§ Madam Speaker
I must now give some information to hon. Members that might prove helpful. The proposed pattern during the remaining days of debate on the Queen's Address is as follows: Thursday 15 May, work, welfare, education and health; Friday 16 May, the constitution; Monday 19 May, home affairs; Tuesday 20 May, the economy and European affairs. Hon. Members may like to make a note of that.
I shall now call the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to move the motion on the Loyal Address, which will be seconded by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
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.Madam Speaker, you will recall that yesterday evening I asked whether you would allow me to sing while moving the motion today. Having made inquiries about my vocal abilities, you strictly forbade me from doing so—thus demonstrating the solicitude for right hon. and hon. Members that ensured your unopposed election as Speaker last week. Accordingly, I am precluded from treating the House to prolonged extracts from the musical "Hello Dolly" that I had intended to sing. Therefore, I must confine myself simply to the following: "Hello, Tony; Hello, Johnny, it's so nice to see you back where you belong".
Madam Speaker, this is the first speech that I have made from this side of the House for more than 18 years and it is my first speech as a Government Back Bencher. I shall therefore be unprecedentedly—and, quite possibly, unrepeatedly—loyal. Indeed, let me dispel immediately any doubts that malicious people may have propagated: it is my firm intention to speak in favour of this Queen's Speech.
I first heard that I had been selected to move the motion when I received a telephone call on Monday afternoon. A portentously official-sounding voice said, in ominous tones, "The Government Chief Whip would like to speak to you." I was immediately struck with terror that I had violated the parliamentary Labour party's new and extremely stringent code of discipline. My mind went back guiltily to a general election campaign meeting last month during which I had been reckless enough to utter the word "socialism". Moreover, I had shared the platform with a trade union leader. I knew that I could not hope for leniency in the light of such transgressions.
However, it turned out that my fears were groundless and that my right hon. Friend was inviting me to move the motion to which I am now speaking. I therefore cast around in my mind for some explanation for my being singled out in this way. I want to make clear that in order to obtain this distinction, I did not send boxes of 46 chocolates or bunches of flowers to either the Prime Minister or the Chief Whip; nor did I invite them out to dinner. Apart from anything else, on a Back Bencher's salary I cannot afford the prices at Granita. Nor have I ever said that there is "something of the night" about the Chief Whip-even if I have thought it.
I recall that recently, during a broadcast on a Radio 4 programme appropriately called "Loose Ends", I announced myself to be a total sycophant of the Prime Minister. However, before preening myself too much, I do realise that under the iron heel of the Minister without Portfolio, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), total sycophancy must be regarded as a suspiciously lukewarm form of loyalty. It is out of fear of my hon. Friend that I refrain today from referring to reports circulating in the film industry that Hugh Grant is to portray the Prime Minister in a forthcoming horror film called "Demon Eyes over Westminster".
I then wondered whether my selection came under the Government's scheme to encourage small businesses by promoting my book, "How to be a Minister"—or whether, indeed, the whole Labour landslide of 1 May was a subtle promotion ploy for my book.
Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that my being chosen to move this motion is a great honour for my constituency. This is the first time in its 112-year existence that the Gorton constituency has had its Member selected to move the Loyal Address. My constituents are forthright folk, as befits northerners who speak their minds. I recall that at Christmas 1989—in those increasingly remote days when Finchley was a Conservative-held constituency and Margaret Thatcher was its Member of Parliament—I attended at the excellent Wright Robinson high school in my constituency a performance of the musical "Grease" given by the pupils for old-age pensioners.
During the interval there was a refreshment period, and I moved from table to table, making my number with my constituents. One of them at a neighbouring table beckoned me over—and when a Gorton old-age pensioner beckons you over, you go. She said to me, "I have been watching Parliament on television and I have been watching that Mrs. Thatcher. She tells a lot of lies." I mumbled some kind of assent, but she went on to say, "Mind you, I have been watching you and you tell a lot of lies, too." I hope you will appreciate, Madam Speaker, what a privilege it is to represent such people.
Whatever my own merits or otherwise, my constituency fully deserves any honour conferred on it. Gorton is without doubt a cut above any other part of Manchester—when it deigns to acknowledge that it is a part of Manchester, rather than the independent local authority it once was. For an inner-city area, it is remarkably green, with many fine parks, one of which marks the farthest limits of the Danish invasion of England. Yes, it was Manchester which scored the first recorded success for Euro-scepticism.
My constituents have access to only one open tract of unspoilt countryside*mdash;Kingswater park. We shall be looking to the Government to help prevent North West Water from ruining this green lung by an asset-stripping exercise that would turn it into a hideous business park.
47 My constituency has been home to distinguished artists and authors. L. S. Lowry lived in the Rusholme area for a time; Anthony Burgess was educated at Xaverian college, from which I am quite sure that he did not derive any inspiration for his book "A Clockwork Orange".
Appleby Lodge is a haven for musicians. Sir John Barbirolli had a flat there. So, more recently, did the distinguished authority on Verdi operas and conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, Sir Edward Downes. I canvassed Sir Edward at Appleby Lodge during one election, and the House will be gratified to learn that the outcome was: old music, new Labour.
Appleby Lodge is on Wilmslow road, and a 500-yard stretch of that road contains some 40 Asian restaurants and takeaways, known collectively, if exaggeratedly, as Curry Mile. With a £70 million annual turnover, Curry Mile is evidence of the entrepreneurship and hard work of my Asian constituents. When they read the Queen's Speech, they will be gratified to note the priority assigned to the promotion of human rights worldwide. They are already delighted with the admirable and courageous commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to seek to assist in bringing about a solution, so long delayed, to the problems of the beautiful but tormented state of Jammu and Kashmir. They will regard the Gracious Speech as reinforcing that commitment.
Gorton was once a proud centre of heavy industry. The railway museum in York contains magnificent locomotives manufactured at the Peacock works in Gorton. But my constituents do not want to moulder away in an industrial museum. A quarter of households in my constituency are without a wage earner. Gorton possesses the unenviable distinction of being number one in England for youth unemployment. My constituents will welcome the promise in the Gracious Speech to introduce a windfall tax to help banish the scourge of youth unemployment. With many of those who have work being paid a pittance, my constituents will welcome the commitment to introduce a national minimum wage.
We have a desperate housing problem brought about by the previous Government's destruction of the local authority building programme, so my constituents will welcome the Bill to enable capital receipts from council house sales to be invested in housebuilding and renovation.
We have some of the country's worst crime rates in my constituency. Indeed, I have been shot at myself on the streets of the Anson estate, although I was not completely sure whether that was an act of random criminality or a particularly pointed political criticism.
People of all ages, but particularly the elderly, live in fear not only of burglary, robbery and vandalism, but of noisy behaviour and mindless hooliganism. My constituents will look with anticipation to the promised legislation to combat crime and anti-social behaviour and will welcome the introduction of new criminal offences of racial attack and racial harassment. Above all, my constituents will welcome the Government's first priority—education.
Curiously and anomalously, my deprived and all too frequently impoverished constituency contains three assisted places schools. The best known of these is 48 Manchester grammar school, an admirable enough institution in its way but situated incongruously in the middle of areas of unemployment and deprivation. For many years, I represented both Manchester grammar school and Belle Vue zoo. I have to say that I got more votes out of Belle Vue zoo.
This year, £2,250 million will go to assisted places at the three schools. Exactly 95 of my constituents benefit from that £2,250 million, which is paid for by the parents of the 14,200 pupils who attend state schools in my constituency. The people of Gorton will welcome the Government's commitment to phase out the assisted places scheme and to use the money for the 14,200 rather than the 95.
My constituents will be delighted that the Government's majority is big enough to preclude what happened the last time that Labour won on election, in 1974. The House will recall that in that year, because of an indecisive result in February, the country had to vote again in October. During the February election campaign, my agent sent me to canvass in Shelford avenue in the Longsight ward. I knocked at a house and a woman came to the door. She took a look at me, and I told her that I was her candidate for Parliament. She said, "We only see you when elections come around." I mumbled some unconvincing explanation and went on my way.
In the October election, my agent again sent me to canvass in Shelford avenue. I knocked at the same house and the same woman came to the door. She took a look at me, and said, "Oh, it's you is it? You're always round here." That is the majesty of the electorate.
The people of Gorton have voted for a Labour Government at every election. They did so even in 1983—the year in which someone described the Labour election manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. The rest of the country has now caught up with Gorton. My constituents look forward to benefiting from this belated outbreak of good sense. I wish the Government well.
§ 3.5 pm
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Things are looking up. On Monday, I was allocated an office with a window, thereby fulfilling one of my few remaining political ambitions. Today, I have the honour of seconding my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on the Gracious Speech. This is the point at which to express my gratitude to the Chief Whip for giving me sufficient notice to enable me to transfer my suit from the north end of the country to the south in time for this occasion.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend. It may be of comfort to him to know that I had the word "socialist" written on my election address and it did not do me any harm. [Interruption.] Time will tell. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend pointed out to me that there is a little known tradition in the House. Every time that Labour wins by a landslide, one of the hon. Members for Sunderland is called upon to second the Loyal Address. In 1945, it was Fred Willey, and today that honour falls to me.
As hon. Members know, we count the votes very fast in Sunderland. For 20 minutes on the evening of I May, I was the only Member of Parliament in the country. It occurred to me that there was a slim window of opportunity, should I care to seize it, to form my own 49 Government. I would have had to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, but that has not done the Sultan of Oman any harm—although, time will tell about that, too. On reflection, I came to the conclusion that, were I to do anything of the sort, some of my friends in high places would not be entirely amused. Had I done so, instead of standing here today addressing you, Madam Speaker, I might have been trying to smuggle you a message from the Tower of London.
My route to respectability has been an odd one. When I was first elected in 1987, The Sun published photographs across a full page of what it called "Kinnock's Top Ten Loony Tunes": I was No. 8. If my memory serves me right, at least one of those who was higher than I in that top 10 has been appointed to the Government—I shall mention no names.
I now keep my Sun headlines framed on the wall of my study at home. There is "Mr. Odious". Yes, I once briefly displaced my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) as the most odious man in Britain—the highest honour that The Sun can confer. There isLoony MP backs bomb gang",which was given a full front page, and
Twenty things you didn't know about crackpot Chris".I did not know most of them either.
Poor Sunderland",wrote Lord Chapple in the Daily Mail on hearing the news of my selection in 1985.
First its football team is relegated and now comes even worse news.Well, I am sorry to say that our football team has just been relegated again, but we do not need any sympathy from Lord Chapple. Sunderland has been through hard times in the past, and has survived; as before, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and come out fighting. Sunderland looks to the future, not the past, and we shall soon be back in the premier league.
Plenty in today's Gracious Speech will be welcomed by the people of Sunderland, who have suffered more than most in the past 18 years. In particular, my constituents will 0welcome the emphasis on tackling youth unemployment. Like the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, Sunderland contains a great deal of unemployment, which lies at the root of many of our problems. To move a quarter of a million people aged under 25 from welfare into work, education or other meaningful activity is not a small ambition; it is a large one, and a great deal hinges on it. Only by reducing the huge amount of public money that past Administrations have squandered to maintain millions in enforced idleness will we liberate the funds that we need so urgently to spend on schools, hospitals and all the other things that we care about.
The minimum wage and the social chapter will be especially welcomed by my constituents. Indeed, I think that they will be welcomed by decent people of all persuasions, who know full well that a bottom line must be drawn under the way in which people can be treated. The lowest wage that I have come across in my constituency in the past few years was 89p an hour, and wages between £1.70 and £2 an hour are not uncommon. The contracting-out culture has led to the creation of a new class of poor, who are often worse off than those on benefit.
50 I am thinking of school dinner ladies, hospital cleaners, care assistants, private security guards and a host of others. They are all people who do important but undervalued work; they are all people who, as a result of the Thatcher decade, no longer qualify for holiday or sickness pay, or for a little basic job security—things that we used quaintly to associate with civilisation. The minimum wage and the social chapter will make the lives of such people a little easier: I welcome that, and so, I think, will most sensible people.
The minimum wage will also save us some public money. We shall no longer have to spend several billion pounds of taxpayers' money on subsidising some of our worst employers with family credit, earnings top-up and the like. Our opponents sometimes ask where we will get the money to fund our other programmes; well, there is a couple of billion for starters.
Like those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, my constituents will also welcome the Government's plans for reform of the youth justice system. We must deal more swiftly and effectively with the small minority of juveniles who are making the lives of respectable people a misery. No one is under any illusions, however. In the long term, the only way in which to reduce the tidal wave of crime and mayhem unleashed by the Thatcher decade is to provide all our young people with a sense of purpose in life.
I am glad to note that the Government intend to ban handguns. That measure interests me particularly, because last summer I drafted the minority report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which recommended exactly that. I hope that, in due course, it will also be possible to tighten the laws relating to shotguns, and to bring air weapons within the licensing system. A great deal of low-level mayhem is caused by youths with air weapons.
I am delighted too that the Government intend to regulate the funding of political parties, another matter in which, you may recall, Madam Speaker, I have long taken an interest. It is about time that we had a level playing field in that area. How can it be right in a democracy for the funding of one political party to remain a secret even from its own members? While we are about it, we might consider the mysterious process by which at election time the drinks and tobacco industry make available many of the most prominent advertising hoardings in the country exclusively to the Conservative party.
Finally, I was heartened to see that the Government have chosen to highlight their commitment to tackling global poverty and to promote sustainable development. All civilised people are looking forward to our overseas aid budget increasing from the miserable level to which it has sunk under previous Administrations—[Interruption.] I said all civilised people.
It is not just a question of aid, however. We must work with our partners in Europe and elsewhere to reduce the huge burden of debt under which so many of the poorest countries labour. In my previous incarnation I was a journalist and, in that capacity, I travelled in some of the poorest parts of the world. I briefly attended the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and I travelled widely in China, India and Afghanistan. Some of the scenes that I have witnessed remain printed indelibly on my mind. We cannot credibly talk of building one nation in Britain while ignoring the unspeakable suffering that afflicts so many of our fellow human beings.
51 I would not be human if I did not derive a little pleasure from waking up in the morning and hearing senior Conservatives on the "Today" programme debating how to make their party electable again. This morning it was the turn of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). No doubt they will succeed one day—not too soon, I hope. Perhaps on the strength of 13 days in the party of Government, I could offer a word of advice: go back to one-nation politics. In the long run, it will be better for us all and better for the country as a whole. [Interruption.] Yes, that is the limit of my advice. There are several possible candidates.
Madam Speaker, you may vaguely recall that some years ago I wrote a novel about a Labour Government who achieved a landslide victory. It was skilfully adapted for television by Mr. Alan Plater—with a little help, if I am not mistaken, from Mr. Alastair Campbell, whose influence even then was considerable—and shown in more than 30 countries. My Prime Minister was a Sheffield steel worker called Harry Perkins, played by a great actor, the late Ray McAnally. Harry Perkins briefly became a cult figure. So popular was he that there was even a modest write-in vote for him in the 1983 Labour party leadership election.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister bears no resemblance at all to Harry Perkins, but he is in his way every bit as radical. He has the same steely determination to make the world a better place. He also possesses some great strengths that Harry Perkins did not have: he understands middle England, he thinks long term and he knows that, to make a serious impact, he must have two terms of office, not one.
The programme that today's Gracious Speech outlines lays the foundation of a new era; an era in which we will seek to heal the wounds of the past; an era in which we will compete for office on the basis of appeals to the best, rather than the meanest, instincts of our people; and an era in which, as I said on election night, Britain will be governed in the interests of all its citizens and not just in the interests of the fortunate. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
§ Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)
Parliament is only a few days old, yet we have already lost one of our most distinguished senior colleagues, Michael Shersby. Many of the new Members present today may not have known Michael, but those old or new Members who did know him knew a kind, gentle and good House of Commons man. We will all miss him.
We will also miss other hon. Members whom we lost towards the end of the last Parliament. I recall particularly my colleague, Barry Porter, and Martin Redmond, both of whom showed the most incredible courage in the face of inevitable defeat by their similar, dreadful illnesses. Every-one who spoke to them or knew them during that dreadful time was moved by the immense courage shown by them and their families. There was also my colleague, kin Mills, who died so tragically towards the end of the last Parliament. We remember them with affection and respect for their service to their constituents and their country.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) moved the Loyal Address with his customary skill and wit and in his customary suit. When 52 he was speaking, I suddenly remembered how much he loves ice cream, and now I think I know why. What the right hon. Gentleman did not disclose was his clear financial interest in the change of Government. It is a substantial interest, because the right hon. Gentleman stands to make rather a lot from the future sales of his book "How to be a Minister". I can thoroughly recommend it. When he wrote it, he had just left office and I thought that, having just lost an election, he had rather a cheek to write such a book. Now I am not so sure that that is the case.
The book is in hot demand and I can thoroughly recommend it. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary has woken up. Let me tell him that one can always prepare. To those on the Front Bench who are after the Library copy of the book, I must say that I have it. It is available for private sector loan to anyone requiring it. It contains some excellent advice on such everyday subjects as how to get on with No. 10. That is useful reading for any new Minister. How to get on with the press is clearly best not talked about while the Minister without Portfolio is around. There is also a chapter on how to lose office gracefully, to which new Ministers may not wish to turn for a week or two, but I advise them to tuck it away.
There will have to be changes to the right hon. Gentleman's excellent book, because it was written a long time ago and things have changed. We then had Prime Minister's Question Time twice a week, which is specifically mentioned in the book. The chapter on working with No. 10 says:
Your meeting with the Prime Minister is over. You are now a member of the Government. What will your relationship be with the Prime Minister who has just appointed you? Clearly it cannot be what it was just 10 minutes ago".In those far-off days, there was no such thing as "Call me Tony" in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman.
The chapter on working with the press is intriguing, because it goes back to the time when colleagues in Parliament were allowed to meet or lunch with journalists without the approval of the chief press secretary or other senior Ministers. I know that the Prime Minister is anxious to keep close control over his Ministers and his parliamentary colleagues. I want to tell him discreetly—I have learned that if one wants to keep something discreet, one says it in the House of Commons and no one reports it—that I have some sympathy with him in that objective and some doubt as to whether he will be able to achieve it over time.
The right hon. Member for Gorton is a formidable opponent, as I have found to my cost from time to time. When I first became Foreign Secretary—thought at the time to be a somewhat surprising appointment, which lasted for a glorious 94 days—the right hon. Gentleman was generous enough to say that I had never been beyond Land's End. He was speaking in Bognor at the time. He would have been right to say that I had never been to Land's End, but I think that he was seeking to make a point, which he did with great effectiveness.
Only a few weeks ago, I saw a moving article by the right hon. Member for Gorton about his mother. I believe that she would have been very proud of what he had to say today, and very proud of the way in which he said it. All who heard his speech heard a remarkable parliamentary performance, and I congratulate him on it without reservation.
53 The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) spoke very well, and rather charmingly. He is a man of conviction, and he has even publicly conceded that he was a socialist. These days, therefore, he is something of a visionary. I do not share many of his political convictions, but I admire the courage and persistence with which, over the years, he has frequently and often with great success pursued unfashionable causes. He has often been proved right, despite incurring much odium along the way, and I much admire him for that.
As the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said, his result was the first to be announced in the general election. I heard that result, and I shuddered for new Labour, although perhaps I did not shudder quite as much as the Government Chief Whip. Nevertheless, the result was an intriguing prospect for those who have heard so much about the Government's programmes and know so much about the hon. Gentleman's convictions.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South referred, with some charm, to the stories in The Sun about him, one of which he still has hanging on the wall of his house. I fear, however, that he is a little out of date on that newspaper. Perhaps he should visit Australia to discover precisely the current allegiance of The Sun. He will be in very serious trouble if he continues to attack it in that manner.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South was also burgled. Like me, he lived for a while in Brixton—of which we are both very fond—and, at one stage, he was burgled regularly there. He put a note on his door, with his customary humour, which allegedly said, "I've been robbed so many times, if you find anything of value, you're welcome to it." I know how he feels. On policy, I almost put up a similar note—[Laughter.] I had planned on saying that I nearly put up a similar note on the door of the Cabinet room when I left it, but the House anticipated me.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South—like the right hon. Member for Gorton—is also a prolific and distinguished author. He mentioned his excellent book "A Very British Coup". It was rather unwise of him to mention it, as it was unwise of the Prime Minister, or the Chief Whip, to invite him to second the Loyal Address. For those hon. Members who have not read the book—I am happy to publicise it also; I hope that it is still generally available—it is an excellent read. For those who have not read it, it is a political novel about a Labour Prime Minister, with an absolutely huge majority, who makes a complete muck-up of it and is deposed in a plot involving the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that the Prime Minister's friends called him "Harry".
We have heard two excellent speeches in support of the Loyal Address. As the right hon. Member for Gorton said, it has been 23 years since we last heard two Labour Members move and second the Loyal Address. They were such excellent speeches that I believe that they would last for the next 23 years, if we were not to have the pleasure again for some time. The right hon. and hon. Gentlemen can be proud of their efforts.
I should deal with other matters. First, however, it is appropriate to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Labour party on their success in the general election, and I do so warm-heartedly. They have a comprehensive mandate to introduce their programme, but I hope that they will be careful about how they use their substantial majority in the House. I understand the attractiveness, 54 having achieved such a significant success in the general election, of moving speedily on many fronts. I also understand the attractiveness of sweeping aside some of the normal conventions to accomplish some of the goals about which the Prime Minister and his colleagues feel passionately.
The Prime Minister has made some political appointments to his private office, political appointments as his chief press secretary and other press secretaries, and changes—rather arbitrary changes—to Prime Minister's questions. I believe that the Prime Minister is right to consider the issue of Prime Minister's questions. I had no objection to that decision, although I share the view expressed by colleagues in a number of parties earlier that it would have been better if consultation had taken place before the decision was announced.
I believe also that it was unwise to rush ahead with a decision on the Bank of England that, similarly, was not discussed or considered in the House, or announced to it, or foreshadowed in the Labour general election manifesto. Those individual decisions are understandable, and no doubt taken in the first flush of enthusiasm, but I hope that the Government will reflect on the fact that the strict impartiality of the civil service is of great importance and the rights of Parliament should not be bypassed. I hope that that will be borne in mind for the future.
Although the Government have a mandate, so do Opposition Members. When the Government act sensibly, they will deserve cross-party support, and I hope that they can expect such support when it is in the national interest; but when it is not, they can expect, and will certainly be given, vigorous opposition.
This morning's Gracious Speech was made against a very unusual background for an incoming Government: the longest run of low inflation for 50 years, the lowest basic rate of tax for 60 years, rising employment and falling unemployment—down to 5.9 per cent. this morning after the success of the first fortnight of Labour Government—improving standards of health and education, the most competitive industry for decades and the lowest interest and mortgage rates for a generation, although, of course, before handing over to unelected officials one of his most important responsibilities, the Chancellor did raise interest rates, and with them the cost of mortgages.
The programme placed before the House and the country today is a mixed bag. It contains a great deal that we can support; indeed, if I may say so to the Prime Minister, some of the policies seem rather familiar. Strong defence based on NATO, the completion of the single market, reform of the common agricultural policy, a wider and more open Europe and, of course, a determination to pursue a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland are among the matters on which the Government can legitimately look to wide cross-party support.
We also share some aspirations with the Government. I say that because, in many ways, although the desired outcome may be the same, we would seek to achieve that desired outcome in a very different way from that proposed by the Government. No one would disagree with the aim of higher standards in schools, although we would not necessarily agree with the way in which the new Secretary of State for Education and Employment would wish to achieve it. Better care in the health service and lower unemployment fall into the same category.
55 During this Session of Parliament, there will be many debates in which the objectives sought by Members on both sides of the Chamber are the same, but there may be fierce debates because we shall disagree about the means of achieving an undoubtedly desirable end.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and today's Gracious Speech is full of good intentions. It also contains some very bad policy. It heralds three new taxes—one retrospective, even before the emergency Budget, which must be something of a record for an incoming Government. It has a flawed devolution package, which I believe will be the subject of much debate. It reintroduces trade union immunities which will damage competitiveness, with a statutory right of recognition on a plant-by-plant basis.
Returning to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and The Sun, with statutory trade union recognition on a plant-by-plant basis, one shop steward in one plant could prevent The Sun from being printed. That may not worry the hon. Gentleman much, but I believe that it would put the Treasury Bench in a great spin at the moment.
There are other areas of some importance. The reform of the social security system will continue to be one of the most important long-term questions confronting the Government. Let me say to the Prime Minister, we will welcome adventurous plans for reform that control costs and encourage the putting of people into work, and we will seek to be as constructive and co-operative as possible on that. I understand that the new Minister for Welfare Reform wishes every person to have his or her own personal pension fund. That is an admirable idea, but I cannot help remembering that, when we proposed that, the current Prime Minister and his colleagues turned it into one of the most outrageous scare stories of the last general election campaign. It would be a remarkable irony if the Prime Minister implemented that which he had previously denounced.
We have also been promised a Finance Bill. Next month's Budget will be only the first of a series of tax-raising Budgets to come. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have made promises on tax; we shall see whether they are able to keep them. I predict that taxes will rise and rise because, with the pressures on them from their colleagues, the Government will not be able to keep public expenditure down.
The first tax increase is, of course, the retrospective windfall tax which we have been promised for some time. It is to be levied on an unknown number of companies at an unknown rate, but it will certainly come in the near future. It is presented as a tax on fat cats. It is, in fact, a tax on jobs, fuel bills, pensions and investments. We do not know precisely how much the Chancellor seeks to raise. Figures such as £3 billion, £5 billion and £10 billion have all been floated at different times. If £5 billion is to be raised and only half that tax is passed on in higher bills, the average household bill will rise by around £50. The real figure could be double or even quadruple that.
Labour Members may think that that is not very much for the use of that £5 billion, but 3 per cent. off VAT on fuel will cut bills by only 36p a week—a tiny offset of the likely increase in fuel bills to be caused by the windfall tax. I hope that the Prime Minister will tell us whether pensioners and others will be compensated for 56 any increase in fuel costs that follows the introduction of the windfall tax. We provided such compensation when VAT was increased.
The windfall tax also has rather magical properties. It is a one-off levy which is to fund expenditure year after year. Plainly it cannot. Either the job subsidy that it will fund will go or other taxes will rise—unless the windfall tax or some other tax is to become an annual event. Perhaps we can be told which it is to be.
Subsidised jobs, which is what the tax will pay for, will exist only while the subsidy lasts, unlike the 900,000 new jobs created without subsidy in recent years. Even the subsidy is inefficient. It is likely to force current employees out of their jobs, to be replaced by new employees who carry the subsidy. If Labour Members think that that is just a Tory scare, I refer them to the work of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which has concluded that such displacement would occur and the Government would achieve only around 40 per cent. of their jobs target—a figure that takes no account of job losses in the utilities that will be newly taxed.
What is to be the net result of the new windfall tax? It is likely to be higher fuel bills, which we might charitably regard as ironic after all that was said about VAT—although I doubt that those paying the higher bills or those losing their jobs as a result will feel that way. As I said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
That brings me to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his extraordinary decision to hand over control of monetary policy to the Bank of England. The first question is whether there is a case for such a change. I concede that there is a case. I think that it is a bad case, but of course there is a case for handing the policy to the Bank of England. It is that politicians—Governments—cannot be trusted to keep inflation low. The previous Government kept inflation low, but the Chancellor clearly believes that that will not be possible for him. He may be right. For the sake of the country, I hope that, on monetary policy, he is right and that the move is a success, but I strongly doubt it.
Some commentators were surprised by the Chancellor's decision. I share their surprise. Only two or three months ago in a set-piece speech—not a casual answer to a casual question early in the morning—the Chancellor said that the Bank's recent record on monetary policy had been mixed. He said:
the Bank must demonstrate a successful track record in its advice and build greater public credibilitybefore it could control interest rates. By the time the Chancellor took his historic and, I believe, mistaken decision, he had seen the Bank demonstrate a track record. The only problem was that it was a track record of four days only. Two of those days were the weekend and one was a bank holiday. I am unsurprised, therefore, that the commentators were surprised.
The Chancellor claims that he is taking politics out of interest rate decisions. Glossing over the fact that I wonder what he thinks politicians are for if not to take decisions that affect millions of their fellow citizens, I make the point that he has not taken interest rate decisions out of politics at all. The decisions will be taken by a nine-member monetary policy committee headed by the Governor, appointed by the Chancellor, plus two deputy governors, appointed by the Chancellor, plus four experts, 57 appointed by the Chancellor, and two other Bank of England directors, appointed by the Governor who is appointed by the Chancellor. So much for taking politics out of interest rate decisions!
Will this historic change actually work? My fear is that it will work only too well. The Bank will meet its remit; of that we can be reasonably confident. To do so, it will if anything over-perform. It will over-deflate the economy to ensure that it meets the particular remit that the Chancellor has given. As a result, unemployment will be higher than it otherwise would be and growth will be lower than it otherwise would be. I fear that I must tell the Chancellor, from experience, that he will still get the blame for interest rate and mortgage rate rises, because when they go up, the Bank will blame spending or tax policies, or some other real or imagined horror that has emanated from the Government, so there will be no gain for the Chancellor there.
The Chancellor has handed a very important political power to unelected officials. He has damaged his choices as Chancellor of the Exchequer; he has taken a vital choice away from himself. He has damaged his choices in managing the economy, he has ensured that unemployment will grow and that growth will be held back, and he has done all that without debating with, considering or consulting the House of Commons on the decision. Although I know that the decision was well-meaning, I believe that the Chancellor will live to regret it because it is profoundly mistaken.
The Queen's Speech stated that education was to be a high priority. Again, I agree with that aspiration. Everyone wishes to see higher standards, and I am delighted that the percentage of pupils getting good examination results has doubled over the past few years. Here again, however, we share the aspiration but not the way in which to achieve it.
