrative efficiency and the location of a Government Department close to the other centres of power in Whitehall.
Is the Secretary of State saying that for the purposes of locating his Department at Canary wharf—one of the offers that he is contemplating—he is prepared to divide his Department so that a substantial number of people go off to docklands while, presumably, he and his ministerial colleagues and senior civil servants remain here in Westminster? If that is what is being contemplated, why does he not say now that the whole business is too inconvenient and cumbersome, that docklands is not an appropriate location for a Government Department and that he will be looking for accommodation here in Westminster? Why is he not prepared to take that view?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman ought to ponder for a moment before he makes so crass an intervention as that. It has been part of Government policy for years that civil servants should be relocated from Westminster. The hon. Gentleman has just intervened to make a point about the administrative inconvenience of split Departments. The Department in which I served until a month ago, the Department of Employment, has many civil servants in Sheffield. I thought that that approach was supported by the Labour party and that Labour Members of Parliament with Sheffield constituencies were keen for that to continue. Does the Labour party now propose that we can communicate with people in Sheffield from Westminster but that we could not communicate with people in docklands? What an absurd proposition. One minute the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) gets up and protests that there are not enough jobs in docklands and the next minute the hon. Member for Dagenham gets up and says that all of them should be kept in Westminster. What a shambles. What an utter disgrace. What utter rubbish and nonsense comes from the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Howard
No, I do not intend to give way again.
I intend to refer now to the urban regeneration agency which we shall put in place. The case for the creation of the agency is crystal clear. There are about 150,000 acres of vacant land in English urban areas, about half in public ownership. Not all of this is usable, but about 65,000 acres have previously been developed—an area five times the annual change from agricultural to urban use in England.
Dereliction, fragmented ownership, lack of information to owners and poor site conditions and access often mean that that land is difficult to market. But it presents great opportunities, once the potential has been unlocked. The time has now come to unlock this potential and seize these opportunities. I have no doubt that the agency will have the capacity to improve enormously the environment of the people living in many parts of our inner cities. It will bring new housing, new jobs and new hope to the people who live there.
The agency will bring together existing programmes for the development of land and enable them to be much more effectively focused. It will work in partnership with local authorities and the private sector to provide them with a single contact point. It will be able to give grants to them to bridge the gap between development costs and resale value. It will also be able to develop land itself.
511 I want the agency to work closely with local authorities. I hope that they will regard it as a source of expertise and capacity to help them realise the potential of their inner cities. The people who live in our inner cities are their most important resource. I want those local people to feel that the agency is working to create new opportunities for them.
§ Mr. Howard
I have given way far too often and I must press on.
That is why the agency will work closely with the training and enterprise councils to ensure that as many local people as possible obtain jobs in the construction phase and during the later commercial use of the land.
§ Mr. Blunkett
This is the first opportunity that the House has had to question the Secretary of State and his Ministers on the urban regeneration agency and it is the first opportunity that we have had to ask questions about things such as where the grants to which the Secretary of State referred will come from. From which existing heading are the grants to be diverted? Are the development corporations, the enterprise zones and the plethora of other measures to be subsumed under the urban regeneration agency?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman will have many opportunities, commencing tomorrow, to ask detailed questions about the agency. The existing urban development corporations will not be brought within the ambit of the agency. However, the agency will be able to focus much more precisely, effectively and in a targeted way many of the funds that we presently use in our efforts to regenerate the inner cities.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, I have been campaigning for about 15 years—[Interruption.]—or longer for the release of vacant public land and I welcome the agency. It is one of the best things that I have heard about for a long time. Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain to the House whether the agency will confiscate public land or market it? Will it be able to give value to the public authorities for the land that it takes? Will its operations apply to private land, because a great deal of private land is vacant, dormant and derelict?
§ Mr. Howard
The agency will have marketing powers, it will be able to give value for the value for the land that it acquires and it will have powers of compulsory acquisition. I hope that I have answered all the pertinent points put by my hon. Friend, whose long interest in this matter—I shall not become involved in the precise period over which it has extended—I recognise and have welcomed.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
I have some derelict land in my constituency, but it is 512 contaminated. Is there any plan to bring forward the contaminated land register, which is hanging like a sword of Damocles over a great deal of land?
§ Mr. Howard
Derelict land grant is and will continue to be available. I hope that it will assist my hon. Friend in dealing with the problem in his constituency.
The Bill will also provide new rights and opportunities to both council and private tenants. As the right to buy has so convincingly demonstrated, one important consequence of giving people more say over their own lives is an improvement in the most local environment of all—the property in which people live and its immediate surroundings. That in turn raises the morale of everyone living there.
We have been convinced for some time that a large number of council tenants would like to have the benefit of home ownership but cannot afford the financial commitment. That is why we set up pilot rent-to-mortgage schemes in Scotland, Wales, Basildon and Milton Keynes. The response has been encouraging. In our manifesto, we promised to extend this opportunity to the whole country. Council tenants will be given a new right to buy a stake in their homes for no more than they currently pay in rent. They will be able to increase their stake whenever they wish, moving gradually to full ownership.
I very much hope that the Labour party will not repeat the mistake that it made in 1980 in opposing the right to buy. It will be up to individual tenants to decide whether they wish to take up this new opportunity, and what possible objection can there be to giving them the chance to say yes or no, unless of course Labour Members still have a wish, rooted in political dogma, to see them remaining council tenants for ever.
We want to extend to long leaseholders the opportunity of full ownership and independence from landlords. I pay tribute to the powerful advocacy of my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) and for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn), who deserve much credit for championing the cause of so many of their constituents.
The Bill will give most long leaseholders of flats the collective right to buy the freehold of their block at market price. Those not eligible will instead be able to buy a renewed long lease, again at market price. We considered the existing rateable value restrictions on the enfranchisement of leasehold houses and concluded that there was no logical reason for retaining them. They will therefore be abolished.
The Bill does not neglect those who wish to remain as council tenants. The existing right-to-repair scheme, introduced in 1980, has proved too cumbersome and complicated. The Bill gives tenants a straightforward right to get repairs done privately and send councils the bill where councils fail to carry them out within a reasonable time. I hope that that will be widely welcomed on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Howard
I am sorry. I have given way many times and must get on.
I hope, too, that it will be widely accepted that when we change the rights of tenants in the ways that I have described, and the rights of parents in the ways that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will describe later in the debate, we are not attacking local 513 government. It should be the servant of its citizens, not the promoter of its own interests. It has, and will continue to have, a vital role in spending about £40 billion a year. But that role should be an enabling role. There are marry ways in which the local services that people need can be delivered. Local management of schools is one example. Competitive tendering ensures a choice of providers. Free from the responsibility of running a large work force, local authorities can concentrate on ensuring that local people get a high quality service.[Interruption.] Exactly. Effective monitoring of standards is essential. That task is made easier for local authorities if they are not providing the service themselves.
I understand the revolution in attitudes that is required of local authorities to fulfil such a role, but the importance of local government does not, and should not, flow from the extent to which it provides services direct to the public. There is no reason why a local council should not take great pride in a job well done, whether or not its work force carried it out—indeed, even if its work force did not do so.
If that enabling role is to be discharged effectively, it is essential that local government should be responsive, that it should not be remote from those whom it seeks to serve and that there should be clarity about its responsibilities. That is why we are reviewing its structure. The objective of the review will be to find the structure that is the best for each part of the country—the structure that most closely reflects the views and needs of the people for whose benefit local government exists.
It is right that cost-effectiveness should be an important consideration. In that light, I expect to see a move towards more unitary authorities, but I have no blueprint. I see no reason why there should not be, and every reason why there should be, diversity. Local government should see the review as a challenge rather than a threat. It is up to individual local authorities to make the case to their communities for a particular form of structure. The best way in which they can do so is by demonstrating efficiency and quality of service. I hope that local government acts in that spirit.
I hope, more generally, that we shall see a new partnership between central and local government. In the past, that relationship has not always been one of total harmony. I dare say that it will not be possible to avoid controversy altogether in the future, but I hope that we can keep it to a minimum.
The very first people I asked to see were the leaders of the local authority associations. I have suggested—and they have agreed—that we should meet informally on a regular basis. I hope that we shall be able to work together in the interests of the people whom we have been elected to serve.
My Department has responsibilities which touch on the quality of our environment at all levels—local, national, regional and global. I have set out how the proposals in the Gracious Speech will help to improve the quality of our environment at the most local level of all—people's homes and their immediate neighbourhood—but we need to address those issues at all levels and we need to make sure that we do so in the right context. Any serious attempt to improve environmental standards needs investment. If we are to invest we must earn, and if we are to earn—as a nation and as a planet—we must be successful economic managers.
The economy and the environment are not on opposite ends of a see-saw, with one able to rise only at the expense 514 of the other. They are interdependent. We can create a high quality environment only if we build a high quality economy. The key is sustainable growth and that is what we must achieve.
This is a Government whose words are a prelude to action, not a substitute for action. Barely a single month has passed since we were re-elected, yet in that short time we have already announced new commitments of our own on climate change, helped to persuade the Americans to make comparable commitments, played a central role in the final round of the negotiations on the climate change convention in New York and committed $1 million to the international effort to support the non-governmental side of the earth summit.
The earth summit, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro next month, is a unique opportunity and it must not be squandered. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first national leader to make a firm commitment to attend. That is why we have now made clear our own intention to return our emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the year 2000. That is why we have made it clear that, provided others play their part, we are prepared to commit new and additional resources to replenish the global environment facility.
We believe that the earth summit marks the opening of a new phase in the environment and development debates.
§ Mr. Howard
No, I cannot give way.
No conference, whatever its success, solves problems; it simply charts the course. It is what happens afterwards that really matters. In taking on the presidency of the European Community immediately after the earth summit, we will have a unique opportunity to get the follow-up to Rio off to a good start. We have clear and ambitious goals and we shall continue our policies to improve the quality of our national environment.
Britain's first ever White Paper on environmental policy, "This Common Inheritance", puts us among only four or five nations in the world which have produced a comprehensive policy on the environment. One of its central accomplishments was to set up a rigorous system for monitoring and reviewing on an annual basis the development of our environmental strategy. We have already published one report on the implementation of that strategy. In October, we shall publish a second report and we shall continue to publish reports every year. In addition, we shall be publishing in the autumn a statistical report on the environment, enabling everyone to monitor for himself or herself any improvements—or deterioration—that may take place.
We are examining the results of our consultation process on the shape of the environment agency and will shortly announce our preferred option. Drafting of the Bill will then proceed so that we can take immediate advantage of the earliest legislative opportunity. Meanwhile, the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, which the Government established, will continue their excellent work of preventing pollution of the environment.
Protecting the environment and fostering sustainable development are not tasks only for Government. Many others have a part to play—business men, local authorities, scientists and the voluntary sector—and that is 515 why we have sought to involve them more closely in the development of our environmental policy through the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment and similar groups and by involving them in our delegations to international meetings. However, it is the ordinary citizen and consumer who have perhaps the most important part to play, for, ultimately, the fate of our environment—locally and for the planet as a whole—rests on the individual choices that we all make. It is the duty of Government to provide a clear and comprehensive framework of law within which those choices can be made and to build powerful institutions to insist on the implementation of those laws.
No Government could possibly claim to have done all that was needed to protect or improve the environment, but I am confident that we have put the United Kingdom on a trajectory of constant effort and achievement in improving environmental standards. Care for the environment will be in the forefront of all our policies. I pay tribute to the work of my predecessors. I take up the torch with enthusiasm.
§ Ms. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I congratulate you most warmly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I wish first to refer to Sir Robert Rhodes James, who was my immediate predecessor as Member for Cambridge. He was well known for his enlightened views on higher education and for his excellence as a political historian and biographer. He championed the cause of students and was unafraid to oppose the policies of his Government when his conscience dictated. He was a courteous man who helped many people in difficulties, and he will be remembered as a man of integrity.
I suppose that many right hon. and hon. Members believe that they know the constituency of Cambridge. Many will recall hazy memories of their student lives in Cambridge: rolling lawns, high tables, political games in the union debating chamber, garden parties, punting to Grantchester,And is there honey still for tea?Judging by the condition of many hon. Members, there still is—and much more besides.
There is another side to Cambridge, however, about which hon. Members will know little from their student days. For many of my constituents, the harsh reality of Cambridge is a city with rising unemployment, chronic housing shortages, and poverty just below the surface. Increasing numbers of young people sleep rough and many old people live in fear of being unable to pay their bills. Students are being driven out of further and higher education by inadequate financial support. Single parents are denied grants for basic necessities. Nearly 17,000 households in Cambridge are in receipt of income support, including 5,400 pensioners and 2,500 single-parent families. One in four households in Cambridge is in receipt of some kind of means-tested benefit.
Cambridge has a low wage economy with at least one in 10 of the work force covered by the wages councils, on minimum hourly rates of between £2.66 and £3.06. Many of the people who make the beds, clean the rooms and serve the meals of future Cabinet Ministers are paid pitiful 516 wages—how well they serve those people in their youth, and how quickly they are forgotten once university life is left behind.
The Queen's Speech acknowledges the existence of poverty in foreign parts, but, judging from their record, the Government will do precious little about that—and their programme for this Session of Parliament fails even to recognise the existence of poverty in this country. Are the Government so ashamed of the poverty that their policies have created that they dare not admit that there is poverty in our land? Do they intend to do nothing about the social fund even though they are aware that the resources allocated to the fund are totally inadequate?
In Cambridge, 70 per cent. of high priority applications to the social fund are turned down because of the meagre cash limit on the fund. Families with children, as well as pensioners and homeless people, continue to have claims for essential items such as sleeping bags and winter coats turned down by the Cambridge benefits office. Last year, the local district manager of the social fund had an application for an increase in funds turned down without any proper reason. This year, the local manager—whose area includes the Prime Minister's constituency—is again pessimistic, believing that his pleas for more funds will fall on deaf ears.
The Government are imposing severe financial hardship on increasing numbers of students. Bit by bit, the Government have eaten away at student financial support. By failing to increase grants in line with inflation throughout the 1980s, and by introducing top-up loans, the Government have made students into a new group of debtors. Through loss of entitlement to housing benefit and income support, the Government have made survival virtually impossible for many students. Then they abolished the vacation hardship allowance, causing poverty among students on an unprecedented scale. Their measures hit students in areas such as Cambridge—which has high rents—particularly hard, and there is worse to come.
The Government's failure to increase funding for institutions of higher education in Cambridge in line with inflation has meant that many colleges are making up the shortfall by swingeing rent increases which students have no new resources to pay. A number of colleges in Cambridge are already planning to increase room rents by 25 per cent. in real terms in the next two to three years.
The result of all those measures has been an increasing drop-out rate from institutions of higher education, owing to financial hardship. The introduction of the so-called access fund has been totally inadequate to counteract the devastating effects of the Government's other policies on higher education. However, it is not only the drop-out rate which gives cause for concern, but also the welfare of students, who are desperately trying to continue their studies against all odds.
In December 1991, a student from Homerton college in Cambridge was hospitalised owing to an infection of the liver, kidneys and intestines. In probing the source of the infection, the general practitioner was appalled at the conditions in which the student was living. There was no central heating, there were damp walls and the student had clearly not been eating adequately. The senior tutor at Homerton college has written that the situation uncovered by the GP was fairly typical of many of his students—what an indictment of Government policy that is.
517 What do the Government intend to do about poverty wages? Far from eliminating them, it is suggested that the Government will make the situation even worse by abolishing the wages councils, which at least prevented the inadequate rates of pay in many industries from falling even lower. The Low Pay Unit has estimated that the floor for pay after the abolition of the wages councils could be as low as £2 per hour. Is that really an acceptable level of reward for work in a civilised society?
The Government's low wages policy has created a poverty trap for so many families. Last year I took up the case of a father of five with a mortgage to pay who had lost his job. He found a new post, which paid £2.66 per hour—a net £95 per week. After paying mortgage interest and receiving child benefit and family credit, he would have been left with £42 to feed, clothe and support his family. Understandably, the man did not take the job because with income support and child benefit he previously received £138.50 per week and the Department of Social Security paid his mortgage interest. However, because he refused the job, his unemployment benefit was stopped for 20 weeks. What kind of encouragement to seek employment is that?
The poverty trap does not exist only for the unemployed. Many pensioners who are just above the income support level find it hard to survive. They have been especially hard hit by the poll tax and by the effects of privatising the water industry. Water rates in Cambridge have raced ahead of inflation. Since the abolition of water rate rebates in 1988, average bills in Cambridge have increased by 72 per cent. to £208. That particularly affects single pensioners living alone. The secretary of the Office of Water Services, Ofwat, eastern customer services committee has recently expressed concern that pensioners are going without food so that they can pay their bills.
The Government have no plans to tackle the problems of poverty in our country. Government Ministers use the language of equality, a classless society, a nation at ease with itself, to hide the fact that their policies are creating an ever more divided and unequal society. Their words are new-speak designed to enable the Government to avoid facing up to the truth.
I come to the House from a constituency where the Labour party was established 80 years ago, founded on the principles of social justice and equality. And how greatly our society needs those guiding principles today. I am the third Labour Member of Parliament for Cambridge, and the first woman Member. I follow in the footsteps of two men of high principle, Leslie Symonds, who was elected in 1945, and Robert Davies, who was elected in 1966 and whose political career was tragically cut short by his death in 1968. At his funeral Mr. Stan Newens, then Member for Epping, said:Robert Davies saw the Labour movement as a crusade for a new and better society, and he devoted himself to it without counting the cost—which was eventually his life. Any community owes a great debt to men like Robert, and his humanity, tolerance, self-sacrifice and devotion to others was a vital contribution to the Labour movement, Cambridge affairs and British politics.No Labour Member of Parliament could wish for a finer epitaph.
I shall serve all the people of Cambridge and my country to the best of my ability, but I make no apology for bias towards the underprivileged. Cambridge elected a Labour Member of Parliament because we recognised the 518 other side of the city of Cambridge, which the Government chose to ignore. We sought to understand the problems of the underprivileged and to reach out to them through our campaigning on the doorstep and by working on their behalf.
I feel enormously proud to have been entrusted to represent the people of Cambridge. I am equally dismayed that we should have a Government who care so little about social justice, but Labour has never underestimated the scale of the task necessary to build a fairer society. Although we are disappointed at the result of the general election, we do not give up—there are too many people in our society whose future welfare depends on us even to contemplate such a course of action. Not least among those are many of my constituents. After 24 years without effective representation, at last they have a voice.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
First, I congratulate Madam Speaker on her election to her high office and wish her every success in the many difficult decisions which she will have to make while presiding over our affairs. Secondly, may I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and wish you well in the Chair.
Thirdly, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Ms. Campbell) on her maiden speech. She paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, Mr. Robert Rhodes James, whom many of us in the House held in the highest regard. She referred to his integrity and his distinction as an historian. Indeed, he made an important contribution to the work of the House and her kind remarks in that respect are greatly appreciated. The convention that maiden speeches should be uncontroversial is perhaps more honoured in the breach than in the observance nowadays, but I think that the House will recognise the hon. Lady's strength of feeling on the social issues to which she referred, and we shall look forward to hearing her on many future occasions.
Perhaps it is appropriate on the first Queen's Speech of a new Parliament to take stock. The status of the House has not changed greatly during the past quarter of a century, but clearly considerable changes may come into prospect since on the one hand the House is subject to claims for devolution of power to various parts of the United Kingdom, while on the other it faces the danger of a transfer of powers to European institutions. That combination may mean that the nature of the House may change in future years, perhaps in the not-too-distant future.
Therefore, I was much reassured by the speech on the Loyal Address by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he made clear his position on devolution and on Europe. It is reassuring that the outcome of the Maastricht negotiations was so successful from Britain's point of view. The fact that we obtained an opt-out clause which met this country's requirements was satisfactory, not least with regard to control over fiscal policy. Indeed, it would seem that many other European countries and Heads of State elsewhere are rather sorry that they did not follow our advice. However, the fact that we wrote our own opt-out clause gave us some discretion which we would not have had if there had been a general opt-out clause. In all events, that is important. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will recognise, the principle of subsidiarity is extremely important for 519 environmental matters. On the one hand there is often a case for a European approach to protecting the environment, but on the other some environmental issues should be decided in the United Kingdom and not in Brussels or elsewhere in Europe.
There has been some debate in the press today about the diversity of parliamentary systems. I hope that as we come to assume the Presidency of the European Community we shall seek to extend to European affairs some of the undoubted advantages of this House of Commons, with regard not only to budgetary discipline, but to the control of public expenditure. The fact that we have a Public Accounts Committee and a Comptroller and Auditor General that do that should be emulated in a European context. Each year we debate the report of the Court of Auditors, yet absolutely nothing is done about the criticisms that it makes of European expenditure. I hope that during our Presidency we shall take up that point strongly.
I welcome the statements in the Gracious Speech about the open government initiative. An increase in openness and a reduction in secrecy are important and are closely linked to accountability. Over the past decade or so we have made a considerable improvement in the level of accountability of the Government to this House through the introduction of the departmental Select Committees. As the hon. Member for Cambridge and other new Members will soon discover, it is difficult at Question Time to pin down a Minister because the subject changes from moment to moment. The moment one thinks that one has pinned down a Minister, the subject changes. Similarly, it is difficult to pin down a Minister when he or she replies to a debate because of the confrontational situation. The departmental Select Committee system is of tremendous importance because it is quite a different matter for a Minister to appear for two hours in front of an all-party Committee. Therefore, it is very important that those Committees should be set up with the least possible delay.
At the end of the previous Parliament the last action of the Liaison Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing, was to instruct me to write to the leaders of all political parties in the House to remind them of the Committee's resolution which read:That the Committee of Selection in the next Parliament should take full account of the view expressed by the Procedure Committee of Session 1989–90 that the process of nominating members of select committees should be completed within 30 sitting days after the meeting of a new Parliament, should proceed as a matter of urgency to place before the House its nominations for the membership of select committees and in particular should not feel bound to wait until the appointment of the last junior Opposition spokesman before submitting names to the House.It is important that we should proceed with the nomination of Select Committees at the earliest possible moment.
In 1983 there was a delay from 15 June to 14 December and in 1987 from 11 June to 2 December before the Select Committees were set up. In the first case there were 66 to 69 sitting days and in the second 49 to 55 sitting days before they were all set up. It would be wrong if we did not set them up before the summer recess. If the Committees do not meet before then, the Clerks and advisers cannot get to work on the programme, and it would be nearly six 520 months before the Committees were established and working following the resumption of the House in this new Parliament. That is why speed is important.
As I was Chairman of the Liaison Committee on the two previous occasions, I do not underestimate the difficulties of the negotiations that will arise. The resolution referred to the Opposition Front Bench. It should be possible to reach agreement on that because the number of individuals concerned must be small, which will prevent any unnecessary delay.
There are further difficult issues—for example, the participation of the minority parties and the chairmanship of the Committees. If the system is to have credibility, it is extremely important that there should be a number of Chairmen from both sides of the House. That is an essential part of the system. Problems are caused by the tradition, now firmly established, that the Committees should mirror the construction of the Departments. There has been no significant change to the Department of the Environment, but there have been changes in the structure of other Departments, not least with regard to the citizens charter and to sport and other related matters. We need to ensure that the Committee structure reflects those changes if the Committees are to monitor effectively the issues to be debated. I hope that we can make significant progress in that respect.
