§ Madam Speaker
I shall now acquaint the House with the arrangements for our debate.
Friday 19 November—foreign affairs and defence; Monday 22 November—local government in Scotland and Wales; Tuesday 23 November—home affairs and education; Wednesday 24 November—trade, industry and deregulation; Thursday 25 November—the economy.
It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that on Friday 26 November there will be a debate entitled "Progress towards the national education and training targets" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
After all that, I feel especially lucky to have got here at all. I deeply appreciate the honour that the House has done me by giving me the opportunity to move the Loyal Address. I recognise, too, that it is an honour which rightly belongs to my constituency.
The only trouble that I have with my constituency is that very few people outside its confines seem to know where it is. There is no town, village, river, or part of any map which gives a description of the location of my constituency. I will take this unexpected opportunity to reveal that it is situated in the county of East Sussex and stretches southwards from East Grinstead in the north to within a few miles of Pevensey Bay and Eastbourne.
My constituency embraces four small towns, many small villages, and some attractive—largely unspoilt—rolling and wooded countryside. Timber from one of our villages is used to support the hammer frame roof in Westminster hall. The wide open spaces of Ashdown forest—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is welcome to meet me any time in those woods; not that there is much wooded life left. Much of the wood was cut down and used for the ships of the Royal Navy from the time of the Armada up to Nelson's day. Iron ore from my constituency was used for the guns that were supplied for the Navy's ships. The woods and forests are now more likely to be associated with Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin.
I hope that I may be forgiven for regretting that the town of East Grinstead no longer gives its illustrious name to my constituency. The town had the distinction of sending Members to the "First Complete and Model Parliament" in 1295, which was formed some 30 years after Simon De Montfort's prescriptive rebellious prototype.
In 1541, the town returned one Thomas Sackville esquire. It says something about the staying power of that family and its commitment to public service that a descendant represents the constituency of Bolton, West today. I congratulate my hon. Friend on winning that seat by, if I may say so, rather more democratic means than the previous eponymous Sackville. 11 Alas, East Grinstead—although under the benign influence of the Sackville family who, as Earls de la Warr, have their family estate in my constituency—became what was known as a rotten borough. It was not unusual for a few people who had the vote to accept inducements, and it was not unusual for Members to accept payment for favours rendered. But East Grinstead was unusual in having a Member who was hung, drawn, and quartered for his treasonable relationship with a Spanish Governor of the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The best-known and most distinguished of my constituents was the late Harold Macmillan, whom I canvassed during general election campaigns. That was not, I hasten to add, to tell him how things were, but to see them through his prophetic political eye. He treated my calls as compliments. "Dear boy, how nice of you to call," he would say as he opened the door. With a deprecating wave of his hand, he would add, "Of course, I am out of the picture now." I admired him enormously. He was concerned deeply with contemporary issues throughout his long political life. Although he never stopped feeling deeply about the slaughter of his generation in the Great War, as he called it, he also looked forward. Nowhere were his courage and foresight better displayed than on the floor of the South African Parliament, when he beckoned its Members to accept the challenge of the "wind of change". How he would have rejoiced yesterday, had he been with us.
Today, the new Wealden constituency has an outward air of prosperity which conceals the personal difficulties and hardship caused by the recession. People see East Sussex as a rich county, but its income per head is the second lowest of any shire county in the country. Farming, which is no longer our biggest employer, is still an important industry. Whether or not there is a recession, the Wealden clay is not exactly the easiest land to farm.
Over the years, our farmers, who are in mixed or dairy farming—there are also a few vineyards—have seen a steady decline in their incomes, and some have left the land. However, with true Sussex stubbornness, many have stayed. "We will not be druv" is an old Sussex saying. The farmers have diversified their activities: barns now house businesses and add life to the rural community; our milk producers have accepted the challenge of the milk marketing boards' new competitive marketing system. Golf courses have also emerged, the most outstanding of which is the new 36-hole golf course, the East Sussex National, which recently staged the European open golf championship. I am sure that hon. Members who belong to the Parliamentary Golfing Society will testify that it is regarded as one of the finest golf courses in Europe.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a growth, not only in the number of the enterprising self-employed, but in the quality of small businesses, as shown by the number of those holding BS5750 certificates. We may not be big in manufacturing, but several firms stand out nationally and internationally. They include companies such as Servomex, Feedback and TR Fastenings, which are on the leading edge of industrial technology.
Wealden is not a constituency which accepts an inflexible division between the public and private sectors. It does not take kindly to dogma that persistently ignores 12 injustices or refuses to adapt to change. Compassion and value for money are not regarded as the exclusive monopoly of either the private or public sector. Wealden council has for many years encouraged shared ownership in the housing sector.
This year alone, the council has received two awards. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presented it with a charter mark, the gold medal of the citizens charter, for pioneering a scheme at one of its leisure centres to provide facilities for national health service patients for whom local doctors have prescribed exercise rather than medication. The people who have taken advantage of the scheme have grown in number and fitness—a fact which, I think, will please my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), our gym master. Personally, I prefer to run up and down the stairs here.
Secondly, under the Government's investment in people award, the constituency has met the most exacting standards in the management, training and development of employees.
East Sussex county council was one of the first in the country to introduce local financial management in education. It has developed community colleges, and the commitment by its governors, teachers and the wider public to ever-higher standards is most impressive. In the health sector, there have been outstanding voluntary contributions to our local hospitals in Crowborough and Uckfield. How nice it would be to apply the dynamic and innovative spirit of my constituents to the problem of our unreliable, under-used unelectrified Uckfield line. I look forward to the day when private investors will be brought in to modernise the line. I remind any backers that the line would still receive a commuter subsidy.
There is one omission from the Queen's Speech and, as a member of the all-party Lords and Commons Fly Fishing Club, I know that it will cause disappointment to its members. The speech contained no mention of legislation to abolish drift net fishing in the North sea. We are united in our determination to get such legislation on the statute book. I recall one occasion when we in the club were less united. Two former Opposition Members shamelessly broke ranks as the club was fishing at a charity match. They were the former right hon. Member for Barnsley, who is now in the upper House and president of the club, and the former hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. They observed that I hooked an unbelievably large trout, which was probably about 2 ft long—anyway, it was big. I was extremely worried that the slender leader, which connected the line to the hook, was unequal to the weight of the fish. Observing my concern, they asked what the trouble was. I replied that my leader was weak. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] They asked, "What was that you said?" I replied that I had no confidence in my leader. [Interruption.] I think that hon. Members had better wait for it. Turning to the press on the bank, they said, "Did you hear that? There's Tory loyalty for you, and only yesterday he was in the birthday honours list." You will infer from that, Madam Speaker, that it was many years ago. [Interruption.] The references that were made were to another leader.
Like many other parts of Britain, my constituency suffers from an increase in robbery. The proposals in the Queen's Speech on law and order will be warmly welcomed by my constituents. The proposals should make it clear that the "back to basics" theme and other areas of Government policy are not just a reassertion of traditional 13 values or an exercise in nostalgia, but a recognition that good citizenship rests on a willingness to assume individual responsibility. I hope that the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will reinforce the accountability that will lead to a better balance between the citizen and the state, not just in law and order but in other areas.
Our expectations have soared over the past two decades, but we live within limited means as individuals, and as a nation we must temper our utopian aspirations.
Finally, I refer to my membership of the North Atlantic Assembly over the past 12 years, which has brought me into close contact with European and American parliamentarians. Naturally, I welcome the Government's continued support for NATO. I am especially glad to note that the Queen's Speech accepts the need to adapt. NATO to modern security in the changing security environment. It is imperative that NATO adapts as a matter of urgency, or its existence will increasingly be seen as irrelevant.
I see that adaptation taking two courses. The first is to develop an out-of-area capability in co-operation with the United States, and the second is to create a western and European defence structure through the Western European Union linked to NATO on a Government-to-Government basis, which will establish a closer relationship with the eastern European neighbours. One day, those nations will become Members of the European Community. If we do not take on that responsibility, the willingness of the Americans to be associated with us will, I fear, fade away.
The great success of NATO has been not that it has just kept the peace or won a war without firing a shot, but that it has controlled the more dangerous and undesirable aspects of nationalism, which is one of the most important objectives of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's vision of a wider European Community.
I am grateful to hon. Members for courteously and patiently giving their attention without too much interruption. That contrasts strangely with my first election to the House in 1959 for the constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, South. I never had a meeting there without being subjected to a barrage of interventions. The Prime Minister had a similar experience when he stood as a candidate for St. Pancras, North in 1974. "Tonight," said my chairman optimistically at the beginning of one of the meetings, "we are going to listen to the candidate make his speech, and we are going to listen in silence, give him a fair hearing and then you can put your questions and interruptions to him afterwards." "Why should we wait?", said an outraged voice from the back, "We will only have forgotten what the bleeder said." I fear, Madam Speaker, that that is the fate of more of our speeches than we may care to acknowledge.
§ 3.3 pm
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
In seconding the motion, I pay tribute to the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) who, in 33 years in the House, has gained the most widespread respect and affection. For my part, the honour is very much due to my constituents and supporters in Bolton, North-East who first chose me to represent them 10 years ago.
Constituency engagements have kept me from two previous state openings, but this year I am grateful both to Her Majesty and to Mr. Jack Morris of the Bolton and 14 District Butchers' Association for ensuring that the state opening did not clash with the arrival in Bolton of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), the Minister for food, who so amply performed the opening ceremony of the national black pudding competition in my constituency. I should warn the House to treat Bolton's black puddings with respect. Within hours of my hon. Friend the Minister sampling that delicacy, he announced his engagement to be married!
My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary kindly suggested that I should look up some previous speeches and he also wisely advised me to stay away from the Octagon theatre in my constituency where the current production is "Billy Liar" or, as we would say in the House, "Billy, Economical with the Truth."
In his speech last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) described the choice of speakers as agenial old codger on the way out and … an oily young man on the make."—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 56]
I am immensely proud to be a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and to have earned my living as a service engineer, but I am clearly now in danger of being classed as an "oily old codger on the mend."
An engineer by profession, I never expected to experience the great exhilaration which I felt 10 years ago on entering the House and which I still feel today. Meeting my future wife while at Cambridge, I held out prospects based on a career in industry. With basic rate income tax at 8s 6d in the pound and MPs' salaries at £1,000 a year, I did not give Parliament a thought.
While my Cambridge contemporaries debated in the union, I was perfectly content to reach the dizzy heights of president of the Peterhouse Wine Society. No wonder that my contemporaries now occupy great offices of state while I am chairman of the marginals club and no wonder that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, my exact contemporary at Peterhouse, so appropriately marked my year as his Parliamentary Private Secretary by generously giving me a book entitled "Modern Fairy Tales".
It was not until 1981 that I resolved to enter politics. My experiences in starting and building my own business convinced me that Margaret Thatcher's enterprise policies were right for the country. Resistance to those policies stirred me to act. My letters to Conservative Central Office did not receive an immediate response. I offered to help in the Crosby by-election and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) may remember that my enthusiasm was mistaken for that of an SDP mole until Shirley Williams branded me "the grubby end of the Tory party".
No constituency association would give me an interview until the opportunity arose in the new seat of Bolton, North-East. Told that I was most unlikely to be selected, I decided, as a father of four, to base my appeal on being a family man—not knowing that the local favourite was a father of seven.
Delighted to be selected, I set about working on local issues. My constituency is a microcosm of the country as a whole, with a strong emphasis on manufacturing industry. It suffered in the 1981 recession, so I concentrated my energies on creating new jobs, welcoming the then Prime Minister to launch the new enterprise agency, Bolton Business Ventures. 15 Apart from its history as a cotton town, Bolton is known for its football team. It was remarked to me that my opponent in my first election, the present hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), was a keen supporter of Bolton Wanderers, but, sadly for her and the Wanderers, neither gained any promotion at the time.
When I arrived in the House of Commons, I was amazed at the lack of facilities. Finding it a little too breezy to work on the Terrace, I settled at an empty desk nearby, only to be accosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes). "Are you trying to prove a point?" she demanded. The former hon. Member for Cheltenham told me to stay where I was, but I beat a retreat, as I realised that I was in the Lady Members' Room.
I booked an early lunch with my wife in the Strangers' Dining Room. We chose a table by the window, but, starting our meal, we noticed growing consternation. Eventually, the head waiter came over to ask my wife whether she was a Member, pointing out that we were sitting at the Labour Chief Whip's table in the Members' Dining Room.
It is private Members' Bills which best bring together hon. Members on both sides of the House. My first modest success in the House was working with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on issues to do with handicapped children. I am delighted at the cross-party welcome now given to the Government's adoption White Paper, which puts family values first and foremost.
Back in Bolton, all parties agree that Bolton belongs to Lancashire, but we have a little local difficulty in convincing the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioner of that. Bolton's coat of arms carries an elephant, historically linked with Coventry. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) all success with his campaign to restore the historic county boundaries.
Samuel Crompton's spinning mules have all gone now, but Bolton is more prosperous than ever. The key to Bolton's success lies in its enterprising family businesses. Best known is Warburton's, Britain's largest independent bakery, now employing 5,000 people and selling here and abroad with great success. Another excellent employer is W. and J. Leigh and Co., Britain's most successful unlimited company, selling specialist paints all over the world.
One of Bolton's most famous characters is steeplejack Fred Dibnah. Worried that he would soon run out of mill chimneys to demolish. Fred is diversifying into making weathercocks, sold under the sloganFred's Cocks—guaranteed to twirl.
Fred's book of his life as a steeplejack starts with the wordsWhen I was a little lad, I went to school, like all little lads do.
If only they did today. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right—back to basics. Surely the most important basic is to bring up our children to know the difference between right and wrong.
For my constituents in Bolton, the centrepiece of the Gracious Speech is the new Criminal Justice Bill. Thank goodness that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues in the Home Office are challenging the misguided thinking that put the criminal 16 first and the victim last. We are building new courts in Bolton; now give us new powers for our magistrates as well.
The speech that we heard today in the other place represents action to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our people. It is the speech of a Government determined to change Britain for the better. The Government do best for Britain when they are true to their convictions. The Gracious Speech reasserts the convictions that common sense and continuity matter; criminals need punishment, not simply reform; self-reliance is better than state dependence; and the Government must be prudent with other people's money. So let us go forward with this programme—forward under strong leadership, Conservative leadership and leadership that is working.
§ Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)
It is a pleasant convention of the House that the first duty of the Leader of the Opposition today is to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Loyal Address. For me, it is an easy duty because of the quality of the contributions from both hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) has a long record of service in the House—33 years as a Member of Parliament and, as he reminded us, most of it representing Sussex. Of course, he was also a London Member. He had a celebrated tussle with Lady Jeger for the Holborn and St. Pancras seat. He won the seat from Lady Jeger in 1959 and then lost it to her in 1964. The hon. Gentleman made a wise decision to move to Sussex in 1965 because Holborn and St. Pancras has been Labour ever since.
Before the hon. Gentleman entered the House, he had a distinguished career as a broadcaster. He was a founding member of the famous "Tonight" team. Of course, those were the days when interviewers were a much more courteous bunch than they are today. "Tonight" has developed to become "Newsnight", but I am glad to say that the hon. Gentleman is much too stylish and urbane a performer ever to be compared with the likes of Jeremy Paxman—[Interruption.] That is probably the most courageous remark that has been made for some time and it is made in the cause of being generous to a Conservative Member.
It was in a television studio that the hon. Gentleman had perhaps his greatest moment. He was the first British interviewer to question Brigitte Bardot on television. I have been told that he got straight to the point and that his opening question was, "Apart from men, what are your other interests?"
From such great heights, the hon. Gentleman has declined to senior membership of the 1922 Committee. I understand that an election to the executive of that Committee is presently in hand. It is widely expected that it will provide yet another opportunity for the Conservative party to display its spirit of unity and comradely affection. I wish the hon. Gentleman well. He wears his grey suit with style. He sounds and looks the part of a member of the executive of the 1922 Committee, which is a lot more than can be said for some others who occupy that position these days.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) seconded the address with fluency, flair and, if I may say so, disarming wit. His description of the 17 adventures of the new Member will strike a chord with many Members of the House. He has not been with us as long as the mover of the address, but he has managed to get elected twice since he first came here in 1983, with majorities of less than 1,000 on both occasions—813 in 1987 and 185 last year. He is on record as saying that concern about unemployment made him decide to go into politics. Given the size of his majority and its downward trend, that is a wholly understandable concern.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East was bold enough—perhaps even rash enough—to tell us of the present that he received from the Home Secretary for service as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. He told us that the book was called "Modern Fairy Tales". He did not tell us that it was a collection of speeches to the Conservative party conference.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East was reported in a diary column in the press the other day as having said that the speech that he had prepared to deliver on this occasion had been stolen from his car. He appealed for it to be returned because, it is said, it was of no use to anyone else. The hint was taken and it was found in a wheelie-bin.
The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East for his witty speech and we also recognise the contribution that he has made to many of our debates. He has not hesitated to be deeply embroiled in controversies as wide-ranging as abortion and social security, and his genuine devotion to the cause of the disabled is widely admired on both sides of the House.
The mover and the seconder referred to some parts of the Gracious Speech. I shall start, on the lines of the mover, by referring to foreign policy. There are some important developments which I am sure all hon. Members will welcome. In September this year the momentous agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation signalled a new start in the middle east. It is vital that those who have taken risks for peace receive the whole-hearted support of the international community as they grapple with the formidable tasks which they have set themselves.
Yesterday, as the mover noted, Mr. Mandela and President de Klerk made a historic agreement about a new democratic constitution for South Africa. On 27 April next year, the first—and crucial—non-racial elections in the history of South Africa will be held. It is vital that Her Majesty's Government give all possible assistance to ensure that those elections are both free and fair.
We welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to strengthening the United Nations' capacity for peacekeeping and preventive action. That cannot be achieved without greater support by the international community in terms of financial and military resources, if the United Nations is to make a more effective contribution to the solution of acute and deeply distressing situations such as those that are occurring in Bosnia, Somalia and elsewhere.
Opposition Members warmly welcome the signing of the chemical weapons convention and we agree with the Government about the importance of an indefinite and unconditional extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The cause of non-proliferation will be immeasurably assisted by early agreement on a nuclear test ban. The continued moratorium on tests, led by the current United States administration, is encouraging and the time is overdue for Her Majesty's Government to give the initiative their full support.
18 We welcome enthusiastically the early accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union. In making their applications they have not sought to opt out of the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty, which they all strongly support. Once they are members, Conservative Britain will be isolated, not just as one among 12, but as one among 16.
In Northern Ireland a window of opportunity now exists to achieve a lasting and peaceful settlement. The Government must grasp this opportunity and work with the Irish Government and the constitutional parties in the Province to create the conditions for peace. The speech by the Tanaiste on the principles that should be applied has rightly been recognised as an important step forward, particularly his acknowledgement of the importance of recognising the legitimate concerns of both communities in Northern Ireland.
We agree with the Government that if the IRA genuinely and clearly abandons the use of violence, there should be no objection to the participation of Sinn Fein in constitutional discussions. We believe also that the elected representatives of Northern Ireland have an obligation to respond to calls from all sections of the community to enter into discussions to agree a peaceful settlement. The British Government should not hesitate to call the parties back to the negotiating table. Compromise and concessions will be required from both sides. All the parties involved, including the British Government, must not be afraid to take risks for peace. They must all be prepared to transcend the old dogmas that stand in the way of reconciliation, which is passionately desired by the vast majority of people throughout the whole British Isles.
At the Conservative party conference the Prime Minister launched his big idea—"back to basics". It is true that those magic words do not appear in the Gracious Speech itself. We should perhaps be grateful that Her Majesty was not obliged to repeat the mantra, but there is no doubt that that is the right hon. Gentleman's chosen course. He could not have been clearer about it at Blackpool. The Conservative party, he told us, is now going back to basics.
Ever since then political commentators, some bewildered members of the Cabinet and millions of incredulous electors have been trying to work out what the Prime Minister means. The first thought that occurs to them, perhaps not surprisingly, is that the Conservatives have been in government for 14 years. If now we have to go back to basics, what on earth has been happening over 14 years of Conservative Government? Or is this perhaps another coded attack on the glorious achievements of the former Tory leader—another oblique reference tothe golden age that never was",
to quote the Prime Minister's own revealing description of his predecessors's achievements? I hope that there are still some loyal souls on the Tory Benches who will be prepared, as a matter of honour, to rebut such a surreptitious attack on the Thatcher Downing street years.
We know, of course, that the Prime Minister is haunted by those years and even more troubled by the recent flood of memoirs from former Cabinet Ministers all bearing the same title, "How I almost stood up to Mrs. Thatcher". Her memoirs rather stole the show at the Conservative party conference. Even the Prime Minister's speech could not avoid them. At the start of his speech to the conference he said: 19Memoirs to the left of meMemoirs to the right of me,Memoirs in front of meVolley'd and thundered".
He borrowed the quote from Tennyson's great poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Perhaps he should have read on. The poem continues:Boldly they rode and well,Into the jaws of Death …Rode the six hundred".
I know why the Prime Minister did not finish the quote—there are only 332 Tory Members facing obliteration at the next election.
We all know that, after 14 years of Conservative Government, "back to basics" is no more and no less than an appalling admission of failure. The Conservative party and the Prime Minister have clearly reached the conclusion that they can no longer plausibly defend their record in office, so they are seeking to wipe from our consciousness the fact that they have been in power for the longest single period of any Government since the second world war and that they—and they alone—after all these years, are responsible for the state of Britain today.
Let us look at the record of failure from which the Conservatives seek to shy away. Since 1979, economic growth on average has been only 1.7 per cent. per year—worse than the preceding decades of the 1960s and the 1970s. Now, after all those years, we have an economy weighed down by the burden of two massive deficits in our public finances and overseas trade. Worst of all, the 14 Conservative years have seen the return of mass unemployment, with millions of our fellow citizens denied the opportunity, dignity and responsibility of work.
Let us look at the other dismal record-breaking achievements of the Government. Record levels of crime—up by a massive 120 per cent. since they came to power; record levels of homelessness; record numbers of families living in poverty; and the gap between the rich and the poor wider now than in Victorian times. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] With a record like that, it is no wonder that they want to divert attention from their own responsibility. Their means of diverting attention is the oldest trick in the book—create a diversion, search out a scapegoat and put the blame on someone else. They know that it is no longer convincing to blame the last Labour Government or the trade unions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not? There are still some brave souls prepared to try that one on. Well, let them try. The public will not listen very carefully to that.
They cannot use the last Labour Government or the trade unions as an excuse; it is doubtful that they can any longer blame the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). After 14 years in power, the Government know that those excuses are unconvincing. The Prime Minister in particular knows they are unconvincing.
This summer the Prime Minister gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times. He was asked directly about the unpopularity of his Government so soon after they had won an election, and he replied:Fiddle-de-dee! I said immediately after the election, sitting up the day after we won the election with a number of people around me: 'Within the next twelve months the Government will be the most unpopular we have seen for a long time!' Nothing in the interim has changed my judgment about that. It was staggeringly prescient. It perhaps hasn't come about in quite the 20 way I had myself imagined, but it has. We have been here for 14 years. There is no-one else one can blame for anything that has gone wrong.
What a revealing conclusion—there is no one else one can blame for anything that has gone wrong.
The Prime Minister's conclusion, hidden until now in the columns of the Los Angeles Times, deserves a wider audience. I suggest that he circulates the remarks in a memorandum to his Cabinet colleagues, in particular to those who, for reasons of delicacy, have now become known as the B team—for they were the ones who were let loose at the Tory party conference to target single mothers as the new enemy within. What a disgraceful exercise that was. It was an exhibition so odious that it drew a stinging rebuke from the right-wing commentator, Mr. Simon Jenkins of The Times, who described it as:Mob oratory of the worst sort.
Let me quote his assessment. He wrote:Ministers paraded the Tory Party in its least attractive mode: lecturing the working class on personal morality. No single parent, no homeless teenager, no dole recipient, no immigrant refugee was free of a sneer from somebody on the platform.
We all listened to those speeches and watched that conference and we all know how true that assessment is.
What Ministers did at Blackpool, consciously and deliberately, for their own political purposes, was to exaggerate cynically a social problem. In doing so they insulted thousands of conscientious and caring parents, widowed as well as divorced.
Simon Jenkins went on to say:Such sanctimoniousness is a measure of the insecurity and desperation of some in the Tory party.
That desperation is nowhere more evident than in the bizarre theories of the Home Secretary that rising crime and what he calls moral decay can be traced back to the second world war when fathers were absent in our fighting forces. Of course that was a time described by a former Conservative leader as "Britain's finest hour". No evidence is produced for the Home Secretary's wild assertion, but with this lot evidence is not required.
Apparently it is not enough to blame it all on Harold Wilson and the 1960s; now it is all Winston Churchill's fault. Do the Government really believe all this? Do they seriously expect anyone in the country to believe it? Clearly it is not just a few Conservative Back Benchers who are barmy. I do not know to which of the two B teams the Home Secretary has been assigned. For all I know he may have sought to qualify for membership of both.
I mentioned evidence. The Government's view is clearly that not only—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Hon. Members do not like it when "back to basics" is challenged. All I am asking for is some evidence for the assertions that the Government have been making. They do not believe that it is necessary to have evidence when one is making a constant appeal to prejudice. If they get contrary evidence, what do they do with it? They have a simple solution—bin it. Even the evidence of their own advisers at the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Cabinet Office is treated to the same response—"Just bin it". Perhaps they should also shred it, for sometimes it comes out.
In the leaked memorandum from the Cabinet Office—[Interruption.] Hon. Members do not like reference to be made to that memorandum from the Cabinet Office. I am glad to say that it has now made its way into the public domain despite the fact that every single page has stamped at the top, "Policy in Confidence". [Interruption.] It is 21 wholly in the public interest that what I am about to say has been revealed to the public. Having in mind what I am about to say, it would be disgraceful for it to be prevented from reaching the public because that memorandum dealt with the assertion of the Secretary of State for Social Security that young ladies get pregnant just to jump the housing list.