For example, the previous Government aimed to give more power to parents and to take it away from town halls, whereas the Prime Minister proposes precisely to reverse that process. Hundreds of thousands of parents have voted for their schools to be independent of local authority control, but the Prime Minister proposes to ride roughshod over their wishes.
That is not all. Local education authorities will have new powers over development plans and admission policies specifically at the expense of parents and school governors. The Government intend that despite the fact that, over many years, the worst-performing education authorities have consistently been Labour-controlled.
The changes offer a bleak prospect for the improvement of education standards. The assisted places scheme is to go because the Government do not believe that children from less well-off families should have the opportunity to attend good public schools. Such advantages for low-income families are plainly unacceptable to Labour. Only children whose parents can afford it can go to public schools. Under new Labour, the size of the wallet matters most in education.
The reason for that bit of ideological spite is, allegedly, to save money to reduce class sizes generally; but the figures do not, of course, remotely match, as the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will find out. The children who will not get an assisted place will go elsewhere to be educated, putting up class sizes in the short term and eating into the savings. 58 Some independent estimates—not mine—suggest that to meet the Government's objectives on class sizes, they will need £250 million over and above the savings that will arise from the abolition of the assisted places scheme. Where will the money come from? The answer will be either higher taxes, more borrowing or cuts in other programmes, but their objectives certainly cannot be met without extra money.
The Government's education priorities are very lopsided. They include worthy aims such as higher standards and the new targets set by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment—which are similar to the ones that we would have set had we won the election, as we announced during the election campaign. Other objectives may prove worth while, such as a general teaching council, but alongside that lies the traditional enmity of the Labour party towards grammar schools, city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and parental choice through vouchers and assisted places. The overall balance of the Government's education programme is very negative and, frankly, rather depressing.
Let me now turn to the centrepiece of the Government's programme—devolution. I concede that, on devolution, they have always had the best slogans but the worst arguments. The Gracious Speech provides for referendums in Scotland and Wales on a devolved Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. If the proposals are approved, legislation will follow.
As the Prime Minister knows, I believe that it is a profoundly dangerous policy, but he has clearly won the right to put it before the House of Commons. I hope that he will share with us the importance of the issue and the fact that, before voting in the referendums, the people of Scotland and Wales need to know all the implications involved.
Can the Prime Minister now confirm to the House that constitutional Bills will be taken here on the Floor of the House in accordance with convention? Can he please do so this afternoon? The Minister without Portfolio wriggled unmercifully on the radio the other day without giving any coherent answer to that plain, straightforward question. So I repeat it: can the Prime Minister confirm that the Bills will be taken on the Floor of the House? Can he promise that they will not be smuggled upstairs to a Committee stacked full of enthusiasts who will not properly examine the measures?
Can the Prime Minister tell us why he favours a tax-raising assembly in Scotland and a non-tax-raising assembly in Wales? Can he tell us why Scottish Members should be able to vote on such matters as health and education in England and Wales, whereas English, Welsh and Northern Irish Members will not be able to vote on those matters as they affect Scotland? It is not just the West Lothian question; it is the west Dorset, west Hampshire and west Lancashire question, and we still await an answer.
When the Prime Minister was asked for his answer to that question, he said that it was the same as he had always given, but he has never given an answer. Will he do so this afternoon? Will he let Scottish Members sit as Ministers running Departments and managing English affairs? The Foreign Secretary once memorably said that, as a Scottish Member, he would not be able to do that if there was a Scottish Parliament. Does the Prime Minister 59 agree? Why is it Government policy at present to have a tax-raising Parliament in Scotland, which the Welsh Secretary described as "economic illiteracy" in Wales? Can the Prime Minister answer those and the many other questions that will follow about his devolution policy?
Devolution of power, whether to Scotland, Wales or the Bank of England, inevitably takes power from the House of Commons, as does the Government's known policy for the Amsterdam summit in a month's time. In various important matters, our veto—in essence, our right to say no unilaterally if we choose to do so—will be unilaterally abolished. It will go on environmental policy, social policy, industrial policy and regional policy. Our right to stay out of the working time directive and the social chapter will go—an extraordinary policy for a Government claiming to be business friendly. With three new taxes, new trade union rights, a muddled policy on late payments and more taxes to come, that is a dubious proposition. If that is their idea of being friendly, thank heavens we do not have a Government who are hostile to business.
Of course there is a genuine disagreement between the parties over many European policies, but once a veto is surrendered at Amsterdam, Britain will have no right at any stage in the future to say, "No, we do not want those policies here," or to reverse those policies if they fail. The Prime Minister knows that. I therefore have a suggestion, which I hope he will find helpful. If he thinks that the policies are right, why does he not bring legislation before the House and let hon. Members decide through free debate and discussion? If we get it wrong, successive Governments can change it; but if we surrender the power to our partners, we can never change it—regardless of whether it proves to be right or wrong. Will the Prime Minister bring the measures before the House of Commons?
In the debate on the Gracious Speech, many of my right hon. Friends will want to raise a series of detailed points about the plans that the Government have set before the nation. The Opposition will do so, as far as is practicable, in a spirit of friendly co-operation. None the less, we will raise questions to which legitimately not only the House but the country require an answer. I hope that, notwithstanding the size of the Government's majority, Ministers will be prepared to give free and frank responses to such questions during the debate.
At the start of a new Parliament, a new Government deserve some good will and some luck. I willingly give them the good will and, for the sake of the country, I wish them luck. They begin their term of office with a large majority, a sparkling economy and unemployment below 6 per cent.—and falling rapidly. No Government have ever had such an inheritance. That inheritance was won despite the daily opposition and obstruction of many of the hon. Members who now sit in office and on the Government Benches. I hope that, despite all that they did to prevent us from reaching the very attractive economic situation, they will not wreck it through the policies that they will follow in the months to come. In the interests of the British nation, I wish them success; in the interests of the House, I hope that they will face us not as though they have a majority of 179 but with frank and open responses to the legitimate concerns of the Opposition and the country.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
I am deeply honoured to speak to the first Queen's Speech for more than 18 years to be put to Parliament and the British people by a new Labour Government.
I join the Leader of the Opposition in paying respect to Sir Michael Shersby, Barry Porter, lain Mills and, of course, Martin Redmond, all of whom we in the House remember with very great affection.
I also pay tribute to the witty and excellent speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). My right hon. Friend is renowned throughout the House for his wit. Indeed, I recall one of the first shadow Cabinet meetings that I attended under a previous leader, when the leader explained that a shadow Minister was absent because he had just had an operation on his throat and was able to speak out of only one side of his mouth. My right hon. Friend interjected, "So it was not wholly successful then." I will not describe the shadow Minister.
There are two copies of the great tome, "How to be a Minister", in the House of Commons Library—I have the other here. I think that one of the most interesting things about it is the eulogy printed on its cover, which says:
This is the one book I recommend to all my colleagues upon first taking office. It remains the best guide.Underneath is written:
The right hon. Kenneth Clarke".Now we know what went wrong under the previous Administration. If those are the precepts that the previous Government followed, I may have to forbid its being read by Ministers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is always as well to start as one means to go on.
The wit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton is well known, but he has another side, which you, Madam Speaker, and I, know as well. When I first came into the House in 1983, he was a model of encouragement, support and friendship to me and to many younger Members of Parliament. I salute him for being not only a great wit and parliamentarian, but a good and loyal friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, in an excellent speech, mentioned, like the Leader of the Opposition—I have to keep remembering to get that right—"A Very British Coup". I like to think that we have performed something of our own very British coup with 419 Members of Parliament.
One of the things that the Leader of the Opposition said that I particularly want to echo is that my hon. Friend has not merely given sterling service in the House, but is acknowledged throughout the country and on both sides of the House as someone of independent reason and integrity. He fought causes that were deeply unpopular, was often excoriated for doing so, but persisted none the less, and, thanks to him, people who should never have been in prison are free today.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke with considerable dignity and, again, I pay tribute to him for that. However, at times he was refighting the election campaign somewhat. I cannot, of course, agree with his judgment on the last five years of Conservative government, and neither did the British people. They know that their schools and hospitals, and the safety on their streets—the state of Britain—are not as good as they should be after 18 years of Conservative government.
61 We had the usual ritual scares about what a Labour Government would do and how terrible that would be for the country, but those scares just do not work any more. People know them to be false and they rejected them at the election. If Conservative Members have learnt no lessons from their election defeat, they had better prepare themselves for the next one.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman had read the Labour party's manifesto with sufficient care, he would have seen quite plainly set out that we want to move to a more independent form of political decision making. I shall come to that point specifically a little later.
There are two simple reasons for my party's historic victory in the election. The first is the Conservative party and the second is the Labour party. The Conservative Government lost touch with the instincts and aspirations of the British people; they broke their election promises; they were more interested in fighting among themselves than fighting for the interests of the country; but most of all they settled for second best for a great country whose people know that it can do better than the Conservative Government did.
I believe that our victory was testament to something else—the huge changes in the Labour party. Just as the Conservatives were changing for the worse, my party was changing for the better. The election was a vote of confidence in today's Labour party. People's worries about health, education, jobs and crime are what we are pledged to put right, and they are at the heart of the Queen's Speech.
We speak as the one nation party in British politics today. Anyone who doubts that needs only look around the House today. They will see Labour Members of Parliament from every part of the country; every region, every nation. We speak for the whole nation and we shall serve the whole nation. The Queen's Speech represents the alliance of progress and justice too long absent from British politics under Conservative government.
Our mandate is clear—to modernise what is out-dated, to make fair what is unjust, and to do both by the best means available, irrespective of dogma or doctrine, without fear or favour. There is much to do.
The Leader of the Opposition asked, in effect, what was wrong with Britain after 18 years of Conservative government. It was as if he could barely believe that the people had been so unreasonable as to put him out after all the good service that his Government had given. I will tell him what is wrong with the country today, and what we can do to put it right. I say that it is a betrayal of our future that in Britain, in 1997, almost half of our 11-year-olds cannot read or add up properly. In this 62 Queen's Speech, we start to put that right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour councils."] Even now, Conservative Members will not take responsibility for the situation that they have created.
I say that our national health service cannot and should not be run like some supermarket, as it was under the Conservatives, but should be run as a proper public service. I say that it is intolerable that many of our elderly citizens live in fear of persistent juvenile offenders running riot. In this Queen's Speech, we take the action to put a stop to it.
I say that it is an offence to the politics of one nation that we have a large number of young people idle, leading wasted lives, on benefit, with no hope of getting off benefit. In this Queen's Speech, we start to put that right.
I say that it is wrong that small business men and women wait in vain for their debts to be paid by bigger firms that can afford to pay them. Again, in this Queen's Speech, we put the power in their hands to right the wrongs done to them.
I say that it is humiliating that this country of ours, which has held the balance of power in Europe, and often beyond, for centuries, should have been confined to the margins of influence where the last Government dragged us. We will put leadership in place of isolationism.
I also say that a Britain that is young of mind and confident of its future must change a situation in which unelected quangos spend more money than elected local government, and where foreign donors can bankroll parties of government. In this Queen's Speech, we will clean up politics and restore faith in our public life.
§ The Prime Minister
In a moment.
There was a lot of talk during the election campaign that there would be no difference between the parties. I think that, in 12 short days, that has been exposed as the nonsense that it always was. There will be one other difference. This Government will keep their promises. [Interruption.] Conservative Members find that an extraordinary proposition. They are startled that anyone should say such a thing. On education, on health, on jobs, on crime and on the economy, the people's priorities are our priorities and the people's concerns are our concerns; radical, modern and very definitely new Labour.
We said that education should be our No. 1 priority, and it is. Education is the key both to the extension of personal opportunity and choice and to the nation's future prosperity. Today we will earn by what we learn. There is much to do—in the standards in our schools and in the skills of our work force. The measures that we will introduce in this Session of Parliament will begin the task of overcoming that education deficit.
First, we will phase out the assisted places scheme, which provides subsidy to fewer than 40,000 children in private schools, and use the money to cut class sizes to 30 or under for all five, six and seven-year-olds.
Secondly, we will introduce a Bill to tackle the key obstacles that hold back educational achievement. Every school and every local education authority will have year-on-year targets for improvement. Where a school or LEA cannot improve, new management will be sent in to 63 clear out problems. Head teachers will be given new, proper qualifications before taking charge in any school. We will introduce a new procedure for removing teachers who are sub-standard.
We believe firmly in the idea of home-school contracts that set out the rights and responsibilities of parents, schools and children. We will introduce such contracts in all our schools over time.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman says that it is a good Tory measure, but the Tories refused to introduce the measure that we are now introducing, thank you very much.
In addition to legislation, there will be fresh action on truancy, discipline in the classroom and homework guidelines in primary and secondary schools.
For years I have made clear our belief that information technology holds huge potential for our education system. We will be moving forward, with the help of the independent Stevenson committee, which we set up in opposition, on linking schools and colleges to the information superhighway; training teachers in the use of new technology—[Interruption.] I find this unbelievable. There they are; I can see them. Let me tell Conservative Members that nothing gladdens my heart so much as to see how little they have changed their behaviour and attitudes. They just do not get it. When we talk about bringing new technology into our schools, millions of people out there welcome it, and they want to see—
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman should go and talk to teachers in our schools. Then he would see how much needs to be done.
Every aspect of our school system that is not succeeding will be tackled. For too long we have known what makes for a good school—a good head teacher, motivated staff, high standards of excellence, smaller classes, and proper equipment and facilities. Now, at long last, we have a Government dedicated to bringing the best to all the schools in the country. Building the best educated and skilled nation in the western world will take time; of course it will—but at least now we are making a start.
I want this Government to be long-termism in action. There is no better example of that than the Chancellor of the Exchequer's decision, announced last Tuesday, to give the Bank of England independence in the setting of interest rates. Governments should not be able to play politics with people's mortgages, and the move is both right and long overdue.
I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that boom and bust, especially Tory boom and bust, has been the bane of British economic life for much of this century. It damages industry and deters investment. Even now, manufacturing investment is down 8 per cent. on last year. Manufacturing employment, too, has fallen over the past 12 months. Our population is the same as that of France, 64 but the British economy is 20 per cent. smaller than the French economy. Full-time male employment is lower today than it was six years ago.
I am afraid that I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, under his stewardship, despite North sea oil, and despite asset sales, the national debt doubled, and borrowing was allowed to get out of control. Over the past 18 years, under Conservative Governments, we have had the two worst recessions since the war. That is precisely what we want to put a stop to.
Yes, today we are no longer mired in the recession into which the Conservatives took us, but we must make any recovery last. Wise finance and stable economic management are the preconditions of allowing the supply-side measures on jobs, skills, investment and small businesses to work.
The right hon. Gentleman attacked us over our proposal for small businesses. Much action is being planned outside the Queen's Speech to help small businesses, but I believe that they will be greatly assisted by our proposal to give them the right to claim, by statute, interest on outstanding debts. That is a power that they have needed for a long time, and we shall give it to them.
§ The Prime Minister
In a moment.
In addition to those measures, we shall send a strong pro-competition signal to business, with the publication and enactment of the new competition Bill, which will radically streamline our competition laws and replace the existing Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976. It will remove unnecessary burdens from business and introduce a new approach to anti-competitive agreements and the abuse of market power.
§ Mr. Salmond
Will the Prime Minister clarify something for me? I was on "The World at One" with the Deputy Prime Minister, who in an interview twice said that the devolution Bill might not be published until after the referendum in Scotland. That cannot be right. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the position of the Scottish Office—that the devolution Bill will be published this summer and the referendum will be in the autumn? Can he tell the House exactly when he expects to publish the Scottish devolution Bill?
§ The Prime Minister
Of course the Bill will be published in time for the referendum, because the referendum will take place on those proposals. As the hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, perhaps I may ask him one, too. Will the Scottish National party now support our case in the referendum?
§ The Prime Minister
I suspect that we shall wait a lot longer than that for the answer.
I want Britain to be a nation of entrepreneurs: a nation where talent and ability flourish.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
I note that the Queen's Speech affirms that there will be referendums in 65 Scotland and Wales. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that a promise was made to those who would take part in the present talks in Northern Ireland that, whatever the outcome of those talks, there would be a referendum for the people of Northern Ireland. Will he confirm that commitment?
§ The Prime Minister
As was the case under the previous Government, the outcome of the talks and any settlement in Northern Ireland will be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum.
There is nothing more destructive of our national life and more corrosive of decent civic values and family life than structural youth and long-term unemployment. Almost one in five households in Britain have no one in work. Across the country, thousands of young people have been let down by the education system and denied training opportunities, and are condemned to long-term unemployment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will introduce a Budget in a few weeks' time that offers new hope for those young people on benefit through the windfall tax on the excess profits of the privatised utilities. All young people aged between 18 and 25 who have been unemployed for more than six months will be offered a choice of jobs, training and work experience. That is the way to give those young people some hope and a stake in the country's future. It must be the right way to proceed.
Our welfare-to-work strategy will be only one part of our drive to modernise the welfare state. My party played the pivotal role in founding the welfare state, and it is now our task to make it work for a new age. Let us be clear: we have reached the limits of the public's willingness simply to fund an unreformed welfare system through ever higher taxes and spending. Moreover, we face the prospect—brought home graphically by the previous Government—of rising welfare bills combined with increasing poverty and social division. For example, in 1979 we spent £7 billion on housing investment; today we spend more than £11 billion on housing benefit.
The blunt truth is that the world of 1997 bears little resemblance in work patterns, in industrial production and in social or family life to the world of 1947. Change is inevitable; but that change must be right and fair. We are therefore undertaking a thorough examination of all aspects of welfare reform. The Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security is looking at benefit reform, benefit fraud and help for lone parents; the new Education Minister will consider the recommendations of the Dearing committee in respect of funding for higher education; we are planning a royal commission on community care; and the new Minister of State at the Department of Social Security, the Secretary of State and other Ministers are examining the entire area of welfare reform, including pensions.
Dearest of all in the hearts of the British people is the national health service. It was my party's proudest creation in government, and it is our job to rebuild it.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success, and I hope that we shall see a great, and not too cautious, reforming Government. Will he give an undertaking that if, in the course of Ministers' examination of aspects of the welfare state, it becomes clear to them—as it is clear to the public—that it will not 66 be possible to do all that is necessary to provide the education service that we need and all that is necessary to provide a health service that meets the demands of the people, the Government will consider increasing significantly public resources for those two services? That is what the British public clearly want and what those services clearly need.
§ The Prime Minister
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the public clearly wanted a Labour Government—which is exactly what they got.
§ The Prime Minister
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman believes that it was his party's addiction to rather peculiar tax-raising powers that secured its electoral support, but I suspect that it was not. We are examining all aspects of welfare reform. In light of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I hope that he will support strongly our welfare-to-work proposals and the windfall levy when we present them.
On health, we made key election pledges. We said that we would scrap the Conservative internal market. We said that we would cut red tape. We said that we would restore the national health service as a strong, modern public service and cut waiting lists. The Queen's Speech starts to fulfil all of those promises. Savings will go towards treating more patients and cutting waiting lists for cancer treatments.
The Queen's Speech also contains a health Bill that will rescue the private finance initiative from the mire in which the last Government left it, and pave the way for the building of the promised new hospitals. After 18 years of neglect, we will take prevention seriously, as well as cure. I have created a new post of Minister for Public Health, whose job it is to mount a crusade against the killer diseases that unnecessarily claim too many lives. We will start with smoking. The Queen's Speech indicates that we will present shortly a White Paper containing measures to reduce smoking, and a Bill on the banning of tobacco advertising. There is no greater threat to the health of teenagers than that of smoking, and we intend to act upon it.
A modern welfare state and NHS is one part of rebuilding this country as a decent civic society in which every citizen has a stake, but with opportunity should come responsibility. That is the foundation of a strong community. We are giving people chances, but there are basic things we demand in return—law-abiding conduct and an end to anti-social behaviour.
During the election campaign in Gravesham, I met an elderly man—a second world war veteran—who told me he was afraid to go out to the shops because gangs of youngsters harass him. "I fought for this country," he said. "It's not fair, is it?" It is not fair, but we do not pretend that we can alter it overnight. Some of the roots of these problems go very deep—the decline in strong family life being one reason—but we can do something, and we will.
The crime and disorder Bill will introduce fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders and a new final warning in place of endless cautions, and will begin a far-reaching reform of the whole youth justice system. Young offenders will be made to face up to the 67 consequences of their offences, and parents will be made responsible for their children's behaviour through parental responsibility orders. In addition, the Government will fulfil our manifesto commitments to establish on a statutory basis local crime prevention partnerships to take action against anti-social neighbours, to legislate for child protection orders covering young children on the streets late at night, and to establish new offences of racial violence and racial harassment.
A central part of our programme will be the decentralisation of power and the granting to our citizens of greater rights to hold government to account. We will incorporate the European convention on human rights into British law, and we are publishing a White Paper on freedom of information legislation. We will devolve power—a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales and an elected authority and mayor in London.
Scotland already has different local government. Wales, particularly now that it has moved to unitary local government, could do with a powerful national voice. It makes great sense to replace the bureaucratic devolution through the Scottish and Welsh Offices by giving the people of Scotland and Wales a direct say over their own affairs, while retaining ultimate sovereignty in Westminster. Many Londoners have been crying out for a proper strategic authority for London that can give shape and direction to the government of London.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
The late John Smith described the Scottish Parliament as "unfinished business" and "the settled will" of the Scottish people. In view of the fact that the Tories suffered a complete wipe-out in Scotland at the general election, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reiterate John's commitment to legislate for a Scottish Parliament? Will he ensure also that the legislation reaches the statute book within this Session? Can he give some indication of the timetable he envisages for the first elections to the Scottish Parliament?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Will the Prime Minister give a firm undertaking that any constitutional measures will be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Blair
As I have said before to the hon. Gentleman, the referendum Bill will of course be taken on the Floor of the House. Other measures will be discussed by a new Committee on procedures to be established by the Leader of the House. There will be ample time for debate, but I have to say to the hon. 68 Gentleman and other Opposition Members that if the firmly established will of the Scottish and Welsh people is demonstrated in referendums, the people will not expect us to be game-playing here—they will expect us to legislate.
We will also put concern for the environment at the heart of policy making, so that it is not an add-on extra, but informs the Government. We are taking tough action to set mandatory leakage targets for water companies, and to improve their environmental performance.
We have integrated decision making on transport and local authorities, under the strong lead of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and I will attend the post-Rio summit, at the end of June, on the environment.
We will rebuild Britain's standing in the world, after years of a foreign policy too often dictated by internal fighting in the Government rather than a true assessment of this country's interests. There will be no false choices between the Atlantic and Europe. Our policies will be founded on the twin rocks of the strongest possible transatlantic relationship, embodied above all in NATO, and strong co-operation with our European partners.
At the intergovernmental conference at Amsterdam, I will work for an outcome that equips Europe for the historic task of enlargement—
§ The Prime Minister
I am so delighted that so little has changed. Perhaps I may just complete my sentence—and be allowed what some hon. Members never allowed the previous Prime Minister.
I will work for an outcome that equips Europe for the historic task of enlargement and retains national control in the crucial areas of justice and home affairs, foreign policy and defence.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Although I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new job, will he resign it if at Amsterdam he finds himself having to transfer massive powers from this country to the Government in Brussels?
§ The Prime Minister
It is a little early to be talking of resignation, but as the hon. Gentleman congratulated me I should like to congratulate him and, indeed, several of his hon. Friends-on the magnificent part that they played in our victory.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I am sorry.
I will also look for early progress on the issues that I have identified as central to our interests in Europe: rapid completion of the single market, reform of the common agricultural policy and a move to labour markets that can make Europe more globally competitive.
§ The Prime Minister
No, thank you.
69 We will work hard to get a better deal for our fishing industry and to reform the discredited common fisheries policy.
We have, I fear, an appalling inheritance from the previous Government's mishandling of the BSE crisis. We are urgently considering the best way forward to restore the British beef industry and to secure the lifting of the beef ban. We expect that the necessary measures that we will take to restore confidence will meet a sensible and swift response from our European partners.
We will strengthen the vital bond of the Commonwealth, not least through the Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh later this year, and be a new force for positive change in the developing world. The Department for International Development will focus on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable right across the globe.
It was always one of the better parts of the politics of the past five years that we worked closely with the previous Government and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, on Northern Ireland. I am happy to give praise once again to his efforts to secure peace. I hope and expect that the bipartisan approach that we had then should continue now. I said in the election campaign that Northern Ireland would be as great a priority for me as it was for the previous Prime Minister, and I reaffirm that today.
As right hon. and hon. Members will know, I have already met the main political leaders and talked to the Taoiseach, John Bruton. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. My approach will be based on the fundamental principle that there can be no question of any change to that status without the full-hearted consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is my promise and my guarantee.
I wish to make progress in the multi-party talks due to resume on 3 June. It will be much better if they can proceed in a climate of peace and include all the parties, but that depends on an unequivocal IRA ceasefire demonstrated in word and deed. Sinn Fein must move decisively away from violence and embrace once and for all peaceful methods and the democratic process.
The Queen's Speech contains a crowded and busy legislative programme, but as important as the items of legislation are the values that underpin them—such as fairness. That is why there will be a minimum wage, sensibly set in consultation with business, to remove the worst excesses of poverty pay.
§ The Prime Minister
We want laws that protect the public, which is why we will allow the House a free vote on the banning of all handguns, and pay our debt to the victims of Dunblane.
We want a Government in touch with the people whom they serve; which is why we will introduce a lottery Bill that will direct new funds from the mid-week lottery to the causes in education and health that would not otherwise receive funding through public expenditure. That is long overdue and massively popular: the people's money used for the people's causes.
That is the ambitious but practical programme of a new Labour Government who have their feet on the ground and sound values in their heart: the necessary mixture of idealism and realism that the modern age demands.
70 The British people do not have false expectations. They simply want a Government with clear leadership, who will start to get the essentials right. We will not put right the damage of 18 years in 18 days, or even in 18 months, but in 12 days we have already shown how we can make a start and make a difference. We have started as we mean to go on: offering leadership and setting the agenda, rather than having it set for us. In short, we are doing the job that we were elected to do: governing for the whole nation.
This is a Queen's Speech of which my Government can be proud. It builds on the hope and optimism that the election set coursing through the veins of our nation. It shows that change can come; it shows a Government rooted firmly in the centre ground, in touch with the people and governing for the people. It reflects the people's priorities. It shows the people's Government rebuilding trust between government and governed.
We said that Britain deserved better. In this Queen's Speech, Britain begins to get better, and I commend it to the House.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I ask hon. Members to leave quietly and quickly, because a right hon. Member is waiting to speak.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative party in paying tribute to the people whom they mentioned who are no longer with us. I also pay tribute to one whom they inadvertently left out. Nicholas Baker was a close neighbour of mine and I shall miss him greatly. I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would join me in that tribute.
I should also like to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) for their remarkable speeches. The Prime Minister believed that there was only one copy of the right hon. Gentleman's book—I beg pardon. I must get it right, but it is so difficult. The leader of the Conservative party believed that there was only one copy of the right hon. Gentleman's book, and the Prime Minister thought that there were two, but I can reveal that there are three copies in the House of Commons Library. No doubt, the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been called to propose the Gracious Speech has done wonders for the sales of his book.
I, too, have read the book—no, I have not. My researcher has read it, and has drawn my attention to the right hon. Gentleman's comment about two diseases that strike Cabinet Ministers. The first is called ministerialitis, which occurs when one puts the enjoyment of ministerial office before all other matters. The second is departmentalitis, which occurs when one puts the interest of the Department before all other matters, including those of the Government. We shall be watching for any outbreak of those diseases in the new Government.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South was once asked why he was in Parliament, and he said that it was to intervene at inconvenient moments to ask embarrassing questions of the Home Secretary. We hope that he will continue to perform that role, because we have a suspicion that it will still be required.
71 One of the problems about sharing a book with the leader of the Conservative party is that I had prepared the same joke as the right hon. Gentleman—the one about the notice left for the burglar reading, "Dear Burglar, I have been cleaned out: nothing left to take." I was going to comment that, having looked at the Queen's Speech and compared it to our manifesto, I knew how that felt, but the right hon. Gentleman got there before us—which perhaps tells us more about the Queen's Speech than about the notice left for the burglar.
§ Mr. Mullin
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. For the benefit of historical record, I should make it clear that no such notice ever appeared on my front door, although I was burgled more than 20 times.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Never mind. It makes a good story, and the truth should never be allowed to spoil a story.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his election, and on the election of his Government. He has shown remarkable courage and determination in reforming his party, and has won himself a remarkable mandate—probably the strongest mandate held by any Prime Minister, certainly since the war. I believe that he has behind him the good wishes of the nation, and he has mine and those of my party as well. I do not wish to reiterate the arguments of the general election; I think that the moment for that has now passed, and that we ought to look to the future.
A Queen's Speech is always important, because it sets out the direction that the Government intend to take over the next year. The Queen's Speech of a new Government is even more important, because it sets out the direction that that Government intend to take over the next five years. I hope, however, that this Queen's Speech will prove even more important than that: I hope that it marks the start not just of another Government, but of a decade that will bring the change, reform and modernisation that our country needs so badly and for which it has waited so long.
If a generation of progressive change, founded on constitutional and electoral reform, is what the Government intend, the Prime Minister can count on the Liberal Democrats to be critical but firm supporters of every step that he takes along the way. Of course we shall criticise the Government when we believe that they are wrong, and especially when their actions fall short of the programme of reform that the country needs. I have to say that there are some rather worrying examples of that in the programme with which they have presented us today. Our aim, however, will be to provide a constructive opposition, and if that breaks the outmoded convention that Oppositions must always oppose, whatever the merits of the case, we make no apologies for it.
After our most successful election campaign for 60 or 70 years, the Liberal Democrats now come to the House with a clear and powerful mandate. It is a mandate to fight for more investment in education; to ensure that the health service is protected and improved; to argue for practical, effective action to prevent crime; to put the environment at the heart of Government policies—that is one of the deficiencies of the Queen's Speech—to work for 72 constitutional reform and democratic renewal; and for a rather more rational, more honest and less adversarial style of politics.