There are further considerations to be taken into account with regard to the European Committees. Those established in the previous Parliament did not work effectively. They were too few and did not have the expertise necessary to scrutinise effectively what has been going on in Europe and to report back to the Floor of the House. I hope that we can reconsider my earlier suggestion that we should have a sub-committee of the existing departmental Committees which have expertise and co-opt on to it other Members from the Floor of the House who have a particular interest in European affairs. It is difficult to man all the Committees in terms of pure numbers, so if we operate as I have described the House will be better at holding the Government and European Community organisations to account.
Those are important issues for Back Benchers from a parliamentary point of view. It is up to Back Benchers to bring pressure to bear so that they fulfil their responsibilities in this matter without delay. Otherwise, a large part of this Parliament will go by when the Government are not called to account in detail on individual matters.
Finally, there has been a great deal of talk about the nature of the present Government and the policy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I see him within the tradition of the late lain Macleod, under whom I served my apprenticeship: extremely tough and rigorous on economic affairs but with a strong social concern for the everyday problems of individuals. The policies set out in the Gracious Speech reflect that. He comes to office at a time when it is tremendously important that Britain should be able to give a lead not only in European but in world affairs. Leaders across the world, from President Mitterrand in France to Mr. Kohl in Germany, Mr. Bush in the United States and the premier of Japan, are not in a happy position. I believe that we, as a British Government and a British Parliament, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have an opportunity to play the role on the world stage which the House has traditionally regarded as a high priority.
521 I congratulate the Government on the content of the Queen's Speech, and I look forward to seeing the legislation come before the House.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the House for the first time, but I am equally grateful to the electors of Bath for giving me the opportunity to do so. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members do not think me disingenuous if I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Chris Patten, for whom I have considerable regard. I wish him and his family well when he takes up his new post as Governor of Hong Kong. He will bring to that task his considerable political and intellectual skills.
Chris Patten represented Bath for 13 years, and recent letters to the local evening paper, the Bath and West Evening Chronicle, clearly demonstrate that the electors of Bath held him in high regard. Even those who strongly disagreed with the policies that he supported acknowledge that he was a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament. In that regard, I recognise that it will be a tall order to follow him. Talking of tall orders, I understand that Chris Patten is likely to follow the precedent set by Madam Speaker, who has declined to wear the traditional wig. I understand that Mr. Patten is seriously considering rejecting the tall funny hat with the feathers on top when he takes up his new position.
The recent election was a busy period in Bath for visits from those on the Government Front Bench. We even saw the Prime Minister in Bath, but, on that occasion, he was without his soap box. On the other hand, my supporters were mainly from another place. I will long remember one of them who came with me on a bus trip through the centre of the city, who spoke through a loudspeaker urging the people of Bath to "Vote Don Foster. Vote Christian Democrat." No doubt that was an advance warning of how Liberal Democrat Members are likely to vote in the debate on the Maastricht agreement.
My constituency is a beautiful city. It is the only World Heritage site in Britain which is a complete parliamentary constituency, an honour which it shares with only Florence and Rome. Bath has the finest rugby union side in Britain, the finest musical festival, glorious architecture and wonderful people.
In June 1979, in his maiden speech, Chris Patten said:Bath is not a museum piece. It is an extremely busy city, although not quite as busy as we would like following the rise in unemployment in the last few years. It depends a great deal for its prosperity on a number of fine engineering firms."—[Official Report, 14 June 1979; Vol. 968, c. 720.]Sadly, 13 years later, Bath is still not quite as busy as we would like following further recent rises in unemployment and many of the fine engineering firms to which Chris Patten referred are no more. Like many shops and other small businesses, they closed during the recession, often because of the twin attacks from the uniform business rate and high rents. I urge the Government to review rapidly the way that they support small businesses in particular.
Right hon. and hon. Members should be aware that beneath the facade of Georgian elegance Bath has the same problems as those associated with all cities in this country. We too have rising levels of homelessness, 522 increasing unemployment, congested streets with significant traffic problems and ever-rising rates of crime, but the police are deprived of the resources that they need to tackle the problems.
Many people in Bath have suffered badly because of the collapse of those firms that formed part of the empire of the late Robert Maxwell. Maxwell pensioners have seen the promised rewards of a lifetime's work vanish in a cloud of deception, theft and financial jiggery-pokery. I, and my constituents, urge the Government to take quick and decisive action to relieve the misery and distress caused to Maxwell pensioners and to end the uncertainty that they face.
Education is another issue that is of considerable concern to my constituents. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Secretary of State for Education. As I speak, school governing bodies in my constituency are having to face up to how they will cope with cuts in their education budgets. Those cuts have been imposed because of Avon county council's need to reduce its education budget as a means of trying to avoid poll tax capping. In some cases those cuts will result in cuts in the numbers of teachers and, certainly, a reduction in the quality of education provided to pupils. That is in marked contrast to the Government's pledge in the Gracious Speech tocontinue to work to raise standards at all levels of education".Such a pledge can be met only if it is supported by the necessary targeted increases in investment in education and training. Whatever the merits of the Government's claim to have increased expenditure on education, it is clear to Liberal Democrat Members at least that the current level of investment is inadequate to meet current need let alone any planned changes.
That view is clearly supported by many people in this country, and it was during the general election when the poll showed that three-quarters of the electorate approved of Liberal Democrat proposals to increase investment in education and training by £2 billion, even if that meant a I p increase in taxation.
A nation lives and dies by its human resources. Properly educated and trained, Britain's citizens are our greatest asset. Britain spends less as a proportion of gross domestic product on education than many of our industrial competitors, including France, America, Ireland and even Malaysia. If we are to catch up with our competitors and partners, we must become what we are capable of becoming—one of the most highly educated and highly skilled societies in the world.
Education is about more than economic prosperity. Education liberates while ignorance enslaves. Education widens horizons and enlarges choice. Education enables everyone, regardless of age, sex, background or ability, to realise their unique potential. Wise expenditure on education represents a nation's investment in its own future. Funding for education and training must be further increased and I and my constituents will welcome any Government moves in this direction.
In the Gracious Speech the Government offer a Bill to extend choice and diversity in education. But what choice is currently on offer? Schools must choose between sacking teachers and doing without books, colleges must choose between decent accommodation and up-to-date equipment and universities between overcrowded lecture 523 theatres and empty bank accounts. Eighteen-year-olds must choose between forgoing higher education and starting their careers under the burden of debt.
The Government, rightly in our view, recognised that education and training needed reform, but the speed, complexity and the number of changes have left teachers and lecturers suffering from innovation fatigue. Meanwhile, parents are increasingly bewildered by the apparent emergence of a two-tier system of education. The time has come for the Government to stop and listen to the people of Bath and to people throughout the country. If they are serious about giving real choice to parents and students, they must recognise the problems that their legislation has created. It is vital that the new Secretary of State for Education restores the democratic process of engaging in wide and genuine consultation before any further changes are introduced.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I wish at the outset to congratulate the new occupants of the Chair. I hope that we shall not cause them too much trouble in the coming Session. It is not only a duty but a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on an eloquent speech, delivered with great poise. We look forward to hearing from him in the future, even if we shall not necessarily agree with what he says on those occasions, let alone on this one.
Hon. Members will have agreed with the hon. Gentleman in at least two respects, the first being the tribute he paid to Bath Rugby Union club, which many of us have watched with great pleasure. The second and more important was his tribute to his predecessor, and he rightly couched his remarks in generous terms. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that when we ask who were the real heroes of the last general election, we shall agree that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Chris Patten share the honours—if not equally, then Chris Patten must still take a large share of the credit for the result of the election. He goes to Hong Kong to take up a challenging new job with the good wishes of all on these Benches, and I have no doubt that he will succeed well in the difficult task that he is about to undertake.
The difficult task that hon. Members face today involves trying to cram a quart into a pint pot, in view of the shortage of time, so I hope that I shall be forgiven for making only one point about education, the subject being taken with the environment. I welcome what the Gracious Speech says about education, in particular about extending choice and diversity. The motion standing in the names of Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen is churlish when it says that no measures exist "to improve educational standards and opportunities". That shows how out of touch they are. If they do not believe, as I do, that grant-maintained schools have vastly increased standards and opportunities in education, they should spend more time talking to parents at schools.
In my constituency—the same must be true throughout the country—the grant-maintained system is proving an enormous success, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech on the Loyal Address. I have a word of caution for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, whom I welcome to his new 524 responsibilities. I hope we may have his assurance that there will be no asset stripping by local education authorities in such a way that it will become more difficult for independent managements in schools to maximise the opportunities that lie ahead. I extend that beyond schools, to sixth form colleges, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will find time when he replies to the debate to deal with that aspect.
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
It may be convenient if I answer my right hon. Friend's question now with a resounding yes. We shall do everything we can to prevent local authorities from asset stripping before schools go grant-maintained and to prevent them from getting in the way of the democratic right of parents voting in favour of grant-maintained status.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. I assure the House that I had not given him prior notice of the question, which makes the response even more welcome.
Time permits me to raise only two matters concerning the environment. The first may seem parochial but it is a problem that my constituents share with many other people in Britain—the vexed question of gipsy sites. Many hon. Members will agree that the present situation is fundamentally unsatisfactory. It brings local government into discredit when difficult problems are handled in such a way as to undermine confidence in the equity of the system under which local authorities operate.
It is generally conceded that the Caravan Sites Act 1968 needs fundamental review and revision. It is clear that what has happened in the parish of Ash, at one end of my constituency, and in the ward of Knaphill, at the other, has not matched the aspirations of my constituents. They are entitled to have their rights fully recognised, to have the opportunity to put their points of view and to have those views debated in public and at length.
There is scope for the Minister who is responsible for the citizens charter to look urgently at the way that the system is working. The present position is unsatisfactory. There seems to be a race to get approval under the Act for registration so that the problem can be unloaded on to the next-door authority. That leads to many relevant factors, including the social impact of gipsy sites and the devaluation aspect, not receiving consideration.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that further problems are created when unauthorised gipsy encampments move into boroughs and it takes a long time before they can be moved on? That issue must be considered in the review of the legislation to which he referred.
§ Mr. Onslow
I agree with my hon. Friend, and if I were not trying to make a short speech I would expand my remarks to cover the inadequacies of the Public Order Act 1986. Many serious defects exist in the present law and I had hoped that at the beginning of the debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would say whether a review was in progress and, if so, when it might be brought to its conclusion. I hope at least that in correspondence he will give me some encouragement, because increasingly many people are arguing for the substitution of unitary 525 authorities for county councils in dealing with these issues. We need more openness in dealing with the matter, with greater equity all round.
The second point on the environment to which I wish to refer requires me to declare my interest as a passionate angler, but as there are 3 million anglers in Britain, and most of them vote, hon. Members will agree that I need not apologise for raising the matter. Anglers are concerned about the environment pre-eminently because, if they are to pursue their sport, they need water of quality and quantity in which to fish. There is depressing daily evidence that that desirable situation is getting harder to satisfy. To a large extent, it is nobody's fault but the Almighty's. The Government cannot be blamed for the drought. As the Government have resisted the temptation to appoint a Minister who might be blamed, we cannot apportion the blame much further.
Even leaving the drought aside, I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who seemed to blame the Government for failing to appoint an environment agency. I do not know what powers such an agency might have. Most of those who are familiar with the situation agree that much could be done, without rearranging the brass plates on the doors in Whitehall and elsewhere, to ensure that we have effective action to deal with a problem that is easily identified.
We do not need an environment agency to deal with the problem of rivers running dry because of excessive abstraction. The National Rivers Authority has powers, if it cares to use them, to limit and, if necessary, revoke abstraction licences and to move away from the policy that it seems to have adopted lately of treating abstraction licences on a first-come, first-served basis.
There is an urgent need for my right hon. Friend to talk to the chairman of the National Rivers Authority, Lord Crickhowell, and get from him a full report on the action that is to be taken to end the scandal of empty rivers. In Berkshire and Yorkshire—for example, in the Pang and Driffield Beck—nobody can fish because there is insufficient water. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) would echo that point if he were in a position to speak today.
In that context, will the Minister urgently consult the National Rivers Authority about the NRA's approach to the question of transferring water from one part of the United Kingdom to another? The NRA appears to have plans to use rivers as pipelines, regardless of the effect that that might have in transferring acidic water from one part of the country to alkaline rivers in another.
We must review the whole issue of the use of water, recognising that it is a scarce and precious resource. We must appreciate that rivers running with pure water are absolutely essential to the beauty of the countryside as well as to anglers who wish to fish in them.
There are subsidiary issues such as surfactants, foam-causing agents, and the menace, as many anglers see it, of the burning of orimulsion in power stations. Those are subjects on which I hope that the responsible Minister will produce full reports as soon as possible.
I am not anxious to speak at great length because I know that many others wish to contribute to the debate. I wish only to say that in the Gracious Speech we are rightly told that the value of the environment at home and abroad is something that the Government are pledged to defend. That statement is most welcome and I have no doubt that it will he honoured.
526 I welcome especially the initiative that has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to the Rio summit. In his speech in the address in reply to the Gracious Speech, my right hon. Friend stressed that we were seeking to give assistance to other parts of Europe, including that which we called eastern Europe, which is now emancipated. Many of us would judge it to be an environmental disaster area. A high priority—I believe that we are the best nation in Europe to discharge it—should be attached to making industrial emissions cleaner and to fighting against environmental pollution so as to bring a civilised environment to areas that have been devastated by years of communist industrial inefficiency. That is one area—my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) listed others—in which I believe that we are uniquely equipped and qualified to set the pace at both European and world level.
We have before us an excellent Gracious Speech. I welcome its contents and I believe that it bodes well for the future of the entire United Kingdom.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I start by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as other hon. Members have done, on your appointment. I also take the opportunity of congratulating Madam Speaker, who represents a constituency in the black country, the west midlands, on her appointment. Those who come from that part of the country derive great pleasure from the fact that Madam Speaker is a local Member.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Ms. Campbell), who indeed made an eloquent maiden speech. Cambridge is fortunate to have such a Member. She is the third Labour Member, as she said, to represent the constituency, and its first female Member. She spoke eloquently indeed when describing the problems that faced her constituents. We heard an excellent maiden speech, too, from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, he spoke without the slightest sign of nervousness. I am sure that we shall hear both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman speak on many occasions in future.
The right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is, of course, the chairman of the 1922 Committee. He said that we have before us an excellent Queen's Speech. Obviously, I do not believe anything of the sort.
§ Mr. Irvine Patnick (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)
The hon. Gentleman would not.
§ Mr. Winnick
Indeed. I have every justification for taking that view of the speech, which contains no mention of unemployment. There is not one word on that subject. Conservative Members may consider this to be old-fashioned, outdated and the rest, but I have not changed my view, any more than my Labour colleagues have, that unemployment casts an unacceptable blot on society and causes immense hardship.
Some of us had the privilege of listening to Merlyn Rees's final speech in the House, which he made shortly before the general election. He referred to the 1944 White Paper on employment, which was introduced by Ernest Bevin. It was accepted in that document that Government had a role in trying to ensure conditions of full employment.
527 Unemployment—deprivation of the right to work—is bad enough in itself but it is even worse that so many suffer prolonged periods of being unable to find a job. I do not gloat when Tory Members lose their seats and face employment difficulties. I lost my former seat in 1970 and in the conditions that then prevailed I was fortunate to find myself in employment within a week. I am glad, obviously, that Conservative Members lost their seats in the election and that there were many Labour gains, but I am sure that those Conservatives do not wish to be unemployed. It is understandable that they will make every possible effort to find work. They will find themselves in the same position as our constituents, who want to be able to work as well.
Church Action on Poverty sent all hon. Members this week a booklet on poverty. One of the contributors wrote about a part of Tyne and Wear where there is 84 per cent. unemployment. She stated that in some families two or three generations have never known what it is to be properly employed. The west midlands, too, have suffered in the second major recession, as we suffered in the early 1980s. Far too many people in the west midlands and in the black country are finding many problems in trying to obtain work.
People in their 50s, and even in their 40s, face an additional problem when they are told that they are too old to be taken on. When someone in his or her early 40s starts his or her political career in this place, no one considers him or her necessarily to be old. Far from it. I note that the Secretary of State for Education smiles. He should know that no doubt some of his constituents are in the position that I described. So many people are told even when they are in their 40s, let alone in their 50s, that they are too old to work. That is an additional problem when the economic climate is as harsh as it is at present.
In addition to that, there is what I can best describe as a growing underclass. In that group we see poverty, deprivation, lack of proper schooling, inadequate housing and poor opportunities at their worst. When the Government were elected in 1979, they made much of law and order. We know only too well that crime—in some instances serious crime—occurs frequently in many parts of the country. It is not only women who are greatly reluctant to go out after 7 pm in some areas. Does anyone doubt that the growing joblessness among young people is a factor in the crime statistics? Many school leavers find it impossible to obtain a permanent job.
It may be that after the Conservative election victory Ministers do not want to be warned by Labour Members, but I shall do so. I choose my words carefully. They will be playing with fire if effective steps are not taken to deal with the problems to which I referred. Often, those in the underclass, as I have described it, do not bother to vote. They feel alienated from the political scene. In some instances, they take the minimum amount of interest in public affairs. In percentage terms, the number of people in the underclass here, when set against the population as a whole, is not as great as that in the United States, but it is growing. That should cause the House much concern.
There are Conservative Members who believe that naked market forces have a solution to all problems. I assume that the majority of Ministers take that view. In more recent years, Americans have been told that government should be of the very minimum, but naked 528 market forces have not been able to deal with the underclass and the poverty and destitution in that country. Surely what has happened in the United States is a warning to us to be extremely careful. It is a warning to the Government to recognise that there is a problem. Even if the warning comes from Labour Members, it is one that should be taken seriously.
The Secretary of State mentioned housing. It is ironic that almost all Labour Members, and, I imagine, a good number of Tory Members, receive more letters from constituents about this subject than about any other. Two thirds of those who come to my surgery come to talk about housing matters—mainly, although not entirely, about the need to be housed or rehoused.
I have made my position on the matter clear in a number of housing debates, and it is the same as that of all my colleagues. I accept that most people want to own their own property. If Tory Members want to believe their own propaganda about our supposed views on housing, they are entitled to do so. I have always said that as I own my own house—or am acquiring it from the building society—I could hardly wish to deprive others of the same opportunity. But the fact remains that a large minority, even in better conditions, cannot purchase, so rented and affordable rental accommodation is necessary.
For 13 years the Government have made it virtually impossible for local authorities to build. Not a single council house has gone up in my borough in that time. The Government have made no secret of the fact that they believe that local authorities no longer have a role in house building. That is dogma at its worst, and it causes a great deal of suffering and hardship. Young couples, perhaps with one child, tell me that they have to live with their in-laws or in a furnished room. I tell them that the Government say that they should be able to buy a place in the newly built housing in the private sector—whereupon they smile, knowing full well that they are not in a position to purchase. The only way such people stand any chance of acquiring adequate accommodation is through the local authority.
Housing waiting lists grow longer and longer. Why should people be penalised just because they cannot get a mortgage? The Government say that there are alternative forms of rented accommodation: the private sector. I accept that there is now more private rented accommodation—but without security, and at rents which people in need cannot afford.
I agree that housing associations have a role to play, but the figures are stark. In 1978, more than 20,500 new such dwellings were being built; that had fallen to 18,000 by 1990. I remind my colleagues of the figures for council house building. In 1978, the last full year of office for the Labour Government, there were well over 76,000 starts. In 1990, the number had fallen to 7,500. Is it any wonder that people find themselves in such a desperate housing plight?
There has been no response from the Government. The Minister said that he hopes that we will not oppose rents into mortgages, but that is not the issue. The real issue is providing accommodation for those who are desperately in need of housing and cannot afford to buy.
Understandably, Conservative Members will take much satisfaction from the fact that we have once again failed to win an election. Every Labour Member deeply regrets that, and we believe that our loss is the country's loss. We will not be in a position to implement what we wanted to do on housing, unemployment and pensions.
529 There will be the usual inquest on why we failed to win, and Conservative Members will take as much satisfaction as they like from that, too. We, however, can take some limited satisfaction from the fact that we made substantial gains and that 39 Tory Members lost their seats. With any luck, more of them will do so at the next election.
Labour Members have a duty and responsibility, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, to express the hopes and aspirations of the people to whom 1 have referred—those in difficulty, those who know that their problems are likely to be raised in the House only by Labour Members. No Tory Member would raise those sorts of issues because Tory Members are not interested in them. As well as expressing the hopes and aspirations of those who are more fortunate, Labour Members will continue to do our job in this respect. We have firmly re-established ourselves as one of the two major parties, and however much Tory Members dislike the fact, we are an effective Opposition. We will continue to be one and we will do our utmost to ensure that when the next election comes we will be able to form a Government.
§ Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)
I thank the Chair for allowing me this opportunity to make what is known as a maiden speech. Other maiden speeches have already taken us to Cambridge and Bath, and we have now reached another beautiful English city—Chester.
I have some reservations about the phrase "maiden speech" because it has an unfortunate sexist ring to it. As a rule I do not like sexist language, although I have begun to have some reservations about politically correct linguistics since the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) told me of the Christmas pantomime in his constituency which, for reasons of political correctness, was retitled, "Snow Green and the Seven Persons of Restricted Growth".
On these occasions, and in these early days, new Members are anxious to do the right thing. They all say, and it is true, that it is much like arriving at a new school —Westminster high, a political academy for students of somewhat mixed abilities. There does not appear to be any formal prospectus but, happily, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) has published an admirable guide to the culture of the place and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has published an equally fascinating guide to the subculture. Fortunately, Doorkeepers and the police are always on hand to point one in the right direction. I have not yet found my way to the hairdresser's or the rifle range, but doubtless my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) will sort me out in due course.
Sitting in the right place is also vital. On the day of Madam Speaker's memorable election, I found myself innocently drawn to the spot immediately behind the Prime Minister—instinctively drawn there, I now realise, by the assumption that it was the correct place for the Member for the City of Chester because that is exactly where my predecessor, Sir Peter Morrison, was wont to sit when he served the Prime Minister's illustrious predecessor so ably and loyally.
Loyalty is certainly a word that one associates with Sir Peter, a true gentleman who served his Prime Minister, his party, his constituents and his country with unswerving loyalty, energy and commitment during nearly 20 years in 530 this House. Now that he has moved on to fresh fields and oil rigs new, I am sure that Members on both sides will join me in wishing him well for the future.
I have no doubt that Sir Peter will be keeping a discreet eye on my endeavours here, as will his distinguished predecessor, Sir Jack Temple and, indeed, his predecessor Sir Basil Nield—
§ Mr. Brandreth
Yes indeed, all very much alive—we live a very long time in Chester because of the lovely water in the River Dee. Sir Basil was the Member of Parliament for Chester who pioneered what became the Adoption Act 1950, transforming for the better the lives of thousands of families throughout this country. On the day when we are invited to enter the ballot for private Members' Bills, that is a timely reminder to us newcomers of what a Back Bencher can achieve.
I understand that it is customary on these occasions to extol the virtues of one's constituency. For some Members, that may be something of a challenge because while the beauties and brilliance of Bradford, Brent or Bootle are very real, they are not necessarily as well known as they might be. For the fortunate Member for the City of Chester, it is different: the virtues of Chester are already celebrated.