The facts that the Cabinet Office produced are these: only 5 per cent. of lone mothers are teenagers; 88 per cent. of pregnancies are unplanned; most single mothers do not know the benefits to which they are entitled; and 90 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-old mothers live at home with their parents. That was what was contained in the evidence given to Ministers in the Cabinet. But what have facts to do with Tory prejudice?
Despite the evidence, the Secretary of State for Education ploughed on with his ill-considered plans for tests in schools. Two senior advisers resigned and this week he even lost his permanent secretary. Undeterred by those failures and, once again, with no evidence whatever to back it up, he proposes to begin the deskilling of the teaching profession. He would be much better employed if he had plans to provide nursery education for all children and the Queen's Speech would have been much better if it had contained such plans.
As the report of the National Commission on Education shows only too clearly, investment in the education of the under-fives is the right sort of basic investment in education and provides real benefits for children, families and society. Typically, the commission's evidence was not good enough for the Government.
It is not just Ministers who ignore evidence. In one of his recent essays on modern Conservative thought, delivered at the Carlton club earlier this year, the Prime Minister—ever eager to scapegoat and to ignore evidence—sought to distinguish between the social problems of suburbs, small towns and villages on the one hand and inner cities and that that was not the fault of 14 years of Conservative Government but was down to socialism. As the Home Secretary knows well, when the evidence is examined, it can be seen that crime in rural areas is, regrettably, rising much faster than in the inner cities. But when did facts ever get in the Government's way? [Interruption.] The Conservative party does not like discussing "back to basics", but we shall have many such discussions.
I fear that the abject failure to tackle the real problems that affect our nation is reflected all too clearly in the legislative programme that has been laid before us. Apparently, we are to have a Bill on deregulation.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
I respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concern for crime and defeating violence. Does that mean that he will now resume support for the prevention of terrorism Act?
§ Mr. Smith
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, when that matter has been debated, we have drawn attention to advice given by Home Office advisers supporting the points that we have made on the prevention of terrorism. Conservative Members should reflect on why the so-called "party of law and order" has seen crime rise by 120 per cent. during its period of office. The right hon. Gentleman would be better employed asking the Home Secretary why that has occurred during a period of Conservative Government.
22 I was about to refer to the Bill on deregulation, which is to be presented to the House as part of the legislative programme. Apparently, after 14 years of Conservative Government, too many regulations have accumulated. How that happened during the years of the so-called enterprise culture, and the M and S and economic miracle, is hard to imagine. Of the 3,500 regulations apparently reviewed by the Government, 71 per cent. have been introduced since 1979.
There can be no objection to weeding out outdated and unnecessary provisions. What is to be objected to is a weakening of the proper protection for both employees and consumers in the name of the same misguided dogma which, last Session, saw the abolition of wages councils. Any weakening of safety standards for people at work will be fiercely resisted by the Opposition. Too many avoidable accidents already happen at the work place and it cannot be right to dismantle protection that would increase their number. Consumers, too, will be rightly concerned at any weakening of protection contained in, for example, fire safety regulations. It is right, is it not, that there are strict provisions controlling the manufacture of furniture and children's nightwear? To avoid horrific dangers, that protection should be not only maintained but enforced with vigour.
It would also be wrong, although I understand that it is being considered, to seek to reduce insulation standards for new houses. Energy costs for millions of people are being increased enough already by the imposition of VAT on fuel without extra costs being caused by a lowering of standards, which inevitably will cause greater energy waste.
Hard though it is to believe, I understand that one of he regulations being reviewed is the obligation on employers to provide toilet paper and soap in workplace lavatories. What kind of uncivilised nonsense are the Government engaged in? [Interruption.] That may not sound important to Conservative Members, but it is extremely important to people who work in factories. The public, listening to Conservative Members' sneering reception of that, will draw their own conclusions.
Surely the basic truth is that this much-trumpeted deregulation programme is marginal to the real problems that confront our industry and our economy. Let me remind the House that Britain is still struggling to recover from recession—the greatest recession since the 1930s—and is still afflicted by mass unemployment. Neither in the Gracious Speech nor in any other manifestation of their policies do the Government show any understanding of the real problems that lie in the way of recovery and prosperity. Our problem is persistent underinvestment in industry, persistent underinvestment in skills development and persistent underinvestment in innovation and in our regions, causing structural defects in our economy, which cause low growth, high unemployment and a deficit in overseas trade which is unprecedented at this stage of the economic cycle.
The external deficit in the first half of this year is equivalent to 2 per cent. of national income. After 14 years of Conservative economic management, the wealth-creating core of our economy is simply too small to sustain our prosperity or to allow us to pay our way in the world.
Sadly, there is no sign that those vital and, if I may say so, basic strategic issues are being tackled by the Government. They are engaged, in contradiction of their election promises, in a series of tax increases which are not 23 only unfair to millions of people but which threaten to undermine the consumer confidence that is necessary to any recovery of demand.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that the introduction of a minimum wage would cost jobs?
§ Mr. Smith
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to ask me about VAT, but I know that he does not want to do that. The introduction of a minimum wage, as experience in other countries shows, works, if anything, towards the strengthening of employment rather than in the opposite direction. The hon. Gentleman would benefit from reading some of the recent research that has been conducted, especially the evidence from France. Does he agree with the right-wing Prime Minister of France, who said that despite its austerity programme the minimum wage would be preserved because it was part of the social compact with the people of France?
The hon. Gentleman will not ask me about VAT and nor will other Conservative Members because they stood at the last election on a manifesto that said that they would not increase VAT—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Smith
I am not sure what happened there, but I shall get on with my speech.
The trouble is that not only does the Gracious Speech show no contrition for the tax increases that the Government have imposed, but it signals another piece of legislation that flows from the previous Budget—an increase in national insurance contributions from 9 per cent. to 10 per cent. For most people in this country, that is an extra tax on income slightly higher than another 1p on income tax—so much for Tory promises at the general election not to increase taxes on income. As a result of tax increases already announced and even without taking into account what the Chancellor may propose in his forthcoming Budget, a typical family in Britain will be paying another £8.50 per week from next April. Who at the general election could have divined from anything said by the Conservative party that tax increases of £8.50 per week would happen within a year of its being elected to office?
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
On the subject of taxation and its fair and proportionate nature, on which some of us may wish to comment later in the debate, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that taxation should be collected? As leader of the Labour party, what does he say about the London borough of Lambeth, which dismally fails to collect 75 per cent. of its council tax?
§ Mr. Smith
All the agencies, including central Government, should make it their business to collect tax properly. If the hon. Gentleman, has a genuine sense of proportion and of fairness—I take his comments as an indication that he may speak on that later and I hope that he does—why not ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he does not begin to block up the tax loopholes that cost the country's taxpayers billions of pounds? If that was an aspect of fairness that had passed him by until now, he can mention it in his speech. [Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Calls from sedentary positions do not enhance our debate one bit. Indeed, they are boring.
§ Mr. Smith
The discomfort that occurs on the Government Benches whenever tax increases are mentioned is quite noticeable because it is the party that told a lie at the general election. It said that it would not increase taxes and even told us which taxes it would not increase. Those are the very taxes that it is now increasing and it will cost a typical family in Britain an extra £8.50 per week.
The Budget later this month needs to be geared to economic recovery that promotes investment and begins to tackle the deep-seated long-term problems that are the legacy of 14 years of Conservative Government. Instead of concentrating on those issues, the Government are intent on promoting irrelevancies. A prize example of that is to cause yet another upheaval in local government. Not only is there no demand in Scotland and Wales for the Government's proposals, but there is massive opposition across a wide spectrum of political views. An overwhelming majority of the hon. Members who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies are against the Bills that will only be carried by the votes of English Conservatives who do not represent the people in the countries concerned. I understand that it is proposed to introduce the Bill concerning Welsh local government in the House of Lords. That is a quite outrageous and reprehensible way for the Government to proceed.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that hon. Members from England should not determine issues in Scotland and Wales. Is not it the case that we are a United Kingdom Parliament? Does not everyone deserve to be able to speak on such issues?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) showed a sense of aptness in intervening at that point. I was about to point out that the change was especially reprehensible because the true purpose of the legislation in Scotland was to gerrymander boundaries in the interests of the Conservative party. One of the most blatant examples occurs in the hon. Gentleman's constituency where there is deliberate gerrymandering to assist the interests of the Conservative party. Everyone in Scotland knows that to be the case.
Local government reform in both countries should be preceded by the devolution of power from central Government. That would be a genuine increase in democratic accountability. But of course a Government who are committed to a relentless increase in quangos and to the imposition of unelected Conservatives to administer our public services are hardly likely to be interested in democratic accountability.
There is one thing for which we should have a little gratitude. The Government were forced back from their plan to privatise water in Scotland because of a nationwide campaign led by the Labour party. They were forced into the curious halfway house of removing water from local authorities, and therefore from democratic control, and giving it to so-called "public" boards which, of course, will just be another set of quangos. The only thing that can be said for that is that it is not privatisation. The Government should be warned that if it is intended to be a paving step towards privatisation, the passage of time will not diminish public opposition to the privatisation of water. Taxpayers 25 in Scotland, Wales and England will continue to wonder why the Government spend hundreds of millions of pounds on another local government reorganisation when vital public services are being undermined by a lack of finance.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not convince my constituents. The Bournemouth and District Water Company, which has been private for more than 100 years, has consistently had the lowest rate of charges in the United Kingdom and has never had even a restriction on supply.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware that the privatisation of water in England and Wales has pushed water charges to unprecedented heights. The people who pay the water charges know that that is the case.
In 1979, at the start of their party's years of power, the Conservatives complained loudly about the prevailing levels of crime. Their manifesto boasted that they would restore the rule of law. We know their record 14 years later. Crime is up by 120 per cent., violent crime is up by 126 per cent. and burglary is up by 180 per cent. Only one in every 50 crimes committed ends in a conviction in court. So much for restoring the rule of law!
We shall, of course, examine with care the Government's proposed legislation on criminal justice. We believe in a twin-track approach. While we should be prepared to be tough on crime, we should be equally tough on the causes of crime. We need to make far more effort to detect crime and to bring its perpetrators to justice. We also need to take more effective action to prevent crime from occurring in the first place. We need visible and effective policing in our communities. We need to take seriously the prevention of crime by better security for property and by better safety in public places. We also need to offer our young people in particular opportunities for employment and for personal fulfilment to counter the alienation from society which corrodes a sense of responsibility and which inevitably fosters crime.
We have been told that part of the intention of the "back to basics" policy is to teach people the difference between right and wrong and the importance of the acceptance of responsibility. The problem for the Government in that approach is their credibility as teachers and the example of responsibility that they have set. Surely it is wrong to break election promises as cavalierly as the Government have done. Surely it is wrong to impose a tax on the heating of every household in Britain when such an action was expressly excluded before the 1992 election. Surely it is wrong to scapegoat single parents and to stigmatise their children. Surely it is wrong never to resign voluntarily if major errors are made. Surely it is wrong to deny responsibility for policies which have led to mass unemployment and misery for millions of families. Surely it is wrong to have deliberately widened the gap between the rich and poor in our society.
Those are actions of a Government who purport to lecture others about getting "back to basics". I believe that "back to basics" is easily exposed as a political sham, but there are basic needs and aspirations among our people. They want jobs for themselves and for their children. They want a truly national health service which is available to all and which provides the best possible health care proudly in line with the principles of the service's founders. They 26 want well-equipped schools and well-trained and valued teachers to provide opportunities for their children to learn and to succeed. They want decent and affordable homes for their families. They want our industry to compete with the best and to win, for they know that that is the best security for their prosperity.
I regret that the Gracious Speech is irrelevant to the real aspirations and needs of our people. It is so removed from those aspirations that, instead of going "back to basics", the Government should be going back to the drawing board.
§ 4.3 pm
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)
The House will wish me to congratulate my hon. Friends who so ably moved and seconded Her Majesty's Loyal Address.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) reminded the House, we have both contested parts of St. Pancras in our time. My hon. Friend did so rather earlier and with rather more success than I. He won Holborn and St. Pancras, South and held the seat between 1959 and 1964, whereas I regret that I lost St. Pancras, North to the noble Lord Stallard in 1974. However, it is as the hon. Member for East Grinstead, and now as the hon. Member for Wealden, that my hon. Friend has become best known in the House.
During his lengthy public service the House has benefited from his expert knowledge in many areas of policy, and perhaps above all in defence, in which he was a Minister during the 1970s. He was also the Chairman of the Conservative Back Bench defence committee for many years. He is an acknowledged expert and is recognised as such by every hon. Member. During that time, my hon. Friend has built a reputation as being someone who speaks when he has something to say, and as someone who deserves to be listened to. That is an enviable reputation for any hon. Member to obtain.
I looked back at the maiden speech by my hon. Friend. At that stage, he was much exercised by a traffic scheme which turned much of St. Pancras into what was then called a "pink zone". Alas, that area has turned into a political red zone, and my hon. Friend has moved onwards.
The Leader of the Opposition, like me, has passed the age of 50 and recalls my hon. Friend's other distinguished career as a television interviewer. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, my hon. Friend interviewed the famous, the notorious, and the not so famous on "Tonight". When my hon. Friend did so, he was watched by four times as many people as will watch "Newsnight" tonight. That may speak volumes for the discrimination of those who watched television at that time, rather than those who will engage in late-night television watching this evening. The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he moved the Loyal Address.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) is one of the House's survivors. He has been targeted three times by the Labour party at elections; on three occasions, it has missed. At the previous election, the bookies gave odds of three to one against my lion. Friend. He laid a hefty sum of money on himself and cleaned up. I advise my hon. Friend to lay his money now for the next election before the odds begin to change—as they surely will. My hon. Friend has been an outstanding businessman. He started his own business which now employs hundreds of people in different parts of the 27 country. He is held in respect here, not only for his expertise as an engineer but, as the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) generously acknowledged, for his deep and abiding compassion for disabled people and others who are unable to help themselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East, is a formidable fighter for his constituency. Week after week he persuades Minister after Minister to visit it. Those Ministers are brave men. When I visited Bolton with my hon. Friend, a large crowd kept throwing eggs at him, very nearly hitting me. Curiously, none of my other right hon. and hon. Friends who have visited Bolton with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East faced that difficulty.
This will be a memorable week for my hon. Friend. Today he seconded the Humble Address. Tomorrow, following the marriage of his daughter, Sophie, in the Crypt Chapel, he will address an audience on an occasion that will be more memorable even than today's. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing him and his daughter and her husband a happy day.
Neither convention nor conviction compels me to be as complimentary about the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East—as ever, it was Monklands music hall. It was excellent for the Palace of Varieties, but a touch light for the Palace of Westminster. It was the old content-free regime. [Interruption.] It was an agreeable speech that said nothing at length, as always. I shall turn to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Hon. Gentlemen must contain themselves or I shall have to take action against them. I do not wish to do that so early in the Session.
§ The Prime Minister
To the extent that anything is written here, it is a compliment on my powers of anticipation. I shall return to some of the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments. I first wish to speak of other matters of concern to every hon. Member.
Despite the legislative programme, Northern Ireland must remain at the head of our priorities in the foreseeable future. Our outrage in this House and elsewhere at repeated carnage must not be blunted simply because we have lived with the problem for so long. The stark fact is that terrorism has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in Northern Ireland since 1969–75 of them this year alone.
There are, I believe, two moods in Northern Ireland. There is a palpable mood for peace. But there is also, among some people, a feeling that the dead must be endlessly avenged and that any accommodation with the opposing view would betray those who have died. Surely the right memorial to those who have been murdered is to ensure that no one else is. murdered in future. Unfortunately, avenging the dead means more dead, and they then call out to be avenged as well.
We are not looking for peace at any price. A peace that involved conceding to terrorism or negotiating under its shadow would not be acceptable to the Government or, I believe, to the people of Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, there may now be a chance that we should try to take. I do 28 not wish to raise false hopes. History and deeply entrenched positions can all too easily bring a sense of despair, as we have seen so often in the past. However, there may be an opportunity for progress, and we must explore that opportunity. If we do not succeed on this occasion, we must go back and keep exploring again and again that opportunity for peace.
Our chances improve if we have the support of both sides of the community, of all the constitutional parties and of the Irish Government. But no party and no organisation can exercise a veto on progress. That has been the basis of my consultations, and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, over recent months—those consultations with the constitutional parties and with the Irish Government. We hope to make further progress before, during and after my meeting with the Taoiseach in Dublin next month. Our aim is clear. We seek both a permanent end to violence and a political settlement. We have made substantial progress in the three areas of the political talks. We are talking bilaterally, because a premature attempt to convene a round table conference would probably be counterproductive. But if at an appropriate time it would help the process to put proposals of our own on the table, we shall be ready to do so. We are certainly prepared for that.
§ The Prime Minister
In one moment, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I said earlier this week that Sinn Fein could enter the political arena if the IRA's violence ended for good and was so demonstrated over a sufficient interval. If they send such a message, we are ready to listen to them. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to. But, by itself, a statement of intent by them is not enough. The violence must stop and it must be seen to stop.
The position of the Government should not be misunderstood. The democratic process is there for all who show that they can abide by its rules. But there will be no rewards for terrorism. Nor will we compromise on the vital principle that there can be no change in Northern Ireland's status without the freely expressed consent of its people. It is for the people of Northern Ireland freely and democratically to determine their own constitutional future.
I warmly welcome what the Irish Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister have said to support the principle of consent, and the talks process, and to accept the need for changes in the Irish constitution. That is the framework within which we and the Irish Government will work for peace, stability and reconciliation. We are ready to respond to a cessation of violence. I said so with the Taoiseach in Brussels on 29 October. I said so at the Guildhall and I say so again to the House. It is now for Sinn Fein and the IRA, and equally for the loyalist paramilitary organisations, to draw the right conclusions.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The House will have heard the important statement that the Prime Minister has made on the subject of Northern Ireland. To the extent that the Prime Minister has—and he has—put his personal authority behind that, he deserves the support of the whole House and ought to get it.
The point that he made earlier about being prepared for the British Government to put down their proposals if agreement cannot be reached between the constitutional 29 parties is an extremely important one. I put it to him that it is probably equally important that he does not leave it too long before doing that, and that there is a moment arriving —surely not far away—when that step, if agreement cannot be reached between the constitutional parties, will have to be taken and the British Government will have to put their own initiative where agreement cannot be fully reached.
§ The Prime Minister
We are still seeking to talk and reach that position through dialogue bilaterally with the constitutional parties. That clearly is the first prize, but we have prepared for the proposition that that may not be possible. I very much hope that it will.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames)
The House will have listened extremely carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said. Will he give the House a clearer indication as to what he [...]thinks the negotiations would be about? Is not it the case that Sinn Fein is not interested in pure power sharing with Ulster? Is not it the case that the only conditions on which the IRA would give up violence, and with the agreement of Sinn Fein, would be if there were further moves towards the unification of Ireland? Is not that the point?
§ The Prime Minister
I think that my right hon. Friend will have heard me a moment ago, for I said it quite deliberately so that nobody could misunderstand it. The House heard me repeat the constitutional guarantee that was set out before. I have repeated it publicly on a number of occasions so that nobody seeking to make judgments on these matters can be in any doubt about the seriousness with which the Government take that constitutional guarantee. It is a cast-iron guarantee. The future constitutional position of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine and for no one else to determine. I am happy to repeat to my right hon. Friend that that is the firmly established position of the Government and that it will remain so for so long as I lead the Government.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does the Prime Minister accept that, while it is desirable for the constitutional parties to be involved, if at the end of the day agreement cannot be reached with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, an agreement of a wide-ranging kind for a political settlement can be reached between the two Governments which obviously accepts the wish of the present majority in Northern Ireland to remain in the Union? In those circumstances, does the Prime Minister recognise that it would be the wish of the British people at large that the two Governments should reach agreement and not allow a veto which, in effect, would mean that there would be no chance of peace in Northern Ireland? Is not there one constitutional party, the Democratic Unionists, which cannot be relied on to provide the progress that we all wish to see?
§ The Prime Minister
I chose my words with great care and with some consideration a few moments ago. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that I do not wish to add to them. The consent of the people of Northern Ireland, to whatever is determined, is clearly going to be the central and most important requirement of any successful settlement. 30 While Northern Ireland touches us all, the economy affects us all. The whole House will have welcomed the increasingly good news in the past few days——
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) says that he missed it. Where has he been? There were better than expected trade figures last week; better than expected inflation figures yesterday—down from 1.8 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. in October—and there were better than expected unemployment figures today. The figure is down by 50,000 and that is the biggest monthly fall for four years. Unemployment has now fallen by 137,000 this year.
I can pinpoint with great accuracy the moment when the figures started to turn downwards. It was exactly the moment when the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) predicted:I make one Budget forecast—that, after the Budget, unemployment will rise this month, next month and for months afterwards."—[Official Report, 17 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 289.]
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is, alas, clearly engaged on more important matters than the debate on the Queen's Speech. However, he does not have much luck with predictions. He is always wrong. For him, the laws of probability and statistics are suspended. If I could persuade the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East to tell me which horse was bound to lose the grand national, I promise him that I would put my shirt on that horse with a great deal of confidence.
As other countries remain in recession, we are emerging from it. We now have the opportunity of a long period of sustained growth with low inflation. There has been a great deal of pain, effort and difficulty in getting inflation down, but we can now see the rewards. Inflation has been under 2 per cent. for the past nine months, a situation not seen for more than 30 years. As a result of that, recovery—as we said it would—is folowing: gross domestic product is up; manufacturing output is up; retail sales are up; and export volumes are up. It is no wonder that a recent survey of international business shows that Europe's business leaders think that the United Kingdom is now the best place for manufacturing investment.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way in a little while.
Those business leaders know that we have the lowest inflation rate in the G7; the second lowest inflation rate in the Community; among the lowest interest rates in the Community; the predicted highest growth rate in the Community this year and next; and that we are one of only two Community countries in which unemployment is falling.
Business also knows that, contrary to the position that was honestly stated again by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we are determined to keep social on-costs down. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went to Brussels last Friday to sign up to every dot and comma of the socialist European manifesto. But that was Friday. On Saturday, he said that he had not meant what he signed up to. I do not know why—perhaps he had not read it or he had not understood it. At any rate, on Saturday he did not mean it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously 31 thought that it was unfair of those beastly foreign socialists to take him at his word. I sympathise with him—they are difficult—but the right hon. and learned Gentleman really should read what he signs. It is tedious, I know, but it is very worthwhile, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman found out.
One other thing that the right hon. and learned Gentleman signed up to, which he neglected to mention in his speech today, when he had a great deal to say about VAT on fuel, is the European socialist manifesto which says:We stand for a tax system which penalises work less and environmental pollution more … Forms of taxation which can improve the ecological and energy situation have a role to play.
I could only assume that that was another part of the socialist manifesto that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not read, did not understand, or had his earphones on and did not hear.
The economic news that I outlined a few moments ago is the background against which we bring forward our legislative programme. At the heart of the Gracious Speech are measures to tackle crime, improve teaching in our schools and make our economy more competitive. I believe that those are the right policies because they provide the foundations for a successful, tolerant and responsible society. We can raise standards in our schools, make our streets safer and make our economy more competitive by building on those basic values.
I am not surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot understand the point about going back to basics. How can we expect him to understand basic values when Opposition Members repeatedly vote against increasing sentences for violent crime, when they oppose tests in schools, when, in the same breath, they call for lower taxes and higher spending, and when they still do not trust people to make their own decisions in health, in education, in pensions, in housing and in many other aspects of life? "Basic values" means basic economic values such as low inflation, free markets and a climate that encourages free enterprise, basic social values such as self-discipline, respect for the law, concern for others, individual responsibility and an emphasis on getting the basics of education right first. That means taking on as well the spread of politically correct thinking.
I am afraid that the Labour party is all too often out of touch with the values and instincts of the British nation. Labour Members voted against every piece of legislation to introduce tougher penalties for crime, voted against the measures that allow people to appeal against over-lenient sentences, against testing in schools, against grant-maintained status, against A-levels, against city technology colleges, and against rents for mortgages. They have voted against every one of those—against stopping people jumping the housing queue, against privatisation and against a great deal else. They have voted against every single measure to extend choice and give greater opportunity to individuals, every single measure to help people to take more responsibility for themselves, and every single measure to make life more difficult for the criminal and to make people safer in their streets. It is no wonder they do not understand back to basics.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
Since it is the Prime Minister's vogue word, I ask the Prime Minister the basic question: if back to basics is suddenly the right policy, who is to blame for the past 14 years?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening, but I will tell him about the past 14 years. It is a time when average incomes have risen, when there is more spent on the national health service than ever before, when the number of young people going into further and higher education has gone up to one in three in the community, and when the value of pensions has gone up. But there is one battle which I concede we did not win. That was the battle against fashionable opinion and the theories of those who are light years away from the interests of the British people.
I turn directly to the centrepiece of the difference between the Government and the Labour party. The centrepiece of this programme is a criminal justice Bill. The whole House shares a deep concern about the level of crime. To prove that, I hope that the whole House will unite behind our proposals to tackle crime instead of, as Labour Members have done on every occasion in the past, voting against every measure that we have brought forward to tackle crime.