If, as the Prime Minister has promised, this is to be a more open and inclusive kind of Government, we shall respond by being a more co-operative and constructive Opposition. If, as the Government imply, they want our politics to be less fussy and less formal, they will find us ready partners in that as well. This place, too, has become far too out of date and far too out of touch for our country's needs. Making the House more open, more approachable and more human is part of the vital task of creating a different culture for our politics as we enter the new century, so that we can start to recover the trust that politics and politicians have so obviously lost over recent years.
I hope that the Queen's Speech will be an historic one, marking not just a change of nameplate on No. 10 but a change of direction for the whole country. I hope that it marks the beginning of a process of reform, not only of our constitution and the culture of our politics but of our society and the education and welfare systems that underpin it, our relations with our neighbours in Europe, our approach to the environment and the way in which we run our economy. In their early days, the Government have made a good start. It is not to diminish the importance of that if one comments that that was the easy bit. The real task begins today with the Queen's Speech.
Britain now faces six key challenges. The first is to re-equip our people with the education and skills that are necessary for individual and national success. The second is to reform our system of government to rebuild trust in our politics and to give people more control over their lives. The third is to renew our sense of common purpose in society, based on self-reliance, shared responsibility and strong and efficient public services. The fourth is to reassess our relationship with the environment in which we live and the fifth is to rebuild Britain's economic strength by putting long-term investment before short-term consumption. The sixth is to rediscover our national self-confidence in our attitudes to Europe and to the wider world.
The Government's programme, presented to us today, begins to address some of those issues. For that reason, we give it now—as I hope that we shall be able to give it on Tuesday—a broad, if cautious, welcome. Indeed, it would be hard not to welcome a Queen's Speech with so many measures that first saw the light of day in Liberal Democrat policy papers. The measures include incorporation of the European convention on human rights—but what do the Government mean by saying, "Just the main provisions"?—the general teaching council for teachers, the independent food standards agency, a statutory right to interest on late payment of debt, independence for the Bank of England—the list goes on. It is said that the Government are enacting their manifesto. It feels more like they are enacting ours. However, other issues, such as the environment, should feature more strongly in the programme, but are ignored either wholly or in part.
There are some issues, notably education, where the intentions are good but, in our view, meaningless, unless they are matched by the resources to make them a reality in the classroom. Even the Government's modest aspirations for cutting school class sizes for children between the ages of five and seven cannot, in our view, 73 be paid for with the money that has been allocated to them from winding up the assisted places scheme. The sums, we believe, simply do not add up.
Why, incidentally, do we limit ourselves to reducing class sizes to 30 only for children aged between five and seven? The Government have tied their hands by refusing to consider funding education from a rise in income tax. The result is that schools next year will, I greatly fear, continue to be underfunded, teachers will continue to be sacked and children between the ages of seven and 11 will continue to be in class sizes of more than 30 as we come to the end of the century. That is just not good enough for a Government who tell us that education is their No. I priority. If they will the ends, they must will the means.
On some other issues, especially on constitutional reform, the judgments and priorities in the Queen's Speech seem—how shall I put it?—at best a little unclear. An example is the second question on the referendum on a Scottish Parliament. If, as the Prime Minister himself famously said, the people of every English parish council have the right to raise taxes, what is the purpose of asking whether the Scottish people should have the right to do the same?
Similarly, the Labour Party agreed before the election, that a fair, proportional electoral system for the 1999 European elections was both—I think I have the right words—their "policy and intention". The timetable for that, if it is to be seriously delivered, will be very tight if it is not done in the coming year. We shall press the Government on their intentions on that and, in particular, on whether they recognise that a fair voting system for the 1999 European elections will require speedy, indeed almost immediate, changes to the work being done by the boundary commission.
I hope, too, that there will be early progress on setting up the commission on electoral reform that has been agreed between our two parties and that was specifically promised in the Labour manifesto. I am pretty confident that that will happen, but it needs to get under way very quickly.
Although we understand the pressure on this year's legislative programme, a White Paper on freedom of information will—I say gently, given Labour's past record on this—be much more convincing as a statement of intent if it is accompanied by a firm timetable for action. It should not be deemed something that we can delay. Whatever their good intentions, the longer newly appointed ministers have to become habituated to the drug of Whitehall secrecy, the harder they will find it to kick the habit. The Government ought to be giving Whitehall a spell of cold turkey to get off that drug. I hope that the delay does not mean that they are getting a touch of cold feet instead.
The lack of clarity is disappointing in a Queen's Speech that, elsewhere, has much to commend it and that contains other sensible and welcome proposals, which we shall support. The right of small businesses to interest on the late payment of debt is long overdue. However, if small businesses are to succeed and grow, there is much more that a Government can do to help them, such as giving them ready access to equity funds.
We welcome an independent food standards agency but, if it is to be genuinely independent, it should be accountable not to Ministers, but to Parliament.
74 Fast-track treatment for young offenders is fine in principle, but not if it just ends up speeding up an already flawed system.
We are in favour of action to tackle workplace exploitation and poverty wages. However, in order to enhance jobs rather than destroy them, a minimum wage must be sensible and, above all, flexible to reflect regional variations.
We agree that there are savings to be made in NHS bureaucracy, but the Government are kidding themselves if they think that those savings can fund the health service, let alone the improvements that we believe that the British people want from that service.
We welcome, in principle, any programme that helps people off welfare and into work. I must tell the Prime Minister, who put the question to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that, in our view, it is just plain wrong to fund that from a one-off, retrospective tax that will, in the long term, inevitably disproportionately hit consumers, shareholders and probably pensioners.
We want to see the profits of the lottery spread more fairly, but core funding for health and education should not be paid for out of the profits of gambling because we have become so frightened of paying for them out of general taxation.
It was obvious to us that interest rates would have to go up after the election, however much the Chancellor and his then shadow denied it. The rise made by the new Chancellor will probably prove too small and may have to be followed by another. However, that depends on how tight a Budget the Chancellor intends to introduce.
We are glad, and think it is wise, that there will be an early Budget. As we said during the general election, heat will have to be taken out of the economy quickly. The fact that that was not done under the previous Government means that we shall now have to take stronger action than would otherwise have been necessary.
We believe that it would be far better for that to be done through taxation, rather than interest rates, which will damage business and push up the pound. Whatever he said to the contrary during the election campaign, I suspect that the new Chancellor believes that too. If we tighten our belts now, we have a real opportunity to get to grips with the huge hangover of debt left behind by the Conservatives.
The tax cuts, unopposed by Labour and given away in last year's Budget, will now have to be restored, just as we said they would, and just as both other parties promised they would not. As a result of the ridiculous, illogical, almost psychotic aversion that has now built up in our politics, the one tax that the Chancellor cannot and will not use is the most efficient, the most progressive and the fairest—income tax. That is ludicrous. For that reason, the Chancellor must hunt around for other means. Speculation today is that he will tax more efficient communications. I see no principled objection to that, but what is the logic for it when more efficient communications are vital to a modern and efficient country and its technology-based economy?
We must get back to a more rational, logical and reasonable debate about tax. The Prime Minister may, uncharacteristically, have misunderstood or not heard one of the election messages—that seemed to be the case in 75 his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. I genuinely believe—all the opinion polls show it—that the one policy best known and most widely supported during the election was our proposal for 1 p on income tax for education. It is a misjudgment if the Prime Minister and the Labour party do not understand that. If we continue to duck the issue of taxation, we shall never rebuild trust in British politics.
If the Government's tax policies are probably unsupportable, their spending plans on education and health are, at this stage, plainly unsustainable. If that remains unchanged, whatever tinkering the Government may do—or more than tinkering, to be fair—over the next year, our schools and hospitals will sink deeper into crisis. We said that when the spending plans were proposed by the last Government in their Budget and we said it throughout the election. Sooner or later, we believe that the Government will be saying it too. It is a problem that the Government cannot duck, and it will come at them very soon and very fast.
Liberal Democrats have come to the House doubled in numbers and with a clear mandate to fight for increased investment in education, for more resources for the health service, for a new recognition of the importance of the environment and for political reform and the modernisation of our institutions in Britain. We shall use that new strength to fight for the policies that we believe Britain needs. We believe that we share with the Government the mandate for change for which the British people voted 13 days ago. That means changing not just what the Government do and how they do it, but what the Opposition do as well. Where the Government are wrong, we shall oppose them strenuously, but where we believe that they are right, we shall support and assist them.
Where convention stands in the way of doing that, we shall be happy to see those conventions changed to improve the way we do things, both in the House and outside. That is why we welcome the Prime Minister's proposals to change Prime Minister's Questions to make them more constructive and beneficial to the House. If there are other ways in which we can sensibly change the way we do things, let us do so. That could include, for example, changes to the constitution or the essential reform of our antiquated and inadequate welfare system, which the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech.
I hope that this will be the historic opening of a historic Parliament of change. We believe that the Liberal Democrats are part of the force that won that mandate for change in the election. We now have the strength to play a real part in the modernisation of our country and we intend to do exactly that.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on his characteristically brilliant and witty speech. He and I worked closely together in the dark days of the early 1980s in the Labour party. I salute him for his courage and determination over many years, and for his contribution to the House of Commons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is a valued colleague in the northern region, and I and all hon. Members respect him for his campaigns against miscarriages of justice. I congratulate him on his witty speech.
76 I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his brilliant performance during the general election, on his smashing electoral success and on the start made by his Government.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on his successful election campaign. I agree that it was the same sort of voters and for possibly the same motives who voted in his Members of Parliament as voted in ours. I look forward to the Liberal Democrats making a positive and constructive contribution to this Parliament. If they think that what we are doing is sensible, I hope that they will back it in the Division Lobby. I hope that that is what they will do on the Queen's Speech.
It is extremely moving for me, after 18 years on the Opposition Benches, to be on the Government Benches, among so many hon. Friends and so many women Members.
§ Mr. Radice
Quite right. Perhaps Conservative Members, judging by their performance today, have not yet become accustomed to being in opposition. They will, although it takes some getting used to. Perhaps they should not spend 18 years, as we did, on the Opposition Benches, but their start has not been very encouraging.
At last week's historic meeting at Church house, the Prime Minister rightly told us not to be triumphant. He said that we are the servants, not the masters, and that we will have to justify the trust that the British people have placed in us. By winning 13.5 million votes—44.5 per cent. of the total British electorate—however, Labour had an electoral triumph. The most important aspect is that, with Labour Members elected from every part of Britain, we justified our claim to be the one-nation party.
As a northern Member, I am particularly delighted that there are so many Labour Members from southern Britain. As hon. Members are boasting about what they have written, I think that I should be able to get in on the act.
In 1992, shortly after our defeat, I wrote a Fabian pamphlet entitled "Southern Discomfort", in which I argued that Labour had to win more seats in the south if we were ever again to form a Government. My pamphlet was based on a survey of the attitudes of swing voters—which we now call switchers—in southern marginal constituencies.
I discovered that, in 1992, although those voters disliked the Conservatives, they distrusted the Labour party even more. I therefore concluded:
If we are to achieve a Labour victory at the next election we have to be prepared to adopt a new identity which is in tune with the times. In short, we have to become a new Labour party.As everyone knows, under the Prime Minister's leadership, we became new Labour, and, on 1 May, we won a famous victory. We made gains in every part of Britain, although none were so striking as those in the south-east. In 1992, Labour held only three seats in the south-east outside London. Today, we hold 31 seats, including eight in Kent, six in Essex, five in Hertfordshire and four in East Sussex. Once again, the Labour party can say that it is a national party.
I congratulate the Government on their tremendous start, and should tell them that the Queen's Speech is very impressive. During the election, smart broadsheet 77 newspaper columnists wrote that electing the Labour party would make no difference, but the Queen's Speech has answered that sentiment. It contains comprehensive and radical measures that will make a real difference to my constituents in North Durham.
I am thinking particularly of the welfare-to-work programme and of the education measures, especially those to cut class sizes—[Interruption]. I tell the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) not to knock the measures, because they are extremely important for my constituents.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman mentioned reduction in class sizes. Has he analysed the cost of forcing the 38,000 pupils who are currently educated in the private education system into the state education system? They will be forced into the state system if the assisted places scheme is abolished.
§ Mr. Radice
The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is not up to speed on the details of Labour's policy, which will be phased in. Those who are already in the private system will be able to complete their education.
Improvements to the national health service also will help my constituents, as will the anti-crime proposals, which are so needed.
I should like to mention three other matters, the first of which is the Bank of England. I strongly support a Bill to give the Bank of England operational independence. The action is a bold move—which was certainly foreshadowed for anyone who read our manifesto—and will do much to reinforce economic stability. It will also align the United Kingdom with other western democracies. Moreover, the action is supported by two former Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer, and is based on the report of the previous Parliament's Treasury Select Committee—of which I was a member, although Conservative Members formed the majority.
I think that allowing the Bank of England operational independence will improve control of inflation, because countries with independent central banks tend to do better on inflation. It will provide long-term protection and perspective to the Government, and it will give them to time to develop and implement their policies. I also believe that the proposals will enhance rather than lessen accountability. The Chancellor will continue to set an inflation target; a monetary committee will be established 78 which will work within the Government's guidelines; the Committee's minutes will be published; and the Committee will report to the Treasury Select Committee.
I remember a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, who appeared before the Treasury Select Committee. When we asked him about interest rates, he said that, when he wanted to raise interest rates, he raised them, and when he wanted to lower them, he lowered them. That was all he had to say about the matter. I therefore believe that accountability will be increased by the Government's measures.
I welcome the aspects of the Queen's Speech dealing with relations with the European Union. The general election campaign was fought in a nauseating atmosphere of Europhobia—which was not helped by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). The language about Britain's relations with the EU became more hysterical the longer the campaign went on. The Daily Mail wrote about fighting "the Battle of Britain", and The Times—the old thunderer—advised its readers to vote for Euro-sceptics and against Euro-enthusiasts, although it did not have much success in that recommendation.
The Conservative party produced a widely condemned poster of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sitting on the knee of Chancellor Kohl. The Prime Minister is well able to take care of himself, as he proved during the general election campaign, when he was subjected to consistent, mostly personal, attacks by Conservative Members. That poster was a disgraceful way in which to treat an ally and partner, and we should wholeheartedly condemn it. Now that the general election is over, however, we have a real opportunity to establish a more positive relationship with the European Union.
The general election has established that Euroscepticism was a far weaker force than its advocates claimed. The Labour and Liberal tide was no respecter of Euro-sceptics. The figures show that, of the more than 20 swings above 15 per cent. against Tory candidates, only three went against Euro-enthusiasts; the remainder went against Euro-sceptics. So much for the protective power of a commitment against a single currency. Almost all the Referendum party candidates lost their deposits, and pro-European views did not make any appreciable difference to the number of votes received by winning candidates.
I was targeted by the Referendum party under the slogan, which it published in the local newspaper:
a vote for Giles Radice is a vote for Brussels".Two days before polling day, The Times urged people in my constituency to vote against me. What was the result? I had a majority of more than 26,000, with a swing of more than 10 per cent. to the Labour party. That was a very good result in a safe Labour seat, and most other pro-European candidates had similar swings.
Above all, the election result has produced a Parliament with a massive pro-European majority. At least two thirds of Members can be counted as pro-European, so the new Government, unlike their predecessor, are able to conduct their European policy without constantly needing to look over their shoulder. They need not bother about the Conservative Euro-sceptics who held the previous Parliament to ransom.
The Government have made a promising start; I salute them for that. The Foreign Secretary has visited France and Germany. The Minister of State, Foreign and 79 Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who has ministerial responsibility for Europe, said in Brussels that Britain would sign up to the social chapter. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has adopted a sensible approach to the BSE crisis.
I want to mention parliamentary reform.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
Some of us who are much friendlier to the European Union than some Opposition Members have serious criticisms to voice, one of which concerns the common fisheries policy, which threatens the livelihood of many of our fishermen, especially in remoter communities in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend agree that the announcement by the Prime Minister that something will be done about the common fisheries policy was welcome?
§ Mr. Radice
Yes. It is good to have a sensible Government, who are not posturing on the issue for electoral purposes; there was some such posturing during the general election campaign.
I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to parliamentary reform. Parliamentary reform goes in waves; I was part of the previous wave, in the Parliaments of the 1970s. In 1977–78, the Procedure Committee, of which I was a member, recommended the setting up of departmental Select Committees. The recommendation was implemented—I give them credit for that—by the first Thatcher Government. The present intake of many outstanding young Members of Parliament, including some exceptional women, gives us a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the role of Parliament and overhaul its workings.
There is a reform agenda: get the Select Committees up and running, give them more powers and responsibilities, and ensure that their reports are debated and that the Government actually take notice of their findings. The legislative process should be made more meaningful. In that regard, the Special Standing Committee procedure of taking evidence before the Committee stage of Bills, or indeed before their passage, would be very useful.
Our European scrutiny is still not effective; it should be better. We need more parliamentary time for Back-Bench initiative, and we need a more up-to-date and professional Parliament, equipped to do the job of making the Executive accountable in a modern age.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)
If the hon. Gentleman wants to give Select Committees more responsibilities, will he urge not just his Back-Bench colleagues but Ministers to accept that every departmental Select Committee should shadow Britain's representatives going to Europe, and scrutinise what each Department head does when he or she goes to Europe?
§ Mr. Radice
I agree that Ministers must be more accountable to Select Committees on European matters. There is not enough accountability, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Radice
I am sorry; other Members want to speak, and I want to give them time. I am just concluding.
80 I believe that the new Labour Government will be a great reforming Government, and I hope that one of its achievements will be a comprehensive reform of Parliament.
§ Dr. Godman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you been advised by Madam Speaker to introduce a 10-minute limit on speeches after 6 o'clock?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
I have received no such instructions. It is a matter that must be determined at the beginning of business, so it will not apply today.
§ 5.4 pm
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your new office. I congratulate the new Government and Prime Minister on their election victory. I join in expressing the shared sorrow at the loss of former colleagues who have died in recent weeks; and I add to that my sense of loss and sadness that so many fine Conservative colleagues were defeated in the general election. We shall sorely miss their counsel and their debating skills. The nation will miss them. I hope that their absence will be temporary, and that we shall see them back ere long, when opportunity presents.
I want to express my gratitude to the electors of Wokingham. It was extremely reassuring on that awful night, only a few days ago, to be shown that I still had the trust of slightly more than half of my electors. I am very conscious that almost another half did not vote for me; I will represent their views as strongly as those of the half who did support me that night.
Like many colleagues and Members of the House, I have been listening carefully for months and years, and especially intensively in recent days and weeks, to the views of my electors. Only one in six of Wokingham electors bought the idea of new Labour, so I can speak with authority when I say that there are still many people in my constituency and throughout the country who need to be persuaded that the new Government will be new, that it will pursue the interests of the country, and that it will make Britain better.
My electors said that they wanted better schools and higher educational standards. During the general election campaign, many told me that they agreed with the Opposition parties that more money in the classrooms would help. I asked them why a Liberal-Labour county council had failed to pass the money on to schools. I worked with Conservative candidates for the local council to offer the electors a better deal for schools, and I am delighted to say that, as a result, the council candidates for the Conservative cause swept to victory in the new Wokingham unitary authority elections, promising the extra money. They will deliver on that promise.
I want to ask the leader of the Liberal party, who is unfortunately away from his place, "What is stopping Liberal councillors throughout the country offering that money now, today, to those schools?" They say so much about it; why cannot they back their words with the cheque book they control in so many local authorities?
81 My constituents said that, although they accepted that we had done much to pay for better health care and to expand the national health service, they would like it to be better still. Labour, Liberal and Conservative are united in saying, "We want a progressively better health service."
I shall watch carefully to discover whether Labour Ministers, devoid of extra money, can produce a better answer than the good answer that my right hon. and hon. Friends produced in recent years. They will find it difficult to switch the money from management to health care in the way they have suggested. I notice that their only ambition is to switch £100 million—a single day's spending in the great health service budget. There is no way in which our health service will be transformed by a day's additional money; it will need far more than that, and the Labour Government must ask where that money will come from and how they can run the service better.
I warn the Government that, if they try to unscramble all our reforms, many of which did considerable good, they will discover that that is expensive and unhelpful. Far from reducing managerial costs, they will discover that they have incurred more in unscrambling something that already works quite well.
The new Government's style is fascinating—the fixation with media appearances and with control of the spoken and written word of any Minister or Back-Bench Member who thinks that they might like to express a view. So far, they have been a Government of photo opportunities. I compliment them: some of their photo opportunities have been well judged—they looked good in the newspapers—but what a chapter of accidents we have had in the first few hectic days of the Administration. One Minister resigned in less than four days. That must be a record for the removal of a man from office in a new Administration. Another hon. Member was offered a job, and nine seconds later he lost it because the Government discovered that they had got the names muddled up and had made the offer to the wrong man.
Showing bold leadership, the Prime Minister decided to bring in a captain of industry—I trust that he was not one of the fat cats they had previously excoriated—to be Minister for Europe. He then discovered that his Foreign Secretary did not agree, so he back-pedalled, saying that the man would not be the proper Minister for Europe after all. The Foreign Secretary relaxed. A day later, we discovered that there was to be an alternative Minister for Europe, and that the gentleman from industry would go to the House of Lords and shadow the real Minister for Europe, to offer us two different versions on different days of the week.
It will be good to have two Ministers for Europe. On his first expedition to Brussels, the first one discovered that he could not put the microphone on, so his voice could not be heard in the important debates. What a symbol of new Labour in Brussels! They were not even heard, because they did not know how to work the microphone. It was a glimpse, in microcosm, of what will happen to the Government as they discover that smiling and being pleasant to our partners in Europe will not bring home the answers that we so desperately need.
Where is the better deal for our fishermen? There is no sign of it. Where is the lifting of the beef ban that the Labour party hinted at and promised before the election? 82 There is no sign of it. The two Ministers for Europe will be competing with each other, with different views of European issues, but they will not be heard, because they will be acting under instructions that control them too greatly.
The rift on Europe will go much higher than the contest between the two Ministers of State, interesting though it will be for us to follow their progress and their battles. The real rift on Europe in the new Labour Government is between the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. How wise of the Prime Minister to do a balancing act. He chooses on the one hand a Euro-sceptic Foreign Secretary and on the other a Euro-friendly Chancellor of the Exchequer, and leaves them to fight it out. I am sure that, in his usual way, one day he will be Euro-sceptic and the next he will be Euro-friendly, depending on the balance of forces in the Cabinet for the time being.
We have seen the Prime Minister at work with his ties. He has a good line in ties. Some days, when he is going to address business audiences, audiences in the south of England or audiences where Conservatives have been let in by mistake, he sports a good range of blue ties. On other days, when he is going to audiences who think that socialism should be mentioned, at least in private between consenting adults, he sports a good line in red ties. In masterly fashion, at the end of the election campaign he blended the two into royal purple before ascending the throne. He will find it considerably more difficult to blend the views of the right hon. Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook). We shall see many more disputes and scraps between those two ere we have a European policy that can work.
Conservative Members will take a great interest in the Minister without Portfolio, aptly named in the press the "Minister for meddling". He will sum up a meddling Government, meddling incessantly, and trying to orchestrate everything that is said, and quite a few of the things that are done, by the new Administration. I am sure that he will upset Labour Members all too often, because they will come to resent the undue power and influence that he, a rather junior Minister, has against that of his Cabinet colleagues and betters. We shall watch carefully.
I enjoyed the deft touch that the Minister without Portfolio showed by banning the ministerial lunch for journalists. The unattributable briefing over lunch is one of the important highlights of the British constitution. It encapsulates our freedoms. How can the press and public know what is going on behind closed doors in the secrecy of Whitehall unless a Minister can go to lunch and brief journalists to get his side of the story across?
Journalists will come to resent the banning of the ministerial lunch. I look forward to Ministers nipping out for unattributable briefings over tea. The Government may be able to ban lunch, but we shall undoubtedly find that they cannot ban tea or dinner or drinks or walks round the park or meetings in a chosen pub in a nearby constituency. That is bound to happen.
We shall also keep a careful watch on the difficulties that the right hon. Lady allegedly in charge of the Department of Social Security will have with her rather over-mighty subject, her Minister of State. I enjoyed reading the press comments that the Minister of State spent half an hour arguing with the Prime Minister, saying that, because he was the brains behind welfare reform and the man who could capture the media and gain the attention of the public, he ought to be the boss.
83 I look forward to seeing the right hon. Lady trying to exert her discipline over the Minister of State. The battle of Peckham and the battle of Birkenhead will mean that we shall have little progress on welfare reform, but a great deal to keep us amused on the Opposition Benches.
There are already some serious problems in the Government's approach to their task. Together with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I object to the systematic attack on democracy that the Government have already unleashed. We have seen it from the Chancellor, who said just a few days after gaining that important office that he would give half his job away. After 18 years of struggle to have a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, they gave half the job away in less than 18 days, because the task was too much for them.
Conservative Members will hold the Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible and accountable for what the Governor of the Bank of England and his monetary committee do. We believe that interest rates are one of the most important ways of controlling the economy, and we shall regard the Chancellor as having the ultimate responsibility for making the right judgments. The Government cannot give away so much democratic power and expect to get away with it. The House will consider the Chancellor the man who has to answer.
The Foreign Secretary, who is usually more reticent about surrendering powers to Brussels, has been equally busy undermining the democratic rights of the House and the British nation. He is one of the architects of the signing of the social chapter.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said so well today, if the Labour Government want to change our social and employment laws, why do they not bring measures forward to the House in the usual way? I predict that, with their majority, they might even get such measures through, but we want the right to debate them, and we want the British people to have the right to amend them, improve them or repeal them if they do not work.
The Prime Minister must accept that some of the measures that will come forward may be against Britain's interests. He and his Ministers may try to vote them down. They may destroy jobs for young people in the constituencies of Labour Members, but the Government will have given away the right to do anything about it. We shall hold them accountable for that gross mistake.
When I saw the Foreign Secretary's television launch of his new mission statement—an unusual thing for a Foreign Secretary to launch—I wondered whether the sum of his ambition was to turn the fine Locarno room of the Foreign Office into a Fred Karno cinema. It was a terrible sight. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will rise to the dignity of his office, rather than undermining the grand architecture and the important status that a Foreign Secretary should enjoy.
I noticed the Prime Minister moving quickly today to try to cover up the Foreign Secretary's mistake in leaving out of his mission statement any mention of the United States of America and NATO. How can anyone hold that high office for our great country and not understand the importance of the American alliance? How can anyone understand this country and not realise that the defence of 84 our freedom rests on NATO? I am delighted that the Prime Minister has learnt about that after reading it in the newspapers, but I wish that the Foreign Secretary would come to the House of Commons to make a statement—this time getting it right—showing that he understands the importance of NATO and the American friendship.
The Prime Minister has been busily trying to undermine our democracy. I read reports of his remarks to Labour Members assembled in a building near this Palace only recently. He is alleged to have said that their duty is not to represent their constituents' worries and grievances to the Government, but to represent new Labour to the nation. I trust that that was a mistaken report, but it seemed to fit with the images that were coming across—the celebrations, and the idea that new Labour had all the answers and was now going to govern in a new and more controlled way.
All Members of this House must understand that we are here to perform our duties first and foremost for our constituents. It is the obligation of all new Labour Members to represent the views of their constituents to this House and to the Government they support. We will make sure that they do so, although we hope that they will do so of their own accord.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to challenge the Prime Minister over Prime Minister's Question Time. The only defence for the changes coming from the Government is that there will still be half an hour in which to cross-examine the Prime Minister in a normal working week, as there was before. That argument misses out some of the most important characteristics of the changes.
The first problem is that the Leader of the Opposition will be able to ask the Prime Minister a maximum of only three questions a week rather than six. Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have given the Leader of the Opposition the courtesy of being able to ask three questions on Tuesday and three questions on Thursday. We have had big majorities and we could have stopped that happening, but we are democrats, and we believe that the Opposition have the right to ask questions and to hold the Prime Minister to account. Why is this Prime Minister running away from that accountability even before he has stepped fully into the job?
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
There is no denying the large majority on the Labour Benches, and I support the current electoral system. Is it not the case, however, that, since the Labour Government got fewer votes than we had in 1992, they should be wary of saying that they have a mandate to change this country in all sorts of ways? They have no such mandate—or, if they have, we had a greater mandate in 1992.
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend is right to say that all democrats in the House must understand what the electorate were saying.
The electorate were, of course, criticising us, and we must learn from their criticisms. The electorate were saying to Labour, "We will give you a trial. If you make our schools better, if you make our hospitals better, and if you continue the economic recovery that the Conservatives generated, we shall applaud what you do." That is conditional approval even for a party with such a majority. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for 85 Blaby (Mr. Robathan) rightly said, the overall number of votes cast was below the level we achieved in 1992, with a much smaller majority.
The Prime Minister's other proposed reform for Prime Minister's questions, as I understand it, is to make Back Benchers table in advance the general subjects of their questions, in order to narrow the scope for cross-examination. It is not always possible to know what crisis will blow up or what will be the issue of the moment when we get to Prime Minister's Question Time. It is far better, on the Tuesday or the Thursday, to have open questions, so that Members of Parliament can ask the supplementary on any issue that matters.
The public have a right to see the chief executive of the nation—the Prime Minister, the leader of the Government—under close cross-examination at least twice a week, and we have the right to ask about anything that is of public interest. Madam Speaker will keep us in order; she will make sure that we ask only about things that fall within the responsibility of the Government. I ask again why the Prime Minister wants to run away from accepting responsibility, facing the questions and allowing us and Labour Back Benchers to ask about things that are topical and which clearly matter.
A lot has been made by Labour Members in our discussions on the Queen's Speech about the money that will be freed by the rather bitter measure to abolish assisted places. We are glad that assisted places are paid for out of taxpayers' money, thus giving children from low-income families or from modest backgrounds the chance to go to an excellent school. Labour will create a worse kind of apartheid in this country, because children from low-income families will have no chance to go to a fee-paying school.