Our city has been likened to the Conservative party—as modern as tomorrow, with a lot of time for yesterday. We combine the new—excellent communications, which will he even better with the electrification of the railway from Crewe to Holyhead, superb business parks, the best in British retailing—with the old: a unique walled city, a matchless heritage, a great cathedral now celebrating its 900th anniversary.
Chester has been justly described as the jewel in the crown of the north west. It is, in fact, a pearl in the oyster of England. If you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not yet been there, the Whitsun recess and the best hotels and guest houses in the land are waiting to welcome you.
In Chester, we have everything—including the Duke of Westminster, and I refer not to a public house but to a constituent with decided views, no doubt, on certain elements in the Gracious Speech, views that will be well worth listening to. I have found that all my constituents have views that are well worth listening to. They are articulate and concerned, and they are particularly concerned about the issues at the heart of this debate: local government, education and the environment. My constituents, particularly those fortunate to be elected last Thursday, are concerned that local government reforms should not erode local government accountability. They have especially charged me with attempting to unravel the impenetrable formula by which the standard spending assessment is arrived at and to explore why it is that a city such as Chester, with its special responsibilities towards our national heritage and its ever-growing contribution towards our national tourist industry, appears to be treated less fairly than it might.
My constituents—all of them—are concerned about education. They welcome local management of schools, diversity, choice, the raising of standards and the special emphasis that the Gracious Speech gives to teacher training. They recognise the need for reform, but they also recognise the additional burdens that reforms have laid upon governors and teachers alike.
531 In Chester, we are proud of our schools and colleges and pleased that no sooner had my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education hit his desk for the first time than he took the decision to save a threatened nursery school in Chester, sending out a clear signal that the Government recognise that the needs of the child and the voice of the parent are paramount and that nursery education—nursery schools as well as nursery units—has an increasingly important part to play in the educational life of our country.
My constituents—all of them—are concerned about the environment. They welcome the priority given to the environment in the Gracious Speech. They welcome the Prime Minister's initiative in being the first leader to commit himself to attending the earth summit in Rio. They salute the Government for securing the doubling of green belt land in the past decade and for recently supporting the green belt around Chester, not as an inflexible straitjacket but as a protective girdle which helps us to secure the unique nature of our city and encourages urban renewal rather than urban sprawl.
I particularly welcome the fact that the Gracious Speech specifically emphasises that environmental consequences are to be considered in every element of Government decision making. Where decisions are finely balanced, as they often will be, I sense that my constituents will want to see the environment given the benefit of the doubt.
As hon. Members will discover in the months and years ahead, my constituents have a great deal to say. That is why they welcome a listening Government—not a Government who pay lip service to the notion of listening and then carry on regardless, but a vital, thoughtful, progressive Government who regard listening carefully not as a weakness but as one of their greatest strengths.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) for an excellent maiden speech, delivered with great charm and eloquence. I do not know Chester—except for its race course, the memory of which is somewhat painful—but I congratulate him on his tour of that city and I wish him well in the House.
I also wish to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. For each of the previous four years I have spoken after you in the debate on the Queen's Speech. That was not to be this year, and I wish you well in your new post.
When I sought guidance from the Speaker's Office on the subject of each day's debate on the Queen's Speech, I was told that today one should nod in the direction of local government, education and the environment. I intend to do that, but in such a way as to focus on the issues as they affect the area that I represent in the north of Ireland, with all its tragedies. I shall start with local government, because we simply do not have any. It is difficult to speak about local government when we have none—when we are in a kind of limbo, detached in some ways, semi-detached in others, and without the luxury of being able to speak about the issues that most hon. Members will speak about today.
532 Historically, this is an important time for us in Northern Ireland. It is important in terms of the outside influences and developments which are coming to bear in a far-reaching and fundamental way. I believe that outside agencies in the European dimension, the EC and Maastricht, and the harnessing of diversity and differences in Europe will be a positive force rather than the confrontation that we have seen so often. I believe that that and many other outside influences will have a bearing on the creation of structures within the north of Ireland the—type of structures that will lead to an administrative system there which will give us a level playing field so that in debates such as this we can talk about local government as it exists rather than as a vacuum within our society.
As is obvious, we are presently involved in talks. It is a crucial and sensitive period and I do not want to speak about those talks. Suffice it to say one thing: we have a choice—either we can look for a neat, tidy little package which will take the Northern Ireland problem off the agenda here and out of people's minds, which will put it on the long finger, or we can look for a solution to the problems.
If we look for a neat little package, in 20 years' time some of us will be sitting here saying exactly the same things. It will be a futile waste of time. If we are looking for a solution to the problems, I believe that the time is right. The wind of change is blowing from outside and it is blowing inside in the desire for peace. It is blowing through the minds of many people as we approach the end of the century and we simply cannot allow this blight on our entire community, on our country to continue and go into a new century with the millstone of terrible violence and dissension around our necks. I only hope that the Government want a solution to the problem rather than a tidy little package which will suit their purposes in terms of their own presentation.
What happens in those talks does not happen in a vacuum. There is no ivory tower. The talks will be affected by what happens outside. Here I nod in the direction of the environment. One week ago, I stood outside an Army checkpoint in my constituency where yet another young British soldier had been blown to pieces by the Provisional IRA. On a previous occasion, I had asked that those static checkpoints be removed. Environmentally, they are horrendous, but that is immaterial when it comes to the cost in human life. Yet the Government persist with the daft, silly notion, which cannot be justified, that they should have those lookout posts there as sitting targets for the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organisations.
Those people who know my prejudices and views may say that I am simply making that point in relation to Army activity in the north of Ireland. So be it. I will, however, quote someone whose opinion in that respect cannot be questioned. I refer to Brigadier Peter Morton, a former British Army commander in South Armagh, operations officer for Northern Ireland, and a Ministry of Defence planner. He is now retired, but he described lookout points in this way:Bases, perched like Crusader castles showing the flag on every Ulster road and hillside, are sitting targets for the terrorists, to be reconnoitred in safety and attacked at leisure.They drain resources, sap the strength of the security forces, and place many lives needlessly in danger.If I were the father of the young soldier who was killed a week ago, or of the young man who was killed some 533 months ago, I would seriously question the validity of the decision to retain those static checkpoints. I would ask for what it was that my son died.
The Minister of State said in an interview after the latest incident that the purpose of the lookouts is to reassure the community, but the view of the Army is that they do not fulfill any useful purpose. They do not fight terrorism, but are there to reassure some sections of the community. Is that worth the loss of one or two lives, or even more? I ask the Secretary of State for Education to draw that matter to the attention of his colleagues.
§ Mr. Mallon
It is unacceptable for young lives to be endangered for no reason but to provide reassurance. The lookout post in the latest incident goes 60 feet into the earth, yet that post—one of 27 in my constituency—did not observe a digger 200 yards away as it loaded explosives on to a truck which was then sent along the railway line to the static checkpoint.
There is something radically wrong with a security policy that does not meet the situation. If lookout posts did not exist, many more soldiers would be available for patrols. One can be sure that the terrorists will not use roads where checkpoints are located. They will not be caught in that way. The element of surprise is all important, but that element has been removed in such a way that it puts lives at risk—to say nothing of the number of houses in the vicinity of that checkpoint which have been destroyed on two occasions. I visited the area a week ago, after the latest explosion, to see roofs, walls, and belongings gone. Yet there remains stubbornness, a refusal to be convinced, on the part of Government sources in the north of Ireland.
I refer next to the situation in County Fermanagh, which I will support with statistics. One full British Army battalion has for months been guarding the workmen who are building another static checkpoint. At the same time, the Irish army on the other side of the border devoted 76,000 man hours over three weeks to guarding that British Army battalion. That puts into perspective an aspect of security policy which cannot be defended.
I mentioned that there are 27 lookout posts in my constituency. Obviously, they see little and prevent nothing. Yet they are equipped with all kinds of surveillance equipment, which is giving cause for concern in terms of its effects on the environment and health. Does it give rise to a radiation problem? Is there a cancer-causing factor to consider? There is a growing belief among experts that such equipment poses a grave danger. I ask that that aspect also be investigated before it is too late. Such a suggestion may be poo-poohed, and cold water poured on it, but eventually sense will reign in the minds of those who make decisions.
My third nod is in the direction of education, in the hope that my remarks will help to inform those who are responsible for security in the north of Ireland. We have a serious problem with the IRA. The world knows it, we know it, and the Government know it. We have a serious problem also with other paramilitary groups—one of which has killed more people this year than the Provisionals have. It was responsible for the multiple murders committed at a bookmaker's in the Armagh road in Belfast, and for the shooting of the lady in a chemist's 534 shop. The same group has been responsible for killings in the most horrific circumstances. I refer to the Ulster Defence Association.
The UDA uses a flag of convenience known as the Ulster Freedom Fighers and the Ulster Volunteer Force. It is one of the most horrific murder machines to be found anywhere. What is the official reaction? I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members will help me in this educational process. When asked in a "This Week" programme why the UDA is not banned, one of the present Ministers of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), replied:It is from a part of the community that believe they are under threat—and if they believe they are under threat, within the law they may protest about this. They may associate. That's not to say that there aren't some rowdy, hooligan, and possible criminal elements.Good heavens—the Minister talks ofrowdy, hooligan, and possible criminal elementsin referring to one of the most horrific murder gangs operating within these islands. Is it any wonder that year after year, when we see the tragedy of the north of Ireland and what the people there have to endure, we grow intensely angry at the failure of this Parliament and of the Government ever to solve that problem? But solve it we must.
If we are to make political progress, and to hold talks that will result in a successful resolution of the political problems, we must end some of the nonsenses in what is supposed to be a security policy for the north of Ireland. I take this opportunity again to draw attention to them, because if we do not get to grips with those issues, no one will be able to solve the political problems.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke with considerable feeling about Northern Ireland, but he will forgive me if I do not follow him down the route that he signposted so well. He was, however, quite right to air in this debate the issues that he did.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) spoke with great eloquence and wit. I am sure that the House joins me in looking forward to hearing further contributions from him. I would say that even if I were not standing for re-election to the executive of the 1922 Committee later this week.
It is a great pleasure for me to see my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education in the Chamber. I have not the slightest doubt that he will bring a different view and a different style to his office and to our education debates, especially in comparison with his immediate predecessor. He is, however, the fifth Secretary of State whom I have seen during my period as chairman of the Back-Bench education committee. I am sure that he will agree that we now look forward to a considerable period of continuity, which, in my view, is much to be desired. I hope that my right hon. Friend enjoys a long, useful and happy stay in the Department.
I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) to his new post as Under-Secretary of State. He brings an original mind to our debates, and I look forward with considerable interest to hearing what he says about education.
For the Labour party, however, it is business as usual and opposition as usual. True, Labour Members entertained some high and misplaced ambitions to move to 535 this side of the House, but for them that must be a pleasure deferred. They will have to reconcile themselves to the prospect of at least another five years in opposition. That will provide them with an opportunity to reconsider some of their education policies—for, eventually, even they will come to understand that the nation's parents want more choice and diversity in the nation's schools, and that a single type of school, no matter how well intentioned, cannot satisfy all the nation's children.
The present Government have not hesitated to make resources available for education. Last year, education spending in the United Kingdom rose by some 16 per cent.; this year, it will rise by a further 7 per cent. Both increases are well above inflation.
The Gracious Speech stated that the Government wouldcontinue to work to raise standards at all levels of education",and that a Bill would be introducedto extend choice and diversity in education.I welcome those proposals, and I want more schools to receive grant-maintained status, which will enable more local initiatives to flourish. Grant-maintained schools have a better understanding of the wishes, aspirations and needs of local parents and communities than, certainly, many local education authorities.
So often, LEAs have sought to impose a rigid education policy on differing schools in a wide geographical area —a policy sometimes determined more by political considerations than by education needs. I believe that the more that parents are involved in the running of schools and the education of their children, the better. Most parents naturally want the best for their children, and parents can help to drive forward the necessary improvement in the standard and quality of state education.
I hope that clusters of schools will apply for grant-maintained status. I hope that, for example, denominational secondary schools will, together with their feeder primaries, make the necessary applications, and I believe that if they do so they should be considered as single units. It will still be necessary, however, for each school to ballot parents and, if parents vote against grant-maintained status for a certain school, that school will not be able to form part of a cluster.
I also believe that it should be made much easier for some of the smaller primary schools to obtain grant-maintained status, especially those in rural areas. I support the concept of the village school—often very small and often providing, despite its size, very good education for local children. Clearly, it will be difficult for some small schools to consider grant-maintained status on their own, but, if they join neighbouring schools of similar size, such status should be possible and even desirable.
I have long argued that the principal attraction of grant-maintained status is not the additional funding received by the schools involved, but the greater independence that such schools enjoy. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to hear the assent of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that correction.
536 I am not arguing that all local education authorities stultify innovation and development. I believe, however, that since 1902, when they were first introduced, a number of changes have been made to education, society and, indeed, local government. I am far from certain whether LEAs in their present form are flexible enough to respond to the challenges of the late 20th century.
Despite the attractions of grant-maintained status, I am aware that not all schools will opt for that route. Some are likely to continue to work beneath the umbrella of the local education authority, in which event LEAs should be considerably modified. I believe that they will have to consider a new role—a role that may not be as positive as that which they currently enjoy. Moreover, some secondary schools, especially in the inner cities, may decide not to apply for grant-maintained status. I know that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues are particularly concerned about education problems in the inner cities. Although in some cases grant-maintained status may present a partial answer to some of those questions, it may be necessary to consider a substantial increase in the number of city technology colleges.
I am well aware of the benefits provided by CTCs. I know that they are able to offer a diversity and choice that are widely welcomed by the majority of parents. They are also able to improve substantially the quality of education available in the inner cities. I believe that CTCs can become bright beacons, lighting up the inner cities and giving real opportunities to children who, in so many other ways, are indeed deprived.
I am fully conscious that that suggestion has substantial financial implications; but the popularity of the existing CTCs, and the fact that they are always oversubscribed, demonstrate that they represent one method of improving education standards, particularly in the inner cities. Despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, the comprehensive schools have not resolved the problems of inner-city education. They have now existed for 25 to 30 years, and some believe that that period has coincided with a gradual erosion of standards—again, particularly in some of the inner-city areas.
Despite what Opposition Members may believe, increased funding does not in itself resolve the problem. At least three additional elements are required to improve the quality and standard of state education. First, we need a lessening of the expensive local bureaucracy, which would allow more to be spent on individual schools and in the classroom. Secondly, we need greater independence for schools, with heads and governing bodies making decisions within the basic structure of the national curriculum. Thirdly, we need more involvement and interest on the part of parents, who, I believe, will become the great engine for change within our schools.
We also need a well-motivated and adequately paid teaching force. I have long argued, in the House and outside, that the majority of the nation's teachers are indeed dedicated both to their profession and to the children in their charge; but they must face some real problems, stemming, for example, from the growing number of single parent families and the break-up of the family unit. Teachers face an increasing lack of respect for authority, and a growing sense of indiscipline. All that adds to the problems of the classroom teacher.
I do not underestimate the problems or the challenge that teachers face, particularly in the inner cities, and I know that that issue very much concerns my right hon. 537 Friend the Secretary of State. As I said earlier, I urge my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of expanding city technology colleges so that they may improve the quality of state education, particularly in our larger cities.
The Gracious Speech also referred to teacher training. I should certainly like students to spend more time in the class rather than the lecture room. The theory of education is, of course, important, but in my view it is secondary to the practicality of acquiring skills in teaching children in schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will understand the critical importance of ensuring that classroom practice takes place in those schools which have a good and deserved reputation for teaching and maintaining discipline, for those two aspects clearly go closely together.
Reference to teacher training takes me to another aspect and a different reference—dyslexia. Dyslexia exists. It is not a middle-class excuse for lazy sons or lazy daughters. I welcome the Department's initiatives in, first, giving guidance on how dyslexia should be identified and, secondly, when it is identified, taking the appropriate action to remedy the problems and difficulties. Teachers require special training both in the identification of dyslexia and in the teaching of dyslexic pupils. The frustration that must be experienced by children suffering from dyslexia is at times almost tangible.
I am pleased that the sum of £10 million so far has been made available over a period of three years for the reading recovery scheme, which helps to identify and remedy some of those difficulties. I am also pleased that the training of student primary teachers will include the consideration of dyslexia.
§ Mr. Bellingham
Can I pick my hon. Friend's brain on dyslexia, which is an extremely important subject? Does my hon. Friend agree that the time that it takes for children to be statemented in some local authorities is intolerable?
§ Mr. Pawsey
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. That, again, is a matter that is being closely looked at by the Department of Education. I hope that the statementing procedure will be streamlined to enable pupils suffering from dyslexia to be identified much sooner, to their advantage.
As for advanced education, I welcome the substantial increase in the number of young people who are now in advanced education. When we first came to office in 1979, the number of students in advanced education had slumped to about 700,000. Today, that figure is well over 1 million. To put it another way, in 1979 only one in eight of the target group was in advanced education. Today the figure is one in four and it is set to fall to one in three during the next few years.
That suggests to me two things: first, that there has been a substantial increase in the number of places in our colleges, polytechnics and universities to cater for the additional number of students and, secondly, that there has been an increase in the number of young people who are sufficiently well qualified to enter advanced education.
My main point regarding advanced education is a limited one. In particular, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the size of the access funds. When they were first introduced under the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988, they amounted to £25 million. They have now been increased to £25.8 million, an amount that 538 is great enough only to cover the increase in inflation. That very modest increase in funds has not kept pace with the substantial increase in student numbers. My firm belief is that we should uprate the access funds to cater for the substantial increase in student numbers. The access funds do much to reduce student hardship.
l am completely in favour of the introduction of student loans. I understand the reasons for the grant having been frozen, but those two reasons give added impetus to my view that we should look very hard at the size of the access funds and that there should be an increase in the amount of money provided. I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer to that point when he winds up the debate.
The Queen's Speech contains an exciting programme. I commend it wholeheartedly to all parts of the House.
§ Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my first speech during this debate.
On these occasions it is customary to mention one's predecessor. Mr. John Hughes represented Coventry, North-East from 1987 until the recent general election. His convictions, and some of his methods of pursuing them, meant that he did not endear himself to everyone. However, he possessed a friendly and approachable way of dealing with his constituents. He certainly possessed tenacity, which he used on their behalf. Therefore, I pay tribute to him for his efforts on their behalf. I wish both him and his wife a peaceful and fulfilling retirement.
Many hon. Members know that Coventry, North-East was represented from 1974 to 1987 by Mr. George Park. I understand that he commanded considerable respect in this place. Hon. Members will be glad to hear that he commands similar respect in the constituency, where he is still very active in local community affairs. He is currently the chairman of the community health council in Coventry. He was very kind and helpful to me in the run-up to the general election. I thank both him and his wife for the help and kindness that they have shown me.
Coventry, North-East is a compact, urban constituency —an integral part of the city which, despite two devastating recessions, still employs more people in manufacturing than the national average. We have a complete mixture of housing: inner city areas, council estates and pleasant semi-suburban, owner-occupied areas. Despite its compact size, my constituency contains and is bordered by some valuable environments that deserve and, in large part, are receiving the protection that they need. In particular, I draw attention to Coombe Abbey park and the Sowe valley, which bring beautiful, natural countryside right up to and into the urban area.
Much work that is commendable has been done by the local authority, local conservationists and the Countryside Commission. They deserve our thanks and support, along with many other local groups that, through their hard work, do so much to maintain the quality of life in the area.
I am afraid, however, that we also have considerable problems in the constituency, as do all urban areas in this country. As I listened to some of the speeches yesterday and today, I found that I could hardly recognise the country that was being described by some Conservative Members. Our cities are in great danger. The trend, under current policies, is towards the position that has been 539 reached in the United States. If effective action is not taken, we shall see in our country what I call the doughnut effect: cities with great holes in the middle, where people do not go and dare not go.
The Queen's Speech does not address those problems. It is not just a question of policing, although that is important. In many cases, the police are stretched beyond belief. Crime, and the fear of crime, has now reached a level that is totally and absolutely unacceptable—this, after 13 years in power of the party that claims to be the party of law and order.
Security, hope and opportunity must be brought back to citizens living in those areas. Current urban policy is, in many cases, exacerbating and increasing the divisions. The grand scheme is favoured rather than housing and school repairs and we hear speeches such as that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).
I had not intended to talk about education, but I join the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth in his congratulations to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) on his maiden speech. His accent, confidence and delivery and, although I am not an expert, probably his school tie, prove that he enjoyed a degree of choice in education. It showed in the way that he delivered his speech and he should be congratulated on his ability in that regard. However, in the constituency that I represent we do not have two or three cars per family to take the kids to school. Choice must mean a first-class local school offering first-class education within the area in which it is needed, and we certainly do not have that.
All those problems are of some importance but most important of all is the level of unemployment. In 1974, in his first speech in the House, Mr. George Park spoke of Coventry as being a great centre of manufacturing. He talked of his fears about the fact that British ideas were increasingly being developed abroad. His fears were well founded. We have seen great companies in our city, which were making a contribution towards the national economy and providing employment, going to the wall without any effective attempts to save them. The Queen's Speech talked of privatisation and other policies but said nothing about the regeneration and investment that will be necessary to stop that from continuing.
In 1987, Mr. John Hughes, in his first speech in the House, said that unemployment in the Foleshill ward of my constituency was 28 per cent. Now, five years later, it is 23 per cent. and increasing again. That level of unemployment destroys the fabric of communities and something must be done about it. It affects crime, education, the environment and health. Last year, the local health authority in Coventry did a statistical analysis of life expectancy levels in the different parts of Coventry. This is supposed to be a modern western country offering the best opportunities to all its citizens, yet it discovered a discrepancy in life expectancy levels of over seven years between the most affluent wards in the city and the most deprived. That is totally unacceptable. It discovered that the indicators of poor health followed almost completely the geographical pattern of unemployment levels.
We will not solve those problems by privatisation or anti-union legislation. We will not solve them by allowing hospitals to opt out or by any other of the policies that 540 seem to be high on the agenda. We will not cure unemployment by simply supporting service industries, tourism and so on, important as they are. We must support manufacturing. We must make and sell things if they are to be successful.
I sat in the House yesterday listening to the plans for privatisation. During most of my life I have worked for Jaguar cars. That company was privatised while I was working there, and privatisation was probably far more appropriate there than in many of the proposed areas. However, it did not solve the problems in that company. Some directors became millionaires through lucrative share options, management bonuses, massive increases in salaries and cuts in taxation. They were handed down honours and so on. However, at the end of their reign, more than 4,000 people lost their jobs in the latest round of redundancies.
That is another proud Coventry company that is struggling to survive. The remaining work force, trade unions and the new management, who have at least brought a degree of professionalism in dealing with some of the problems, are working together to solve the problems and pull that company around. Privatisation did nothing for Jaguar and it will do nothing for our coal industry, apart from doing massive damage to our national interest.
Those are the issues that we should be addressing if we want to build a nation at peace with itself, where people of all races and both sexes can live in harmony and walk the streets in safety. Those are the issues that I shall be making my priority during my time in the House. I hope that if I can achieve just one thing, it will be to do some damage to the self-satisfied attitudes that appear to prevail in many parts of the House.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
It is with no little pride and a great sense of honour that I speak for the first time in the House. I must immediately make known the debt that I feel to my constituents for sending me here. I hope that the faith that they have shown in me will not be misplaced over the years.