Our proposals respond to people's fear. Crime is not just a problem for the well-to-do. It often hits hardest those people who have the least, which is why the right hon. and learned Gentleman utterly failed to understand the quote of mine that he misused a few minutes ago. Nor is the loss of material possessions the only damage done by crimes like theft. Often, the greatest hurt by far is the loss of treasured possessions of sentimental value and the loss of that feeling of security that people have an absolute right to feel in their own homes.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is so concerned about crime, why did he vote against every measure that we brought forward to curtail it? It is no wonder that he is against back to basics. He is certainly pretty basic himself. He makes Neanderthal man look chic.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall make a little progress. I share the view of most people in this country that the balance has been tilted for too long in favour of the criminal and away from the victim. The criminal justice Bill will correct that. We shall continue to give the police greater flexibility in the use of their resources to fight crime.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way in a moment. We will provide extra prison places so that sentences can reflect the gravity of the crime, not the availability of prison cells. We will crack down on people reoffending while on bail. Some people seem to think that bail is a licence to commit crime. The new Bill will show them that they are wholly wrong about that.
One of the most serious problems we face is that of juvenile crime. Far too many crimes against property are committed by young people. The Bill will introduce new 33 secure units for persistent offenders to break the cycle of offending. The fact is that, unless we are prepared to make clear to people at a young age that some behaviour will not be tolerated, we cannot be surprised if they continue to reoffend as they get older. To be too lenient in the short term means that we fail our children in the longer term, and it is time that that was faced up to.
The Bill will also deter criminals by making sure that, once caught, they are prosecuted and, if convicted, effectively punished. There will be less cautioning and an end to the abuse of the right to silence that has been exploited by so many.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
In some areas, the current law has been too slow to act. If squatters, travellers or trespassers occupy people's property, they should be able to get them out—and quickly. The new Bill will ensure that they can do so.
The Bill covers a range of other matters. I will mention just one of them today. It will provide stronger powers and heavier penalties against child pornography. Previously, possessors of child pornography could only be fined. For the first time, the Bill will provide, in appropriate circumstances, for a prison sentence, and the police will have stronger powers of arrest and search and seizure of those who make and sell this material. I hope that the whole House will welcome that.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The Prime Minister has much to say about crime. Can he answer a simple question? Why has the incidence of crime doubled during the past 14 years of Conservative government?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman's question was not quite complete. He should have asked why the incidence of crime has doubled in every western country. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to help us, perhaps he and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East will tell us that they will support the proposals that we now put before the House.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the Home Office's recently published figures it was revealed that 5.7 million crimes were committed in the latest recorded year. Is that because he has been neglecting the basics for the past 14 years—or is it because the 64 pieces of legislation that he has already produced have failed to tackle the problem?
§ The Prime Minister
I am not sure that it was entirely wise to give way to the hon. Gentleman, for he trails over very old ground. Will he now tell us whether he will support the measures that are before the House? I suspect that the Labour party will not support them. The shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), was already preparing his escape route when he referred to my right hon. Friend's new measures to tackle crime as "gimmicks". Tougher powers for the police to stop terrorism are apparently a gimmick, as are cutting down paperwork and putting more policemen on the streets. Tougher measures to stop people offending on bail are, according to the Opposition, a gimmick. New prisons are a gimmick. That is the triviality of their response to the battle against crime.
34 As for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, who is sitting their shouting, he is no one to shout about the law. It was the hon. Member who said:do you obey the law or not obey the law? We
—that is the Labour party—don't have any firm … principles … of how we might deal with this problem.
The hon. Gentleman said that in late 1989 and early 1990. I will give him the quote. If he is worried about that quote, perhaps he can tell me this: why, just last month, did Labour Members vote against a provision in the National Lottery etc. Bill to prevent lottery proceeds funding terrorism? What sort of party and what sort of values do they have?
Let me turn to the deregulation Bill that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East spoke about. One significant difficulty for business lies in meeting the demands of regulations. Over the years we have repealed examples of ludicrous over-regulation. Many of those that we repealed recently have lasted since the Labour Government of 1929, such as regulations on the temperature of bath water, on animal feed factories and on the distance between clothes pegs in cotton factory cloakrooms. There is still a long way to go to minimise regulation on companies.
Earlier this year, we set up a series of task forces chaired by business men and business women to identify regulations that might be repealed. I thank the noble Lord Sainsbury and his colleagues for their report. As a result of their work, we shall introduce a deregulation Bill that will sweep away rules that tie firms up in excessive red tape. It will be the biggest package of deregulation since the 1950s and we shall bring the legislation forward in January. That approach is far more likely to help business than the policies of increased burdens, minimum wages, social chapters and more detailed regulations that are favoured by the Opposition.
We want to repeal legislation that is a burden on business; the Labour party wants to repeal our legislation that removes burdens on business, especially trade union reform. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made clear—with that candour that we like so much—if given the opportunity, Labour aregoing to repeal—in terms of our trade union legislation—all of it—there is no little bits you can keep … It all has to go".
That means back to the closed shop, back to flying pickets, back to unions above the law and back to no more compulsory ballots. That is what the hon. Gentleman stands for.
§ Mr. Prescott
The Prime Minister is earning an unenviable reputation as a Prime Minister who constantly quotes from Labour Members' recent speeches without giving any evidence of where those quotes come from. It is about time the Prime Minister produced the sources of his quotes. I challenge him to do so.
§ The Prime Minister
I will provide the hon. Gentleman with the sources. He probably thinks that he has been a victim of impersonation. I will give him another quote, together with the source, and perhaps that will help him.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, in his celebrated speech to the Confederation of British Industry, in which he said so little about the matters on which it would have wished to hear, did not remind the CBI that he had described ballots for union elections as 35 "intellectually disreputable". Perhaps that explains why the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) remains a member of the shadow Cabinet, despite losing in the ballot. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is having some trouble containing himself. We have learnt what one member, one vote means: the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the member and his is the vote, despite what Labour Back-Bench Members vote.
In the Gracious Speech we propose to introduce legislation to improve the training of teachers. Our best schools are as good as any in the world, but we aim to raise the standards of all our schools to those of the best. The process is already under way with the national curriculum, annual reports, regular inspections and regular pencil and paper tests, not beloved by some Labour Members. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East should take a sedative and calm down.
The education Bill this Session will underpin the reform of teacher training. For too long teacher training has been based too heavily on theory. The Bill will create a new teacher training agency in England and will extend the powers of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. It will build on the arrangements for teacher training in the classroom, which we have already put in place. The agency will bring together funding for all types of courses and will be able to fund the most cost-effective to ensure the growth of the best courses.
The Bill will end one of the last closed shops in the United Kingdom—the student unions. Students should not be compelled to join their student union. In future they will not be so compelled.
We shall introduce local government Bills to establish unitary authorities in Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
Is it the Prime Minister's intention to dismember Scottish local government and to remove Scottish water from local democratic control by the expedient of stuffing Commons' Committees with English Conservative Back Benchers? Can he confirm that?
§ The Prime Minister
I would not put the matter remotely like that, so I cannot confirm it.
Alongside the reforms in Wales and Scotland are the reforms still being developed in England. We intend these to be the last significant reforms of local government for many years. We are putting in place a structure to endure and to pass the test of time.
§ Mr. Canavan
How can the Prime Minister possibly justify local government reorganisation in England being referred to an independent commission while proceeding immediately with legislation for Scotland and Wales without any reference to an independent commission? In view of the widespread concern, indeed outrage, throughout Scotland about this most expensive and extensive political carve-up in the history of local government, will the Prime Minister do the decent thing and refer the matter to an independent commission? 36 Otherwise, people in Scotland will rightly conclude that their country is being governed by a gang of gerrymandering crooks.
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think that they will remotely conclude that. The hon. Gentleman may believe it, but that is his problem and not mine. He is rather more of a problem to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition than to me or my colleagues.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
Earlier in his speech the Prime Minister said several times that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide, freely and democratically, their own constitution. Why does the Prime Minister deny that right to the people of Scotland? Why does he resist the demands of the constitutional parties in Scotland for a multi-option referendum? The constitutional parties in Scotland—the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party—represent 75 per cent. of the voters in Scotland whereas the Conservative party represents only 25 per cent.
§ The Prime Minister
There was a referendum, and it failed. The hon. Gentleman has clearly forgotten that the necessary majority was not achieved.
The Queen's Speech will introduce a range of Bills—to privatise British Coal, to reform Sunday trading, to enable the preparations for an environment agency to proceed, to reform elements of the social security system and a Bill to make the security services more accountable; the Bill will place the secret intelligence services and the Government communications headquarters on a statutory basis. That follows on from the announcement I made in the debate on last year's Gracious Speech, and represents a further step towards greater openness and accountability for the three intelligence security services.
This is a realistic programme that will meet the concerns of the country. It addresses practical problems in a practical way, and is light years away from the policies of the Opposition. Many people have complained about the Opposition's lack of an economic policy, not least a number of Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said:Where we"—
the Labour party—are absolutely deficient is in suggesting that, in any respect, we have a clue about how to manage the economy. Or whether we should even try.
Now he has his answer. His leader has signed up for an off-the-peg economic policy made in Brussels. The socialist European manifesto that the leader of the Opposition signed commits him to a single currency, with no mention of the opt out which we negotiated and which the Danish socialist Government retained. That manifesto also commits him to restrictions on free trade, European works councils, a guaranteed minimum wage and higher taxes for British businesses so that they do not compete "unfairly" with European firms. It may well be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not read all that, but that is what he signed up to.
The Labour party is not a party that is seriously seeking power. The Guardian said recently that the Labour party is likea natural party of opposition
—and it will remain a natural party of opposition. We are in government and will stay in government. 37 I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends will give a warm welcome to the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
It is a great pleasure to speak after the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party and to congratulate the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address.
The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and I have two things in common: first, the area of Britain from which I take my name is in his constituency and, secondly, both he and I started off as voters for and supporters of the Labour party—a fact which may not be widely known. We left the Labour party for slightly different reasons: I left because I disagreed with Labour party policy on the trade unions; and, as I understand it, he left because he was turned down for a job application for the international department of the Labour party organisation in London. I am not certain which reason history will say was the more reasonable.
In 1979 the hon. Member for Wealden introduced a private Member's Bill to limit the growth of quangos. If he is true to the principles that he enunciated in that Bill, I wonder what he thinks of the exponential growth of quangos that has occurred under the Government he now supports.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) entertained us with an amusing speech. He said that originally he had no intention of going into politics and he went into business instead. He then decided that Mrs. Thatcher was right about her business and enterprise policies—so right that he decided to leave business and come into the House, which is an odd way of expressing his belief in her policies.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East and I entered the House at the same time, and one of his enthusiasms has been the creation of new jobs through new ideas. Sadly, none of that will result from the Government's programme which was unveiled today. Given the state of our country today, at no time in recent years have the people of Britain looked so earnestly to Westminster and the Government for signs of hope and for solutions. They will look at the Government's programme in vain and with disappointment.
It has already been said that it is 14 years since the Conservative party came to power and 18 months since the last Queen's Speech, but still the Government seem to spend more time and energy in seeking scapegoats for what has gone wrong than in proposing solutions to put right the mess that they have created.
The Prime Minister sometimes inadvertently gives us glimpses of the extent of the failure of his own Government. Hon. Members will recall that he made a speech at the Guildhall on Monday and invited the country to make comparisons between children of different nationalities. He said that children were asked to multiply 9.2 by 2.5, and that in Taiwan and Korea 70 per cent. got it right, in western Europe 55 per cent. got it right and in England 13 per cent. got it right.
Who is responsible for that? The Prime Minister gave us a clue when he said that those children were 13 years old. That means that they were born a year after the Conservative party came to power; they are children born under the Government, brought up under the Government 38 and educated under the Government. If there is a responsibility for the failure of their education, it lies with the Government alone.
§ Mr. Ashdown
No, I must make progress.
The Prime Minister has conveniently failed to mention that the Government have reduced spending on education, expressed as a percentage of national wealth, by more than 10 per cent. since they came to power while every other competitor nation, in Europe and the far east, has increased the percentage of its national wealth invested in education.
The Government's answer to the crisis—for which the Government bear the greatest responsibility—was unveiled in the programme announced today: it is to create another quango, a quango for teacher training. Not a penny more will be spent on education. No doubt the Bill will reflect the well-stated aim of the Government—to create a culture of amateurism among teachers when we should be increasing their professionalism.
This country must begin to start investing in education. It is the key investment that we must make. Unless we are prepared to do that and to match the investment made by our competitor nations in terms of a percentage of our wealth invested in education, our children will not be properly educated. In an age when our economy will depend on information, they will be incapable of using the new technologies to make the best use of it. In an age when we want to encourage higher standards of citizenship, they will not receive the necessary education at school to produce that.
Perhaps the key to this is to follow the proposal put forward by the commission headed by Sir Claus Moser, which advocated that every child in our country should have the right to have access to a year or more of pre-school education. Perhaps there is no greater talisman than such investment because it marks whether a Government are guided by short-term or long-term considerations. Pre-school education is true investment. Studies done in America and elsewhere show that £1 invested in pre-school education will deliver £7-worth of value-added in education and result in a reduced incidence of crime in later years. That is true investment.
The Secretary of State for Education, however, has responded to that commission, which represents a year or more of work, by saying that the country cannot afford such investment. I must tell him and the Government that it is not that the country cannot afford to invest in education, but that this country cannot afford not to invest in education. That is why my party is prepared to say, as was made clear in the election and reaffirmed today, that that investment is so important for our country that we are prepared to ask people to add a penny in the pound to their income tax. That would produce between £1.8 billion and £1.9 billion to invest in education.
What we have seen happen to education under this Government and their predecessors in the past 14 years is repeated when one studies other indicators of the health of our country. The Prime Minister made great play of whether or not the Labour party voted for certain items of legislation. I must remind the House that in those 14 years, 64 items of legislation on law and order have been passed, but the incidence of crime has doubled. Indeed, some legislation that the Government have had to introduce is 39 designed to unstitch the damage done by their previous legislation to which we were opposed. The Prime Minister has now been forced to repeal some of the legislation that we told him was wrong.
In those 14 years the number living in poverty in Britain has gone up by 250 per cent. The gap between the rich and the poor has grown into a yawning chasm, contrary to the shouts of dissent from the Conservative Benches when that opinion was voiced earlier. The income of the poorest 10 per cent. in Britain has gone down by 14 per cent. while the income of the richest 10 per cent. has gone up by 50 per cent.
The Government have introduced new reforms, as they call them, directed at the health service, but, as a consequence, as we discovered yesterday, we now have 30,000 more administrators in the health service, but 20,000 fewer nurses and 116,000 fewer beds. The Government tell us that they are now to target benefits, but this is the same Government who have allowed the amount of uncollected tax to go up twenty-fourfold, from £64 million in 1980 to £1.7 billion today.
Unemployment has risen from 1 million to 3 million. It is a good thing that that figure has come down slightly—it should be welcomed—but I regret to say that it is a small reduction when one considers that lying at the heart of the figures are 1 million long-term unemployed people.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech to build on the tiny and inadequate pilot measure that the Government introduced in the Budget when they decided to transfer some of the benefit paid to the long-term unemployed in order to build a subsidy to create employment opportunities. Unemployment has not even been mentioned in the Government's programme which was unveiled today.
The Government talk about economic recovery, but if one devalues one's currency by 20 per cent., of course one will gain economic advantages over one's neighbours. The Government's long-term record reveals that, in those 14 years, 18 out of 22 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have achieved faster growth than we have.
§ Mr. David Nicholson
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, tragically, unemployment is rising in France, Germany and other European countries and that there is no downturn in the rate of unemployment in those countries? However, his party supported and voted for the imposition of the social chapter in this country, which has done so much damage in the other Community countries.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I invite the hon. Gentleman to leave the House and visit some of the advanced firms in Britain, as I did recently. I visited Toyota, the foremost car manufacturer in the world, as some would argue. It discovered that to create an effective quality product one must have a quality work force. It has far exceeded the milk and water bulwarks for fair practice and reasonable conditions as laid down in the social contract. That company does not believe that those terms and conditions have damaged its product. It understands, as the Government apparently do not, that by giving the work force proper training, proper status and decent conditions it can produce the quality goods that are necessary to win in the marketplace. The difference between the hon. 40 Gentleman's party and mine is that we want to create an economy similar to that which exists in Bonn, but he wants to create an economy similar to that which exists in Bangkok.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a leading Japanese company. Is he prepared to accept that Japan is placing more investment in the United Kingdom than in any other country in the world? Why should it be prepared to do so if conditions in this country are as bad as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out? Will he also accept that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, uniquely, created an opportunity for the reinvigoration of our manufacturing industry by establishing the lowest level of inflation for some time and low interest rates, which are absolutely right for manufacturing expansion?
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the other portion of the Queen's Speech about which I wanted to speak.
Japan and other countries have found it appropriate to invest in what they see as developing, low-cost production centres. I want this country to be a high-skill, high-wage, high-investment production centre. In that way, we will have an economy like that of Japan because we will be able to design here and invest abroad in production. That is the important path that this country should follow, but that is not happening.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned investment, but our rate of public and private investment is falling and is lower than that of any of the advanced competitor countries in Europe and elsewhere. Our public and private investment ratio is half that of Singapore.
We see the consequences of that record when we consider the Government's approach to the channel tunnel. They allowed the French to build high-speed railway links right up to the mouth of the tunnel even before we started to put the first sleepers down for our railways.
Robert Reich, the economic adviser to President Clinton, recently said that in the developing world economies we will find that footloose capital for investment will go to those areas with high skills, high educational standards and strong investment patterns capable of building modern infrastructures. If that is where investment will be travelling to in the future, God help Britain, given the state of the country that the Government have left behind.
It is not just in internal matters that things have changed since the last Queen's Speech. The previous Queen's Speech touched briefly on what has become the predominant problem for Europe and the world in the past 18 months—the tragedy that is occurring in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. I do not believe that anything that the Government have done can measure against their failure to take the necessary actions in that region.
When I first called for action 18 months ago, the Prime Minister said that what I was calling for could not be done. Every single thing I called for then has, subsequently, been done, but it was too little and too late. Just as many of us predicted, the situation in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia has descended into a maelstrom of chaos and misery, in which our troops are now positioned.
Every time I have questioned the Prime Minister on that matter and criticised the Government for failing to act on 41 Bosnia, he has turned that criticism to suggest that I was criticising our troops. I have been to the troops on the front line, as he has, and we both know that they are leading the way in military practice in Bosnia. I regret that the Government are leading the retreat by not shouldering their responsibilities and acting appropriately. The consequences will be paid for in the next 10 years and more because the ex-Yugoslavia is not just about Europe's past; it is a prediction of what will happen in Europe's future.
I suspect that the situation, particularly in Bosnia, has now descended to such a point that there is little that we can do to resolve the problem. All our best opportunities have been left behind us. However, the one duty left to us in Bosnia is to save innocent lives. The condition in central Bosnia now is such that, unless the Government are prepared to act soon, there will be a humanitarian tragedy.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman asks how. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary three days ago begging him to take the lead in opening up Tuzla airport. In central Bosnia some 1 million people are now living on a quarter of the rations that they need to survive. The airport there is less dangerous than Sarajevo and has a massive runway and huge facilities that leave Sarajevo in the cold. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended a move to open Tuzla airport and fly food in. Unless we do so, a catastrophe will happen. May I leave the Prime Minister with the words of his appointed negotiator, Lord Owen, who said about the condition of central Bosnia:Wake up, wake up! It's no use waking up in January or February to find thousands dead from a humanitarian disaster.
Unless the Government act, that is precisely what will happen. I hope that, when the debate on the Queen's Speech is summed up, perhaps on Friday, the Foreign Secretary will say whether the Government are prepared to take action to open Tuzla airport.
This is a Queen's Speech of small measures. We welcome the Prime Minister's position on Northern Ireland and some other matters. The Government have at last understood that we need a change in defence posture, and their commitment to a comprehensive test ban treaty, which is new and important, is welcome, as is their commitment to a comprehensive non-proliferation treaty. Indeed, I congratulate the Government as, on those matters—if not on the spectrum of defence policy—they seem to have adopted the Liberal Democrats' defence policy.
Elements of the Bill on deregulation will no doubt be welcome and we shall look at those in detail, but much of the Bill is deeply offensive and we shall oppose it.
We shall oppose legislation to enact the White Paper on police reform because it goes two thirds of the way towards creating a national police force. It will place in every police service a paid representative of the Home Secretary. We cannot solve crime in the streets by making the police a division of Whitehall. Whitehall civil servants will not tackle crime; more policemen on the beat will tackle crime. What a disgrace that chief constables' requests in the past two or three years for more policemen have been consistently turned down. In 1992 they asked for 1,753 more policemen on the beat to tackle crime; they were allowed to have 796. Last year they asked for 2,167 policemen to tackle crime on the beat; they got none. If the 42 Government really want to tackle crime, let them at least support those calls for more police to do the job where it is necessary—on the street.
We shall oppose legislation to reform the magistracy, which seems designed to take the "local" out of local justice. We shall oppose legislation on student unions, which is opposed by every college director and university vice-chancellor in the country. It has nothing to do with the closed shop, as the Prime Minister said. It is merely tossing yet another well-gnawed bone to Conservative Back Benchers and will have no impact on education problems.
The real problem with the Queen's Speech is not so much what is in it but what is out of it. It could have included an education Bill that would have given every child the right of access to pre-school education and ensured that the necessary investment was made; a statement that the Government intended to invest in the country's infrastructure rather than leaving it to run down; a Bill to promote competition, to tackle some of the monopolies which the Government have allowed to grow up; a Bill to encourage small businesses, particularly legislation to tackle the problem of the late payment of debt; a statement that the Government would abolish their iniquitous plans to increase value added tax and put in place an energy tax as proposed by the European Community, based on a revenue-neutral position in which the vulnerable would be properly compensated and investment could be made in energy saving.
The Queen's Speech could have announced a comprehensive Bill to tackle crime across the spectrum. If the Government want to see how that might be done, they should go to Solihull where a programme on crime has been put together to mobilise the whole community, tackling crime from the school to the policeman on the beat. The extraordinary thing is that it is successful. Crime figures are coming down where people recognise that crime is not about a short slogan at a Tory party conference but about putting together a comprehensive programme to tackle crime at every level.
The Queen's Speech could have announced an armed forces review to provide for the skill and ability of our forces to be reshaped to match the nation's needs as we face new threats. It could have made a commitment to helping to frame international institutions and earmarking forces to respond to the United Nations Secretary-General's calls for peacemaking.
The Queen's Speech contained none of those. It is a programme, the lightness of which portrays the Government's bankruptcy of ideas and complacency about the state of the country which they have created. It is more like a programme for an election than one for a Government two years after their election. It looks as though it has been constructed to save the Prime Minister by June rather than save and improve the country by the end of the century.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I always smile when I hear such a speech from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. On Government policy, he always says, "We told you so", or "The Government are taking up Liberal policies." The Liberal Democrats seem to speak with so many voices on every issue that it is inevitably possible for them to make such remarks. Their statements seem to cover the whole field. 43 I have always believed that the House can function properly only when we have a strong and effective Opposition. I have been in the House for just over 29 years and I am sorry to say that I have never heard a weaker response to the Queen's Speech from a Leader of the Opposition. The glum faces behind the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) reflected the weakness of his speech. I hope that in future we shall have a stronger Opposition response.
I do not wish to concentrate on the content of the Queen's Speech. The Leader of the Liberal Democrats was wrong, because the Queen's Speech is a programme of strong measures. I have no doubt that they will be highly controversial, but they are important to the country's future. My constituents will welcome the firm steps proposed to deal with juvenile crime.
Today, I wish to discuss how the House intends to handle the legislation. It is just over two years since the Leader of the House asked me to chair a Select Committee to deal with sittings of the House. A strong Committee was appointed. It included the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, the chairman of the 1992 Committee, a former shadow Leader of the House and an old friend, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery).
Two years ago, we worked extremely hard for a few months. Just before the last election, we managed to produce and debate the Select Committee's unanimous report on how the House should conduct its affairs. It was debated again 18 months ago at the beginning of this Parliament, when, on behalf of the Government, the Leader of the House appeared to accept about 85 per cent. of our recommendations on modernising procedure. At the same time, an early-day motion was tabled, attracting more than 200 signatories, about 120 of whom were Opposition Members.
We have been exceptionally patient, but nothing has been done. I warn the Government that the patience of many hon. Members is running out because of the inactivity in modernising our procedures. I am continually beset by hon. Members, the majority of whom are probably Opposition Members, who ask, "What has happened? Why don't we all make a stand?" I strongly discouraged such action because to achieve meaningful change, which the Committee recommended, there must be consensus in the House. I was an hon. Member when the famous Crossman changes were proposed in the 1960s. They did not work because there was no consensus.
The package proposed by the Select Commmittee was carefully balanced between the rights of Government and Opposition. I believe that all its members were convinced that a fair balance had been struck. I am one of the relatively few hon. Members who have served as a senior Whip in government and in opposition and I believe that the package strikes a fair balance between the rights of Government and Opposition.
Some hon. Members say, "What about the Maastricht Bill?", which took up so much of the previous Session. The House should be reminded that if the Select Committee's recommendations had been in place, not one minute less 44 would have been taken debating the Maastricht Bill. We were careful to state that constitutional Bills should not, in general terms, be guillotined.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the major difference between the Crossman proposals and those on which the Select Committee so diligently worked is that the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, of which I had the honour to be Chairman, streamlined part of Parliament's procedures, which would have held up a great deal of work in the past? There can now be no argument against his streamlining proposals following the procedure for private Bills.
§ Mr. Jopling
My hon. Friend has great experience of these matters and we were both Members when the Crossman changes were made. I thoroughly endorse the recommendations that his Select Committee made, which have so helped the procedures of the House.
The time has come, however, to press the Government to act, because there is strong support for action on both sides of the House. The Select Committee was purposely not specific on how Bills should be timetabled. It was part of our recommendation that if Bills are considered at length, there should be some procedure to allow them to be timetabled.
If we are realistic and straightforward, all hon. Members know that there is a certain amount of gamesmanship in the using up of time, but it is now time to modernise our procedures to the demands of the end of the 20th century.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
I understand my right hon. Friend's point about constitutional Bills, but what is the point of streamlining our procedures, on which he is placing so much emphasis, if it is not to increase the powers of the Executive against the legislature? Surely the power of the legislature is to take its time and to prevent a too streamlined approach to legislation and to debate. That is effectively the only power that the legislature has over the Executive.