The Government will not succeed in lowering class sizes dramatically across the rest of the country as a result of that mean-spirited measure. As the Leader of the Opposition has already pointed out, a great deal of the money that is saved on assisted places will have to be spent on providing spaces for those self-same children in the schools to which they will go instead. The proposal is bogus, and it will undoubtedly backfire.
I say to Labour, as I said to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) a few minutes ago, that a large amount of money is already available in the budgets of the county councils and other education authorities. Labour councils are blocking that money from going into schools. That is where the money is needed, and that is the problem that the Prime Minister should be tackling in his policies.
I find it surprising that the Prime Minister, having refused to answer me and others over the past two years when we have raised points about the wrongdoing and bad practices of so many Labour authorities, is now turning against them. He intends to use Conservative legislation to intervene in schools that Labour councils have failed to run well. I am glad that he has at last got there, but I believe that it is a great pity that he did not support our legislation to the full when we introduced it. It is a great pity that he and his colleagues in councils around the country have wasted two years when they could have tackled the problems, dealt with the bad teaching, got on with the job, and spared some more children a poor education.
86 The Government's proposals in the Queen's Speech and the forthcoming Finance Bill are equally unwelcome to us and to many voters. I did not find enthusiasm even among Labour voters for a utilities tax. People know that, in the end, the customer has to pay, and they know that the customers who find the water bill, the gas bill and the electricity bill the most difficult to afford are those on low incomes, those who spend most of their time at home, and pensioners—those who need the utilities' products more than the rest. It is a disgrace that a Labour Government can propose such a mean measure, which will attack the weakest and poorest in society, while not seeming to be aware of what it will do to all those people.
There are now rumours in the press that mortgage interest relief will be abolished just to make sure that home owners, who are already smarting under the first Labour interest rate increase, will have even less tax back to help them to meet their mortgage payments. I do not remember new Labour telling the electorate before the election that there would be a double whammy of that kind on home owners. Conservatives must speak out against the abolition of mortgage interest relief if the Government make such a proposal in the forthcoming Budget.
The Labour party has proposed some referendums, which are very welcome. I relish the prospect of helping to fight devolution through the ballot box in the campaigns leading up to the referendums in Scotland and Wales. It is likely that the Welsh people will decide, as they did in the 1970s, that they do not like Labour's proposals.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many Conservative Members of Parliament there are in Wales?
§ Mr. Redwood
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is well informed; I do not think that he really needs an answer to his question. I can tell him, however, that, in the 1970s, there were many Labour Members of Parliament in Wales. The Labour-Liberal Administration at the time proposed a form of devolution for Wales which was remarkably similar to the one that is in the Queen's Speech. It was voted down by a majority of 4:1 in the Welsh referendum. We have a good chance in the forthcoming Welsh referendum, and I look forward to it.
In the campaign leading to the Scottish referendum, we have a good chance of persuading the Scottish people that they do not want a Parliament with tax-raising powers; we shall return to that matter in due course.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is reasonable for English Members of Parliament to intervene in the devolution proposals for Scotland and for Wales, is he suggesting that any referendum that takes place on those issues should take place over the whole of the United Kingdom rather than just in those principalities?
§ Mr. Redwood
I am about to answer the question.
87 We wish to have the widest possible referendum. We certainly have strong views on what should be adjudged a victory. It is most important that the Welsh and Scottish referendums should require not a simple majority of those voting but a simple majority of those eligible to vote. Those who seek a dramatic constitutional change should have to show that there is a real appetite for such a change.
Hon. Members who told me a moment ago that we had no chance of winning the referendum are now saying that they could not possibly accept a referendum that required even 50 per cent. of the electorate to vote in favour. What is so wrong with demanding that? Why are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen so afraid of their own case that they immediately say that they could not possibly accept the idea of half the electorate having to agree?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Would my right hon. Friend extend his admirable principle of the necessity for a qualified majority to the referendum on London's government? As a London Member, in the recent general election campaign I encountered not a single voter at a public meeting or on the doorstep who expressed any wish whatsoever for a directly elected assembly for London.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a positive suggestion that we shall need to debate if and when similar legislation is produced for London.
I should like the Labour Government to take their passion for referendums just a little further. It is likely that the new Labour Government will surrender more powers to the Brussels institutions. It seems that they are about to make the mistake of surrendering our national veto over regional, industrial and environmental policy. They will undoubtedly surrender our veto over matters of social and employment law.
That, too, should be put to the British people. If the Government are proud of that transfer of power, surely it would give them great pleasure to prove us wrong and show that the British people want the powers to be transferred. I do not believe that, and I should like to take the case to the British people.
§ Mr. Radice
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has noticed, but we have just had a referendum. It is called a general election, and we won. We won on the social chapter and our policy of producing a result at Amsterdam. As usual, the right hon. Gentleman is simply trying it on. Is this not his bid for leadership for the Tory party?
§ Mr. Redwood
There was no referendum on Europe. A general election covers all issues, and is a judgment on the rival programmes of the Government and Opposition parties. We know the verdict of the people on the general issue, but not on the European issue. However, the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, became extremely Euro-sceptic during the election campaign, because at one point he was deeply worried that he would lose votes by being too friendly to Brussels and offering to surrender too many powers.
I repeat that, in fairness, the Government should hold a referendum if they wish to surrender any more of Britain's democratic powers. I wonder whether some Ministers 88 around the Cabinet table have realised how difficult their task will be to achieve what they want for the regions of the United Kingdom, to implement their environmental policies and to champion the cause of our industry if they surrender those vetoes and have to accept the verdict of those around the Council table. They will discover that they will not always predominate, and they will be forced to act against their will.
I do not think that the new Ministers have any idea of the legal minefield into which they are leading the country, and how damaging it will be to our future as a vibrant, independent democracy, if they surrender all those powers.
We in the Conservative party stand for a Europe of nations. We believe that Europe is our continent, but not our country. We stand for true devolution of powers to families, individuals and free institutions, not to large, corporate governments in new and sometimes artificial parts of the United Kingdom. We want Britain to be a good ally, a reliable friend, a valued trading partner, and a country with global reach and ambitions. It is our duty to provide vigorous opposition when the Government are not working in the nation's interests, and to keep alive the flame of Conservative principles for better days.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
If that was meant to be an election address by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), it is clear that if he becomes Leader of the Opposition, the Tory party will be vulcanised into opposition for many years to come. If he is intent on intervening in the referendum campaign in Scotland, the more often he comes up to Scotland the better, as I am sure that his presence there will help to maximise a double-yes vote in the referendum.
This is the first time in nearly 20 years that I have been able to give a general welcome to the contents of a Queen's Speech. It contains many measures that I whole-heartedly support, particularly those to improve education and training opportunities for young people by using the proceeds of a windfall tax and the abolition of the assisted places scheme. I also welcome the Government's commitment to introduce a national minimum wage to end the exploitation of low-paid workers.
The proposed ban on the private possession of handguns and the ban on tobacco advertising, will, I hope, help to save lives, and the national health service reforms should help to transfer resources from bureaucracy to patient care. However, in respect of the national health service and education, it is not enough simply to transfer resources from existing budgets. Those services require an injection of additional resources to bring about the necessary improvements and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear that in mind.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his victory over the European Commission in his efforts to reduce VAT on domestic fuel and power, but I cannot say the same about his recent decision to give the Bank of England control over interest rates. It is ironic that, having campaigned for 18 years to get our hands on the levers of power, within less than a week of achieving that we have handed over one of the most powerful levers to the bankers. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said that it will lead to more stability, but we shall see.
89 I shall address most of my remarks to constitutional matters, particularly the proposed referendum on a Scottish Parliament. Last August, I wrote a rather prophetic article in the Herald stating:
Just imagine the scenario in the immediate aftermath of a Labour victory at the next General Election.The Tories will be in a state of complete disarray. They will be deeply divided, totally demoralised and much of their remaining energy will be dissipated in the search for a new leader. Those early months of a new Parliament would be the optimum time to hit the enemy when at their weakest, before they have time to reorganise. In such circumstances, there would be obvious advantages in introducing at the earliest opportunity the Bill to set up a Scottish Parliament in order to fulfil Labour's pledge to pass the legislation within the first Parliamentary Session.However, the Labour leadership, in their wisdom or otherwise, have decided to publish a White Paper and then hold a referendum before introducing the legislation to set up a Scottish Parliament. I fail to see how that will speed up the legislative process.
In Scotland and Wales, we have received the greatest mandate that any Government have ever received for constitutional change. The Tory party, the party of the status quo, was annihilated at the general election. More than 90 per cent. of Scottish constituencies returned representatives of parties that are committed to the Scottish Constitutional Convention scheme for a Scottish Parliament. With such a mandate, there should be no need to pussyfoot around with a White Paper and then a referendum. The Government are, however, obviously committed to holding a referendum and, in those circumstances, the sooner it is held the better. I shall certainly be campaigning as hard as anyone for a double-yes vote: yes for a Scottish Parliament and yes for revenue-raising powers.
The Tories' so-called tartan tax campaign failed to win them a single seat in Scotland, so we should be more positive in putting the case for a Scottish Parliament that has legislative and economic powers, including revenue-raising powers. No meaningful Parliament anywhere in the world is without revenue-raising powers. If the people of Scotland want to spare an extra penny or twopence in tax to create a better national health service or better educational opportunities for their children, that is their democratic right, and the House should not stand in their way.
I still do not think that holding a referendum is a particularly good idea, but the Government are obviously determined to hold one. In view of that, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to hold the referendum and introduce legislation to set up a Scottish Parliament as soon as possible. I urge them to get that legislation on the statute book in this Session. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition give such a commitment in reply to my question earlier in the debate.
§ Mr. Canavan
Sorry, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Like him, I am finding it difficult getting used to the new terminology. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend reiterate the commitment.
The people of Scotland have already waited too long for a real Parliament with economic as well as legislative powers. It is now up to us to finish what John Smith described as "unfinished business". The people have spoken through the ballot box and it is up to us to deliver.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on presiding over our proceedings and wish you well in your role as the Chairman of Ways and Means. I hope that I will not run foul of your rulings, and that, one with the other, we will live in peace. Nevertheless, those of us who represent minorities have a duty to speak our minds and represent those who sent us to the House.
I very much welcome the assurance given by the Prime Minister today in answer to my question. The promise to all parties to the talks that are going on at the moment was that, whatever the outcome, the final voice heard would be that of the people. It is clear that there will be the opportunity in Scotland and Wales to vote in referendums. It is only fair that any proposals that emerge from the talks should go before the people.
I welcome the assurance today more than ever because we are entering a very serious time in our Province. There are heightening Unionist fears and heightening fears among the nationalist people. The past weeks have seen an upsurge in evil crime in our Province. A Roman Catholic man was beaten to death in Portadown and, in a tit-for-tat retaliation, a Protestant man was viciously beaten to the point of death in Londonderry. A police officer was murdered in Belfast, and the night before last republicans in Dungannon attacked the homes of Protestants. Only by the mercy of God did two families escape burning to death. The oldest Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland, Carland Presbyterian church, was attacked at the same time. In County Antrim, a Roman Catholic man who trained young people in engineering techniques in my constituency was brutally murdered.
There is a downward spiral of terrorism. It is therefore important that the people of Northern Ireland are assured about what the new Government are going to be up to.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) had some things to say about Europe. My attitude to Europe is very well known. There is a change in Europe. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), the leader of the SDLP, and I had a meeting with Emma Bonino at seven o'clock this morning. It was the most constructive meeting that we have ever had. It seems that, with the Labour Government coming into power, there will be a definite movement on the beef crisis. We certainly all came away greatly encouraged. I hope that such movement will occur.
In addition, the President of the European Commission made a very good announcement yesterday. He told the hon. Member for Foyle, Mr. Nicholson, the other Northern Irish Member of the European Parliament, and myself that the Commission would continue its payments of special peace and reconciliation money to Ulster. That payment was due to stop at the end of three years, but is now to continue for five years. Over next year and the year after, 100 million ecu will go to Northern Ireland, which I certainly welcome.
I trust that there will be a resolution of the beef crisis. Our economy is based on beef. Economies in other parts of the United Kingdom share the need for such a resolution. It is a matter of great urgency that the beef crisis is resolved. Voices have been raised in the House about the way in which that should be done. Parts of the country that can fulfil the criteria should not be held back by other parts that cannot. A start could be made and we 91 could resolve the problem altogether for every part of the United Kingdom, which I am sure every hon. Member would welcome. There is some movement in Europe, and I trust that it will continue.
We need to look again at the policies that the Conservative party foisted on the people of Northern Ireland. I heard the very strong appeal of the right hon. Member for Wokingham that the people should be consulted. The people of Northern Ireland were never consulted about what the Tories did. I was amazed to hear what he said about asking the people. A piece of Tory legislation said that it did not matter how many people voted in Northern Ireland as long as there was a I per cent. majority—even if only 30 per cent. of all the people voted. The status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom has been changed. Now the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we must have weighted majorities. I hope that he will extend that logic to Northern Ireland—but I doubt it.
The people of Scotland have every right to say in a referendum how they wish to be governed in the United Kingdom. The people of Wales have every right to do the same. There is a great argument about what will happen if we have local Parliaments and whether one should speak on matters that relate to what is happening under them. That happened in Ulster. I was a Member of both Stormont and this House and there was never any difficulty about it. Members from both Parliaments were able to ask questions that related to what was happening in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Government should look back at what happened in previous times.
I trust that what the Prime Minister said today about education, employment and youth training will be applied rigorously in Northern Ireland. At present, Northern Ireland faces the serious loss of 2,000 jobs in the action for community employment programme. Those assisted jobs, in which young people were given skills training, will be lost. That Tory Government policy was resisted by both the SDLP and the Unionist Members. Nevertheless, the axe is coming down and 2,000 jobs for young people will be cut off at a stroke. I hope that the Government will be able to prevent those swingeing cuts, already decided by the outgoing Tory Government, from taking place in Northern Ireland.
A total of 600 teachers in Northern Ireland are to lose their jobs. The Conservative Government said that they were translating the money from education to defence. Children and parents in Northern Ireland are to suffer because of IRA and other terrorists. That would not be tolerated in any other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I trust that the principles set out by the Prime Minister will be applied as rigorously in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Many of the teachers who are to lose their jobs will be mature teachers taking voluntary redundancy because they have been told that there is no place for them. If mature teachers are taken out of a school, new teachers will have no one to help them with their problems. They will be on their own. The resulting gap in a child's education can never be made up. I make a plea to the House today to think of the children of Northern Ireland.
If it had been suggested to the people of Manchester that, because of the horrific bomb there, money was to be taken from the city's schools, there would have been an 92 outcry in the House. If it had been said that there would be larger classes and fewer teachers around Canary Wharf, that, too, would have caused an outcry. Yet that is what is happening in Northern Ireland. I welcome the fact that the Government have today set out their stall and said what they are aiming at.
A previous Minister writing to us in Northern Ireland about the teachers said:
Over the last two years the improved security situation meant that it was possible to transfer substantial sums from the Northern Ireland Law and Order budget to other Northern Ireland programmes, and schools and their pupils have shared in the benefits of this … At the time it was necessary to make clear that if the security situation worsened the savings from the Law and Order budget might have to be restored.None of us had ever heard that before. No such statement was made. The Minister continued:
This has been the case and over the next three years £120 million of resources released for other programmes such as education have had to be transferred back to the Law and Order programme.One can understand why a letter in such terms resulted in an outcry in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the fact that the Government will take those matters on board. I welcome the Ministers who have been appointed to consider those matters. I trust that the bread and butter issues will be handled in a way that will give hope, comfort and strength to our people.
I am coming quickly to a close because I have a plane to catch. If I miss it, I will have to stay all night and I have only just returned from Europe. However, I want to draw attention to the problem of parades which resulted from a change in Northern Ireland legislation as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the influence of Dublin which destroyed the right to hold traditional parades. As a result, we have serious problems, which the House must face up to, as have all the elected representatives of Northern Ireland.
We have difficult days ahead, but I trust that there will be better days for our Province when the policies that we have heard about today come through on the ground to give strength, courage, hope and a better future to its young people.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I wish you well in your new role as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) argued that Labour did not do as well on l May as the Tories did in 1992, but the election showed that the electorate were determined to kick the Tories out of power. Many people voted tactically—hence the overwhelming support for Labour candidates and the unusually high support for Liberal Democrats, nationalists and even, in one classic case, a completely independent candidate. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have learnt the lesson that it is not votes but seats that matter. It will take his party a long time to recover from the debacle of a fortnight ago.
The people of Shettleston are the salt of the earth: ordinary working-class men, women and children who have suffered badly at the hands of the Tories for the past 18 years—suffered because my constituency contains above-average numbers of pensioners and people who are 93 unemployed and unskilled, on low incomes or benefits, not because they want to be but because they have no alternative. Those most vulnerable members of our society are the very people who have been harmed by Tory policies.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Is it not a fact that when, just before the dissolution of Parliament, the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who is now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, answered a question on the national minimum wage and those full-time workers who did not earn enough to pay tax, he showed that he had no understanding of people on low pay in his constituency and mine, which was one reason why the Conservatives lost the election?
§ Mr. Marshall
As usual, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. However, the right hon. Gentleman was not the only Minister who suffered from that problem; they all did. The Tory Government's policies put profits before people and the greedy before the needy. Those are not just words of rhetoric; they were facts of life under a Tory Government. Let us earnestly hope that they never return to haunt us again.
In the debate on the Loyal Address on 23 October last year I forecast that the people of Britain would awaken on Friday 2 May to a Labour Government. However, no one, no matter how optimistic, could have forecast the scale of Labour's victory and the electorate's almost total rejection of the Tories.
Unlike five years ago, when a huge, dark cloud of gloom and despair hung over Scotland in the days after the general election, this time there was almost universal rejoicing and sheer happiness—rejoicing that the dark days were over; rejoicing and almost disbelief that Scotland and Wales were Tory-free zones; rejoicing, especially in Shettleston, that people could now look forward to a better, brighter future starting with today's Queen's Speech. Indeed, that better, brighter future started on 2 May, and I hope that it will continue for at least the next 10 years and even longer.
I made my maiden speech on 14 June 1979, but since then there have been two parliamentary boundary commission changes and at this election the new Shettleston constituency was substantially changed from what it was then. It still contains the headquarters of Scotland's other national drink, Barr's Irn Bru, and it is still the home of Glasgow Celtic football club, the first British team to win the European champions cup, which it did in 1967. Happily enough—there were previously question marks over the future of the club—it is now the proud possessor of a brand new £30 million stadium which would be the pride of any city in the country.
The traditional areas of my constituency—Parkhead, Shettleston, Tollcross and parts of Bridgeton and Dalmarnock—have been supplemented by the addition of the rest of Bridgeton and Dalmarnock, Calton, including the famous Glasgow Barras, Govanhill, Gorbals, Hutchesontown and Oatlands. Glasgow Green and the People's Palace, which is a world-famous working-class museum full of the history of the city and the working-class movement are also included, in a seat that includes the east end and the south side of the city, with the River Clyde running in between. The boundaries may have changed substantially and the name may be a bit of 94 a problem—I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) referring to that—but that is a problem created by the boundary commission.
What have not changed are problems in the constituency. The electorate showed what they thought of the Tory Government when they gave the Tory candidate a miserable 5.5 per cent. of the vote. Everyone was disappointed that it was not 1 per cent. less so that the candidate lost the deposit.
The electorate gave a massive 73.16 per cent. of the vote—the highest percentage for any candidate for any party in Scotland—to the Labour party. That is not really surprising when one considers that what is now Shettleston constituency was formerly five separate constituencies. That illustrates vividly the dramatic decrease in the population of the city, which has happened for all sorts of reasons.
The seat was the cradle of the old Independent Labour party. In 75 years, Shettleston has had only four Members of Parliament: John Wheatley, John McGovern, Myer Galpern—who graced the Chair with tremendous dignity in the 1974 to 1979 Parliament before he moved to the House next door—and me.
Other former Members of Parliament who have represented parts of the new constituency include the legendary Jimmy Maxton, Jimmy Carmichael and Jimmy Bennett for Bridgeton—the area must have had a liking for Jimmies, which is continued by some of my honourable colleagues—the Rev. Campbell Steven for Camlachie, Tom McMillan, Bob McTaggart and Mike Watson for Central, George Buchanan for Blackfriars, and Alice Cullen and Frank and Ellen McElhone in Gorbals, which later became Queen's Park. Unfortunately, as a result of the boundary changes, Mike Watson did not find a seat. I hope that it will not be long before he is back in the political main stream.
The greatest asset of the Shettleston constituency is its people and the many hundreds of acres of derelict land, which could well provide the future prosperity of Glasgow. I look forward to the day when once again my constituency becomes the workshop of the city.
My constituents are already delighted at the very positive start made by the Labour Government, and they will give a warm welcome to the Queen's Speech. They are already delighted at the proposals to reduce VAT on fuel bills to 5 per cent. That is especially true of the many thousands of pensioners who live in houses that are damp and difficult to heat or in multi-storey flats. Let us hope that there will be more good news to come, especially for pensioners.
There is a great deal to commend in the Gracious Speech, including measures to ban all handguns, which every civilised person must support; measures to improve, restore and tackle the problems of the national health service and to tackle unemployment and homelessness, especially among young people; measures on education and training and the introduction of a national minimum wage, which will be a pathway out of poverty for many thousands of people; and the proposal to sign the European social chapter. All those measures have my full support, as does the Bill to hold a referendum, which will pave the way to set up a Scottish Parliament. I also support the windfall levy to create jobs, the measures to combat crime, and the proposals to improve food safety 95 and to put some of the proceeds of the national lottery to much better use. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on all those measures.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will resist any suggestions that the Post Office and Royal Mail should be privatised. By all means, give the postal service more opportunity to compete, but it should and must be kept in the public sector. Indeed, far from diminishing the role of the Crown post office network, we should maintain and expand it. People love and trust the network. They depend on it in so many ways. Let us keep it that way.
Unlike the leader of the Liberal party, I welcome the tax on mobile phones. It is, after all, only the cost of a few seconds of airtime each week. It would really be nice if we could find a much cheaper way of installing telephones in the homes of the many thousands of people who do not have one phone, let alone several, and who cannot afford the very high installation costs involved.
As the acting chairman of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I welcome the commitment to tackle global poverty and promote sustainable development, and to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. I hope that we will take the lead in the world in campaigning for a worldwide ban on the use, sale and transfer of anti-personnel land mines. Those evil, inhumane weapons must be outlawed as soon as possible, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) on his work in that respect.
As an active trade unionist and a member of the Transport and General Workers Union for 37 years, I hope that the Labour Government will work closely with the trade union movement for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Trade unions have a useful and worthwhile role to play, and we should always remember that it was the trade union movement that created the Labour party. Let us all work together. The lifting of the ban on trade union membership at GCHQ is a welcome beginning.
I was particularly pleased to see in the Labour party manifesto the commitment to join with local government in a concerted attack on the multiple causes of social and economic decline—unemployment, bad housing, crime, poor health and a degraded environment. I am sure that that can only be good news for cities such as Glasgow and constituencies such as mine. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Dewar), the Secretary of State for Scotland, are only too well aware of the problems facing Glasgow. It is not only the city council but Glasgow development agency, Greater Glasgow health board and Scottish Homes that need help.
Only central Government can help Glasgow to tackle the massive problems facing the city that justify the city's being classed as a special case in Scotland. For a start, allowing the city to retain all the business rates that it collects would make a difference of £50 million a year or £1 million a week to the income that it receives. I look forward with great optimism to seeing measures introduced that once again will let Glasgow flourish and to seeing the reappearance of the old corporation motto for the city.
The most burning issue in Scottish politics in recent years has been the Tories' failed attempt to privatise Scotland's water. It would be a tremendously popular act 96 in Scotland to abolish the water quangos set up by the Tories and return water and sewerage to full public control and accountability. I hope that my right hon. Friends will ensure that that is done as soon as possible.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
I wish to congratulate you from this side of the House on your appointment and wish you well, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Clearly, the people have spoken, but the "landslide" in seats does not reflect a landslide of popular support for Labour. Labour received little more popular support than did the Conservatives when we won the general election in 1992, with a smaller but workable majority, so anyone who thinks that 1 May 1997 represented some watershed in United Kingdom politics is seriously mistaken—quite the contrary. The only way in which the Labour party could make itself electable was to abandon clause IV socialism and accept and embrace much of Conservative philosophy. It accepted a vigorous market economy and the benefits of privatisation and low personal taxation. People were prepared to risk voting Labour only because they felt that Labour had taken on board and accepted many of the achievements of Thatcherism.
Labour also won because the expectations that it encouraged among electors far exceeded its actual pledges. Its pledges—modest though they are—exceed its ability to deliver. I predict a short honeymoon for the Government, because they have raised among electors expectations that they will find difficult to deliver.
During the general election campaign, the Labour party distributed a pledge card, which it suggested that people should keep. I am certainly keeping my copy. Pledge 1 was to cut class sizes to 30 or under for five, six and seven-year-olds, using money saved from the assisted places scheme. Labour's core campaign pledge on education was therefore to give the impression that all classes would soon consist of fewer than 30 pupils.
However, Labour's maths is hopelessly wrong. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has claimed that abolishing the assisted places scheme would save £268 million, but he forgot that it would cost an estimated £208 million to send all the children with assisted places back to state schools. That is simply because most of those with assisted places incur only marginal costs. The actual cost of an assisted place is not much greater than that of a place in a state school.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the purposes of an assisted places scheme is not only to give the individual child a preferential education but to act as a hidden subsidy to the establishment providing that education?
§ Mr. Baldry
The hon. Gentleman is missing my point. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have to focus on it fairly speedily.
During the general election campaign, Labour Members and candidates gave the impression that the size of all key stage 1 classes in the United Kingdom would soon be reduced to 30 or fewer pupils, on the sole basis of money released from the assisted places scheme, without other funds.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that he would adopt for the next two years the departmental public spending targets set by the former Conservative 97 Chancellor. The only way in which money can be found within the education budget is to take it from under another heading, and the only such heading that the Government can find is the assisted places scheme.
I am simply making the point—history will prove whether I am right—that the maths does not add up. The money is not there, and that will cause considerable disappointment. The gap in Labour's funding plans will continue every year into the future, as new pupils are denied assisted places and have to be found places in state schools.
There is a further specific test for Labour concerning the schools in my county of Oxfordshire. The county council has been hung for about 12 years, and has got its finances into a pickle, not least because Labour and Liberal county councillors have combined to drive spending up year on year. Oxfordshire has also spent all its reserves, so it is in a mess. That is why, shortly before the county council elections and the general election, Labour and Conservative county councillors agreed to set a budget above cap, and have now asked the Department of the Environment whether they can be allowed to spend above their cap.
An early test for Labour in my part of the world is whether the Government will accede to the request by Labour county councillors in Oxfordshire and allow the council to set a budget above cap. If they do not, the prospect of reducing class sizes in the county seems slim, whether or not the money from the assisted places scheme is available.
At present, about 80 classes in Oxfordshire contain 31 or more children. It must be said that such class sizes often reflect the fact that head teachers want especially small classes elsewhere. The biggest class in the county has 42 pupils, but that happens to be in the only grant-maintained school in the county, and it exists because the physical structure of the school will not permit smaller classes. Notwithstanding the existence of such a large class, that school is in the top 10 in the whole of England. It is one of the best performing primary schools, with 100 per cent. of its pupils achieving the highest possible standards.
Personally, I do not believe that too much should be read into class sizes alone. However, that is the test, the benchmark, that the Labour party has set itself. That is its education priority, so I shall scrutinise closely to see how much extra money comes to Oxfordshire for education, and how many Oxfordshire key stage 1 classes consist of more than 30 pupils in six months' time, a year's time, and so on.
The next pledge on Labour's pledge card was fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders, to be achieved by halving the time between arrest and sentencing. We shall see how that works out in practice in the juvenile court system, but I suspect that in Oxfordshire, as elsewhere, most people are more concerned about the number of police officers out and about on the beat, and about safety on our streets.
This year—the last year of an outgoing Conservative Government—Thames Valley police secured 91 additional police officers, plus an extra 15 civilian staff, as well as substantial investment in computers and technology. I shall scrutinise carefully year on year to see whether Thames Valley police will be able to maintain that level of improvement in police manpower.
98 The third pledge on the card was to cut national health service waiting lists and treat an extra 100,000 patients, by releasing £100 million from elsewhere in the NHS. The Labour party says that it will abolish the internal market but maintain the purchaser-provider relationship. We shall all watch with interest to see how on earth that will work.
Labour also says that it will scrap GP fundholding and have local collectives of general practitioners determining purchasing policy. Again, we have seen little of the detail of that scheme, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
It is especially disingenuous to raise expectations that waiting lists will be eliminated overnight, or at least substantially reduced, by finding £100 million somewhere within the NHS budget. That sum represents only 0.4 per cent. of the NHS budget—the equivalent of one day's spend. Moreover, if, as has been suggested, the Labour Government intend to release that money simply by sacking NHS managers, there will, of course, be offsetting redundancy costs, so it is questionable whether we shall see even that £100 million.
Before criticising managers in the national health service, it is always worth remembering that the NHS is a £42 billion operation, and that good management is needed if that money is to be directed to patient care. However, new Labour has chosen to make hospital waiting lists its benchmark, by which it believes its performance on the NHS must be judged, so that is what will happen.
On 31 March, 412 people had been on the waiting list for more than six months, either as in-patients or as out-patients, at Horton general hospital in my constituency. Let us see what that figure is in six months' time, a year's time, two years' time, and so on. I suspect that there will be a period of confusion within the national health service as hospital services try to take on board yet another period of change and GP fundholding disappears. I also suspect that, far from shortening, waiting lists will lengthen. Let us see.