My constituency is Woodspring. Like many hon. Members, I have received several hundred letters since the election saying, "Congratulations on a wonderful Conservative result—by the way, where is Woodspring?" Those who have been in the House before will not be surprised to learn that the reason they have not heard the name of the constituency more often is that it was represented by Sir Paul Dean, who spent a record length of time as a Deputy Speaker. He gave record service both to the House and to the country. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House join me in wishing him a happy retirement. After the length of time that he spent as Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he more than deserves it.
One of the questions that is of immense pertinence to Woodspring is its location. After the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the people of Woodspring, who had always belonged to north Somerset, found themselves in the much loathed county of Avon. The quicker Avon is abolished, the better—and the quicker my constituents are returned to Somerset, which is where they belong, the 541 happier they will be. Any Minister who can push that through quickly will be assured of a warm welcome when coming to speak in Woodspring.
Woodspring extends from Portishead, south of Bristol in the north-west of the constituency, through Clevedon, Nailsea, the Chew valley and down to Paulton, a town which has particular difficulties in the wake of the Robert Maxwell affair. Like many of my hon. Friends, I shall he trying my best to get a fair deal for those who have suffered from the scandalous behaviour of Robert Maxwell and what he has done to those poor people.
There are several other problems in the constituency, courtesy of Avon county, not least of which is shared by many of my hon. Friends, and that is the problem of traveller sites. We require urgent reform of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. It is becoming scandalous that law-abiding citizens who work hard to improve their community and their homes and surroundings should be discriminated against by a piece of legislation which gives priority to those who have no semblance of regard for local community and no community spirit, and who contribute nothing. I urge the Government to undertake a far-reaching and rapid reform of that legislation.
It is with some sadness that I speak in this debate. I am one of the many doctors who qualified under the Conservative Government and their far-reaching reforms of the health service. I was disappointed—indeed, disturbed—to find that the Opposition, who a few weeks ago told us that health was the single most important issue facing the electorate and that the election was a referendum on the NHS, chose not to debate the subject in the six days of debate on the Loyal Address. Why has it slipped so far down the Opposition's agenda? Could it be that they were rumbled during the election and were shown to be posturing in the extreme, with no solid policies to oppose the reforms that the Government have made? That is the case.
Conservatives do not need any lessons from our opponents about caring. We heard the word "caring" used today during health questions as though it were the exclusive preserve of the Labour party. As a junior doctor and a medical student during the health workers' strike, organised by caring NUPE and COHSE and supported by the caring Labour party, I took blood samples in taxis through picket lines. That was the extent of their caring. In this spirit of great caring, dredging up personal cases of misery to try to find the one case that has gone badly in the national health service and overlooking all the reforms and successes that we have had, they have resorted to the lowest form of political debate. To try to say that every case that has gone wrong is typical is loathsome.
For the first time since its inception, Conservatives have introduced into the health service the idea that preventive medicine is important. Before the GP contract was introduced, we were told by our opponents—by the British Medical Association and by those who now oppose the new Home Secretary, whose bravery in introducing the reforms should be attested to—that we would lose the ability to see elderly patients and that people would riot get the medicines that they require. We have seen record immunisations, record numbers of women having cervical smears, and record numbers of visits. Yet when our opponents are asked to say what is good about Conservative health reforms, they are not able to give any examples.
542 look forward to giving many examples and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is not here to listen to some of the positive aspects of Conservative health policy. It is time he realised that not everything that the Government do—even in his view—is bad.
It is a great honour to speak in the House. I hope that in the coming months and years the health debate in the House will be more constructive than in the past, but, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, I fear that it will be a triumph of my fears over my hopes.
I hope that Conservative Members will contribute constructively. The Queen's Speech was excellent and Conservative Members, especially the newcomers, look forward to the legislation that follows it, which will be good not only for our party but, more importantly, for the country.
§ Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)
I should like, first, to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I should like to congratulate the new hon. Members who spoke before me—my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)—who, in their different ways, were excellent.
I am particularly grateful to be called now because I have spent most of my life suffering from a disability which is known as alphabetical order. My name is Wright, which has meant that I have tended always to be at the end of queues. People who use the principle of alphabetical order tend to think that it is a democratic, a just principle. In fact, it is just only to people who fall at the beginning of the alphabet. I hope now to escape that disability and look to Madam Speaker for help.
As evidence of my disability, I have a small majority —1,506. I sometimes think that it might be larger if only my name were different! Research shows that, if one's name appears high on the ballot papers, one has a small advantage. I had thought that if my name were, to take some of my neighbouring Members, perhaps Cormack, Budgen, Cash or even Boothroyd my majority might be 1,507 or 1,508.
Thinking about it more, it struck me that that political disability had loomed large in British political life generally. If one considers the people who have succeeded and those who have failed, one sees the principle in action. One has only to cast one's eyes across the list of British Prime Ministers this century to see exactly what the principle means. From Asquith to Attlee, from Balfour to Bonar Law to Baldwin, from Campbell-Bannerman to Churchill to Callaghan, the principle has been rampant through the political history of the 20th century. The great political casualties of the century have been the Thatchers and the Wilsons.
Indeed, during the debate yesterday, looking at the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I thought that there but for the alphabet would not be a man reduced to such a sorry parlance. If his name were not Waldegrave, he surely would not be the Minister for filing cabinets and name badges for ticket inspectors. I noted that the Prime Minister, like Harold Macmillan before him, had taken the sensible precaution of coming slap in the alphabetical middle.
543 Hon. Members will notice that in selecting a constituency—Cannock and Burntwood—I chose one very near to the beginning of the alphabet to reverse the principle that I have been describing so far. It is in south Staffordshire. It is the heart, the quintessence, of middle England. It contains the towns of Cannock, Hednesford and Burntwood. Hednesford was particularly proud this week as its football team reached the final of the Welsh cup. I will not detain hon. Members with the mysteries of how a town in Staffordshire can reach the final of the Welsh cup, but I am sure that the House would wish to congratulate the team on that splendid achievement.
It has the beauties of Cannock Chase on its doorstep. Its people hewed coal for 100 years and are now having to find a different future. Its history is that of England itself. It was represented in the House for 25 years after the second world war by Jennie Lee, whom Labour Members remember particularly fondly, and who I also associate with adult education. It was inhabited by people such as the present Conservative hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) for a time and by Gwilym Roberts, who will be remembered as a warm, passionate and committed Welshman. I am happy to report that last week he was triumphantly re-elected to Cannock Chase district council. Part of the constituency was represented for a time by the present hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott). I pay tribute to him for the friendship and support that he showed me on coming to the House.
My immediate predecessor was Gerald Howarth, with whom I totally disagreed on everything. However—this is a tribute to him and me—we managed to maintain enough mutual respect to conduct a reasonably civilised election campaign. I acknowledge the work that he did for the people of the constituency and offer him just one word of consolation at this moment of disappointment for him. As one of the most fervent torch bearers for the handbag across the water, the present disposition of the House and of his party may not prove to be so congenial to him now as it was then.
As we have heard, many new hon. Members point to the contrast between what happens in this House and the din and clash of opinions outside—I refer especially to those who come hot foot from election contests in marginal seats—the subjects that people were talking about in the election. Like the miners in my constituency, who want to talk about the threat of privatising the only remaining coal mine. Or the blight caused by opencast mining ripping apart the environment. Or the distinction of having the first toll road—at least for 300 years—being driven through their countryside. They want to talk about cuts in the education system and about why there are no houses for the young people or enough jobs. They want to talk about such issues and they ask what the House is doing about them. Instead we find the ritual confrontations, the impassioned speeches to the near-empty Benches, the votes of which the result is already known. People outside ask what is going on—what is the House doing?
It is a fact—although it may be an unpalatable one—that this country has never taken the business of democracy very seriously. We have taken the idea of strong government and a strong executive very seriously 544 but not democracy. Indeed, only half a century ago, in a classic formula, the Tory Leo Amery, when describing our system of government, said that it wasgovernment of the people, for the people, with but not by the people.It was said of Leo Amery himself that if he had been just half a head higher, and if his speeches has been half an hour shorter, he might have become Prime Minister.
This process is now being taken much further. We already have the most centralised, concentrated and secretive system of government in the western world and the Government are now removing the existing arenas in which people can argue, do politics and disagree. We have the most anti-pluralist Government presiding over the historic emasculation of local government, sweeping away diversity, pluralism and independence wherever they can find them.
In the spirit of non-contentiousness that distinguishes these maiden speeches, I say with all seriousness that an older Conservative tradition would have been extremely worried about such tendencies. It was that tradition which used to taunt the Opposition about their centralising tendencies and their ambitions to strip local government of its powers. Yet these are exactly the characteristics that have distinguished the past 13 years of Conservative party rule.
My final remarks will cover education because it is my trade. I have spent my life in education and I feel deeply and passionately about it. There is much to talk about, especially what is happening, to universities and the threat to adult education in which I work. But it is about schools and the government of schools that I particulary want to talk. I have worked a great deal with school governors in the past few years, and I am bound to say that I was a great enthusiast for the Government's school reforms and for the education Act of 1986 because I believed that it introduced a new partnership into schools.
The Gracious Speech mentions some changes that are to be made which will affect school governors. The Government have now betrayed—that is perhaps a strong word but not too strong a word—school governors. They are having to re-educate them in the task that they are being asked to perform. School governors thought that they had gone into the education system as volunteers—many were parents—to support their schools and the system. They are now being taught that there is to be no education system and that schools are to he pitted against schools, parents against parents and communities against communities. That will certainly be the consequence of enforcing universal opt out. Governors gave up their time believing that there was one system to care for all children, but they are now being told that the system is to be driven by market forces. It is not surprising that many of those people are now leaving school government in vast numbers because they are not prepared to do what the Government want. Therefore, the Government have huge recruitment problems for school governors as a direct consequence.
I return to where I began. I am grateful to have swapped the principle of alphabetical order for the principle of catching the Speaker's eye. I hope that that principle will continue and that we shall consign alphabetical order to the dustbin of history and that from now—at least sometimes—the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
May I say to the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Wright) that my name is Walden and my constituency is Buckingham—we should get together some time and drown our sorrows. The hon. Gentleman demonstrated the art of levity while at the same time combining it with substance and, I was glad to note, a hint of passion on the subject of education. He also seemed to speak with feeling about the constitution and the powers of this House. I recommend that, as a man of some wit, the hon. Gentleman should read, if he has not already done so, what is by far the best and wittiest study on that subject. It naturally comes from a Conservative writer, Mr. Ferdinand Mount. The hon. Gentleman is probably already aware of it, but I commend it to him. He will find, to his surprise, that he agrees with much of it.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the new "Speakerine", as she would be called in France. Were he here, I would also congratulate my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education. I believe that post to be the most important in Government. Incidentally, on the constitution, I should like us to ditch some of the fusty old stuff about the great offices of state—I know of no more important office of state than that of Secretary of State for Education.
I have only a few minutes into which to cram my most recent prejudices, so I must get on. To sum up those prejudices, I believe that the main problems facing this country are not mentioned directly in the Queen's Speech. I believe that we are an under-educated and over-housed country, and I should like to explain why in about five minutes.
The first thing that I hope that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State will do is to reconsider nursery education. The Queen's Speech talks about raising standards at all levels. For most people in this country there is no nursery level, so he will not have to worry about standards in that respect. However, there should be a nursery level, and the fact that we won the election does not mean that we can simply ditch that subject in the hope that the many women in this country will not notice. It is a subject that my right hon. Friend should reconsider because the bald and simple fact is that anyone with any money at all buys quality, structured education for his child in order to give that child a head start, thus helping to perpetuate the social divisiveness—I try to avoid the word but I cannot think of any other at the moment—that still lingers in our society. When talking about opportunity in education, let us remember that there can be no opportunity unless every child has a chance at the beginning to get his or her head start.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider carefully the statistics routinely churned out by the Department of Education, which are completely misleading and give the impression—I do not know what the latest figure is—that about 85 per cent. or 90 per cent. of children in this country benefit from pre-school education. That is simply not true. The figures include everything from child minding to highly amateur ad hoc organisations which come together to look after children and then drift apart. That is not what I mean by pre-school education, and it is not what exists in more enlightened countries, such as France.
546 I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will continue his predecessor's policy of shaking up the bogus philosophy behind primary education in this country, which has caused enormous damage—as usual—to people at the bottom of the social pile. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister knows what I am talking about. The issue has been raised only in the past year, but we must try to change people's minds and have vastly higher expectations for young children in primary schools because they can do a great deal more than what they are asked to do at present.
The really important element missing from the Gracious Speech involves the organisation of secondary education. Some great educational changes and, indirectly, social changes loom before us. We shall not be able to avoid them, even if we want to. Indeed, I believe that we should not try to avoid them. In particular, I refer to what I hope will he the swift break-up of the comprehensive system. It is not deemed politic on the Conservative Benches to discuss that subject, and that is another reason why I raise it.
It is impossible for Conservative Members to continue to support grant-maintained schools and allow that policy to continue in the post-election rush in some semi-anarchic way and say that it is a grand thing. It will not be grand if that policy—which I wholeheartedly support—leads indirectly to a reversion to primitive selection. It is not just a matter of opting-out schools choosing to become grammar schools. They can do that if they wish. There will be de facto selection in most, probably all, opted-out schools because parents will queue outside them and headmasters and headmistresses, who are human beings, will, whether they know it or not, find ways of selecting the most promising pupils. That would be disastrous, because we would end up with a two-tier system.
The great paradox is that the origin of the comprehensive system, which I believe is a deeply mistaken philosophy, was a typically British, class-conscious reaction to the previous rather crude selective system which, although it produced some fine grammar schools— I know, because I went to one—also produced many wood-sawing schools in which huge numbers of potentially intelligent children were written off at the start.
If we allow the present rather disorganised policy of opting out to continue, there is a danger that we shall return to the earlier system. I am not against selection, but I am against negative selection. There must be a change in philosophy, which is beginning to occur—for example, in Wandsworth—to selection by aptitude. That is what happens in more advanced countries. We do not have it in this country because we are hung up on antique class consciousness in education as we are in respect of so many other aspects of our society. That deforms our vision of education.
We are not concerned about education: we are concerned about the social implications of the organisation of schools, which is totally different. As Confucius would say if he were with us today, the primary function of education is education, and not the social organisation of the country. If we follow that principle, we end up with a healthier system than the old, crude selective system, of which I was a lucky beneficiary but many from my part of the world were not. There is a danger that we shall come full circle and return inadvertently to the earlier system, which would be totally at variance to what I understand to be the Government's philosophy.
547 We shall have to change an entire mentality. We must make people in this country used to the idea that there is nothing wrong, second class or debilitating about being selected by aptitude to attend a largely—though not completely—technological, scientific, vocational school. Such things happen abroad and there is no reason why they should not happen here. We must aim for parity between the academic schools—I use that term in no exact sense—and the more vocational and scientific schools. We must then face the economic consequences of that cultural change.
We cannot have crummy schools as we had under the old crude selective system of secondary modern schools without the facilities or the maths, physics and craft design and technology teachers to provide those schools with social status. I acknowledge that that may be a contradiction in respect of what I said before, but those schools need status to attract people and to get over the terrible cultural prejudice against anything to do with technological or scientific schools.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
We must not forget the fact that aptitude means ability in a particular area. When selecting by aptitude, one would thus be selecting by ability. Is that not the case?
§ Mr. Walden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for trying to bring precision to my speech. He is right: there is no final distinction between aptitude and ability. However, there is a different cast of mind. With regard to ability, there is a danger of making a final judgment at the age of 11. Aptitude may imply spotting some ability that has yet to develop. I admit that there are no absolute categories, but it is possible to distinguish between them.
I am convinced that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the process because that is by far the most important subject which does not feature in the Queen's Speech. Necessarily, it entails a reorganisation of local government which may lead to the abolition of local education authorities. The Opposition tend to refer to the LEAs as a democratic process. At the risk of boring myself, I must state once more that they are not democratic when judged by their absolutely piffling turnouts. Most LEAs run education on the basis of effective turnouts of eligible voters of about 15 per cent.
The democratic argument is largely, though not wholly, cant and we should not allow it to stand in our way when we reconsider the issue, as we must if we are not to return to a dangerous and socially damaging form of selection. We must reconsider the role of the LEAs and be bold in our public opposition to the principle of comprehensive education.
I was once in the unfortunate position of having to explain comprehensive education to the communist Chinese Education Minister. He asked me to repeat my explanation—which, as I was trying to explain it in Chinese, proved to be extremely difficult. He simply stared at me in disbelief and said, "You mean to say that you in your country send people of all abilities and aptitudes to the same school and put them in the same class, whatever their progress?" I had to confirm that that happened in this sleepy old country of ours. He could not get over that. In China, for all their peccadillos in some areas, such as human rights, they are pretty hard-headed when it comes 548 to education. When they get rid of this communist nonsense we shall see the proof of that and see some results in China.
My second prejudice, which is linked with the first, is that I disagree fundamentally with the Government's housing policy. It is not the job of this or of any Government to tell people to own their homes. That is a primitive notion—a fetish which is doing enormous social and economic damage to this country, and eveyone knows that. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development knows it and has talked about our housing policy deforming our economy, as it has done—and badly —in the past.
The Queen's Speech states that the Government will look for ways to add to the already dangerously high number of people who own their own houses by changing the law here and there. Although I do not disapprove of those changes in principle—changes to leaseholds or whatever—it seems that there is a danger of the Government feeding house fetishism. They should not encourage home ownership. We do not need more home ownership. People need to have a choice of whether to buy and own their own house or to rent at a reasonable rent —the choice that people enjoy in France, Germany and America, which are all sophisticated countries in that regard. That should be Government policy, rather than to encourage the primitive fetishism of house ownership as the last Government but one did so catastrophically.
How many Members from both sides of the House have been on doorsteps during the election campaign and have been told by a mother, worried to death about her son, that he "got on the housing ladder"—encouraged by Government rhetoric—and fell off the ladder with a £20,000 debt. He is 21 or 22 and has a £20,000 debt before he has started in life. Should we be proud of that when we quote our figures of 67 or 68 per cent.? How high do we want to go? Do we want the country to seize up because of home ownership? In their frenzy to encourage home ownership, the Government seem to have lost sight of the fact that it is not good for business or for mobility. That is one of the reasons why it does not exist to the same extent in other countries.
I am not against home ownership—that would be a grotesque position—but the logic of the Government's philosophy should be not to encourage home ownership but to tell people that they will do their damnedest to give them an effective choice, on a level playing field, between owning and renting. That will overcome the problem. At present, the market is so distorted that there are 7 or 8 per cent. of people in private rented accommodation, while in other countries it is 30 or 40 per cent. 1 believe that Bangladesh and Switzerland are the only other countries with such high levels of home ownership.
In the present economic conjunction, things are going well. I am optimistic and I do not think that the Government are merely using rhetoric when they sound optimistic; I think that matters will improve. When people feel that they have a little more money in their pockets, one of the first things that they will do is to take out mortgages which are too big for them again, if the Government encourage them to do that. After our last experience of that, I hope that many people will understand the dangers.
To come full circle, this country has two major problems which were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech —we are under-educated and over-housed. To a large extent, the economy comes right if one gets those two 549 things right, and one solves many economic problems. Those two matters are fundamental. I have confidence that the Government will do largely what I would like them to do on education, but I am a little more diffident about their housing policy because their attitude to home ownership needs to be revised and cooled off. We are over-excited about home ownership. We must tell people to be sensible and not to get into this silly debt business, which has done them and the country so much harm and which has distorted our economy.
Finally, I must mention two constituency matters. The first concerns education for the educationally subnormal. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will note one concise question. The other day a constituent who has a 19-year-old daughter with a mental disability who has been to a special school asked me why her daughter's right to attend that school was cut off at the age of 19, when the Government look after other people's further education long after that age at a huge cost. Frankly, I could not find an answer, which is why I am asking my right hon. Friends to provide me with one. If they do not have an answer, I hope that they will do something so that we shall all have one in future.
Secondly, I have a constituency matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is a place called Maids' Moreton near the town of Buckingham in my constituency. There seems to be a presumption that the two places should join, although in neither case do the inhabitants want them to do so. The developer who wants them to join together is one of those persistent types, I am afraid. Why is there no arrangement whereby local government may say that there is a permanent presumption against development in the area because it would create too large a conurbation, and mostly because neither of the two communities wants it? I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could take note of that.
I have probably spoken for too long, and I apologise.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Before I call the next Member to speak I remind the House of Madam Speaker's ruling that there shall be a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
May I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and to all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. The content of those speeches, which was sometimes amusing, was much appreciated by the House.
I had hoped to identify certain references in the Queen's Speech which would enable me to congratulate the Government on having advanced environmental protection in the list of priorities to be considered by the new Parliament. Regrettably, I find that I am unable to offer such congratulations. In reflecting upon certain proposed legislation which might have a bearing, I am concerned that the national lottery Bill may be targeted too narrowly. There must be provision for funding to spill over from heritage projects to encompass remedial environmental works, which are so often absolutely vital, and to commit complete and meaningful preservation of sites and buildings. In that regard, I ask the Government to learn from the justified criticism made of those bodies which have not managed to develop a co-ordinated approach to 550 preserving our heritage in Northern Ireland. Nor do I expect that the intended housing, land and urban development Bill, which will bring another quango into being—the urban regeneration agency—will resolve that long-standing and increasing problem.
My scepticism is based upon the Northern Ireland experience with such bodies, but I shall not digress into a topic about which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) has such a close knowledge. From my experience, all too often such bodies tend to theorise on the problem rather than to embark upon practical measures to remedy obvious disadvantages and to arrest further decay.
I understand that the proposed green Bill is in hand, but apparently it will have to await a suitable slot in the crowded parliamentary timetable. That does nothing to convince me that sufficient priority has been given to the subject.
Perhaps the Government are still a prisoner of the former Prime Minister's vision of the great motor car economy and will not face the unpalatable fact that economic recovery alone those lines spells ecological disaster. To borrow a summary from a recent Sunday newspaper, it spells more cars, more factories to build them, more roads to carry them and more toxic fumes.
However, being of a magnanimous nature I accept that the 1990 White Paper on the environment covered everything from the stratosphere to the street corner. The Government were careful to include it in the Conservative manifesto on page 43, but the great issues continue to be addressed only on paper.
I accept that the Prime Minister was one of the first world leaders to announce his intention to attend next month's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro and I appreciate that the proposed environment agency will try to achieve wonderful things. The agency will collate the work of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, regulate the waste operations of local authorities and provide us with annual state-of-theenvironment reports.
That is all very commendable, but is there not just the suggestion of another army of paper tigers and another paper mountain? Is not this further consideration of the problems rather than action upon them? Are matters most urgent not developing at too leisurely a pace? Of course., there can be merit in hastening slowly, but we in Northern Ireland have had far too much of the snail's pace approach for far too long. We cannot draw limited comfort from some possible momentum in the proposed legislation.
Northern Ireland will undoubtedly be ignored and excluded yet again. I wish to caution the House on the basis of the previous Government's record on such matters in the Province. Following the publication of the Rossi report, I welcomed its recommendations and laid particular emphasis on recommendation 26 regarding the creation of a Northern Ireland environment agency. I did so enthusiastically not only on behalf of my party but in recognition of the widespread demand for such a body from a wide cross-section of informed opinion in the Province.