§ Mr. Jopling
If my hon. Friend reminded himself of the Committee's recommendations, he would find that the Government would not like many of its proposals, such as the one on the regular rising of the House at 10 o'clock. The House sits longer and for many more days in the year than any other legislature in the developed world, which we felt is quite absurd. We recommended that we should normally rise in the middle of July. We recognised that we should do away with some of the absurd all-night sittings that we so often have.
I know that my hon. Friend has read those recommendations already, but if he reminds himself of them he will recall that many of them are against the interests of Government and Opposition, but, together, they make a fair package that would allow the House to conduct its affairs in line with the needs of the end of the 20th century.
The efforts of the Leader of the House to force the pace are welcome. I hope that he will be able to arrange early meetings between members of the Select Committee and spokesmen from both Front Benches so that we can reach a conclusion. I hope that the small minority of Members who have blocked progress in the past 18 months will now allow the modernisation of our procedures.
§ Mr. Marlow
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous in accepting interventions. He said that his Committee's proposals would not have changed what happened under the Maastricht Bill because it was a constitutional Bill, but who decides what is a constitutional Bill? I believe that, in this Session, we shall debate legislation to give force to the so-called changes in the European Community's system of own resources. Is that a constitutional Bill? Who will decide?
§ Mr. Jopling
It has always been the practice, which has worked quite well for centuries, that the Committee stage of a constitutional Bill is automatically taken on the Floor of the House. The criterion has always been whether a Bill is constitutional. It has always been decided by the usual channels, which are crucial. The House cannot operate properly unless the usual channels are working. That is how it has always worked in the past and I do not see why it should not continue to do so in future.
§ Mr. Jopling
I must get on because many hon. Members want to speak.
I want to refer to a second matter involving the way in which the House will conduct the legislative programme and to express my worries, as a business manager formerly responsible for the Government's legislative programme, about how this Session will proceed. We have begun the Session far too late. November 18 is intolerably late, especially now that the Budget occurs before Christmas. Why have we wasted 10 days? Why did not we have the state opening of Parliament on the Tuesday before last as could have been done perfectly well? I cannot understand why we did not.
I shall outline the programme that faces us between now and Christmas. After the state opening today, this debate will end a week today, on 22 November. The new Bills, of which I hope there are plenty, will be laid before the House by the end of the week and, as two weekends must then elapse, Second Readings cannot occur before the week beginning Monday 29 November. I hope that there will be one Second Reading on 29 November.
The Budget debate will start on Tuesday November 30—the new joker in the pack. That debate will be combined with discussion of the public expenditure programme for next year. That is likely to last for a week and would wind up on Tuesday 7 December. At last, on Wednesday 8 December, we shall be able to consider Second Readings. The Second Readings of four Bills may take place on Wednesday and Thursday 8 and 9 December and Monday and Tuesday 13 and 14 December. Those four Bills will then be subject to the Committee of Selection being able to meet on 15 December to appoint the Committee members. The Standing Committees on those four Bills will not be appointed before that day and, therefore, will not be able to sit before 21 December. The House may not sit during that week. Even if it does sit in Christmas week, I know exactly what will happen. Deals will be struck with the Opposition Front Bench in return for not wasting a morning over a sittings motion, with which we are all familiar, and no Committees will meet until after Christmas.
If we have only one Bill for Second Reading on 29 November and into Committee before Christmas, it will be a bad way to begin the legislative programme. I warn the Government; in the days when I had responsibility for 46 such matters, it was always my aim that eight or 10 Bills should be in Committee before Christmas. This year, there will be only one Bill. That is a huge mistake.
§ Mr. Jopling
A late start of the legislative programme will cause a log jam later in the year. The Bills will not reach the Lords until far too late in the Session. The Lords must pursue their programmes, which include archaic and ludicrous rules such as all Bills being taken on the Floor of the House. I hope that, in time, that fatuous situation will change, but I know that we are not allowed to criticise. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) should take it from me that if the programme does not get away to a flying start and Bills complete their Committee stage well before Christmas, it will run into serious problems later. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
§ Mr. Riddick
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) is making an extremely interesting speech, but surely serious problems arise only if there is a heavy legislative programme. I hope that we shall see fewer Bills before the House in this Session because the country is suffering a little from legislation fatigue. Less legislation would benefit the country as a whole.
§ Sir David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that by the end of January the Finance Bill will be in Committee and will further clog up the process?
§ Mr. Jopling
Yes, of course that is so. Even if the Session had begun on Tuesday 9 November, the new practice of staging the Budget before Christmas means that only five Bills could be in Committee before Christmas. That leads me to the firm conclusion that future Sessions must begin in October. If they start in November, the Government are always running to try to catch up, and that is a great mistake.
I am glad that in the Queen's Speech it appears that there will not be a huge number of Bills. The leader of the Liberal Democrats was quite wrong to say that those Bills are not of great importance. I counted 12 massive Bills of huge import in the Gracious Speech.
Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, I stress that the Government and the business managers must resist shuffling extra Bills into the programme under the immortal wordsOther measures will be laid before you".
Business managers must do everything possible to ensure that the Session begins in October so that, with the new phenomenon of a winter Budget, a good start can be made and we are not always chasing ourselves to catch up.
Following from the Select Committee report to which I referred earlier, the Government must also try to do everything in their power to complete the legislative programme in July without an overspill. A short legislative Session this year will reap massive benefits in the next. I hope that the business managers will be extremely tough with their colleagues; otherwise our legislative programme will continue to be muddled in the years ahead.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) who has a distinguished record of service in the House. I also appreciate his valuable work on reviewing the procedures of the House. He said that he has had 29 years' service. I have served for almost 28 years and, like him, I remember the reforms introduced by the late Richard Crossman when he was Leader of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was concerned about the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and referred to it as a weak speech. I thought that, far from being weak, it told the truth about the Government's record. That is what irritated Conservative Members.
The Gracious Speech seemed to contain few surprises. The accent is on deregulation, and on law and order. It can be argued that deregulation is essentially about a lowering of standards, whether safety standards or conditions at work. The Government seem to feel that the country's salvation lies in its being a sweatshop economy.
Deregulation is also intended to lead to more privatisation. My impression is that the general public are now heartily sick of the word "privatisation", and that impression has been reinforced by the fight being put up by the workers at the Patent Office in Newport. I am glad to see that the Minister responsible is present. The public support the workers against any privatisation proposal. Hundreds of jobs are at stake, and the issue of the intellectual content of the work carried out there and the danger of its falling into the wrong hands are also important. The establishment has recently been given an award for efficiency. No wonder that even the local women's institutes are lodging their protests against the Government's proposals, which seem to take dogma to the nth degree. The Government would be well advised to leave that establishment alone.
A proposal to reorganise local government in Wales is included in the Gracious Speech. That proposal comes 20 years after the expensive extravaganza, which nearly broke the Bank of England, carried out by Lord Walker. It seems that Wales is now to be divided into unitary authorities. Newport will welcome the return to a one-tier authority because it was a successful county borough until the 1973 reorganisation. That status should never have been taken away and I fought hard at the time to prevent the change. However, I regret the demise of Gwent county council which, together with its predecessor, Monmouthshire county council, has a record of service to the general public going back for more than 100 years.
We must appreciate that much of the power of local government has been eroded. I say that with deep regret, because British local government was once an example to the rest of the world. Local autonomy and local decision making are the very heartbeat of democracy. So much has changed. The Treasury and central Government now have overall control. That may be inevitable, as only 8 per cent. of local expenditure is now raised locally; the rest comes from central Government. It is inevitable, as night follows day, that he who pays the piper calls the tune. We need to look again and to devise a system in which local government, once again, becomes truly local and in which finance can be raised locally to provide projects and services in line with the wishes of local residents.
48 The major theme of the Gracious Speech is the fight against crime. No longer can the Conservatives make any claim to be the party of law and order. The Government have failed dismally and it is no good their making the police a scapegoat. Our local Gwent police are up in arms against alleged Government plans to create a super-force by merging Gwent with the South Wales constabulary. Such a change would be a retrograde step. My experience during a long time in public life leads me to believe that bigger units mean less efficiency and more bureaucracy, and, in the case of the police, an undermining of links with the local community which are so essential.
The Gwent police force, like other police forces facing a rising tide of crime, has been up against it in recent years, yet it has coped better than most. It has a 47 per cent. clear-up rate whereas the national average is just 30 per cent. The Gwent police force should be left well alone. I appreciate, of course, that, according to the local government proposals for Wales put forward by the Secretary of State, county boundaries in a limited sense will still be recognised. If one accepts that, there could be a Gwent police force, including Caerphilly and Merthyr, which would at least be the lesser of two evils.
The rising tide of crime undoubtedly gives great cause for concern to all of us. At the recent Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary listed no fewer than 27 points for combating crime. The accent seemed to be on imprisonment. It is one thing to put young people in gaol —heaven knows, so many of them deserve it, especially for their cowardly attacks on elderly people—but experience shows that prisons are a remarkable training ground for criminals. Many young people become habitual offenders after a spell in prison. I agree that we need to be tough on crime, but, as my hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) have said so many times, we also need to be equally tough on the causes of crime.
There are two major factors here. One is obviously mass unemployment and the other is the breakdown in family life as we used to know it. On the first point, I believe that there is much wisdom in the old saying that the devil will find work for idle hands. So many youngsters today have no stake in society, so they engage in car crimes, in muggings and in other crimes. The more vulnerable sections of society, such as women and elderly people, are at risk.
I have heard the Prime Minister say that we had large-scale unemployment during the great depression of the 1930s, but that there was nothing like the present level of crime. That is a perfectly factual statement which I do not dispute. However, it has not been realised that young people today are brought up in a consumer-led, television age. Many come from broken homes. My image of the 1930s—I am a bit older than the Prime Minister is—is of a working-class couple walking down the high street and seeing shop windows full of goods. One says to the other, "It is not for us." In that sense, they were perfectly law-abiding people. Today, by contrast, young people will smash those same shop windows to obtain the goods that they desire.
I believe that there is a distinct relationship between crime, on the one hand, and unemployment and the breakdown of family life, on the other. The police have had the unenviable task of trying to keep the lid on the explosive situation. It is an almost impossible task, and when the police appear to be failing, the Government seem 49 to turn on them. Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, should look instead at the mote in their own eye. The policies that they should have pursued during the past 14 years have contributed so much to the present situation.
The Government have the levers of power, and can do so much to remedy things. In my opinion, Keynes is as relevant as ever on unemployment. Pump priming could do so much, particularly in the construction industry, for instance. Much of the precious North sea oil revenue could have been used to bring our manufacturing industry up to date. Instead, so much was razed to the ground. Even the family silver was sold to bring tax concessions to the better-off sections of the community.
The Government now claim they want to restore traditional family life, presumably as part of the "back to basics" campaign. Personally, I welcome such a development. For me, the trendies have had their say and we can see the results. However, I do not go along with the attacks on unmarried mothers who are so vulnerable at present. We need to look at the basic causes of the situation and see what can be done to remedy things.
The Government have a distorted view of society. They have pandered to individual greed, and now, eventually, they have had to call a halt. There is all manner of speculation about what additional taxation could be contained in the forthcoming Budget. The Government at last seem to recognise the mess that the country is in. Yet where do they turn? They decide to put 17.5 per cent. VAT on domestic fuel, with all the hardship that that will cause to pensioners and the less well-off. What a disgrace the proposal is. Is that what the Prime Minister means by going "back to basics"? Is that a proposal for creating a nation "at ease with itself'?
Heaven knows the country needs a change of Government. I remind Conservative Members of what happened recently in Canada. The electorate gave their verdict and only two Conservative Members were returned to the Canadian Parliament. It seems that the feeling in this country is now hardening in such a way against the Government. A general election cannot come too soon.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), with whom I have debated for most of the 28 years to which he referred. I know that he will forgive me if I do not follow him exactly in the way in which he described the nation's fortunes. The hon. Gentleman might remember that events in Canada did not do the Labour party much good, because the party is not represented there.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on an absolutely first-class speech. The speech will be particularly welcomed in my constituency, since my right hon. Friend referred in detail to legislation to be introduced to deal with new age travellers and hippies. Those people are a serious threat to my constituency. Part of the New Forest, Stoney Cross, was invaded by a menacing group of no fewer than 600 individuals. The thought of a relief from that threat in the future will bring great happiness and encouragement to my constituents.
Much of the Gracious Speech deals with Europe and with the economy. The European aspects are of enormous 50 importance, as they were during the debates in the previous Session. We find on page 1 of the speech the following statement:Now that the Treaty of Maastricht has entered into force, My Government will attach particular importance to implementing the new common foreign and security policy.
I hope that if there is to be a common foreign policy—I am far from convinced that that is possible—it will not be drawn up in the same way as appears to have been the case over the former Yugoslavia. The policy has been led by German decisions, which have been followed meekly by everyone else.
The leader of the Liberal Democrat party seemed to give the impression that the House agrees with his policies for the former Yugoslavia. All that I can say is, had we bombed Serbia and carried out the other policies which he suggested, there would have been a major international war in the former Yugoslavia.
It is ungenerous of the right hon. Gentleman—a former soldier—not to acknowledge the incredible commitment of the British Government to assist with the humanitarian effort in that part of the world. We have the largest single group of troops in the Balkans and they are assisting that effort. I believe that it will hardly encourage those British soldiers to continue if they are now told that their efforts have been in vain. Far from being in vain, they have done a first-class job of work.
When it comes to the security policy, I am reminded of the fact that a European army has sprung into being within the past two weeks. This most unusual organisation speaks—at the moment—two languages and a third is being pressed upon it by one of its member states. In many international organisations, English is the common tongue. I do not think that that is a particularly good idea, but it must be a convenience for those who do not speak foreign languages. It has been decided that orders in the European army will be given either in French or in German. However, one of that army's component members is Belgium and, as we know, Flemish is also spoken in that country. The Belgians are threatening to withdraw their contingent from the army unless orders are also given in that tongue.
The point that I am making is serious. Thankfully, we are not contributing troops to that European army. However, are we contributing financial support to the idea of a European army? If we were to do that, or we were to become involved in such an enterprise, I believe that we would lose the freedom to place our troops in situations such as Northern Ireland where, unfortunately, those troops are frequently necessary.
It would be extremely dangerous to hand our future security arrangements to an organisation of that kind. Indeed, one is concerned at the cost of the huge European adventure. I was interested to see a reference in today's edition of The Times to how the Germans see the future of Europe as it is mapped out post Maastricht. The report in today's edition of The Times states:The high level of German funding of the European Community is no longer justified according to the Bundesbank; it's November monthly report says that Germany's position as the biggest net contributor was justifiable up to unification, when West German living standards were second only to Luxembourg in the EC. Since then Germany has fallen to sixth place, while the country's net EC contributions grew from DM19.1 billion in 1991 to DM22 billion last year.
The German contribution is being called into question by the German central bank, the Bundesbank. 51 If we continue with such wild adventures, how long will it be before we have to ask almost the same questions as the Germans? Page 2 of the Gracious Speech states:My Government will work for a rapid conclusion of accession agreements with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and will continue to put forward the case for European countries which are ready and wish to join the European Community.
Many countries wishing to join the European Community have huge begging bowls stretched in front of them. If there are to be additional members of the Community, we must ensure that it will not be Liberty hall for some, but a place where others have to pay taxes to fill the begging bowls. I am concerned that the widening of the Community beyond some of the countries that appear in the Gracious Speech will lead to a Community where some industrial countries will be expected to pay even more to support the organisation—this country is clearly one of that group as we are one of the three net contributors. It is a dangerous policy, but it goes further than that. Many of the countries that will be joining do not have products that we need and do not have the money to buy the products that we produce. Therefore, we will be heading towards a negative economic position. If we consider our balance of payments deficit against the other 12 nations, we find that we are in surplus with only two of them, but are in deficit with the others.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to seek a wider European Community—or European Union as it is now—rather than the deeper federal Europe which I think he is describing?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a near neighbour of mine in parliamentary terms, for his intervention. One reason that has always been advanced, perhaps covertly, for widening the Community is that it will submerge the Germans. One of the principal questions that we must now address is whether we want a European Germany or a German Europe. The hope is that, by widening the Community, we extend it to such a size that we can contain the new rising star in the shape of the unified Germany.
My hon. Friend, while understanding the policy that I have just mentioned, must also realise that it will not have the desired effect. Germany will not be contained by having many other countries in the Community alongside it; the Germans will go their own way, as shown in my comments on Yugoslavia and in my quotation about the Bundesbank in today's newspaper.
We must recognise that we are part of Europe and intend to remain in Europe; there is no question of our not being there. I believe that I can consider myself a perfectly good European—I have a home in Europe——
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
That is right. I have a home in France as well, which is also in Europe.
The Community is a trading organisation and should have a positive effect on this country's balance sheet. It should not become what the nationalised industries used to be: a sink for taxpayers' money. I hope that future European legislation that comes before the House 52 demanding that we pay even more will not be the modern version of the old borrowing powers legislation for the nationalised industries to which some of us became accustomed in the past.
§ Mr. Marlow
A seductive little measure about increasing our commitment in terms of resources to the European Community is signalled in the Gracious Speech. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what he thinks about that?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
As my hon. Friend will no doubt have anticipated, I am uneasy about it. That is precisely what is happening—we are gradually becoming the paymaster of an organisation over which we have no direct control. I gave the apparently farcical example of the European army, but it is not farcical because it is there tonight and somebody is paying for it. We must be much tougher in the House when deciding how much money we can justifiably spend on the great march towards the future integration of all the countries in the Community and the wider community to which I have referred.
On the British economy and the Budget, page 3 of the Gracious Speech states:My Government will bring together tax and expenditure decisions in a unified Budget. Fiscal policy will be set to bring the budget deficit back towards balance over the medium term.
Yes, there is a £50 billion overdraft and it exists because revenues have fallen due to the recession. Benefits have had to rise and more money has had to be spent by the Exchequer. However, I hope that the Chancellor will not try to get rid of that deficit at one stroke. Any attempt to do that will lead to a complete collapse of the recovery that we are all nurturing and hoping will grow.
I very much hope that on 30 November, when the Budget is unveiled, it does not contain substantial tax increases. The previous Chancellor set in train a policy which means that a substantial number of taxes are already waiting in the pipeline—unfortunately, some will be arriving quite soon. The Gracious Speech contains references to employees' contributions to national insurance. Such measures are all additional taxes.
Therefore, it is much more important for the Chancellor to recognise that all he needs to do in the Budget is to take such action as is necessary to continue to promote the confidence in our currency which is held by those overseas who can almost determine our future. To ensure that the holders of sterling retain confidence in our currency is the only objective about which the Chancellor need worry. Any attempt to try to balance the deficit at one stroke, given that it grew as a result of various unpredictable factors in a world recession, would be a disaster. I am absolutely convinced that any attempt to do that would not only produce hardship for individuals, but would ensure that, far from coming out of recession, we slid back into it.
At present, the economy has a number of satisfactory features. There is low inflation, an improving balance of payments and, as we heard today, a reduction in the level of unemployment. However, it is a precious and fairly sensitive plant that needs all the encouragement that it can get. I hope that, rather than raising taxes on 30 November, the Chancellor will produce incentives and encouragements for industry and individuals to take advantage of the recovery in our economy.
A good and full programme has been set out before us today which has within it a number of extremely innovative and interesting ideas. I am glad to see that we 53 are moving away from the days of the commanding heights of the economy, so much beloved by the Labour party, towards industries such as coal, steel and the rest, which are standing on their own feet and making money for the people who work in those industries. The Labour party does not need to congratulate itself on anything that it ever did for the coal industry. I remember speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box when the Labour party was in government. The Minister announced a plan for pit closures that cut the industry in half at a stroke, so the Labour party has nothing to teach us about the coal industry.
It is a first-class Gracious Speech and one which I warmly support.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I cannot ever recall following the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) in a debate. On many occasions I followed his brother, who, at that time, was the hon. Member for Newbury, but sadly is no longer with us—a great loss. There were times when he followed me and we were able frequently to register our accord on areas of common concern. However, on this occasion I shall move on.
I must register my regret at my inability to be in attendance this morning for the Gracious Speech, but I was returning from Washington, where I represented the House on the scientific and technical committee of the North Atlantic Assembly.
On Tuesday afternoon we had a chilling session with the newly appointed director of the Environment Protection Agency, which has responsibility for the management of nuclear waste. The House may remember that I have some knowledge of that topic having led a campaign for some 18 months to two years when it was the flavour of debate in Britain. I thought that I knew something about that topic.
However, I must tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the newly appointed director of the EPA reduced the sub-committee to a state of shocked silence. There was no confusion but a total inability of the sub-committee to express the degree of its fear at the facts that the director released about the situation in the United States. I have known for some time that systems in the United States are much more open than ours. In fact, on my inquiries about the nuclear industry in this country, my best, safest and most reliable source of information has always been the library of Congress. But I was unprepared for the level of apprehension that permeates the EPA in the United States. That prompted me to look in the Gracious Speech for reference. I see that we are bound to take forward environment agency planning. I hope that when the Government are taking it forward they go for a briefing from the newly appointed director of the EPA in Washington.
There is good news in the Gracious Speech about the chemical weapons convention and the indefinite and unconditional extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That is fine, but it leads me to ask, if there is to be the indefinite and unconditional extension of that treaty, why are we still manufacturing nuclear warheads? We continue to do that. If that is non-proliferation, I do not understand the English language.
54 However, a constructive part in negotiations on a verifiable comprehensive nuclear test ban is fine, although I was not aware that some of our chief scientists are unwilling to accept the computer modelling and want to go back and take full advantage of the three tests that are reserved for us if President Clinton decides to remove his moratorium. The comment that the Government willwork to ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is applied …
is wonderful, or it would be if it were not simply confined to European Community legislation. I would not mind some subsidiarity between the Government and Stockton borough council, for instance. That council is elected by my constituents. Many members of the Government are not and never would be.
I welcome, too, the words that theGovernment will maintain a substantial aid programme to promote sustainable development and good Government.
That would be fine if it were true and if it were on the increase rather than the decrease, because all the Government have sought to do is drive it into an inkwell in the desk rather than into the ledger of outgoing expenditure.
We heard earlier that the Home Secretary gave as a gift to his departing Parliamentary Private Secretary a book entitled "Modern Fairy Tales". I want to tell you a story, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is modern, but is far from being a fairy tale. It is fact. It is slightly complex. I shall distil it down to the basic elements and will try to be as brief as I can—about 10 minutes, I hope.
A small advertising agency is a customer of a high street bank. It starts its business, has no borrowings and is in credit with its bank. It wins a contract to promote one of four telephone systems licensed by the DTI with a consortium, where its own bank is a' ne third shareholder, together with an oil company and an electronics company. They each own one third. They engage the advertising agency to work for it. The bank, incidentally, has the advertising agency's account.
The contract accounts for about 70 per cent. of the advertising agency's business and the company is geared up to handle an account that is backed by three of the biggest and most reputable companies in the world, all AAA credit rated. They are by far the main source of the agency's reliable and regular income. Let us be clear—ad-man's bank is now ad-man's employer. Suddenly, the consortium stops honouring its contract. It does that by not paying more than £500,000 in less than four months. The consortium defaults on payment. The cash flow of the advertising agency clearly is devastated and the work force must be cut.
The agency finds itself sitting in a meeting with one of the biggest receivers in the country, which tells it that the consortium has no assets and will be able to pay the agency only if another buyer can be found for the consortium's business. It is a pretty grim picture: three of the biggest corporations in the world join together but have no assets. That is astonishing.
However, out of the east comes a saviour—a relative "superman". He scoops up the business and apparently saves the day. He is welcomed with open arms and open pockets by the Government, who, incidentally, have received donations exceeding more than £1 million from him to its party coffers. He was thought, perhaps, to be able to save Canary wharf and perhaps pump billions of dollars into a British economy that sorely needed such an injection. 55 That year, his eastern empire acquired many British telecommunications companies and their DTI-granted licences, which was probably what he was more interested in buying than the companies. Incidentally, while that was going on, the high street bank, one of the third partners in the consortium, got 5 per cent. of the shares in our eastern superman's United Kingdom operations as part of the deal that had been agreed.
But what about the small advertising business? To survive, it ran up a large overdraft. It was charged interest on the overdraft, laid off a third of its staff, earned itself a bad credit rating and lost several major clients. That is thought by some to be the inevitable consequence of a positive exercise of healthy and robust capitalism, is it not? Did they all live happily ever after?
Superman's company immediately demanded the worldwide copyright in a now famous logo that belonged to the owner of the advertising agency. It is on every high street. Sadly, our eastern superman was not prepared to pay for the logo. When our ad-man refused to let him have it without payment, he was fired. The agency was somewhat aggrieved by that sequence of events, so it began to advertise its complaint about its bank on a giant mobile poster which it trundled around the country. The high street bank offered the agency a £400,000 overdraft facility if it would sign a "gagging agreement".
If that astonishing document had been accepted, it would have prevented the ad-man from ever criticising or suing the banker. Once signed, neither party could have told anyone that the document existed. However, our ad-man refused to sign the agreement and the high street bank refused to restore the facility. Therefore, a business with a £7 million turnover had to stop trading and 43 people signed on the dole as unemployed.
I am afraid to say that the story does not end there; it begins there. Our eastern superman sued the ad-man and the owner of the agency for the logo copyright.
§ Mr. Cook
All the facts are recorded in the courts. I notice that at least one hon. Member has entered the Chamber to listen, so if any questions arise about the veracity or validity of all this, I am sure that they will be put in the usual way.