The Labour Government have invited us to judge them on class sizes, on police manpower and on NHS waiting lists, and we shall certainly do so. All those services are funded by central Government, with allocations decided on the basis of a formula. My concern is that changes to the formula, whether they affect the standard spending assessment used for allocating money to local authorities or the method used to allocate money to health services, will inevitably be to the detriment of areas such as Oxfordshire. I shall scrutinise carefully any such changes to see what impact they will have on my constituents, and on other similar constituencies.
The Queen's Speech contains something else of relevance to that point. It suggests the possibility in the not too foreseeable future of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, with the likelihood that English Members of Parliament, such as me, will no longer have a say or a vote on matters such as education and health in Scotland or Wales, whereas Scottish Members, such as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), and Welsh Members too, will continue to have a say in and a vote on health and education in England. I predict that there will be growing resentment in England about such different treatment of different parts of the United Kingdom-particularly if resources are diverted from shire England.
99 Labour also pledged to take a quarter of a million of those aged under 25 off benefit and into work. Unemployment figures are clearly intended to be a benchmark of Labour's success or failure. It will be interesting to see whether Labour intends to change the basis on which unemployment statistics are collected and collated. Labour Members have consistently criticised the present system, and I shall be interested to see whether they change it—I somehow doubt that they will.
In Banbury the unemployment rate is below 3 per cent. and in Bicester it is below 2 per cent. We shall have to wait to see to what extent the creation of a quarter of a million jobs displaces existing jobs. Presumably, employers will be offered a subsidy to take on trainees who may displace existing employees. We must also wait to see whether such jobs prove to be long term.
Another issue presaged in the Queen's Speech is the impact of the statutory minimum wage. Either the minimum wage will be set at a level that is so low as to be meaningless or it will be set higher than existing market levels and employers will be forced by statute to pay their employees more than they earn at present. That will undoubtedly cost jobs, but we shall have to wait to see how many. Like other hon. Members, I shall scrutinise closely any effects on the labour market in my constituency and elsewhere. There seems to be little point in raiding funds from profitable and successful United Kingdom companies by way of a windfall tax if we then see the displacement of existing jobs and other Government measures that destroy jobs.
The last pledge on Labour's pledge card is to ensure low inflation and low interest rates. After only a few days of Labour Government, we have seen interest rates and mortgage interest rates rise. I shall watch with interest to see how mortgage interest rates fare in the coming months. If, as is widely predicted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer also abolishes mortgage interest relief at source, home owners with an average mortgage will be significantly worse off.
Of course, our opposition to the Queen's Speech and to other Government proposals will always be constructive. However, we shall scrutinise the Government's activities closely and ensure that people understand clearly whether Labour is delivering on its election promises. There is another reason why I suspect the Government's honeymoon will be short-lived and why I am confident that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will again sit on the Government Benches in due course. The size of the Government's majority may well prove to be their undoing. It is a case of new Labour, new arrogance.
We have already seen several examples of that arrogance. If a Conservative Chancellor had sought to change the basis of the relationship between the Treasury and the Bank of England without having the courtesy to make a statement about it in the House, there would quite rightly have been uproar in this place. Labour Members would have jumped to their feet to raise points of order, demanding to know why the Chancellor had not made a statement.
It would have made no difference to the Bank of England if the Chancellor had delayed his decision for a week, two weeks or 10 days in order to allow him to come first to the House to make a statement. Even before many new Labour 100 Members of Parliament were sworn in, the Labour Government were taking executive decisions with no reference to Parliament. I suspect that that arrogance will prove to be their undoing. We saw other examples of it this afternoon during the Prime Minister's speech.
The Labour party may have a massive majority and the Conservatives may have a mere 165 seats in Parliament, but I guarantee that we will win the arguments in the House and that we can, and will, win the next general election.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) in the debate, but I disagree with everything he said. I note his confidence, but I fear that it is misplaced.
Today, we have witnessed a debate of great contrasts. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), and present Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition made a very disciplined and restrained speech that I thought hid his quiet dismay. I thought that his speech accepting victory in his constituency while acknowledging defeat nationally was extremely dignified. I greatly appreciated his remarks about his wife. It was good to see him acknowledging the real help that he had received from that very important and close quarter.
While listening to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I was struck by his elan, vigour and genuine confidence. I support his comments and all that is in the Gracious Speech. I wish to draw attention to several parts of it. It states:My Government intends to govern for the benefit of the whole nation.I cheer that statement because I think that one of the most reprehensible consequences of the past 18 years of Tory government was the emergence of great divisions in British society. There is now an almost unbridgeable gulf between those who do well and those who have very little: the poor, the unemployed and those who are in poor housing. We must all cheer a British Government who say that they are determined to govern for the benefit of the whole nation.
The second statement to which I want to refer immediately follows the first:The education of young people will be my Government's first priority.I met many parents during the general election campaign, and I have never known them to be so concerned about their children's education. In my constituency and my county, a great deal of credit is due to the Government for announcing that the unwelcome and unsupported nursery voucher scheme will be scrapped. That is good news in Flintshire and in Wales.
I am also glad that the assisted places scheme will be phased out. I calculated recently that about £21 million had been made available for the scheme in Wales. If a similar sum had been available in my county and in Wales as a whole, we could have tackled many problems. I wish the Government well in advancing towards their objectives.
I see the fingerprints of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the paragraph in the Queen's Speech that says: 101The central economic objectives of my Government are high and stable levels of economic growth and employment".I think that that is a direct quotation of the Queen's Speech of Mr. Attlee's first Administration at the end of the second world war. The Chancellor has taken the initiative and gained great support by facing up to a big decision—that the Bank of England should have operational responsibility for setting interest rates. My right hon. Friend has shown that he is a decisive Chancellor who has a strategy and is adept also at tactical manoeuvres. With this one decision—taken so early in the life of the Government—he has shown that he can lead and will never be afraid to take the toughest decisions.
My constituents will welcome the Government's pledge to mount a fundamental attack upon youth and long-term unemployment and to take early steps to implement a welfare-to-work programme to tackle unemployment, financed by a levy on the excess profits of the privatised utilities. There is considerable long-term unemployment in my constituency, and its consequences affect everybody. My constituents are anxious about break-ins, the growth in crime, graffiti, vandalism and anti-social behaviour by people aged under 24.
The target we have set, to get 250,000 people off benefits and into work and/or training is perhaps our most ambitious declaration of all. If we can pull it off, we will make a real contribution to the well-being of the nation as a whole. We have set ourselves a hard task, but I believe that a nation facing the problems that Britain faces must take up the challenge. To see our effort promulgated so effectively so early in the life of the Government must be a major plus.
Many right hon. and hon. Members will agree that, in many of our large housing estates, there is a considerable bad neighbour problem. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can introduce legislation to enable social workers, housing officers and the police to tackle this cancer in the midst of many respectable communities, he will be doing a signal service.
Perhaps my council in Flintshire will cheer loudest at the proposal to enable capital receipts from the sale of council houses to be invested in house building and renovation as part of the Government's determination to deal with homelessness and unemployment. I noticed problems when winter was particularly hard at the turn of the year. For about a month, a very cold wind blew and hundreds of thousands of houses throughout Britain had freezing rooms because the windows and doors were rotten and were letting in cold drafts.
Many houses in the large and aging estates of my constituency do not have central heating, and many hundreds of my constituents live in houses that cannot be kept warm when it is cold. That places major pressures on young mothers, some of whom have told me that they cannot put their young children in bedrooms upstairs when winter is severe simply because they are too icy, cold or damp. I am stating a truism that distresses many hundreds of my younger constituents. It is not an exaggeration to say that in some bedrooms at the height of winter there are icicles. That cannot be right, particularly if a youngster living there has a bronchitic chest.
The Government's proposal will not only bring happiness, comfort, warmth and dignity to families when their windows and doors are replaced and when central heating is installed, but help the local builder gain greater prosperity. He will be able to employ more people to carry 102 out the repairs, modernisations and new build. The same could be said of local glaziers who will be able to take on more staff to tackle the job. On behalf of my county council, I say thank you to the Government for bringing along a practical and necessary reform.
We have said that we will cut class sizes, that we will cut waiting lists, that we will deal with young thugs, that we will give hope and jobs to young people and that we will deliver prosperity that lasts. I am certain that we will do these things and that Britain will be a better place in which to live. I believe that, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the helm, these objectives can be achieved. I wish the Government well and congratulate them on bringing forward an excellent Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the first hon. Member you have to called to speak, may I congratulate you on your appointment and wish you well in your elevated position.
I wish to thank the electors of Caernarfon for allowing me to return to the House, and I congratulate the Government on their general election victory. It was a landslide victory with a swing of a size that I have never seen. Those who remember 1945 may have seen something similar, but it was something that I had never seen. The Government certainly have a mandate to carry out their programme.
I welcome the Queen's Speech to a large extent, but I have reservations on some issues, and there are one or two omissions to which I should like to refer. However, by and large, it is a breath of fresh air after what we have had in recent years. At this point, I wish to add to the reservations that have been expressed by members of several parties about style of government, and the Government's declared intention of taking an inclusive approach. I am referring not to the Bank of England matter at this point—I shall do so later—but to matters relating to this House, such as the reduction in the amount of time available for Welsh questions from 45 minutes to 30. This will hit hard not only Opposition Members, but Government Back Benchers. It is unacceptable that that decision was taken without any consultation, and I hope that the Government will rethink their approach towards other parties on this matter.
One of my concerns about the Queen's Speech—much of the thrust of which I welcome—is whether the figures add up. Will there be sufficient resources to deliver the job creation, education and health care we want? I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who referred to education in Wales. We know that education has been devastated and that 500 teaching posts have been lost in Wales. Those posts are much needed, and if we are to get smaller classes—as is indicated in the Government's programme—we need resources to employ those 500 teachers. Frankly, the money that will come from the assisted places scheme will not be enough. The hon. Gentleman said that £21 million was available, but the actual amount available for one year in Wales is £3 million.
§ Mr. Wigley
Precisely. The annual figure is £3 million. Releasing £3 million to the education sector in Wales does 103 not start to make up for the loss of 500 teaching posts, let alone the additional work needed on the quality of school buildings and the development of education. I join him, however, in welcoming unreservedly the scrapping of the nursery voucher scheme, which was never needed in Wales. Ninety per cent. of our four-year-olds already have nursery education, and the remaining 10 per cent. can easily be catered for without such a bureaucratic scheme.
On health care, what came out very strongly in the general election campaign in Wales was the threat to existing community hospitals, which are under threat of closure because of a lack of resources. Promised community hospitals—one in Holywell, not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and one at Porthmadog in my constituency—that should have come on stream this year will not now go ahead because of a lack of resources. The cancer treatment facility that was promised for Bangor, and for which resources have been collected from the voluntary sector, will also not go ahead because of a lack of resources.
The health care sector needs more money if those schemes are to go ahead and if the existing community hospitals that are under threat are to be saved. I do not believe that our share of the £100 million for England and Wales—£6 million, or whatever it is—will be enough to look after more than one community hospital. More resources are needed. I agree with the argument that was made from the Liberal Benches: if we believe in public expenditure, we have to believe in the wherewithal and in the method of raising it. Income tax is the fairest way to achieve that objective. I believe that the standard rate should be put back to 25p. It should not be 23p, which Labour Members described, correctly, as a pre-election tax bribe. The change should not have taken place; we need the money in the public sector.
We support a number of issues raised in the Queen's Speech. For example, we support the emphasis on tackling youth unemployment, which is a cancer that runs through all societies. It needs to be tackled in the old industrial areas of north-west Wales, the old coal valley areas of south Wales and, indeed, in rural areas if the social problems that come in its wake are not to be generated. Giving that issue top priority is something that we most definitely support, and I hope that the Government are successful.
We welcome the adoption of the social chapter and are glad that it has moved ahead rapidly. We also welcome the declaration in support of a minimum wage. In many parts of Wales, wages are appallingly low-£1.50 and £1.80 an hour, perhaps even lower in some service industries. It should be set at £4 an hour to be meaningful, but assistance will have to be given to small companies that may be affected by its introduction. It may have to be phased in gradually. Assistance is already given through the family credit scheme, so if that can be phased out and the assistance given instead to the introduction of the minimum wage, all well and good.
We welcome the intended reduction in the use of tobacco, which is clearly necessary. We welcome the emphasis on human rights and on parliamentary reform. Some things, however, were missing from the Queen's Speech. There was not enough emphasis on the challenges that currently face agriculture in rural Wales. There has been reference to reform of the CAP, but there should be 104 a way of enabling young people to come into the industry. More than 50 per cent. of Welsh farmers are over 55. That gives an indication of the crisis to come. We have to rejuvenate the industry. Schemes that are available through the European Union should be available in Wales—and the rest of the UK for that matter—to tackle the problem.
I am particularly concerned that not much reference was made in the Queen's Speech to disability issues. It is of some concern to me that, in making ministerial appointments, responsibility for disability issues has been taken away from the Department of Social Security. There is now a Minister for Employment and Disability Rights at the Department for Education and Employment. It is not clear. Two Ministers have partial responsibility.
There was a cross-party meeting today of the disability lobby, which expressed considerable concern about whether there will be the same focus under the new regime as there was in the days when Alf Morris was Minister for Disabled People. We are concerned that there is no commitment to strengthening the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, or to the creation of a commission to take forward cases. No doubt there will be very strong lobbying on that matter.
I am also concerned that not much emphasis was given to the plight of state pensioners. Forty-five per cent. of pensioners in Wales have no income other than a state pension, and pensions have been held down in real terms since 1980 by virtue of the fact that the link with earnings was broken. I would rather that less was spent on nuclear weapons, on weapons of war, and on defence budgets, and that more was spent on pensioners so that they do not miss out on any improvement in the economy.
I have some reservations about the Government's decision on the Bank of England, but I can see the benefits that come from financial policy that is made objectively. Employment should have been added to inflation as a criterion for the setting of bank rates, as is the case in the United States. The Government should have made that a criterion in giving the Bank of England this new freedom. Without it, there is a danger that the need to create employment and avoid unemployment may be relegated to the bottom of the table of priorities.
On constitutional change, we understand that a Bill to provide for a referendum will be introduced very soon—it may be published this week and debated next week. No doubt it will specify a question that will refer to the Government's proposals as spelled out in a White Paper, but it appears that we are not to see the White Paper for some time, which will cause some difficulty, particularly in Wales. The Labour party's proposals were limited to four brief paragraphs out of 40 pages in its manifesto for Wales.
I was rather concerned by the words that the Prime Minister used in his opening speech. In the context of Wales—I think that I have his words correctly—he said, "particularly after moving to unitary local authorities, Wales needs an Assembly". I hope to goodness that the Government do not see the Assembly in the context of local government, because the last thing we want is a centralisation of local government or an additional tier of local government; we want a decentralisation of decision-taking from Westminster to Wales and a democratisation of the existing tier of bureaucracy in the 105 Welsh Office. I hope that that will be spelled out very clearly indeed, as it is a matter of considerable importance and concern to us.
In our Assembly, we want Wales to have the same powers that Scotland is being offered in its Parliament. We see no reason why Wales should not have primary law-making powers within our own elected tier of democracy. Considering the way in which Bills such as the Local Government (Wales) Bill passed through this Chamber and through its Committee stage, and the way in which the Welsh Language Act 1993 went through-through Committees then dominated by Members of Parliament from outside Wales—it would be totally unacceptable, if we have an elected Assembly, or Parliament, as we would like, if legislation that concerns only Wales should still have to go through this Chamber. If such a tier of government is created, it has to be given responsibility. I believe that that means responsibility in terms of legislation, finance and, perhaps, developing links with Europe.
We have seen how the German lander have been able to maximise their clout in the European structures in Brussels by virtue of the fact that they have a credible level of government. That link has to be developed by the Assembly that the Government intend for Wales. I would like an elected Parliament for Wales to have real powers. If the Government propose for Wales the model that is offered to Scotland—albeit it is short of what may ideally be necessary in Scotland—we would see that as a valuable step forward.
We await the White Paper that will spell out the Government's proposals for Wales. I hope that it will make it clear that what is being offered to Wales in 1997 is significantly stronger than what was proposed in 1979. The people of Wales need to be convinced that the tier of government that will be introduced will be able to make a material difference in terms of policy, education, health care, housing and jobs. The Government need to make that case. We will listen with considerable interest in the coming weeks to hear that case being made.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
May I be the first on the Government Benches to congratulate you on your new position, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I know that you will bring to that office the essential qualities that you have brought to every office that you have held in the House. I am delighted by your appointment.
I am pleased to be on the Government side of the House after 18 years in opposition—five years in the European Parliament and 13 years in the House. To those of us who have been in the Opposition for such a long time, it is a great delight to be here. It is particularly pleasing that the number of women Members has doubled. As the only Welsh woman in the House for the past 13 years, I am glad that there are now four of us. That is a considerable improvement, as there have been only three previously this century. There is clearly a long way to go, but it is an important start. I am pleased to be in the House at this time.
Many important measures will be introduced in the first Session of Parliament, and I welcome that. The Government are addressing important issues very quickly. However, I am sorry that a freedom of information Act is missing, although there is a promise for the future. The Labour party's commitment to freedom of information 106 goes back more than 20 years. Since 1974, that commitment has appeared in manifesto after manifesto. Many hon. Members spend a considerable amount of time trying to obtain information from reluctant Ministers. We expend considerable effort in framing questions to elicit the information that is often denied us.
It has been suggested that early legislation was not possible because no one had had the time to work out what it should include. Apparently, we need a White Paper first. There has already been plenty of discussion. As long ago as March 1979, the Labour Government published a Green Paper entitled "Open Government". The Conservative Government published a White Paper with the same title in July 1993.
I read with some amazement that we could not have early legislation because no Bill was available. Freedom of information has been the subject of countless Bills, most of which were all-party measures. Many of them were introduced or sponsored by members of the present Government. In 1978, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary introduced a freedom of information Bill, which was supported by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In 1979, another Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment. Many other Bills followed and were introduced by hon. Members from all parties.
As recently as December last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), the then shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said that a Labour Government wouldtake an early opportunity to legislate for a freedom of information Act. Bills are available and much of the work has been done by others who have preceded us … All the work has been done and it could be that, in 12 months' time, if the electorate do the sensible thing, freedom of information legislation will be on the statute book."-[Official Report. 10 December 1996; Vol. 287, c. 169.]There was no sudden realisation. As long ago as January 1991, the then deputy leader of the Labour party and shadow Home Secretary said that freedom of informationis not only suitable for early enactment. It is ready for early enactment. If a Labour Government was elected… I would be able to send the headings of a Bill to a parliamentary draughtsman on the following day.It has been widely remarked that the new Government have hit the ground running. They have launched well-thought-out and well-developed new policies from day one. Rapid action is particularly important for freedom of information. If we have impressed Whitehall with our determination to press ahead with other policies, what message are we conveying by delaying action on that issue? I hope that the message is not that we are prepared to tolerate the time-honoured, closed Whitehall ways of getting things done now that Whitehall is supposed to be working for us.
Labour shadow Ministers went through intense preparation for office. They went on training courses, had meetings with permanent secretaries and had the help of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). They were forewarned of the dangers of losing sight of their own strategy and being sucked into their Department's agenda. Were they also briefed about the need to resist being seduced by secrecy?
When I first came to the House from the European Parliament, I asked the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Henley 107 (Mr. Heseltine), two questions. His answer to both was that the information was confidential. However, three days earlier, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO had given precise answers to those questions, and had briefed journalists in Brussels.
Secrecy is tempting. It makes life easier for Ministers and officials, and protects them from inconvenient questions. It allows Governments to get their business done with less challenge. It helps officials to conceal from the public their own uncertainty: the questions that have not been answered, and the problems that have been identified but not yet solved.
We should recognise the dangers of that approach. Having faced the problem across the Chamber for so many years, I have learnt that the dangers are obvious. A Government who insist on the right to operate in secrecy will quickly lose the ability to distinguish between what is in their own interests and what is in the public interest.
The Scott report concluded:In circumstances where disclosure might be politically or administratively inconvenient, the balance struck by the Government comes down, time and time again, against full disclosure.Just before the recess, I undertook an investigation of my own. I found that more than 1,200 of the parliamentary answers given by former Ministers since Lord Justice Scott called for more openness in government were that the information requested could not be provided either on the ground of disproportionate cost or because it was not held centrally. Since February 1996, Ministers have used those devices over and again.
The Ministry of Defence cited those grounds on 73 occasions, Health Ministers used them on 360 occasions, the Department of Trade and Industry on 55 occasions, and the Foreign Office did so on 32 occasions. When he was interviewed recently on the anniversary of the publication of his report, Lord Justice Scott called on Members of Parliament to step up their attack on excessive Government secrecy. It is now clear that, even after the Scott report was published, former Ministers time after time used "disproportionate costs" and "information not held centrally" as blocking devices.
The report of the Franks committee dealt with the reform of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. It said:A government which pursues secret aims, or which operates in greater secrecy than the effective conduct of its proper functions requires, or which turns information services into propaganda agencies, will lose the trust of the people.To lose the public's trust is no small thing. To a democratic Government, at least, it is fatal.
Today, obviously, we feel great delight—even euphoria—at the results of the election, the prospects that lie ahead and the start that has already been made; but the public look to us for more than new policies. They are looking for a new approach to politics, and that requires us to be honest about what we can achieve, to be prepared to admit to mistakes if we make them and to trust the public with information.
We should not be blind—I do not think that any of us is—to the enormous disillusionment that so many people have felt with politicians and the political process. We will fool ourselves if we believe that that disillusionment is directed exclusively at the previous Government, and 108 does not colour the way in which all politicians, and any Government, are unfortunately perceived by the public. If we appear to act in a high-handed way, denying information to the public and repeating the familiar chants that the facts are commercially confidential and disclosure would be premature, without good reason, we can be certain that cynicism will return more quickly than we may now imagine possible. If we wait two or three years before legislating, Ministers will have slipped into the traditional cosy way of making decisions. It will seem familiar and natural: the dangers of exposing too much information will seem obvious, and the benefits will be harder to remember. The enthusiasm for openness may have evaporated. The legislation that is then introduced will be more tailored to the convenience of administrators, and less effective for the public. A policy that has been developed openly will have been tested more rigorously; any potential weakness will have been recognised before the policy is settled, and while there is time to get things right. The policy itself will be better, and will also enjoy wider public confidence.
We should not be afraid of freedom of information legislation. It already exists in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United States, Sweden, Hungary and many other countries. Ireland passed its freedom of information Act only last month. I read with interest the words of the former premier of Victoria about freedom of information in that state. He said that it wasa bit like a compulsory random breath test on our roads. Motorists are aware of its presence and the ever-present likelihood of a check. Governments, likewise, are aware of the prospect of examination of a comprehensive list of documents on which a decision is based. Because of that the Act has had a significant impact on the quality of decision making.I also recall what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in March last year, at the presentation of the Campaign for Freedom of Information annual awards. He said:The crucial question is does the government regard people's involvement in politics as being restricted to periodic elections? Or, does it regard itself as in some sense in a genuine partnership with people?My right hon. Friend said that he did not believe that the impact of a freedom of information Actwould simply be in the pure matter of legislation … It would also signal a culture change that would make a dramatic difference to the way that Britain is governed. The very fact of its introduction will signal a new relationship between government and people: a relationship which sees the public as legitimate stakeholders in the running of the country and sees election to serve the public as being given on trust … I regard it not merely as simply a list of commitments that we give because at some point in time, someone got up and agitated for it … It is genuinely about changing the relationship in politics today … A Freedom of Information Act is not just important in itself. It is part of bringing our politics up to date, of letting politics catch up with the aspirations of people and delivering not just more open but more effective and efficient government for the future.That is as persuasive a case for early action on freedom of information as could have been made by anyone. I hope that we can make swift progress towards implementing the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)
First, let me thank the people of Lewes for returning me as their Member of Parliament. As the first Liberal, or non-Conservative, 109 to be returned to the constituency since 1874, I consider it a great privilege to be here, and to be able to speak in this most august of chambers. The vote that I received corresponds almost exactly to the percentage gained by the Labour Government—but, alas, I do not share their landslide in my constituency.
I pay tribute to the former Member of Parliament for Lewes, Mr. Tim Rathbone, who served the people of the constituency for 23 years. He was, and still is, a decent man: he worked for his constituents, and stood up for what he believed to be correct. He opposed the poll tax, for example. He was not afraid to stand up for the merits of involvement in Europe, although that was unfashionable in his party. Indeed, he found himself increasingly out of line with his party as time went on, but his opinions did not waver; they stayed where they were. I shall try to follow in that tradition in the House for the benefit of my constituents.
I can tell those who are not familiar with the Lewes constituency that it comprises four main towns. The first is Lewes itself, which has a strong radical tradition. In 1264, Simon de Montfort and his barons first curbed the power of the monarchy, and that led to the establishment of the country's first Parliament in 1265. Lewes also hosted Thomas Paine, author of "The Rights of Man". I am very pleased to be able to represent a constituency with that record. Lewes is also home to the unique bonfire celebrations that occur in the county town of East Sussex, which I believe are unparalleled elsewhere. I hope that hon. Members who have not been to see those bonfire celebrations on 5 November will take the opportunity to do so.
The second major town in the constituency is Newhaven, which, in many ways, is its economic hub. It is also home to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. It is, I believe, part of my role as Member of Parliament for Lewes to ensure that that ferry service prospers, and that the economy of Newhaven and the wider area does so equally. A strong private-public partnership operates in the town, to which I hope to give succour and help during my time as a Member of Parliament.
The third town is Seaford. It is the largest town, containing 28 per cent. of the constituency's population, and is characterised by its friendliness and its interesting shops. The fourth is Polegate, which we welcome to the Lewes constituency: it was formerly part of Eastbourne. It is regarded—although not by those who live there—as a suburb of Eastbourne, but it is an independent, long-established settlement with its own individual and vibrant identity.
The constituency also contains substantial and very attractive rural areas, many of them areas of outstanding natural beauty. They include the South Downs, and I should particularly mention the settlements of Beddingham, Glynde and Firle. That is the area in which I was returned as a district councillor some 10 years ago, and in which my political career started.
Environmental concerns are of major interest to my constituents, particularly in Lullington heath, which regularly has the highest level of low-level ozone in the country. There is a considerable air pollution problem, and one local child in six suffers from asthma. I hope to be able to draw those matters to the Government's attention during my time in the House, and to argue for significant environmental advances. I welcome much of 110 today's Queen's Speech—indeed, having listened to Queen's Speeches since I was in short trousers, I can say that this was probably the first time that I have agreed with most of one—but I was sorry that it contained so little about the environment. I hope that that was an unfortunate omission rather than a reflection of future Government policy.
We need to recognise that the environment is at the heart of all decision making: unless we have sensible and constructive environmental policies, all the other policies that the Government have outlined today for investment in health and education will come to naught. We have to invest in good environmental protection.
I am also grateful to hear from my colleagues on the Labour Benches such strong advocacy of a freedom of information Bill. I, too, am sorry that that was missing from today's Queen's Speech and am worried because, the longer a Government operate without a freedom of information Bill, the more reluctant they will become to introduce such a measure.
Hon. Members may remember the "Spycatcher" episode in the 1980s when the then Government attempted to stop any newspaper in the country that wanted to publicise that book from doing so. Indeed, I am told that the Government even seized copies of Pravda when they arrived at Gatwick airport to prevent us from finding out about "Spycatcher", when the Russians themselves knew everything about it.
I am also told that 88 pieces of legislation make disclosure of information a criminal offence. I hope that the Government will review some of that legislation in the months and years ahead—earlier rather than later. The Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968 is one such Act, which makes disclosure of information a criminal offence. There are many such nonsensical measures around, and I hope that the Government will examine them.
We have, I hope, a brand new start in politics. I welcome much of the Queen's Speech. I welcome the commitment that the Prime Minister gave this afternoon to govern for all of Britain. I hope that that is going to be reflected in action and in legislation. I hope that it will go some way to addressing the needs of those elements in society and in my constituency which have felt left out and unrepresented in recent times: the homeless, the poor, people in poor housing, perhaps in council estates, and people who do not feel that they have had a voice in Government in the past 18 years. I hope that measures will be introduced to help those who have not had a voice. I shall certainly support those measures if they do.
Let us ensure that this Parliament goes down in history as a reforming Parliament, and that it addresses all those issues that have been left unaddressed for so long, whether they be the needs of our regions in Scotland and Wales, the needs of people who have not had their voice heard, or the need for basic constitutional reform in other ways, such as through freedom of information. I hope that this Parliament will address those issues. If it does, I shall be pleased to be a Member of it.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to commend the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) on an outstanding maiden speech. He observed all the conventions of the House, and he had diligently done his 111 homework on his predecessor—which he had done in the election, anyway. He was aware of all the characteristics of his constituency.
His asides and interventions on previous speeches clearly showed that his initial nervousness was quickly leaving him, and that he was settling in, so I look forward with great pleasure to future contributions from the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased—indeed, privileged—because this is the first time in this Parliament that a Member has had the opportunity to congratulate another Member on a maiden speech. I am doubly pleased by that.
May I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and express my pleasure at your appointment as First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means? May I also register similar congratulations and appreciation on the appointment of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst) as chairman of that august body, and of the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North (Mr. Lord) as the Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means?
I must apologise for my voice. The House may be interested to learn that, for some weeks now, I have had a combination of bronchitis, tracheitis and laryngitis, which culminated at a critical point in the middle of the campaign with campaignitis. I was consigned to bed for two weeks by my doctor, but could enjoy only six days, because I had to get up and take part in a public debate-where, although my voice was not very good, my logic was triumphant. My agent told me that, had I observed the doctor's advice and stayed in bed for a fortnight, my majority would have been 27,000 instead of 21,500. I am sure that there is a lesson there for everyone.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) on their sterling contributions. I have heard a number of debates on the Queen's Speech, and their speeches were outstanding. They treated the House to a feast of wit and wisdom. I was doubly pleased because I did my early teacher training in Manchester and was a scholar—I have to say, a fairly poorly shod scholar—in a direct grant-aided Jesuit school in Sunderland, so I had a second-hand affinity with both of them. I only hope that, perhaps with another couple of years apprenticeship, I might be able to emulate the splendid standards that they displayed today. Both delivered speeches of outstanding merit.