I share the opinions of the Select Committee on the Environment which catalogued the defects, weaknesses and difficulties that had arisen in the management of Northern Ireland. I use that term deliberately because the Province enjoys, not democratic government, but an unco-ordinated system operated by appointees and 551 professional officers. I should like to know how I can repose trust in the Government's avowed environmental commitment when what I believe to be the central recommendation of the Rossi report has been rejected.
Surely in this matter it would have been useful to test such a structure in Northern Ireland, especially as the Government have not hesitated in the past to inflict experimental systems on the Province with no regard for the wishes of the people there. I would not wish Great Britain to have expectations raised, as happened in Northern Ireland, and then to suffer the disappointment of finding that the shadow, not the substance, became the reality.
The Government are failing to meet their obligations to protect internationally important areas for birds, particularly within Northern Ireland. A new Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' report reviews the Government's performance in protecting wildlife sites under the European Community birds directive and the Ramsar convention. The report highlights theappalling designation record in Northern Ireland",where to date, of the 17 internationally recognised important bird areas in the Province, only two have been given any designation: Lough Neagh-Lough Beg, which was designated a Ramsar site in 1976, and Swan island, in Lough Larne, which was designated as a special protection area earlier this year. RSPB studies show that a further II unprotected, important bird sites in Northern Ireland are threatened by damaging development proposals, poor management or neglect.
At the present overall United Kingdom designation rate of only four sites a year, these internationally important areas will not be fully protected until the year 2040. Many will be destroyed before designation occurs. A comparison with other EC member states shows that Denmark and Belgium should complete their designations by 1992, with only the Netherlands achieving completion later than the United Kingdom. The total United Kingdom land area designated to date is less than 1 per cent. compared with more than 20 per cent. in Denmark.
The report on sites of special scientific interest in the 1990s, "A Check on the Health of Internationally Important Bird Areas", also shows that hundreds of important wildlife sites have been damaged or destroyed since 1981.
I call on the new Government to provide substantial, additional resources for environmental departments and statutory conservation agencies; to promise to complete all remaining designations of Ramsar sites within five years; and to make a firm commitment to protect these areas, allowing development only in the most exceptional circumstances. My call is for effective action throughout the United Kingdom to address now as a matter literally of life and death the issues of effective environmental protection and regeneration.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
I have enjoyed immensely listening to many outstanding maiden speeches this afternoon. I do not wish to deal with any one particular speech, but I will speak about urban problems and the urban regeneration agency. For that reason, I was extremely interested in what was said by the hon. Member 552 for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). As the House will know, I was Member of Parliament for an inner-city seat in Liverpool for nine years. The hon. Gentleman's comments were reminiscent of many of the problems that I experienced in Liverpool some years ago. Therefore, I was particularly concerned by what he said about Coventry. The problems have not gone away either in Coventry or in many other urban conurbations.
As the House may remember, I was a youth and social worker for many years before I came to the House. I was appointed by Lord Wilson, as he now is, as leader of one of the largest community projects of the Home Office that was concerned with urban problems. The hallmarks of the inner city are well known: deprived communities, unskilled labour, poor housing, race relations problems, rundown small firms and high unemployment. Inner-city areas got those hallmarks because over the years the poorest and least skilled congregated usually where they landed from boats—for example, in Liverpool and London—or at the centres of industry, such as the textile industry in Manchester. Small firms existed in those areas and were interdependent.
Over the past 25 years modern technology, high rents and the demolition of slums have resulted in the population moving from inner-city areas to outer city areas. The vast council estates of the 1950s and 1960s meant the wholesale displacement from the inner city to the outer city of poor and unskilled workers. Although the small firms continued there, they declined.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East used the image of a doughnut, but the place where the jam once was is now an empty hole. The people have departed and the jobs have gone. The inner cities are derelict, rundown and depressed areas. We are witnessing an attempt by the Government—and they have poured thousands and millions of pounds into it—to put the jam back into the inner city. I would normally be critical of pouring money into solving such problems, but I welcome the Government's announcement in the Queen's Speech about the setting up of an urban rengeneration agency, which is another attempt to deal with the problem. There have been many attempts and you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Labour Administrations of the 1960s and 1970s set up many projects, as did the Conservative Government in the 1980s. The projects all had interesting names, but they often bore little relationship to what they did.
The Government have announced another attempt to revive the inner cities, but the jam will not be put back into the inner cities unless new methods of transportation are introduced. Unless motorways and the road transport networks go right into the inner city—to the point where jobs could be created and the enterprise zones and the urban development corporations are located—one will not get real commercial, industrial and manufacturing growth. The inner cities need new rail heads. The trouble with the railway stations in the principal cities is that it is impossible to drive large articulated vehicles to them. Therefore, it is not possible to use the railways to transport equipment and goods out of the inner city. Poor transport links rule out a revival in the inner cities.
The revival is taking place in the outer cities. It is happening at the junctions of motorways and on the outskirts of the major conurbations where all the new warehouses and factories have been built. Instead of 553 people wanting to return to the inner cities, the movement is from them to edges of the cities, to the motorway junctions and to the areas beyond them to new towns.
The Government are brave to introduce another agency. However, despite the millions of pounds that have been poured into the inner cities by Labour and Conservative Governments, the inner cities continue to decline because there is no way of creating wealth and of housing people: the people have gone. Those who remain are the poorest, the most deprived and the unemployed and they have no scope or future.
I wish to consider what I hope that the urban regeneration agency will do. In my book "New Life for Old Cities" I considered how urban areas could be regenerated. I am glad to say that the Government followed most of my recommendations, but they have not done the trick. In the 1980s, the Secretary of State will remember that I wrote another book, entitled "Public Land Utilisation Management Schemes" which was an attempt to show how to get rid of derelict and vacant land in public ownership. The then Secretary of State for the Environment set up a register to identify the amount of publicly owned vacant land. At its height, it amounted to 116,000 acres, but since then the figure has dropped to 80,000 acres. However, there is still much public vacant land which could be used. "PLUMS" proposed that public authority land should not he confiscated but valued and a share certificate issued for that value. The land should then be marketed. Local authorities do not have the marketing ability to enable the value of the land to grow.
I hope that the new agency will follow my proposal of exchanging derelict and vacant land in public ownership—owned by local authorities and utilities—for a certificate which will grow in value as the land is marketed. That is why I intervened in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ask whether the new agency would have marketing powers. In the past, land has been compulsorily purchased and taken away from the public authorities, but they should share in its increased value—increased as a result of marketing and as a result of being passed over to the new urban regeneration agency. That agency will be headed by my former right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, Mr. Peter Walker, so it is bound to be successful in its attempts to tackle the problems.
I am concerned about vacant land in the inner cities, but the problem can be solved by building on it. However, that will not happen if we do not do something about the problems of housing and job creation in those areas. I hope that the new agency will get hold of the land and give it to private developers who will do something with it. As they build factories, houses and shops, the value of the site will go up and the local authority will benefit from that increase in value because the value of its shares will increase. That must be the right approach.
There is a second reason why the inner cities should be revived and that is illustrated by my experience in my constituency in south Devon, which is surrounded by Plymouth—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I must point out to the hon. Member that his time is up.
§ Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
May I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and thank you for calling me to speak in the House for the first time?
I want to follow the tradition of the House by saying something briefly—it will be brief because of the time limitation—about my predecessors in Walthamstow. The seat of Walthamstow, West, which is part of the present constituency, was held shortly after the war by Clement Attlee, who was a Member of great distinction and Prime Minister for some years after the war. From 1970 to 1987, Walthamstow was represented by Eric Deakins who, I am sure, hon. Members on both sides will remember with respect and affection. From 1987 to 1992, Walthamstow was represented by Hugo Summerson. It would be foolish to pretend that he and I agreed politically, but I know that he did his best to represent the issues and concerns of the people of Walthamstow. I certainly intend to follow his example.
I want to refer particularly to some of the proposals in the Queen's Speech that affect local government, housing and homelessness. It comes as no great surprise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) remarked, that the vast majority of constituency problems brought to hon. Members are about housing. Given the scale of the housing problem in London and in the country as a whole, I find the sections of the Queen's Speech devoted to housing remarkably thin. There are no serious proposals in the Gracious Speech to tackle the problems of homelessness, and I fear that those problems will worsen in the future.
There are various reasons why the situation is unlikely to improve. In east London, in the area that I represent, Bow county court deals with most of the repossession cases from Walthamstow, which has the second highest number of repossessions in Britain—that in an area in which, by London standards, house prices are extremely low. In many cases, the banks and building societies, the prime lenders, seem uninterested and unwilling to work with other agencies which are trying to do something about repossessions and debt management.
A day conference was recently called by my borough council. It was attended by fuel providers, members of citizens advice bureaux and representatives of council departments, but the banks and building societies refused to participate. The problem of repossessions will continue despite the odd half per cent. reduction in interest rates. It will continue so long as people are made redundant and we live with the present rate of unemployment.
We have heard about proposals to improve the rights of tenants to have repairs and improvements made to their properties. My immediate reaction to what has been suggested is that it is another phoney charter, with the blame being placed everywhere but with the Government. Local authorities are being denied the resources to do the repairs, and at the same time are being blamed for failing to deliver what their tenants need.
It is meaningless to say that tenants living in larger estates should have the right to improve their properties when millions of pounds are required to rejuvenate those blocks and remedy structural problems. Such a task is far beyond the capacity of individual tenants. Consider what 555 has happened in an area such as mine in recent years. I think of an estate that is now part of a housing action trust, one of the few such trusts that have been established.
Some years ago, the borough council produced a scheme for the total redevelopment of that estate, with the replacement of tower blocks by low-rise property. The Government were approached, but they said that the local authority could not be allowed to spend the necessary money. After protracted discussions with tenants, the formation of a tenant-controlled company was proposed. That would have enabled the company to do the work and have access to private money. The scheme was thought through and plans drawn up, but again the Government turned down the scheme.
In other words, when tenants approach the Government with proposals for real tenant involvement and power, the Government show no interest. As I say, that estate is now part of a housing action trust. The Government now have a responsibility, having forced the tenants down that path, to make sure that the redevelopment of the estate is made possible.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech on the rights of leaseholders. I hope that the legislation will do more than simply give leaseholders the right to acquire freeholds and extend their leases. Leaseholders should have the right to change or choose managing agents and to examine and, if necessary, challenge freeholders' accounts to see whether extortionate service charges are being imposed. Freeholders and landlords should have more responsibilities and be obliged to carry out repairs and improvements. After all, if council tenants are to have the right to have repairs done, the same right should apply to private tenants.
The Asylum Bill will have great impact in my constituency, which has many asylum seekers and various ethnic minorities. Walthamstow has the largest Pakistani community in London. Between 1980 and 1990, I chaired an inquiry into racial harassment in Waltham Forest. It was horrendous to hear what some people told the inquiry about their daily experiences. At one extreme, there were cases of violence, including physical assault and arson. There have been murders in my constituency in recent years. Letter boxes are sealed because people are scared that petrol will be poured through and set alight.
At the other extreme are incidents that might be thought of as trivial, such as verbal abuse and the use of graffiti. But for people who cannot step out of their front doors, go to the shops or take their children to the park, the threat of abuse is not trivial. When that happens every day, it has a great effect on the quality of people's lives.
Legislation such as the Asylum Bill generates a bad atmosphere. When the Bill was last debated, there was much talk of illegal immigration, social security scandals and other forms of criminality. Whenever such statements are made, especially by senior politicians, the suggestion is put about that certain communities are not to be trusted, and that in turn gives the green light to harassment. Indeed, it gives a certain respectability to harassment. That has a serious impact on the daily lives of many of my constituents.
Local voluntary organisations and local authorities must deal with the consequences, especially on housing estates. I regret that the Asylum Bill is to be reintroduced. 556 I hope that, at least, the debate this time will be conducted in a more temperate way and that the Minister will have conducted genuine consultation before the measure is published. Rather than that Bill, my constituents need legislation to deal with harassment and discrimination. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will reconsider their decision to reintroduce the Asylum Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
I wish at the outset to offer you, Madam Deputy Speaker, my congratulations on your appointment. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on his fluent maiden speech. I am sure that we shall hear much more from him on a subject about which he clearly knows a lot.
I am in an awkward position because mine is not a maiden speech, nor is it a retread speech. I suggested to an hon. Friend that I was a re-retread, to which he replied that I must have worn rather thin. My physical appearance gives the lie to that.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Charles Morrison, who was respected by hon. Members in all parts of the House for his decency, common sense and independence of spirit. He will be sorely missed. I wish him a happy retirement.
I am privileged to represent the beautiful constituency of Devizes. It is an area of great variety, stretching from Salisbury plain in the south to north of Swindon, and the town of Highworth, in the north. It takes in an enormous number of interests, from defence through agriculture to car manufacturing at the Rover and Honda plants around Swindon. The variety of interests of my constituents that I shall be pursuing here in the coming years will keep me busy. I am fortunate to represent that great constituency.
During the recession, from which thankfully we are beginning to emerge, the construction industry—especially its smaller parts, of which there are many examples in my constituency—was hard hit. Anything that revives interest and confidence in the housing market will be greeted with great relief, and with that in mind I welcome the references in the Gracious Speech to tenants' rights. The dramatic achievements in extending the variety of housing tenure and, therefore, choice since 1979 have together formed one of the most profound sea changes of the past decade.
We have broken away irrevocably from the segregated housing of the post-war years, that soul-destroying and socially divisive separation between council and owner-occupied housing. The variety of forms of tenure and of housing agencies, not least the still growing housing association movement and the birth of other new agencies such as housing action trusts, have extended beyond recognition the frontiers of individual housing choice. New joint ventures by housing authorities will take that process still further, and I hope that we shall give them every encouragement.
I welcome the increased funding for the Housing Corporation this year, which I hope will be used in imaginative and sensible ways. It has been said by several hon. Members this evening that homelessness is of concern to us all wherever it arises, and I believe that we now have the means to tackle it in a constructive way. We need a co-ordinated approach and a continuing will to achieve it.
I welcome also the proposal to extend the rent-to-mortgage scheme to England from north of the border. When wearing another hat, I was somewhat involved in 557 the original concept of the scheme. I believe that it provides another important avenue of choice for people's homes. I wish the proposal, a fair wind.
At the end of the day, choice is at the root of the Government's philosophy. I am delighted to see that in the Gracious Speech we are not resting on our laurels. There is so much further to go, especially in rural areas such as that which I now have the honour to represent. Choice is meaningful, however, only when it is available to all. I appreciate that we cannot reach that stage overnight and that there is much more to do, but at the same time I believe that the impetus must come from the Government over the next five years. We must show that we shall extend choice as far as we can.
In rural areas there is a major problem in providing affordable housing for local people both for purchase and for rent. So long as it continues, the concept of choice in such areas is of necessity severely qualified. There are those who call for major council house building programmes to meet the problem. I do not subscribe to that view. Council housing has a valuable role in providing one element of choice, but I do not believe that returning, as some Opposition Members have suggested, to massive council house building programmes would bring any long-term benefit to the provision of choice. There are better ways of meeting the problem.
First, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to try to ensure that rural housing associations are especially encouraged and that the special problems of geography and population densities in rural areas are recognised. I ask them to ensure that the issue of affordability in rural areas is properly addressed and that housing associations in such areas are given a sufficient share of available resources to meet their particular problems.
Secondly, I ask that local housing associations are encouraged further in their role as enablers rather than providers, and as co-ordinators of imaginative initiatives that can meet the problems of rural housing in a cost-effective and adequate way.
In that context I mention briefly the thorny issue of receipts from council house sales. I am fully aware of the macro-economic considerations that led to the restriction on their use as capital, and I do not argue with those considerations, but we must understand that it is difficult for those who see housing need around them to understand why money which has been raised from housing cannot be spent towards meeting that need. Perhaps my right hon. and hon. Friends will explore with the Treasury the possibility of using receipts from council house sales, not as capital—I understand the difficulties of doing that—but in a different and more revenue-based way as part of the enabling role of housing authorities in providing affordable housing for rent in conjunction with the private sector. That might provide an avenue, and I hope that that approach will be explored. I leave that thought with my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Housing still presents the Government with a vital and exciting challenge. It is one that lies at the heart of the concept of choice, which is central to the quality of life and is the bedrock of individual aspirations. I find it heartening to know that the Government remain determined and enthusiastic about meeting the challenge.
§ Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)
First, Madam Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. For the record, I wish genuinely also to applaud the election and appointment of Madam Speaker, which was obviously an historic occasion.
I pay tribute to the work done by my predecessor, Dave Nellist, and in turn to his predecessor, Bill Wilson, and also his predecessor, the late Dick Crossman. The House will understand later why I have linked all three of my predecessors.
During different periods Dave Nellist and Bill Wilson, and to a certain extent Dick Crossman, all talked about two particular issues. Dave Nellist and Bill Wilson certainly talked about unemployment and problems associated with it. About 20 years earlier, shortly before the then Labour Government, Bill Wilson spoke of crime being associated with unemployment. Going back further, to 1945, we find Dick Crossman talking about the reconstruction of Europe and of Britain, which again raised the issue of unemployment. My predecessors and the issues to which I have referred were interrelated during different periods.
Coventry, South-East has its fair share of unemployment. Some of the area's major industries have been privatised, and I have been interested to listen to other hon. Members talk about privatisation. When it comes to privatisation, my constituents consider primarily their future prosperity and employment. That is certainly their position in the context of the railways and of General Plessey Telecom. Earlier on, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) mentioned Jaguar. Everyone is concerned about unemployment for it is a national problem.
In the past, Coventry was famous for its innovation and its employment prospects. But for the employment prospects, I should not have gone to Coventry. I should probably have gone elsewhere, and some people in Coventry may think that that would have been a good idea.
Coventry, South-East has employment problems and an inner city problem. Dick Crossman comes into that, because when he was a Minister he said that the then Labour Government would tackle inner city problems. He certainly produced innovative ideas. Some Conservative Members may argue that that Government's policies arid ideas did not necessarily lead to success. I spent 20 years in local government, and I can say that if there was a lack of success it was because of the lack of resources provided by the Government and their predecessor. There was a switch of emphasis and of policies. An example would be the reduction in urban aid grant. Those with experience of local government will know what I am talking about. There are many other examples.
Coventry, South-East, like the rest of the country, suffers from a lack of resources to develop its education system. We need resources for school building repairs, for building new schools and for better teacher training. Those problems should be dealt with; they are more important than talk of tax reductions.
Coventry, South-East has a major council housing problem because of the lack of Government resources to carry out the necessary repairs and to deal with homelessness; which means building homes for people who cannot afford to buy in the private sector. A great 559 many people in the private sector are being subjected to mortgage foreclosures, and the numbers are rising in my area.
There has been much talk of home ownership from the Government and from previous Conservative Governments. Freedom to choose does not exist without economic freedom, and my constituency has its fair share of people without that.
We have another problem, which is not peculiar to Coventry, South-East. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) touched on it earlier when he mentioned the Asylum Bill. That Bill would have been all right if it had been conceived in justice. Instead, it was conceived in panic, because of Europe's fear of migrations from the east and the south. In many parts of Europe there is a phobia about those migrations, which are seen as a threat, and the Bill was one of the panic measures adopted by European Ministers.
To return to Dick Crossman, in 1945 we were going through the same sort of major debate on Britain's relations with Europe as we are having today—the "will she, won't she" debate. The question is whether we become more involved in Europe. The present Government, and former Governments, have procrastinated on that, but the Government have just won an election and it is time they clarified their position on Europe. If they do not want to be members, let them tell the country so. If they want to be only half-hearted members, let them tell the country so. But they should not mislead the country into thinking that they are involved in hard negotiations over Britain's rights when in fact they are putting on a charade—a half-hearted attempt to kid the Europeans that we want to play a major part as members of the European Community.
There was no real vision in the Queen's Speech. Some of my colleagues have already mentioned the plight in which the United States finds itself, and the trends in our inner cities which could lead to a similar situation here. The Queen's Speech was disappointing in that respect. There is no vision in the United States, either, and here we play petty party politics while a number of aspects of policy remain quite wrong. The speech did not deal with the fundamental problems of this country.
We have had debates about devolution for Scotland and Wales, but what about devolution for England? What about taking more power away from the English centre and giving it to people to exercise more constructively in new forms of regional government? The test for Europe will certainly be how effective regional government here can be.
I am honoured to have taken part in this debate, and I hope to serve the people of Coventry, South-East and the people of this country to the best of my ability.
§ Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)
I add my sincere congratulations to those of many others who have expressed their delight at seeing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Chair today.
With great pleasure, too, I follow the tradition of congratulating the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) on his maiden speech. His constituency has a reputation of being one with a lively representative in the House, and the hon. Gentleman did not fail to 560 follow in that tradition, so well set by his predecessor Dave Nellist, who was always controversial and who always put his case forcefully to the House. I am not the only Member who will look forward with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has to say in future.
I do not want to detain the House long, and in any case I will not be allowed to do so. I want to raise an environmental matter which is of considerable importance to my constituency and which is already causing anxiety and even fear there.
On 21 June, the summer solstice arrives and large numbers of hippies, itinerants and new-age travellers can be expected. Some of my constituents call them by names that cannot be expressed in parliamentary language. Large numbers are expected, and I prophesy that they will assemble in my part of Hampshire from the end of May. The same happened last year and the year before, and each time more of them came. Last year, about 4,500 camped at Rats Lodge in Longstock and, had it not rained, considerably more of them would have come. One can only wonder what will happen this year if there is fine weather.
I noticed that on the spring bank holiday about 30,000 people attended a pop festival at Lechlade in Gloucestershire, and if more itinerants and hippies come to my constituency in the pre-solstice period, the noise disturbance, the petty crime and the filth that they will leave behind will cause my constituents great anxiety. Such concern was well expressed last week when a public meeting was held in the town hall at Stockbridge. It was so full that 50 people had to be turned away—a good reflection of the extent of public anxiety.
The motion on the Loyal Address was seconded by my hon. and filial Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) with many happy turns of phrase. The Queen's Speech stated:My Government will work both at home and abroad to protect the environment. They will ensure that the environment remains a key issue in all policy making".It is certainly a key issue in Hampshire, and I want to raise two related problems with the Minister today—first, the parking of several hundred caravans, dormobiles and cars in a mass trespass by new-age travellers; and, secondly, the immensely noisy pop festival, for which the travellers provide the core and general set-up.
When large numbers of caravans arrive, landowners can ask the police to move them on. The police, using section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986, can do just that. In parenthesis, I should say that I have immense praise for the way in which the Hampshire constabulary has operated, avoiding confrontation but being firm and fair at the same time. The police move them on, but the question is where they move them on to. In Hampshire, they move them on to a loophole in the law, and it is that loophole that I want Ministers to plug as soon as possible.
Hampshire has 400 miles of green lanes. Many are classified as BOATS—bridleways open to all traffic. The verges are not marked, there are no kerb stones, there is no proper delineation and they have been there for some hundreds of years. When they are moved on, the travellers settle on either side of those green lanes. The police cannot know whether they are on private land or on a public right of way because there is no clear marking. If they are unable to prove that a traveller is on private land, they cannot evict him using section 39 of the Public Order Act. The 561 police are then inhibited because they know that if they make a mistake they can be sued for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
One simple solution available to the Government is to extend section 39 to apply to green lanes, public rights of way and roads through the countryside at the discretion of the police. We are dealing not with a traffic problem but with a public order matter.