Our eastern superman sued the ad-man and the ad agency's owner for the logo copyright. The ad-man, in turn, sued the bank, the oil company, the electronics company and superman. We have a classic court case which is typical of our British modus operandi. The battle has continued for two years. The eastern superman has yet to prove his ownership of the logo. Nevertheless, it has been used on every high street, in every bank branch and in many other places. It appears during many sporting occasions. We see it regularly on our television screens.
When I raised this matter during the debate on the Queen's Speech last year, the bank sued the ad-man for his overdraft the very next day. The bank obtained a High Court judgment and it used that judgment to quash the interest that had been generated by my speech. I remind the House that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell), who followed me in the debate on the Queen's Speech last year, was sufficiently concerned about these issues that he wrote to all and sundry. He wrote to the Prime Minister, to the 56 then Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the then Governor of the Bank of England, to the Department of Trade and Industry and to the chairmen of the four companies involved. To his eternal credit, the hon. Gentleman has conducted himself very diligently in trying to assist me to resolve these matters because they have a direct bearing on the affairs of everyone in this country.
Under enormous pressure from the three multinationals and his own high street bank, the owner of the ad agency even tried to invoke the citizens charter because he had heard a lot about it. That did him no good at all and he is very disappointed about it. I doubt very much whether he will ever vote for the Government again—if he ever did in the first place.
However, the ad agency owner's early efforts earned him full legal aid. Eight other national and multinational companies were sucked into the copyright dispute because they had been displaying his logo when they had no right to do so without his permission. The ad agency owner's bank and the telecom company had done everything in their power to stifle his legal action and legitimate claims. They even instigated criminal proceedings against the ad-man and wasted two days of Crown court time and taxpayers' money trying to add credibility to their own legal position. The jury took less than five minutes to find the ad agency not guilty on all counts. The jury pitched the case out of court and it did that after the bank had obtained the High Court injunction to stifle publication.
The ad agency has now discovered—and this is a real twist to the tail—that its own bank, the bank in question, had failed to pay it £43,000 in interest on its account. The ad-man had his accounts checked by professionals who went over them in detail. They found that, had the bank operated the affairs properly, when it pulled the plug for the sake of the overdraft, the advertising agency would have been £43,000 in credit. Payment could not have been denied in that case.
The bank calls it a "clerical error" and it has apologised. It is offering "to knock it off the final bill." That is like giving a blood transfusion to a corpse. The bank had no right to stop the payment on the account anyway. The whole thing is not only preposterous, it is so farcical that high comedy could not do justice to it.
The ad agency has overturned the bank's High Court judgment. However, to add insult to injury, it transpires that for the past two years the bank has been deliberately misleading the High Court of Justice. It asserted that it was only one third responsible. In fact, the bank had complete control over the consortium during the sale because the oil company and the electronics company had sold their shares to the bank. Therefore, the bank had total control. However, those transactions are not registered properly.
The bank decided not to honour the ad-man's contract. However, it paid the Test and County Cricket Board, which was a creditor of the agency. If all that is not enough of a conflict of interest, the bank has also given our eastern superman the telecom company—in which it was a 5 per cent. shareholder—a guarantee that the logo did not belong to the ad-man. The bank guaranteed that. No wonder the logo is everywhere. In other words, a high street bank sold the property of one of its customers without consulting the customer. The bank guaranteed it to the buyer, but withdrew the customer's facilities to avoid having to pay out under the guarantee.
The bank had a privileged position as the ad agency's banker with an intimate knowledge of its financial 57 circumstances and those of its directors. The bank portrayed itself as an honest broker, but it did not disclose that vested interest. In other words, it breached its trust.
When the bank sued the now penniless agency and its legally aided directors, it was the only creditor of the agency with a vested interest in not being paid. For the bank to be paid, its business partner—the telecom company—would have to lose and that would cost the bank very dearly under its warranty.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I have some difficulty in relating this to the Queen's Speech. However, I am sure that the link will become clear any second.
§ Mr. Cook
Indeed, it will. It is in the punchline.
I questioned the chairman of the bank last year at the bank's annual general meeting about the "gagging agreements" to which I have referred. He told me that they do not exist. When I pulled one from my pocket, he was most surprised. He said that it was unique in his experience. He also told me that his bank had never been more than a minority shareholder in the consortium company. I remember watching a former Chancellor, who is now a director of the bank, sitting beside the chairman on the podium shaking his head in disbelief at what was coming out. He was right to do so because it turns out that the bank has enforced literally thousands of those "gagging agreements". As a result of media coverage, an organisation called SAFE has been formed. It is ironic to think of the expression "as safe as banks", but SAFE stands for "Struggle Against Financial Exploitation." It will all become clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I promise you.
It now turns out that the bank controlled the consortium company, too, and has been misleading the High Court. When last heard of, the bank was attempting in court to arguethat bankers do not owe their customers a duty not to seek to take undue advantage of their economic strength, a duty not to exercise economic duress, and a duty not to seek to intimidate.
They are all remarkable statements of intent and objective. The bank's attempts to mislead, conceal and destroy the agency and its directors to prevent the claim against the warranty is nothing short of scandalous.
It is important that we consider these matters, because the agency and its directors have survived to tell the tale. It is the story of David and Goliath, but this David happens to be in the communications business. His attitude is that if someone is trying to kill one, tell the media about it and bring it into the open. For years, it seems, some high street banks have got away with financial assassination. They have dragged their victims down dark alleys of litigation and beaten them to death with court actions. Because of their position of privilege, power and trust, they have been allowed to abuse the judicial system to gag their unfortunate victims—that is, their critics. They tried to drag the ad-man down that same dark alley, but they cannot get away with that in the full glare of media because he will not allow it.
The agency asked the Bank of England to investigate the matter in its supervisory role over high street banks with regard to the Banking Act 1987. The Department of Trade and Industry has been asked to investigate the matter under the Companies Acts. What has been the result of that? Not a lot. The Bank of England held a meeting with the agency on 11 November. The bank put up two deputy heads of supervision, two representatives from its legal 58 unit, an analyst, and the head of the serious investigation unit. The complaint against the bank was explained and names were put forward in confidence.
The Bank of England went to great pains to justify its modus operandi of secrecy and confirmed that the outcome of any investigation, if an investigation were to be made, would always remain secret. It emphasised its preference for settling rather than, as the representatives put it, rocking the boat. The ad-man would have to trust the Bank of England that it would do something at all. In the light of experience with BCCI, we seem to be learning very few lessons.
The ad-man asked whether legal actions were permitted under the Banking Act 1987. That, apparently, is within the domain only of the Bank of England, and it was not at liberty to tell the ad-man of any previous judgments, if any, that had been obtained under that Act. That is hardly open government a la the citizens charter.
The image of the friendly banker is a sham. Arthur Lowe's Captain Mainwaring has become Arthur Daley, in the eyes of the people of this country, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening. Big institutions should be big enough to admit their mistakes and rectify them. Small businesses will never grow into large businesses or be able to pay back their debts if banks panic and send in the bailiffs, especially when they do so in respect of small businesses which still have healthy order books.
We are legislators. It is up to us and the Bank of England to formulate and apply clear guidelines that everyone can understand. This case reveals matters in which bank-funded ombudsmen fear to tread. They are too dependent for their own existence on the banks that they are supposed to scrutinise. What can one do if one's bank has a conflict of interest and it has one by the financial proverbials? In the past, far too many have failed because the odds have been too great. We must ensure that our banks put the interests of their customers first —you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the borrowers and depositors. It is the growth and prosperity of customers that benefit the shareholders and, more important, this country. We really must ask where the banks' interests lie—with their shareholders or customers?
The House has an honourable history of protecting the interests of the ordinary citizen. We should recognise that tradition and continue it. Without employment legislation, we would have slavery. Without landlord and tenants Acts, we would have Rachmanism. Without effective regulation of the British banking system, we would have economic usury.
The House might like to know that the telecom company has announced that its business is to close on 31 December. That announcement was made without settling with the ad-man. It has, however, announced provision to cover all closure costs, estimated at £122 million. It has indicated to the ad-man that it wishes to settle, although it has not stated figures, but the banks still have not agreed to settle. It is a pity that the bank does not record similar readiness, not just with the ad-man but with the many other businesses which have had similar grounds for redress.
Last year, I made this matter a principal item in my contribution. At that time, I asked that there be, if not a royal commission, at least a judicial review. Not only was my request ignored by Conservative Members other than the hon. Member for Corby, to whom I have already paid tribute—I do not qualify that tribute in any way—but the 59 Queen's Speech did not even refer to the financial institutions of this country and the grossly inept manner in which they are being operated. After the BCCI affair, that is an insult to the British People.
§ Sir David Knox (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) is a popular Member, but I am sure that the House will be relieved to know that I do not intend to follow his points. Indeed, he lost me at an early stage, and I only hope to make some sense of the hon. Gentleman's speech when I read Hansard tomorrow.
We have just completed one of the longest Sessions of Parliament in memory—a Session that was dominated by the Maastricht Bill, as you know better than most, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There were also many other long and important Bills. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) suggested that the Queen's Speech did not contain quite so much legislation this Session. I am bound to say that my reading of the Gracious Speech suggests that we have another heavy programme of legislation before us.
When the Conservative party was in opposition prior to the 1979 general election, it argued, with great justification, that there had been far too much legislation in previous years and that a Conservative Government would mean less legislation. That is one election promise that has not been kept, as we seem to have had more legislation than ever during the past 14 years. I often wonder whether some of my right hon. Friends realise the problems, inconvenience, trouble and, often, muddle that such frenetic legislative activity causes those in the real world who are trying to get on with their jobs. Unfortunately, all too often, for one reason or another, legislation fails to achieve its objectives and causes more problems than it solves. Often, further legislation is introduced on the same matter before the original legislation has had time to settle down.
It is not that I greatly dispute most of the legislative proposals in the Gracious Speech, but there are too many and they might have been spread over two or even three Sessions. I particularly welcome the Bill on Sunday trading. The present laws are a mess and are widely ignored. Although I hope that the House will vote for unrestricted Sunday trading, which undoubtedly is what most people want, it is important to resolve the matter once and for all. Local authorities, shoppers and shopkeepers are fed up with the present situation, and it must be clarified.
As for lightening the legislative load, perhaps I may suggest for a start that the Bill to reform student unions be dropped. I do not think that it would be any great loss. That Bill would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Given the recent action taken by the National Union of Students, it is now unnecessary in any event.
I warmly welcome the references in the Gracious Speech to the European Community. Over the past 18 months, the European Communities (Amendment) Bill has wound its weary way through the House. Despite the claims of its opponents, it was a small but important step forward in the development of the Community. The thing 60 that distressed me most as the Bill Passed thought the House was that the real objective of the Community seemed to be Forgotten.
Twice in this century, awful Wars Which started in Europe resulted in the slaughter of the cream of the Youth of Europe and the destruction of industry and Property throughout Europe. Both Wars could have been avoided if Europe had been united. After 1945, the other countries in Europe looked to Britain to take a lead in uniting Europe. Alas, they looked in vain. Eventually, they decided to take on the task themselves. We refused to go along with them.
At the Messina conference in 1955, we sent only a Board of Trade official, the unfortunate Mr. Bretherton, as an observer. When he left he said:I leave Messina happy, because even if you continue meeting, you will not agree; even if you agree, nothing will result; and even if something results, it will be a disaster.
He was hopelessly and utterly wrong. However, I am afraid that for too much of the past 40 years, Mr. Bretherton's attitude has been that of this country—and it has been to our great disadvantage.
As the Community was being set up in the mid-1950s, we tried to negotiate a free trade area. The Six rejected that. They wanted a customs union. They wanted to build a Community that would lead to the unity of Europe, and that is what they formed. Four years after the formation of the Community, it became obvious to this country that our failure to join had not been in our best interests. Frankly, we had missed the bus. We then applied to join. We applied to join not a free trade area but the European Economic Community. In his statement announcing our application, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, said:This is a political as well as an economic issue. Although the Treaty of Rome is concerned with economic matters it has an important political objective, namely, to promote unity and stability in Europe".—[Official Report, 31 July 1961; Vol. 645, c. 928.]
That was 32 years ago.
Let us have no more pretence that the organisation that we eventually joined in 1973 was merely about free trade. It was about the unity of Europe in 1961 when we first applied to join, it was about the unity of Europe in 1973 when we joined and it is still about the unity of Europe today. Indeed, if the Six had not believed that we were committed to that in the early 1970s, we would never have been allowed to join in the first place. They have not changed their view, and they do not expect us to do so either.
The constitutional form of unity was not spelt out then, and it need not be spelt out today; it will depend on how the Community institutions develop and evolve. The process should not be forced. It should move forward steadily and surely. No one knows how it will finish. That is why a dogmatic rejection of federalism or, for that matter, any other system is absurd at this stage.
At present, we hear a great deal, especially in this country, about a change of view in other Community countries. We are told that they are coming around to our view about the future of the Community, whatever that is. During a recession, such as the one that the Community is passing through at present, people tend to lose confidence in their institutions. Certainly there is less confidence in the Community today than there was before the recession. Of course, that is also true of national Governments—there is less confidence in them as well. But when the Community 61 emerges from recession, the lack of confidence will disappear and the Community will resume its forward march once again.
I hope and pray that this country will adopt a positive attitude to the future development of the Community and not be dragged along reluctantly, as we have been so often in the past. At present, I am thinking especially of the exchange rate mechanism and the economic and monetary union. When we came out of the ERM just over a year ago, the advantages were obvious. Our immediate problems were relieved. The run on the pound was halted; it was no longer necessary to maintain interest rates at such a high level; and exports became cheaper and easier to sell, with beneficial results to the balance of payments. But in the medium and long term, there will be a price to pay for that. The disciplinary effects of the ERM on inflation are no longer there. There is no effective alternative to replace that, unless one believes in the discredited theories of monetarism, which I certainly do not.
The price of imported raw materials will rise, with disadvantageous results. Worst of all, floating exchange rates will bring back the uncertainty that has been so damaging to our international trade and the manufacturing sector over the past 20 years since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement. To sell abroad is hard grind, requiring years of patient slog to interest potential customers in products. When the exchange rate is reasonably stable, exporters attract sales with good stable prices, good-quality products and early delivery dates; but when exchange rates are floating, quality goods and early delivery dates can easily be undermined by an adverse movement in the exchange rate. Years of work building up confidence with customers can be destroyed overnight.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer
I do not understand part of my hon. Friend's argument. We are out of the exchange rate mechanism now; we do not have inflation—in fact, we have low inflation —and we do not have instability. What will happen suddenly to change events?
§ Sir David Knox
I am referring to what happened when we had floating exchange rates. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well, because he is knowledgeable about these matters, that he is talking about the short-term position. It is only one year since we came out of the ERM. During the 1980s, the fluctuations in sterling were devastating to the manufacturing sector of this country. I shall come to that matter in a moment.
Undoubtedly, there has been a substantial adverse effect on the manufacturing sector as a result of floating exchange rates. It is no coincidence that manufacturing output rose by 88 per cent. between 1952 and 1972 when we had reasonably stable exchange rates under the Bretton Woods agreement. It increased by only 8 per cent. in the 20 years between 1972 and 1992, when for most of the time we had floating exchange rates. The simple truth is that the arguments that led my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to join the ERM in 1990 are still valid. In my view, the mistake that was made was that we joined with sterling considerably over-valued.
The argument that somehow the British economy is the only one that cannot be in an exchange rate mechanism is deeply worrying. Are those such as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) saying that our economy is so weak that we cannot match the performance of the other countries? In any case, how did 62 we manage, under the Bretton Woods agreement, to last in an exchange rate mechanism from 1944 until the early 1970s? I believe that the present Government are concerned about the balance of payments and about the manufacturing sector. I believe, therefore, that they must take a positive attitude to rejoining the ERM at the earliest possible time. I am not saying that that should be tomorrow or even within the next 12 months, but I hope that positive action will be taken to rejoin the mechanism as soon as possible.
I now turn to economic and monetary union. I hope that the Government will also take a positive view on that. There is no doubt that at least 10 of the 12 countries in the Community intend to move forward to economic and monetary union and to a single currency, although that may take a little longer than was envisaged in the timetable decided at Maastricht. We should, in our own interests, be involved in that from the beginning.
A single currency is essential if we are to gain the full advantages from the single market; indeed, the single market will not operate properly unless there is a single currency. Surely no one seriously suggests that the United States of America would be as prosperous as it is if all the states had separate currencies, with all the obstacles that that would create for the flow of trade and other economic activity, not to mention the cost of changing currencies. If that is true of the United States of America, it must also be true of the European Community.
Already we have suffered from our opt-out from EMU at Maastricht. The siting of the European Monetary Institute in Frankfurt rather than in London is the economic price to be paid by the City of London for our political ambivalence towards economic and monetary union. In my view, it was not a price worth paying.
I hope that in the years ahead the Government will press on with enthusiasm with the implementation of the Maastricht treaty. I hope also that they will adopt a positive attitude towards the Community and its development. We need to hear far more from the Government about the advantages of the Community and its achievements and far less about its supposed defects, most of which are trivial.
When we signed the treaty of accession in 1972, 21 years ago, we committed our future to the European Community. It is in Britain's interests to do everything that we can to ensure that the Community achieves its full potential.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I had better declare an interest from the word go. What I have to say tonight affects many barristers and I am a practising barrister. It affects many subjects that will affect real people in real circumstances in what I call a shambles of a country.
During the summer I heard, as did many other hon. Members, the new Home Secretary almost charging across the media—there was not a day when his shining face was not to be seen on the box—telling us that he had the perfect answer to the fight against crime. At Blackpool he outlined 27 points. I may be a cynic—I probably am—but I could not find one of those points that would catch a single villain.
Having been in the trade, as it were, man and boy, solicitor and barrister, for the best part of 30 years—including my time as a student—I know a little bit about 63 it. The first step in fighting crime is to make the fear of detection a deterrent. People are frightened only if they know that they will be caught.
During the summer, I carried out some inquiries. I asked how many of every 50 crimes that are committed in this country are detected and, if the case is not discontinued for some reason, result in a court appearance or a caution. The answer came back: one. We are so good at fighting crime that we detect one in 50 offences.
That is not good enough. It used to be much more. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) said earlier that there was a 47 per cent. clear-up rate in his area. That is wonderful, but some areas have a virtually zero clear-up rate. There are areas where crimes are not even investigated. There are areas in this country of ours where burglary, if it is commercial, is not even investigated because the police do not have the resources. Hon. Members have rightly said that car crimes are not investigated. They are recorded, but not investigated. They are not even recorded on occasions because the figures are getting too big.
Does putting people in prison—I would be the first to say that a lot of people deserve to be in prison, and I am not soft on crime—for longer and longer periods help us to detect a single crime? No. Does changing the right of silence help us to detect a single crime? It is a fundamental fact that it goes against Magna Carta, but one cannot expect that to register with the Government these days. Will that detect a single crime? No.
I sat on the Standing Committee that considered the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Time and again, I said that section 29, which says that one could not take previous offences into account, would not work. I said that section 1(2)(a) would not work because one can only charge a sentence on the first two of however many counts there were. I said that it was a load of rubbish; all lawyers said that it was a load of rubbish; the judges said that it was a load of rubbish. Did the Government listen? No.
The minute the legislation came into effect it was proved to be a load of rubbish. What happened? The Government amended the law in accordance with what the professionals had said all the way through. The Government do not think, and, when it comes to criminal justice, they cannot think. What sort of society do we live in when we have a rising crime rate that is going through the roof? I know that it is now coming down a bit, but not through detections.
There were 192,000 discontinued cases last year. That is 192,000 victims who did not get justice. Why were they discontinued? Shall we blame the Crown Prosecution Service? The Government always have someone to blame. We cannot blame the Crown Prosecution Service. I asked the CPS why the cases were discontinued. The answer was:We did not have enough evidence.
I asked why they did not ask the police for evidence. I was told that their budgets would not stretch to getting it.
Now we begin to touch the truth. If one does not pay policemen to detect crime, one does not catch villains and one does not deter people from committing crime. It is simple. What has happened to the police budgets? There are some lovely stories about that which are quite true. Police budgets have decreased.
64 I was speaking yesterday to a detective inspector in a regional crime squad. He said "Gerry, one of the things that I have to do when I am asked to put out a surveillance team—and they are very good—is to work out whether it is cost-effective."
I said, "What?" He said, "whether it is cost-effective. Will we catch enough villains to justify the expenditure?" I asked what would happen if he did not think that they would. He replied that the team would not do it. The villain who is sought to be observed might be a crack house dealer, a heroin dealer or a cannibis dealer. Observation evidence is vital. One cannot go in there without the evidence to back it up. The crime is not detected and it continues, because there is not enough money for the police force.
It gets even funnier. If a regional crime squad does a major surveillance and its members have run up overtime they do not get paid the overtime. They are sent home. In one case, they ran up 400 hours overtime each. That is 10 weeks—crack detectives at home for 10 weeks, doing nothing, because the Government will not give the police the money that they need to cut down crime.
We will not beat crime until we detect it. The little villain must know that he has a good chance of being caught. I do not say that we shall ever achieve a 100 per cent. detection rate, but we may detect more than one in 50 and bring more villains before the courts.
We are to have a criminal justice Bill and I shall probably end up serving on the Standing Committee again, but it is a waste of time. We will change the laws and make more work for us lawyers—great—but that will not beat crime. The Government will beat crime only by putting their hand in their pocket and paying for the police service that a civilised nation deserves.
It is time people asked the Government for the truth. The Government do not always tell us all the facts. I know that I must not call anybody a liar because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will ask me to withdraw my comment or chuck me out of the Chamber. So, I remind the House that the north American Indians had a lovely descriptive phrase: they spoke of people who talked with forked tongues.
I have a perfect forked tongue tale to tell. The Government believe that individuals should get on their bike, improve themselves and look for work or a better job. The fact that unemployment has been rising since 1979, such that we never knew the like of it, seems of no concern to them. They do not seem to care. In the 1980s, I lost count of the number of changes to the rules. Was it 27 or 32 different ways of calculating unemployment figures?
Let me give the Government a statistic that is undeniable. Of all children over 17 leaving school or college or ceasing to participate in a YTS training scheme in my constituency, only 4 per cent. hope to get work. What a land of no hope for the youth. The forked tongue says, "Get a job and train yourself."
What about the lovely married lady with a young baby in my constituency who seeks to improve herself? She goes to night school and passes her exams. Then comes that wonderful day when she is offered a place at university—not in St. Helens, because we do not have a university, but further afield so that she must travel to it. She is an honest, honourable woman. Her husband is young and, like many of the young men of St. Helens, does not have a job. He does not have a prayer of a job. They are on social security—income support, as it is called. She accepts her 65 grant cheque of £2,800 and intends to stay in lodgings in the university town and to return at the weekends. She goes to the Department of Social Security, where she is told that her husband's benefit will sink back to £34 a week and that he can have 2p for the baby. She says, "We cannot survive on that. Here am I trying to better myself and you are taking away my husband's and our child's income. What am Ito do?" So much for this wonderful Government of ours. "Oh", came the advice, "if you and your husband separate—you cannot even spend the weekends with him—he can have his family income support back and he can keep the child." It is this Government of the family who bring in these rules.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ask me what I think of this country and this Government. How can such separation ever be justified in a civilised society? The other day when I told a welfare worker of this story he said, "Don't be upset about it. It happens all the time. Families have to break up to survive."
The Gracious Speech is all about changing the rules on evidence; there is nothing about funding the fight against crime. One lovely phrase leaps out from the economic section:My Government will continue with firm financial policies designed to support continuing economic growth and rising employment, based on permanently low inflation.
When I walk the streets of St. Helens, I see men in their fifties who have not worked for 10 years or more, not because they do not want to work but because there is no work. When I drive off the motorway to my constituency, I pass Sutton Manor, that old colliery which was there when I was first elected in 1983 and survived almost until the last election, but which is now flattened. I can see the smoke rising from the cooling stacks of the power station three or four miles away where its coal went. Now, my constituents hear the trundling of lorries from Liverpool docks with Mongolian and other imported coal. I ask myself: is this common sense; is this a civilised society? The answer must be no.
For 14 years, we had the oil boom. We had money and the opportunity to invest. The money has been squandered and the opportunity gone. The Government have failed the nation. The industry of St. Helens is in decline. Not a single apprenticeship has been available this year, last year or the previous year. Where are the skills of tomorrow? The Government even sold the skill centres. Then they were closed because they went bankrupt. Where is the training of tomorrow?
I came tonight to make two comments. For goodness sake, leave the criminal justice system alone. Stop tinkering and go after the villains. Go after the people who cause the elderly, the young, the sick and the frail to be frightened to go out at night. Clean up our streets. Please, just employ policemen. That is all that the Government need to do.
Secondly, do not muck around with the magistrates court system. Even the magistrates see how stupid the proposal is. They are up in arms about it. But, of course, this Government do not listen to anybody. They have not listened for 14 years. They are a shambles. It is time they went and let the country return to the standards of decency where thought is given to giving people jobs and hope, where families can grow up as a unit and where housing is available. There are numerous homeless people in my constituency because my council is not allowed to buy or 66 build houses. When will the Government give the people of this land a chance to return to respectable standards? We have suffered from this shoddy shambles for too long.
§ Sir Thomas Arnold (Hazel Grove)
I hope that even the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) would recognise and accept that since the Gracious Speech on 6 May 1992 we have seen a welcome measure of recovery in the economy. Indeed, I would expect both sides of the House to agree that that improvement has been real. It may have been slow, hesitant or less than we would desire, but it has taken place. It holds out a promise for a better future.
Our enforced departure from the exchange rate mechanism last year assisted in the recovery process. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take the view at the very least that the recovery was not hindered by our departure. Indeed, in his brighter moments he may accept that the recovery has been assisted.