The Leader of the Opposition displayed even more dignity today than he has demonstrated in the past, and that is considerable. The leader of the Liberal Democrats was as articulate as ever, but displayed his usual selective logic. Both leaders delivered a fairly standard election rant. We heard from them nothing new to add to what we heard from them on the interminable television broadcasts that bored me silly throughout the campaign—I was confined to bed, you must remember Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Tories cannot have it both ways. They scaremonger about Labour intentions and the damage that we are going to do, and then complain that we have stolen all their policies. Both statements are totally inaccurate, but, even if they were not, they cannot have it both ways, so for goodness' sake let them wake up to the nonsense that has been spoken over so many months. If Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition do not realise the mistakes that they have 112 made in their campaigning tactics in the past two years, they are condemning themselves to a period of opposition almost as long as the Labour party had.
On television this morning, one Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. Member for Berwick-uponTweed (Mr. Beith), said that it was the Liberal Democrats' task and duty to ensure that the Prime Minister delivered on all his promises and commitments to the electorate. That sounded very good, but it is a load of twaddle, because only Labour Members can ensure that the Prime Minister and the new Labour party deliver on the commitments to the electorate.
The Prime Minister lived up to his usual exemplary standard today, not only in his prepared statements, but in his asides, which were devastating. It surprises me that some unfortunate Conservative Members continue to try to take him on.
To the Prime Minister I say that, from now on, we Labour Members have no excuse. There is nowhere for us to hide. We have made our commitments. We have stated our promises. We have insisted that the electorate keep a close watch on what we do, and we have no excuse. We have the majority with which to deliver, and we must deliver faithfully and openly on those commitments, but how we do so is the crucial consideration.
We have all experienced 18 years of legislation. Much of it was too hasty, much was harmful, and much was unnecessary. A considerable amount remains totally unused, and much is unworkable. In the process, Parliament's priceless procedures, which should foster movement towards consensus and pragmatic agreement, have been routinely and deliberately ignored, inhibited and, in consequence, sadly discredited. Now, the discharged Government responsible for that sorry debacle bleat pitifully at the Government's expressed determination to redress that situation with constitutional reform.
A news item on BBC Radio 4 reported a judge's advice to the jury as it retired to consider its verdict at the end of the trial of the boxer Nigel Benn. He said that there was no need for the jury to hasten the verdict by hurried determination. He said that they should deliberate with care. That advice should sit well on the shoulders of this House as it begins to consider the programme outlined in the Queen's Speech.
If we consider some of the instances when such deliberation was not exercised, my concerns will be clear. Hon. Members present at the time will remember the Child Support Bill and the agreement at the time that the absent father should be made to pay properly for the maintenance and upkeep of the forsaken children. That is a perfectly laudable motive and a praiseworthy objective. However, what we got was anything but that.
My personal assistant has files the length of one's arm on individual after individual who were faithfully complying with agreements reached in court under the due process of law, who were in constant contact with their children and were maintaining them and giving them gifts but who were sought out, penalised and hounded by the Child Support Agency. Sadly, many of them committed suicide. I am pretty good at lip reading because I am fairly deaf and I noticed an Opposition Member mouthing a reference to a certain part of the male anatomy, suggesting that what I am saying is nonsense. 113 I promise the House that what I say is true and, if that hon. Gentleman chooses to turn his head and look at some of his colleagues, he will see that they are indicating agreement.
The Child Support Bill was a perfect example of legislation introduced in haste, inadequately thought through, and poorly enforced. Restrictions were placed upon its enforcement which made the CSA more of a Treasury support agency. It is a perfect example of what I consider to be bad legislation. There are others, but I will mention only one more and that is the community charge—the poll tax. That was ill conceived and badly debated.
Incidentally, it supplies a perfect contradiction to the statements by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). If the leader whom he seeks to supplant delivered rant, I am afraid that he treated us to cant. His concern for Scottish affiliation was so strong that he did not protest at Caledonia having the singular privilege of having to suffer the iniquities of the poll tax a good 12 months ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. His concerns for the West Lothian question at that time were significantly silent, yet now it has become an issue of prime importance.
The point that I want to ram home is that the new Labour Government must not strut blindly into repetition of such dismissive non-concern. The legislation we enact must be necessary, clearly understood, universally fair and, above all, enforceable. The poll tax was not; the Child Support Bill was unfair.
The Queen's Speech contains many very good proposals and, because they are good, it is all the more important for us to give them proper consideration. We must allow sufficient time and we must not use the guillotine as it was used in the past. We must not gag hon. Members as they have been gagged in the past.
I should like to comment on one or two of the good items in the speech. I do not know whether to start with the good news or the bad news—but perhaps the former. Some hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I shall be maintaining my opposition to the firearms legislation. I am not a shooter, although I hold the honorary position of pistol captain of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club. Some people present, who have seen the results of my shooting, will confirm that I could never be a shooter, although I suppose it depends what one is shooting.
I shall continue my opposition because I think that the law will be unworkable and unenforceable, which will give the wrong impression to the people out there. We must take other measures.
I welcome the benefits that may come from the national lottery, although I do not subscribe to it myself and do not intend to. I am pleased that some means is to be found to put the capital receipts from housing sales to good effect. That is eminently sensible and we have been calling for it for ages. The proposals for a freedom of information Bill have been late in coming and we will be delighted to achieve it. The incorporation of the European convention on human rights is long overdue and most welcome.
I do not know how we shall seek to resolve the financial crisis of the United Nations. Perhaps it will be on the agenda for the meeting that has no agenda when President Clinton comes to visit Prime Minister Blair. I hope that it will, because it will be too good an opportunity to miss. I should like to be a fly on that wall.
114 The establishment of a Department for International Development is long overdue. Heaven knows, we need to give closer scrutiny to the aid that we give to third world nations. The decision on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is long overdue. That organisation has received much unwarranted criticism, although some may have been justified in the past. It is right that we should rejoin; if there is anything wrong with it, it is easier to resolve from within than without.
I am pleased that there will be measures dealing with the funding of political parties. It has always been a mystery to me how we manage to find so much money at election time. I will be interested to learn what members of the Conservative party have learnt about their funding.
I heard the right hon. Member for Wokingham ranting today about the fact that NATO had not been mentioned. I thought that he could not have read the Queen's Speech, because it states:My Government will ensure a strong defence based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".That is as it should be. By its very definition, that has to take into account our partnership with the United States and our European colleagues.
More important is the further commitment toinclude Russia in a wider security framework.That is important because Russia is feeling demoralised in global terms. It is important that it should be given a role in international affairs commensurate with its strength, potential and standing. It is almost ashamed at having lost its powers, and it is important to bring it in and use the strength it still has as a means of creating a much stronger European collective defence architecture. There is a role to be played in partnership for peace.
The only sentence with which I take issue in the Queen's Speech is the one in which the Government state that they willretain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent.It will not surprise hon. Members to hear me repeat my conviction that all weapons of mass destruction—whether biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, or landmines, which are also weapons of mass destruction—are morally unacceptable. I am still an unrepentant and unreconstructed unilateral nuclear disarmer, and I profess that belief in all the international forums at which I represent the House—although I may be removed from that role.
The Queen's Speech mentions retaining strong armed forces, "including the nuclear deterrent". The very next sentence, however, states:Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be a priority.For the life of me, that contradiction is my one criticism of the Queen's Speech. I do not understand how we can include a nuclear deterrent in our "strong armed forces", yet set as a priority preventing theproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.If we retain a nuclear deterrent, we will have to update it, which will probably mean increasing the number of multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles.
The contradiction poses another problem. If we have a nuclear deterrent in our pocket, how will we argue with nations that do not have one, and convince them that they should not acquire one? It would be unreasonable and unjust to adopt that stance.
115 I reiterate that, whatever important legislation our Government propose, it must be thought through and cautiously considered. Ultimately, the Government must be satisfied that the legislation has been carefully considered by listening to every party in the House and by not guillotining the debate, restricting argument or inhibiting comment. The Government should hear the debate, and then pass legislation that is the product of a true and genuine parliamentary process, which is based on some consensus. At the end of the process, hon. Members should say, "We have argued our differences. Now, for the good of the public, let us try to make it work." I think that we will do it.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the unrepentant and unreconstructed hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). It is hard to imagine him losing his voice for even six days, but I am delighted that he has found it again to speak in this debate. Like him, I find the Queen's Speech something of a curate's egg. He will have to learn how to work in those situations on the Government Benches, as I will have to learn to work on the Opposition Benches.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment, and I know that you have the support of hon. Members from both sides of the House in performing your important role. I also thank my constituents for re-electing me for another term in the House. Like the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker)—whom I congratulate on an excellent maiden speech—my constituency goes back a long way in history. Moreover, I am relieved to say that my constituents take a long-term view.
Simon de Montfort was buried in Salisbury cathedral, and the first hon. Members from Salisbury were sent to the House in 1265. In that year, my constituency sent eight hon. Members to Parliament—two of whom came from Old Sarum, which is of some fame—although the map looked very different in those days. Wiltshire and Yorkshire were then the two most important counties in the country. Wiltshire sent 28 hon. Members to the House, and Yorkshire sent 29.
The Queen's Speech has much in it that I will be able to support. It has even more in it that I will not be able to support, and that I will attempt constructively to oppose. I will take a specific interest in some of the matters that the hon. Member for Stockton, North mentioned, including the terms of re-entry to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
I was the last United Kingdom UNESCO national commissioner. I was appointed by a Conservative Government, although my tenure in that office did not last very long before the then Prime Minister decided that it was time to withdraw from the organisation. I shall therefore take pleasure and care in scrutinising our re-entry.
The first matter that I should like carefully to deal with is constitutional change. I take a long view of the evolution of the British constitution, and I am painfully aware just how quickly the situation can change.
During the general election campaign, I was reminded that there are still people in my constituency who recall Mosley's blackshirts marching in Salisbury market 116 square. There were some very unpleasant undercurrents in the campaign, particularly when it came to discussion of European issues, which reminded me of some of the arguments and writings of Sir Oswald Mosley. Last year, I read much of what Mosley had to say. I caution the Government, in progressing rapidly down the road to devolution, to be careful not to stir up English nationalism, because, whenever it has been stirred up, it is the Scots and the Welsh who have lost out.
The Government should not believe that regional parliaments for the regions of England are the answer to the problem. The United Kingdom is a small, already well-governed nation. It is even over-governed in comparison with many nations, both in Europe and around the world. Above all, we must take care not to preside over the balkanisation of the United Kingdom, which is a very dangerous and not unimaginable scenario. I shall be taking careful note of the Government's progress on devolution.
Fresh from the hustings, I also see quite clearly that, if the Scots and the Welsh are to have referendums on breaking away from the United Kingdom, many Englishmen and women will also want one. We are all in the same club, because the United Kingdom is our United Kingdom. Scotland, like Wales, is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Those arguments should be heard, and I will need some convincing if there is not to be a referendum in England.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The hon. Gentleman used the phrase "breaking away" from the United Kingdom. If he reads the Queen's Speech, he will realise that it does not mention Scotland or Wales "breaking away" from the United Kingdom. There are references to regional government, but not to "breaking away". He should beware of falling into the same trap as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).
§ Mr. Key
I suspect that it would have to be quite a big trap to hold me. I will, however, take care on that point. Nevertheless, that argument has been deployed by some politicians north of the border with Scotland, and I shall take careful note of it.
Another issue that I shall be particularly keen to consider is changes to the national lottery. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will forgive me if I feel slightly proprietorial about that legislation, because I was initially responsible for its passage. I recall very well that, during its passage, the Labour party fought tooth and nail against any suggestion that there should be any additionality, and specifically against the suggestion that any lottery money should be spent on education and health. It is a great irony that Labour has now included it in the Queen's Speech, and I shall very carefully be watching developments on the issue.
Surely the Government know that, when we were constructing the national lottery, we carefully considered whether it should be a private-sector, profit-making organisation, a charitable one, a quasi-national government organisation, or simply a Department. We ruled out making it a Department, because the previous national lottery was run by the Treasury, and the official who was responsible for it embezzled £24,000 of the money, which was never repaid and which subsequently led to the lottery's collapse.
117 However, we ruled out the non-profit-making route, for very good reasons. We had studied every lottery in the world, and we found that undoubtedly, the minute one put a lottery into the hands of the Government or a charitable organisation, it lost its sparkle and its revenue. In any country—but notably in Ireland—within five minutes of national lottery money being used in the health service, the Treasury would start chopping money off the health budget for good causes, charitable causes, capital equipment or special facilities. It would no longer make up the shortfall.
We should look again at the contract for running the national lottery—indeed, we said we would. When the contract nears the end of its term, we shall determine whether different regulations and legislation are needed. However, I will need some convincing that we should throw out the principle of a private sector operator, and I hope that the Government will think again on that.
I welcome some of the proposed changes. We must consider the role of the Office of the National Lottery, but we have the most successful national lottery in the world and we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let us not forget that we introduced the national lottery not only because we believed that it was a good thing but because of the competition from other national lotteries, which were marketing themselves in this country. The Treasury, the charities and all the good causes were losing out to other national lotteries. We do not want that to happen again.
Finally, echoing some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Stockton, North, I express my concern about Labour's defence review. Yes, NATO was mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but during the whole election campaign, other than on one day, we heard no mention of Labour's defence plans. I do not know whether it will be a question of cheese-paring or salami-slicing.
Tragically, defence is now regarded as an important electoral issue in only about 40 constituencies-those with important defence procurement industries, those with military training areas, those that are traditional recruiting grounds for the regiments and those which have traditional ports or airfields. By and large, defence has ceased to be thought of as a first-tier national issue, yet it is. It is the most fundamental duty of any Government to ensure the defence of the realm, to deter threats, to defend freedom, to defend territorial integrity, to support the civil authorities, especially in countering terrorism, to promote the UK's wider security interests throughout the world, and to enhance freedom, democratic institutions and free trade.
The defence programme must therefore provide the greatest military capability within available resources. That term is crucial because any defence review must be capability-led, not Treasury-led. Will we simply see the gradual erosion of the defence budget, beyond the level envisaged by the Defence Select Committee, on which the hon. Member for Stockton, North and I served with my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), who is here today? The Committee put down a cross-party marker that there should be no further defence cuts. Whoever serves on the successor Defence Committee has a solemn duty to ensure that that is so, and, if there is a slippage, to tell the House pretty quick, because the House must care about that.
118 If the defence programme is to be capability-led, that implies that some of the traditional roles of the British military may be up for grabs. What will they be if it is capability-led? Are we going to give up anti-submarine warfare capability? Oh yes, one could probably scrap about 14 frigates and do away with about £4 billion or £5 billion—but, my goodness, the consequences will be very severe.
Are we talking about defence procurement? Where do we start? Shall we abandon the Tomahawk land attack missiles, or the Hercules C 130 Js—the transport aircraft? Shall we cancel a few orders for the EH101 helicopters or extra Chinooks? What about the Apache attack helicopters, the improved SKYNET satellite telecommunications, the common new generation frigate programme with other countries in Europe? Will Eurofighter be scrapped? If we are considering a capability-led defence programme, one could argue that no capability need for it remains. What about those replacement maritime patrol aircraft, the whole question of heavy lift capability, or the air-launched stand-off anti-armoured weapons, which are on order? All those appear to be up for grabs.
It is causing uncertainty to the defence chiefs, the uniformed services, the enormous research organisations with their thousands of employees and the civilian work force on whom the uniformed military depend.
What about our training areas? A public inquiry is being held on Otterburn, with important implications for the Salisbury plain training area. What about our relations and training overseas with our partners either in the partnership for peace or NATO or the British Army Training Unit at Suffield in Canada? We need to be aware of what our capability and our relationships will be.
There was a grand announcement that more attention would be paid to Gulf war syndrome. I welcome that. The Defence Committee strongly criticised what had happened before, but I do not hear a word about any more resources to try to find out more about that.
What about defence medical services? What about the future provisioning of the Army? What about the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute contract, which was lost to Bookers? What about some of the issues raised by the Defence Committee at the end of the last Parliament, such as the future of compensation for our service men and women? What about the role of the Army Families Federation, supporting families in married quarters, and all the staff, wherever they may be in the world-the military people and civilians? What about the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association? What about the military museums?
These issues are all wrapped up in that bland phrase, "Let us have a defence review." I have yet to be convinced that it is anything other than a euphemism for defence cuts—and that would be unacceptable to me and my constituents, I can assure the House.
I hope very much, therefore, that during the deliberation of the Gracious Speech and the busy time that we shall have in the next 18 months, the House will take time for consideration, and that, in their glee at an enormous majority, on which I give due congratulations, the Government do not forget that there are many people who, when they voted for the Government party, were not necessarily voting for the individual bits of their programmes. That is the important role of this Parliament.
119 We must ensure that we carry out our duty as Opposition Members, whether we are Conservative Members who will soon be on the Government Benches again, or Liberal Members who are condemned to eternal opposition, whoever is in government. Either way, we must take our duties very seriously in view of the large majority that we face.
§ Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I rise to speak for the very first time, may I, as one of the newcomers, wish you well in your new post?
I represent the constituency of Stafford—as a result of boundary changes, not the same constituency that it was in 1992. However, the man who represented Stafford in the previous Parliament is still in the House—the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who, I am pleased to see, has just rejoined us in the Chamber. He now represents the adjoining constituency. I congratulate him on his good judgment in standing for that seat, not Stafford.
Earlier today, I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister speak of the hon. Member for Stone and other Conservative Members who are of the same view on matters European. In the constituency of Stafford, many people deeply respect the arguments that the hon. Member for Stone consistently advances, although I hasten to say that I do not agree with those arguments.
The constituency of Stafford is centred on the county town of the same name, a place which is rich in history, in the talent of its people and in the green and pleasant grounds that surround it. It is also an area of great communications, with the M6 hard by the town of Stafford, and it is a major stop on the west coast main line. When, eventually, later this year, the Eurostar trains venture beyond London, Stafford will be the only stop in Staffordshire for those services.
Unfortunately, some members of the public confuse Stafford with a great town called Stratford-on-Avon, and it is not unusual for tourists in Stafford to be disappointed to be unable to find there the birthplace of Shakespeare—although, happily, every summer at Stafford castle there is an open-air Shakespeare festival.
Stafford's literary connection with the House is best shown in the person of the great playwright, Richard Sheridan, who represented the town for 20 years or so in the 18th century. He spent his maiden speech defending himself against a complaint of bribing his electors—an experience which I am pleased not to be following. Unfortunately, Mr. Sheridan died in debt—another experience in which I hope not to follow him.
I have but one predecessor who was a Labour representative for Stafford—Mr. Stephen Swingler, who took part in the great landslide victory of 1945 and represented Stafford only until the following election in 1950. That is another example which I hope not to follow. Mr. Swingler bounced back in 1951, winning a by-election at Newcastle-under-Lyme, which he represented faithfully and loyally until his death in 1969, serving in Labour Governments in the 1960s, with responsibilities for transport, health and social security. To this day, his life and his service for the town are commemorated in Newcastle-under-Lyme in an annual Stephen Swingler memorial lecture.
120 I have sat through the whole of today's proceedings in the Chamber. I have thoroughly enjoyed the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members, but I invite them to look at the text of the Gracious Speech with different eyes. I ask them to consider the comment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about some of the reasons for the declining state of our society. Among those reasons, he mentioned the loosening of family ties. I invite hon. Members to measure the proposals in the Gracious Speech by their effects on families, and particularly on children. We representatives have a special responsibility to speak up for children. Understandably, we are in thrall to electors, but we also have a duty to represent those too young to vote.
Education is clearly the Government's priority for the coming term. We have a chance to improve the lives of all children. Their schooldays will be the best days of their lives if they receive a quality education. Surely ensuring smaller class sizes in the earliest years at school and improving school standards are the best ways to raise the quality of that education. Through education, we can break down the barriers to ensure opportunity for all—in work, in parenting or in citizenship.
The measures on law and order will also benefit children. They, too, are victims of crime—often silent victims. They will benefit from a greater feeling of security in their formative years by being brought up in safer communities. Those few who are young offenders will rightly be punished faster and earlier to ensure that not all children are labelled as troublemakers, harming their relationships with older members of the community.
The measures in the Gracious Speech on housing will also benefit all children, ensuring that they will have a place of shelter and refuge. I hope that we shall also have regard to ensuring freedom of choice in the kind of homes that children live in with their parents or guardians-whether those homes are owner-occupied, rented in the private sector, rented from what are now, in shorthand, called social landlords, or involve one of the many innovative types of tenure that have been developed somewhere between those categories. I hope that, as many hon. Members have suggested, the release of capital receipts held by local authorities will assist in ensuring that children are brought up in safe and secure homes, both through the building of new homes to rent by social landlords and through the renovation of homes that are presently too cold or damp.
Children benefit if their parents benefit. The grand issues that we have debated today—jobs, a successful economy and a safer and more co-operative world order—will benefit children. However, I believe that they will also benefit in their own right from the measures in the Gracious Speech that I have mentioned.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I add my congratulations to those of other right hon. and hon. Members on your elevation to your new post, Mr. Deputy Speaker, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North (Mr. Lord) and for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst), who is the Chairman of Ways and Means.
I was, perhaps somewhat condescendingly, going to observe that we have been privileged to hear outstanding speeches from the mover and seconder of the Loyal 121 Address—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). They made speeches of originality, verbal distinction and wit from which hon. Members old and new could benefit. Clearly, the new Members needed no such example or instruction. The two new Members who have contributed this afternoon—the hon. Members for Lewes (Mr. Baker) and for Stafford (Mr. Kidney)—demonstrated rare talent. Both made succinct speeches, paying warm tributes to their predecessors, as is appropriate. I am sure that we shall hear many speeches of similar distinction from new Members in the days and weeks ahead.
While we are paying tributes, I must, as others have, pay particular tribute to the late Nicholas Baker, who was a brave and good servant of his constituents and of the House. I must also pay a special tribute to my great parliamentary friend and colleague, Sir Michael Shersby, the former Member for Uxbridge, who died but a few days ago. I could not have had a better parliamentary neighbour or a more loyal friend. I believe that only Michael could have held Uxbridge against the tidal wave of the swing to Labour in London north of the Thames.
He was, for me, the model parliamentarian—infinitely courteous, diligent to the extreme and capable of taking endless pains on behalf of his constituents. Together with that remarkable attention to detail, he displayed a rare diversity of interests in this place. He was the president of the London Green Belt Council and championed the preservation of the environment of outer London. He was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chairman of many Standing Committees. He was a spokesman for the Police Federation and chairman of the Falkland Islands group.
While we are paying tribute to those who have died, we should not forget the many who have lost their seats. I should like to single out one, who was also a parliamentary neighbour—Dr. Rhodes Boyson, former Member for Brent, North. He was an incomparably distinguished parliamentarian, inimitable in every way.
The best part of the Queen's Speech was the start—the royal beginning, if I may put it that way—in which Her Majesty gave a summary of her gracious programme of hospitality to foreign heads of state. The President of Brazil is to come in the latter part of this year and the Emperor and Empress of Japan are coming next year. Her Majesty also referred to her forthcoming visit to India and Pakistan, presumably to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their independence in August. We are, indeed, fortunate to have as head of state a monarch who is so assiduous and who fulfils, on behalf of the nation, important responsibilities in foreign affairs which are crucial to the dignity of our country and encourage trade and good relations between nations—not least in the subcontinent where there is a dispute about the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which has, unfortunately, yet to be resolved.
Moving on to the governmental part of the Queen's Speech, I am afraid to say that the quality begins quickly to deteriorate. There is a brief sentence and then one moves on to a thoroughly bad paragraph in which we find a proposal of supreme socialist vindictiveness aimed against children who cannot help the twin accidents of their birth—that they are clever, but that their families are poor.
122 Private schools benefit from having pupils from a variety of backgrounds, and poorer pupils benefit from the environment of private schools which enables them to make new friends outside their normal social circle. It is therefore a thoroughly retrograde step to do away with the assisted places scheme, as the Government propose.
If the Government want to do something useful in education and at relatively little cost, they should review the Greenwich judgment to prevent children from flooding across borough boundaries in London to the detriment of the ability of parents in my constituency and other constituencies affected to send their children to the local school of their choice.
Like the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), who has now left the Chamber, I bitterly regret the fact that there was no mention of environmental protection in the Queen's Speech. It is an issue of enormous importance, especially to outer London and the suburbs of our big cities.
Allowing local authorities to keep the capital receipts from the sale of council houses, as is proposed in the Queen's Speech, sounds good. The proposal is to be welcomed inasmuch as it will enable the renovation of dilapidated properties, but if, as has happened in my borough of Hillingdon, it encourages the development by a socialist local authority of large-scale social housing on recreation grounds, on any open space that can be found, on playing fields, on green chain designated areas and even in green-belt areas, it could be thoroughly retrograde and deeply damaging to the quality of life on the periphery of our big cities. I regret that the Government did not mention in the Queen's Speech the importance of stimulating the private rented sector to meet our undoubted housing needs.
In the general election campaign, one theme recurred time and again, on the doorstep and in public meetings, in a way that no other issue in my recollection of eight general election campaigns has recurred—except perhaps the issue of immigration in the 1970 election. The issue was, of course, our relationship with Europe. It is an issue which cannot be shirked and which we must confront. We must recognise that there is, in principle, a big divide between the instinctive attitudes of the Labour party and those of the Conservative party.
The Prime Minister took pride in the fact that the Government would continue to arrogate to themselves sole responsibility for justice and home affairs, for foreign affairs and for defence. Vetoes in those areas of policy would be retained by our country. That is well and good, and appropriate, but the steady accretion of powers by Europe in other areas will go on and has already been accelerated by the advent to power of this Labour Administration. The instincts and inspiration behind the social chapter may sound fine, but social policy is properly an area in which, according to our traditions and our ways of doing things, we should be able to decide, as we should in industrial and employment policy.
Although there is a mention of the common fisheries policy and of the common agricultural policy, there is no commitment to what will be essential—the return of powers in those areas to this nation. The resources of our seas are properly ours, and we must understand that the common agricultural policy is not sustainable and not compatible with the objective in the Queen's Speech of enlargement of the European Union. We can have the one, 123 but not the other—not easily, not effectively and not smoothly. We need to bring the countries of central and eastern Europe into a relationship of community with us in the west at the earliest possible date. We entered—did we not?—a European community. It is to a community of nations that we should return and we should set aside the goal of ever-closer union because that goal will never be achievable and will bring with it fundamental stresses and strains. A fundamental issue in that context will shortly be the single currency.
I have a brief observation on referendums and the constitutional development of our country which the Government propose in the Queen's Speech. We are to have referendums for Scotland, for Wales and for the governance of London—I refer to the proposed Greater London authority and the directly elected mayor for the capital. There is a big omission, is there not? Why are we to have no referendum on our relationship with the European Union, which is the most important constitutional development in this country and which is changing apace in a way that many British people find wholly undesirable and over which they have no say? We had the extraordinary spectacle of a political party standing in the general election on that one issue and securing a significant share of votes, especially in seats that proved marginal and where a change of party representation occurred.
We should have the proposed referendums; I am a democrat and I welcome them. If it is the wish of the electorate of London to have a Greater London assembly and a directly elected mayor, well and good. I look forward to getting Conservative majority representation in the Greater London assembly and to having a Tory mayor for the whole of London.
Furthermore, I urge the Government, before it is too late and before tension has built up too much in our body politic, to think again about a referendum on our relationship with the European Union. It should not be just on the narrow matter of the single currency; it should not be just an endorsement of a decision already taken by the Government and by Parliament. It should be on the fundamentals of our relationship. Do we wish to be in, do we wish to be out, or do we wish to have a relationship of free trade only?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) clearly explained the instinct of this Labour Government. Of course, we wish the Government well in the crusade on which they are embarked. We all listened with great attention to the somewhat evangelistic and moralistic tone of the Prime Minister's speech.
However, the fact is that the Government have started off extremely undemocratically. First, they have not allowed Parliament to have a say on the status of the Bank of England and its increased control over monetary policy. Secondly, there is the Government's attitude to questions and thirdly, there is the fundamental question of a referendum. We appreciate the referendums in Scotland, in Wales and in London, but one more referendum is required-on our relationship with the European Union.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
First, let me pay tribute to Sir Michael Shersby who was my parents' Member of Parliament for a number of years and mine when I lived in that constituency as a child.
124 As my predecessor, Peter Butler, was the last Member of the 1992 intake to make his maiden speech, I thought that I would try to get in on the first day. At the count, I praised Peter for the way in which he had represented Milton Keynes, North-East, and I reiterate that today. He was a good constituency Member for the people of Milton Keynes, but his Government let him down.
I am not the first Labour Member to represent north Buckinghamshire. The previous two were Captain Crawley in 1945 and a certain Mr. Maxwell in 1966. I assure my hon. Friends that I do not intend to emulate either of them.
Milton Keynes is a fast growing city in perhaps the fastest growing part of the country. It is also an environment city with some 19 million trees and a door-to-door recycling service which collects from everyone in the city. It has high-technology companies, such as Stewart Racing, which I congratulate on an excellent result at Monaco last weekend. It also has major companies, such as Abbey National. Until a couple of weeks ago, I designed computer systems for Abbey National. I do not know whether it is better for me to be working here or designing there.
My constituency includes major rural areas. One of the key issues of the election campaign was the impact of the European Union on farming. It is interesting to reflect that the previous two Tory Members representing the area had considerably different solutions to rural problems. My constituency includes Olney, which has an annual pancake race. Milton Keynes is also home to the Open university, which is the proudest creation of a Labour Government, after the national health service. It is an example for the rest of the country, as it provides a university for industry and will serve us well in future.