When I raised the matter in the House on 12 December 1991, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd)—agreed to suggest that a meeting be arranged between the Departments of the Environment and Transport and the Home Office. I am grateful to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment for arranging that meeting in February with representatives of the police and Hampshire county council. The Minister recognised that action was and is required and I thought that I saw his hand in the Conservative party's manifesto during the general election which said that the Caravan Sites Act 1968 would be reviewed with the aim of reducing the nuisance of illegal encampment. That proposal is welcome, but it is not in the Gracious Speech and I and many of my constituents are worried about what will happen as the solstice approaches this year if there has been no change in the law. I have to tell Ministers in the Department of the Environment that I think that we are right to call for action now to deal with the matter.
There is a second issue that I wish to touch on briefly —where to site the noisy, pop festival for which the travellers now choose the site, provide the core and much of the organisation. I want to make three points. First, such pop festivals will take place; the question is where. If the police just move people on, there comes a time when those people will stop somewhere. They cannot spirit 6,000 or 8,000 people into thin air. That somewhere will go on being ill-thought-out, unprepared, invariably unsuitable and a confounded nuisance to those who live nearby. Clearly, we need a more constructive approach The Government, with the Secretary of State for the Environment in the lead, should identify sites far away from habitation so that the squatters can be moved to those particular places.
There is one Government Department that can help. The Ministry of Defence has just such sites in its possession. I have no doubt that it will defend its land with as much vigour as it would defend our shores in the event of an enemy attack. Nevertheless, in the wider issue of the environment it is right that the Ministry should be asked to identify sites well away from other people and habitation and make them available in that way.
There are a number of other points that I should like to make, but because of the time factor I shall close by saying that Hampshire county council will soon be in a position to become "designated", with all the benefits which will flow from that, having provided within the county an adequate number of gipsy sites. But the county council expects that it will take six months for the Minister to approve designation when the application is made. Therefore, I want to make a plea to the Minister that when that application comes to the Department of the Environment it should be turned around in six weeks, not six months. Slow decisions are not necessarily any better than quick ones and this matter calls for a fast and effective decision. With those words, I urge Ministers to take action.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Ms. Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)
My first task is to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your new post and wish you every happiness during the time that you occupy it.
I am the first Member for Birmingham, Yardley to make a maiden speech from the Opposition Benches for some 30 years, and I am only the second Member for Birmingham, Yardley to make a maiden speech from the Opposition Benches in some half a century. Yardley has a reputation for returning a Member of Parliament from the party which goes on to form the Government. That will cause disappointment on both sides of the House—on the Government side because Yardley did not follow the country, and on the Opposition Benches because the country did not follow Yardley. Needless to say, on this occasion I trust in the good political sense of the electorate of Yardley.
My immediate predecessor was David Gilroy Bevan. His great pride was that he was Brummie born and bred and he had a long record of service to the city of Birmingham in this House and in local authorities within Birmingham. There is a wide gulf between us politically, but whenever our paths crossed he was most courteous. He was also most generous in defeat, for which I thank him.
My last Labour predecessors from Yardley were Syd Tierney and Ioan Evans, both highly respected Members of the House and the Labour party. I was delighted to have Syd Tierney campaign for me in Yardley during the election. Having helped to win the marginal seat of Yardley for Labour, he then returned to his home in the north-east to help win the marginal seat of Barrow and Furness for Labour. Therefore, we have much to be grateful to Syd Tierney for.
My constituency is on the south-east side of Birmingham, adjacent to the national exhibition centre and Birmingham international airport. It relies for employment mainly on manufacturing industry within Birmingham and neighbouring Coventry. The economic prosperity of manufacturing in the west midlands region is the main factor which determines the economic prosperity of my constituents and I hope that in the next few years we shall see an upturn in the fortunes of that industry.
I have spent the past 18 years in education. I have worked in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham), who has just made his maiden speech. It is on the subject of education that I wish to address a few remarks to the House. I have in my constituency two comprehensive schools and many more primary schools, which offer a good standard of education to their pupils and communities. That is a great achievement when set against the background of change, uncertainty and underfunding that education has had to face.
When I met people during the election the one thing that they wanted for education was stability. They are fed up with ministerial changes of mind. As soon as one ministerial directive has been answered, it is countered with another and they start again. They also want stability of funding so that head teachers do not have to spend their time applying to this or that Government Department for funding for this or that project in order to educate the children whom they seek to serve.
Those who want stability in education will be deeply disturbed by the recent talk of the possible reintroduction 563 of selection in secondary schools. If we were to reintroduce selection it would be the biggest upheaval that schools have had to face in recent decades, and the biggest danger to children's education that they have had to face in their lifetime.
I call upon the Government to end the speculation that selection may be returning by making it clear that they will accept no proposals for reorganisation from local authority or grant-maintained schools which include an element of selection either on academic ability or on aptitude for a particular subject. Those who favour selection advance it as a means of raising standards and widening choice. It is neither. Selection gives more power to schools and less choice to parents. Many parents will be powerless to exert any influence over the schools their children attend, which runs counter to the Government's stated intention of trying to increase parental choice.
The other side of the selection coin is rejection. For every pupil whose self-esteem is raised because he or she has been selected, the self-esteem of many other pupils is damagingly depressed by rejection. For every so-called first-choice school that attracts extra resources, there will be more so-called second-choice schools struggling to attract the resources that they need to raise standards.
It is impossible to devise a selection system, whether it be based on academic ability or subject aptitude, which does not hand the failure label to some children and the second-class label to some schools. That is no way to improve standards or widen choice. It favours the few at the expense of the rest. At the heart of any education policy should be a strategy, desire, and aim to raise the standard of every child's education and of every school. Selection will not do that.
During the general election campaign, parents and educationists spoke to me not of selection but of smaller class groups; of giving more time to teaching and less to form filling. Head teachers told me that they wanted to spend more time managing their schools and less time raising money to fund essential resources. They never referred to selection as a means of achieving those objectives. The Government ought to remove once and for all the spectre of selection from the education agenda on which this Session of Parliament is about to embark.
I am pleased to have made my maiden speech in a debate which embraces so many issues of concern to my constituents. I hope that in the months and years to come I shall speak again on their behalf. I am proud to represent my constituents and my party in the House, and I shall always do so to the best of my ability.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I have the privilege of succeeding Sir Neil Macfarlane, who held the seat of Sutton and Cheam for 18 years. He had a distinguished career, and he served as a Minister for seven years. Sir Neil's time as a sports Minister left a heavy mark on him, for he had to cope with both the Bradford fire tragedy and the Heysel stadium disaster. On a more cheerful note, Sir Neil was himself an enthusiastic sportsman. He was captain of the parliamentary golf society, and boasted proudly that over a five-year period he led it to only one victory.
564 Sutton and Cheam is fairly well known throughout the land partly through its association with entertainers, such as Harry Secombe, and its adopted son, Tony Hancock —who, wearing the expression of a disappointed basset hound, lived at 2 Railway cuttings, East Cheam. He brought laughter to millions, but the problem for fans seeking his home was that his address was entirely fictitious. Tony Hancock in fact lived at a far less interesting abode in north London.
My constituency lies 13 miles from Westminster, inside the M25. Today's quiet, leafy streets belie a heritage that dates back to neolithic times. In those days, man travelled by river. Transport is still an enormous issue today, and I doubt that the early dwellers would envy the 3,000 commuters who struggle up to London on Network SouthEast.
The rail journey from Sutton has become so hazardous that no passenger can predict the time of his or her arrival. One constituent told me that the 8.17 am train is now known as the 8.37 am train, because it is always 20 minutes late. The service has not been improved by British Rail's programme of cutting down trackside trees on the basis that falling leaves cause train delays. It is hardly surprising that there has been an outcry by my constituents, who feel that local beauty has been sacrificed by British Rail going for an easy but by no means proven option. It is more a case of whistling in the wind.
I welcome therefore the Government's plans for privatising British Rail. Meanwhile, I trust that the passengers' charter will come in useful. A refund on fares would at least sugar the pill.
I deliberately chose to speak on the subject of education in the debate on the Gracious Speech because Sutton's character is best represented by its excellence in schooling, which is very much the result of Government policies. There can be found in Sutton the best examples of the benefits of offering the widest possible choice. Our two grant-maintained grammar schools—Nonsuch and Sutton Manor—have made such a mark that they are easily holding their own in The Times list of top 250 schools in the country. Today, however, I will focus on another grant-maintained school which I find exciting and elevating every time that I visit it.
Only a few years ago, non-selective Cheam High was regarded as a sink school. It was in such disarray that one of its pupils was caught riding a motor bike through its corridors. The current headmaster, John Vaughan, rescued the situation and reintroduced discipline—for without it children cannot learn. Working with Master and Miss Average, he gave each child hope, a positive identity, and a sense of purpose. In short, he put into practice the Government's programme of vocational education.
The pupils of that school are put through the national vocational qualification course at 17-plus, and the results are so good that local employers actively seek to recruit those children. This September, the vocational studies will develop one stage further, when the school's 16-year-olds will be among the first in the country to start taking their BTEC diploma course—the second year of which has parity with an A-level. There is no doubt that it is perfectly possible for all children to be higher achievers, provided their route of learning is suited to their talents. The second year BTEC qualifies children for a university or polytechnic, and serves as the alternative route to higher education.
565 Academic achievements are worth while, but they are not sufficient in themselves. There is parental concern about the decline in the teaching of the Christian faith. It is a sad reflection that, in a recent survey, only 34 per cent. of the sample knew why Easter day is celebrated, prompting the Archbishop of York to comment:It makes me wonder what kind of religious education some of these children receive at school.In the Education Reform Act 1988, the Government tried their best, in section 8, to provide for a "mainly Christian" education while taking into account other faiths. In practice, that is not always done. Local education authorities set the curriculum, and in some Sutton schools multiculture and multifaith teaching has developed so far that Christianity is reduced to just another faith to be taken down from the shelf, together with Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on. The time has come to take stock of ourselves. We should not be shy of being a Christian country, and we ought to insist that a "mainly Christian" education means just that.
It is not surprising that children lose their way emotionally and spiritually when they have been denied true Christian teaching and know little of what it has to offer. I would like to know how the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 are working out in practice nationwide.
It would be surprising if I did not touch briefly on defence. Nine years ago I launched my pro-NATO organisation, Families for Defence. At that time, we challenged the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and won; but national security remains as important as ever. The cold war may be over, but today we face multiple dangers, with instability in many countries, together with growing nuclear proliferation.
Currently, three former Soviet republics—Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan—still hold nuclear weapons, and there is no clear picture of what they are going to do with them. The southern republics now have rapidly growing armies. Next door, Iran is building up an awesome arsenal of her own, and Iraq, far from being subdued by the Gulf war, is reasserting herself.
Not only should we monitor the plight of the Kurds; there is another human rights issue that has been forgotten. I refer to the 850 Kuwaitis known as "The Missing Ones": men, women and children, some only 10 years old, who were snatched from their homes during the occupation and taken to camps in Iraq. Fifteen months later, they are still being held. The International Red Cross has their names.
I regard it as intolerable that the world should forget about those people in the mistaken belief that, after the liberation of Kuwait, all has been satisfactorily resolved. That is not the case, and we have a duty to ensure that they are released and returned home. There are lessons to be learnt. This is yet another example of why we should appreciate that peace has not yet been established in the middle east. We must therefore be ready for every contingency, and must plan for future defence levels accordingly. We must maintain our armed forces at the most credible level.
While I accept that we must adapt to modern conditions, it is vital that we are certain that we know what we are doing, and make up our minds about our commitments. I hope that, during the restructuring process, we do not make decisions now only to regret them later in the crisis. I think that the time has come for us to 566 reaffirm our commitment to NATO. There has been a growing tendency in Europe to suggest that the American input is not necessary. I do not agree: we cannot do without the United States. In a major crisis, the United States is always there to help us, and the Gulf war was no exception. To exclude it would be a severe mistake, and would weaken the Alliance.
By the same token, satisfying the calls by the French and Germans for their own corps would serve no real purpose unless such corps were effectively associated with NATO. Otherwise, such action would undermine NATO and ultimately destroy it. It would do nothing for military effectiveness, and could seriously damage European harmony. In any case, we already have NATO's rapid reaction corps, commanded by the British and specifically designed to take on military tasks in and outside the normal NATO area.
I have raised the question of defence at the end of my speech, in particular, because my constituents in Sutton have frequently raised it with me. They come from courageous stock; they are dogged, and indomitable, and they are people whom I am enormously proud to represent.
§ Ms. Ann Coffey (Stockport)
I congratulate you on your new position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and thank you for calling me.
My constituency, Stockport, forms part of the wider metropolitan borough of the same name. It was created after the boundary changes in 1983. My predecessor was Tony Favell, a man of strong beliefs and uncompromising principles. He had, I know, a great deal of affection for Stockport, and his constituents wish him well.
Stockport is a town with a strong sense of community responsibility. Many people give their time, in a voluntary capacity, raise funds for and run the numerous clubs that exist for the elderly and the disabled, and also youth organisations and sports clubs. The Council for Voluntary Service, the citizens advice bureaux, Age Concern and Victim Support co-ordinate the work of hundreds of volunteers who provide a valuable service for the town. Charnwood nursery, a charitable trust which has been in operation for 20 years, offers children with special needs and normal children the opportunity to learn and to co-operate with each other from an early age. It is an excellent example of integration which, sadly, has not been replicated elsewhere.
Stockport has a very vocal local press. Papers such as the Stockport Express Advertiser, the Stockport Times, the Stockport Messenger, the Heaton Guardian, Down Your Way and the District Advertiser (Stockport) tackle issues of local interest with enthusiasm. Stockport also has an excellent football team, Stockport County, which was promoted last season, and is fighting its way to further promotion this season.
In recent years, the education system has experienced a period of rapid change with the introduction of local management of schools, the national curriculum, and assessment and appraisal. The national curriculum itself has changed several times. I have a daughter at a local state school, and I recently attended a parents evening to be given information about the GCSE courses that would help her to choose her options. I was informed by the school that the GCSE was to be altered to place less 567 emphasis on course assessment and more on exams. The staff, however, could give me no information about what that actually meant for the individual courses, as they themselves had no information. Parents attending that meeting felt very confused and anxious. Now parents face the possibility of chaos.
Are the schools of Stockport to remain with the local education authority? Will some or all of them opt out? Who knows'? If schools apply for opt-out status, which schools will be given that status? What are the criteria? No one knows. We know the situation this week, but what of next week, next month, next year? This makes nonsense of stability. Will the opt-outs lead to a centralised bureaucracy? The Department of Education must know something, because it is apparently planning to move to a new building called Sanctuary house.
In 1986, Stockport underwent a reorganisation—with all-party support—of its secondary schools for 11 to 18-year-olds, and that has just been completed. It followed the Government's advice to take out spare places. Two schools were closed and three sixth-form colleges were created, one for each area of the town, to reflect local needs and diversity. As Stockport has taken out spare places, parental choice is of necessity limited by available accommodation. If all the schools opt out, set their own criteria for selection, and extend their catchment areas, where does that leave parents? What do they do? Do they apply to their first-choice school and hope that their children get in, apply to their second choice because their children have a better chance of getting into that, or apply to all the schools and hope for the best? It is a nightmare scenario for parents and children alike.
Will the Government allow opted-out schools to borrow extra capital to build? Or will the schools be into "cramming"? Shall we have huge schools with more than 2,000 pupils sending children home for private study because there is no room for them to be taught? Will some schools have shiny new buildings and new mobiles in the grounds, while others struggle to mend their roofs and provide books? That is an obscenity.
Stockport has taken a key role in strategic planning for its post-16 education. Since the three sixth-form colleges were created, the staying-on rate has risen to 75 per cent. What will happen now? If one of the secondary schools opts out and returns to an 11-to-18 intake, will that lead to the closure of one of the sixth-form colleges with consequent loss to the local community? Community groups will be dispossessed, and there will be nowhere for adult education classes to take place.
Who will make the decision? Will it be some distant regional funding council with no local knowledge? What will happen to non-vocational adult education'? How will that be funded? Will it be funded at all? Evening and day classes provide the community with an opportunity to take part in an enormous range of interesting and satisfying opportunities. It is part of a long-standing tradition. The loss of non-vocational adult education will be deeply felt.
These are genuine concerns of my constituents. They want stability and an end to the endless stress of change. I urge the Government to listen to those concerns.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I have the honour to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and to say how delighted all Members are about it. I wish also to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms. Coffey) on her interesting speech and to say how much the House enjoyed her humorous approach to an important and serious topic, which helped greatly.
As the hon. Member for Stockport said, the Gracious Speech places importance on education. I shall spend a few moments on that topic and, if there is time, refer to another matter which causes great concern to my constituents.
A number of speakers in this most interesting debate have questioned the comprehensive school system. Some have said that the system has failed totally. I do not accept that statement. The comprehensive ideal was one that those who conceived it could be proud of. It certainly inspired me for many years to work as hard as anybody could in the teaching profession. However, the comprehensive ideal has failed many children because it has proved to be impractical in many schools. That is its tragedy. That does not mean that it was not right to try. What went wrong was the insistence by Labour Governments that there should be a uniform system of comprehensive education. If they had not insisted on having a uniform system of comprehensive secondary education, I do not believe that the comprehensive school ideal would have failed. The ball has to be placed in the court of those who forced the issue to the extent that Labour Governments did.
People in this country and in many other countries will not accept uniformity. They do not want a monopoly. Monopolies lead to failure; people do not work in the ways that they ought to work, which causes problems. The lives of generations of children have been seriously damaged by local authority reorganisation schemes. The reorganisation of London schools into 97 comprehensives by the London county council and its successor, the Inner London education authority, over a period of about 20 years led to the enormous disorganisation of the education of hundreds of thousands of children. To a great extent, that damaged their subsequent careers.
There is a stronger consumer demand now than there has ever been for diversity and choice in education. Happily, the Gracious Speech confirms that fact. Parents, with the encouragement of successive Governments since 1979, are insisting on a choice of school and a choice of courses within that school for their children. That must be right. If people suggest that schools should tell children what courses to follow, that lets children down seriously and damages this nation. Such a process leads to children being under-educated, which damages our country at a time when we need to be able to compete strongly with countries throughout the world.
I believe that parents want more city technology colleges and more church schools. There is a slow increase in the number of church schools. They are very popular and parents want more of them. There is still a strong demand for single sex schools. I believe that the demand for grant-maintained schools will increase enormously. The Opposition need to realise that grant-maintained schools represent a social, political and educational revolution. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have not come to terms with that fact. Five out of the five 569 secondary schools in my constituency applied for grant-maintained status. Four of the five achieved it immediately; the fifth will achieve it fairly soon. These schools are situated both in well-appointed and in very poor areas.
That revolution is being led by the parents. It is led not by Whitehall but by the consumer. In an area in my constituency which the Labour party has always thought of as its own, there was a mock election during the general election campaign. The Conservative candidate was elected with a majority of more than 200 over his opponents. That was not accidental. There has been a revolution. The Labour party needs to come to terms with that fact, if it is to begin to understand what is happening in education. I believe that there will be more grant-maintained schools. There is bound to be an avalanche of applications for grant-maintained schools.
The headmaster of Northolt high school told me that the local authority's cleaning budget took away £70,000 from his school and that he found a private contractor who could carry out the job for £40,000. The £30,000 that he has saved will be spent on more teaching and more books, pencils and rubbers.
§ Mr. Greenway
No. My time is limited so, with respect, I cannot give way.
Such sums matter very much. Children will benefit greatly as a result. They can see that; so can their parents. The revolt against some comprehensive schools and the lack of choice in some areas could lead, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said, to a return of selection at 11—probably not on an academic basis but on the same basis as in Germany. As a member of the Select Committee on Education, I went to look at the way in which secondary education is organised in Germany. There, children are guided into the local gymnasium or realschule. The children go perfectly happily into vocational or academic schools. All those schools have ample resources. The teachers are well paid and the children achieve their potential within those schools.
There is a chance that we shall return to selection simply because of the pressure of monopoly throughout the country as a result of the policies of Labour authorities. Parents are revolting against it. The Labour party needs to recognise that it inspired the nation to take this action, in much the same way as happened in eastern Europe where the imposition of uniformity led to rebellion and dramatically changed the system. The Labour party ought to consider that intellectual argument. It is central to what is happening here. The Labour party has contributed to what has happened in a way that it has not fully appreciated.
Parents want their children to be stretched educationally. The country needs our children to be stretched educationally if we are to compete, even with countries such as Korea. By putting it that way, I do not intend to insult Korea. The number of academic courses and genuinely academic schools must be increased. More children must be given the opportunity to follow genuinely academic courses. That does not rule out vocational education in schools. As I know from my long experience, that is an important part of education.
570 As the Gracious Speech points out, teacher education and teacher training must certainly be improved. If we are to achieve that aim, those institutions must certainly be in competent hands. Lecturers must be drawn from those who have recent experience of teaching in schools. They must not have been away from it for a long period, so that they lose contact with what is needed. Teachers will need to he prepared more thoroughly than they have been so far, both academically and in the craft of the classroom, which is the basis of good teaching and sound learning.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
My first pleasant duty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is to congratulate you on your appointment and to wish you many peaceful years guiding the debates in the House. In common with other hon. Members, I have listened to many fine maiden speeches which augur well for the House in the years to come in depth both of knowledge and of compassion for the social problems that afflict these islands today.
The environment is mentioned twice in the Gracious Speech. It says that theGovernment will work both at home and abroad to protect the environment. They will ensure that the environment remains a key issue in all policy-making".Those undertakings contrast strongly with a lack of any commitment in the Government's programme that will address the pressing and vital environmental problems that we face, not just on earth as a whole but in our country today. In 1990 the Government announced their conversion to green issues. I should have hoped that they would have had the time and the opportunity to present to the House a strong programme for environmental protection legislation and to show that they intend to lead other nations towards environmental recovery for this generation and those to come. There do not appear to be any proposals for green legislation in the Government's programme.
It is equally disappointing that when the Prime Minister addressed the House on 6 May he did not give any commitment in respect of the great environmental issues, with the exception of a brief reference to the Rio de Janeiro conference, promising the Government's commitment to a target of returning carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the turn of the century. That is an inadequate response to the urgency of the problem. In fact, that rather poor commitment was qualified further by his statement that it would be carried out onlyprovided that others will do the same."—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 73.]Surely we should be setting an example to the world in respect of all aspects of environmental protection. If need be, we must go it alone, for the practical reason that the process of tackling these major problems must start somewhere, must be started by somebody and must start within one of the western industrialised nations.
On ozone layer depletion, the Government seem immune to the urgency indicated by their own research group. In July 1991, the stratospheric ozone review group produced a report drawing attention to the strong evidence that destruction of the ozone layer in the northern hemisphere is greater than anticipated. It stated that above Britain and Europe there had been an 8 per cent. loss of the ozone layer in the past 10 years. That report was followed in October 1991 by a report from a group of 80 international scientists working under the auspices of the 571 United Nations environment programme and the World Meteorological Office. It produced extremely disturbing findings and the Government seem to have paid little attention to them. We are talking not about ozone depletion in some far off place such as Antarctica, but about severe and dangerous ozone depletion over northern Europe and the very islands in which we live. Surely the Government are aware from their own research groups and scientific bodies that UVB radiation will have considerable consequences for the health and welfare of the people of these islands, Europe and the entire earth. They should be striving with the maximum urgency for control of ozone-depleting gases and their withdrawal from use, not by the year 2000 but at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government should have the courage to proceed with protecting the earth, whatever the economic disadvantage. They should provide leadership and, if necessary, by moral force should show the way forward to other nations.