Above all, the Government should seek to promote the recovery by every means possible. I trust and believe that that is what the Chancellor will seek to achieve in the Budget on 30 November. It may well be necessary to rebalance policy in order to promote further confidence and hope in the working of our economy. If the Chancellor decides to reduce interest rates to bring that about, I would welcome such a decision. A further reduction in interest rates would not only cut the Government's borrowing bill but would give further confidence and hope to industry, commerce and individuals. Interest rates are a key relative price, and what can be achieved by a change in that key relative price has been demonstrated time and time again. I hope that the Chancellor will seriously consider that possibility, particularly as recent evidence seems to suggest that inflationary pressures on the economy have further abated, and we should all welcome that.
We should not underestimate the very large increases in. taxation due to come into force next spring, and I urge the Chancellor to be cautious about making further increases in taxation beyond a fairly modest level. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), when he was Chancellor, took the view that tax increases should be delayed. The Chancellor should be very cautious about what additional taxation he seeks to impose, given what will come into force next spring.
The engine of our future prosperity must be coaxed and encouraged by every means possible, and the Government should be pragmatic in seeking to bring that about. Welcome though the recent falls in unemployment most definitely are, unemployment and not inflation is now the principal economic problem. By "unemployment" I mean running the economy at a capacity level way below that achieved in the past and what we should aim to achieve in the future. It makes no sense to have an economy containing idle hands, idle resources and idle plant. The Government should do everything possible to get the economy moving further and faster ahead.
In the debate on the Loyal Address in May 1992, and thereafter, I said that economic policy should be about responding to the demands of the domestic needs of the economy and not the other way round. I urge the Government and the Chancellor to be very cautious about 67 European entanglements that impose conditions on our economy and about what we could or should seek to achieve.
Today's Queen's Speech showed signs that the convergence criteria of Maastricht are no longer uppermost in the Government's mind. That is a welcome step and one that I hope will continue.
Unemployment is a problem not only in our country but right across Europe. Some 18 to 20 million people are currently unemployed in Community countries, and that is a serious development which threatens not only the prosperity of Europe but the political stability of a number of countries. There is no room for complacency when the Community is faced with such a problem.
The European Community has been and is acceptable to the electorates of Europe because it has been associated with success. There is now a danger that the Community might be associated with not only short-term failure but failure over a longer period. That is something that we should earnestly and steadfastly seek to avoid.
As to the immediate future, the Government are right to pursue a policy that puts British interests first and seeks to run the British economy at a level that we can sustain, with low inflation, and without taking too much account of any signals from Brussels to move faster in the direction of economic and monetary union. That would be a great mistake at the moment and would perpetuate the current problems.
The world is rapidly changing and we should take account of such changes. The conventional wisdom of yesterday is rapidly being replaced by new forces and new circumstances. The sensible position for our country would be to take advantage of not only the opportunities which Europe offers but those offered by the changing circumstances in the world.
The prospects for British exporters, commerce, industry and businesses in the far east are probably unprecedented. A recent World bank forecast predicted that by the year 2002— which is not too far away—the Chinese economic area, when the so-called "Tiger" economies are taken into account, will have a gross domestic product way in excess of that of Germany and the United States of America. We should be positioning ourselves in such a way that we can take advantage of these opportunities. That is unlikely to happen if we set our economic policy in the medium term by artificial demands to meet our treaty obligations too literally.
I urge the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor to take heed of the request that the Government should adopt a longer term posture, and recognise that there is a world beyond Europe, particularly in Latin America and the far east, in which we can play a major part. If we take advantage of what is on offer there, it will promote renewed self-confidence and vigour in our industries and commerce.
Above all, I hope that the Chancellor and the Government, in approaching the Budget on 30 November, will do everything possible to promote the recovery and the interests of the British economy. I am mindful of the fact that there has been a welcome recovery since the last Queen's Speech, but we still have a long way to go.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
The Queen's Speech is totally irrelevant to anything that the country needs at the moment in economic terms and particularly in its approach to Europe.
I have looked at the section that says that legislation will be introduced to privatise British Coal. The Government can save their time, because when they come to introduce that legislation every single pit will be closed, despite assertions from those on the Government Front Bench about how concerned they were for the miners.
In the debate on the coal industry on 27 October, I asked:The second question concerns the review procedure. When Grimethorpe in my area came under the review procedure, it was a review in title only. What happened was that the machinery began to be brought up straight away and faces were closed. That is not a proper review procedure. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State in his winding-up speech would give a guarantee that it will be a genuine review procedure, and that faces will not be closed and machinery will not be taken out. The men will then know that an honest review is taking place.
The Secretary of State for Employment stood at the Dispatch Box and replied very clearly:The corporation has decided to resume consultations with the unions through the modified colliery review procedure. I welcome that. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) asked me whether it would be a meaningful consultation. It has to be: I give him that assurance. The resumption of that procedure is a welcome return to the normal consultative arrangements within the industry."—[Official Report, 27 October 1993; Vol. 230, c. 897, 916.]
That was a clear promise. On 12 November, however, I received a letter from Mr. W. J. Sheldon, the assistant director of the Northern Group of British Coal, which read as follows:Dear Mr. Enright,Mr. Houghton, the Northern Group Director met the Trade Unions today and informed them that he would be recommending the closure of Frickley Colliery to the British Coal Corporation. He proposed that development tunnelling would stop immediately and that coal production would cease on November 26th.
That clearly makes what the Secretary of State said if not a lie, because you would not allow me to call him a liar, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but his utterances somewhat strange. It also demonstrates a gross lack of faith with the House—not just those on the Labour Benches but those on the Conservative Benches. It is quite intolerable that the Secretary of State should give a cast iron, plain guarantee that is torn up within a fortnight and that he does nothing about it. That is the trust which we can put in his words.
What does this all mean in terms of human beings? What does it mean for the 800 men and the 800 families who, a bare two years ago, were told by the authors of the Rothschild report that they had a pit that was worth selling? It was put in the top10. Suddenly, just a year ago those people were told that their pit was on the extra hit list that the President of the Board of Trade produced. The pit was then given a reprieve and those people have had to live for a year under threat. They were then cast aside as so much chaff. That is what it means to 800 men, 800 families, wives, children and grandparents. That is what it will mean for the villages of South Emsall and South Kirkby as well as other neighbouring villages.
That community has also had to deal with a recent announcement that has meant the loss of 200 further jobs which were created by another firm that we helped to establish in the area 10 years ago. That announcement 69 together with the decision on Frickley represents unemployment on a catastrophic scale and it is inexcusable.
We have heard from the Conservatives that there is surplus coal and that therefore we cannot keep on producing it. However, in Wintersett, which is a pleasant area with which I know you are familiar, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Hiendley, which is another nice part of my constituency and in North Featherstone—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
I hesitate to interrupt, but if the hon. Gentleman referred more to the privatisation of British Coal his speech would keep in order. At the moment he is straying somewhat from that.
§ Mr. Enright
I shall do so because British Coal, which the Government are planning to privatise, proposes to allow opencast mining in Wintersett, North Featherstone and Hiendley. That operation will take place in those three country areas and will involve relatively small amounts of coal, but it will disrupt the lives of the very people who British Coal has just put out of work. That is totally unacceptable and immoral. Any Government who set that sort of policy as a guideline for the future and who wish to privatise coal in that particular way would resign if they had any sense of decency. That, however, is not the fashion these days. If people are responsible for something they do not resign.
What the Queen's Speech says about the European Community is sheer flannel. It is clear that the Government are trying to wriggle out of their social responsibilities by arguing that the people can look after themselves. They claim that that is what subsidiarity means and that they know how to look after the people.
What the Government in fact mean is that Whitehall and Westminster between them—scarcely Westminster because responsibility lies more with Downing street and the Cabinet—will do the job. We know from the coal debate, however, that the majority of Conservative Members are like sheep. Some are black sheep, but they are sheep all the same and they will trot through the Lobby having made sanctimonious utterances about how sorry they are for the miners and the mining communities. Nevertheless, through the Lobby they trot because the Government line is that we can look after our own people. But the one thing that the decision on Frickley has proved is that we should sign up to the social chapter, because we cannot trust that lot on the Conservative Benches.
I was appalled when, during the Maastricht debate, the Prime Minister read at the Dispatch Box from a letter that he had received from ICI, which stated that death, doom and destruction were around the corner if Britain signed up to the social chapter. We know very well, however, that ICI functions in all the other EC countries perfectly well. It has not withdrawn its operations from them, but if it had a shred of honesty it would do so. We also know that ICI treats its work force far better than the minimum standards that are demanded in the social chapter. The Prime Minister's action was just political chicanery, which was inexcusable. I am sad to note that the foreign policy objectives in the Queen's Speech do not mention that ICI has succumbed to the Arab pressure to boycott Israel at the behest of the Arabs. Companies are doing just that but the Government have failed to intervene; how quickly would they intervene in other matters?
70 The Queen's Speech does not mention the one foreign occupation about which we could do something practical—we can get invading troops out of northern Cyprus. it is within our power to do just that and it would not cost us a great deal. Is that policy objective proclaimed in the Queen's Speech? It most certainly is not, neither in the general foreign policy objectives nor in the objectives For the European Community. The reason for that is that Cyprus has applied to join the Community. Its application has been accepted in principle, to be examined more closely. While half of Cyprus is occupied, however, it is clear that that application cannot properly proceed. Her Majesty's Government must treat that situation with something approaching urgency even if it is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
Earlier the Labour party was rebuked by a Conservative about the way in which we look at the commanding heights of the economy. I am not ashamed that we talk about those commanding heights, because at the moment we are faced with the wretched depths of poverty that have replaced them. It is by tackling those depths of poverty that we will show ourselves to be moral. In that way we will regain family standards and decent standards once more. As long as we tolerate what is happening in Britain today we have no right to demand morality of our people. We certainly have no right to say, "You are all right chaps because of the citizens charter and the fact that someone has got two good behaviour points for the week."
The Queen's Speech states that the Government wish to restore the dynamism of the economy. The one thing that is not mentioned, and is never mentioned, is the poor quality of much of British management. We do not face up to that problem. We do not have training programmes for management but we have a slack and lazy management, unlike that in the continent and in Africa. In general, the managements in those countries and of America, Canada, the far east and Japan outstrip our own. I do not say that there are no good managers in this country. We have some excellent firms and managers but in general our management is extremely poor. It is reaching crisis point and something needs to be done.
For example, we are told—it is clearly implied in the Queen's Speech—that we cannot afford to give workers special social grants. We are told that that is wrong, the cost is becoming unacceptable, and that we should look at the poor old French and Germans, who can no longer do it. That is untrue and controlling politicians to the right of centre in France and Germany have said clearly in the past week that they would not lower their standards.
Our managers have said that they cannot afford those social rights, yet are not the same managers awarding themselves free shares and giving themselves special BUPA privileges? If we study the social benefits that are given to a range of managers, we might begin to analyse some of the difficulties. It is all a question of where one is: if one is at the top one gets more; if one is at the bottom one gets less.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) has already mentioned the nonsense of magistrates courts. What is happening there is indicative of the Government's attitude: this is a quick fix Government. They are like a junky who needs to take out a needle arid have a quick syringe. Once they have had the quick syringe they think that things are all right. I could not possibly outline the proposals on the police as effectively as my 71 hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South. They are clearly ludicrous and will not deal with the serious problem before us.
The way in which the Child Support Agency has worked is scandalous. I have buckets full of correspondence from desperate people who are not trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities but are keeping up with them and have often taken on other responsibilities. If they live in my area, they are not paid much money because it is a low wage area. Yet because of the Government's quick fix attitude, those people are being targeted. A lady came to see me in April and I referred her to the Child Support Agency because she was just above income support level and her husband was paying her no money. She sent him to the agency but not a single action has been taken. But the people who pay regularly, through the courts or directly to their wives through the court's agreement, are suffering because of the Child Support Agency's actions.
Before I came to the Chamber I had just finished dealing with a young man who, with his new wife, is looking after two children. He must now pay his previous wife so much that he is left below income support level. He should be receiving income support, free meals for his children, and free prescriptions for his asthmatic child but, because the Child Support Agency has taken away his benefits, he has been shoved into abject poverty. Worse still, to pay the debt which the agency says that he has incurred, he must sell his car and will no longer be able to get to Leeds—even if he could afford the petrol—to do his job. Ultimately, he becomes unemployed and two families are then living off the state. That is wrong and should not be allowed to continue.
The Queen's Speech contains proposals to reform the National Union of Students and teacher training. We shall no doubt have a full day's debate on those matters at another time. If we treat the National Union of Students as the Secretary of State suggested in his original statement, we shall do a gross disservice to students. I recall what the NUS did for me when I was a student and it continues to do good work for the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist student bodies. If the Government wish to preserve religious ideals, they must not heedlessly throw aside the tremendous work done by the NUS. We can all mention silly little things which the NUS has done from time to time. Even some hon. Members, when students, may have done things of which they would not be proud now. We are all silly at some time when we are students but, by and large, the NUS has been invaluable in helping to keep smaller groups going in universities and it should not be thrown aside.
Equally, it is a shame that the Gracious Address does not suggest that, if we are to move towards compulsory nursery education, it would be crazy to put in charge of it people who are not trained, which would do more harm than good. That is an argument to be developed on another day but it is indicative of what the Government are about. Too often, they are looking for a quick fix and tomorrow's profit instead of investment over a 20-year-period. That is what is needed to run a country as part of a successful community. We must look not just to tomorrow but to the future of our children and our children's children.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) on all the issues that he raised, because he covered a large number of subjects, although I may refer to his last point if I have time. May I simply remind him, on his sturdy and quite right battle for the miners in his area, that I served for three months on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. I thought that we came up with a reasonable solution. We recommended, among other things, a £500 million subsidy. We came to a unanimous conclusion and the Committee was admirably chaired by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). Perhaps the hon. Member for Hemsworth will acquit us of not doing our work properly.
§ Mr. Enright
I am delighted to give the hon. Gentleman the praise due to him. I admired his work at the time and said so at a Labour party meeting, naming the hon. Gentleman particularly, as well as my friend the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock).
§ Sir Anthony Grant
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox) said what I have said so many times. Year after year in the House, I have heard the Opposition cry, "There is too much ill-digested legislation. We must cut down on it." Immediately they get into Government, legislation is increased. I hope that the Government have not overdone it in this Queen's Speech, because there is a great danger of Ministers saying, "We must not run out of steam." Nowadays, the danger is not of running out of steam but of boiling over. A period of consolidation is often necessary after a great rush of legislation.
All parties are to blame. Ever since the war, politicians have said that people have simply to put a cross on a ballot paper and all will be well. They have said, "Nothing else has to be done, leave it all to us." People have fallen for that and rightly used that awful phrase, "They should do something about it". That puts another nail in the coffin of freedom and is another disappointment because "they" cannot get it done. I do not blame people who say it; I blame politicians who constantly pretend that they can do more than they can. That is true in many sectors, especially the economy. The less power we have, the less able we are to run our economy independently from the rest of the world, which perhaps we could at one time, and the more we pretend that we can achieve something by a stroke of the pen in the House or in the Treasury. One should hesitate before undertaking too much.
The current theme is "back to basics". It depends on how one interprets it, but I view it as the right theme, because it concerns fundamental rights. We always hear about the right to do this or that, about civil rights here and civil rights somewhere else, but there are only two fundamental rights with which the Government should concern themselves: the rights for people to be defended at home and abroad. I was pleased to see that page one of the Queen's Speech states:My Government attach the highest importance to national security.
I hope that they mean that, because there is great concern that we have run our defences, especially the poor Army, down to bedrock level. I have expressed my concern 73 about "Options for Change". The changed situation in the world does not mean that we can abandon all our conventional defences, particularly the armed forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will make a speech on the Adjournment tomorrow on the Territorial Army. I support his views. I hope that Ministers will listen to them carefully. I also hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will carefully heed the views of the Defence Select Committee and, more important, will continue to convey them vigorously and profoundly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I want to comment on the right to be defended at home. The Government are right to give the highest priority in the Queen's Speech to the fight against crime and to the restoration of law and order. Of course, we have to search for the root causes of crime. That is our task and that of the Church and everyone else. One could endlessly debate the reason for the increase in crime. It may be the breakdown in family life, the decline in religious faith or unemployment, but crime has increased inexorably in every country, under Governments of every complexion, amid rises in prosperity and in material standards and amid high and low unemployment. We should remember that.
Crime is not a problem which a Government can solve at the turn of a switch. What they can do is take certain sensible, practical steps to tackle crime. That is why I believe that the Government's policy outlined in the Queen's Speech is correct. The criminal justice Bill and the measures on the police are sensible steps in the right direction.
For many years, the Home Office has displayed what I would loosely call a liberal—with a small or large "L"—sloppy, wishy-washy attitude to crime. We must face up to the fact that, despite all the ideas of the Home Office and of do-gooders everywhere, that policy has failed. Therefore, other steps have to be taken. Thank goodness that the Home Secretary and the Government have grasped the nettle in the matter.
There are many absurdities that we must rectify. For example, there was the nonsense about unitary fines, which we had to correct, and the absurd business of courts not being allowed to consider the previous offences of an accused. We also had the ridiculous system of cautions. I do not reject the idea that a caution is useful, but two cautions are enough. In my constituency, a young man has been cautioned no fewer than seven times. The last time, he simply went into the police and said, "Hurry up, guy, I have not got long. Let's have the caution and get it over and done with." That is nonsense, but I do not blame the police. I have discovered that an extraordinary committee of probation officers, sociologists and oddballs decides about cautions. We should toughen up on that and give the police greater authority.
The two crimes in which there has been a disturbing increase are burglary and theft in rural areas. Some years ago, all the crimes in my constituency were committed in cities. Nowadays, such crime has spread to rural areas, which is of much concern to my constituents.
The principal increase in crime throughout the country has been in car crime. I have said time and again that it is ridiculous to talk about "joyriders" because they are not; they are misery drivers. The stealing of a car often results not in a joyous little zoom around but in the death of other children or ramraiding shops and stores. It is a very serious crime indeed and it must be tackled.
74 I am not convinced that the Government have been tough enough on the problem. I believe that every new car should be fitted with an immobiliser, which I shall not exhibit in the Chamber, as I once did, because it would be out of order. Many immobilisers and alarm systems are available quite cheaply on the market.
I know that the Home Secretary has discussions and talks with manufacturers, but nothing is done. Car manufacturers would not fit brakes or seat belts to a vehicle without a law on it. It is essential that all vehicles have a proper immobiliser or alarm system.
I discovered an even more absurd situation, which I am investigating. It appears that under our tax system if a company fits an alarm or security system to one of its cars, which might cost about £500 but which companies would undoubtedly be willing to pay to secure their cars and safeguard employees, it faces an extra tax bill of about £50 or £70 a year. That is ludicrous. What sort of incentive is that to install alarms in vehicles? I took this up with the Treasury, which passed it on to the Department of Transport, which passed it on to the Inland Revenue. There the matter rests at the moment, but I am hoping to get an answer soon. If I do not, I shall be very angry indeed. It is another absurd example of saying that this is a serious crime but not doing anything about it.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools—if I might have his attention for a moment—is on the Bench and I shall explain why. If we can tackle the problem of crime among young people at a very early stage, it will be of immense benefit in the future.
I was prompted to take that view by an organisation called WATCH—What About The Children. It is a sensible body whose founder member, Sheila Switzer, is a charming lady, a grandmother and one of my constituents. WATCH believes that the break up of the extended family and the fact that many young people have children without having any experience of a stable family life means that many children today stand little chance of leading a moral and law-abiding existence. It says that parenting must be taught. It is not instinctive and it should be part of the school curriculum. That is one of WATCH's themes, which I commend. I shall write to my hon. Friend the Minister about it because I know that the Secretary of State for Health has been alerted and thinks that it is a reasonable idea.
WATCH recommends that there should be nursery education from the age of three. For years, I have kept an open mind about the merits of nursery education but I must tell my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools that I am beginning to realise that it merits serious attention. I believe that the Secretary of State shares that sentiment and, subject to resources, I hope that it moves up the priority list. Nursery education makes a great contribution, and I shall refer the comments of the organisation What About The Children to my hon. Friend the Minister.
All of us have a role to play in tackling the serious problem of crime. The Government are tackling it and have made a good start. If they maintain it as a priority and if they succeed with the proposed measures in demonstrating a decline in crime, they will deserve the gratitude of the people.
§ Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)
In today's Gracious Speech we heard the announcement of the privatisation of British Coal. Of course, it came as no surprise to anybody, because there have been many warnings that the Tory Government were about to privatise the British coal industry. The announcement is the final piece in the Government's sordid little jigsaw puzzle that began in October last year with the announcement of the closure of 31 pits and the throwing of 30,000 miners on to the unemployment heap, not to mention all the other people who will lose their jobs because they are dependent on the mining industry. There was a huge public outcry, but the Government ignored it. They ignored the demonstrations of solidarity among the miners and their families. They ignored demonstrations in the coalfield communities and in the capital city. They ignored the facts and, for the most part, ignored the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. Their minds were clearly set on the privatisation as announced in today's Gracious Speech.
The Government proposed a review of 12 pits based on so-called market testing. Among those 12 pits to be market tested were Bentley and Hatfield collieries in my constituency. Most people knew that it was not a review and said so at the time, but some people believed that the Government were serious about that review procedure and that they would listen to people and take cognisance of what they were saying. Some Tory rebels sincerely believed that their Government would propose something to save some of the collieries, notably the 12 that were up for market testing. Of course we all know now that that was ludicrous. Most of us knew then that the Government were trying to buy time and convince their own Back Benchers to go through the right Lobby at the appropriate time.
In August, after Parliament went into recess, the Government deliberately laid before the House a statutory instrument to scrap the Act that applies to health and safety in mines—the Mines and Quarries Act 1954—and replaced it with some loose codes of conduct. Again, it was all done purposely because they had one goal in mind—the privatisation that has been announced in the Gracious Speech today. Slipping the health and safety regulations through while Parliament was in recess is absolutely disgraceful, but it does not surprise me because it was done by a Government who, on occasions, ignore democracy.
Bentley colliery in my constituency was informed on Monday that it was to close on 3 December. Bentley colliery produces coal at less than £1 a gigajoule, which is cheaper than any imported coal. Before the colliery entered the market testing procedure, there was a market for its coal in the electricity industry. Strangely enough, after March, that market disappeared and the only market for Bentley's coal was to sweeten coal at another nearby colliery. A pit that produces coal at less than £1 per gigajoule was sending its coal to make another pit's coal saleable. The other pit remains open and the coal from Bentley, according to British Coal and, no doubt, Ministers, has no market. There was a wonderful market before March. It is amazing how it suddenly disappeared. How can anybody justify closing a pit that is producing coal at less than imported prices? It is unbelievable. The miners at Bentley colliery did everything in their power to 76 ensure that that pit was producing coal at the right price. Neil Clarke and the British Coal management did absolutely nothing to ensure that that coal was sold.
Hatfield, the other colliery in my constituency, was told by British Coal today that it, too, was to close on 3 December. It is all part of the great scheme to slim down the mining industry for privatisation. What about Hatfield's market for coal? For the most part it does not lie in the electricity industry, but in domestic and industrial fuel. Every day, lorries queue and wait for the coal to come out of the pit. Today the miners at Hatfield are told that there is no market for their coal. The Government have got us into a ludicrous situation all in the interests of privatisation. Our country is built on coal, yet we are importing nuclear power from France, importing coal from the continent and burning the premium fuel gas to generate electricity.
The most nauseating feature of the two meetings that occurred this week to inform the miners in my constituency that after 3 December they will not have jobs is the sheer, outrageous bribery that British Coal have practised on those men. British Coal clearly told the miners that they could have £7,000 each on top of their redundancy payments provided that they did not employ the colliery review procedure. British Coal was clearly trying to bribe miners. British Coal officials have told some men who work at those pits that they may employ the modified colliery review procedure, that they may take that nine months, but that it will make no difference because Frickley, Bentley and Hatfield collieries will close even if the review commission agreed that there was a case to keep them open. Coal board officials have told miners at Bentley and Frickley pits this week that the closure will still go ahead. What is the point of having the review procedure? My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) referred to Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box and saying, tongue in cheek, that the review procedure was genuine. We all know that the review procedure was not genuine and that it was all a sham.
Where has Neil Clarke been? Where has his defence of the mining industry been? He has done absolutely nothing to defend the mining industry. Instead, he has acted like a puppet Tory Ministers, wielding the big axe and shutting collieries. What has British Coal done to win new markets? Absolutely nothing. British Coal has pits that produce coal at less than £1 a gigajoule and it should be able to find a market for that coal. The truth is that British Coal has no intention of trying to find a market. The truth is that the colliery closures have been all about privatisation from start to finish.
It grieves me to think that in the mining town of Doncaster there will be no pits left after 3 December. That is absolutely devastating for an area that has relied on the coal industry for many years. Other businesses in the area which have been built around the mining industry will go bust as well. Unemployment in the Doncaster area is already at 13 per cent. and the colliery closures and the other closures that will follow will undoubtedly increase that figure substantially. What chance do the people in the communities in and around Doncaster have of finding new employment? Many industries and businesses in and around Doncaster are keyed into supplying and servicing the mining industry.
The Government have run riot through our town and through our villages, destroying people's lives, their communities and our local economy. It is clear from the 77 Gracious Speech that the Government have caused that destruction in the name of their political dogma of privatisation. In so doing, they have destroyed the livelihoods and communities of many of my constituents.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes). I have a great deal of sympathy with the problems and plight of his constituents, especially those who have been working in the coalfields. The first seat that I fought was the mining constituency of Normanton in Yorkshire. I have the greatest admiration for the people about whom the hon. Gentleman has talked and a great deal of sympathy with his comments. The Government's policy on energy is to secure the cheapest possible reliable, secure, long-term energy supplies, and that is the way in which the Government will be judged. I hope very much that the Government will achieve what they have set out to achieve.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), in an excellent seconding speech, referred to modern fairy tales. Right on cue, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, got up and gave a speech. I am sorry about including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambrideshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) in the same mortar blast. The right hon. Member for Yeovil was very much in favour of nursery education. He probably feels that that would mean more teachers and that more teachers would vote Liberal Democrat.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil made the point, which I think is a fairy tale—it may be right to have more nursery education or it may not be—that people say that there is evidence from all over the world that those who get nursery education commit fewer crimes and do better when they are in education and when they have finished their education. Is it not just possible that the families who send their children to nursery education produce the sort of family background that is more likely to ensure that their children get a better education later and that they are less likely to create crime later in their careers? When one looks at evidence, one must be a little more analytical than the right hon. Member for Yeovil, who tends to think in soundbites.