Milton Keynes is different from many parts of the country in that it has always been a place of innovation. The public and private partnerships there could be emulated elsewhere.
Until recently, I was an Opposition member on Buckinghamshire country council's education committee; therefore, I am delighted that the Queen's Speech makes education a high priority. A test of whether the Labour Government achieve their objectives will be whether we deliver on education. It has to be the highlight of the parliamentary Session, and we have to deliver.
Milton Keynes is unique in that new primary and secondary schools are being created. One of the most shameful acts of the Conservative Government was that they refused to allow a secondary school in my constituency to go ahead while allowing a grammar school to proceed; however, that school will not go ahead because it failed to gain the necessary planning permissions. It is critical that new schools continue to be built for all children. I welcome the scrapping of nursery vouchers, while making nursery education a high priority.
The crime and disorder legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech will be critical. Last weekend, an old couple aged 95 who live a couple of doors away from my home were robbed for the third time in as many months. Such incidents occur in all our towns and cities and they have to be stopped. That is why I applaud the proposals to speed up the criminal justice system and start to make improvements.
I also applaud the proposals in respect of the capital receipts that many councils have been unable to use. At last we will be able to give people decent housing.
125 This is the first Queen's Speech in a very long time with which I agree, and it gives me real pleasure to say that. I welcome the proposed White Paper on freedom of information. A Bill would have been better, but a White Paper will allow us to start to change the culture of government. As a politician, I have always argued that we should have a more open society and that we should change our procedures to allow more public access. I hope that the freedom of information White Paper will lead us to that end. I hope to contribute to the workings of the House so that we can have a reforming Parliament of which we can all be proud.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
First, I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. The job of Deputy Speaker is largely an unsung task. You spend many hours—perhaps some of the less interesting midnight hours—in the House. I congratulate you and your colleagues and pay tribute to the work of your predecessors, three of whom are no longer in the House. They were always extremely helpful to Back Benchers such as me, and I am sure that you will be the same.
I also congratulate the new Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) on his speech and on his courage in making his maiden speech on the first day of the Queen's Speech debate. I believe that one of his predecessors in Buckinghamshire, who represented the area before Milton Keynes was created—the late, lamented Robert Maxwell—also made his maiden speech on the day of the Queen's Speech. I am not sure what analogies should be drawn from that, so I shall draw none. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech and his courage and I wish him well in the House.
The House of Commons is a courteous place. We probably disagree profoundly on a number of issues, but it is important that we observe the courtesies of the House. If we did not do so, the whole place would grind to a halt. I am sure that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East will forgive me when I say that I liked his predecessor, I regret his absence and I hope that he will be back after the next election.
I should also like to thank the constituents of Blaby for returning me at the general election less than two weeks ago. I did not achieve the large majority that I had last time, but I hope to build it up again in the near future. My majority was 25,000; it is now 6,500, but, God willing, it will rise towards 25,000 again.
§ Mr. Robathan
I thought that a majority of 25,000 was well deserved. It was going to fall because of the boundary changes, but 6,500 was a lower majority than I had expected.
Of course we welcome Her Majesty making the Gracious Speech, although we may not welcome everything in it. Of course I agree, as will all hon. Members, that all Governments govern for the benefit of the entire nation, and to suggest that only the present Government will do so is absurd. The Conservatives governed not always 100 per cent. correctly, but to the best of our ability for everyone in the nation-rich and poor. Scots, Welsh, Irish and English. I recall that it was a Labour Chancellor, now a Labour peer, who said that he 126 would squeeze the rich until the pips squeaked. That can hardly be termed governing for the benefit of the whole nation as even the rich are part of the nation—[Interruption.]—including Robert Maxwell and one or two Labour Members.
Some of the Prime Minister's policies embody rather soggy populism. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who spoke earlier, would agree with me about the Bill to outlaw all handguns. I have probably fired more rounds of pistol ammunition than most hon. Members. I find it rather boring and I cannot imagine why anyone would want to spend a Saturday afternoon blatting away with a pistol. I can think of a thousand different things that I would rather do, including going to a football match-although only just. However, 50,000 people enjoy firing pistols on a Saturday afternoon. It is strange that we should wish to ban their sport. They do no harm and they enjoy it. The fact that we do not does not mean that we should ban it. Furthermore, we are banning an Olympic sport, which means that we shall be discounted in the running for not only pistol shooting but—I think—the modern pentathlon. That is to be regretted.
Why are the Government banning handguns? It is a populist gesture for cheap headlines. Although, of course, we all have the utmost sympathy with the bereaved parents in Dunblane, police estimates suggest that there are up to 4 million illegally held firearms in this country. Every week we read in local newspapers such as the Leicester Mercury—or whatever the local newspaper is in Buckinghamshire—that some shooting has taken place with an illegally held firearm. The worry is not the legally held firearms of people who wish to shoot pistols on a Saturday afternoon but illegally held firearms.
I regret to tell people who believe that all madmen will be discounted by taking away legally held pistols that an expert, or indeed somebody with a little knowledge, can create more carnage than that created at Dunblane with two gallons of petrol and a battery. Although I hope that such carnage is not created, that is the truth. A more august person than I referred to cricket bats, which is particularly apt in the debate on the Queen's Speech. It is true that there are all sorts of ways in which children and others may be attacked; one does not need a legally held firearm.
The Queen's Speech also included the point that, having already signed up to the European convention on human rights, the new Government will incorporate it in British law. However much we might disagree, every hon. Member is keen on justice and the rights of citizens and of the individual. This country is free. It has been more free than almost any country in Europe throughout this century. The measure may paradoxically weaken the justice that one finds in British courts. The European Court of Human Rights will presumably have constitutional legitimacy in this country.
In 1950, Britain was one of the original signatories to the European convention on human rights. Indeed, we set it up in the aftermath of the second world war when there was a need to state that human rights had to be paramount. It was set up as the cold war was starting and the iron curtain was being erected. We need no lessons in human rights from many of today's signatories to the European convention. Although I respect many of the new countries, such as Slovakia, they have but a short history of freedom and respect for human rights.
127 One judge in the European Court of Human Rights is from Bulgaria. I think that Bulgarian human rights leave a little to be desired. Croatia is about to become part of the court. As those of us who have studied the war in the former Yugoslavia will know, Croatia has not emerged with its hands clean. The measure seems to be another gesture to the single-issue brothers and sisters out there, and will benefit neither this country nor its people.
Another major plank of the Queen's Speech concerns the referendums on devolution. Scots may really want their own Parliament. I am not a Scot and cannot say. I am not sure that they will want their own Parliament, now that there are so many Scots on the Government Front Bench. I see just one in his place at the moment. Scots account for about half the new Cabinet and, indeed, for a large majority of the seats in Scotland. People might say that there is already a Scottish Government in Westminster, so why should there be a need for a Scottish Parliament? Scots may nevertheless want their own Parliament. I regret that and will fight against it.
§ The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that, in order to sustain his excellent thesis, there has to be a permanent Labour Government?
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. He should cast his mind back, young as he might be, to the 1950s, when more than 50 per cent. of Scots voted for the Conservatives. He might find that again in four or five years' time—who knows?
We are told that the Scots—as well as the Welsh—are a nation, and I am very happy to believe that. Surely, if the Scots are a nation, all members of the nation should have a vote in a referendum. I am not in any way criticising the hon. Members for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) and for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)—they are all very Scottish people. Should not they too have a vote? They are surely part of a Scots nation. I suggest that, since they were born and raised in Scotland, they have more right to vote in some referendum than, for instance, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who—I think—would always claim to be English.
We remember Lord Callaghan, the previous Labour Prime Minister—a great success he was, too. Should he not have a vote in some referendum on a Welsh Assembly? My father, who is still alive, was born in Llandaff. Why should the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), be more a member of a Welsh nation than my father? There is great illogicality in the argument.
There is talk in the Queen's Speech of governing for the benefit of the whole nation, yet the proposed Assembly and Parliament will divide the nation. The British are a nation. As I look around the House, I see that we are all one nation. I certainly consider myself British before I consider myself English. I am going to Scotland for the Whitsun recess—God willing we have one. Scotland is part of the nation of which I am a member. I do not believe that devolution will improve the 128 nation—quite the contrary. People in Britain, not just those in Scotland and Wales, should have a vote in any referendum.
If we were to put up a sign saying, "Scots Out", we would quite rightly be criticised for racialism, yet when I last drove along the motorway from Edinburgh airport towards Linlithgow, I saw big signs saying, "English Out". In some ways, Scottish nationalism has become respectable. It should not be. It is as nasty, petty-minded, mean-minded, small-minded and racialist as anything the British National party comes up with.
Education is also a major plank of the Queen's Speech. I wish the Government well. I applaud almost everything that they have said in the Queen's Speech on education. They are returning to the old-fashioned three Rs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned discipline twice on Radio 4 this morning. I was so glad to hear a Labour Member talking about discipline.
What has Labour education policy meant in my lifetime? Out went old-fashioned learning, the three Rs and school discipline, and in came child-centred education—whatever that means—open-plan classrooms and the rowdiness that one gets now, which are the politics and policies of the left. In Leicestershire in the early 1970s, I am told that, when the county council fell briefly and sadly to the Labour party, the first act of the Labour-controlled education authority was to abolish school uniform. There was no consultation. Now, so many schools are bringing school uniform back for all sorts of good reasons.
Such politically correct policies and claptrap were damaging to education. Teachers, of whom there may be some on the Government Benches and some sitting behind me, said, "Call me Jack, call me Jill." To that I would say, "Call me Jack, call me Jill, call me Tony." Lack of respect for authority has been bred in our schools. Are we to believe that, after all the harm done by their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s, the new Labour Government will restore our education to the position in which it ought to be—to the position it was in when I was a child?
During the election campaign, I met people who had such closed minds. They said to me, "I am a teacher; I must vote Labour." That is very distressing. Teachers are meant to broaden the minds of our young. The best primary schools that I have visited in my constituency since becoming a Member of Parliament have always said that they are old-fashioned and have, in their words, rejected the trendy ideas of the 1960s.
Such ideas were of the left and have harmed the education of so many children; indeed, they are still doing so in places such as Islington. If they are not harming education, why has the Prime Minister taken his child out of an Islington school and sent him to wherever he has sent him? Why has the Secretary of State for Social Security sent her child to a grammar school? Everyone must ask that question. I wish the Government well on education. Time will tell; perhaps they will do better than the Conservatives did. We shall watch.
The lack of discipline and direction in schools is closely linked to juvenile offenders. I wish the Government well in their determination to crack down on juvenile offenders, something which the Conservative Government tried to do for some years, without any support from the Labour party.
129 I think that I am the only Member of the House who served in the Gulf war as a member of the armed forces. I do not believe that there is such a thing as Gulf war syndrome. I think that there is organophosphate poisoning and there may be other illnesses as well. I welcome more research, but I caution the Government that just because people who served in the Gulf are ill does not mean that they are ill because they served in the Gulf.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mrs. Kennedy) may wish to tell the Ministry of Defence that I am happy to help in any inquiry. I heard the Minister for the Armed Forces say that he wanted to get service men from the Gulf through the doors of the Ministry of Defence. I will come.
§ Mr. Robathan
That is kind of the hon. Gentleman, but no, not on this occasion.
The defence review has been made much of. Three years ago we had a defence review called "Front Line First". The Labour party's instinct is to oppose greater spending on the armed forces. Its instinct is to cut defence spending. I suffered for five years as a member of the Army under the previous Labour Government. The House should note that the armed forces will not benefit from this defence review. I fear that, as night follows day, their numbers will be cut.
§ Mr. Robathan
I have never cut anything in defence-not willingly, anyway.
The Labour party won the election with a smaller percentage of votes than the Conservative Government in 1992. Nevertheless, it has a mandate. However, it does not have an overwhelming mandate to destroy the United Kingdom and its traditions, or to alter our lives beyond recognition. I congratulate the Government. The British people have the right to choose their Government. The Labour Government will have a limited tenure. They are tenants; they do not have the freehold, as the previous Conservative Government found out only 10 days ago.
Already the Prime Minister—or Tony, as we must call him—is acting as a bit of a dictator. He is but one of 659 Members of Parliament. I found his behaviour during the election campaign disappointing. I use that word advisedly, because his allegation that the Conservative party planned to privatise the state pension was not true and he knew it to be not true. The same applies to the scares about VAT on food and the NHS. They were disappointing. That must cast a shadow over what, to quote many of the newspapers, is a new Camelot.
Twenty years ago almost to the day, the last Labour Prime Minister appointed his 40-year-old son-in-law ambassador in Washington. That was an astonishing act of nepotism, which would rightly be condemned in a Conservative Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has begun by appointing the man who introduced him to his wife as Lord Chancellor and an old flatmate as Solicitor-General. I should have thought that among the 400-odd Labour Members of Parliament there must surely be someone who is capable of being Solicitor-General without appointing a chum.
130 If I sat on the Government Benches, which I do not, I would be worried, but I congratulate the new Government. They have the country in trust for the whole nation and for future generations. They should not harm it. They should be judged by their achievements and their actions and by the effect that they have on the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Philip Hope (Corby)
As the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Corby, I am delighted to be able to make my maiden speech on this first day of debate on the Loyal Address on the Queen's Speech of the new Labour Government.
The Co-operative party is a sister party of the Labour party and I shall make it my business to pursue the ideals and practicalities of co-operation in terms of both legislative and wider support for the co-operative movement.
My predecessor, William Powell, was a hard-working Member of Parliament who paid particular attention to individual constituents' problems. He fully lived up to the standards that he set himself.
The Corby constituency is unique. It is a combination of the urban town of Corby and the rural area of east Northamptonshire, which contains many villages and the market towns of Oundle, Thrapston, Raunds and Irthlingborough. Corby itself is a former steel-producing town. It still has a tube manufacturing plant employing nearly 1,000 people. I am concerned at today's announcement of the loss of 134 jobs at that tube-making plant, and I shall seek reassurances from British Steel that steel tube production in Corby will continue to have a solid future.
As many hon. Members may also know, Corby has a large Scots community. In many ways, the spirit of Scotland is present, strong and proud. Only last weekend, the Caledonian Club football team reached the Wembley cup final of the inter-club national football competition, putting Corby on the map in a big way.
Corby and east Northamptonshire has a growing local economy. I pay tribute to Corby's borough council for its tremendous work in attracting inward investment, building local community organisations and creating real optimism for the future in a town that has suffered badly for many years.
The constituency also has unique features and attractions for economic growth. The town has a willing work force and, as a result of the closure of the steel-making plant, land is available for development. We have superb road links east, west, north and south, and we have possibly the first, and unique, road-rail interchange in Eurohub, which allows mile-long trains carrying 300 cars at a time to travel all the way from Corby to Paris, thereby developing and improving Corby as an inland port for imports and exports.
It is ironic that we can move freight all the way from Corby to Paris in about four hours, but do not have a passenger rail link from Corby to Kettering, the nearest Midland Main Line railway station. I shall be making it my business to see if we can put that right in order to give Corby a further economic asset.
A major priority must be to build on Corby's tremendous strengths so that it can achieve a high-wage, high-skill, local economy which is prosperous and can provide genuine economic opportunities for all.
131 However, not surprisingly after 18 years of Conservative government, the constituency continues to have problems. In the rural areas, there is a complete absence of any real public transport. We need and look forward to innovative transport packages to deal with the problems faced by the many people who live in poverty and social isolation in rural areas. Transport will play a key part in solving their problems and meeting their needs.
In Corby, we have the problem of unscrupulous employment agencies which offer people temporary employment and zero-hour contracts with no insurance, pension, sick pay, training or job security. Young people aged 19 stand on the streets of Corby waiting for the agency bus to take them to a factory which, if it has no work, will simply tell them to get back on the bus and go home. That is no way for young people to start a working life. I shall be pushing for our fair employment proposals to ensure that unscrupulous employment agencies are fully controlled.
The national minimum wage announced in the Queen's Speech will be a major plank of security for young people who so often find themselves exploited.
I shall also seek to deal with recent problems associated with gas supplies; 5,000 households recently found their supply cut off when a subcontractor for Anglian Water managed, spectacularly, to drill through their water and gas mains in one dig. The Lodge Park and Shire Lodge estates in Corby were completely flooded, with water coming out of people's gas cookers. It was astonishing, and it took nearly 12 days for some people to be reconnected. An emergency was declared, and the county council, the borough council and the voluntary organisations, including the British Red Cross and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service were superb in dealing with it.
The problem we have now is getting fair compensation for people who were without hot water, hot food or any heating for up to 12 days. The announcement that British Gas will pay only £100 to every household is not good enough. We need to fight for better compensation.
Another local concern in Corby is the recent outbreak of legionnaire's disease. There have been 23 victims, and one person died this February. This is not a problem only for Corby, but a national problem. We must consider how we will prevent and control the legionella disease. It is a hidden problem that, in the next few months, will need much attention. I am delighted to see in the Queen's Speech that attention will be paid to public health. We have a new Minister for public health. I suspect that we will start work on the issue urgently in the next few days.
The good news for Corby and east Northamptonshire in the Queen's Speech is also the emphasis on education. I have visited many schools in the past few weeks, as I am sure have other hon. Members. I have visited schools throughout the constituency, both primary and secondary. The governors and staff of those schools cannot wait for some of the measures in today's Queen's Speech to be implemented. The abolition of the nursery voucher scheme raised a cheer in one staff room that I went to visit. It will be abolished so that we can create common sense and a planned approach to nursery provision for all four-year-olds.
132 How desperately smaller class sizes are needed in Corby, as are higher standards in all our schools. Taking 250,000 young people off the dole and into jobs, education and training will have enormous benefits for the young people in Corby, who genuinely feel that they have been dumped on the scrap heap by the previous Government. They look forward to the opportunities that we will be able to bring them. All those measures mentioned and highlighted in the Queen's Speech will be of direct benefit to schools in the Corby constituency. It will make a difference and it will make things better.
I look forward to representing the interests of all the peoples and all the communities of Corby and east Northamptonshire with commitment and enthusiasm. I believe that I am unique in being able to say that the people of Corby constituency were the only people in the country who actually voted for Hope for the future.
§ Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)
I rise to address the House for the first time as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Southend, West. I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your election
§ Mr. Amess
I will come to that in a moment, but before so doing I wish to pay tribute to the two maiden speeches that I have heard this evening.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and I plus one other colleague were elected to this House some 14 years ago. There was a large Conservative majority at the time. I remember only too well the occasion of my maiden speech. There was a packed House. The debate was on the rate capping Bill. I followed my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I was given advice on how to make my maiden speech by the former Prime Minister.
Whoever gave the hon. Members for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) and for Corby (Mr. Hope) advice on how to make their maiden speeches, they were both splendid. We welcome the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East to our former colleague Peter Butler. Throughout the campaign, the hon. Gentleman certainly had a good grasp of local issues. I congratulate him on his speech.
The hon. Member for Corby made a fluent and forthright speech. I will observe the conventions on this occasion, but I am afraid to say that I did not exactly agree with his analysis of the political situation. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman will bring great fluency to future debates in the House. He feels things passionately, and I am very much in favour of conviction politicians. He certainly made an excellent maiden speech and I wish him well in the future. He also praised our former hon. Friend, whom he defeated.
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) mentioned Basildon. Let me put it on record that I am the first and last Member of Parliament for Basildon. On three occasions I was proud to be returned to serve my constituency of Basildon, and I did so for 14 years. On each occasion, my vote increased and the percentage of my vote increased. My former constituency is now represented by two Members of Parliament—one Conservative and one Labour. I wish those two Members of Parliament well in serving their constituents.
133 We still have many friends in Basildon, and I intend to keep my links with it—it is where our five children were born. I shall watch carefully future comments in the House about my former constituents.
It was with great humility that, some two years ago, I was chosen as the candidate for Southend, West. The constituency had been represented for four decades by Lord Channon. For more than 100 years, the constituency was represented by the Guinness family and the Iveagh family. It was well served by a number of Members of Parliament. My wife was born in the area and comes from the area. Without wishing to copy anything that the Labour party has to say, for my wife it is very much an occasion for her coming home.
The constituency is made up of seven wards—Bellfairs, Blenheim, Chalkwell, Eastwood, Lea, Prittlewell and Westborough. The issues in Southend, West are somewhat different from those that I came across in my former constituency, which was a new town. Southend, West has a coast. There are fishing issues. I pledged on election night to campaign immediately on four issues. On Friday, I shall detain the House on the first: my pledge to save Leigh fire station and ensure that Essex fire protection service is properly funded—something that the Labour and Liberal coalition on Essex county council has never done.
Secondly, houses in multiple occupation have made an unfortunate impact in Southend, West. I intend to challenge the local authority to ensure that the excellent legislation of the former Government is followed and that the increasing proliferation of HMOs stops in Southend, West. The third of my four pledges is to do everything I possibly can to attract investment into the town. It is through new investment and increasing job opportunities that we can offer real hope, especially to young people, in Southend, West.
My fourth pledge is to work with sensible women and men to establish Southend as the premier seaside resort in the country. One or two other hon. Members may challenge that, but that is my pledge.
Before I get on to the Queen's Speech, I wish to share with the House one or two thoughts about the general election campaign nationally and locally. Nationally, it was a rotten general election campaign. It was not a campaign with which any Member returned to this House could be pleased. The issues were not debated, they were fudged. We wasted the first two weeks arguing about particular matters. In the rest of the campaign, we did not get down to the nitty-gritty of what the general election campaign should be about. Never mind what the Government may say about the Conservative party; that general election campaign did the House no credit whatever.
There is a huge Government majority, and if we want this place to be serious again, the attendance tonight is somewhat disappointing. Although we have only 164 seats, there are Conservatives here, and also an Ulster Unionist colleague, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I had hoped to see more Labour Members in the Chamber on day one. [Interruption.] I am sorry if hon. Members shake their heads at that. This is the place where we were elected to serve, and I think that the debate should be taken back into the Chamber.
134 The general election campaign was rotten. Now I shall say something about the campaign locally. Personally, I have been to hell and back. I did not much like hell, and I am glad to be back here. In Basildon, it was the Labour party that I fought, and I have no time for the Labour party; but in Southend, West I fought mainly the Liberal party.
The Liberals are not here this evening, in spite of having doubled their numbers. Never have I had such a wicked and poisonous personal campaign directed at me. The Liberal candidate was a woman, and she and her henchmen were obsessed with me as an individual. Every day, the Liberals printed rubbish about me, including photographs. They did not discuss the issues at all; all their material was about me as the candidate for Southend, West. It was a poisonous, wicked campaign, frightening people with the suggestion that we wanted to stop their pensions. There were lies morning, noon and night.
Then came the count. In my former constituency we used to declare in just over an hour, but in Southend, West we declared at about 6am, having had a bloody campaign. The returning officer said, "Look, you have won, but there is a discrepancy of 120 between the number of counterfoils and the number of ballot papers. Are you prepared to see your vote reduced by 120?"
My wife was almost at boiling point by then, so I said, "You are asking me to behave like a gentleman, mister returning officer, aren't you? You want all the staff to go home?" I then shook the returning officer's hand and reluctantly agreed to his suggestion, but within a few moments the Liberals were pawing all over our votes and saying that they wanted to go through them.
The Liberal campaign was a disgrace—and what angered me was the hypocrisy of the leader of the Liberal party. Nationally, he talked about Punch and Judy shows and said, "Oh, we don't want this battle between the Labour and Conservative parties; we're above all that," but locally the Liberal campaign was absolute dirt.
There was no integrity in the local campaign, and I hope that we in this House will not let the Liberal party get away with that sanctimonious platform any more. It is no good their saying on the national platform that they are above party politics if at local level they are the experts in dirt.
I did not especially enjoy the Gracious Speech. I could not find anything in it that I could support. I became a Member of Parliament for the first time on the same day as the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal party, and although there are many people who do not agree with anything that I say, at least I still hold the same views and values as I did 14 years ago.
When we listen to the leaders of the other two parties, we realise that they have changed their views on everything—not out of conviction, but because they used to lose elections. When we listen to the Gracious Speech, we realise what a disgrace that is, and I have underlined several quotations from it.
The first is:My Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation.Conservatives will call the Government to account, and I hope that they will be true to that statement. In what I have heard today, there is little evidence that they will govern for the benefit of the whole nation.
135 The next sentence is:The education of young people will be my Government's first priority.I applaud that, but where are the rotten educators? They are all in Labour-run councils. Until the local elections, we ran only Buckinghamshire; it was our only county council. We are talking about Labour councils. If the Prime Minister now intends to criticise his Labour councils, that is wonderful.
I was attacked by the Labour and Liberal parties for sending my eldest child to the nearest nongrant-maintained non-selective school—but apparently it is all right for the Prime Minister to have his own private agenda. Conservatives have no intention of letting the Government get away with the humbug that we have heard today about education.
The next part of the Gracious Speech reads:The central economic objectives of my Government are high and stable levels of economic growth and employment, to be achieved by ensuring opportunity for all.I am aghast. There is Labour, or new Labour, talking about opportunity for all. I must ask my hon. Friends: was that not the theme of the Conservative party manifesto and of our party conference? Yet now it is included in the Gracious Speech. I am flabbergasted.
The next line is:The essential platform for achieving these objectives is economic stability.When we obtained power in 1979, this country was a disaster. The economy was on the floor. Now, Labour is coming in with a healthy economy. The Labour Government have been given every opportunity; even unemployment is falling.
Then there is the disgraceful matter of the Bank of England. I do not believe that the people who drafted the Labour manifesto had not already worked out that they intended immediately to give power to the Governor of the Bank of England. Why was that not in the manifesto? We heard weasel words from the Prime Minister about that today. Labour jolly well did not tell people because that would have been a tangible issue, which Conservatives would certainly have attacked.
Next we are told:A new partnership with business will be at the heart of my Government's plans to build a modern and dynamic economy to improve the competitiveness of British industry.That is new language for the Labour party. It has always hated competition, and has had more to do with socialism and manipulating things. It is extraordinary for Labour suddenly to start talking about competitiveness.
Labour has always regarded profit as a dirty word. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made light of the word socialism, but I assume that everything has been thrown out now.
Another paragraph tells us:A Bill will be introduced to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the benefits of the National Lottery including for health and education projects.It was the Conservative party that introduced the national lottery, and a hard core of Labour Members with interests in Liverpool and connections with the pools promoters 136 were against it. The national lottery has been a huge success. However, unless everything in the Treasury has changed, its rules will have to be altered before the Government can introduce specific funding for education and the health service. I hope that those details will appear in the Red Book when the Budget is delivered next month.
The Queen's Speech continues:Measures will be introduced to enable capital receipts from the sale of council houses to be invested in housebuilding and renovation as part of my Government's determination to deal with homelessness and unemployment.If the Conservative party had not sold council and corporation houses, there would have been no capital receipts in the first place. It was always our premise that capital receipts could be sold if local authorities did not have any debts. Are the new Labour Government saying that they will ignore all local authority debt?
§ Mr. Pike
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many councils have major housing problems, and that only in the past few years has Conservative dogma allowed them to use such money to tackle those problems? Does he recall that, shortly before an election, a Conservative Chancellor allowed 50 per cent. of capital receipts to be used in that year?
§ Mr. Amess
I concede that we want to have sensible, realistic debate in this Chamber on the entire housing issue. I remind the hon. Gentleman that many of the rotten housing authorities are Labour run. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us how to address the problems caused by the increasing number of transient relationships. Every week in our surgeries we must deal with increased demand for housing from younger and younger people who want separate accommodation. Those real issues must be settled sensibly—they will not be addressed simply by dealing with capital receipts.
The Queen's Speech continues:Decentralisation is essential to my Government's vision of a modern nation.I am sorry, but I interpret that as reducing the importance of this Chamber even more. If Labour Members think that the Conservatives will sit back and let them get away with it, they are in for a big shock. I want a return to the situation that prevailed when I was first elected to Parliament: I am prepared to attend deliberations in this Chamber night after night and morning after morning-I do not care how much that inconveniences people.
The Gracious Speech also states:In the European Union, my Government will take a leading role. They will seek to promote employment, improve competitiveness, complete the Single Market and opt into the Social Chapter.Let there be no doubt that a Conservative Government took the United Kingdom into Europe. It is now suggested that the Labour party, which changed its mind about Europe on 18 occasions—the Prime Minister also changed his position—will sort out Europe. However, the game was given away by scenes on television of the new Labour Ministers being welcomed in Europe, where they are viewed as a soft touch. They think that they will sell out British interests in Europe.
§ Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)
I hope that I am in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful if the 137 hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) would identify the 18 occasions on which we changed our views on Europe. Can he be specific?
§ Mr. Amess
I had no idea that that was the case. I offer the hon. Lady many congratulations.
As far as I am aware, the Labour party opposed the single market, so it is extraordinary that it now proposes to sort it out. I shall not delay the House by discussing this issue any further, but I believe that the social chapter will be an absolute disaster. Some absolutely unbelievable drivel was spoken about the minimum wage today. I have already spoken to many business men in my constituency who are frightened about the consequences of the minimum wage.
I think that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope)—who has returned to his place—was a little ungallant in slightly insulting employment agencies. I have been in recruitment for many years, but my involvement was in recruiting accountants, secretaries and computer staff. The hon. Gentleman referred to a different area, but I think that he was a little unkind in his remarks about employment agencies generally.
The Gracious Speech states that the Governmentwill retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent.The Prime Minister came to this place as a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
§ Mr. Hope
The hon. Gentleman has just referred to employment agencies, and I should like to correct him. In the Corby constituency, there are 16 employment agencies, and 3,000 people are employed through them. I use the word "employed" advisedly. These people can find themselves on zero-hour contracts, which mean that they can be told that they have a job one day but no job the next.