The Government fall far short on matters other than simply ozone layer depletion. We have heard many sympathetic comments about the destruction of the rain forests. However, it was reported not long ago that several British firms are importing rain forest timbers in contravention of the 1989 Philippines Government ban. No action has been taken. At the earth summit in June it is anticipated that the Government will be seeking international consensus on a set of principles governing the conservation of forests. Surely the Government would have a much stronger arm if they sorted out their departmental disagreements. That would provide them with the authority to go before a world convention to negotiate a legally binding forestry conservation agreement.
We must also look at the Government's record on air quality control in the United Kingdom. It has already been noted that there is poor quality air in many parts of these islands. However, the Government boast of having created six new monitoring stations, making a total of 13 sites engaged in ensuring the Government's compliance with EC directive No. 2. That should be compared with Germany where there are 200 sites monitoring air quality control. Surely that is equally important to our citizens.
There is an urgent need, which the Government have neglected, to deal with environmental problems in our own households. They should support a Bill to ban phosphates, increase the biodegradability of detergents and introduce better environmental protection labelling for the consumer. Household detergent pollution is an urgent matter crying out for Government attention.
When we look at the environmental control measures promised in the Government's election manifesto, we see that they have already reneged on the commitment to set up an environmental protection agency by postponing it until not later than 1994. When I questioned the Northern Ireland Office regarding the situation in Northern Ireland, I was told that the commitment would not be implemented until well after that date. So we are probably talking about the turn of the century. That flies in the face of a 1991 all-party report on the environment, which recommended that the environmental protection agencies should be set up immediately.
572 Coming from South Down, I would not do justice to the environmental problem if I did not refer to the pollution of the Irish sea and the daily emissions from Sellafield of radioactive material. That is happening as we debate tonight and has been happening for the past 40 years. The radioactive content has been reduced from what it was several years ago, when there were some horrendous emissions of highly radioactive plutonium. Modern technology is available to clean up the discharge completely and it is one of the first issues that must be tackled.
Added to that environmental pollution, we are now creating another danger. I understand that as from June this year plutonium will be exported to Japan in a specially constructed cargo ship. Ironically, the adaptations to that ship were carried out at Harland and Wolff. That ship must contain a military complement and will be escorted by a military vessel. Apart from the expense involved, I have no doubt that that trade will be dangerous for the inhabitants of these islands. I am extremely concerned that, once again, nuclear waste reprocessing is being expanded by the introduction of thermal oxide reprocessing plant this year. The Government could at least have had the decency to await the environmental impact study that was promised.
I urge the Prime Minister and his team who will attend the Rio de Janeiro conference in June to have the courage to go forward with a greatly accelerated programme, redressing all aspects of the destruction of the environment. If they do so, they will receive the massive support not only of this country but eventually of the rest of the nations of the world. It is a question of determination, foresight and leadership. I hope that the Government can rise to the challenge.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
I wish briefly but warmly to welcome you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to your elevated office and to wish you well in the future.
Many hon. Members have referred to housing, and I want to do so briefly. The Opposition's amendment refers to omissions from the Gracious Speech. Many of those features are omissions because they are already happening —in other words, much work and money is being invested in solving the problems of homelessness and rooflessness. That is already bearing fruit in London. If the Labour party were to encourage some Labour authorities to return to use some of the empty properties within their gift, many of the problems of homelessness in London and other parts of the country could be solved. They and we could also bring into use unused premises above shops and so on.
The Gracious Speech deals with leasehold reform and rents to mortgages. I hope that the commonhold concept will soon be introduced in legislation. I hope that commonhold reform will embrace consideration of the problems that arise when a small house is divided into flats. In my constituency, it is often leaseholders of two, three or four unit blocks whose rights are abused by freeholders. I hope that my hon. Friends in the Department will bear in mind that leaseholders need the protection of commonhold as much as the occupants of larger units.
I hope that we will not forget leasehold reform of the public sector. All too often, people who bought flats from local authorities have no say in service charges, in when or 573 what repairs are done or in capital improvements. I believe that they should have a greater say in such decisions. I hope that will be part of the Government's leasehold reform.
I welcome the proposals on rents to mortgages, but I hope that they will not stop simply at council tenants. Public sector tenants include housing association tenants, many of whom have been allocated to housing association properties by local authorities. In that process, they often lose the right to buy. The transferable discount scheme is offered for non-charitable trusts, but in London that is a joke because most people cannot afford the property values at which the discount applies. I hope that the rent-to-mortgages concept, which is good, will apply equally to tenants in housing associations.
I agree with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) about the global environment, but I wish to talk briefly, too, about the domestic environment. The biggest cause of pollution in London, the motor car, is clogging our roads. We desperately need a package of measures to encourage people to use public transport. However, they will use public transport only if it is adequate. We had the great cross-party debate in London, where we threw out the consultants' proposals for major road building schemes and opted unanimously for better and more public transport. I welcome the bold statement in the Gracious Speech that there will be emphasis on providing more rail facilities to solve our problems. I gently suggest that such a proposal could be implemented quickly by bringing forward the improvements to the Northern line, by ensuring that the Hackney to Chelsea rail link travels south through Wandsworth and—this is a very domestic point—by ensuring pedestrian access to railway bridges across the Thames so that people can use the river buses, which stop only on the other side of the Thames at Chelsea as opposed to Battersea. I hope that my proposals for improving public transport will be listened to.
The other improvement in domestic pollution that I should like to see is to do with the air—by which I mean not the air that we breathe but the air through which we hear. All too often we hear far too much. Noise pollution in the inner city is one of the curses of this age. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to give local authorities and the police real powers to confiscate equipment and to stop noise, whether from a private residence or from a public performance. Noise is a menace to people throughout the night, and in the summer, when people wish to have their windows open, it occurs throughout the day and at weekends as well. We need urgent action on those measures.
Finally, I want to follow the hon. Member for South Down in speaking about global environment problems. There has been much discussion about the preparations for Rio related to the need for population control to preserve and conserve the assets of our planet. That is right, but we in the west must understand that often the population increases because people in the developing world do not have confidence in the survival of their children. When we can increase their confidence, family sizes will decrease and we shall begin to preserve the planet as a whole. Today, 6,000 children will die of pneumonia; 7,000 children will die of diarrhoea and dehydration diseases; and 8,000 children will die of measles, tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria. All those deaths—a total of 21,000 today, 7.6 million this year and 38.3 million over 574 a five-year Parliament—are avoidable for a comparatively small sum of money. If the western world, with this country playing its part, were to spend money on enabling those children to survive, the size of families would decrease.
The cost of solving the pneumonia problem is 50p per child for antibiotics; the cost of solving the diarrhoea problem is 5p for oral rehydration tablets; and the cost of solving the measles problem is sixpence ha'penny for immunisation. For £1,170 a day, 21,000 lives could be saved today; for £427,000 a year, 7.6 million could be saved; and £21.3 million could save 38.3 million lives in a five-year period. Surely that is a price worth paying when we are talking about children and families that need our support. It is a question of chicken and egg. In this case, if the young chickens are able to survive, parents will not produce so many eggs to hatch and so we will start to solve some of the global environmental population problems that face the world at Rio and beyond.
§ Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in the debate on the Queen's Speech, and may I take this opportunity to extend to you my personal congratulations on your selection as Deputy Speaker.
It is appropriate for me to pay a tribute to Mr. Ted Garrett, my immediate predecessor, who retired at the general election. Ted Garrett was popular with hon. Members of all parties. He did not seek the political limelight but was happy and content to discharge his responsibilities to the constituents of Wallsend in a simple, unassuming manner. However, his constituents knew full well that if they had a grievance—no matter against whom —Ted Garrett would pursue it with tenacity until it was resolved. I only hope that in my time in the House I shall be able to discharge my responsibilities to the constituents of Wallsend in the way that he did since becoming a Member of Parliament in 1964.
The constituency of Wallsend runs from the banks of the great River Tyne northwards to the old coal mining pit villages of the south-east Northumberland coalfield. Alas, the pits are no more, but the river is still active. Swan Hunter Shipbuilders has an international reputation for producing high-quality ships on time and at a competitive price. Its success is largely due to the positive partnership created over the years between the management and the work force.
Just along the Tyne, the other major employer is Press Fabrication, an offshore yard producing modules for the offshore industry. Last year it was named as the northern business of the year—a well-deserved accolade—but such success stories are only small glimmers of light in a dark and bleak environment.
In the 1980s we lost jobs and, for those in work, incomes decreased in real terms. Because of changes to the benefit system, those receiving benefits were pushed deeper into grinding poverty. The feeling of despair and despondency in my constituency is not unique—it is shared by most constituencies in the north-east. That is why, on 9 April, those constituents—those electors— registered a massive vote of no confidence in the Government's policies. Instead, they endorsed Labour's 575 programme, which was based on care and compassion for all sections of the population, but that programme has now been denied to them.
We are debating a Queen's Speech that has more to do with envy, self-interest and greed than any concept of citizenship or community. On 9 April, more than 50 per cent. of the people who voted in the north-east voted Labour. Many of those people now believe—rightly so —that the Government have no mandate to govern the north-east. We are all aware of the current constitutional debate in Scotland. I believe that as a result of the election on 9 April a similar debate must now take place in the north-east.
I want to make one or two remarks about education. The Chinese have a proverb which says that the schools of a country are its future in miniature. I believe that to be true—we must invest in our future. But that has not happened in the past decade. An ever smaller share of our national wealth has been committed to education spending —a decline of 16 per cent. since 1979. That lack of investment has been combined with constant change in our education system. That system has been subjected to an almost permanent revolution in the classroom. As a result of that combination, our education service is now at breaking point.
The Queen's Speech refers grandly to choice, diversity and standards in education. However, what does that mean in practice if we strip away the rhetoric? The National Foundation for Educational Research has shown that reading standards in primary schools have declined dramatically over the past four or five years. We have heard today that if schools opt out of local authority control, that would raise standards. It is interesting to note that Her Majesty's inspectorate spent 300 days in opted-out schools, but no reports have been published. I have no doubt that reports would have been published if standards had risen.
The Queen's Speech refers to diversity. We know that "diversity" is a code word for selection and a return to the 11-plus—the examination that dares not speak its name. We have already heard that selection denies parental choice. That is nothing new. We have had the 11-plus and we have had selection. However, local authorities of all political controls moved against selection for good reasons. We all recognised and believed that childhood division would create a disadvantage for the majority. We cannot allow the Government to turn the clock back to the bad old days when 75 per cent. of our children were deemed failures at the age of 11.
Margaret Bondfield made her maiden speech as Member for Wallsend in 1926. She said:The Government appear to be trying to apply 19th century methods to a 20th century population, and it will not work".—[Official Report, 30 July 1926; Vol. 198, c. 2516.]I do not believe that measures announced in the Queen's Speech will work. It fails to address the needs and realities of the 1990s. All that the Government can offer my constituents is a future made up of all their yesterdays. Our country and our people deserve better.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
I add my congratulations to those which have been showered on you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from both sides of the House.
576 I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) on his maiden speech. I look forward to debating with him across the Chamber for many years to come.
When Madam Speaker called the first hon. Member to make his maiden speech during this debate on the Queen's Speech, that hon. Member said that he had been elected on his fifth attempt, something that he had in common with Madam Speaker. I have waited a little longer, although I also fought five general election campaigns before making this maiden speech.
I first stood as a Member of Parliament against the former Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Michael Foot, in the constituency then known as Ebbw Vale. I am sad that my arrival in this place coincides with his decision to depart it. Throughout the time that I have known him, he has been a man of the greatest courtesy, irrespective of our political differences.
I also have this claim to fame: at the last general election I managed to lose the Brecon and Radnor constituency by the smallest margin in the country, and I lost to Michael Foot by the largest margin. That is something to take with me. The experience of winning a seat, even by a vote as marginal as 130, is much better than losing by just 56 votes.
Politics are taken very seriously in my constituency. At the last general election the turnout in Brecon and Radnor, at 84 per cent., was the highest in the country. This time around the turnout was 86 per cent., but it is interesting to note that that was only the third highest. That shows me that there are people in my constituency who still believe that this is the cockpit of the nation, that this is where important decisions are taken, and that it is relevant and important that they should participate in elections.
My first words on being elected were of tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Richard Livsey, for all his hard work as constituency Member for Brecon and Radnor, and I am happy to repeat that tribute in this Chamber. As one would imagine from the political history of the seat, we have been keen political opponents for a considerable time, but that has never stopped us from enjoying a close friendship. I wish him well, although I hope that he decides to pursue an alternative career.
It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the other Members for Brecon and Radnor, starting with the example of constituency service set by the late Labour Member, Lord Watkins, the former Tudor Watkins, who held for Labour what is now regarded as one of the closest three-party marginals in the country for 25 years. He held the seat on the basis of the example of constituency service that he set, followed by his successor Caerwyn Roderick and then by the late Tom Hooson, whose untimely death led to the famous 1985 by-election.
It is my understanding that there has never been a one-term Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnor and, as a supporter of tradition, I am hoping that that is a tradition that my electors will stick with. Having said that, I am aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House and among the Liberal party have spent some considerable time campaigning in Brecon and Radnor. Most of them have come back from the constituency saying that it is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, in Britain. I know that every Member of Parliament is bound to say in this Chamber that their constituency is the most beautiful, but I can say with some force that I have support from both sides of the Chamber for that proposition.
577 However, my constituency has its difficulties. It has the largest proportion of the land-mass of Wales and so 1 suppose that I may say that I speak for more of Wales than anyone else in the Chamber. It covers more than three quarters of a million acres of Wales, stretching from the upper Swansea valley to Shropshire, and from the suburbs of Abergavenny to the hinterland of Aberystwyth. It would not fit within the curtilage of the M25 motorway, which is a sign of how vast the constituency is.
It is well known that agriculture is an important industry in the constituency, and I welcome the observations in the Queen's Speech about agricultural marketing and reform of the common agricultural policy. I hope to return to those issues in this Chamber on other occasions.
During my maiden speech I must speak more fully on housing, on the basis that a large rural area such as my constituency often has difficulty persuading people that there is a rural housing problem. I recognise that there is such a problem. Until the election was called I enjoyed the honour of being the deputy chairman of Housing for Wales, Tai Cymru, the Welsh equivalent of the Housing Corporation. I am pleased that while I was involved in the board of that corporation we were able to convince the housing establishment—the housing professionals—that there really was a housing problem. We were able to commit some 27 per cent. of all Housing Corporation expenditure in Wales to trying to resolve that problem. I am pleased to see that now the Housing Corporation in England is starting to catch up.
I am disappointed at some observations in the amendment concerning the role of local government and criticising the Government's policy on housing as though housing were to be delivered only by local government. I am rather sorry that Opposition Members pay so little attention to the role of housing associations, their major achievements in recent years and the great support that they have had from the Government. Our Housing Corporation in Wales operates in positive partnership with local authorities. Local authorities have a role, yes —not perhaps as the provider, but as the enabler. Since Housing for Wales has been established it has been a key, leading body in developing the close relationship between local authorities and the Housing Corporation that is so important.
There has been a massive expansion in resources for the housing association movement and it is important that the money is targeted better than has been the case in the past. That is why we in Wales have decided that money must be directed, yes, to where local authorities say it is needed, but on the basis of their surveys of local opinion. Often local authorities adopt the stance that they always know best. It is important that they should be involved in liaising with local groups and local communities to assess exactly what the housing needs are, so that we are sure that money spent on housing goes where it should go.
I am pleased to say that the amount of finance made available to housing associations, particularly in Wales, has increased considerably. I was pleased to see the Conservative party's commitment in its manifesto to ensuring that the figures in the public expenditure line will be commitments for the years ahead. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on the Front Bench and I say to him that I did not see any such commitment in the Welsh manifesto. I hope that there is nothing significant in that.
578 It is also important to recognise the role that private funding has played in the mixed financial regime with housing associations. Thirty per cent. or more of the expenditure available must come from the private sector. If it is to come, it must come on the basis of private funding being available. I congratulate the Government on commissioning a report from Hambro which, I understand, may have been in the Government's hands since January or February. So far the report has not been published. It is important that it should be published because it is necessary to take every available step to ensure that private funding exists.
I am a Welshman who has lived and worked in Wales all my life. I represent a Welsh constituency, but I am here as a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. We have heard many remarks from Opposition Members about mandates. As a Member of this Parliament, I consider Wales to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, and I shall work during all the time that I am here to ensure that it remains so.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
May I offer you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hearty congratulations on your appointment? You may recall that we first met 20 years ago when I was newly elected as a member of the Labour group on Islington borough council and you were leader of a rump of Conservative opposition members which had been reduced to five aldermen. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) did not intend to call you Mr. Deputy Mayor, but if he had said Mr. Former Alderman, he would have been correct. We are delighted to see you in your place.
It is my happy task to congratulate the 13 hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today as well as to congratulate the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who has returned to the House for a third time. He is not so much a retread as an inner tube, but his speech was entertaining none the less.
There were eight maiden speeches by Labour hon. Members, including those from my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Ms. Campbell), for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) and for Stockport (Ms. Coffey) who took seats from Conservative Members at the general election. The fact that those five won those seats underlines the great difference between this Parliament and the previous one. Thanks to the effectiveness of our election campaign, the Government's majority has been reduced from more than 100 to just 21.
We have heard fine speeches from all my hon. Friends. I greatly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood, who spoke of the principle of alphabetical order and the way in which he suffered greatly as a result. His name begins with a W, and although mine begins with an S, I share his sense of discrimination. He also made a very important point, which the Secretary of State may wish to address, about the crisis in the recruitment of parents and other members of the public to serve as school governors. That crisis is caused by the fact that the nature of the job has changed, from one of giving support and assistance to the education of children within the school to the often unpalatable task 579 of having to make cuts in budgets and deciding which teachers should be sacked or which budgets for books should be cut.
I greatly enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, which is near to the area where I was born. He may not know—it is a little known fact—that for three weeks in 1965 my sister and I were employed full time by the Labour party to canvass the whole of the constituency as a prelude to a famous by-election win which took place some months later. I was paid the princely sum of £7 per week, and on the basis of that £21—
§ Mr. Straw
That was before the idea of the minimum wage had even passed the lips of Labour spokespersons.
On the basis of the money I earned, I bought myself a suit. I still have that suit, and I can still get into it. [Interruption.] The good men and women of Marks and Spencer would be offended by the suggestion that the suit I am wearing today is 28 years old.
We heard fine speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Yardley and for Stockport, and I shall return to them. There were also fine contributions from the hon. Members for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), and for Bath (Mr. Foster), as well as from the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker).
I also warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) on his appointment as the new Secretary of State in the freshly renamed Department for Education. The right hon. Gentleman comes to his post with many advantages. He knows more than a little about education, but perhaps his greatest advantage is that he is not the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), his predecessor who is now Home Secretary. Though that right hon. and learned Gentleman often entertained the House with his unusual combination of bravado and invective, the world of parents, governors, teachers and pupils, over whom he temporarily presided, was far from entertained.
The previous Secretary of State left the education service in turmoil, in a worse state even than he had found it 16 months before. He turned teacher training upside down, he pre-emptorily decided that history should end in 1963 and he planned the wholesale dismemberment of Her Majesty's inspectorate and the local inspectorate of schools, and the privatisation of what remained. Worse, he gave the impression of disinterest in the views and opinions of teachers and parents and rarely visited any state schools.
The former Secretary of State, now the Home Secretary, is, I believe, a practising agnostic. He has been seen inside a church less often than he was seen inside a school. The new Secretary of State, on the other hand, is a devout member of the Roman Catholic church and in a now celebrated article in The Spectator—which, fortunately for him, hit the stands after, rather than before, the election—he enlisted the assistance of the Almighty to explain away Conservative Administrations' lamentable 580 record on law and order, namely, the doubling of crime in less than a decade. The Secretary of State said that it was all a consequence of declining church attendance and adwindling belief in redemption and damnation which has led to a loss of fear of the eternal consequences of goodness and badness.We shall, no doubt, be hearing more about the Almighty in relation to education policy. Even now, I understand that hard-pressed teachers of disaffected adolescents in inner city schools are clamouring for hell to be officially made part of the national curriculum, most likely in exchange for craft, design and technology, and personal and social education.
In his speech on Wednesday on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister said:Our target is to raise standards, widen choice and open up opportunity for hundreds of thousands of children".— [Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 71.]Opportunity, choice, standards—they are easy words to say and we can, and do, all drink to them. Their practice, however, is a great deal more difficult, and it is the likely practice of the Government's education policies and their probable consequence that I shall address tonight.
There are many policies on which there has been broad agreement in the Chamber, as with the introduction of the national curriculum and the local management of schools, and on many others there could easily be agreement, such as the rapid expansion of nursery education, for which the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) called in an effective speech, or the serious integration of academic and vocational qualifications.
In the time available to me today, however, I shall deal with one policy on which there is far less agreement—opting out and the extension of the grant-maintained sector. Of all Conservative education policies, none has been sold more heavily on that litany of opportunity, choice and standards than the policy of opting out. Paradoxically, of all Conservative education policies, none contains within it more potential for reducing opportunity and parental choice than opting out, while doing nothing to raise educational standards.
Why the present Administration should have turned opting out into an article of Conservative faith is beyond me. It was, it may be recalled, dreamed up in the early months of 1987 by the Downing street policy unit as no more than a crude wheeze to destabilise a few allegedly unpopular inner city Labour local education authorities. It was a policy forced on a wholly sceptical Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who publicly clashed with the then Prime Minister on its likely impact. She said that by 1991 more than half of all schools would have opted out, but the right hon. Member for Mole Valley wisely predicted that only a few schools would opt out of the local authority system.
Despite the cynical enticement of schools named for closure then being offered opt-out as a salvation—despite the naked bribery of opt-out schools—by the last election, only 200 schools, less than 1 per cent., had opted out of the local authority system, and most of those were to be found in a handful not of Labour authorities but of low-spending Conservative authorities.
Opting out has now moved up from wheeze to dogma, with Tory Members and the Conservative press openly encouraging an avalanche of opting out, with the end of local democratic involvement in the school system as we know it. The Secretary of State said yesterday that he 581 anticipated that the floodgates for opting out were now open, but The Daily Telegraph wrote in an editorial last Wednesday:A serious policy vacuum is becoming apparent at the heart of the Government's policies for secondary education.It went on:Unless it is addressed soon, the opting-out process could become anarchic and thereby discredited.That policy vacuum exists because of a central problem which the Secretary of State's predecessor and the Prime Minister have repeatedly ducked. The question is what kind of system will schools be opting into, not that from which they will be opting out. What lies beyond the floodgates of which the Secretary of State spoke yesterday is turbulence, uncertainty and territory that is unknown, not calm, charted waters. In that territory schools and their pupils could easily become the casualties. The wider the floodgates and the more schools opt out, the less will the past be any guide to the future.
I shall deal with five linked issues: cash, selection, parental choice, administration and standards. Roman Catholic bishops held a conference 10 days ago during which they expressed their deep unease about the prospects for opting out. The bishops said:We are deeply opposed to the considerable imbalances in funding brought about by the administration of the grant maintained school system, and we shall press for the removal of preferential funding for such schools.When opting out was first put before the House five years ago, solemn undertakings were given by Ministers and by the then Prime Minister that local education authority schools and opt-out schools would be treated in a financially neutral way. As opting out began to flop, bribes were offered by Ministers and were taken.