§ Sir Anthony Grant
The last thing that I want is for my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to associate me with the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, of all people. My point was not that it had been proved or otherwise that nursery education would stop crime or anything else. My point was that nursery education deserved the Government's close attention and that is why I wanted my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools to consider the matter.
§ Mr. Marlow
I apologise. I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West that I apologised for associating him with the right hon. Member for Yeovil. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools will look at the issue, as he said. He may. come down on my side of the argument or on my hon. Friend's side of the argument.
Browsing through the Gracious Speech, I notice the phrase:help is concentrated on those most in need".
That worries me a trifle. It has been said by people who are not friendly to the Government that over the past 14 years 78 the Government have picked on their supporters group by group, and have confronted them face on. It is right that the Government have taken on vested interests and they have been courageous to do so. However, I am concerned.
The idea has been part of Government policy for a long period. However, there are people who are supporters of the Government who, through time, feel that they have behaved responsibly. They have looked after themselves and their families. They have secured small pensions and small savings for themselves. Every time there is a problem and every time when, for good reasons, public expenditure has to be looked at, it is the people who have not looked after themselves, who have not looked after their families so effectively, who have not worked so hard, who have not been so enterprising and who are essentially dependent on the state who are looked after. When we put VAT on fuel, for example, their interests are secured. They are compensated, but the others are not. We must be wary of that.
When we look further at VAT on fuel, it will go ill for us as a Conservative party if we do not take account of the people who have done what we asked them to do, and who have been good Conservatives and good citizens. They are not high and mighty people, but people from difficult backgrounds who have looked after themselves and have secured that bit extra to make themselves more content and more comfortable in their more difficult elderly years. It will go ill for us if we do not take account of that factor.
The Gracious Speech says seductively that legislation will be introducedto give force to the changes in the European Community's system of own resources following the agreement at the Edinburgh European Council.
Does that mean that something will be done about the boondoggling, fraud and waste? I should be all in favour of that. However, the Gracious Speech refers tothe agreement at the Edinburgh European Council.
In historical terms, that was some time ago. A lot has happened in Europe since then. Sadly, the Maastricht treaty has been ratified. The exchange rate mechanism has been blown to smithereens. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in an article in The Economist, it is Humpty Dumpty and cannot be put back together again.
Why was it agreed at Edinburgh that there should be a change in the own resources system of the European Community? It was to do with monetary union, with cohesion and with convergence. What does "cohesion" mean? It means taking money from the supposedly richer parts of the Community and giving money to the supposedly poorer parts of the Community. It means taking money from my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and making their jobs less economic, and passing that money to Spain, to Portugal, to the Irish Republic and to other parts of Europe that are not doing so well. It means transferring our jobs to other parts of Europe.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
As the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) referred to Bolsover, let me put him right. There has been a redistribution of power and wealth from working-class people to rich people during the past 14 years. I have never noticed the hon. Gentleman walking into the Lobby with me to protect the people of Bolsover and the people of Northampton who are at the bottom of the pile. I hope that he will do that. 79 The truth is that the hon. Gentleman has walked through the Lobbies recently to shut pits in my constituency, throwing thousands of people out of work, so I hope that he will not use my name in vain. He is a member of the Johannesburg tendency. It just happens that he is obsessed with Maastricht and with the Common Market. He was a Member of Parliament when Lady Thatcher introduced the single market, and he did not squeal and shout then. He has twisted and turned on the Common Market. Throughout the past 20 years, I have voted solidly against it. I do not want lectures from this Johnny-come-lately from Northampton.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I was not lecturing him; I was just pointing out an area where we have some agreement. The hon. Gentleman seems to have been following my career, although he has not been following it closely. I have on many occasions taken a view different from that of a Conservative Government, as he knows.
§ Mr. Marlow
The hon. Gentleman may say that. If he looks at the Division List—I am afraid that we are taking up the time of the House—he will discover that on every occasion that it was available to me to do so, I voted and spoke against the Single European Act. I have a record of consistently opposing—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Marlow
I was talking about the idea that we were to have a Bill before the House effectively to increase the amount of resources that will be available to the European Community. We shall be transferring resources from our constituents to constituents in other parts of the EC. The argument for that was that we were to have European monetary union. Therefore, we required convergence and we required to lift the prosperity of those areas of the EC which are not as prosperous as Germany, France or Britain. However, that monetary union will not happen. If we are not to have monetary union, why do we need convergence and cohesion? Why must we pass an Act that will take money from this country and from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? We know that there is a major problem with the Budget deficit. Are we to add to that Budget deficit by sending money from this country to far-flung parts of Europe?
There is another vital point. We are concerned about fraud in the EC. One of the Government's objectives is to tighten the controls on how European money is spent. Can we put our hands on our hearts and say that we are ready to send more money to, for example, Greece? Has not there been an election in Greece recently? We should ask the Greeks how they feel about the regime that they have at the moment. Is not the feeling in Greece that the present Prime Minister of that country is a little less than squeaky clean? Was not he almost convicted before a court? Are we really to ask our constituents to forgo various things that could be bought from public expenditure or to pay increased takes so that we can send money to Mr. Papandreou in Greece? Is that what the House is for? I believe not.
I am delighted that the Government are to bring a Bill before the House on law and order. My right hon. and 80 learned Friend the Home Secretary gave an effective speech at the Conservative party conference. Opposition Members said that he has produced 27 points to help to deal with the severe and growing problems which are facing this country. It is true to say that, at each of the previous 14 party conferences to which I have been since we have been in government, Home Secretaries have made rousing speeches and had rousing applause from the floor, and still the problems increase.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am sure that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will acknowledge that the problem has got worse not just in the United Kingdom, but throughout the western world. If he looks across the Atlantic, he will see that the United States has more severe problems than we have. That is not the issue. We are concerned with what is happening in the United Kingdom. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals are wholly for the good. I think that he is grasping nettles that have not been grasped in the past. However, I believe that we must be more radical.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made an interesting and entertaining, yet serious, speech. He said that what the criminal, and particularly the young criminal, is concerned with is detection. Of course that is true, but even more important than detection is deterrence. Imagine the position of a 14, 15, or 16-year-old hooligan, thug, ramraider, or gang leader. He has a pretty boring existence and does not have a great deal of hope about his life. He gets stimulation, excitement, support, and admiration from his peers—misplaced though it is—the more TWOC-ing he does, or taking a vehicle without the owner's consent.
Sending such a person to prison achieves nothing. I am sorry to a certain extent by the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has concentrated on the aspect of prison. Yes, if people are a threat or danger to society, they should go to prison. I do not believe that prison is right for those young offenders. I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend is to do something about magistrates courts. The essentials of the justice system for that group of people should be: crime on Tuesday, caught on Wednesday, before the courts on Thursday, punished on Friday. It must be swift to be effective and to be a deterrent.
I believe that what those people miss is a deterrent, or any fear or potential threat of humiliation. I know that I will be told that it cannot be done, but we ought to consider the possibility of bringing back some form of corporal punishment. That would be a deterrent. All that is needed is for one young thug, mugger, or hooligan to get a sound thrashing and the rest will slow down, think and change their behaviour pattern. That is needed for one miscreant or one young monster. It is probably not his fault. He may have had a bad background and a bad upbringing.
We must be tough on the causes of crime, but there is no way of saying that we are able to do that overnight. We are all in favour of being tougher on the causes of crime. We should get one of these people and give him some form of humiliation; some modern version of the stocks. It appears absurd that we cannot do it. What we are doing does not work.
I have made these suggestions before and have been told that they are medieval punishments. In some of our urban 81 areas, the crime situation is just as medieval. We must think the unthinkable and come forward with radical proposals. We cannot do it because we are involved in all sorts of international organisations, institutions and agreements. We are not allowed to govern this country any more. There was a time when one third of the globe was painted red. This country was quite competent and capable of running one third of the world, and now we cannot run our own country.
My daughter visited some friends in Newcastle recently. Her car, of which she was proud, was stolen and was found two hours later a burned frazzle. Elderly ladies —elderly men also—do not dare to open their doors at night for fear of being mugged or having their house ransacked. Are we concerned about those problems or about our international commitments? I know what concerns me most. We need solutions, and we are not getting them.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will make one more point. There has been a lot of controversy recently about the Child Support Agency. Everyone who comes to hon. Members' advice bureaux and surgeries, including fathers, agree that it is right and proper that some parents —fathers mainly—who are not paying enough towards their children who live elsewhere should pay rather than the state or the taxpayer.
That was the principle and that is what the House debated when the Bill was agreed. The devil of the issue comes in the regulations. They were passed not this year but the year before at the fag-end of a Session when no one was here. The proposals were bounced on an unaware House. Look at the regulations and the detail. I was told when I was 16—it is not true so I am not showing off—that my mathematical ability was approaching genius. I do understand formulae and complex issues of that type as much as most people do, but I found the details and the regulations unintelligible. The House had to pass them at the back-end of the Session when there were probably three Members in the Chamber. They had not been properly scrutinised. People say that Government and Parliament are to blame.
I have sent letters about my constituents to Ministers, as has everyone else. The ex-wife of one of my constituents who had been working decided to stop working and start a course of higher education for which her ex-husband had to pay. His livelihood and income are affected by her decision. She might have had a vendetta against him and has decided that she has found a way to make him smart, but there is nothing he can do about it. Her decision is devastating his life.
There are men with second wives and families who have been targeted because they have, to a certain extent, done what they were supposed to do. They may have made a clean break or supported their children from a previous union. They appear on the rolls, lists and registers. They are chased first because they are an easy target. They have second wives and families. If the second wife is working, the man has to pay more to his first wife, who might be sitting at home doing nothing. It is such details of which the House is unaware.
I have letters that hon. Friends and Ministers have signed at the bottom. They are bromides produced by civil servants. Ministers get the blame; the Government are responsible for the measure, but there is another responsibility. The civil servants produce the regulations 82 and write the bromides, but they do not answer the questions posed to them in the letters from my distraught constituents.
In the private sector and industry, if people do not do their jobs properly, are incompetent and hide behind a mass of detail so that one cannot find out what is happening and is given a cloud of fog instead of an answer, they are fired. Some of the civil servants, particularly in relation to the Child Support Agency, are not doing their jobs and should be given their marching orders.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I am proud of London, particularly its ceremonies. I was pleased to come here today; to participate in one of the great rituals of state is both a pleasure and a privilege. It was a matter of some excitement for me—as for other hon. Members—to come here this morning and go to another place to listen to the Gracious Speech. I hope that there will be many occasions on which I can follow that ritual.
However, I am slight unhappy about our constitutional arrangements because today is the only occasion when ordinary hon. Members, apart from those in government, have a sight of, let alone contact with, the head of state. That is a pity because in all the countries to which one travels around the world—whether they have monarchs or presidents—one encounters the good practice whereby the head of state meets his or her legislators on a regular and informal basis.
I hope that over the coming years those who advise Her Majesty the Queen will suggest that, in addition to the state opening of Parliament, there should be other occasions when she meets Members of Parliament for informal meetings. Garden parties are no substitute. I am not interested in going to garden parties, but I am interested m being able to bend the ear of the head of state—whether monarch or president—on political issues and hear his or her views in an informal setting.
The Gracious Speech reflects another anachronism. It is neither a legislative programme nor a state of the union message. In this regard it is deficient, particularly this year. It would be sensible if each year there was a statement detailing a full list of all the items of legislation that the Government would like Parliament to consider in the coming Session. However, we know that many items were omitted from this Queen's Speech which, in a short time, the Government will present in the form of Bills to the House of Commons.
I think that the reason that at least two such items have been omitted from the Queen's Speech is that they are a source of embarrassment to the Government. Clearly the Government are now discovering omissions, deficiencies and the nonsense of what is now the Railways Act 1993. They will have to repair the botched legislation that they rushed through at the end of the last Session by introducing another Bill. However, they omitted to mention that item in the Queen's Speech.
A number of references have today been made to the Child Support Agency. There is clearly an urgent need for amending legislation to deal with that organisation, which is not only not working, but is hurting many people. I venture to suggest that the majority of those whom it is hurting most voted Conservative at the last general election. However, the Gracious Speech contained nothing about such legislation, because its announcement would be 83 an embarrassing U-turn by the Government. Such readjustments are necessary due to the Government's bad handling of the legislative process in the last Session.
I ask any hon. Member who can find in the Queen's Speech any reference to the national health service to raise his or her hand. It is breathtaking that, when there is a major crisis in the running of the health service, the Queen's Speech contains no mention of the funding or restoration of the NHS. That is indicative, partly of the Government's disinterest in something that is greatly valued by the people of this country and partly of the fact that the Government have run out of steam.
The Queen's Speech refers to teacher training and clobbering the National Union of Students, but contains nothing to bolster the morale of teachers and parents who are desperately concerned about the crisis in many of our schools. That crisis has been largely caused by the lack of resources, and the inordinate and unreasonable demands and expectations made of dedicated teachers and professionals. They have to cope with a shortage of resources and a growing education crisis reflecting the failure of society outside the schools. That is a pity.
The Queen's Speech contains no reference to heritage —one of the great areas of state neglected by the House of Commons. The Department of National Heritage has responsibility for matters that can affect all our lives and opportunities for us to enjoy life and live it to the full. However, there is no mention of heritage in the Queen's Speech. If we had the occasional informal meetings with the monarch, I would use one such meeting to say to her that I do not like the idea of charging for admission to Windsor castle, which I consider to be an impudent and unwelcome move.
The speech contains no mention of public transport, which is demonstrably—particularly in our capital city—in crisis. I understand from my colleagues from other parts of the United Kingdom that they and their constituents face the same transport problems in their urban areas. The position is chaotic, and people are finding it more and more difficult and costly to travel around our cities. The only mention of transport in the speech is the Queen's hope that she will be able to go to France in May to join President Mitterrand in the celebrations to mark the opening of the channel tunnel.
Her Majesty the Queen may feel embarrassed by her Government's failure to match the infrastructure exploiting the great engineering achievement of the channel tunnel on the other side of the water. Our infrastructure does not compare well with the great infrastructure built by the French Government. One of the great fiascos of the past 14 years is that one of the most remarkable, exciting and modern rapid transport systems sweeping across northwestern Europe will emerge from the channel tunnel at Dover and hit a Victoriana railway system. One of the great tragedies for the United Kingdom is that we shall not be able to exploit, on behalf of our people, industries and commerce, the great advantages that come from the channel tunnel, due to the failure of the Government to fund and plan an environmentally sound but nevertheless efficient and rapid system of linkage from Dover to London and the rest of the United Kingdom.
We heard last week how the Government, for dogmatic reasons, are to defer further the construction of the channel 84 tunnel link. They lack the leadership and are unable to take the bold initiative and make the investment required to get it constructed in the shortest possible time but with minimal environmental disadvantage. The consequences for my constituents in Thurrock, and for many constituents of hon. Members throughout Kent, is one of enormous blight. A great cloud is hanging over them. There is much anxiety about their future due to the indecision, procrastination and foolishness of the Government with regard to the channel tunnel link. When Her Majesty goes to France and joins President Mitterrand for the opening of what is the most remarkable flagship project of our century, I fear that she will have been embarrassed by her Government.
Her Majesty told us also that she looked forward to the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings. When I listened to Her Majesty, I thought about the people who fought at Normandy and through northern Europe, many of whom suffered greatly and bore great sacrifice—some still have the emotional and physical scars of the conflict of 1939–45. I reflected that it was that generation who proudly voted for a Labour Government in 1945, which set up our welfare state and provided for our national health service. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people who fought in that conflict, many of whom will attend the celebrations in June of next year with Her Majesty, were proud of the fact that they created the NHS. They did not mean it to last for only a generation. It was a priceless heirloom that they wanted to hand down to my generation and generations to come. It is something that they wish proudly and jealously to covet as a great achievement for their generation when they elected the Attlee Government.
Many of those veterans, who are now in the evening of their life and need the NHS, are justifiably concerned about its deficiencies and its under-funding as it relates to them. However, because they are not selfish people, because they wished to create a society that was fair and just, and above all else because they wanted a free NHS available to all on the basis of need, they are now deeply concerned that the Government are increasingly depriving their children and grandchildren of the opportunity of having a good and comprehensive NHS, for which they voted in 1945.
There were references in the Gracious Speech to our defence and our armed forces. I noticed yet again that there was the reiteration that theGovernment attach the highest importance to national security and wish to maintain full support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
There is no doubt that there is grave concern—in all walks of life, at all ranks in our armed forces, among journalists who write about these things and among people who are involved in international affairs—that the Government are on the brink of cutting our defence forces without any review of our defence commitments or our resources. Neither is there under way an examination of the fairly immediate effects that such cuts would have on employment among those people involved in industries that supply our armed forces. Those cuts, about which we are likely to hear in the next few weeks, are being brought about through the panic of the Treasury rather than a conscious decision by people involved in our nation's defences and our international commitments. I think that that is wrong.
Although we have had many differences in the House and across the political spectrum about defence, Her 85 Majesty's Opposition have always been determined to argue that reckless decisions should not be taken about our defence forces. There is a need for a review, but what we are threatened with is a reckless cut, done in panic by Her Majesty's Government because of the economic crisis into which they have led our country. Last week I was at NATO and Shape in Belgium. These anxieties were expressed by many professionals who are deeply concerned at our inability to maintain and fulfil our defence commitments, particularly in relation to international organisations promoting peace, to which this country has had a proud record of contributing.
I took a deep breath when I heard in the Gracious Speech that the Government professes to work to ensure that the European Community is expanded to include those countries which are ready and wish to join the European Community. Implicit in this claim is reference to those countries, particularly those in the Visigard group—Poland, Hungary, the Czech republic and the Slovak republic—which are desperate to join the European Community. The Government are not moving as vigorously as they should, both in the interests, of those countries, and in our own long-term interests, to bring them into the European Community and to the group of western nations. I also think that it is somewhat dishonest, because, for the best part of 50 years, we were taunting people in central and eastern Europe by effectively saying, "Look over the wall. Come and see what the free democratic societies with mixed economies can offer you." Yet when communism failed and the wall came down we would not let them come and join us. That is dishonest and foolhardy in the extreme.
I am not insensitive to the need for us to tread with caution with regard to the reaction of the Russian republic. There may be some anxieties if things move too fast, but our capacity to attract, involve and bring in to the European Community particularly the states to which I referred, and others, is far too slow. I hope that over the coming year the Government will reflect on that and do all they can to facilitate and bolster those fragile democracies and economies which are emerging in central and eastern Europe. I would like to say, Madam Speaker——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He has been most graciously pleased to have given me a rise in rank. I am in fact the Deputy Speaker, not Madam Speaker.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
For a moment, I thought that I had done something else wrong. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My complaint against the Government in boasting that they wish to bring the countries of central and eastern Europe into the European Community is that these are merely words. My complaint has now been bolstered by the recent activities of the Secretary of State for Transport who has removed the permit of Lot airlines to land at Heathrow. I thought that this was a spiteful, silly and bullying act by Her Majesty's Government. There are at present no direct flights from Heathrow to Warsaw because Her Majesty's Government seem totally beholden and committed to do the bidding of British Airways, which is a private company. It is quite deplorable.
We are trying to bolster the commerce and enterprise of states such as Poland. However, because British Airways demand an extra slot in its winter schedules to go to 86 Warsaw, and Lot airlines and the Polish Government would not agree, the Secretary of State withdrew Lot's permit to fly to and from Heathrow. We would not do that in relation to many other countries with whom we have relations. That is a bullying act and a way of treating Poland as if it were a third-world country.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer
The hon. Gentleman's argument is extraordinary. He is saying that we should not do things in the interests of our own country. He says that we are bullying a little airline, but effectively we have done exactly the same thing today to American Airlines.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a substantial disagreement between us and the United States, but we would not dare do to United States airlines or carriers what we have done to Lot airlines. My point is that we are treating the Polish Government and Polish airlines differently from the way we would treat partners such as the United States with whom we have relationships. That is the tragedy. We should not have acted in such an overbearing and high-handed manner, particularly when Poland's economy and democracy are so fragile.
I am not suggesting that we should not try to promote our own companies and enterprises. To do so is perfectly correct. Indeed, that is the duty of Government. However, there is a balance to be struck and the Government have behaved in an indefensible way and against the backdrop of proclaiming that they want to do much to promote the fortunes of central and eastern European countries and to bring them into the European Community.
In the Queen's Speech, Her Majesty read the Government's claim that they wish tocontinue with firm financial policies designed to support continuing economic growth and rising employment, based on permanently low inflation.
We obviously welcome the fall in inflation. However, that has been achieved at the ridiculous price of widespread unemployment. Earlier today, the Prime Minister and other Government spokesmen bragged about the fall in the unemployment figures. However, that fall is a fall from a very high level. It is a basic law of physics that what goes up must one day come down. I do not believe that some minor drop in the unemployment figures is a great victory. Any drop is welcome, but there is no sign that there is a trend which will continue unabated. There is no sign that the unemployment figure will plummet.
The unemployment figures are indefensibly high, particularly in the south-east where, outside Greater London, I am one of the few Opposition Members. As I have said before in this Chamber, arguably I represent not thousands, but millions. People in the south-east who voted for the Conservatives at the last general election now feel bitterly betrayed.
Before I came to the Chamber today, I checked the figures with the Library. In November 1989 there were just over 2,000 unemployed people in my constituency. The figures released today show that there are now 5,173. In November 1989 in Basildon there were 2,328 unemployed people. The figure today is 5,900. In Harlow in November 1989 there were 1,562 unemployed people. Today there are 4,950. The November 1989 figure for Medway was 1,613. The figure today is 5,023. The unemployment figure in Gravesham in November 1989 was 1,938. The figure today is 5,379. There were similar rises in Crawley, Slough, Dover, Brighton, the Heathrow travel-to-work area and 87 Southend. Throughout the south-east of England, there is a catalogue of unemployment which the Government choose to ignore.
The Government ignore that catalogue of unemployment at their peril. One day the Government will have to face the electorate and the people of south-east England will seek retribution at the ballot box for their great betrayal and that of their families who have endured, and continue to endure, extreme levels of unemployment with the attendant distresses of business failures, loss of homes and family break up. During this Parliament, I will do all I can to charge and point the prosecutor's finger at the Government and the Conservative Members who have supported and sustained that Government whose policies have brought blight and deep recession to the south-east.
The Government have been in office for 14 years. At 14 Conservative party conferences, and in every Queen's Speech over the same period, there have been ritual references to the need to tackle crime and to introduce measures to promote law and order. That is now a very thin and boring claim which convinces no one. The most recent utterances by the latest Conservative Home Secretary have no credence whatsoever.
One of the problems which the Home Secretary and his colleagues fail to address is the congestion of our courts system. Nothing would be worse than to arrest more people, particularly young people, and then to allow even longer periods to elapse before they reach the courts. We know that when people are arrested and are on bail, they often commit similar crimes again before they reach court. It is a priority for the Government to fund and facilitate a proper courts system and to address the universities of crime, which is what our underfunded and Victorian prisons have become.
I was deeply concerned a couple of weeks ago when the Home Secretary came to the House and more or less said that he had abandoned most of the recommendations of the Sheehy inquiry report. People are quite rightly concerned about the Sheehy recommendations which I believe attacked the pay and conditions of service of police officers and which would have also sapped public confidence in the police. I was worried that people may have wrongly assumed, from the Home Secretary's statement, that he had called off the hounds. I was concerned that many people would overlook the White Paper proposals which, according to the Gracious Speech, are to appear in a Bill.
I believe that the proposals are serious and dangerous. They threaten 170-odd years of the unique tradition of British policing. The Government propose that there should be new police authorities which should be chaired by a paid appointee of the Home Secretary. That will threaten the independence of policing and our police traditions.
Until now, there has been a good balance between elected representatives who provide the heads of our current police committees, and the chief constables. However, if there are to be paid appointees of the Home Secretary at the end of the corridor, there will be all the chemistry of clash and division over who is in charge of our police forces. It will not be fair to chief constables or their officers. Their operational decisions will almost 88 certainly be challenged by the Home Secretary's paid nominees. We cannot escape the fact that there would be political appointments.
Even at this stage, I hope that the Government or their supporters will reflect on that dangerous and serious departure. When my colleagues assume office, I hope that we will reverse these moves. I hope that we will not be tempted to install our nominees as paid chairmen of police authorities. Instead, we should restore the independence and involvement of local authorities on the present basis. That would be fair and sensible.
In the Bill on the police, I hope that we will address for the first time the fact that there is no set national standard or control in relation to people who claim or hold the office of constable. For some years I have been deeply concerned about the fact that the names and numbers of many people who hold the office of constable are not known to the Home Secretary. There has been a proliferation of minor police forces. In the Bill on the police, I would like to see a standard laid down for the office of constable so that when non-Home Office police forces appoint constables there is a standard which can be recognised by all police forces in the country.
There are some very professional non-Home Office police forces—for example, the Ministry of Defence police, the Atomic Energy Authority police, the Royal Parks constabulary, and the British Transport police, which is one of our biggest police forces. Those are distinguished police forces, but there are some which are very small and which do not have an acceptable standard, although they may be made up of dedicated men and women who wish to give public service.