I have examples of employment agencies in Corby illegally using child labour—that is, young people under 16—by putting them into local factories. Some employment agencies have contracts which mean that, if a person fails to turn up on the fourth day of his contract, he is paid £1 an hour for each hour of his three days of work. That is a result of the Conservatives' flexible labour market, which has destroyed lives and the local economy in my constituency. I shall be working hard with my colleagues to ensure that we have fair employment again.
§ Mr. Amess
As I hinted earlier, the hon. Member for Corby has strong views. I am at a disadvantage, in that I 138 do not know anything about these 16 employment agencies, but that is not my experience of such agencies. I am disappointed that the existing law cannot deal with the matter, but no doubt he will attempt to do so quickly.
To return to defence, when the Prime Minister entered the House in 1983, he supported the CND. I am sorry, but I believe that one should make up one's mind on such big issues before becoming a Member of Parliament. Now that he is Prime Minister, he says that he will protect the nuclear deterrent.
At the end of the Gracious Speech, we are told that the Governmentwill programme House of Commons business to ensure more effective scrutiny of Bills and better use of the time of Members of the House of Commons.What does that mean? Some hon. Members might be concerned if too much were revealed on this occasion, but this Chamber is where our duty lies. The Gracious Speech goes on to say that, during the Session, the Governmentwill also publish in draft for public consultation a number of Bills, which it intends to introduce in subsequent sessions of this Parliament.That is fair enough.They will propose the establishment of a new Select Committee of the House of Commons to look at ways of making Parliamentary procedure more effective and efficient.I was not born yesterday. Starting with the changes to Prime Minister's questions, the Government are attempting to sidestep the House of Commons. The Opposition have no intention of allowing that to happen.
It would be churlish not to reflect for a moment on the obvious joy of Labour Members at their election victory. It would be wrong of me to emphasise that Labour did not receive as many votes as we did in 1992, or that the Liberal Democrats were a percentage point down on 1992 but doubled their number of seats. No Conservative Member could complain about the first-past-the-post system. I hope that the great joy of Labour Members at their electoral success will not develop into arrogance. I entered this place in 1983, when there were 147 new Members of Parliament. We were humble and in awe of this Chamber and our democratic process.
I say to my Conservative colleagues that we may be traumatised by the defeat that we suffered two weeks ago, in which we lost a number of superb colleagues, but we must get a grip of ourselves as soon as possible. Having witnessed today what the Labour party has in store for this country, it is the destiny of the Conservative party to save this country from Labour, who will wreck the United Kingdom.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess)—via Basildon and wherever else—had better take a grip of himself and calm down a bit.
Before I return to his extraordinary comments, I join other hon. Members in congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the important office that you have now assumed. I am sure that we all look forward to serving under your chairmanship. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) and for Corby (Mr. Hope) on their eloquent 139 maiden speeches. I am one of the old lags who made his maiden speech from the Government Benches, and it is a great joy to return to this side of the House after 18 years.
We were lectured by the hon. Member for Southend, West about arrogance and the abuse of power. I realise that he has had a busy time moving from one constituency to another, and we got the message that he is not a happy chappy, that he did not enjoy the election campaign or the result, and that he did not even enjoy the Queen's Speech, but he would be well advised to calm down and perhaps take a holiday. He has had a bad time, but he really should reflect on the judgment of the people on the Conservative Government whom he supported. He warned us against the risk of arrogance. I put it to him that he is suffering the consequences of the judgment of the people on the arrogance displayed by the Conservative Government over many years, so a little humility from Opposition Members would not go amiss at this stage.
Many years ago, I made my maiden speech from the Government Benches, and Denis Healey was Chancellor at the time. I came in at a by-election and joined a sinking ship. Since then, I have listened to the triumphalism of the Conservative party and the awful arrogance of Mrs. Thatcher as Prime Minister. My constituents in Scotland, like people throughout the country, suffered grievously over those years, so I find it hard to express the joy and happiness that I and my constituents feel now that we are, at last, in a position to begin to put things right.
I am delighted with the proposals in the Queen's Speech. After all the rubbish that we have endured over 18 years, we now have a Government who are putting education, employment and the health service right at the top of the political agenda. Those are the issues about which our constituents are concerned. Our people want the Government to go to work on those issues.
There are 3,000 people in my constituency out of work. That is the official figure, but the real figure is far higher. It is outrageous that, even in a comparatively prosperous part of Scotland, so many are out of work. It is right that the Government place the highest importance on the creation of job opportunities, particularly for the young unemployed. It is right that we should address the ludicrous waste of resources in the national health service on administration and redirect them into the care of patients. It is right to place more emphasis on education and other vital services.
My background is in agriculture. A large part of my constituency is involved in agriculture and beef farming-a sector that has suffered more than most in recent years because of the appalling incompetence of the Government and the outrageous aggravation of our relationships with our European partners. I am delighted that we are now working with our European partners to address these and other problems. We are certainly on the right track.
The hon. Member for Southend, West and other hon. Members should face up to the judgment of the people of this nation at the general election. The Conservatives were thrown out, and rightly so. Their problem was that they had completely lost touch with the people who originally elected them. They displayed an intolerant and intolerable arrogance towards the people of this country at every level. They seemed to think that they had a divine right 140 to rule at every level, and if they could not do that directly, they appointed quangos. They took powers away from elected local authorities and handed it over to quangos packed with their own placemen.
That was particularly obnoxious in Scotland. They could not get their people elected to Parliament or local authorities, so they transferred more and more power and money from the public budget to quangos packed with their own people. That looks bad, and people are not prepared to put up with it. It is one of the reasons why the Tories suffered such a rejection at the polls. They thought that they could get away with anything, whether it be the poll tax, cash for questions or the outrageous abuse of power by Tory minorities in Scotland, Wales, London and other parts of the country.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his speech to the parliamentary Labour party last week, say that we are the servants now. That is our approach to government. The people are fed up with being dictated to and having policies imposed on them year after year. What they earnestly want, and what they will now get, is a Government who intend to serve them. We shall do that through our social and economic policies, and by ensuring that our system of democratic government is returned to such a condition that it is respected and people want to take part in it. It is depressing that so many young people feel alienated from the political process, and think that all politicians are corrupt in some way. I am afraid that that is one of the awful results of years of a Conservative Government. We must improve the system and make it more respected again. We must have the highest standards in public life.
I look forward to a freedom of information Act and a Bill of Rights. Above all, I look forward to the reform of the House of Lords and the removal of the hereditary element. It is a pity that we have not been able to include that in this Queen's Speech, but the sooner we introduce such a measure, the better. I am thrilled that we shall now start the process of establishing a Parliament for Scotland to serve the people of my country, and likewise an Assembly for Wales. It has been a long fight.
I was the constituency delegate at the 1976 Labour party conference which moved the resolution that led to the party's commitment to the establishment of a Parliament for Scotland. That seems a long time ago. We had a referendum on it, which we won, but when the Tories came to power they stood the result on its head. We have stuck clearly and firmly to our principles on the need to democratise the government of Scotland, particularly after all those years of a minority Government. The Scottish Office has a budget of £15 billion, which, for the past umpteen years, has been under the control of a tiny minority of elected representatives. In the previous Parliament, just 10 Tory Members out of 72 in Scotland were able to dictate everything that happened in Scotland. We need accountable government in Scotland.
The Queen's Speech provides for a referendum. I suppose that it could be argued that there is no need for a referendum on this issue, as the two parties opposed to democratic devolution within the United Kingdom—the Conservative party, which wants to keep the status quo, and the Scottish National party, which wants total independence—have been routed at the polls in Scotland. 141 There is not a single Scottish Conservative left in the House of Commons. The Scottish National party did not fare much better.
One could argue that, as there is unanimity of public opinion in Scotland on the need for democratic devolution within the United Kingdom, why bother with a referendum. However, I accept the case for a referendum to entrench the position of a Scottish Parliament for all time. It is important to show a clear, popular mandate for the establishment of that Parliament to ensure that no future Government of any colour will be able to use a majority in the House to abolish it at their whim. We must establish the Scottish Parliament as an irrevocable democratic institution, never to be abolished by a Government in Westminster against the will of the people of Scotland.
We must have an end to unaccountable and irresponsible government in Scotland. We shall have that when we have a Scottish Parliament, and I am delighted that, at last, we are making a first step in that direction in the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
May I first congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speaker and the new Chairman of Ways and Means on your appointments. It is a great pleasure for me to see old friends from both sides of the House working in a different capacity and having such important and responsible positions. I also thank those in my constituency—both members of the local party and electors—for giving me the privilege of returning to the House after 13 years as a Member of Parliament.
A number of maiden speeches have been made today, including one by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), my successor in the constituency. I congratulate him on his speech; I wish him well, and wish the constituents of Stafford well under the present Government.
I share many of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I do not believe that this was one of the best election campaigns of all time. However, it gives me some pleasure to be in real opposition, rather than the kind of opposition in which I have had to engage over the past few years. The reasons are pretty obvious, and will emerge more and more clearly as time goes on.
I am not going to give namby-pamby congratulations to the Government on their fantastic election result. I think that they have deceived the people: the people have been cruelly deceived, and the Government's Achilles heel will be public expenditure. I have talked to many members of the Government, and I have heard the anxieties that are in their hearts and minds. They know perfectly well that they cannot deliver, and that they will not be able to do so. What is more, they will not be able to do so for one simple reason—the ceiling of the Maastricht convergence criteria. They have engaged in the most cruel deceit of the British people.
During the election campaign, I put it to the constituents of Stone, who, I am glad to say, were good enough to elect me, that the reason why—certainly for the first time in my recollection in politics, which goes back the best part of 30 years—the Labour party was not capable of offering pension increases for the elderly and 142 in spending on health and education was very simple. Labour has adopted exactly the same policies as are embedded in the Maastricht treaty, which prevent it from increasing expenditure beyond the levels that have been set by those totem poles of European government.
I challenge any member of the Government to answer that point, at any time. I tried to engage the Prime Minister in the same argument earlier today, but he ran away, for a very simple reason: he knows perfectly well, as indeed do I, that the real reason why the Labour party won the election is that it conned the British people on the question of Europe. That will come back to haunt the Government, because they cannot and will not deliver on public expenditure, and we have them like rats in a trap between now and the next general election. That is the point, and it will come through.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I accept that unreservedly. The hon. Gentleman, however, is expressing what I can only describe as an eccentric view, which I did not find had any support on the doorsteps. Does he think that his eccentric view, and those of his friends, played any great part in the devastation of his party?
§ Mr. Cash
My simple reply to that rather simple point is this. During the election, I was astonished to see members of the Labour party running like fury towards the Euro-sceptic view. They knew perfectly well that, if they had persisted in the Europhilia that had pervaded the Labour party over the preceding five to 10 years, they would not have been able to convince the British people; and they therefore began to move in our direction. We won the argument; the Labour party conned the people. Unfortunately, and this is part of our difficulty, some arguments were not presented by our party during the election. The Labour party has deceived the public, but that will come back to haunt the Government in due course, as I have said.
The three principles that should govern our party in the next few years are simple. They are encapsulated in three simple words: enterprise, compassion, patriotism. I say enterprise because it is through enterprise, through small and medium businesses, through larger businesses and thereby through a strong economy—which we have been able to produce since we left the exchange rate mechanism, which was a complete disaster and which I fought against for many years—that we have been able to 143 achieve an increase in the value and growth of our economy, to the point where we were able to reduce inflation to 2.7 per cent. In my constituency of Stone, unemployment is at 2.9 per cent. as compared, for example, with France, where it is 13 per cent., Germany, where it is about the same, and Spain, where it is 22 per cent.
That has all happened since we came out of the exchange rate mechanism. The connection between the economy and the European issue is at the heart of where we are going over the next five years. If hon. Members are not prepared to grapple with that question or to accept the fact that those two things are interrelated, I fear for this country's future.
Through enterprise, we obtain, through a fair tax system, the ability to pay for necessary public expenditure. I am not against public expenditure. To a certain extent, there was an ideology in my party against the idea of public expenditure for its own sake, but, if we increase the size of the cake and have a fair tax system, we can provide for necessary, but not wilful, public expenditure.
If we then address the question whether the 26 Bills in the Queen's Speech will improve opportunities for this country's people, I ask hon. Members to consider this. Every Bill that imposes a legal duty, subject to judicial review, on this country's people, in whatever sphere, automatically does two things. It increases the volume of public expenditure that is required as a duty enforceable by law and, of course, it increases the number of people who have to administrate it.
Therefore, I suggest that we have a thorough review, through the Law Commission and the Government Departments, to assess those incredible volumes of statute law, plus the enormous quantity of law that is pouring out of the European Commission, to evaluate it, to take a measured view and to reduce it so that we are able to provide proper public expenditure, but not just simply for its own sake.
In my constituency, there are many good teachers and many good schools, but the problem is that the amount of money they seek bears no relationship to the quality of the education that we could produce if we concentrated properly on things such as discipline in schools-which does not have to be brutalistic or unfair, but should be firm-and not just on providing people with the sort of environment in which they can more or less do what they like. If we have a proper sense of discipline and stick to a national curriculum, and if the three Rs operate effectively, we can provide, not just with words but in action, the sort of education that young people properly deserve.
The Queen's Speech says that the Governmentwill cut class sizes using money saved as a result of legislation phasing out the assisted places scheme.I know from my personal experience in my old constituency of Stafford that Stafford independent grammar schools benefited enormously from the assisted places scheme. That is one side of the equation. The other is that they must provide the money that is needed to cut class sizes. It is no good just looking at the primary schools and the classes of three, four and five-year-olds. They need to make provision in the schools for children of 11 and over.
144 The Government are not prepared to address that issue, because they know that they cannot afford it, and they cannot afford it for the reasons that I have already given. They are constrained by the criteria I have mentioned. We are not governing ourselves. The people of this country have to understand that, for as long as we have the Maastricht treaty, we are not governing ourselves.
Another part of the Queen's Speech says:The central economic objectives of my Government are high and stable levels of economic growth and employment … The essential platform for achieving these objectives is economic stability.That is almost word for word what is contained in our 1992 manifesto. Embedded in that is the belief that the exchange rate mechanism should be the central plank of our counter-inflationary policy. That is why the Government are introducing an independent bank. It is step-by-step absorption into the process of being governed by unaccountable bankers situated in Frankfurt. That is what this is all about. Anybody who doubts that
§ Mr. Cash
I shall not give way again. The hon. Gentleman had his chance before.
The Queen's Speech says:To that end a Bill will be introduced to give the Bank of England operational responsibility for setting interest rates, in order to deliver price stability".That is straight out of the Maastricht treaty. It is not a Queen's Speech; it could have been written by Jacques Delors or Mr. Santer. The Queen's Speech goes on to say that that will be donewithin a framework of enhanced accountability.In reality, the Government are talking not about enhanced accountability but about handing over to others the decisions that belong to the elected politicians of this country. Those politicians can provide the answers for the people who went into the polling booths on 1 May with a free choice about what type of Government they wanted. That Government should set their own priorities and targets and, within that framework, give the people of this country good government. They should not be passing the buck to some people in Frankfurt or to an independent Governor of the Bank of England.
If one were to take the New Zealand model, which has not been mentioned today, I might have some sympathy with the idea. In Germany, and to some extent in the United States, there are degrees of relative independence, but that is a world away from what is contained in the provisions for a central bank. Those provisions mean that the bank would be completely independent and unaccountable and that we would lose the right to make the decisions that belong to the people who elected us on 1 May. That is a total abdication of our responsibility and trust and I shall not allow it to happen so long as I remain a Member of Parliament.
I believe that the British people, day after day during the election, knew instinctively that that was the case. That is why the European issue was raised on the doorstep day in, day out. They may not have understood every word of it, but they understood instinctively where it was all leading.
I am deeply concerned at the way in which we conducted our campaign on the European issue. I do not want to dwell on that now, but we did not apologise 145 sufficiently for the mistake made with the exchange rate mechanism. We lost credibility and we did not explain the connection between the European issue and its impact on the daily lives of our constituents. That was not explained because the Maastricht treaty was passed under our Government. I make no apology for the fact that I voted against the treaty 47 times on a three-line whip—as far as I know, that is more than any other hon. Member—and I would do so again tomorrow for the same reasons.
§ Mr. Hope
I should inform the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that, in the 1980s, during the closure of our steelworks, Corby benefited from the European regional development fund, to the tune of £30 million, and we benefited from iron and steel contributions and from loans and grants. Without Europe, Corby town and the Corby constituency would not be flourishing. We know in whose interests the European Union has been operating: it has been operating in British interests. We shall ensure that that is how it operates in future.
§ Mr. Cash
I have never heard such claptrap in my life. That money is our money, which is merely being recirculated. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that? There are two coal mines adjacent to my constituency, in which many coal miners work. Does he not realise that the Germans are receiving £5 billion a year in subsidies authorised by the European Commission, whereas this country receives only £100 million? I accept that he has not been an hon. Member for very long, but he has a lot to learn.
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a courtesy of the House, which has been forgotten by the hon. Member for Stafford
§ Mr. Bermingham
The hon. Gentleman keeps moving; I do not know where he is now. Mr. Deputy Speaker, is it not a matter of courtesy and tradition that one never, ever insults or is rude to a new Member in his or her early days in the House? It never happened in my day, and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will ensure that the wild man, from wherever he comes, learns the same lesson.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) has made his maiden speech. Therefore, he is already a part of the hurly-burly of the House. It is up to hon. Members to decide how they behave themselves; it is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your appointment. Over many long years, however, we have always observed those courtesies. Perhaps the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) should be reminded that good manners arise from gracefulness and not from churlishness.
§ Mr. Cash
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your ruling on that matter.
146 The Queen's Speech states that the Government want toimprove the competitiveness of British industry.How on earth will we improve the competitiveness of British industry if we are saddled and shackled with the social chapter and a minimum wage? I have already mentioned the adult unemployment figures in the rest of Europe, but what of the figures on youth unemployment? It is absolutely clear that, as hon. Members, we have had placed in us an absolute trust and responsibility to prevent our young people from falling into the impossible situation that now prevails in Italy, for example, which has 33 per cent. youth unemployment. Spain has approximately 35 per cent. youth unemployment, and France has 28 per cent. unemployment. That is a disgrace, and it is being done under those rules.
If we get Europe wrong, we shall get everything wrong, because it is a legal framework. I am not arguing against the single market, because I am completely in favour of it. I am also not against the idea of a European Community, but I am totally against the entire concept of European government. In a nutshell, very simply put, my argument is: European trade, yes; European government, no. The argument is very simple, and heeding it would save Europe from the disorder and instability that it is heading towards, and which is already apparent on the streets of the capitals of Europe.
The Queen's Speech contains a commitment to decentralisation. The Prime Minister, through Her Majesty the Queen, states:Decentralisation is essential to my Government's vision of a modern nation … a devolved Scottish Parliament and the establishment of a Welsh Assembly.The fact, however, is that nothing is more centralising than a central bank. The reality is that this arrangement is nothing more or less than a camouflage for reducing Scotland and Wales to mere provinces of a federal Europe.
That is why, with respect to my, if I may say so, hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), the people of Northern Ireland are rightly concerned about the direction in which the process of Europeanisation is going. The object of the exercise, among other things, is to reduce that part of the island of Ireland that is in the United Kingdom to a region—a province, called Eire or Ireland, within this new country called Europe. Anyone can see that that is what it is all about.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The European Union does not have much work to do in that regard, because for years the British Government have been seeking to detach us. On the concept of regionalisation, I believe that there is an argument for the federation of the nations in the United Kingdom, and that idea might have to be considered more effectively when we consider the future government of this land.
§ Mr. Cash
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. Some extremely important constitutional issues will be considered during this Parliament; it will be one of the most important and reforming Parliaments for generations. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that, irrespective of the size of the Government's majority, such matters are scrutinised word by word, line by line, and, as has been said, on the Floor of the House.
147 I shall refer to a speech, entitled "Britain in Europe", made by the Prime Minister on 5 April 1995 to Chatham house. I was going to raise that point earlier, but, with his prescience, the Prime Minister decided that he would not accept my intervention. One sentence from that speech of 5 April 1995 shows the monumental misjudgment of the Prime Minister:Other European countries are not pushing for strides towards Federalism.That is the basis on which the present Prime Minister and Government have constructed their European policy. If his judgment was so faulty and it was such a monumental misjudgment, it follows that we need have absolutely no faith in the direction in which we are being taken on the European issue today.
I was going to say the following to the Prime Minister earlier. The Government speak of a fresh start. If we do not renegotiate the treaty, we are allowing the process to go ahead, irrespective of the wishes and consent of the individual members of the countries of the member states. A renegotiation of the treaty is needed—now that would be a fresh start.
Only two days ago, we celebrated the anniversary of a speech made in the House in 1953, by Winston Churchill, in which he said unequivocally:nor do we intend to be merged in a Federal European system."- [Official Report, 11 May 1953: Vol. 515, c. 891.]He said that we would be in Europe but not of it. We should take note of those wise words and put them into effect. However, we cannot do that unless we go back to the Maastricht treaty as part of the treaty on European Union, and pose the question that I will demand of the Government at the intergovernmental conference that takes place in a few weeks' time.
Unless we do that, the acquis communautaire, the ratchet effect, the irreversibility of the protocol of the third stage, the reality that we shall be networked into a legal framework which takes us into a federal system on the slipstream is inevitable. What is also inevitable is the impossibility of the Government delivering on their election promises on public expenditure and a range of other things, including the ridiculous notion that they can represent one nation when they are taking us into one country—acountry called Europe.
This Parliament is faced with monumental decisions that we have to measure up to, not just on one side of the House or the other but across the Floor of the House in the national interest. Even with their enormous majority, the Government have a trust, gained at the election on 1 May, to discharge to the people of this country. If they do not measure up to it—all the signs are that they will not—they will be condemned by future generations for having taken us into a system of law and of government from which they will not be able to extricate themselves without unbelievable disturbance, disorder and instability. That is the measure of where we are being taken, and it is on that basis that we must confront the Government during the next five years.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
In a calmer moment—I am always a calm man—I welcome you to your new position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It gives 148 me great pleasure because, over the years that I have known you, you have shown yourself to be a fine and honourable man, and I am sure that you will grace the Chair.
Listening to the speech that has just been made, I had a feeling of deja vu. 1 have heard it all before from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Even your colleagues know that. You come here and rant and rave with no constructive policies. You have nothing much to say for the future of this land, and you say it at great length.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is saying "you". I should be grateful if he would set a better example to new Members.
§ Mr. Bermingham
From you or your family, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I always take correction. I shall merely say that the hon. Gentleman brought nothing to the House. He has wasted time again and again lecturing us about Europe, when reality says that we are part of Europe. He now tries to tell us about Northern Ireland, which is part of Europe. I declare an interest in that subject, because I am a southern Irishman, born and bred. We are part of Europe and proud of it.
I represent St. Helens—one of the finest places in the land—which has been wrecked by the rubbish that we have suffered in the past 18 years. Once upon a time, Europe was kind. It recognised that the north-west was an area of great poverty. It is. The hon. Member for Stone will not listen, because he has heard it all before, but there are people in my constituency who have not worked for 10 or 12 years. In some streets, nobody goes to work.
There is poverty beyond measure in my constituency, but there was £350 million of RECHAR money and £750 million of objective 1 money sitting there for us. All we needed was a Government prepared to match it pound for pound. Not a pound came from the Government, so not a pound came from Europe. Together with my local Member of the European Parliament, who is very sensible—I praise him—I have set about trying to change the rules so that we can have the European money and begin investing.
I need jobs not just for the 4,000 or 5,000 in my constituency who are out of work, but for another 6,000 who fall into the 32 different categories that the previous Government introduced to massage the unemployment figures. Those are people between 50 and 65 who are deemed retired. They would give their right arm for a job.
Let us get real. Europe is an entity. If our Government support me on this, as I am sure they will—I am pleased to talk about "our Government", because for all the years that I have been in the House I have always referred to the Government across the way, who did nothing for my constituency—they will begin to draw in benefits for the north-west, for Scotland and for the other deprived regions, without the system costing the Government a penny. All we have to do is to change that rule; it is simple.
I know that in my constituency, firms such as Pilkington and United Glass would welcome that change; firms across England would welcome it. "Investment" is a nice word. I hope that, in this Parliament, we do not hear the ranting and raving about Europe that we have had to suffer for the past five years. It has been boring: I come back to that point.
149 Let us now look constructively at the Gracious Speech. Legislation will be introduced to amend the criminal law; I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. I am fed up with being told about little Johnny who keeps getting bailed or released. I am talking about the 14-year-old local thug—we all have them—who commits another 33 crimes before the police arrest him again, and another 55 before he gets to court. That is ludicrous.
Delinquents can be spotted very early. One has only to ask any teacher in a primary school or any teacher in a secondary school. They will say, "Young Johnny, young Mary—they are wrong 'tins." How do they know? They have the experience of watching. Many long years ago, in my early days, I was a rather bad teacher in a primary school in Rotherham; I lived in Sheffield at the time. I remember the headmistress saying to me about a young girl, "She's a wrong 'tin." That girl was 10. I asked, "How do you know?" The headmistress said, "You mark my words." Roughly 14 years later, I defended the girl for murder. The teacher was right.
If only we could have taken that girl out of the system then and put her into an institution such as the ones in the Massachusetts system in America. That system is superb, and I hope that Ministers here may be listening. The system ought to be looked at again. We tried to examine it in the Select Committee on Home Affairs in 1986 under the chairmanship of an eminent lawyer who happened to be a Conservative Member. We looked at the system, we evaluated it and we found that it worked. Would the then Government do anything about it? No.
The Select Committee looked instead at private prisons. We divided on the matter, and even some Conservative Members voted with me against the plan. In those days, we were minus 144. I hope that, now that we are plus 179, the Government will look at the real cause of crime. I hope that they will work out how to identify the young thug and the young bully, and I hope that they will aim to take him or her out of the system.
I do not mean that delinquents should be treated inhumanely, but they should be taught and guided, and should work their way out of criminality. Only when they are no longer a threat to our society should we put them fully back into it. I know that that suggestion is revolutionary, but it is realistic. It has been carried out in other countries over the years.
In Massachusetts, the reoffending rate was reduced from 78 per cent. for juveniles to 28 per cent. That is not a bad investment. It involves treating the situation realistically. If someone there committed one crime, he or she was dealt with for that crime. If people committed a second crime and it was proved that they had done it, they were deemed delinquents, and the system then came into play. It does not matter what sort of home delinquents come from or what their background is. If they are a potential danger to society, they need to be taken out early on, and every effort, in the kindest possible way, should be made to ensure that they do not become a real threat.
Those of us who are lawyers know that the peak offending age is 14; that is when so many crimes occur. What does that do to old ladies, to car theft figures, to insurance and household insurance premiums? Let us get real. If we intend to tackle the problem, as I am sure our Government do, we must look at it in great depth.
It is not enough just to detect crime. The police tell me that, over the past 14 to 18 years, their ability to detect crime has not been very great because they have not had 150 the resources. The crooks have better equipment than they have. They have better interception devices, telephonic and communication devices.
The police are forever behind in the race. We have to tackle crime properly, and not play with it as the Conservative Government did. The then Home Secretary produced a new proposal every day, but he got it wrong every time, and his proposals were rubbish, particularly the idea of extending sentences. We shall return to a civilised approach when the European convention on human rights becomes part of our law.
There are thousands of reasons why people do not say anything at police stations. It is not because they are crooks, but because they are terrified and often do not know what to do. They do not know what questions they will have to answer. They do not know the evidence, and nor do the lawyers. The removal of the right to silence was a disgrace, but back it will come with the incorporation of the European convention on human rights, as will many other civil liberties.
The former Home Secretary seemed incapable of doing anything constructive. All his proposals were destructive. He has left us a legacy that will take many years of parliamentary time to tidy up. The thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might actually lead the Conservative party is abhorrent when one considers what has happened. The Lewis incident was just one example. I was on the Home Affairs Select Committee at the time. What we saw, heard and learned left us in no doubt where the truth lay. However, the matter may well be explored by his former junior Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). I wait with great interest to see what happens.
The Gracious Speech includes a pledge to put youth back to work. When I was a boy at school, having been sent to this country by my family—I do not know what they had against me—I ended up at a grammar school. I do not deny that I went to a public school first. When I was in the fifth and sixth years at grammar school, companies came to visit the school looking for boys for apprenticeships and industrial training. When I was at university, companies came round offered us jobs. Two or three years ago, however, there was not a single apprentice in St. Helens. We cannot blame the employers in St. Helens, but the system in which the youth do not go to work.
I hope that the Government's pledge to create some 250,000 jobs is just a step on a long road. We are an industrious and innovative nation. We have the skills and the ability. Let us not waste them. We have seen the waste of at least one generation, if not two, in my lifetime. That is something we can never forgive in the years ahead. We must always remember that we owe a duty to the next generation and the one beyond, and in my case probably two beyond that. That is our duty and our mission.
Glancing through the Gracious Speech, I see that there is so much I could have said had I not had to listen to the speech about Maastricht and the prayers of the chicken runner from Southend, West.
Let me simply say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that this must be an innovative, driving, imaginative and creative Parliament. We have been given a chance that we will probably never have again—the chance to show the nation that we mean what we say and that we care for the little people, those who cannot defend 151 themselves. We want to rebuild a manufacturing society. Those of us who represent manufacturing areas have seen the waste and want over the years. We want people to know that, when they fall sick, there is someone to care for them, and that they will not have to lie on a trolley in a hospital corridor.
We want children to learn. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has now come around to my view. He is much younger than me, as I recall when we served together on Sheffield city council all those years ago, but he has come around to the view that the old ideas work. It may be old-fashioned, but when children had to recite their tables and do PE, the system worked. It taught the kids. If we do not have a literate and numerate society, how can we produce in future the engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers—forget lawyers, we do not always need them—and those kind people who deliver and develop the society that provides and cares? We have the challenge; let us make the change.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.