Most schools which have opted out so far have done so simply for the money. The average sized secondary school has been at least £155,000 better off in its first year as a result of opting out, with capital funding running at twice the rate for local authority schools. Some of the extra cash has been taken directly from other LEA schools, which has impoverished them, but much has come from extra Exchequer expenditure. Immoral such bribes may have been, but with opting out on such a scale their costs were easily absorbable.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not surprising that there were additional capital grants for some schools in the county of Lancashire, schools which had been grossly starved of funds and which therefore had to make up a great deal of leeway? Those schools, two of which are in my constituency, had been starved over the years by Lancashire county council. Having had the wisdom to opt out, they are now receiving the money that previously had been devoted to administration and democracy in county hall. They are now doing exceptionally well. Many such schools would not have received a bean from the county.
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Lady is right to say that three or four schools out of hundreds that have opted out in Lancashire were starved of cash for their capital building needs. Where she is wrong—she knows this—is in suggesting that Lancashire county council is responsible. She came with me on deputation after deputation to Ministers, and she knows that it was the Conservative Government who starved the schools of funds, not the failure of Lancashire county council.
582 The question raised by the Catholic bishops and the question now being raised by governors, parents and local authorities throughout the land is whether the bribes can continue. I put the question to the Secretary of State, and I ask him to answer it. If, as the Government predict, 2,000 more schools opt out, that will cost the Exchequer—I leave aside the moneys that will be taken from local authorities and local authority schools—an extra £300 million. If another 4,000 schools opt out, that will cost the Exchequer another £600 million. Does that money exist? Are schools which now opt out to be offered the same level of bribes —"financial incentives", to use the Prime Minister's words —that schools have been offered in the past? I offer the Secretary of State the opportunity to explain. Come on —answer the question! This is a crucial issue for every school in the land. If the Secretary of State is unwilling to answer now, he had better answer in the course of his speech, because parents and governors have a right to know whether the same sort of bribes that have hitherto been offered will continue in the future.
A second issue, even more important than whether the level of financial incentives will continue, is selection. An increase in opting out will inexorably lead to greater selection at 11, since the schools and not the local education authorities will make the selection. Some grant-maintained schools have made it explicit that they want to turn from being comprehensives to being grammar schools. In any area we may rapidly see the creation of a rigid hierarchy of schools, with favoured, well-funded opt-outs at the top—grammar schools in all but name—and a second tier of council schools, secondary moderns or no hope schools, to use the words of The Daily Telegraph, at the bottom.
Time and again, during the election campaign and before, I pressed the former Secretary of State to say whether this two-tier system—this recreation of the secondary modern schools—was what the Conservative party wanted. Time and again he dodged the issue, but whether and how children are given their life chances at 11 cannot be a matter for agnosticism. Nor, as The Daily Telegraph witheringly commented in the same editorial, can the Governmentmaintain its pretence of neutrality over the future of comprehensives by implying that it is simply allowing a hundred flowers to bloom".Selection was never mentioned in the Tories' manifesto, yet selection at 11 there will be if opting out becomes the norm—and it will be far less fair and far more random selection than ever it was under the 11-plus. That, too, was a point made by the Catholic bishops, who said thatGrant-maintained status would bring a random return to selection, which leads to the neglect of the less able or disadvantaged children.The Secretary of State should also recognise a point in the powerful speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who said that if the Government continue to have no clear policy on whether they favour comprehensive schools or some sort of explicit selection, the consequence will be random selection and a primitive and disorganised policy from which the Conservatives will be the losers.
As the local authority system breaks up and as competition between schools intensifies, so, too, will parental choice decrease. As my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley pointed out, parents will no longer choose schools—schools will choose parents. In the four years since the Education Reform Act 1988, the proportion of 583 parents successfully getting their first choice of school has fallen, and in areas with large numbers of schools which have already opted out, the anarchy predicted by The Daily Telegraph has already occurred. In the Tory borough of Bromley in London, where eight schools have opted out, 225 pupils and their parents have thus far had no choice of school because it has been impossible to offer them a choice under that authority due to the multiple applications to the opted-out schools now outside the authority's control. As The Times commented in an editorial,to pretend that the selective opt-out structure emerging as government policy has anything to do with parental choice is a deception".Then there is the issue of the future administration of secondary schools. Opting out will result in the nationalisation of the school system—in its central takeover by Whitehall. But schools are not islands; their provision must be planned and financed and if not by local authorities, then by whom? Are we to expect under the terms of the much promised White Paper that Whitehall officials will administer the whole school system, or are we to expect appointed boards packed with Conservative place men and women, as happened with health authorities and NHS trusts? The Secretary of State had better tell us in his wind-up speech.
Lastly, the largest question of all: what is the purpose of the journey into the unknown that mass opting out will entail? For Labour, the only test of any education policy is whether it will increase choice and opportunity and raise the standards of education for every child. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend pointed out, there is no evidence that the opting out that has occurred so far has led to higher standards.
Her Majesty's inspectors have spent 300 days on greater and more intensive inspection of grant-maintained schools in their four years of existence than any local authority schools have ever enjoyed. Yet, despite more than three years' intensive HMI attention, not one report has been published by HMI on grant-maintained schools. If those HMI visits and reports spelled out that opting out was leading to higher standards than would otherwise be the case, one can bet that the Government would have published those reports. They have shrouded those reports in secrecy, because they know the truth—that opting out has led to no discernible improvement in education standards. Nor can it. What it has done is to lead to a divided system, a two-tier system, and selection by the back door.
One point on which we should all agree is that standards of education in Britain for many children are not so high as they are in many comparable countries and not so high as they could and should be. Where the Government's policies are likely to lead to an increase in standards and an increase in choice and opportunities for every child, those policies will have our support. But where those policies seek to create a future out of a discredited past, they will have our relentless opposition.
In the article in The Spectator entitledThere is a choice—good or evil",the Secretary of State opened with the touching words:I believe in God. I worry about Him. I think that He probably worries about me.584 The Secretary of State is not the only one, and he had better understand that his actions will be judged not only by the Almighty in the world to come, but by parents, teaches, governors and pupils in this world who want an end to underfunding, an end to pay-as-you-learn, and an end to double standards, and who want instead real investment and the choice and opportunity which come from delivering the highest standards of education to every child.
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
I rise in what I understand in footballing parlance is called injury time, with 19 minutes to go to reply to the debate.
During the afternoon, Madam Speaker, your ears must have been burning while hon. Member after hon. Member paid you compliments in your absence. They will all be there in Hansard tomorrow for you to read at breakfast.
We have had a remarkable number of maiden speeches of extremely high quality. The debate started off as a bit of a heritage trail around Britain's historic cities, kicked off by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Ms. Campbell), followed by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and completed by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth)—a sort of Baedeker tour of the tourist spots of the United Kingdom.
I greatly appreciated the graceful remarks made by the hon. Member for Cambridge about Sir Robert Rhodes James, as I am sure did others. The hon. Members for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham), neither of whom would claim a major part in the tourist guides for their constituencies—[Interruption.]—no, not because of the damage caused to the Baedeker guides but because of the damage that the Baedeker raids did to Coventry during the second world war. Both hon. Members spoke with great feeling about their constituencies and I congratulate them on what they said.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) made some exceptionally interesting remarks, including showing a bit of independence, saying that he supported some of the Government's education legislation. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) was extremely generous about his predecessor, Hugo Summerson. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) was equally generous about David Gilroy Bevan and the victor in Stockport over the Liberals was very generous— [Interruption]—over the Conservatives: we lost the seat. That was a deliberate mistake put in to ensure that hon. Members are learning the constituencies. We shall miss Tony Favell very much indeed. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) has come here with a reputation for being a bit of a left-winger, so my north-eastern spies tell me. Such people are to be cherished in these revisionist times.
After the hon. Member for Bath, we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, who comes to the House with a reputation for humour, and he sustained it in his excellent maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) spoke fluently without notes—a talent that was explained by his fellow countryman, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), as owing to the fact that he is Scottish.
585 My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring was followed by another Scot, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who spoke fluently and warmly about his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) paid tribute not only to Sir Neil Macfarlane but to two remarkable residents of Cheam—the legendary Tony Hancock and Harry Secombe.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who scored a famous victory—and I will get it right this time —over the Liberals, also spoke without notes, showing that Welsh Members of Parliament can do that as well as Scottish right hon. and hon. Members who come south of the border.
We were fortunate this afternoon to hear maiden speeches of such quality.
I cannot refer in the short amount of injury time available to me to all the other interventions, but they included some frightening words from my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) about the future of Select Committees. I guess that wiser persons than myself listened with some trembling to his remarks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said clearly that the Opposition were out of touch in their opposition to grant-maintained schools—and so they are. That view was echoed in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway).
We heard a couple of notable and thought-provoking interventions by my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). I imagine that I will be debating with them a great deal in the coming years.
Before turning to Labour's contribution to the debate, I shall refer briefly to the Liberal Democrats. It might be worth dwelling for a moment or two on the lamentable condition of their party, which, having been rebuffed by the British electorate, is now making advances to the poor old Labour party. Labour needs the amorous advances of the Liberal Democrats like a vegetarian needs a plate of raw meat. I suspect that if there is ever a coming together, it will be the Liberals who are gobbled up.
I have nothing against individual Liberal Members of Parliament. Some of them are rather nice. I am surprised that many of them remain in the Liberal party. For many months, I thought that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), with his cutaway collars and striped shirts, was a member of the Conservative party, and I bought him a number of drinks on that basis.
There is also that nice teenage president of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). I would like the party's deputy leader to pass on to that hon. Gentleman the information that if he chooses to cross the Floor of the House, I am authorised to offer him a job as my assistant Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have nothing against any Liberal Members of Parliament, and certainly not against our newcomer, the hon. Member for Bath.
The general election campaign did, however, provide one service to the public: it revealed for the first time to a wider audience the true face—and a very disagreeable face it is too, being unpleasant, personal and vindictive—of the more extreme Liberal activists in this country. It is a very ugly face indeed. They tormented my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. 586 Dickens) with personal attacks of a most shameful kind. My hon. Friend is a big enough man to deal with them, but he is still suffering—he is unable to be here this evening.
Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who went to Cheltenham during the campaign came back reporting the insidious drip, drip of innuendo. "Vote for the local man," the Liberals said. Then there were the disgraceful scenes in Bath. I am sure that the new Member for Bath—whom I congratulate on his election victory—dissociates himself completely from those. There was organised chanting, and organised shouting down of our former right hon. Friend Christopher Patten. That was a blot on the whole election campaign.
§ Mr. Patten
You know what it is like with inexperienced Secretaries of State, Madam Speaker. I shall now deal with the amendment, but I hope that my hon. Friends will remember what I have said.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was very cheerful. I appreciated his speech: it was an extremely good speech, with some good jokes. That is perhaps all the more remarkable because at present it cannot be much fun being a Labour party member concerned with Labour education or environmental policy.
Whoever wins the great Labour leadership battle, there may well be a reshuffle of responsibilities. I am sure that the hon. Member for Blackburn will play a starring role whatever happens; it is the question of who may succeed as Opposition education spokesman that worries me. I have heard ugly rumours that it may be the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). That would be a serious matter.
Certainly, we shall not know for a long time what Labour's three Rs are. Will the Labour party be attracted by reading, writing and retrenchment, under the austere hand of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith); or by the reading, writing and radicalism of the deeply dangerous hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)? We shall have to wait and see. All I know is that the Labour party has been spared the reading, writing and revolution promised by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
Whatever the direction in which the new leader of the party takes Labour's education policies, it will presumably be a case of a new set of three Rs. It will be "retreat, retreat, retreat" from every radical Labour policy on to Conservative ground. That will happen time after time. As experience has shown us over the past 13 years, what is outrageously conservative one year in education policy is Labour party policy in the next manifesto. That has happened time and again.
The hon. Member for Blackburn talks of the Conservative party's record on education. I am very happy to talk about our record. Our schools are being transformed: the facts speak for themselves. The national curriculum is transforming pupils' expectations and ensuring that all children have the core education that they deeply deserve. That is true equality of opportunity—Conservative equality of opportunity.
Examination results are getting better and better. Record numbers of our young people—this point should not be diminished by Opposition Members—are now staying on after the age of 16. Record numbers of people 587 are now training to become teachers, and local management of schools is liberating schools up and down the country. I do not know of a single school with LMS, let alone grant-maintained status, that wishes to return to the bad old days of local authority domination.
Choice and diversity have now become a reality for increasing numbers of parents and their children, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth predicted all those years ago. Grant-maintained schools are a hit with parents. A revolution is beginning to sweep across the education landscape of the country. I should be happy to arrange a visit to any grant-maintained school in the country for the hon. Member for Blackburn and his Front-Bench team: it is clear that they need to be educated in excellence, which is what Conservative party policy is about.
I expect the revolution in our schools to gather pace in the years to come. I expect our schools, when all the reforms have been fully implemented, to be the envy of the western world. I want parents to be able to enjoy real choice, real diversity and higher expectations for their children. I expect them to play their part by helping their schools in many different ways. I certainly expect to see an ever-increasingly skilled and educated work force.
Above all else, however, as a result of our curriculum reforms and testing, I expect our children to do two things. I guess that the first will be laughed at by the Opposition, but I intend to explain what it is. I expect children to go to school throughout their school career and to stay there to be educated. I am simply not prepared to allow truancy levels to remain at the level at which they are now. What is the point of having good teachers, fine schools and all that public expenditure if children are not at school to enjoy that experience? Secondly, I expect our children to be taught to think for themselves, to read and to write properly, to spell and to do their sums—all the fundamental aims of a good education system.
Further thoughts about the structure of education will be made clear in the White Paper that I am now writing, which will be brought before the House in due course. Undoubtedly, it will be opposed by the Labour party on publication date, but it will be Labour party policy 18 months later—as it always is. Every time that we have introduced constructive proposals to improve education, the Labour party has opposed them and then changed its mind.
Look at the Labour party's record. In 1987, Labour claimed that we wanted to introduce a national curriculum only in order to give us a monopoly of thought in education. A few years later the national curriculum is Labour party policy. Look at tests. The Labour party said that tests would lead to arrogance or failure. Now it wants them. Testing is part of Labour policy. Local management of schools was condemned during the fun-filled 1989 Labour party conference. Hands up any Labour Member who remembers that with pride. I cannot see anyone doing so. Now the Labour party supports it.
Then there is opting-out. Just five weeks ago the Labour party made a pledge to ditch all our education reforms. Grant-maintained schools, local management of schools and city technology colleges would all be thrown out of the window. Now, five weeks later, after the Labour party's fourth general election defeat, revisionism has set 588 in. Its leading education adviser, Professor Tim Brighouse, Professor of Education at Keele university, says that Labour should ditch its traditional commitment to comprehensives, let state schools develop in their own way and fund an increasing number of assisted places. Just five weeks after the election! I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.
I was not sure what the Labour party's official response would be, but one of the Labour party's spokesmen on schools was quoted yesterday in one of our great national newspapers as saying that Professor Brighouse's ideas were very sparky and deserved attention. There are a lot more sparky ideas coming from our side of the Chamber.
Because the Queen's Speech has been prepared by a Conservative Government, we have been spared the tired and reactionary programme that the Labour party would have given us. Had the Labour party been sitting on this side of the Chamber now, it would have been repealing the rates and beginning to renationalise industries such as the water industry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment took so successfully into private ownership when he was Minister of State. The citizens charter would have been torn up on the first day of a Labour Government, with its commitment to public services of a high quality. Worst of all, the most important and fundamental social reforms of the last quarter of this century—our education and health reforms—would have been torn up and ditched. By the end of this Parliament, the British people, not the Conservative party, will have decided that those reforms are truly irreversible.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 323.592
|Division No. 2]||[9.59 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Caborn, Richard|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Callaghan, Jim|
|Ainger, Nicholas||Campbell, Ms Anne (C'bridge)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Allen, Graham||Campbell, Ronald (Blyth V)|
|Alton, David||Cambell-Savours, D. N.|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Canavan, Dennis|
|Anderson, Ms Janet||Cann, James|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)|
|Ashton, Joe||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Austin-Walker, John||Clapham, Michael|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Clark, Dr David (South Shields)|
|Barnes, Harry||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Battle, John||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Bayley, Hugh||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Beckett, Margaret||Cohen, Harry|
|Beggs, Roy||Connarty, Michael|
|Beith, A. J.||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Bell, Stuart||Corbett, Robin|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Benton, Joe||Cousins, Jim|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cox, Tom|
|Berry, Roger||Cryer, Bob|
|Betts, Clive||Cummings, John|
|Blair, Tony||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Blunkett, David||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Boateng, Paul||Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)|
|Boyce, Jimmy||Dafis, Cynog|
|Boyes, Roland||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bradley, Keith||Darling, Alistair|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Davidson, Ian|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Burden, Richard||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)|
|Byers, Stephen||Denham, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n)|
|Dixon, Don||Khabra, Piara|
|Dobson, Frank||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Donohoe, Brian||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)|
|Dowd, Jim||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Leighton, Ron|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Lewis, Terry|
|Enright, Derek||Litherland, Robert|
|Etherington, William||Livingstone, Ken|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Fatchett, Derek||Loyden, Eddie|
|Faulds, Andrew||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McAllion, John|
|Fisher, Mark||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Flynn, Paul||McCartney, Ian|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||MacDonald, Calum|
|Foster, Derek (B 'p Auckland)||McFall, John|
|Foster, Donald (Bath)||McGrady, Eddie|
|Foulkes, George||McKelvey, William|
|Fraser, John||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Fyfe, Maria||McLeish, Henry|
|Galbraith, Sam||Maclennan, Robert|
|Galloway, George||McMaster, Gordon|
|Gapes, Michael||McNamara, Kevin|
|Garrett, John||McWilliam, John|
|Gerrard, Neil||Madden, Max|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Maginnis, Ken|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Mahon, Alice|
|Godsiff, Roger||Mandelson, Peter|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Marek, Dr John|
|Gordon, Mildred||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Gould, Bryan||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Graham, Thomas||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Martlew, Eric|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Maxton, John|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Meale, Alan|
|Grocott, Bruce||Michael, Alun|
|Gunnell, John||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Hain, Peter||Milburn, Alan|
|Hall, Mike||Miller, Andrew|
|Hanson, David||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hardy, Peter||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Harvey, Nick||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Morley, Elliot|
|Henderson, Doug||Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)|
|Heppell, John||Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Hoey, Kate (Vauxhail)||Mudie, George|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)||Mullin, Chris|
|Home Robertson, John||Murphy, Paul|
|Hood, Jimmy||O'Brien, Michael (N W' kshire)|
|Hoon, Geoff||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Olner, William|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Hoyle, Doug||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Parry, Robert|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Patchett, Terry|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hutton, John||Pike, Peter L.|
|Ingram, Adam||Pope, Greg|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (H'stead)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew' E)|
|Jamieson, David||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Janner, Greville||Prescott, John|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Radice, Giles|
|Jones, Ms Lynne (B'ham S O)||Randall, Stuart|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Redmond, Martin|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Richardson, Jo|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Keen, Alan||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)||Roche, Ms Barbara|
|Rogers, Allan||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Rooker, Jeff||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Rooney, Terry||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Ross, William (E Londonderry)||Trimble, David|
|Rowlands, Ted||Tyler, Paul|
|Ruddock, Joan||Vaz, Keith|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Walker, Rt Hon Harold|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wallace, James|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Walley, Joan|
|Short, Clare||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Simpson, Alan||Wareing, Robert N|
|Skinner, Dennis||Watson, Mike (Glasgow C)|
|Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)||Wicks, Malcolm H|
|Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Smith, Llewellyn (Blaenau G'nt)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Williams, Alan (Carmarthen)|
|Snape, Peter||Wilson, Brian|
|Soley, Clive||Winnick, David|
|Spearing, Nigel||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Spellar, John||Worthington, Tony|
|Squire, Ms Rachel (D'mline W)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Steel, Rt Hon Sir David||Wright, Anthony|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Stott, Roger||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Strang, Gavin||Mr. Ken Eastham and|
|Straw, Jack||Mr. Eric Illsley.|
|Adley, Robert||Carlisle, John (Luton North)|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Carrington, Matthew|
|Alexander, Richard||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cash, William|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Amess, David||Chaplin, Mrs Judith|
|Ancram, Michael||Churchill, Mr|
|Arbuthnot, James||Clapplson, William|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)|
|Ashby, David||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Coe, Sebastian|
|Atkins, Robert||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Congdon, David|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Conway, Derek|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Baldry, Tony||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Couchman, James|
|Bates, Michael||Cran, James|
|Batiste, Spencer||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Beliingham, Henry||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Day, Stephen|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Deva, Niranjan|
|Body, Sir Richard||Devlin, Tim|
|Booth, Hartley||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Boswell, Tim||Dicks, Terry|
|Bottomley, Peter||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bowden, Andrew||Dover, Den|
|Bowis, John||Duncan, Alan|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Dunn, Bob|
|Brazier, Julian||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bright, Graham||Eggar, Tim|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Elletson, Harold|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Burns, Simon||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Burt, Alistair||Evennett, David|
|Butler, Peter||Faber, David|
|Butterfill, John||Fabricant, Michael|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Jessel, Toby|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Forman, Nigel||Jones, Robert B. (W H 'f' rdshire)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Forth, Eric||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Key, Robert|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Kilfedder, James|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Freeman, Roger||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|French, Douglas||Knapman, Roger|
|Fry, Peter||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Gallie, Philip||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Knox, David|
|Garnier, Edward||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Gill, Christopher||Lait, Ms Jacqui|
|Gillan, Ms Cheryl||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Legg, Barry|
|Gorst, John||Leigh, Edward|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Lidington, David|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Lord, Michael|
|Hague, William||Luff, Peter|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||MacKay, Andrew|
|Hannam, Sir John||Maclean, David|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Harris, David||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Madel, David|
|Hawkins, Nicholas||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Hawks ley, Warren||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Hayes, Jerry||Malone, Gerald|
|Heald, Oliver||Mans, Keith|
|Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Marland, Paul|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Marlow, Tony|
|Hendry, Charles||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Hicks, Robert||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Mates, Michael|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Horam, John||Mellor, Rt Hon David|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Merchant, Piers|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Milligan, Stephen|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Mills, Iain|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Moate, Roger|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hunter, Andrew||Moss, Malcolm|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Needham, Richard|
|Jack, Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Steen, Anthony|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Stephen, Michael|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Stern, Michael|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Stewart, Allan|
|Norris, Steve||Streeter, Gary|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Sumberg, David|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Sweeney, Walter|
|Ottaway, Richard||Sykes, John|
|Page, Richard||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Paice, James||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Patnick, Irvine||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Pawsey, James||Thomason, Roy|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Pickles, Eric||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'xl'yh'ath)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Redwood, John||Tredinnick, David|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Trend, Michael|
|Richards, Rod||Trotter, Neville|
|Riddick, Graham||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Robathan, Andrew||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Viggers, Peter|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Walden, George|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)||Waller, Gary|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Ward, John|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Sackville, Tom||Waterson, Nigel|
|Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim||Watts, John|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Whittingdale, John|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Shersby, Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Sims, Roger||Willetts, David|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Wilshire, David|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Soames, Nicholas||Wolfson, Mark|
|Speed, Keith||Wood, Timothy|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Yeo, Tim|
|Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Spring, Richard||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Sproat, Iain||Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.