In Wandsworth, there is a parks police force in which people hold the office of constable, and in Kensington and Chelsea parks there are people who hold the office of constable. By no stretch of the imagination can they be deemed to be comparable with officers in the other forces to which I have referred. I hope that that will be recognised in the forthcoming Bill.
On the occasion of the Bill coming before the House, Parliament should instruct the Government that there should be no more privatisation of police forces. I am deeply concerned and amazed that the Government propose to privatise the police force at Northern Ireland's international airport. I find that breathtaking. This is an armed police force doing great service in protecting travellers. Its officers are literally at the gate to Northern Ireland, yet the Government intend to privatise them, along with the Northern Ireland airports. I hope that the Government will reflect and pull back from this foolish course.
I now refer to the long-awaited announcement that we will soon have before us legislation to reform the laws relating to Sunday trading. One of the main industries in my constituency is the retail and distributive trade. I have in my constituency Lakeside, and many other stores in and around it, together with the new controversial Costo club or wholesale store. I have a dilemma in respect of the proposed legislation. It really is dreadful that we already have had an extension of Sunday trading despite the fact that what everyone knows to be the law prevented most Sunday trading. Whatever one might ultimately feel about the merits or otherwise of Sunday trading, it is surely wrong that Parliament should have been bounced into the 89 need to make changes by a flagrant disregard of the law by some big high street names. However, that is what has happened.
My dilemma is that many of my constituents work on Sundays—indeed it is the only employment that some can obtain. I have to reconcile their needs with that of ensuring that there is regard for the law. At the same time, many people have also come to enjoy the facility of shopping on Sundays.
There has been a sorry tale of failure by the Government to address, much earlier than this parliamentary Session, an issue that needed to be resolved. We should have had regulations to bring about a sensible regime for Sunday shopping while ensuring that people who do not wish to work on Sundays are not penalised or disadvantaged. Our much-valued corner stores, which are very vulnerable to the growth of out-of-town shopping centres, also need some protection.
I have not made up my mind about the legislation—we have yet to see the details of the Bill—but I hope that a reasonable compromise can be struck. It really is quite dreadful for the Government to bleat on about law and order, discipline, and regard for others when they have acquiesced by their silence and inaction in allowing large companies to break the law in order to achieve selfish commercial objectives. That is what has happened. It is for Parliament over the next few weeks to try to find a way of creating a settlement which meets the needs of those people who wish to shop on Sundays while balancing this against the needs of those who wish to maintain some special features of Sunday. We must also ensure that people are not made to work on Sundays if they do not wish to do so. I hope that we can reach a settlement that will last for 20 or 30 years before it is reviewed. The current position is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I am sorry to have delayed the House, but the Queen's Speech debate is an occasion when we can reflect upon the Government's stewardship of this country. When I came away from the other place today, I recalled from my youth the famous cover of Private Eye which showed Her Majesty the Queen reading the Queen's Speech. On the cover there was a balloon which read, "I hope you don't think that I wrote this rubbish." Today's Queen's Speech represented a failure by the Government. It glibly dismissed the things that are wrong in our country and it produced no alternatives to improve the quality of life. We look forward to a Queen's Speech whose author is my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). We look forward then to hearing from the Throne a speech which will be described as an agenda for a generation and which provides hope for people of all age groups who wish to see the country's commerce expand, its health services promoted and, above all else, full employment restored.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
We are forming quite a select band. Perhaps we could huddle up together or even move to a smaller room. The last time I followed the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) was after his maiden speech. I hope that he will not mind if I am not as polite to him on this occasion. He has all the qualities that will make him a great filibusterer.
I suspect that, in large measure, this parliamentary Session will determine the course of British politics until 90 the next general election and, because of that, until the next millennium. It is tempting to suggest that that will hang on the legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech. The programme of law-making that we are promised is on the whole admirable. I look forward to doing my bit of tramping through the Lobby in support.
I said "on the whole" because it will come as no surprise to some hon. Members to hear that I am less than totally ecstatic about the prospect of passing a law which will put up taxes in order to supply money to the European Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) eloquently said, it will pay money to the growers of olive trees in Greece and to mushroom growers in Ireland. It just so happens that I do not represent the Irish, the Greeks, the French or the Germans. I represent the English and the British. To that extent, it worries me that the people whom I represent will have their taxes increased as result of that law.
Of course I wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary well for the passage of his legislation to re-establish public confidence in the rule of law. I also very much welcome the proposed Bill to privatise the coal industry. There has been much discussion today about that measure, especially among Opposition Members. My greatest regret when I was Minister for coal and power was that I lost the argument in the Government about privatisating the coal industry at that stage. I felt then, as I feel now, that the combination of access to private capital—more capital—to private expertise and management, and in particular to private expertise in marketing would have stood the industry in very good stead, especially when the electricity industry was being privatised. I had the honour of taking that Bill through Committee. I felt that the two privatisation Bills should have come at about the same time.
One of the problems with the industry at present is the disparity between the privatised electricity industry and the coal industry which is still in the public sector. I faced and lost two arguments at that time. The first argument was that the National Union of Mineworkers would hate it. At that time, once we had got past the rhetoric in public, they took me around the back and asked what they thought was the main question—what will the price of shares be? I hope that the Government will find a way to ensure that employees become shareholders in the privatised industry, whatever shape it takes.
Another argument was that we could not map the industry's reserves in time. I hope that we will quickly find a way through that—I suspect that we will—by franchising excavation rights and overcoming the mapping issue. Certainly, I welcome the proposed Bill because it will put the industry on the right footing in the way that should have been done some time ago.
All that being said, I doubt whether the extent to which public confidence in the Government is restored will depend entirely on the number of wonderful laws that we pass over the next year. There has been some discussion this afternoon about clogging the proposed legislative timetable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) expressed his concerns about not getting Bills into Committee before Christmas. It seems that part of the answer has been found by the Government, and that is not to have too much legislation this Session.
There is also the problem of the new budgetary timetable. I absolutely agree with the concept of producing 91 the expenditure side and revenue side at the same time. Every Budget, we were given the excuse that the real answers would come in the expenditure round, and in every expenditure round we were told that the real answers would come in the budgetary round. To bring the two together must be right in terms of accountability. The important question is whether the timing of the Budget in November is right. The point about clogging up the machinery is a fair one. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale will know as much as anyone about the management of legislation in that context.
I am finding that more and more people in industry, especially the retail industry, are saying that there is effectively a blight on industry at present because no one knows what is coming in the Budget as we move towards Christmas. I have been told that industry, especially the retail industry, depends on heavy sales during the Christmas period. There is a blight that has caused part of the present hiccup, if that is what it is, in the retail market in the past two to three weeks. It is absolutely right that the Government have brought the two aspects of the Budget together, but they should rethink the precise timing.
Most of the proposed legislation is fine. However, I suspect that the poor old elector is concerned about results. For example, the matter of more criminal law is fine by me and fine by the electorate. But that is not the end of the matter. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), whose speech was passionate and eloquent, made a point about detection. However, he seemed to go slightly over the top when he said that it was simply a matter of putting resources into the police force. He bypassed the point that, although we have put an extra 80 per cent. in resources in real terms into the police force in the past 10 years, the crime rate has gone up during that period. Therefore, there is clearly no direct correlation between extra resources for the police and the crime rate. The hon. Gentleman was also wrong to say that one should not try to get better value for money out of the police force. The Government are absolutely right to do that.
The elector wants more than legislation; he wants the crime rate to come down. Several hon. Members have said that it is not simply a matter of criminal legislation, although that is important. The whole gamut of values and attitudes—the status of the family and the values and the disciplines in that family—must be at the root.
The question whether confidence in the Government is restored will depend not on legislation per se but on whether results will be achieved. There is one policy area where we can clearly produce the goods. We can provide an environment in which more goods and services— growth—can be achieved. In that context, the way ahead seems to be unusually clear. First—this is where I agree with the Queen's Speech—we must press ahead with what have come to be known as economic supply side policies. In the present circumstances, the chief supply side policy must be the maintenance of the objective of low taxation. High taxation and free enterprise are contradictions in terms. If there is no net profit, there is no incentive to invest. If there is no net wage, there is no incentive to work. The Conservative party manifesto at the last election could not have put the matter better. I quote from page 7: 92A lightly taxed economy generates more economic growth and more revenue. High taxes kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
While on the subject of eggs, there is a chicken and egg problem. Low growth with uncontrolled public expenditure generates the need for higher taxes, and higher taxes generate lower growth. Of course, the problem that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will face in the Budget in two weeks' time is how to break into that circle. Perhaps this is the point at which so-called supply side economics meet the demand side. One of the greatest absurdities of some recent economic debates has been to divide the two and make policies that are apparently exclusive. If one takes the view, as I do, that the fundamental mistake of macro-economic policy over many years—certainly the past 10 years—has been to place exchange rate policy as a priority above interest rates or money supply policy, one is expressing Keynesism under another name. If one wants steady economic growth, on the one hand one must have good industrial relations and low taxation, but on the other hand one must have a rate of interest and a monetary policy which are appropriate to steady growth. "Appropriate" means taking into account the lagged time effects of changes in monetary and interest policy on the economy.
I have been banging on about lagged effects for some time now. As long ago as 28 September 1990, when I was still a Minister, I wrote to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. I said:I have been asking myself again why it is that the UK continues to suffer worse swings of 'stop-go' economic cycles than any of our competitors, with more serious effects in particular on business confidence.The answer I believe continues to be that our economic and monetary authorities have less of an appreciation than others of the lags in the economy in particular between changes in interest policy and business investment.They tend, as they have done for the past fifty years, to respond to the events of the day without projecting forward the effects of their policies for the necessary 18-24 months. These policies are therefore alternately more severe and more lax than is required.
What I think that means in the present context is that whereas interest rates should have been reduced much faster and further two years ago—which some of us were advocating strongly at the time—now, just when it has become fashionable to call for even lower interest rates, may well be the time for them to be stabilised. If we were to reduce interest rates further now, it would be too late to affect the tail end of the recessionary cycle; it would probably be damaging in terms of inflation and the balance of payments when the impact was felt in 18 months' time; and it would look suspiciously like a return to shadowing German interest rates, a policy with a proven disaster record. As a matter of fact, the medium-term trend in interest rates is likely to be not downwards, but upwards. That will certainly happen if we link ourselves back to the deutschmark, with Germany's seemingly unstoppable growth in public borrowing. Interest rates will also increase if public spending in this country continues to outstrip the rate of growth in the economy.
In that context, it seems to me that the most important part of the Government's activities during the next Session will be not legislation, but their fundamental review of public spending. I assume that the fundamental review will begin with the question, "What is Government for?" If that prompts, as I hope it will, a fairly simple answer—defence, law, education, health, the support of those who are unable to support themselves—I assume that the next question 93 which they ask themselves in the Treasury will be, "Are we fulfilling those narrow activities adequately?" If the answer is a question mark, or even a lemon, I hope that we shall begin to consider the question of how to focus resources again. I cannot see how that can mean anything other than means-testing benefits and allowances, thus making more generous provision—
§ Mr. Spicer
That has been a standard response, especially of Labour politicians, for many years. I have never been able to understand the morality of it. If the hon. Lady is saying that it is more moral to spread resources across the board so that one is not, in the process, able to focus the resources on those who really need the support, I cannot understand the morality of that position. If any Government waste resources across the board by giving money to people, such as rich old people or rich disabled people, who do not need support, we deprive those who really need the money. Among the people who really need it, I include the pretty needy—those on low incomes who, on the whole, we completely ignore. Either we spread the money across the board, giving it to rich and poor alike, or we focus it on people who do not have earned incomes while ignoring those on low incomes. Certainly, if we do not bring public expenditure into line with economic growth, both are likely to be brought to a grinding halt.
The jigsaw puzzle completes itself: low taxes. wise monetary policy, focused public spending, flexible and probably hardening exchange rates—that point is often missed; people always think that we will have a sinking exchange0 rate, whereas with a flexible exchange rate we would probably have a hardening one—high productivity, low inflation and high growth. In those circumstances, we shall be in office for ever and we shall deserve to he, my son.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I disagree fundamentally with the points that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) has just made. It is immoral to target benefits and to operate them as economic policies, as he suggested. Universal benefits are provided across the board so that people are not missed. When benefits are targeted under special arrangements many people do not know to what benefits they are entitled. With universal benefits the taxation system should respond by clawing back the money that is not required. In a properly constructed society it should be possible to operate in that way. This fundamental debate should continue.
I wish to raise another fundamental issue. During the speeches of the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) we heard a great deal of discussion about the basic values to which the Prime Minister talks about returning. I suspect that they might include some of those that the hon. Gentleman has just presented. I offer for consideration a basic value that should be at the forefront of our thoughts as Members of this Chamber, considering the battles of the past to base this Chamber on universal suffrage and operating within a climate of democratic rights. That value is democracy.
Our democracy is seriously affected at the starting point of the operation of the franchise. The Office of Population 94 Censuses and Surveys and other bodies have produced clear evidence that about 4 million people are missing from the electoral registers of the United Kingdom. That is a disgrace. At present the Home Office is involved in a number of reviews and I hope that a matter that it considers as serious as this will find a place in our deliberations. The Gracious Speech states:Other measures will be laid before you.
I hope that the Government will propose a measure to overcome the most fundamental democratic deficit that exists. The private Member's Bill that I brought before the House last parliamentary Session, entitled Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, is available. It aimed to produce a rolling register and sought to tackle exactly this problem.
The democratic deficit is not restricted to the number of people who are missing from electoral registers. The Gracious Speech states that the "principle of subsidiarity" is to beapplied to European Community legislation".
The principle of subsidiarity is a weak philosophical and social notion, which is difficult to put in constitutional and legal terms. All that will happen in European institutions and during scrutiny by this House is that we shall ask whether subsidiarity should apply to the measure under consideration. Whether or not we agree will depend on our attitude to the issue before us and whether we believe that decisions should be made at a European level or by the United Kingdom Parliament. In the end this reminds us of what the tussle and the battle are about, rather than devises any constitutional means by which that distinction can be resolved.
The distinction can be resolved by having two areas of operating authority only when there is a clear distinction between those areas. If Europe had a federal constitution, that could provide considerable authority to the European Parliament and to the individual Parliaments of the nation states that take local decisions. A federal Europe could provide considerable authority for individual Parliaments.
Technical and legal decisions in Europe are currently made by bodies called Councils of Ministers at which representatives of member states traditionally meet in secret. Currently we have no adequate information about what occurs at those meetings. A parliament that virtually meets in secret is a nonsense, because how can people check on whit is taking place?
The decisions made at the Heads of Government meetings in Edinburgh in December 1992 and in Brussels in October 1993, that there would be transparency concerning the meetings of the Council of Ministers, that full votes would be held and that decisions taken would be recorded and made available to us, are currently not being implemented. It is essential that the Council of Ministers should respond to the values that have been floated at the meetings of the Heads of Government and that some concrete decisions should be made about publications. At a Council of Ministers foreign affairs meeting, it was agreed that it was possible not to publish the votes if the majority of the people at the meeting so decided. That confounds the principles that were decided at the Heads of Government meeting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) suggested that eastern European countries should be involved in the European Community. The Queen's Speech contained reference to accession agreements with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden. If 95 we are to extend the European Community boundaries to include eastern European countries, we should first of all arrange to have proper democratic institutions with which those countries can associate. I believe in the development of the European Community on that basis—and particularly drawing in the emerging eastern European democracies—but we must establish democratic institutions for them.
A subject which one might have thought difficult to discuss, although it is mentioned in the Queen's Speech, is democracy and the striving for a peaceful settlement in the former Yugoslavia. We should be looking for democratic space in the nations that make up the former Yugoslavia. Within Bosnia, it would seem almost impossible to talk about democratic potential, but we should support the notion of United Nations and European Community protectorates being established in Sarajevo and Mostar. We should seek to draw together people from differing cultural backgrounds, who support democratic principles, in order to involve them in the running of those areas. We can then begin to build transitional authorities in Bosnia and the other nations of Yugoslavia that operate on democratic principles and have multicultural respect for each other. We should at least talk to the people in Bosnia and other areas of Yugoslavia who believe in these things.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Is my hon. Friend prepared to commit the considerable numbers of British and European troops and the money required to maintain such areas—even were he able to find within the populations those democrats of whom he speaks?
§ Mr. Barnes
The protection of Sarajevo and Mostar is a modest beginning. It will involve the nurturing of the forces that exist in those areas, so that there is a different pattern from that of paramilitary activity, warlords, excesses and ethnic cleansing. We cannot afford not to make that commitment. At the same time we should try to contact and work with the potential democratic forces that exist in Serbia and Croatia, which may help to build a different future.
Many democratic elements exist in Belgrade. They may represent minorities in the population, but they offer views contrary to those of Milosevic and Seselj, who represents the radical fascists, and we should establish links with those forces and encourage them. I do not believe that the policy of sanctions towards Serbia will help the situation, because it adds to Milosevic's authority. Great dangers and considerable economic tensions exist in Kosovo, but it is covered by the Serbian federation or what the Serbs still call the Yugoslav federation. Similar problems have been created because of the policy towards Iraq, which has also been referred to in the Queen's Speech.
Nearer to home the principle of looking for democratic opportunities exists in Northern Ireland, which was also mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We should look to establishing devolved government and forms of power sharing. Almost anyone who speaks about developments in Northern Ireland also stresses the importance of a Bill of Rights. If talks fail with the different groups of political figures, we should be willing to talk with the people of Northern Ireland. That has already happened through the Opsahl commission, which was chaired by the Norwegian, Professor Opsahl. That commission has interviewed 3,000 96 people. Unfortunately, its suggestions about the future are never discussed in the House. In fact that commission has been dismissed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who picked on two suggestions that were easy to criticise. He did not attempt to listen to the nature of the commission's investigation.
Possibilities exist in Northern Ireland if we are willing to talk to the people directly. We should also ensure that we always stand and fall by those who are against violence and intimidation. Today there were massive demonstrations which were supported by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, the equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry. Such demonstrations suggest the line that we should follow. We should stand by those people who represent the democratic force upon which it is necessary to build.
Democracy is not something that was established to create some fine system by which people could have their say. People became involved in the democratic process because that was the means by which they could join the political nation and have their interests listened to and met.
The Chartists of the 19th century were working-class men who were fighting for the vote. What motivated them, and what is included in the preamble to the charter, were the economic conditions in which they found themselves. The vote was seen as the mechanism through which those economic conditions could be improved.
As the franchise was extended, all political parties had to respond to such social concerns. In 1870, the Conservatives enacted the Education Act, which enabled various people to enjoy the benefits of elementary education. In 1910, the Liberals introduced old-age pensions, and from 1945, under Labour, the welfare state and the national health service were established. It is because people want their interests to be respected, some economic well-being so that they can associate with each other, and an element of equality in society, that the franchise and the democratic rights that should go with it are regarded as so important.
The Queen's Speech contains measures that further hit at many of those rights and social gains through deregulation, attacks on health and safety, and the further extension of VAT beyond domestic fuel to books, food and children's clothes. That should not happen in a democracy and if we had a full democracy with those extra 4 million votes, it provably would not happen.
The rights of the House have been considerably eroded by the development of privatisation, which is now in the Queen's Speech in connection with British Coal. At one time we had a Department of Energy, until the Government got rid of it and made it a minor section of the Department of Trade and Industry. By privatising gas, electricity and the whole of the energy market, the Minister was no longer responsible for answering questions on those matters in the House. A host of agencies has been established and the operation of most of them has been disastrous. They include agencies for employment, benefits and child support, which erode those considerable rights.
The Prime Minister should be concerned with the basic value of democracy. Nowhere should it be considered more basic than in this Parliament, although it began by not being particularly democratic and democracy had to be fought for. Although we have it now, it is being nibbled away at and we must return to some of the values of the 19th and early 20th century when people fought for democracy and the extension of the franchise. When we 97 express those views we achieve the right perspective on economic well-being and the social provisions that should go with it.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) called for the creation of democratic institutions for the emerging democracies to join before we consider them as candidates for the European Community. But the Council of Europe, which already exists, is precisely that. As chairman of the Council of Europe committee for non-member countries, I remind him that in the past three years we have let in nine of those newly emerging democracies as full members. We have allowed a further eight that have applied for membership to become special guests. So the institution for which the hon. Gentleman calls has existed since 1949.
I welcome all that is contained in the Gracious Speech and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the robust way in which he introduced it to the House today. I also welcome his "back to basics" theme, reflected throughout much of the proposals. It is the clear lead which so many people have demanded and it exactly catches the nation's mood.
Nowhere do we need to return to basics more than in maintaining law and order and protecting our constituents. Although there may never have been a golden age to which to return, our country has doubtless been a far safer place to live than it is today. Before the 1920s, fewer than 100,000 offences were recorded; by 1950, the rate had soared to 500,000; by 1980, crime had risen fivefold; and today it has doubled yet again to well over 5 million offences. As less than half of all crimes are ever reported, the real figure is much higher. The majority of crimes are committed by young men under the age of 25 and nearly half are drug or drink related. So we already have a clear target to tackle. That was recognised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in the 27 new measures that he announced at the Conservative party conference last month, which will be incorporated in forthcoming legislation.
My constituents welcome all those measures, as do the local police. Their only concern is that the original intent of the legislation will be watered down during its passage through the House and that, like so much previous legislation, it will prove ineffective.
My constituents want further measures so that courts can require those guilty of vandalism and of theft of private property to repair or to replace, through their own efforts, that which they have destroyed. Such a policy should equally apply to those who injure or cause death by driving. In whatever form is appropriate, they should be made to compensate those whose lives they have damaged or destroyed.
This morning, listening to the "Today" programme on Radio 4, I felt ashamed to learn that the United States is pleased that England is now out of the World Cup because fewer of our fans will be tempted to go there next year. We should all be ashamed of the reputation of English fans abroad.
In calling for the restoration of discipline, of respect and of a sense of responsibility, particularly among young people, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister echoes the thoughts of the nation. The unacceptable behaviour of too many young people, in their attitude to authority and in 98 their language, must be addressed, if not in schools and in the home because it is too late, then by others on society's behalf.
I hope that, having put law and order back at the top of the agenda, the Government will keep it there until current trends are reversed—until crime rates are falling instead of rising and detection rates are rising instead of falling. Certainly, after the latest tragedy—the murder of PC Patrick Dunne in Clapham only two and a half weeks ago— the most popular measure that the Government could support is the restoration of the death penalty for the murderers of policemen.
I welcome the commitment better to target the provision of social security to ensure that those who receive benefit are those who need it. I welcome the further crackdown on fraud and abuse of benefit. It is essential that identity cards be introduced, and I hope that the Government will not be put off by recent reports suggesting that the cost of the necessary technology is too high. If we accept, as we should, that the time is long overdue for the introduction of a national identity card system, not only to counter social security abuse but to combat crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, big business and the banks will have an interest in paying for such a system. Millions of credit identity cards are in existence. A national system incorporating the so-called "smart" technologies will threaten nobody's civil liberties.
In concentrating benefit on those most in need, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will aim to increase benefit in real terms to those who need it. Unemployment benefit is too low. It costs about £16 a week for an adult to eat reasonably and healthily, so £44 a week to a single unemployed person is clearly inadequate for the rest of his expenses, which may include keeping up appearances at job interviews and transport costs to those interviews.
Similarly, the value of the basic state retirement pension is too low. I accept that those who rely entirely on it are entitled to additional help, but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will appreciate that the lowest interest rates in a generation, which we have today, have led to a dramatic drop in incomes of elderly people. Thus, a real increase of the basic pension would be especially helpful to pensioners now.
In two months' time, a NATO summit will consider the long-term ftlture of the alliance between NATO and Russia. It will need to decide how to respond to a growing number of countries who want to join—the former members of the Warsaw pact. That situation was inconceivable five years ago. NATO has been uniquely successful in defending western civilisation. To extend its security commitments by enlarging its membership now, after nearly half a century of close political co-operation, of integrated command and the transatlantic commitment of conventional nuclear forces for common security would be a great mistake.
The way forward for the security of Europe lies, as was suggested in the Queen's Speech, in the devlopment of the Western European Union as the most appropriate collective European security organisation for the new democracies to join. Enlargement of the WEU in that way would not contradict the Maastricht treaty—which sees the WEU as the European defence community of the future and as being independent of the European Union and NATO, but with close links to both. Existing WEU treaties with the United States and Canada would retain the basis 99 for transatlantic co-operation. An enlarged WEU would render unnecessary the recent French proposal—the Balladur plan—for the further institutionalisation of Europe in the pursuit of stability. An enlarged WEU seems to comply with all that my right hon. and learned Friend the Defence Secretary said in his recent speech at the Centre for Defence Studies about the WEU's future as a strong European pillar.
As the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Russia's application for full membership of our parliamentary assembly, I look forward to observing the parliamentary elections in the federation in four weekends' time. There is no doubt that if the elections are adjudged to be free and fair, it will hasten the acceptance of Russia's application to be a full member of the Council of Europe—something that we could not have conceived a few weeks ago before President Yeltsin dismantled the present parliament. As desirable as that prospect undoubtedly is, it must not be seen as a result of compromising our high standards of membership. Russia must become a genuine multiparty democracy before we can allow it to join the Council of Europe. It must implement the rule of law and it must fully subscribe to the European convention on human rights. Its citizens must enjoy the same rights of individual petition to the European Court as the rest of us and they should be aware of that unique protection. Russian forces must be removed from the neighbouring former Soviet republics, where their presence is wanted neither by those Governments nor by their people.
Russian hegemony was one of the most dominating and destructive influences on Europe in the past century. Today, Russia's active membership of the Council of Europe and the WEU, for which I have called, are the two biggest initiatives to ensure a peaceful and stable Europe during the next century. I welcome the commitment of the Gracious Speech to provide help for political and economic reform in the states of the former Soviet Union and its integration into the international community.